Americana’s Junior Varsity Team was strong this year. The starting line-up was stellar, but the underclassmen are nipping at their heels. And I know some other coaches would (have) moved my players up to prime-time. (Yeah, I’m watching college bowl games on TV and college basketball on the iGizmo while I’m streaming on the iMac…)
So here’s a few of the rest of the artists who knocked my ear-socks off with new releases this year and earned at least 100 plays on the old Scrobble-meter.
Dwight returned to his rocking, rockabilly, go-go-go trademark ways with this release. I liked it, but no one track caught my playlist early on. Other than his cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow”, the tune featured in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. That one I unchecked off iTunes pretty darn quick. I heard he sold out the casino in Ignacio, so bless him his current success.
Aaron Watson has been a solid Texas-Country underdog for some time now, working his way up with the honky tonk crowd. He really impressed me with his tribute to rodeo cowboy Lane Frost, “July in Cheyenne”, and I just missed catching him live during Frontier Days. My caveat on this release was, well, he went too far over to the Dark Side of Pop Country. It’s a bit too polished, a bit too smooth…which paid off in a #1 spot on Billboard’s Country Chart on release. Ride that pony long as you can.
A nice follow-up to last year’s Single Mothers, I think this just came out too early in the year and got lost in my clutter. They’re really two discs of one work, and play well together.
Steve Earle & the Dukes paid tribute to the blues on Terraplane. And it’s not at all political (my usual beef with Steve Earle, James McMurtry and some other old hippies). It’s just, well, the effort seems dialed-in. Earle the Senior can do better than this.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t know much about Wrinkle Neck Mules. They’ve just kind of floated about the edges of my sonic consciousness, four guitars and a drum kit. This release took me a bit by surprise, especially the first (very) catchy track, “Whistlers and Sparklers”, which reminds me a lot of Fort Collins favorites Drag the River in a Son Volt sorta way.
I came across this album late. Some good friends like them, and I should have paid attention. I think its a timing thing. Just haven’t taken my Lynyrd Skynyrd albums off the shelf recently, although I’m glad Blackberry Smoke gave me the thought. (DJ warning on first and last tracks!)
No idea where Whitehorse came from (Canada) or who they are (folk-rock duo, more rock than folk). As an urban planner-type, I basically couldn’t resist a song titled “Downtown”. They’re catchy and fun.
Kickstarter gave us this gem of an acoustic album from an Asheville, North Carolina, “original country roots band” fronted by songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, a Chris Austin finalist at MerleFest 2011.
I know some artists don’t much care for online streaming, and Spotify in particular, but the service has been a godsend for musical variety on a tight pocketbook. I’m also thrilled with Spotify’s partnership with last.fm, ensuring my streaming gets Scrobbled. On the downside, Spotify doesn’t do duos. C’mon people, the technology can’t be that hard! So this album gets credited to Emmylou, not the two. Then again, last.fm never did Various Artists very well either…. Oh, yeah, the music is sold, too. Nice follow-up on 2013’s Old Yellow Moon. Grammy nominations, that sort of thing.
When Dale Watson comes on the my streaming radio jukebox speakers I know I like it, but I often forget if I’m listening to George or Merle or one of the other kingpins of classic country music. Cause Dale Watson’s that good. He’s got this weird “Ameripolitan” thing going now for anti-pop. I hate the name. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. But I love his straight old more-country than Country music.
I also have kind words for Mark Knopfler‘s Tracker. Mr. Knopfler doesn’t Spotify, otherwise I would have played this more. In many ways, it is a continuation of his 2000 release, Sailing to Philadelphia. This is an album, not a collection of singles, and deserves full attention anyway. You’re going to hear more about Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller, too, before next year is out. Grammy nominations, that sort of thing.
2015 has been a good year. I understand that starving artists deserve to get paid, but for me the streaming isn’t displacing the buying. It’s free advertising, displacing awful terrestrial radio. I’m hoping folks keep showing up and playing the game even if the rules need a 21st century re-write. I’m stretching the analogy, yes, but Americana’s Varsity is bound to get a bigger roster in 2016.