Top Americana Tunes for 2016 — From Radio and Print

Joe Haupt on Flickr, CC Attribution

Joe Haupt on Flickr, CC Attribution

The top music of the year lists are coming out in time for Xmas holiday gift-giving. I’m more of a traditionalist and save MY lists for 1 January, but you can’t fight the machine all of the time. So think of this as a preview of MY “real” list to come….and if you’re looking for Christmas gift ideas (hint, hint).

No Depression Readers’ Poll
The once and now again No Depression magazine (alt.country, whatever that is) has evolved a bit over the years. They nominate 300 new releases and let their readers (with website log-ons) vote by comment, for their nominees or other worthy opponents. It’s a bit of a mess, but pretty close to grassroots polling. I often agree with much of the No Depression Top 50 list. I often disagree with just as much. This year is a mix.

  1. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
  2. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
  3. Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts of Highway 20
  4. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
  5. John Prine – For Better, Or Worse
  6. Alejandro Escovedo – Burn Something Beautiful
  7. Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers
  8. Wilco – Schmilco
  9. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  10. Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land

I like Sturgill, and I’m glad he’s taking the country by storm, but I like him when he’s more country than pop.  I was underwhelmed by A Sailor’s Guide, which will probably end up in my Top 20 if I give it another try.  I think he can do better, but it may just be he’s moved farther from his roots than I like but the rest of radio land will reward him for his flexibility.  Drive-By Truckers and Lucinda Williams are established veterans with solid releases that didn’t really catch me like I thought they wood.  Margo Price is a rising star but she’s got a Steve Earle preacher-ness to her that turns me off.  I know it was a disappointing election year and all, but leave the preaching for the choir.  John Prine has another classic duets album that came out late in the year.  And I’m a Son Volt-guy—I don’t pay much attention to Wilco even without all the other good music out this year.

Americana Radio Chart
I was a member of the Americana Music Association soon after it started up, when I was active in the start-up at KRFC-FM.  I’ve followed the AMA since, both their annual Awards program and their weekly Americana Radio Chart.  Some respected Roots Radio commentators pooh-pooh AMA as a liberal Janus to the mainstream CMA & Nashville’s Music Row.  It’s definitely the Establishment of the Counter-Country Establishment.  That said, I try to at least sample each week’s Top 10 on my Spotify lists.  The Americana Radio 2016 Top 100 end of year’s radio spins, tho, tracks my tastes much less than No Depression.  But it’s still interesting:

  1. The Avett Brothers – True Sadness
  2. Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
  3. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
  4. The Lumineers – Cleopatra
  5. Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers
  6. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day
  7. Mudcrutch – 2
  8. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
  9. Colvin & Earle – Colvin & Earle
  10. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust

My Americana maven friend Sacha K. loved the Avett Brothers’ release.  I played it once.  Much too pop for my country roots.  The Twitterverse thinks its the AAA-crossover radio stations calling it Americana for lack of better terms and throwing the chart.  #meh.  Hayes Carol is another solid Texas folky Americana, Bonnie Raitt is a class act, and Steve Earle is an institution, but again, I was underwhelmed with what made the list.

Freeform American Roots (FAR)
The third list I usually track is 3rd Coast’s Freeform American Roots (FAR) Chart, that I also contributed to back in KRFC-FM days (reporter JCS). 2016 has been a tough year on musicians, and we said goodbye to music critic John Conquest, who published the FAR chart. I’ve heard there are efforts in Austin to keep his legacy alive. I hope we do because the FAR Chart was the best thing in American Roots Music since Townes Van Zandt, and I’d stand on Steve Earle’s coffeetable in my boots and say so. #RIP John C., and God Bless Real Country Music.

Preview
The numbers will come together over the next two weeks, but Xmas time is mostly Xmas music.  Left Arm Tan’s Lorene is my Album of the Year, and they would have even more Scrobbles on last.fm if they were on Spotify.  Dori Freeman’s “Where I Stood” off her self-titled debut is my Song of the Year.  It tells a story with catchy instrumentation.  And I played Merle Haggard more than any other artist in 2016.  Watch for the rest of the lists come New Years.  #RIP.

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