The Year in Music for 2019 was dedicated to Guy Clark and Susanna Clark, with a coda for the late, great Townes Van Zandt.
As soon as I heard about Steve Earle’s project to dedicate an album of covers to Guy Clark’s memory, I knew this would be my favorite recording of 2019. GUY held up to my expectations, even better than Earle’s tribute TOWNES did 10 years earlier. As Earle previously made “Pancho and Lefty” his own, this time around he bought and paid for “Dublin Blues”, a song I never really realized how good it is lyrics and music both.
Other artists paid tribute as well. Vince Gill sang “Nothin’ Like A Guy Clark Song” on his Grammy-nominated album Okie. Aaron Watson opened Red Bandana with “Ghost of Guy Clark”, in which the spirit of the great songwriter tells our hero his song’s OK “if that’s all you’ve got to give”. And while George Strait finally got to “Sing One with Willie”, Willie Nelson covered Clark’s “My Favorite Picture of You” (a tribute to Guy’s wife, Susanna, which damn well better bring tears to your eyes no matter who sings it).
We also heard the ghost of Townes from beyond the beyond, with the posthumous Sky Blue. As related by NPR, this the songwriter recorded these tracks in a visit to his friend Bill Hedgepeth in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1973. The session included to previously unreleased songs, “All I Need”, and the title track “Sky Blue”, which I played into the ground. This take on “Pancho and Lefty” is pretty good, too, but the “Snake Song” and “Dream Spider” give me the heeby-jeebies.
Erin Enderlin, an Arkansas country musician and songwriter, is my surprise discovery of 2019. After teasing EPs all year, released in four story-cycles, her album Faulkner County would have been my favorite release of the year, in any other year. “Tonight I Don’t Give a Damn”, “I Can Be Your Whiskey”, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”–doesn’t get much more Country than that. Kudos to Corey Parkman “Farce the Music” for including Enderlin in his periodic Spotify playlist, for this find.
George Strait delivered another George Strait album just a bit better than most of pop country radio deserves, but he really hit a tear-jerker with “The Weight Of The Badge”. If you’re wondering why Red State America isn’t responding to Liberal Social Justice Warriors (and despite my antipathy for Trumpist fear-mongering), just listen to this song. We are the Law. We are the Rule of Law. We are One with Law Enforcement, and we cannot pay the Boys in Blue enough for the weight they carry each and every day.
Among the other songs in my Top 10 and Top 20, some are getting their share of Real Country love and attention, and others ought to. Tyler Childers is up for a Grammy (huh? what? yeah, go figure.). So are Tanya Tucker and Willie Nelson. I shoulda listened to Ashley McBryde more, she’s on the Grammy list, too. Rhiannon Giddens is just, wow. Then fast-forward to the Grammy Folk category and Patty Griffin is, well, Patty.
My far-flung music amiga Sacha agrees with the Americana Radio chart’s crowning of Hayes Carll’s album What It Is, and “None’ya” made it to my Top 10 scrabbles of 2019, even if I did like Ryan Bingham’s “Jingle and Go” that came out about the same time, just a bit better. Mike and the Moonpies took Saving Country Music blog’s Album of the year with their sweet sounds of Country Music, and Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks shared Saving Country Music’s Artist of the year, all well-deserved.
There’s a bunch of great music released in 2019, and some of the tunes from 2018 rolled over into my heavy Scrobble rotation again this year. We lost the Red Dirt Legend, Brandon Jenkins, in March 2018, and “Be the Revival” off his last album was my Top Tune of 2018 and still gets to me in 2019. And along with Colter Wall’s “Plain to See Plainsman”, folk artist Nancy K. Dillon’s “Dutchman’s Gold” got to the cowboy in me. Also in my Top 50 was Dom Flemons’ “Steel Pony Blues” off Black Cowboys. (Dom is in Carolina Chocolate Drops with Rhianon Giddens.). Charley Crockett’s The Valley fits in here, and you might notice, too, my Top 21 tracks extended to include “Kimberly” by Quicksand Soup, Sand Sheff’s new band up Moab way.
Despite what I said above about George Strait fans, the cowboy way isn’t political, it isn’t an ethnicity or a voting bloc or guys who like big hats. A cowboy’s life is a road less traveled, and it deserves all the ink it gets, and that sounds like a good goal for me to ponder on in 2020.