2018 Blog Posts in Review

As I noted last year, blog traffic tracks with blog posts and I’ve been poky about posting, partly due to some back-of-the-house issues with my ISP (thank you, Sacha, for what you’ve been able to do) and partly due to the fact I’d rather go outside and play than post this past year. In 2018, we had 1,400 visitors give us 6,200 views. That’s record views for jcshepard.com but we had a couple outlier days that indicate spambots but whatever. Thanks all for dropping by.

#1 post of 2018:  Repeat winner by far,  Cheyenne-Laramie County, Wyoming, Historical Timeline: a 2014 keyword-rich retrospective of the capital of the Cowboy State, which celebrated their 150th Anniversary last year.

#2 Behind the Bakken Boom: As I noted last year, I really need to update my series on Oil & Gas drilling out here in the West.  We have a few natural gas wells here in Southwest Colorado, and had some minor excitement when my current County Board denied an oil & gas well permit this year. On the To-Do List.

#3 up from #4 last year: The Election of 1916: “America First” to First World War / #8 On the Brink of War — America’s Christmas 1916:  Post 2016 election look at the events of 100 years before.

#4 & #1 NEW POST OF 2018 Kukla, Fran & Ollie: A Nation of Immigrants: A remembrance of my cousin Burr Tillstrom (1917-1985), his puppets, and our immigrant ancestors.

#5 Diary of Orrin Brown—Feb 15, 1864 / #7 The Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown In 2014, I started following my ancestor Pvt. Brown on Sherman’s March thru Georgia.  The introductory post of the series stayed in the Top 10 another year.

#6 All Things Shepard:  History meets genealogy. Down a spot again.  Dramatically due for an update.  Rootsweb got hacked late 2016, though, and Ancestry had it down for a good while. Another for the To-Do List.

#9 Pancho Villa Crossed the Border: January 2017 post on the raid on Columbus, New Mexico in March 1916, and Blackjack Pershing’s US Army raid into Old Mexico that ended in January 1917. #3 NEW POST last year.

#10 Little (Lego) House on the Prairie (Style):  Perennially popular post from 2009. A little Lego love for Frank Lloyd Wright.

My 2nd & 3rd most viewed NEW POST of 2018 were February and March posts, Winter 1918 on the Eastern Front and Spring 1918 on the Western Front, as I tracked the 100th year remembrances of the Great War, World War I. May we never forget.

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JC’s Top Tunes of 2018

We all get to an age when we start to lose our peers. It is hard enough to lose our grandparents, then our parents’ generation, but mortality hits like a load a bricks when the Man Comes Around for men and women who share our timeline. Brandon Jenkins (6/7/69 – 3/2/18) is one. I got to know him a bit when a friend and I helped update his Wikipedia entry a couple years ago–wiki editors are vicious and petty and a force to be reckoned with, but with some help from another Twitter friend we made sure the Red Dirt Legend was recognized… and then a visit to the doctor, heart surgery, and the Legend passed on. “Be the Revival” from Brandon Jenkin’s February release Tail Lights in a Boomtown became his benediction and my most played track of 2018.

Spotify Top Tracks of 2018 playlist.

Nancy K. Dillon is a singer-songwriter who I played on the radio when I did the DJ thing at KRFC-FM back in the day. She has a knack for capturing story and place as an essential character in her stories. The legend of the Dutchman’s Gold is, well, legendary, and she tells the tale well on that song and others on her album A Game of Swans. I should have written it up earlier this year, because it was my most scrobbled album of 2018.

Brandon Jenkins was a close 2nd with Tail Lights in a Boomtown. Steep Canyon Rangers Out in the Open, Calexico’s The Thread That Keeps Us and The Wood Brothers’ One Drop of Truth clustered together on my mental radar and Spotify playlists. Something about the vibe. Caitlin Canty returned to my Top 10 lists with Motel Bouquet, while Sunny Sweeney’s Trophy and Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone grew stronger their Sophomore year. Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains and perennial favorite Halden Wofford & the Hi-Beams’ Hard Core Broken Heart were late year releases that rocketed to the top of my personal play charts–go find them, get them, listen to them.

We tend to reminisce about an artist’s catalog when they pass away. Jed Marum is another folk artist I played a lot on KRFC, and the last couple years friended on Facebook. We weren’t buddies by any means but, somewhat like Brandon Jenkins, I felt a social connection through social media. Jed passed away unexpectedly 2 May 2018 at age 65. With these passings, I got to thinking about Willie Nelson, with his release Last Man Standing. Which he is, more or less. Johnny is gone. Merle is gone. Willie survives, so I streamed a bunch of his back catalog just because. And Brandon Jenkins. And Johnny Cash. And Jed Marum. Rest in peace.

As I’ve noted previously, I had high expectations for Americana music last year, as I do this year. While I’m hard on the genre, it’s only because I know we can do better. We did see (hear) a LOT of good music released in 2018, maybe as good as 2017. And darn near anything on the AMA Radio chart was better than anything you’re gonna hear on commercial “country” radio. So go find some good music. Stream it. Live Show it. Buy it. Live it while you can.

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Survey Says: Your Fav Roots Music of 2018

No Depression Reader Poll Variety Pack

End of the calendar year lists propagate like flies at the winter solstice. Many are interesting, but I pay particular attention to the Americana Music Association and the reborn No Depression magazine.

AMA Radio Chart

The AMA’s Americana Radio Chart went full auto this year, I guess, and now features twice the fun with a Singles chart supplementing the traditional Albums chart. The AMA Top 100 Albums & Singles of 2018 is a whopper. Colorado’s own Nathaniel Ratliff & the Night Sweats pulls in the top spots on both charts for their bluesy album Tearing at the Seams, with “You Worry Me” at number 1 and “A Little Honey” at number 2 on the Airplay Singles list. Brandi Carlile’s Grammy nomination success with By the Way, I Forgive You is reflected in the number 2 spot on the Airplay Albums chart, followed by John Prine who‘s The Tree of Forgiveness will also be in my Top 10 for 2018 along with The Wood Brothers’ One Drop of Truth. John Prince’s “Knocking’ On Your Screen Door” ranked #5 Airplay Single and Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” ranked #6 Single.

The Record Company breaks the Top 5 albums for All of This Life and number 3 single “Life to Fix”. I don’t think I’ve never, ever, heard of The Record Company until I sampled the single on Spotify. Pop-folk blech. I’ve like Lake Street Dive’s past releases well enough despite their popish ways–their single “Free Yourself Up” only played #9 while the album Good Kisser took the #4 spot and I can’t say either made much impression on me this year. Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour and Margo Price’s All American Made took #6 & #7 on the Airplay Albums spins but didn’t register Top 10 singles.

The Top 10 Americana Radio Albums were rounded out by self-titled Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, the aforementioned Lake Street Dive and Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 2. Stapleton’s “Midnight Train to Memphis” spun 7th among singles, followed by Elvis Costello & the Imposters’ “Unwanted Number” off a late-year album release. Jade Bird (who the heck is that?) took #9 single with Lukas tapping the #10 spot with “Fool Me Once”.

In the second tier of 11th most played and less for albums, we find Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Live from the Ryman (recorded in October 2017) and JD McPherson’s Undivided Heart and Soul before we get to Willie Nelson’s Grammy-nominated Last Man Standing, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Volunteer, and I’m With Her’s See You Around. The second tier of most played radio singles slot “Happiness Jones” by The Wood Brothers at #11, “The Middle” by Trampled By Turtles at #12, and releases by Kacey Musgrave’s, Margo Price and Glen Hansard (who?) next in line.

I did the work so you don’t have to, compiling the AMA Radio Chart Top 100 Singles for 2018 into a handy Spotify playlist. You’re welcome.

No Depression

I loved the original No Depression magazine. And I obsessed over the original No Depression online community, logging on regularly and cross-posting blog posts and last.fm posts and making it a part of my musical routine–I got a significant number of click thru from cross-posted commentary, too. Then they petered out and sold, and I haven’t re-subscribed, not even for a single revived print issue. But I still pay attention to what the No Depression community has to say about music and culture and stuff.

The annual No Depression Readers Poll for 2018 represents, they say, 10,000 readers’ opinions of the best roots albums of the year. Most I actually agree with better than with the AMA Radio jocks. As author Stacy Chandler wrote: “…2018 has seemed like a nonstop firehose blast of new roots music.” John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness takes the #1 spot on the No Depression Readers Poll, followed by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit for Live from the Ryman. If Jason Isbell is No Depression’s Superman, then John Prine is No Depression’s Father Time. Brandi Carlile also took #3 for By the Way, I Forgive You–I guess it is just me that ignores Ms. Carlile. Amanda Shires takes #4 on her own merits for To the Sunset, and album I thought was OK but (continuing my prior theme) beneath her potential. Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing rounds out the Top 5 albums, also not a bad album but not his best.

The send half of the No Depression Top 10 albums puts one of the innumerable Bob Dylan bootleg series More Blood, More Tracks at #6. Lucky number 7 is Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour, followed by Willie Nelson’s Last Man Standing. Jeff Tweedy is my less favorite half of the original Uncle Tupelo duo, and his album WARM (#9) wasn’t anywhere on my radar. Rosanne Cash rounds out the Top 10 for her late-year release She Remembers Everything which I’ve just started streaming.

Nathaniel Ratliff and the Night Sweats’ Tearing at the Seams polls #11, which I can see–it’s a good album that my good friend Sacha K. also scrobbled most this year, so I’ll go back and give it some more attention in my spare time. Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore polls #12 for Downey to Lubbock, which I also liked but didn’t stream so much. I just don’t get Aaron Lee Tasjan, but people I respect like the guy–Karma for Cheap polled #13, followed by John Hiatt’s late-year release The Eclipse Sessions and Mary Gauthier’s very early-in-the-year release Rifles & Rosary Beads which captured almost my undivided attention back in January 2018.


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Gimme My Grammy?

Read all about Grammy politics at Saving Country Music.

Nominations for the 61st Grammy Awards are out for the show to broadcast 10 February 2019.

Brandi Carlile makes a strong showing across the board, with a nomination for Record of the Year for The Joke with Dave Cobb & Shooter Jennings, producers, Album of the Year for By The Way, I Forgive You, and Song of the Year for “The Joke”.  Carlile is a favorite in the Folk Roots/Americana camp, and that’s great, but she never made much of an impression on me.  Meh.

Kacey Musgraves is also nominated for Album of the Year for Golden Hour.  Again, Meh.  She can do better, but the glitterati like it and she is better than most anything else you might here on the radio, country or pop for that matter.  I tend to link Margo Price to Kacey’s wagon, and Ms. Price has a nod for Best New Artist–frankly the only candidate I even recognize.  And that’s OK.

Americana folks crowed when they were written in to the American Roots Music categories.  It serves to remind me that there’s really no good definition of the “Americana” genre aside from Country/Rock Music for People who Read.  Whatever.  Willie Nelson (Roots, not Country, how?) is nominated for Best American Roots Performance for “Last Man Standing”–that he is, and a good effort to my ear.  Carlile of course has a nod in the same category for “The Joke”.  For Best American Roots Song, Lee Ann Womack’s “All The Trouble” off her last year’s album goes up against Carlile’s “The Joke” and John Prine’s “Summer’s End” (listen to that one without a tear in your eye, I dare you).  The difference between Performance and Song is always beyond me, tho I guess you can have an awesome performance of a really crummy song.

I’m OK with any of three nominations winning Best Americana Album–John Prine’s strong performance with The Tree of Forgiveness, Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone which grew on me over the course of the last year, and The Wood Brothers’ catchy One Drop of Truth.  Carlile gets a nod (meh) and I didn’t listen to Bettye LaVette’s Things Have Changed.  I’ve only listened to one of the noms for Best Bluegrass Album, Wood & Wire North of Despair is two-thumbs up though I’m not sure I’d call it bluegrass.  Mary Guathier’s Rifles & Rosary Beads came out early in the year and deserves the nod for Best Folk Album.

Ms. Musgrave is also represented in Country categories–Best Country Solo for “Butterflies”, with Chris Stapleton for “Millionaire” and actual Country artist & legend Loretta Lynn for “Wouldn’t it be Great?” which isn’t half bad.  Musgrave’s “Space Cowboy” has a nod for Best Country Song.  And Musgrave’s Golden Hour has a nod for Best Country Album, tho I liked Ashley McBryde’s Girl Going Nowhere better, and Chris Stapleton’s From a Room: Volume 2 was pretty good, but with the theme, I expect better from the best.  I haven’t paid much attention to Maren Morris but that might change–hey, I’m willing to give to popular kids a chance now and then.

If you want to buy me music for Christmas, I would really like real CDs of:
* Lee Ann Womack’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone
* Brandon Jenkins’ Tail Lights in a Boomtown (RIP)
* Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains 

Spotify is great but we gotta support the guys & gals making the music, too.


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The 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month

At the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the year of our Lord 1918, an Armistice came into effect ending open hostilities in the War to End all Wars.  The peace took more time, until the Treaty of Versailles signed 28 June 1919, but OUR boys were coming home.

The German Empire imploded as the war came to conclusion.  On 29 October 2018, German sailors went into revolt and mutiny, which combined with widespread civil unrest let to proclamation of a republic on 9 November, and abdication of the throne by Emperor Wilhelm the II as he fled the country.  The new Wiemar Republic was born, and all the world dreamed of a peace doomed not to last.


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Russell Lakes National Landmark

US Hwy 285 in the San Luis Valley crosses the Russell Lakes National Natural Landmark.  Established in 1975 in Saguache County, the site protects Colorado’s largest remaining bulrush marsh and provides plant and animal habitat in the increasing developed mountain park.  Looking east from the “visitor’s center”, you might be able to pick out Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve at the base of the Sangre de Cristos.


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Americana Music Awards 2018: We Can Do Better

Executive Summary:  Jason Isbell won the Americana awards.  Again.  And he deserves it.

The Americana Honors & Awards honored and awarded the toast of Nashville for 2018, as voted by the members of the Americana Music Association.  I was once one—a member, not an honoree, by gosh.  I still self-identify as an Americana fan… much as I self-identify as a member of a political party.  I am an Americana fan as I understood Americana when I first became an Americana fan.  The current party is interesting, but I getting more and more difficult to decipher.  That as it may be…

Long version—the nominees, with winners emboldened:

Album of the Year:
“All American Made,” Margo Price, Produced by Jeremy Ivey, Alex Munoz, Margo Price and Matt Ross-Spang
“By The Way, I Forgive You,” Brandi Carlile, Produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings
“The Nashville Sound,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Produced by Dave Cobb
“Rifles & Rosary Beads,” Mary Gauthier, Produced by Neilson Hubbard

Artist of the Year:
Brandi Carlile
Jason Isbell
Margo Price
John Prine

Duo/Group of the Year:
I’m With Her
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats

Emerging Act of the Year:
Courtney Marie Andrews
Tyler Childers
Anderson East
Lilly Hiatt

Song of the Year:
“A Little Pain,” Margo Price, Written by Margo Price
“All The Trouble,” Lee Ann Womack, Written by Waylon Payne, Lee Ann Womack and Adam Wright
“If We Were Vampires,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Written by Jason Isbell
“The Joke,” Brandi Carlile, Written by Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth

Instrumentalist of the Year:
Daniel Donato
Brittany Haas
Jerry Pentecost
Molly Tuttle

I have no beef with Jason Isbell, or John Prine for that matter, and I like the Tyler Childers, too, even if Childers isn’t so sure what Americana is either.  My last.fm profile says I’ve listened to Brandi Carlile, but not much.  I liked Margo Price’s initial release but she’s gone off the liberal deep end—Isbell isn’t afraid to get political, but he’s not a one-trick pony either.  I’m With Her, Lukas Nelson, and Nathaniel Ratliff are good, too, but just good, not great to date.

No, my difficulty in deciphering is more that I like Jason Isbell, but I have such high expectations I really think he can do a LOT better than “If We Were Vampires”.  I have high expectations for many artists that I think can do better.  We can all do better.


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A Love Story for the Animas River

I remember the Orange Tang of the Animas River running through Durango, Colorado, and on down to Farmington, New Mexico, in August 2015. Where normally kayakers and fly fishermen joust with tubers, the river coursed with the mineral runoff of Silverton’s shuttered Gold King Mine, zinc, cadmium, aluminum arsenic, and iron hydroxides let loose by an EPA remediation team.

Jonathan Thompson, a writer who grew up in Durango, stood on a bridge and watched for the river to turn orange as the slug of mine waste ran through the heart of his hometown. The environmental disaster seems a natural fit for the one-time editor at High Country News, a respected regional journal with a well-practiced environmental bent. Yet rather than use the one-off event to self-promote and evangelize as an “I told you so” moment, Thompson takes the Gold King incident and puts it in the context of over a millennia of human settlement in the Four Corners region.

As part elegy, part ode, and all based on practiced journalism, the River of Lost Souls—el Rio de las Animas Perdidas—is a love story to the Animas Valley and the communities of Silverton and Durango to the north and south. This is a love story to the San Juan Mountains and the river valleys flowing from them, the place where Thompson grew up, where his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents generations back decided to sink roots. This is a love story to the Ancestral Puebloans and Dine and Utes who came first, the miners and farmers and ranchers who came later, and the diverse crowds who call Southwest Colorado home today.

It’s easy to see why readers on the Colorado Plateau—Southwest Colorado, Northwest New Mexico, Arizona, Utah—would want to read this book, to better understand the place we’ve chosen as home. Why would other folks across the country care? As we well know, water often has much more to say about land use than our best multi-color land use plan. River of Lost Souls is a fascinating story and contemplation of water, our natural environment, and how we can do better building the places we love.

River of Lost Souls by Jonathan P. Thompson (Torrey House) 2018

(This review previously appeared in the APA Small Town & Rural Planning newsletter, courtesy Colorado Chapter APA.)
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Pagosa Rotary Independence Day Parade

I love a parade. I helped organize the Pagosa Rotary Club‘s Independence Day Parade this year. We put on a bit of a show for the tourists and locals alike. Like the Librarians and their carts, my personal favorite this year (and we kept them in front of the horses, too).

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Cloman Park

Archuleta County’s Cloman Park features 120-acres of passive recreation (plus a disc-golf course, but how active is that?) north of Cloman Industrial Park, tucked in behind Stevens Field airport.  Take Piedra Road (County Rd 600) to Cloman Blvd and drive until you can’t drive no more.  Bring your own water, sunscreen and good hiking boots.


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