The Best Americana of 2015

By Eric Risch, Steve Leftridge and Jonathan Frahm

11 December 2015

 

10 - 6


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Lilly Hiatt

Royal Blue

(Normaltown)

10

Lilly Hiatt
Royal Blue

The daughter of Americana royalty, Lilly Hiatt recalls another famous musical offspring: Rosanne Cash, circa Seven Year Ache. On her own musical merits, Hiatt’s sophomore album Royal Blue exposes emotional insecurities (“Far Away”), lingering doubts (“Get This Right”) and her own ancestry (“Somebody’s Daughter”). While upholding thematic tradition, Hiatt tackles love lost on the lonesome “Your Choice” and revenge on murder ballad “Too Bad”, yet casts aside any notion of customary arrangements with synths from producer Adam Landry featured as prominently as guitars. Accenting the acoustic “Your Choice”, ushering in the pedal steel of “Royal Blue” or adding a throbbing pulse to “Heart Attack”, the electronic influence and jangly guitars heard on Royal Blue owe more to the Cure than Nashville. With a petite voice and razor-sharp lyrics, the singer/songwriter who’d “rather throw a punch than bat an eye” brings a fresh perspective that’s uniquely her own.—Eric Risch

 

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Gill Landry

Gill Landry

(ATO)

Review [5.Mar.2015]

9

Gill Landry
Gill Landry

Whereas bluegrass mainstays Old Crow Medicine Show, of which Landry is a part of, ride more along the lines of boisterous Appalachian design, and wherein his first two solo outings painting more of a stylized noir setting, he finds himself well-dressed in introspection and contemplation on his self-titled release. He keeps a few tricks up his sleeve, such as in the brass featured on Mexican-inspired “Fennario” and a haunting co-vocal from touring mate Laura Marling on “Take This Body”. For the most part, though, Landry keeps surprisingly sparse on his latest album, exchanging ominous thrills for the hearth of traditional Americana storytelling. He allows himself to become a more accessible, relatable persona by further exposure to the lens of truth, and shines because of it.—Jonathan Frahm

 

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Gretchen Peters

Blackbirds

(Scarlet Letter)

8

Gretchen Peters
Blackbirds

From cane fields and ocean basins to manicured lawns and hospitals, Gretchen Peters lifts the veil of tranquility, exposing the dark undercurrents of existence on Blackbirds. Peters, a 2014 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, is joined by a bevy of artists including Jimmy LaFave, Will Kimbrough, Kim Richey, Suzy Bogguss and Jason Isbell, who help to bring her short stories of plainspoken poetry to life. Be it on the title murder ballad, the suburban nightmare of “The House on Auburn Street” or the personal “Jubilee”, Peters does not shy away from the stark reality of death greeting us all.  Should it come too early or in due time, Peters endures the pain, reminding us not to forsake our own journeys.—Eric Risch

 

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Dave Rawlings Machine

Nashville Obsolete

(Acony)

Review [27.Oct.2015]

7

Dave Rawlings Machine
Nashville Obsolete

Half of the most popular folk duo of the last two decades, Dave Rawlings shifted to center stage for 2009’s celebrated A Friend of a Friend. This year, Rawlings’ follow-up is the darker, slower, weirder Nashville Oblivion, an album that evokes both dusty old-timey music and the late-night wild horses and moonlight miles of the Stones in country-folk mode. Drifting string backdrops provide plaintive late ’60s soft-rock vibes paired with Rawlings’ rambling, tangling guitar and his raw, conversational vocals, making for tunes that wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s American Beauty. As its title hints, the album is happy to say to hell with conventions, as with “The Trip”, which drifts along for 11 minutes. Rawlings’ musical soulmate Gillian Welch is back to provide fireside harmonies, alongside the Machine’s touring ringers, multi-instrumentalist Willie Watson and Punch Brothers bassist Paul Kowert. With Nashville Oblivion, Rawlings has submerged further into the folkie mystic, with all the honest authenticism we’ve come to expect but chill-pilled with a new modernist wit and a stoner haze.—Steve Leftridge

 

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John Moreland

High on Tulsa Heat

(Old Omens / Thirty Tigers)

Review [23.Apr.2015]

6

John Moreland
High on Tulsa Heat

As irony would have it, one of modern Americana’s quintessential artist’s roots are laid unto a foundation of punk and metalcore, featuring prominently as a member of Thirty Called Arson before Steve Earle-fueled inspiration paved the way towards folk inclinations. John Moreland’s record as a pure Americana standard holds so true that audiences might just wonder how he can be the bearer of even rawer sincerity come his next work; being the honest craftsman that he is, this is more or less found through the alternative means of exploring unfound avenues upon which to shed light. High on Tulsa Heat sheds light on Moreland’s perception of his own career and persona on “Heart’s Too Heavy” and “You Don’t Care Enough for Me to Cry” while continuing his role as an interpreter of love, yearning, and condemnation as a whole. It never comes across as priggish; Moreland’s human, and he isn’t afraid to show it.—Jonathan Frahm

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