Once, when I interviewed "Peaceful, Easy Feeling" songwriter, Jack Tempchin, he said the writer's greatest tool is a deadline. While I see the wisdom in his statement, I am a walking contradiction of the concept. I get a deadline, I forget, I procrastinate and eventually, the blessed event has come and gone. So, as Stephen Stills once famously said, for what it's worth, here's mine.
But first, let me say, I found 2013 in Americana music to be exceptional. Many of new artists coming up(Shovels & Rope, JD McPherson), established one's doing their best work(Robbie Fulks) and veterans adding to their legacies(Steve Earle, Richard Thompson). The history and its interaction with the present that always makes me a believer in this movement of music.
2013 was, for me, a year to drive south, with apologies to John Hiatt. I decided, while in Nashville, to go to Memphis. So I took the southern journey down Music Highway while the rain pounded on the windshield of my rented car deep in the night. I found myself in Graceland on a cool, clear breezy morning impressed with the energy, the obvious love the place still carries for the man and his music and the tragedy of his early passage. Bu it was standing in the main room of Sun Studios that made a mark on me. I knew what it must feel like for a weary pilgrim to reach the destination of a holy journey only to discover, it's really the beginning after all and everything is there that you've known all along. But, I'll never be able to hear Elvis, Ike Turner or Howlin' Wolf again without thinking of Sam Phillips sitting in that control room buried in such heavy duty equipment as he captured the comet of music coming from the streets and fields of his homeland. And today it has remained so from Billy Bragg to Kanye West; it's the music that dwells at our core and comes out from us into the world that drives us and ultimately redeems.
1) Carla Olson-Have Harmony Will Travel
L.A's own Carla Olson finally emerges from behind the producer's control room to pay tribute to her heroes friends and peers including the likes of Gene Clark, Richie Furay, P.F. Sloan, Moby Grape's Peter Lewis and James Intveld. It's a joyous celebration of how good music can be when egos are checked in at the door. Below is a clip of her performance with all of her friends on stage at McCabe's in Santa Monica acommpanied by John York of The Byrds.
2) World Boogie is Coming by North Mississippi Allstars
This album is a revelation. A true blues revival from Mississippi's best. The collection has a sweep to it that is epic in nature. It comes across like a tour of the deepest of the deep south. It haunts, rages, celebrates and boogies us until our ears bleed.
3) White Swan by Susie Glaze and the Hilonesome Band
Susie Glaze and Hilonesome have been wowing Americana and folk audiences in Los Angeles for several years now. She's a traditionalist with a modern bent. She and the band including her husband, Steve Rankin and songwriter, Rob Carlson, have made a string of fine albums over the last decade taking the ordinary themes of the bluegrass nation and filtering them through Appalachian and Celtic sensibilities. This is their best work to date. Think Fairport Convention with a bluegrass flair.
4) Rattle Their Chains by Brian Wright
As a triple-threat singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, Brian Wright has entered the Nashville scene this year with this dynamic release by way of Texas and Los Angeles. He covers the blues-rock landscape with lyrical tools provided him by Kris Kristofferson and the vocal soul of Waylon Jennings.
5) Down in Louisiana by Bobby Rush
This album drips with the perspiration of the sheer pleasure of rythm & blues; rough and dirty, funky and real, Rush is a veteran of decades of solid Stax like country blues. This album sums it all up for the genre and his ancestors like Otis Redding and Solomon Burke.
6) My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark
Guy Clark shows how the harder stuff of life is the material for songs. On this album, Clark has turned in what may be his most heartfelt work without any degree of false sentimentality or compromise.
7) The Highway by Holly Williams
Holly's been around for a while, but with The Highway she shows that she most likely carries more of legendary Hank William's talent than her other pedigree combined. The Highway takes us through her own journey of song and leaves us
8) Gone Away Backward by Robbie Fulks
Fulks continues to tread the folk-country ground with more finesse than most and with an ironic sense of humor not heard since John Prine first climb up on a haystack for that famous photo shoot.
9) The Low Highway by Steve Earle
Steve Earle's good fortune seems never ending making album after album of landmark material, contemplative themes and always daring to push the boundaries just enough to make us sit up and take notice. The Low Highway plays like the underside of Woody Guthrie's dream like, "This Land Is Your Land."
10) Southeastern by Jason Isbell
Southeastern is a landmark album this year. Isbell takes the lead in exploring themes, while sometimes familiar, always with a clear eye'd vision and a sensibility that shows both wisdom and humility.