The nominees for this year’s Album of The Year have been selected and it’s a mix of new gunslingers, old war horses, and favorite native sons and daughters. The back story has always played a role in the decision process and I’ve been going back and forth between two releases to the point of having to flip a coin.
Returning champions include last year’s winner Margo Price, who was in contention to repeat with All American Made and two-time winner Jason Isbell for his The Nashville Sound album featuring the single “If We Were Vampires”. Chris Stapleton released From A Room: Volume 1 featuring the single “Broken Halos” written with former Steeldrivers member Mike Henderson and a few months later Volume 2 with a cover of “Millionaire” written by Kevin Welch.
As for the new generation of songwriters, I was blown away this past summer by John Moreland who while performing Big Bad Luv on stage and had people uttering the word “genius” to his songwriting talent. The Turnpike Troubadours jangly hook-filled Americana catalog including A Long Way From Your Heart became a new favorite band. The title track from Highway Queen by Nikki Lane has been playing in my head along with “Crying’s Just A Thing You Do” off the excellent release Undivided Heart and Soul by JD McPherson. I fell in love with a new release from Sara Petite titled Road Less Traveled that encompasses the pieces of her broken heart from the passing of her partner John Kuhlken. Petite glues them back together on this record with just a few scars to remind you of what life has thrown at her.
Hall of Fame songwriters who continue to release relevant and critically acclaimed work are sometimes few and far between. One of those outlaws is Steve Earlewho dedicated So You Wannabe an Outlaw to the memory of Waylon Jennings and his Texas troubadour contemporary Rodney Crowell that released Close Ties with the hit single “It Ain’t Over Yet” featuring Rosanne Cash & John Paul White.
Northeast Ohio singer/songwriters shined bright as Rachel BrownLook Who’s Back, Thor PlatterTake Time, and The Gage Brothers self-titled albums were as good as anything being released nationally. An important thread to the fabric of our cultural landscape, set aside an evening to support the local music scene and catch them performing around town no matter where you live.
Then it came down to two …..
We lost a few legends this year, but Gregg Allman knew the end was near while recording Southern Blood. Produced by Don Was and backed by his touring band, his genius behind the recording process at legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals with hand-picked song selections would be the final chapter of his four decade career. A bluesman that shaped music history with southern rock, this record would be great just on the emotional texture and purity of performance alone. Beautifully packaged, the album features the haunting single “My Only True Friend” and a gorgeous cover of “Going, Going, Gone” written by Bob Dylan. A very moving program at The Country Music Hall of Fame with insight from Allman’s manager Michael Lehman made this Lp purchase a priority instead of an oversight.
The Secret Sisters were the clubhouse leader most of the summer with their beautiful You Don’t Own Me Anymore Lp that is filled with songs of heartache and bad relationships. The duo of Laura Rogers (vocals) and Lydia Rogers (guitar/vocals) have persevered over the last two years during a turbulent time being on the brink of walking away from their career. Their previous label dropped them after not meeting company expectations and the girls headed back to Alabama bankrupt and broken. Produced by Brandi Carlile, hardships and pain are part of the ingredients that songwriters feed through the life processor with “Tennessee River Runs Low”, “Mississippi”, “Carry Me”, and “He’s Fine” coming out beautifully on the other end. Their stage delivery matched a heartfelt performance of the new material just days before the record release was one of the best shows I attended. So this writer is giving The Secret Sisters some much deserved love and the Album of The Year Award.