This week ND’s photographers again get to shine. This time they select their outstanding albums of the year. As with last week’s picks of the year’s best performances, diversity rules as no two selected the same album. From legends to new voices, let’s explore their choices.
Peter Dervin: Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some
I first learned about Lillie Mae after seeing her perform on CBS Saturday Morning. Every song on this record produced by Jack White is stellar, both in style and production. As I listen more and more to this album, it certainly rose to the top. I’ve also seen her live several times, and that’s when the music from this album truly shines.
Steve Ford: Gregg Allman – Southern Blood
My choice is an unapologetically sentimental one. Produced by Don Was at Muscle Shoals, it was clearly intended as Allman’s final musical statement. Comprising covers of Dylan, Lowell George, Willie Dixon, Jackson Browne, the Grateful Dead, and more, it is, like Levon’s Dirt Farmer, an unexpected gem from a man with nothing left to prove.
Boom Baker: Rodney Crowell – Close Ties
When Crowell’s 15th studio album was released, I had yet to read his memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks. Afterwards, I was drawn into a deeper understanding of where this singer-songwriter-poet was coming from. The purity of the songwriting on this album resonates with my love of Americana music and represents some of the finest songwriting of 2017.
Carol Graham: Blue Rose Code – Water of Leith
Ross Wilson, the singer-songwriter behind this band, has produced a masterpiece that refuses to be typecast to any genre or style. He is pushing boundaries, fusing jazz, folk, and even poetry to create his own roots music. See my August review here.
Brenda Rosser: Scott Miller – Ladies Auxiliary
From the opening song, “Epic Love,” to my favorite sing-along, “Ten Miles Down the Nine Mile Road,” the album’s beautiful and smart lyrics, humor and fine picking take it to the top. Miller, wise man that he is, surrounded himself with immensely talented musicians who happen to be female: Anne McCue producing and doing stellar guitar, mandolin, and more; Bryn Davies on bass; and Rayna Gellert on fiddle.
Todd Gunsher: Eilen Jewell – Down Hearted Blues
A formidable singer/songwriter in her own right, Jewell chose to cover a dozen blues songs from the 1920s to the ’60s for this release. No stranger to cover material, she and her band do a great job of conveying the feel and vibe of the original artists while making the songs their own.
Steve Mack: Chris Stapleton, Billy Strings, and Tyler Childers
While there were so many great records released in 2017, my favorites are Stapelton’s Songs From a Room Vol 1, Strings’ Turmoil and Tinfoil, and Purgatory by Childers. Great writing, both music and lyrics, one and all. Each has a unique and distinctive sound, and more than anything they’re all real. I was fortunate to see them all during the year and the live shows are every bit as good as the records … and then some.
Chris Griffy: Colin Hay – Fierce Mercy
Flying under the radar in a banner year for Americana was this album by the former Men at Work frontman. Since signing with Compass Records, Hay has really ramped up the rootsier side of his music and it finds him keeping pace with Americana’s best songwriters. From the subtle, almost surreal, humor of “Blue Bay Moon,” a the Laurel Canyon-style ballad about a UFO sighting, to the political anthem “I’m Walking Here,” to the touching tribute to his mother, “She Was the Love of Mine,” Hay shows off a lyrical diversity that warrants inclusion among the year’s best.
C Elliott: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
While my favorite albums of the year included Gregg Allman, Mavis Staples, Turnpike Troubadours, Lucinda Williams, Taj Mahal / Keb’ Mo’, and Hiss Golden Messenger, this one stands above all the rest. I really can’t say anything better, different, or more than everyone else who has reviewed it. Isbell is a multiple Grammy award and Americana Music Association award winner, and I think he’s one of the best singer-songwriters of his generation. His country/roots/folk songs are powerful, emotional, and honest, and every listen to this album gets better and better.
Chad Cochran: John Moreland – Big Bad Luv
Moreland’s newest release shows the songwriter expanding his sound even further, with a little more rock n’ roll “Sallisaw Blue” and “Ain’t We Gold” to accompany his trademark take on darker topics in “No Glory in Regret” and “Latchkey Kid.” Moreland has mentioned this album concludes a sort of trilogy, which keeps us guessing what the future holds. The Oklahoma native has spent the majority of the year on the road and, based on his website, you’ll have the opportunity to see him long into 2018.
Now, let’s check out the photos of those fine artists taken by some finest artists of our own, the ND photographers.