No Depression’s Best Roots Music Albums of 2019 (So Far)
It’s been a busy year for roots music releases, in terms of both quantity and quality. Now that we’re just past the halfway point of the year, we wanted to pause, take a breath, and appreciate all the good stuff that’s hit our ears so far — even as we look forward to a slew of new stuff coming up in the next few months!
Here’s a look at 10 releases from the first six months of 2019 that we can’t stop, won’t stop listening to, along with links to our reviews in case they passed you by. Consider it a checkpoint on the way to our famed Year-End Readers Poll, which will be back, as always, in December.
Best Roots Music Albums of 2019 (So Far)
1. Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters (Feb. 22)
With their new Smithsonian Folkways release, Songs of Our Native Daughters, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell use their gifts and their grace to highlight the stories of not just their ancestors, but our ancestors. To them, giving voice to the voiceless is both a privilege and a responsibility.
2. Molly Tuttle – When You’re Ready (April 5)
Every now and then an album comes along that palpably captures the fragility of beauty and the longing for a spaciousness that can embrace our loneliness, our shared disillusionment, and our shared hopes and dreams. Tuttle’s new album imbues our world with a crystalline beauty shimmering off her cascading guitar riffs. She has a genius for creating melodic spaces by layering instrumentals over instrumentals and intertwining vocals with instruments.
Molly Tuttle was No Depression’s Spotlight artist for April 2019.
Buddy Miller has a beautiful studio in their home on 20th Avenue South in Nashville, but the couple didn’t make the album there. After recording one song — “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” — in a tiny space in an upstairs bedroom, they so liked the emotional clarity of the sound they kept recording there. Buddy admits that it was a challenge to record in such a small space, but, he says, “we have this honest batch of songs recorded in an honest fashion.”
Buddy and Julie Miller were No Depression’s Spotlight artists for June 2019.
4. Mavis Staples – We Get By (May 24)
Mavis Staples does more than just get by. There’s no quit in her. At 80, she’s still a powerhouse, dominating the stage and the studio, her voice and her mission statement still as strong as ever.
5. Fruit Bats – Gold Past Life (June 21)
Eric D. Johnson describes the process of creating the music for Gold Past Life as “a soothing balm,” which is exactly what it’s like to listen to it. With his first album under the Fruit Bats moniker since 2016’s Absolute Loser, Johnson reminds us of his superhuman ability to craft a perfect pop song, and more importantly, how good a perfect pop song can make us feel.
6. Leyla McCalla – The Capitalist Blues (Jan. 25)
Throughout the poetic project, McCalla pairs insight with empathy to comment on the immorality of the world, from corruption to the unjust division between classes. She opens the album with the vulnerable title track, painting a stark portrait of American capitalism. “I am swimming in an ocean of sharks, they are telling me how I’m going to make my little mark … If I give everything, I won’t have much more to lose,” she proclaims over a swing-infused melody.
7. Justin Townes Earle – The Saint of Lost Causes (May 24)
Saints are those folks who keep speaking out, keep helping people, keep finding a way out of no way even when the odds continue be stacked against them, even when the cause appears to be lost. With guitars and vocals blazing, Justin Townes Earle and his band deliver a set of songs that tell stories of lost causes.
8. J.S. Ondara – Tales of America (Feb. 15)
Kenyan immigrant singer-songwriter J.S. Ondara’s debut release could not have come at a better time. Resonating race and class divisions of the historical moment while poking holes in the mythology of American exceptionalism, Ondara’s deeply poignant vocals and sharp-eyed outsider observations render a confusing and painful struggle to embrace his new homeland.
9. Jenny Lewis – On the Line (March 22)
In the aftermath of a long stretch of significant life changes, Jenny Lewis has done what many aim to do next: reinvent herself. She’s still the same beautifully honest singer and songwriter she’s always been, but she’s armed with a killer new look and an album that feels incredibly personal.
10. Sarah Potenza – Road to Rome (March 8)
Sarah Potenza’s lyrics are steeped in strength, integrity, and perseverance, and she establishes this on the opening track “I Work For Me.” From the moment she hits the first note, Potenza is the epitome of empowerment, grabbing the listener with a voice that’s as moving as her lyrics.
NOTE: Input for this list (including many great albums that didn’t quite make it) came from ND Managing Editor Hilary Saunders; Assistant Editor Stacy Chandler; Ad Manager Sonja Nelson; Social Media and Marketing Manager Adam Kirr; columnists Ed Maxin, Amos Perrine, and Henry Carrigan; and reviewers Grant Britt, Maeri Ferguson, Jim Shahen, Laura Stanley, John Amen, Cillea Houghton, and Mike Elliott.
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