Archive for the Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 Category

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #7 – Fate’s Right Hand by Rodney Crowell

Posted in Rodney Crowell, Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 20, 2009 by AmericanaPulse
I don’t know if it’s possible to fully love an album without having actually heard it. If it is, then that is exactly what happened with me with Rodney Crowell’s 2003 album Fate’s Right Hand.

On Father’s Day in 2003, I drove to Charleston, West Virginia for a taping of The Mountain Stage radio program. This trip was made fairly early in my discovery phase of Americana music, and I attended the show primarily to see Kasey Chambers. Kasey was great, but I also left the performance as a fan of several of the other acts on the bill as well. One of those acts was Rodney Crowell.
Rodney was in Charleston to promote his new (as yet unreleased) album, Fate’s Right Hand, and he brought his friend, the phenomenally talented guitar player Kenny Vaughn, along with him. With the Mountain Stage Band behind them, Rodney and Kenny played a stellar set including three songs from this album. I was hooked then, and when the album came out about a month later I grabbed a copy immediately.
The album begins with two of the songs Rodney performed at that concert in Charleston. The album opener, “Still Learning How to Fly,” is a song Rodney wrote for a friend who had recently lost a battle with cancer. It’s a very introspective and reflective song dealing with memories of a life well-lived with an anticipatory eye turned toward what lies ahead in the afterlife.
The opener’s sweetness is followed by fire on the vitriolic title track. In it, Rodney takes the role of a “Honkey with an attitude coming unglued” as he breezes through a stream-of-consciousness rant against the ills of modern society. War, drugs, sex, materialism, the 24-hour news cycle… even Ken Starr… are all mentioned here. Some of the references may seem a little dated today, but the anger still holds true and the song still holds up. This track was named Song of the Year at the 2004 Americana Music Awards & Honors.
Bela Fleck’s chiming banjo brightens the tone once again on “Earthbound” as Rodney searches out the good things in the world. He finds several examples… Charlie Brown and Ringo Starr among them… and decides that he would like to stick around.
Though he finds peace with his environment, much of this album deals with Rodney finding peace with himself. As the titles may suggest, “Time to Go Inward” and “The Man in Me” both find the artist struggling with his own personal demons. The former song is quiet and contemplative as Rodney examines his own conscience and causes. The latter takes a more confrontational tone as the singer examines the reflection he sees in his own mirror, and finds the person looking back at him to be lacking.
The album continues on with several more songs of self-examination and ruminations on societal woes. The contemplative tone of things can make the album seem bleak at times, but the sunny outlook returns on the album closing “This Too Will Pass” (the third song from Rodney’s Mountain Stage set). It closes the album with a rousing and uplifting sing-along and a reminder that most of the setbacks we suffer are only temporary and can be overcome.
I’ll leave you with this lyric from “Time to Go Inward” that I think sums up the overall theme of Fate’s Right Hand while also setting up a guest list for what would surely be an interesting dinner party.
“Jesus and Buddha and Krishna and Minnie Pearl knew,
Do unto others the things you want done unto you.”

Rodney Crowell: Fate’s Right Hand (Buy Album)

Rodney Crowell: Earthbound (Buy Album)

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #8 – Buddy & Julie Miller by Buddy & Julie Miller

Posted in Buddy and Julie Miller, Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 18, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

I love Steve Earle and Allison Moorer.

I think Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis are great.
Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine make me giddy.
You know how I feel about Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson.
For my money, though, Buddy & Julie Miller are the first couple of Americana music.
Buddy is the multi-instrumentalist/producer/singer/songwriter who is the most decorated artist in the history of the Americana Music Awards with a voice that can instantly transport you back to the glory days of country music.
Julie is the master songwriter who will break your heart with the pain and longing she packs into every verse and piece it back together with the warmth of her voice.
Together, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. That’s no small feat when you consider the two main parts involved.
This self-titled release from 2001 served as my real introduction to the couple’s sound. I recall being completely enamored by Julie’s voice upon hearing the song “The River’s Gonna Run” on a sampler CD that came with the December 2001 copy of the British music magazine, Uncut (I heard Gillian Welch for the first time on the same disc as well). It wasn’t long before I realized that Buddy Miller was one of the artists featured on the new Kasey Chambers CD that I was just starting to get into at the time (more on that disc later in the list). That was all I needed to push me toward giving this album a shot.
The album opens with a cover of Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance,” a song about the power of lust to consume and destroy. Buddy and Julie bring a certain fire to the track with soulful harmonies on a vocal performance that highlights the longing in the in the words while cursing the restraint that must be exercised. “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast” studies similar themes as Buddy’s guitars wail over Julie’s words that carry all of the passion with none of the restraint of the previous tune. I heard Julie say once that this song was her attempt to write a song like “Wild Thing”… a rocking, unrestrained, love song. Mission accomplished.
It was songs like those that first pulled me into this album. I loved the juxtaposition of the heavy electric guitars and pounding drums that just scream “Rock & Roll” with the breathy raspy twang of Buddy & Julie’s voices that come straight from days of Nashville past. Songs like their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower” fit that description perfectly. Fiddles cry while cymbals crash in a perfect blend of country, blues, and roots rock that forms a perfect blueprint of Americana.
Buddy & Julie Miller was named “Album of the Year” at the inaugural Americana Music Honors & Awards in 2002. It’s hard to argue with the panel for their choice.
Buddy & Julie Miller: You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast (Buy Album)
Buddy & Julie Miller: Wallflower (Buy Album)

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #9 – Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks

Posted in The Jayhawks, Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 16, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

The Jayhawks are one of the most respected acts to come out of the early days of the alt-country movement. Led by Gary Louris and Mark Olson, The Jayhwaks won a legion of fans with their Byrds inspired jangle pop/country sound and their extremely tight vocal harmonies. The formula worked to perfection on three wonderful albums… 1989’s Blue Earth, 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall, and 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass.

Despite the band’s success, founding member Olson left the group following the Tomorrow the Green Grass tour to pursue other projects. With the departure of his songwriting and vocal partner, Louris could have called it quits as well, but decided to keep the band together and keep releasing albums under the Jayhawks name.
Critical reviews were split on The Jayhawks first two post-Olson releases… 1997’s Sound of Lies and 2000’s Smile. On these releases, Louris seemed to abandon the group’s signature rootsy blend to explore a sound that drew from more pop and rock influences. Without Olson by his side, Louris took the opportunity to experiment a bit and try to expand his sound. He did so even while many fans were waiting and and hoping for a return to The Jayhawks sound of old.
In 2003, that return came in the form of the album Rainy Day Music.
The album’s opening track, “Stumbling Through the Dark,” begins with a finger picked riff that clearly recalls the band’s Byrdsian influences before settling into a loping country beat. The band’s trademark harmonies reappear here as well. This time, however, Louris blends with drummer Tim O’Reagan instead of Olson.
The next track is “Tailspin,” a song that adds an element of rock to the proceedings all while still featuring banjo (played by Bernie Leadon) and steel guitar. This track, along with the folksy rockers “The Eyes of Sarahjane” and “You Look So Young” go the furthest to remind me of the sound The Jayhawks so masterfully captured on Hollywood Town Hall.
The quieter moments on the disc play well here too. “All the Right Reasons” features harmony vocals from alt-popster Matthew Sweet (who also co-wrote “Stumbling Through the Dark”) and is a touching love song without being saccharine. The album closing trio of “Tampa to Tulsa,” “Will I See You in Heaven,” and “Stumbling Trough the Dark (Acoustic)” also provide a nice easy bookend to the proceedings.
Rainy Day Music doesn’t quite stand up to the level of the work The Jayhawks were doing when Olson and Louris were still a pair, but it does hearken back to that sound. This was also one of the albums that was very instrumental in shaping my appreciation of the Americana genre in the early part of this decade. For that reason, it belongs in my Top 10.
The Jayhawks: Tailspin (Buy Album)
The Jayhawks: All the Right Reasons (Buy Album)

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #10 – Back to Me

Posted in Kathleen Edwards, Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 12, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Released in 2005, Kathleen Edwards’ sophomore effort Back to Me had some big shoes to fill in attempting to live up to her debut album Failer. All that album did was get nominated for “Album of the Year” at the Americana Music Awards (Kathleen lost to Johnny Cash), prompt the AMA to create a “Best New/Emerging Artist” category the following year, and place the Canadian songwriter on the map as a new and important voice in Americana music.

Fortunately, Back to Me was able to live up to expectations and deliver on the promise shown by Kathleen on her debut disc. The album opener “In State” sets the tone for the proceedings by giving us a glimpse at the hard edged persona that is so often present in her songs. This track serves as a warning to the singer’s no good man that he needs to clean up his act before she tells what she knows and gets him locked up in a state pen. As Kathleen puts it, “I know where the cops hang out./I know where you’ll be found./I know what you’re all about./I know when you’re going down.” We’ve all been warned that Kathleen is not to be messed with.
The attitude shows up again on the album’s title track in the form of a scorned lover who is determined to use every trick at her disposal to make her man come back. The attitude turns to incredulousness on “What Are You Waiting For?” (a song I recently featured in my “Songs I Can’t Play on the Radio” post) when the subject of the song tells Kathleen he likes her better in his memory. Her response is classic.
Of course, the album has its tender moments as well. “Copied Keys” is a very heartfelt song about picking up roots and moving to a strange place to be with someone you love. It’s not hard to feel displaced at times in a new town. Kathleen captures those feelings perfectly.
Musically, Kathleen creates an inviting roots-rock sound that brings a sense of warmth to her often confrontational lyrics. I’ve described her sound before as as what you might expect if Tom Petty and Lucinda Williams had a daughter who grew up in Canada listening to Neil Young. Kathleen herself has cited Petty as the biggest influence on her sound. That’s never more apparent as in the guitar solo on the title track. The fact that Heartbreaker Benmont Tench appears on the album certainly doesn’t hurt that comparison either.
I could have easily placed any of Kathleen Edward’s three albums on this list. I love all three. There’s something about this one though that just puts it over the top for me. Here are two of the tracks that I mentioned above.
Kathleen Edwards: In State (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: Copied Keys (Buy Album)

Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade 2000-2009

Posted in Top 10 Americana Albums: 2000-2009 on November 12, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

It’s getting to be that time of year again. As we get closer to December the stream of new releases starts to slow, and we start to look back at the music of the past year to determine which releases were the most vital and essential. I’ve been paring down my list and will share it with you as we get closer to the new year. Keep your eyes peeled for info on a massive collaborative list that a few bloggers (myself included) will be working toward over the next month as well.

The thing that makes this year unique (as my wife reminded me recently) is that the end of this year also marks the end of a decade. That makes this an excellent time to look back at the last ten years and share my favorites with you. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share with you a few albums from the last ten years that really defined the decade for me musically.
This year also marks the 10th Anniversary of The Americana Music Association. I think it only fitting then… since this is the decade that gave rise to the Americana movement… that my list be limited to the Top 10 Americana releases of the decade. The list will combine my favorite albums and the albums that meant the most to me as I discovered and devoured the sounds of Americana over the last ten years. The only rule is that an artist can only make the list once… no multiple entries from the same artist.
Feel free to discuss and disagree with my choices. I hope to have the first installment posted later today.