New Independent Music: Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and More

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, Blue Sky Riders Offer Americana Albums

This month, quite a few acclaimed Americana musicians have adopted the buddy system.

Fans of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell will be delighted with Old Yellow Moon, their first-ever duets album. They’ve been pals since the 1970s, and there’s a hint of that era in songs like “Hanging Up My Heart.” One of country music’s finest songwriters, Crowell contributed four songs to the project. Roger Miller ‘s evergreen “Invitation to the Blues” also gets a freshening up.

Longtime fans of Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison will be overjoyed with Cheater’s Game, a project that’s packed with his smart songwriting and her endearing country voice. The whole album is a sterling example of Americana music, but if I had to pick one favorite, I’d probably choose “Ordinary Fool” because Willis’ voice nearly brings me to tears every time. If I keep listening, the jaunty cover of Razzy Bailey’s “9,999,999 Tears” will be my new theme song.

Meanwhile, Blue Sky Riders have a new album and an interesting lineup of pop star Kenny Loggins and Nashville songwriters Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman. Listening to well-crafted material like “Dream,” you can tell this project isn’t just a lark. They’re actively touring, as well.

As always, plenty of bands are offering new material. I’d recommend the following tracks: Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors’ “Good Light,” Ivan & Alyosha’s “Running for Cover,” Roger Knox & the Pine Valley Cosmomauts’ “Stranger in My Country,” Chris Leigh and the Broken Hearts’ “Like I Love You Forever,” Mount Moriah’s “Younger Days,” Mother Banjo Band’s “The Devil Hasn’t Won,” the Nadas’ “Meant to Be” and the Riverbreaks’ “City of Music.”

For bands with a bluegrass angle, listen up for the SteelDrivers ‘ “When You Don’t Come Home,” as well as Dave Adkins and Republik Steele’s “That’s Just the Way I Roll,” Flatt Lonesome’s “You’ll Get No More of Me” and Wood & Wire’s “Rambler’s Blues.”

There’s a plethora of singer-songwriters with new projects, too. Phil Lee ‘s “Cold Ground” is possibly my favorite of the batch. In times of grief, do you know how people walk up and ask, “Is there something I can do?” Lee has a few suggestions, which might break your heart.

Other cool tracks include Terry Allen’s “Bottom of the World,” John Corbett’s “Steal Your Heart,” Matt Costa’s “Ophelia,” Samantha Crain’s “Never Going Back,” Jarrod Dickenson’s “Ballad of a Lonesome Traveler,” Jaida Dreyer’s “South of the Sun,” Mary Gauthier ‘s live version of “I Drink,” Wayne Hancock ‘s “Ride,” Susan James’ “Driving Toward the Sun,” Brad Mackeson’s “Love Is a Gamble,” Todd May’s “Build a Better Rocket” and Pharis & Jason Romero’s “Long Gone Out West Blues.”

Listeners who appreciate R&B might enjoy Sheila Marshall’s “Trouble,” Hadden Sayers’ “That’s What You Do” and Otis Taylor’s “My World Is Gone.” Also, save time for Richard Thompson ‘s “Saving the Good Stuff for You,” Reed Turner’s “Ghost in the Attic,” Dustin Welch’s “Across the Rubicon” and Holly Williams“Drinkin’” — and raise a toast to the rewarding partnerships in Americana music.

For fans of classic country, it’s worth tracking down three new compilations from Omnivore Recordings: Merle Haggard ‘s The Complete ’60s Capitol Singles, Wanda Jackson ‘s The Best of the Classic Capitol Singles and George JonesThe Complete United Artists Solo Singles. Their fans will recognize a bulk of the material, yet there are several choice tracks that haven’t been overly anthologized, such as Haggard’s “The Longer You Wait,” Jackson’s “Sinful Heart” and Jones’ “I Get Lonely in a Hurry.”

Ominvore has also issued Townes Van Zandt‘s Sunshine Boy: The Unheard Studio Sessions and Demos 1971-1972. Highlights include an alternate mix of “Pancho & Lefty” without strings and horns, as well as studio renditions of “Standin’” and the elegant “To Live Is to Fly.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.