Dozens of new albums have crossed my desk over the last few months, and I thought I'd share some highlights before summer officially arrives.
As a brand new artist, Kip Moore is out to prove he's more than just the guy who sings "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck." If you're a fan of rugged country music, then hopefully you've already discovered his debut album, Up All Night. If not, you'd be crazy to miss out on highlights like "Drive Me Crazy" or "Crazy One More Time."
Bonnie Raitt's Slipstream is the most satisfying album I've heard this year. She's been away for about seven years, yet her soulful music remains vital as ever. If you're into miserable heartbreak songs, you won't find a finer one than "Not Cause I Wanted To." It's wonderful and refreshing to hear a singer with that hard-won experience in her voice.
For traditional country fans, it doesn't get much better than Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's duet of "A Horse Called Music." If you adore their classic duet of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," then don't miss this one. Other notable country duets include Jason Eady and Patty Loveless' "Man on a Mountain" as well as Marvin Etzioni and Maria McKee's "You Possess Me."
Americana fans will also enjoy "From This Valley," featuring the Civil Wars and Emmylou Harris, an elegant tune from the thought-provoking compilation Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us. For more cool collaborations, track down the Waco Brothers and Paul Burch's feisty "Someone That You Know" and Andre Williams and the Sadies' lively "Hey Baby!" Folk followers will savor Moors & McCumber's quiet "Gravity" as well as Dar Williams and Shawn Colvin's subdued "The Light and the Sea."
Occasionally a musician will hook me with a perfectly placed lyric. It's kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack, yet it's happened twice lately: First on Anthony da Costa's "St. Therese" when he sings, "Loneliness is listening to the record you've got, not the record you want." And I think my favorite tune right now is the Lumineers' super-catchy "Stubborn Love" because of the line, "The opposite of love is indifference."
If you follow Americana music, there's a plethora of new music to check out. For starters, try Horse Feathers' "Where I'll Be," the Mastersons' "Tell Me It's Alright" and the Sons of Bill's "Find My Way Back Home." Counting Crows have also submitted a pleasing rendition of Gram Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel" for their new album of covers.
Of course, there are always new bands in Americana to check out. For starters, you can look up the Barker Band's "Love Letters," the Brothers Comatose's "Strings," Crooks' "Hard Times," Cuff the Duke's "Count on Me" and Dala's "Peggy." Under the letter "H," you can dig up Herrick's "Cry Memphis," Hey Rosetta's "Bricks," Hoots & Hellmouth's "Shorthand for a Natural Man" and Hurray for the Riff Raff's "What's Wrong With Me." The MSB Family Band's "Tonight" has a ragged, fun vibe to it. And coming all the way from Norway (yet still Americana-sounding) is Orbo & the Longshot's "Highway Tears."
Probably my favorite country album this year is by the Oklahoma band Turnpike Troubadours. The well-written lyrics on Goodbye Normal Street stand up to repeated listening, while the music is catchy and twangy enough to make me wish I was drinking a beer with red dirt under my feet. Although I don't skip over any tracks on this project, I do find myself gravitating to "Good Lord Lorrie," an up-tempo song about a wrecked love affair.
Longtime country fans will also enjoy Mark Collie's live version of "One More Second Chance," which he recorded while performing for prisoners, as well as Marty Raybon's poignant "Long, Hard Road" and Marty Stuart's twangy "Going, Going, Gone." Newcomer Carrie Hassler also offers a traditional country take on "Catch My Breath" while Paul Thorn takes a more soulful approach on "Wrong Number."
For bluegrass fans, here are some picks: Brand New Strings' "Other Side of Lonesome," Lou Reid & Carolina's "Another Lonely Day," Special Consensus' "Jacklene" and the Larry Stephenson Band's "My Heart Is on the Mend." I've also taken a shine to Jimmy Gaudreau & Moondi Klein's "Bending Blades," the Vespers' "Instrument for You" and Sara Watkins' "The Accord." A new bluegrass compilation from Putumayo World Music offers an interesting sampling, too.
As always, a throng of singer-songwriters have entered the fray. Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Mother Blues" is a wry and perfectly rendered self-portrait of a man who's dedicated himself to his craft. Cory Branan's autobiographical "Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin)" will delight anyone who spent their teen years listening to John Mellencamp.
Although the following musicians' inspirations are diverse, I've been pulled into the stories in Rob Baird's "Black and Blue," Natasha Borzilova's "Out of My Hands," Neal Casal's "Need Shelter," Andrew Combs' "Take It From Me," Anthony D'Amato's "Hank Williams Tune" and Kat Edmondson's "Hopelessly Blue." True to its title, Jim Hanft's Weddings and Funerals is alternately cheerful and gloomy -- and always compelling. "By the Stream," "Protocol" and "Lazy Love" are highlights.
For song-searchers, it's worth seeking out Mat Kearney's "Walking Over the Water," JD McPherson's "Dimes for Nickels," Anais Mitchell's "Young Man in America" and K Phillips' "Kat's Song (What I Can't Have)." Lisa Marie Presley's gothic "Storm and Grace" is the title track of her new album, which is heavily rooted in Southern sounds.
Finally, Joe Pug's "Those Thankless Years," Erica Rei's "Black Ball" and Megan Reilly's "To Seal My Love" are certain to perk up your ears. Props go to Chris Richards' "Goldenwest," Chelle Rose's "Alimony," Claudia Schmidt's "Bend in the River," Garrison Starr's "Empire State Building" and Jon Troast's "Love Is Motion." Longtime listeners may enjoy Lynn Taylor's "Once Again," Ian Tyson's "Rio Colorado" and Bill Wence's "Kathy Please."
Read more about new music released earlier this year.