If you're a fan of hardcore honky-tonk country, then you'll want to dig into new releases from Buck Owens and Don Rich, as well as Daniel Romano and Dale Watson.
Owens died in 2006, yet the tracks on Honky Tonk Man have never been released. Owens and his band recorded the songs in the early 1970s in preparation for the Hee Haw TV show tapings. Rather than half-hearted vocals, though, Owens delivered that signature twang on classics like "Swingin' Doors" and "I'm Movin' On." Another highlight is Owens' bright take on Ray Price's "My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You."
Rich, Owens' longtime sideman who died in 1974, gets his own moment in the spotlight with Don Rich Sings George Jones. The recordings were discovered in Owens' vault, and this collection marks the first time they've ever been commercially available. Stick around to the final four tracks and you'll hear Owens' own versions of four George Jones classics.
Every day on my way to work, I've been listening to Romano's new album, Come Cry With Me. This Canadian singer-songwriter offers a strong collection of hardcore honky-tonk country. There are a few sly winks here and there, like "When I Was Abroad," but for the most part, it's not played for laughs or irony. "Two Pillow Sleeper" and "Just Between You and Me" sound like lost tracks from the 1970s golden era of country music.
A number of singer-songwriters have launched the year with new music, too. Recommended tracks include Jeff Black's "True Love Never Lets Me Down," Blaudzun's "Flame on My Head," Max Gomez's "Run From You," Ted Russell Kamp's "Right Down to the Wire" and Kris Kristofferson's eloquent "Feeling Mortal."
Listeners in Austin might want to track down local talent like Bill Carter and the Blame's "Save You," Lisa Richards' "Beating of the Sun," Carrie Rodriguez's "Devil in My Mind" and Chris Wall's "I Should Have Called." Meanwhile, Dale Watson's El Rancho Azul shows the Austin stalwart in top form with a bunch of drinking songs that are easy to sing along with.
If you'd like to sample some Americana bands, try Blue Cactus Choir's "Blue Moon Over Mexico," Chicago Farmer's "Backenforth," Dolly Varden's "Del Mar, 1976," Juliet & the Lonesome Romeos' "Unkindest Cut," Leagues' "Friendly Fire," the Lone Bellow's "You Never Need Nobody," Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition's "Fake Hex," the Shadowboxers' "On the Move" and Wake Owl's "Wild Country."
And if you're into collaborations, try "I Will Lay Me Down," which gathers John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band, the bluegrass band Balsam Range and special guest Zac Brown. Another winning pick is Henry Wagons' "Give Things a Chance to Mend" featuring Jenn Grant.