A top ten of classic Americana albums

Will I be listening to this top ten in ten years? For the most part, probably. Most of the selections have stood my test of time for a good twenty or thirty years and I don’t think the newer additions are going anyplace soon. How do I know these are my top ten? I wouldn’t begin to defend them through any other reason than that they are my choice of listening when seeking connection to something deeper or more profound than is offered in our quotidian existence. Judge for yourself whether they are worthy of your time:

1) Gene Clark ‘No Other’
This album has a sad transcendental feel that is unique to Clark as well as being one of the more costly album productions of the 1970’s, though sadly being one of the most, at the time, underrated. It is now thankfully being lauded as a real masterpiece, tragically too late for Clark.

2) Stephen Stills ‘Stephen Stills’
A stellar cast features on this album including Cass Elliot, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and even Ringo Starr on a couple of tracks. For my money though, it is the soulful strains of Stills’ vocals and Booker T. Jones on Hammond organ that make this a classic.

3) Corrine West & Kelly Joe PhelpsMagnetic Skyline’
There is a quality to this duo’s recording that doesn’t occur in their solo work, wonderful though that is. The harmonies are perfect, the fusion of guitar voicings sublime and their lyrics of mystery and longing linger with you.

4) Iris Dement ‘Infamous Angel’
Dement’s distinctive vocals whilst singing the philosophical masterpiece, “Let the Mystery Be” would alone justify the choice of this album, but this is no one track wonder, the rest of the album shines and warms your heart.

5) James Taylor ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon’
Every song on this album stands up on its own as a multi-layered and complex piece. Taylor was at the height of his game with his song-writing which speaks of a restlessness and a desire to escape the trappings of early seventies America by building a cabin in the woods, “Until this old world starts a changin’ for the good”.

6) Bruce Springsteen ‘Darkness On the Edge of Town’
The characters populating these songs seek redemption where they can, through the pride of their work,  or in street racing. These are the forgotten people who deserve a voice and to be listened to more than many who see themselves as more worthy: “Poor man wanna be rich / Rich man wanna be king / And a king ain’t satisfied / Till he rules everything.”

7) Bob Dylan ‘Bob Dylan’
This album provides an insight into Dylan’s folk and blues influences at the time with arrangements of other artists songs accounting for all but two of the tracks. What shines through more than anything is a determined and rebellious spirit about to unleash his talent on an unsuspecting public.

8) Emmylou Harris ‘Roses in the Snow’
These tracks are inspired by bluegrass but have a warmth and depth that only Harris could share. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson share the credits amongst others.

9) Jason Isbell ‘Southeastern’
Isbell has an immediacy and credibility which are hard to replicate. His lyrics are sometimes starkly honest which when accompanied by the musical arrangements on this album become captivating.

10) Ryan Bingham ‘Junky Star’
Bingham knows how to write about those who are forgotten and down on their luck. His whisky drenched vocals play out the lyrics like they matter to him and that they should to you too.

Author: Richard Phillips

From the leaden skies of Manchester to the sunny uplands of Cheshire, my quest is for authentic Americana. Love live music, my acoustic guitar and miss my baby (grand piano).

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