It’s part two of our writers picks from 2019 where we collectively list the albums that made the biggest impact on us over the last 12 months. There’s one album repeated from yesterday’s list which I guess by default makes it our album of the year but we’ll leave you eagled-eyed beavers to work that out for yourself. So once again, here we go!
Peter Bruntnell ‘King of Madrid’ (Domestico) Peter Bruntnell has never made a bad record, but every now and then he makes a truly great one. So it was with his 2019 release, which adds to a catalogue of work over two decades that can stand proudly against any other artist working in the Americana genre. Like all great records ‘King of Madrid’ gets better with every listen. (Clint West)
Steve Earle & The Dukes ‘Guy’ (New West) There have been some great albums this year but, for me, the best of the bunch has to be Steve Earle & The Dukes tribute album ‘Guy’. Guy Clark was one of the best American songwriters of his generation and an early mentor to Steve Earle when he first arrived in Nashville. They remained friends throughout the rest of Clark’s life and you can hear the love and respect Earle has for him in every note of every track on this album. Outstanding. (Rick Bayles)
Bruce Springsteen ‘Western Stars’ (Columbia) Springsteen reached back to the days of the AM pop of the early ’70s for one of the most unique albums in his oeuvre. There are echoes of Jimmy Webb, Harry Nilsson, and Danny O’Keefe, but the lyrics are pure Springsteen; characters searching for peace as the darkness sets in. (Mike Elliott)
Caroline Spence ‘Mint Condition’ (Rounder) If only everything that came out of Nashville was this good. Proper, grown-up, intelligent, country tinged Americana delivered with passion and feeling by a hideously underrated singer/songwriter. Recipient of a rare but fully merited 10/10 rating on this website. Love this artist and love this album. (Pete Churchill)
Luke Tuchscherer ‘Carousel’ (Clubhouse) To be honest I was only vaguely familiar with Luke Tuchscherer when I was asked to review ‘Carousel’ earlier this and although there are probably albums from higher-profile artists that I could have selected, I’ve opted for this one. Good, honest, well written and heartfelt songs with lyrics that don’t leave you scratching your head wondering what the hell they were about. If a Scotsman can pick an album where the first track is ‘My Darling England’ it must be pretty good! (Jim Finnie)
J.S. Ondara ‘Tales of America’ (Verve) The album that really stayed with me is the sparsely beautiful folk of J.S. Ondara, who journeyed from Kenya to the USA to follow his dream of making it as a singer. He arrived in America without any connections or even a guitar. He went from teaching himself guitar to Grammy-nomination. What a story. He was also lucky enough to be interviewed by me – what a year that man’s had! (Andrew Frolish)
Charles Wesley Godwin ‘Seneca’ (Independent) For someone who stumbled into music after failing to make onto the West Virginia University football team, Charles Wesley Godwin has pulled off the rare feet of creating a debut album in which every song feels perfectly in place and stays with you long after you listen. He weaves a tapestry of tales from his roots in the Appalachian hills with a voice so striking it won’t be forgotten, his vocals resonating with warmth, presence and – maybe most importantly – authenticity. (Helen Jones)
The Alvarez Theory ‘The Alvarez Theory’ (Independent) In a year featuring some great work from across the range of Americana, The Alvarez Theory’s self-titled work makes album of the year for me because the quiet contemplative songs have drawn me back time and again. If you want music to listen to rather than background this is the one. (Tim Martin)
Mavis Staples ‘We Get By’ (Anti) Mavis keeps knocking them clean out of the ballpark. Her voice rises from the deepest foundations of faith, soul and wisdom. On the title track she’s joined by album producer Ben Harper, and a side of Pops Staples trademark ‘shaky’ guitar (that’s what Elvis himself called it). ‘Change’ for example has a buzz-saw guitar riff, exploding from brooding to full-on angry gospel blues. There should be a Smithsonian Museum dedicated to just her. (Mark Nenadic)
Joy Williams ‘Front Porch’ (Sensibility) Themes of departure, transience and longing populate Joy Williams’s ‘Front Porch’ with her vocals ranging from an impassioned higher register to calm melodiousness. There is a sweet melancholy to this album with the sad acceptance of relationships passing and the need for closure. Though melancholy, this work is never despairing and ultimately leaves you with a sense of the enduring nature of love despite its imperfection. (Richard Phillips)
The Avett Brothers ‘Closer Than Together’ (Universal) I can’t think of a band whose arrangements and production I consistently like as much as North Carolina’s Avetts, which wouldn’t count for much if the songs weren’t up to scratch but fortunately ‘Closer Than Together’ is a career highlight. They’ve taken a fair amount of grief for producing a political album – the “shut up and sing” lobby have been out in force – but the poetry of their message (what a line “Blood in the soil with the cotton and tobacco” is) along with melodies that melt over the words brings a lump to my throat every time. (Mark Whitfield)
Part one of our writers’ picks of 2019 is here
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>>> It's that time of year again, the AUK 2020 Readers Poll. Vote for your favourite americana from the last year here and win some nice shiny new promos!