The search continues folks. Yes, its time to put yet another AUK writer into the hot seat. All each one has to do is to cast their eye across the whole history of americana and pick out just 10 albums that represent their personal top 10 ever. Simple really, only it’s not, as most have testified. In fact, if it wasn’t for this wretched pandemic, then the country’s hospitals would almost certainly be packed to the rafters with AUK writers suffering from nervous exhaustion, anxiety, palpitations and flashbacks to the ones they forgot to include. This week Dave Jarman steps nervously forward to join in with this act of collective masochism:
Well, a challenging task, but what a joy to reflect on so much great music. My top five were easy wins, but editing from top 20 to top 10 was harder-many of my omissions surprised me! Ultimately the decision point was which albums, and artists, have given me most listening pleasure over the years. So here they are:
Number 10: Mark Otis Selby ‘Naked Sessions’ (2018)
No collection of my top 10 songs would be complete without at least one stripped back album featuring the raw emotion of guitar and vocals, and the late Mark Otis Selby’s final posthumous release is as raw as it gets. Better known as a writer, solo and with Tia Sillers, with songs covered by artists including the Dixie Chicks, Little Big Town and Keb’ Mo’ among many others. The album’s highlights include ‘Backdoor to My Heart’, ‘Lucinda Sing’, his ode to his one time ex Lucinda Williams, and ‘Tumbleweeds’, my favourite song on the much-used theme of a cowboy born at the wrong time. A regular partner when I’m on the road.
Adam’s debut solo album and still my favourite, despite strong competition, notably from ‘Gold’ and ‘Ashes and Fire’. Great writing – has he ever bettered ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ featuring fabulous harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris and A-list support from Ethan Johns, David Rawlings and Gillian Welch?
Their breakthrough album, after emerging as a busking band, featuring ‘Wagon Wheel’, their best-known song, but with real depth in the mix of originals and covers, delivered with vigour and enthusiasm from constant gigging. The tracklisting plays like a live set, with the big finish of ‘Wagon Wheel’ to look forward to, via the up-tempo blast of ‘Tear it Down’, the leisurely pace of their version of ‘CC Rider’, and the moving original bluegrass ballad (!) ‘We’re All in This Together’.
A great lyricist and writer on the human condition, with a unique and character-filled voice, Gauthier transports the listener to the heart of her stories. Stand out tracks include ‘Can’t Find The Way’, written in the wake of the terrible New Orleans flood, which displaced so many, and ‘Last of the Hobo Kings’, a classic americana story song, inspired by a news item, and with a magical arrangement, guitar out front with thigh slap percussion, and eerie harmonium. One of my desert island songs for sure.
Born of a unique marriage of Western Swing and West Coast 1970’s stoner music, and delivered with a smile and a swagger, Dan Hicks music always brings a smile to my face. His outstanding album in a rich back catalogue, it features probably his best-known songs ‘Moody Richard’ and the Latin influenced ‘I Scare Myself’, with its evocative fiddle, and perhaps the epitome of laid back, the sublime ‘Canned Music’.
Hearing the great riff-driven ‘Lights of Downtown’ on my car radio back in 1985 was my introduction to the Long Ryders, and their glorious high energy rock and roll take on the jangly guitars of the West Coast. Are there many better one-two openers to an album than ‘Looking For Lewis and Clark’ and ‘Lights of Downtown’? The album continues in potent vein with ‘You Just Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore’ and title track ‘State of My Union’, with its extended guitar solo outro.
The last, and in my opinion the best of Johnny Cash’s ‘American’ series of albums. Raw emotion oozes from his voice, never more so than on ‘Hurt’, an unlikely cover of a song by Nine Inch Nails. The combination of Cash’s vocals and guitar, and Rick Rubin’s production and song selection draws greater depth from these songs than anyone else could achieve.
Nick Lowe has always had leanings in an Americana direction, from his early days with Brinsley Schwarz, influenced by The Band and others, ‘The Impossible Bird’ is his masterpiece, featuring a combination of some of his finest writing, and a few finely chosen covers, notably ‘True Love Travels on a Gravel Road’, and with a line up including the great Bill Kirchen on guitar. Stand out track ‘The Beast in Me’, was written for Johnny Cash and recorded by him.
Undisputed Queen of Americana, this is one of the greatest albums of the genre-every song a winner, from opener ‘Right in Time’, through the title track, to other classics such as ‘Drunken Angel’, ‘Greenville’ and the supremely angry ‘Joy’. Williams vocals are perfect for her material, and arrangements are as good as it gets, its impacts undimmed by the twenty-plus years since its release.
Number 1: Various Artists ‘This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark’ (2012)
Guy Clark is one of my favourite writers on the human condition with many fine releases, but this double album draws together such a fine selection of his songs, with great performances from the likes of Steve Earle (‘The Last Gunfighter Ballad’), Emmylou Harris and John Prine (‘Magnolia Wind’) and Ron Sexsmith (‘Broken Hearted People’). Within its 30 tracks are gems unknown to me before like ‘Homeless’, performed by Shawn Camp, and ‘The Dark’, a stand out track by Terri Hendrix. My keeper if my other desert island discs are washed away.
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