Our quest to find the best americana album ever continues with another compelling list, this time from AUK writer Viv Fish. It’s been a fascinating journey so far and if nothing else, has demonstrated the wide range of musical tastes that our writers possess. Just a reminder that when all the writers have chipped in with their selections, a shortlist will be drawn up and they will vote from that list for the prestigious accolade (it says here) of AUK’s best americana album ever. Over to you Viv…
Compiling this has been a much more challenging exercise than I first expected! On a different day, I might have ordered some of my choices differently, but I doubt if my top 5 would have changed.
Number 10: The Eagles ‘Eagles‘ (1972)
Who would have thought a number of recording sessions in rainy London would have given us this glorious ray of Californian sunshine. It was a tough choice to pick one album from this incredible vocal harmony group, but I’ve gone with their eponymous debut for its blend of acoustic folk, country, folk-rock and country-rock, making it right up my street! Such an auditory treat, as well as an epic live experience.
Number 9: The Chicks ‘Home‘ (2002)
Formerly the Dixie Chicks the band dropped the ‘Dixie’ earlier in 2020 to distance them from the nostalgic nickname given to the southern states in the American Civil War. ‘Home‘ attracted controversy but also a bundle of awards and critical acclaim. For me, the album is feisty, musical and memorable. Several tracks are wonderfully well-performed covers such as ‘Travelin’ Soldier‘ (Bruce Robison) and ‘Landslide‘ (Stevie Nicks). Still, equally rousing is their own ‘Tortured, Tangled Hearts‘ (Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, Marty Stuart). Don’t get too upset by the video!
Number 8: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt ‘Trio‘ (1987)
It would have been a tough decision was it not for this album. Three such esteemed artists, it was a masterstroke putting these 3 songbirds together. The result, a seamless blend of stunning harmony that melts the soul. No wonder they followed it a couple of years later with Trio II. Enjoy this nostalgic video.
Number 7: The Thorns ‘The Thorns‘ (2003)
Supergroups can run the risk of not living up to expectations, but not The Thorns, a project by Matthew Sweet, Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins. With such vocal prowess and tender musicality, this, the only studio album by The Thorns, soars through a range of emotions making it compulsive listening. No song more so than ‘Among the Living‘ – arguably one of the most profound of lyrics. Another favourite is ‘I can’t Remember‘ a fabulous blend of their voices and some stunning guitar.
Number 6: Nanci Griffith ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms‘ (1993)
The strength and elegance of Nanci Griffith’s voice make her infinitely listenable. So, with this album being, as she intended – an album of the many voices, words and melodies which had entered her soul starting as a young girl growing up in Texas and continuing to this day – it captures so much. From Ralph McTell to Tom Paxton, Woody Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, to name but a few, Nanci’s vision became this work of art. Enjoy her version of the John Prine song ‘Speed of the Sound of Loneliness‘ – it is quite exquisite.
Number 5: Simone Felice ‘Strangers‘ (2014)
Timeless and mesmerising. This album alone more than justifies his departure from his kinship, the internationally acclaimed Felice Brothers. Going it alone clearly suits Simone Felice, and the results are astounding. ‘Strangers‘ is deep, dark, bright and beautiful all at the same time. The work of a genius. He is equally as captivating live too. Not much choice for a video, the quality of those available is pretty poor so because this is the beautifully tender and moving song I wanted to feature the visual is a still from the album cover.
Number 4: Kate Rusby ‘Underneath the Stars‘ (2003)
The title track immediately captured my heart and drew me in. The album quickly became a huge favourite as well as my entry-level experience to the Folk world, opening the door on everything from the rootsy to the contemporary making this album very special to me. Kate Rusby sings about the beautiful, the sad, the funny and the frivolous with gentle conviction, pure charm and delicate humour. What’s more, all of the above, together with her selection of accomplished musicians, always translate into fabulously entertaining live shows.
Number 3: Jesse Terry ‘Natural‘ (2017)
Probably the least well known of my top 10 but Jesse Terry is up there with the greats in my opinion. Again though, narrowing down to one album was tricky. Terry has six (and counting) studio albums each one with something special. However, ‘Natural‘ is unique for its stripped-back approach and range of female guest artists including Liz Longley, Dar Williams, Kim Richey and Sarah Darling, to name but a few. The songs all tell of life experiences which are often further enhanced by his confessional humour at live shows. This album very much suits being on repeat. Revel in this wonderful performance of the title track from one of his shows at the Bluebird Cafe, Nashville back in 2009.
Number 2: Andrew Combs ‘Canyons of my Mind‘ (2017)
For me, one of the finds of the century. Combs has such a fantastic voice, terrific songs and is understated yet sensational live. ‘Dirty Rain‘ and ‘Hazel‘ are just two stand out tracks, but the whole album emanates depth and beauty and captured my attention immediately. A mainstay in my car CD player.
Number 1: Bruce Springsteen ‘Western Stars‘ (2019)
An easy choice. With a total departure from his usual rock or earthy tones, the heavenly orchestration and smoothness of his voice, Western Stars was initially quite arresting. What? How? Why? So many questions came to mind, but by the time I had listened to the full album, I was no longer questioning. He had done it again, produced yet another utter gem. His 19th album soared to the top of my favourite listens. The hardest part of this choice has been selecting which video to feature. I’ve gone with ‘There Goes my Miracle‘ but it could have been any. For me, the whole album is stunning.