For me the beauty of americana music over the last two-decades has been the way the original palette laid out by the forefathers of this music Dylan, the Dead, the Band, Hartford, and the modern forefathers, the Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo, and Steve Earle has evolved and widened its scope. The inclusion of instrumentation that would have been seen as blasphemous at one time combined with a deep-dive into the well of American roots music has allowed a new generation of musicians to merge and marry diverse sounds and idioms together to create a whole new tapestry representing what americana is. My list tries to represent that diversity of sound and eschews many of the heavy hitters of the era. I wanted to highlight the amazing journey of americana music in all its wandering glory by shining a light into all the nooks and crannies to focus on some albums that may be less familiar. Their unfamiliarity makes them no less vital or powerful.
Number 10: Tedeschi Trucks Band ‘Revelator’ (2011)
It’s a simple, no-brainer formula. Take the best young guitar player in the world, add his wife who is a shredding blues-singer (and no slouch on the guitar herself), combine with a band of hot-shit players, write songs, record. The result is a mesmerizing slice of 70s inspired soul.
Number 9: Anders Osborne ‘Coming Down’ (2007)
A deeply personal album that perfectly channels the energy of songwriting masters like Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. The album is a journey through heartache, pain, summer days, and Osborne’s two great loves, his wife and his New Orleans home. You can literally smell and taste the heavy, humid New Orleans air on ‘Summertime in New Orleans’. ‘My Old Heart’ is pure emotion, feel free to play it at my funeral.
Number 8: Fred Eaglesmith ‘6 Volts’ (2011)
If you put your ear to the chest of americana music, the beating you hear would sound like the stripped down, steady pulse of “6 Volts”. If you opened up that chest you would see the lyrical genius of Eaglesmith at work, crafting tales of down on their luck characters who have struggled to get by living life on the dark edge of life.
Number 7: Drive-By Truckers ‘Decoration Day’ (2003)
The Drive-By Truckers embodied the best of the Allman Brothers Band deep south, southern rock sound and mashed it together with the Muscle Shoals soul that is the home of the Truckers (Patterson Hood’s father was the longtime bassist at Muscle Shoals), delivered with a modern-edge and a sharp critical eye of the societal ills we all face. The addition of Jason Isbell, who makes his first recorded appearance with the Truckers on “Decoration Day”, adds further depth and emotion with three songwriters now jockeying for space. The result is pure southern-rock perfection.
Number 6: Bombadil ‘All That the Rain Promises’ (2011)
‘All That The Rain Promises’ stays true to the band’s uniquely addictive take on folksy-americana, piedmont blues, and rocking gypsy rag-time. Bombadil’s genius has always been in how they create complex beauty out of such a simple sound. ‘All That The Rain Promises’ is an eleven-song musical adventure weaving stories and tales about such diverse topics as bread making, leather belts, ponies, crushes, and the joy of one-wheeled bikes that are full of lyrical twists, odd instrumentation, and immediately unforgettable harmonies, that moves from sparse ballads to quirky rockers, and is quite simply glorious.
Number 5: Low Anthem “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” (2008)
‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’ is pure stripped down beauty. A deeply thoughtful album, full of sadness and despair delivered in heartbreakingly beautiful harmonies that demand the listener to be engaged. ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’ translates vast themes of environmental decay and social de-evolution into a perfect sound that relies as much on the silence and space in between each and every slow, fading note as it does the rich, moody, texture found at the heart of each song.
Number 4: Fleet Foxes ‘Fleet Foxes’ (2008)
Fleet Foxes who rely on their lush, choir-like harmonies to create unwavering ambiance, came out swinging on their debut effort. The result is a deep, dark, complex album that is a truly challenging reward, that while forward-looking harkens back to the heart of the blue ridge mountains about which they sing so heavenly.
Number 3: Wye Oak ‘Civilian’ (2011)
Wye Oak used to live deep in the noise, their fleeting flourishes of sublime beauty hidden between walls of thunderous guitar and crushing distortion. But on their third album, ‘Civilian’ – by far their greatest triumph – Wye Oak has emerged from the noise. They can still ramp it up and bring those deftly timed sonic explosions, but now those fleeting moments of sublime beauty have taken over the duo’s songs and the results are stunning. At its core ‘Civilian’ is an acoustic-folk album disguised with noise (search out acoustic versions of these songs to see the album’s true soul).
Number 2: Caleb Stine & the Brakemen ‘I’ll Head West Again’ (2008)
Falling somewhere between the renegade cowboy-poetry of Townes Van Zandt and the sweet rough and tumble sound of Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’, ‘I’ll Head West Again’, Stine’s second album, is a collection of ten unflinchingly direct songs in which the uncommonly gifted songwriter continues to tell the story of his exploration in what he calls, “an evolving and eroding America.”
Number 1: The Bridge ‘National Bohemian’ (2011)
Baltimore’s The Bridge decade long-run came to an end in 2011 (launching the career of Cris Jacobs), but before they called it quits they left us with this Steve Berlin produced masterpiece that is the perfect culmination of their years on the road crisscrossing America. The album is built by all the elements that they were known for, a sound born in the backwoods and the mountains, but raised on the streets of New Orleans, while being led by intense guitar work and heartfelt songwriting.