Cream of the Crop – Twang Nation Top Americana and Roots Music Picks of 2018

Truth be told I’ve been distracted by much unpleasantness in 2018. So much so as many of these outstanding selections moved past my attention when they were first released. Luckily I keep a list of yearly releases and was able to rewind and catch them before they slipped away as 2019 dawned.

Criteria – Calendar year 2018. No EPs, live, covers or re-release albums no matter how awesome. Don’t see your favorite represented? Leave it in the comments, and here’s to a new year of Twang.

  1. Jamie Lin Wilson – Jumping Over Rocks – On her sophomore outing, Wilson has created a lean melancholy masterpiece. The pull of the road and the fray on family ties, and the resulting loneliness and regret are just some of the universal themes running through these unvarnished jewels traveling on that dusky trill. It’s a testament to the skill of craft that created these songs that Guy Clark’s “Instant Coffee Blues” sits so easily within Wilson’s originals.


2. John Prine – ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’ – 13 years in the making Prine lends his wry eye to the everyday glory and mundane divinity that has become Prine’s calling card in his 71 years. His ruminations of birth, death and the the pageant of absurdity connecting the two could be chalked up to the interests of an older man (especially one that’s beat 2 cancer prognosis,) but Prine has always been an artist that’s interested in exploring our shared experiences in whimsical ways.

3. J.P. Harris – ‘Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing,’ – Harris belies his 30 year travels around the sun by penning songs that channels Mickey Newbury  (‘Lady in the Spotlight’) or Blaze Foley (the title cut) to create a calico quilt of country and roots best bits that hangs together and serves a fitting flag to stake out his own territory of sonic discovery.


4. Dillon Carmichael – ‘Hell on an Angel“ – The story goes that Dillon Carmichael has country music in his DNA and he was destined to mine for country gold. I’ve known a lot of decedents of music greats that didn’t have a lick of destiny in them. Hell on an Angel“ is a project that has me reevaluating that conclusion. Hillbilly Whisperer Dave Cobb has again found himself alongside an artist that can be described as the future of country music by reminding us all that its beauty lies in its past.

5. Colter Wall – “Songs of the Plain” – That voice. Those songs. “Songs of the Plain” mines much of the history that made country music relatable and beloved by folks the world over. A cowboy longing for home while on a long trail ride is not just a reflection on the cost of a particular profession as much as it is a dusty sketch of a common longing we can all share.


6. Lori McKenna – ‘The Tree” – McKenna’s collection of family-album folk songs shows haw a master of songcraft finds depth in the ordinary moments of everyday life. McKenna’s ability to write of the profound in relatable, and often commercially successful, ways make her one of the few that can traverse mainstream country and Americana territories with aplomb.


7. Mike and the Moonpies – ‘Steak Night at the Prairie Rose’ – Everyone has come across some asshole willing to sound the death knell for country music. Next time that happens drop this album on them like a 9lb. hammer. Barroom confessionals and boot-scootin‘ crowd pleasers reflects the spirit of those thousands of stages Mike and the Moonpies has had to own on any given night. It doesn’t get more real.

8. Ruston Kelly – ‘Dying Star’ – Kelly is another country music vet not content to keep working behind the stage grinding out hits for the likes of the Josh Abbott Band and Tim McGraw. Those skills allow Kelly to craft lean songs that carry just the right amount of studio sheen as not to choke the life from these back-alley confessionals of failing faith and dime-store salvation.

9. Charley Crockett – ‘Lonesome As a Shadow’ – Crockett’s working-class upbringing in rural border town Texas and years of busking on the streets of New Orleans and New York City is steeped bone deep in these cuts. To find a melange of Redneck-Cajun gumbo this satisfying outside of this release you’d have to dig deep into the 70’s Leon Russell / Willie Nelson collaborations.

10. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – ‘Years’ – Hearing Sarah Shook for the first time transported me back to Dallas jn the early 90s when I first heard the Old 97s. The country music I had grown up with on my parent’s stereo was all hopped up on trucker speed and bucking bronco beats. Shook embodies the golden years of alt.country but brews up her own brand of fresh blood with razor sharp wit and a heavy dose of ‘I don’t give as fuck.’

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