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AltCountry&Beyond 15 Favorite Albums of 2016

Drive by Truckers, Live at the Old 97s County Fair, Dallas, TX

AltCountry&Beyond’s 15 Favorite Albums of 2016

2016 was another banner year for music, though we also grieve for lost music legends like Merle Haggard and Guy Clarke, among others, who made inspired contributions to country and roots music. Like last year, 2016 contains so many quality albums that it was hard to select 15 that stand out from the pack, but here is my best effort.

This article contains:

  • AltCountry&Beyond’s favorite 15albums of the year with recommended tracks.

  • EP of the Year.

  • Acoustic Song of the Year.

  • Electric/Acoustic Song of the Year.

  • Best Up-Tempo Rock Song.

1. Arliss Nancy, Greater Divides.

Arliss Nancy lost some band members since the release of their epic album Wild American Runners, but lead singer Cory Call and bassist Kyle Oppold pressed on to produce Greater Divides. Greater Divides contains Arliss’s trademark raspy vocals, infectious choruses, and accompanying keyboard. Top to bottom, Greater Divides is a masterpiece of grunge rock and roll. Recommended Tracks: Dufresne, Don’t You Forget.

You can find my longer review of the album here: http://nodepression.com/album-review/road-divided-steady-wheel

 "Top to bottom, Greater Divides is a masterpiece of grunge rock and roll." 

2. Drive-By Truckers, American Band.

American Band is the DBT’s first album since their 2014 record English Oceans. American Band is a politically charged album which denounces racism, gun violence, and hate. The record follows an op-ed written by Patterson Hood in the New York Times regarding racism and gun violence. As a result, one can find plenty of reviews which detail the record’s political call to action. But how is the music? The album contains DBT’s trademark up-tempo, country-rock guitar and thoughtful lyrics. Cooley’s songs really stand out on American Band, and from the first to the last song, the record reveals another stalwart effort that we have come to expect from DBT. Recommended Tracks: Ramon Casiano, Filthy and Fried

3. Brad Armstrong, Empire.

Brad Armstrong, singer and guitarist for the popular rock-blues band Dexateens, embarked on his first solo effort in 2016, which rewarded listeners with one of the most complex, sophisticated, and fabulous albums of the year. Each song on Empire stands on its own with an assortment of instruments, tempos, and themes. “Cherokee Nose Job,” is a medley of instrumentation with slide guitar, acoustic picking, electric guitar, and candid, ballad-esque lyrics that are too racy for radio.Slower songs like “No Vain Apology” and “Born Haunted” describe cruel situations that Armstrong explains, through the tone in his voice more than his words, cannot change. Empire is not an album to put away after one listen; let this record sink in to unlock its potency. Recommended Tracks: Cherokee Nose Job, Born Haunted.

You can find my review via SSKTDA here: http://nodepression.com/albumreview/brad-armstrongs-empire-has-solidified-his-sovereignty

 "Empire is not an album to put away after one listen; let this record sink in to unlock its potency."

4. Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

Price, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, unpacks emotionally revealing lyrics on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter with her first song “Hands of Time.” The song discusses the loss of her father’s farm, the death of her first-born child, poor relationship choices, and problems with drinking. Price’s courage to disclose these experiences tells the listener that Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is not a typical country record. Through the remainder of the album, Price’s powerful, upbeat vocals display resilience, vulnerability, and a clever wit that gives hope to those who have undergone similar situations. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter showcases a superstar in the making, and if Price is the new face of country, the genre will be in good hands for years to come.

Recommended Tracks: Hands of Time, Hurtin on the Bottle.

 Midwest Farmer’s Daughter showcases a superstar in the making, and if Price is the new face of country, the genre will be in good hands for years to come.

5. Big Shoals, Hard Lessons.

Fans of Lance Howell were eager for the release of his band’s second album Hard Lessons. In 2016, armed with a new drummer and a     successful grass roots funding campaign, Big Shoals produced their sophomore album Hard Lessons. Fans wondered if the band could match the originality, emotion, and poetry-like lyrics of their first album Still Go On. Indeed, Hard Lessons captures all of those traits and more. Hard Lessons captivates listeners with riveting songwriting, unique instrumentals, and polished vocals. Big Shoals contains a creative spirit that walks the full range of music, from up-tempo songs like “You Ain’t Nothing Like the Girls Back Home” to slower, haunting tracks like “Losing Hand.” Hard Lessons also features an acoustic dynamo with “Union Son,” one of 2016’s best songs. The song describes a son who joins the Confederate Army with his dad, while his brother joins the Union. The kid fears that he will find his brother’s corpse at the end of one of the many battles that he participates in, and he watches his dad grow into merciless killer. “Union Son,” a song which will stand the test of music time, is the kind of track that we come to expect from the immensely talented Howell. Recommended Tracks: Union Son, Losing Hand.

Read SSKTDA’s review of Hard Lessons here: http://nodepression.com/album-review/big-shoals-are-no-strangers-hard-le...

 

 "Hard Lessons captivates listeners with riveting songwriting, unique instrumentals, and polished vocals."

6. Reckless Kelly, Sunset Motel.

Reckless Kelly, an Austin-based band, released Sunset Motel in August. The record follows the release of their Grammy winning album Long Night Moon (2013). Sunset Motel showcases the band’s country-rock DNA which blends fast-paced, distorted guitar, bluesy riffs, and independent-minded lyrics. The record also contains sinewy acoustic melodies, including “Sunset Motel,” a disturbing, powerful song about an addict begging a girlfriend for help.  Recommended Tracks: Radio, Sunset Motel.

7. The Wind and the Wave, Happiness Is Not a Place.

This Austin-based duo followed up their popular 2014 LP From The Wreckage with Happiness Is Not a Place, a full length record which features singer-songwriter Patty Lynn’s penetrating vocals accompanied by timely harmonies and instrumentation. The song structure is impeccable, with changing tempos and infectious melodies. Partner/producer Dwight Baker said the record “sounds reckless with a rock and roll spirit and attitude." The Wind and the Wave do Austin proud with this 2016 release. Recommended Tracks: Before the World Explodes, Anything for You.

8. The Bonnevilles, Arrow Pierce My Heart.

What do you get when two musicians from Lurgan, Ireland produce their third album? Another incredible feat of garage punk-blues. Andy McGibbon Jr.’s rhythmic guitar riffs combined with plainspoken, ruffian lyrics create a dynamic and thrilling album. The Bonnevilles have developed a burgeoning cult following which is spreading across the Atlantic; do yourself a favor and check out this album. Recommended Tracks: The Whiskey Lingers, The Electric Company.

 "Andy McGibbon Jr.’s rhythmic guitar riffs combined with plainspoken, ruffian lyrics create a dynamic and thrilling album." 

9. Chris Stalcup & the Grange, Downhearted Fools.

The only question for Georgia-based Chris Stalcup is why he doesn’t live in Texas. Stalcup combines country with distorted guitar and rock-and-roll style vocals which is reminiscent of bands like Reckless Kelly and Whiskey Myers -- powerful country-rock groups that exhibit a tour de force in the genre. Downhearted Fools, which follows the 2014 release of the record Dixie Electric Company, shows Stalcup’s full range of talent. The songs move between rock-and-roll, fast-paced country, and relaxed acoustic melodies; when these traits are blended together, they form one of 2016’ finest albums. Recommended Tracks: Downhearted Fools, Pete and Cylde.

10. Aubrie Sellers, New City Blues.

Distorted guitar, edgy lyrics, blues-rock rhythms, and Seller’s punctuated vocals blend together to create one of 2016’s finest albums. Sellers, daughter of the popular country singer Lee Ann Womack, carves her own path in Americana with New City Blues. Her confident vocal tones express a sad defiance that complement blues–rock guitar and her delightful twang reveals itself in slower tracks like “Losing Ground.” All around, one of 2016’s best records. Recommended Tracks: Sit Here and Cry, Losing Ground.

11. Matt Woods, How to Survive.

Woods’ How To Survive is a marked departure from his prior record, With Love from Brushy Mountain, which featured peppy, up-temp blues. How To Survive is a more solemn and thoughtful album, and reveals the songwriting prowess of Woods. The album speaks to Woods’s view of America’s alter-ago, where decorated veterans and hard-working men cannot survive in American society. Woods’s guitar complements his lyrics to create one of the finest songwriting albums of 2016. Recommended Tracks: Fireflies, Love in the Nuclear Age

12. Jamie Lin Wilson, Holidays and Wedding Rings.

Singer-songwriter Jamie Lin Wilson hails from the small Texas town of D’Hanis outside of San Antonio, Texas. Wilson has been a fixture in Texas country/folk for years. In 2012 she gained notoriety as the lead singer of the Trishas, a popular all female country/folk band. In 2016 Wilson released her first full length solo album, Holidays and Wedding Rings, which showcases Wilson’s charming, twangy voice set against steel string and acoustic guitar. Her vivid songwriting paints clear pictures of stark situations, and her lucid vocals complement these powerful ballads. Holidays and Wedding Rings should mark the beginning of a successful solo career for this very talented musician.  Recommended Tracks: You Left My Chair, Seven Year Drought.

 

 "Holidays and Wedding Rings should mark the beginning of a successful solo career for this very talented musician." 

13. Dinosaur Jr, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.

The band’s first record since 2007 doesn’t disappoint. The songs’ style is trademark Dinosaur Jr, undergirded by J. Mascis’s vocals and intricate solos. Considering the band hasn’t produced a record since 2007, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not almost sounds like it was produced weeks after the other record. When the three band member reunited, they did not miss a beat in producing their fare of unique independent rock-n-roll. Recommended Tracks: Tiny (which is indeed Tiny, only 3:12 minutes long), Be A Part.

14. Sarah Jarosz, Undercurrent.

Jarosz’s fourth album Undercurrent is the first record she has produced since moving to New York City. Jarosz, who received Grammy nominations for her 2014 effort Build Me Up, showcases her instrumental and vocal talents on Undercurrent. This album contains Jarosz “in the raw”, with solo performances on four of the record’s songs. The album is so crisp and undecorated that you feel like Jarosz is humming lyrical melodies inside your living room. Recommended Tracks: House of Mercy, Back of My Mind.

15. Vanessa Peters, The Burden of Unshakeable Proof.

Peters’s album The Burden of Unshakeable Proof is her first on vinyl and was created in Dallas with the producer for the Old 97s. Peters tours extensively in Europe, but her Dallas record marks a watershed. Her effortless, lullaby-like melodies spring off the album, one after the other, tied together by rhythmic melodies. Recommended Tracks: All of These Years, Change Your Disguise.

2016 EP of the Year: Relick, Twin House.

The Denton, Texas based band, Relick, made a splash with the 2016 release of their first EP, Twin House.  Relick is a mix of Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield and The Beatles, which together form an enchanting and groovy musical style.  Relick’s unique sound, replete with sing-along style rhythm guitar, crisp vocals, and the occasional Rhodes keyboard, make this the 2016 EP winner. Recommended Tracks: Offering, Another Life.

 

2016 Acoustic Song of the Year (Tie): Union Son, Big Shoals; Sunset Motel, Reckless Kelly.

           Runner-Up: Born Haunted, Brad Armstrong.

2016 Up-Tempo/Rock Song of the Year: Cherokee Nose Job, Brad Armstrong.

           Runner-Ups: Radio, Reckless Kelly; Don’t You Forget, Arliss Nancy.

2016 Electric/Acoustic/Slow Rock Song of the Year: Losing Hand, Big Shoals.

          Runner-Up: Fireflies, Matt Woods; Dufresne, Arliss Nancy.

 

Other Great 2016 Albums

Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears 2

Amanda Shires, My Piece of Land

Angel Olson, My Woman

Austin Lucas, Between the Moon and the Midwest

The Avett Brothers, True Sadness

BJ Barham, Rockingham

Bonnie Whitmore - F*ck with Sad Girls

Caleb Caudle, Carolina Ghost

The Devil Makes Three, Redemption and Ruin

Dexateens, Teenage Hallelujah

Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20

Lydia Loveless, Real

Mandolin Orange, Blindfaller

Michael Rank, Red Hand

Mount Mariah, How to Dance

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, A Little Something More From

Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis

Sadler Vaden, Sadler Vaden

Sara Watkins, Young in All the Wrong Ways

Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds

Two Cow Garage, Brand New Flag

Whiskey Myers, Mud

 

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