In a previous column on the Grammy awards, I noted some differences between the movie and music industries. Another significant difference occurs during the first two or three months of each year. While Hollywood dumps its dogs during those months, music labels purposefully release many fine albums. This year is no exception.
So, for this week I’m highlighting some of the more intriguing roots and Americana music we have to look forward to in the next few weeks. As I cannot cover everything, feel free to add what you have been looking forward to in the comments section below.
Anytime Buddy Miller releases a new record, it is a cause for jubilation. This time last year he set up a make-shift recording studio on the Cayamo cruise ship to take advantage of the other fine folks who were captive performers -- Lucinda Williams. Elizabeth Cook, Nikki Lane, Lee Ann Womack, Kris Kristofferson and Richard Thompson. Cayamo Sessions at Sea sails onto our platters on January 29.
One I have been long anticipating is Henry Wagons' second album recorded in Nashville. I do not miss him at the AMA Festival, as it’s hard to catch any Aussie in the States, and he and Kasey Chambers are the brightest. He's a combination of Nick Cave, Johnny Cash a bit hungover, and a young Waylon holding nothing back. After What I did Last Night walks through your door on February 12.
You may not have heard of Stone Cupid, but you certainly have heard its founder, Julie Christensen, whose sublime vocals graced many recordings and live dates with Leonard Cohen. She formed this band in Nashville to explore her rock side and wrote its songs solo or with some folks you might know -- Chuck Prophet, David Olney, Kevin Gordon, and Cohen himself. Her return should not come as a complete surprise, since she co-fronted the LA punk-roots band Divine Horsemen in the early 1980s. To quote Skip Anderson in his ND review last year, "Her swagger is true to her rebellious punk-rock roots, and refined through working with the likes of Cohen, Iggy Pop, Public Image Limited, and Todd Rundgren [who produced an unreleased solo album]." Christensen has worn coats of many different colors, and this one's red. The Cardinal took flight on January 22.
Flatpicker extraordinaire Larry Keel’s 15th album features some heavy hitters: Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, and Sam Bush, among others. The disc is all original material that showcases both Larry’s and bandmate Will Lee’s exceptional songwriting, singing, and jaw-dropping instrumental performances, accompanied by Keel’s equally talented wife Jenny Keel on upright bass and harmony vocals. As guest Keller Williams says, “When we get together, our wonder-powers unite to form a giant, impenetrable sphere of open-minded, Appalachian psychedelic goodness.” Experienced jimmies into your soul on February 26.
Diana Jones’ last recording, Museum of Appalachia Recordings, was an unheralded treasure, more admired abroad than here. Her appearances can be sketchy, but as a weaver of songs and mountain tales, she has few equals. Her new album, a live one, may be hard to find as it will be available in the US only as an import, but will be worth the effort. Live in Concert becomes part of the unified field theory on February 26.
Speaking of new, hard-to-find live albums, Patti Smith has just done one. Other than her 30th anniversary re-release of Horses, which included a live 2005 recording of the album, Live in Berlin is her only commercially released live album. Live is the operative word here, as it is only available at her shows.
Trixie Whitely is not nearly as well-known in the US as she is in Europe, but as she has just announced a tour of the usual Americana venues in the East to support her new album. She got a nice boost when she was the vocalist for Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub, but it’s her solo work that is even more mesmerizing. Porta Bohemica rails into town on February 5.
Carrie Rodriguez's new bilingual album was recorded with the Sacred Hearts Band and features Bill Frisell and Raul Malo. The album is a mixture of new and old, featuring songs in Spanish written by Mexican composers, as well as originals in English and Spanglish that were inspired by the Mexican Ranchera songbook. Lola falls into our hearts on February 19.
I have adored Aoife O’Donovan ever since her Crooked Still days, and have seen her many times since as a solo artist, fronting her own band where she can really swing, or as a trio with Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz. O'Donovan has made a unique place for herself. The lyrical introspection of In the Magic Hour arose on January 22.
Some say Dolly, some say Tammy, but I used to watch the otherwise pedestrian Wilburn Brothers syndicated TV show just for Loretta’s song, while always hoping for a second even if it had to be a duet. Lynn’s first album since her lone (!) Grammy-winner eases even the most troubled mind. Full Circle becomes complete on March 5.
Everything you have heard about the Cactus Blossoms is true. Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum have an uncanny vocal resemblance to the Everlys with a direct line back to the masters, the Louvin Brothers. Produced by JD McPherson, You’re Dreaming woke us from our slumber on January 22.
I have distinct remembrances of Bonnie Raitt when she, as the daughter of a Broadway stalwart, began singing, playing, and hanging out with old blues guys and gals in the early '70s. I saw her many times back then, with Little Feat, Jackson Browne, Maria Muldaur, and others. She can do no wrong, and Dig in Deep digs even deeper on February 26.
Sierra Hull is joined by Alison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddens, and Abigail Washburn on her new album not so much to lend support but more like an acknowledgement that the one-time wunderkind has come into her own. As if we did not know that already. Weighted Mind becomes weightless on January 29.
As nearly all of these releases will also be availble on vinyl, I would be remiss not to note that an LP version of Gillian Welch's Soul Journey was released last week in Europe. It is now available wherever imports are sold.
If you are with me so far, you’ll note that one album is conspicuous by its absence. That’s because next week’s column will be devoted to exclusively it.
(Due to weather constraints, the posted photo of Stone Cupid was taken by Stacie Huckeba.)