Albums of the Year and More 2015

We here at Lonesome Highway would like to take the opportunity to thank all the Artists, Labels, PR companies, Promoters, Agents, Crews and Venue Staff for their support throughout the year in facilitating interviews, album and live reviews.

We also wanted to thank those who visit Lonesome Highway during the year. Happy Trails to you all.

Stephen Rapid’s 2015 

Reading about country music one soon learns that from almost the start there were complaints that country music was changing and moving away from its roots. One of the most profound of these was when Chet Atkins introduced the countrypolitan cross over sounds at the expense of fiddle and steel guitar in order to increase market share and to combat the incursion of rock 'n' roll to a younger audience. Looking back artists like Patsy Cline and Ray Price, amongst others, now seem a part of the tapestry. Indeed some of the artists who appeared in the '90s and were considered to be cross over sound much more "country" now in the light of some the recent output from Music Row and radio. However I would think that many of those artists were being swayed by the dictates of their labels  - who, in truth, have also been about the fiscal bottom line. The business of the music business has always predominated.

But if you look and listen there has always been good music out there. Often on the fringes, in the shadows and either self-released or on small indie labels. Some like New West and the distribution company Thirty Tigers in the US or Loose closer to home still have an aesthetic and purpose that centres around releasing good music. What exactly good music is will always be an open question. What we set out to cover in Lonesome Highway from its inception has become much broader as the definitions of what is Roots or Americana is open to very subjective interpretation. In the coming year we will try to get a little closer to our core remit which means that out and out blues, soul or indie will likely find less space on the site. 

As these lists below show we have broad and open minded attitudes to the music we love and hope to continue to receive and write about it.

So 10 albums of the year no particular order:

Sam Outlaw Angeleno

A smooth and attractive sound from the California native whose Ry Cooder produced album is one I have returned to often. His sound draws on classic country but feels very much of its time.

Lindi Ortega Faded Gloryville

The spiky Canadian has broadened her sound but her songs and distinctive voice never stray too far from the hardcore country she loves.

Sarah Gayle Meech Tennessee Love Song

Nashville based honky tanker has her album produced by Hank 3 steel guitar player Andy Gibson who get a memorable performance from Meech and the assembled musicians. This has very little in common with whats coming down the pike in Music Row.

Chris Stapelton The Traveller

At first I wasn’t totally convinced by the hype but soon came to regards its mix of country, soul and other elements, all delivered in a voice for the ages, as fairly essential.

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

In some ways the last album hit home harder but this is a more than worthy follow up and expands Isbell’s reach as a genre defining roots artist.

Jason James Self-Titled

Debut of the year from a outstanding news artist who along with the likes of Mo Bandy is showing a clean pair of heels to the would be contenders when it comes to country music with integrity.

Ryan Bingham Fear and Saturday Night

The best album to date from the gravel voiced Americana man. This album brings together the various strands of his music so far in one satisfying whole.

Daniel Romano If I've Only One Time Askin'

A nod to countrypolitan and classic era country that adds his own unique and slightly surrealistic touch to the proceedings.

The Rizdales Blue Ain't The Word

They take on a legend by covering a selection of week and lesser know Ray Price songs but do it my being themselves and also being respectful to the songs. A very fine tribute album.

Ethan Johns Silver Liner

The latest album by producer, songwriter and singer Johns utilises a tight musical combo that includes steel guitarist BJ Cole and some guest including Gillian Welch to great effect. An album that should not be overlooked.

No ten albums can really sum up a year so here's a list of some of the other albums that on a different day would be up there:

Cale Tyson Introducing

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Daniel Meade Keep Right Away

Phil Lee Some Gotta Love

Malpass Brothers Self-Titled

Ashley Monroe The Blade

Nora Jane Struthers Wake

James McMurtry Complicated Games

Eilen Jewell Sundowner Ghost Town

Joe Ely Panhandle Rambler

Rod Picott Fortune

Speedbuggy USA South of Bakersfield

Top Gigs:

JP Harris and the Tough Choices at Whelans

The Grahams at The Naul

Jim Lauderdale at Whelans

Best live album:

Greg Trooper Live At The Red Room


Ronnie Norton Top Albums 2015

Here’s my top ten in no particular order. 

Gibson Brothers Brotherhood

A tribute to brother harmonies from the best brother band around today in any genre. It’s a keeper.

Adkins & Loudermilk  Adkins & Loudermilk

Dave Adkins and Edgar Loudermilk have been ploughing separate Bluegrass furrows for a few years now. This is their first joint venture and their stunning vocals alone make this a must for this years list.

Maples Brothers  Malpass Brothers.

I met these two retro dressed, young Elvis lookalikes at the Omagh Bluegrass festival a couple of years ago. Was blown away by their southern charm and retro country sound. The fact that have opened for Merle for the past while is recommendation enough for most folks.

Dale Ann Bradley Pocket Full Of Keys

Another Omagh buddy of mine. And she just keeps on turning out albums that if she were not in Bluegrass would have her up there with any of the female rock superstars. She’s a Bluegrass superstar.

Various Artists Orthophonic Joy

This Carl Jackson produced revisit to the 1927 Bristol Sessions has a cast of Bluegrass and Country superstars and is one for the archives. Carl jackson continues to astound all with his production skills.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge Snapshots

This young husband and wife team have sneaked in over the last few years to become true Bluegrass superheroes. I’ve been a huge fan for ages and Brooke’s voice is one of the best I’ve ever heard in any genre.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out It’s About Tyme 

I have 15 lllrd Tyme out albums in my collection but this one stands head and shoulders above the others. Vocal, instrumentation and song choice are all superb and it’s a constant companion on my iPod when I need a musical lift.

Donna Ulisse Hard Cry Moon

Donna and a cast of Bluegrass A-Listed musicians take a set of Donna’s own compositions and co-writes and deliver yet another amazing album that is almost on constant rotation on my leisure listening.

The Cox Family Gone Like The Cotton

In my eyes the Cox Family can do no wrong musically. We almost lost them to a very serious motor accident in 2000 but when Producer Alison Krauss found and reworked these songs from a lost Asylum album it felt like all my Christmases had come at once.

Chris Stapleton Traveller   

I’m lucky enough to have been a fan of this guy from his Steeldriver days but now I have to share him with the world. One listen is all you need to see why he has blown the Nashville Country thinking out of the water and is the shining light on Country Music’s road to recovery. Looking forward to seeing him live at C2C in march.

Sandy Harsch Top Albums 2015

Kacey Musgraces Pagent Material

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams Self Titled

Gretchen Peters Blackbirds

Don Henley Cass County

Ashley Monroe The Blade

David Rawlings Machine Nashville Overload

The Grahams Glory Bound

Amy Space The Killer In Me

Eilen Jewell Sundowner Ghost Town

Best compilation:

Alan Jackson Genuine


Paul McGees 2015

As the Music Industry continues to reinvent itself, post MP3 and illegal download controversies, we have seen another year of change.

Streaming has become the most favoured means of listening to music among the present generation and this development has seen the numbers of paid record sales continue to shrink. This has been the defining new direction regarding music consumption.

With Taylor Swift taking on Spotify on behalf of countless artists who rely increasingly on links to Facebook, Twitter and You Tube to maintain their tenuous careers, the changes experienced in Country Music have been far reaching. Album sales have fallen by 36% since 2008 and this hits the industry hard across all ages, income brackets and markets. 

With increasingly blurred lines between pop and country music the contemporary sound has moved further towards Bro-Country with songs about girls, beer and trucks being produced on the back of syncopated rhythms, more heavy beat grooves and an increased reliance on technology to develop a new sound. We even have rapped verses creeping into the song structures with new artists collaborating with Hip Hop artists to broaden the genre even wider. 

Where it will all end is anybody’s guess; perhaps a swing back to traditional country is too much to wish for as the new pop/urban influence mirrors the changing cultural landscape. Gone is the predominantly agrarian life of the rural communities who survived on the land and in their place has grown a brash, partying, sense of entitlement among the modern youth who like their music with attitude.

Time passes and we must embrace change. Even if the Country music of yesterday is no longer relevant to today there is still a place for roots based musicians to carry the torch without opting for loops and sampled sounds. 

The playing field has been mainly populated by newcomers such as Sam Hunt, Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett, Sam Outlaw, Mo Pitney, Luke Bryan and others, who have dominated new sales.

However, the old guard continue to put up a righteous fight as proven by new releases from Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Dave & Phil Alvin, Reba McEntire and Joe Ely to name a few.

One thing is certain; we all still listen to the radio and a great song still holds sway over other contenders to the crown of what makes Country music so special. 

Top 10 Country/Folk/Roots releases for the year are as follows;

  1. Tom Russell - Rose of Roscrae
  2. James McMurtry - Complicated Game
  3. Shelby Lynne - I Can't Imagine
  4. Alison Moorer - Down To Believing
  5. Ryan Bingham - Fear & Saturday Night
  6. Patty Griffin - Servant of Love
  7. Lone Bellow - Then Came the Morning
  8. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
  9. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  10. Dar Williams - Emerald

Top gigs during the year were;

  1. The Lone Bellow at Whelan’s (July)
  2. Greg Brown at Whelan’s (February)
  3. Patty Griffin at Whelan’s (September)
  4. Tom Russell at Whelan’s (September)
  5. Mary Gauthier at the Button Factory (May)
  6. Chuck Brodsky at the DC Club (July)

Best live recordings were;

Drive By Truckers - It's Great to be Alive 

Blue Rodeo - Live at Massey Hall

Best compilation / retrospective;

Chris Smither - Still on the Levee

Cowboy Junkies – Notes Falling Slow

Top 10 unknown artists  - 2015 releases;

  1. Brock Zeman - Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil's Back 
  2. 3hattrio - Dark Desert Night 
  3. Sugar Brown - Poor Lazarus 
  4. Canaan Smith - Bronco 
  5. Jen Starsinic – The Flood & the Fire
  6. Kevin Sekhani - Day Ain't Done 
  7. Jami Lynn - Fall is a Good Time to Die 
  8. Hat Check Girl - At 2 in the Morning 
  9. Krista Detor – Barely
  10. Norma McDonald – Burn the Tapes


Declan Culliton’s 2015

The past year has been personally the most rewarding music wise for quite some time. The year kicked off in some style with a trip to Glasgow in January for a weekend of Celtic Connection shows. Allison Moorer, Lambchop and Calexico performing on consecutive nights proved to be the attraction together with the opportunity to reunite with many UK friends who attend the Kilkenny Roots festival every May weekend.

March arrived with an invitation from the good folk at Lonesome Highway to contribute to their wonderful magazine. The involvement with the magazine over the past nine months has introduced me to numerous outstanding bands and artists who operate slightly under the radar particularly in the album review section of Lonesome Highway

 The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May rewarded the annual pilgrimage to the Marble City with a mouth-watering line up which included the Country ballads of Cale Tyson, English folk beautifully delivered by The Rails, Mexican styled mariachi from Calexico and the upbeat and punky Trouble Pilgrims among many others. The festival is, for me, the premier Roots festival in Europe bringing quality bands and artists performing in intimate venues to appreciative audiences. It also affords the opportunity to renew acquaintances with the locals and the annual visitors who travel from the UK, Belfast and every corner of Ireland to enjoy the weekend every year. 

Returning to Nashville in September for the Americana Music Festival was another highlight of 2015 and featured in the Live Reviews section of Lonesome Highway in October.

I’ve listed below my personal favourite albums and gigs of 2015 below and already look forward to what promises to be another bumper year for gigs and albums in 2016.

The Albums

1.David Corley – Available Light

Somethings are worth waiting for. David Corley waited until the ripe age of 53 to release an album that probably would have been my album of the year for the past decade. Harrowing, desperate and liberating in equal measures.

2.Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

The title folk singer is too easily bandied around and often used in an incorrect context. No truer description could be used to describe the work of Samantha Crain who writes and sings about the day to day struggles of the ordinary and often unfortunate. She has never done it better than on this recording.

3.Ryley Walker – Primrose Green

An experimentation in the British folk genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s resulted in this gem from Ryley Walker. Primrose Green recalls the work of John Martyn, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Van Morrison 

4.Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

United opinion from country, Americana and rock critics as one of the best albums of the year, an achievement in itself from one of the most talented songwriters of his era. Can articulate in one sentence what can take others a chapter to achieve.

5. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love

Beautifully written dealing with heartache and relationship break up in particular. Striped back sound with some splendid atmospheric trumpet playing by Ephraim

6. Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete 

A worthy successor the Rawling’s excellent Friend of a Friend from 2009. The highlight being the eleven minute masterpiece The Trip.

7. John Blek & The Rats - Borders

Superb second album from Ireland’s premier Americana band. Had the track Funeral Home being written by Jason Isbell it probably would be Grammy nominated!

8. James Mc Murtry – Complicated Games

A career highlight from Mc Murtry. Twelve stories delivered with his deadpan vocal, particular favourites being Copper Canteen and Carlisle’s Haul

9. Ashley Munroe – The Blade

Equal in quality to her excellent debut album Like a Rose. Hugely under rated songwriter and unrivalled, for me, as the best female country vocalist at present.

10. Nora Jane Struthers – Wave

More rocky and less country than her previous album Carnival perhaps but a solid, mature piece of work from the former member of bluegrass band Bearfoot. 

11. Lilly Hiatt – Royal Blue

Being the offspring of musically talented parentage can often be a handicap. Not the case listening to this gem from Lilly Hiatt with an edgy and enough twang sound to satisfy both the Country and Americana lovers

12. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds 

Business as usual from here with this outstanding album equalling the quality of 2012’s Hello Cruel World. Outstanding song writing, Blackbirds and When All You Got is a Hammer particular standouts. 

13. Chris Stapleton – The Traveller

Taking a break from writing killer songs other artists Stapleton raised the bar even higher with this marvellous debut solo album. Male vocalist and Album of the Year at the CMA’s.

14. Kurt Vile – Believe I’m Going Down

Acoustic and stripped back offering from the king of cool! No electric guitar this time around but plenty of great acoustic work and wonderful banjo playing

15. Whitey Morgan & The 78’s – Sonic Ranch

Outlaw Country is in safe hands as long as the Waylon loving Whitey Morgan continues to record and perform. Great, great sound.

16. Sam Outlaw

Excellent production by Ry Cooder on this debut album by an artist likely to make a commercial impact going forward. Who Do You Think You Are, Country Love Song and the title track bring to mind a young Dwight Yoakam or Buck Owens.

17. Shelby Lynn – I Can’t Imagine

The voice, the accent, the phrasing never seems to disappoint. The classic country closing track I Can’t Imagine is particularly wonderful.

18. Anna Mitchell – To the Bone

Impressive radio friendly debut album from the young Cork singer song writer suggesting she has a promising career ahead of her.

19. Chris Laterzo – West Coast Sound

Think late 70’s classic Neil Young for this gem from the Los Angeles based singer songwriter

20. Daniel Knox – Self Titled

Superb Americana second album from the Scott Walker sounding Daniel Kno

The Gigs

  1. 1. Lee Ann Womack / Sam Outlaw / Jim Lauderdale / Whitey  Morgan & The 78’s  at The 3rd & Lindsley Nashville
  2. 2. David Corley  at Cleeres Kilkenny
  3. 3. Frazey Ford at Whelans Dublin
  4. 4. Samantha Crain at The Pumphouse Kilkenny
  5. 5. J.P.Harris  & The Tough Choices at The Fond Object East Nashville
  6. 6. John Prine at Vicar Street
  7. 7. The Rails at Cleeres Kilkenny
  8. 8. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell at The National Concert Hall Dublin
  9. 9. Ron Sexsmith at Whelans Dublin
  10. 10. Rhiannon Giddens at Whelans Dublin