These are the albums that stood out for me during the last year for a variety of reasons but mostly because they simply contained good music.
Pat Reedy & The Longtime Goners That’s All There Is (And There Ain’t No More)
Western Centuries Songs From The Deluge
Carson McHone Carousel
Charlie Smyth The Way I Feel
Jimmy Rankin Moving East
Ashley McBride Girl Going Nowhere
Sean Burns and Lost Country Music For Taverns, Bars And Honky Tonks
Colter Wall Songs Of The Plains
Hunter Perrin Wild Card
Thomas Gabriel Long Way Home
Michael McDermott Out From Under
Mike and The Moonpies Steak Night at the Prairie Rose
Jesse Dayton The Outsider
Jim Lauderdale Time Flies
Pushing Chain Sorrows Always Swim
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Years
JP Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing
Ben De La Cour The High Cost Of Living Strange
Speedbuggy USA Kick Out The Twang
Blue Yonder Rough And Ready Heart
Jesse Daniel Self Titled
Sir Canyon Ventura Skies
Joshua Hedley Mr. Jukebox
Dallas Moore Mr. Honky Tonk
Cliff Westfall Baby You Win
Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore Downey To Lubbock
Cody Jinks Lifers
Pistol Annies Interstate Gospel
Brent Cobb Providence Canyon
Ed Romanoff The Orphan King
Various Artists King Of The Road - A tribute to Roger Miller
Alejandro Escovedo and Don Antonio The Crossing
Some albums that hit the spot for this listener during 2018r in terms of their real country music content that came with equally striking covers (though the old adage that “you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover” is predominantly true). I find when the album has a well designed, well thought out cover, it usually means the music is equally well thought out and delivered. It is also more enticing to listen to given that quite often the cover is a pretty good clue to what it’s all about. Here, the clues all add up to some mighty fine country music that finds each act maintaining their individual sound.
1 JP Harris Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothin’
Harris has upped his game for his third album and incorporated some widersounds that are, however, still solidly country.
2 Cliff Westfall Baby You Win
On this album, East Coast artist draws from a well spring of West Coast influences that includes a nod to Bakersfield and Dwight Yoakam.
3 Joshua Hedley Mr. Jukebox
The Nashville based artist has made a debut album that lays out his credentials and musical talent. This is inspired by the genre’s golden age, but is as important to today’s confused musical landscape.
There were some equally vital albums this year from some strong and forceful women. Overall, I think the albums that came from a female perspective were among the most rewarding and the music was vibrant and again very individual in approach and attitude. The Pistol Annies collective delivered an album that was a strong as any of their individual releases if not more so. Shook, McBride and McHone all write songs that were are true to their views of life, love and longevity.
4 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Years
Her second album for Bloodshot Records built on her tight but intense sound,
realised by her band on such telling songs as Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t.
5 Ashley McBride Girl Going Nowhere
This was a finger to those who thought she would never make it. She has brought attitude and ardent thinking to her songwriting and delivered a quality of music not that commonly found on a major label.
6 Carson McHone Carousel
A new name to many but this debut argued her case as one of the most interesting talents who are playing their vision of country music with a diverse individuality and vision intelligence.
7 Pistol Annies Interstate Gospel
Three artists who have made acclaimed albums in their own right but have also brought their A game to this project. These are not a roundup of left over songs but rather are the amalgamation of their writing and singing skills that works on many levels.
Names that were new to me this year, but knocked me out, with great album included Jesse Daniel who was able to translate some of the hard times he had been through into something that rang true and was tangible. Ben De la Cour’s new release further expounded on his American Noir sound that showed him as a storyteller who ranks with the best. Finally, Speedbuggy, USA’s forceful and energising take on cowpunk was a necessary kick to the system and saw the band release their best album to date.
8 Ben De La Cour The High Cost Of Living Strange
A new name to me but an artist with several previous releases to his name. He is right up there with the likes of Rod Picott and Slaid Cleeves as a contemporarystoryteller. He has the voice and melodic skills for these songs to remain in your head.
9 Speedbuggy USA Kick Out The Twang
This band have come through some difficult times to and continue to deliver their hi-octane, hi-speed, roots rock. It’s not all hell for leather however and they show that they can handle a slow song just as well.
10 Jesse Daniel Self Titled
Another writer who has drawn these songs from his own experience and observations. Hell Bent, Soft Spot (For The Hard Stuff) and Killing Time ’Til Time Kills Me are,despite the darkness of the titles, are heading into the light and a sense of redemption.
NB. The placings here are somewhat random as any of the contendor albums could easily be interchangeable in terms of their placing with those in the top ten.
GIGS OF THE YEAR
Ags Connelly The Cobblestone
Legendary Shack Shakers Grand Social
Brent Cobb Whelan’s
Lindi Ortega Grand Social
Mavericks Vicar Street
Casey James Prestwood
Lillie Maeall at Pappy & Harriets, California
Emmylou Harris 3 Arena C2C
Roseanne Cash National Concert Hall
Sam Baker Seamus Ennis Cultural Centre
RECOGNISED ARTISTS: BEST RELEASES 2018.
1 Eliza Gilkyson Secularia
A real highlight of the year. Her first release in four years and probably a career high. Pure perfection in all aspects. Her voice is as beautiful as ever, and those songs…
2 Gretchen Peters Dancing With The Beast
Real quality throughout from one of the best song-writers on the circuit today.
3 Courtney Marie Andrews May Your Kindness Remain
Her high standards just keep getting more finely tuned and the writing is a joy throughout.
4 Mary Gauthier Rifles & Rosary Beads
Such an important project and so well delivered. Stirring, moving and vital.
5 Lori McKenna The Tree
Such a gift for writing truly great songs. Another fine example of her craft.
6 Birds Of Chicago Love In Wartime
This duo delivers music that celebrates and lifts the spirit and the soul.
7 Brandi Carlile By The Way, I Forgive You
Three years since her last one but so worth the wait. Sublime song writing.
8 Willie Nelson Last Man Standing
To steal a sporting banner; Form is temporary; class is permanent. A true legend and another example of his rich tapestry.
9 The Pistol Annie’s Interstate Gospel
This collaboration should not work but it really delivers. A cohesive whole, delivered with some élan by three fine artists.
10 Rosanne Cash She Remembers Everything
Back in the studio after four years away and proving as vital and vibrant as ever.
11 Cowboy Junkies All That Reckoning
A terrific return after many years away. Classy production and songs to back up their impressive back catalogue.
12Beth Nielsen Chapman Hearts Of Glass
Always a winner in the song writer stakes of delivering quality work. Unlucky thirteen? Not for this consummate artist; another cracker!
UNDER THE RADAR ARTISTS: BEST RELEASES 2018.
1 Cold Tone Harvest After You
Best surprise of the year. Stirring stuff throughout and a compelling listen.
2 Mulligan Brothers Songs For The Living and Otherwise
Addictive tunes and vibrant performance on their third studio release. Ross Newell is just getting better and better, both as a song writer and a vocalist.
3 Erin Rae Putting On Airs
Dream Country from such a talented song-writer and performer. Jump into this warm bath of sweet sounds.
4 Jaimee Harris Red Rescue
Debut release from a Texan artist who writes killer songs and delivers them with an impressive belief that her time has arrived.
5 Martha L Healy Keep The Flame Alight
A second release from a Glasgow artist with so much talent yet to be unfurled. Great songs throughout.
6 Kim Richey Edgeland
Welcome back after 5 years away. Great song-writer and worthy of more success.
7 Ashley McBride Girl Going Nowhere
Girl on a mission, more-like… Great songs and an even stronger attitude.
8 Bennett Wilson Poole Self Titled
Terrific trio that rock it up on a debut release that merited high praise.
9 Jimmy La Fave Peace Town
A posthumous release that showed just what an expressive artist he was.
10 John Gorka True In Time
His first in 4 years and shows that his song-writing is as perceptive as ever.
11 Tom Freund East Of Lincoln
Superb collection of songs from a very underrated artist.
12 Jim Lauderdale Time Flies
A fine return to his best form and packed with great tunes.
REISSUES OF THE YEAR
Bert Jansch Just a Simple Soul
Bruce Springsteen The Album Collection Vol. 2, 1987-1996
Glen Frey Above the Clouds: The Very Best of
Buffalo Springfield What’s That Sound? The Complete Albums Collection
Gene Clark Sings For You
Graham Nash Over The Years
Judie Sill Songs of Rapture and Redemption
Loudon Wainwight 111 Years in the Making
Tom Petty American Treasure
Bobbie Gentry The Girl From Chickasaw County. The Complete Capitol Masters
LIVE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit Live from the Ryman
Bruce Springsteen Springsteen on Broadway
GIGS OF THE YEAR
Mary Gauthier The Set Theatre, Kilkenny
Courtney Marie Andrews Whelan’s
The Lone Bellow Whelan’s
Gretchen Peters Liberty Hall
Birds of Chicago supported by The Remedy Club Whelan’s & Cleere’s, Kilkeny
Dave Alvin The Set Theatre, Kilkenny
Mulligan Brothers Naas & House Concert, Rathfriland
Dar Williams Workman’s Club
Peter Mulvey Workman’s Club
Kimmie Rhodes The Naul
Jess Klein supported by Beki Hemingway/Randy Kirkman Whelan’s
Jim White with Clive Barnes Whelan’s
AmericanaFest in Nashville – The Lone Bellow, My Politic, Sons of Bill, Samantha Fish, Courtney Marie Andrews, Richard Thompson, Walter Salas Humara,
Tom Freund, Erin Rae, Birds of Chicago and many more… Wonderful feast of music over 6 days.
Paul McGee: The year that was 2018:
There is the old saying;‘The more things change; The more they stay the same. In looking back at the year just gone, I must agree and little has changed from 2017 in regard to Country music and the direction that it has been steering. The continued shift towards Country Pop was even more evident and established artists all too keen to hitch their career-wagon to the new sounds of syncopated rhythms, rapped lyrics and big beat drum machines. Music always moves towards the centre in search of popular consensus and the charts, now dictated by digital downloads and streaming services, reflected an audience that increasingly wanted more of the commercial sounds that gets them moving on the dancefloor.
Outside of the bigger, established artists & bands, there seems to be little room for a career in the industry, what with the record labels more reluctant than ever to get involved with signing new talent. There are so many fine acts under the commercial radar, all trying to eke out a living and having to work day jobs while they balance their music obsession against the need to pay the bills.
Royalties are almost non-existent these days with digital services and the streaming revolution not paying anything to the creators of the music. Hopefully this will change somewhat with the recent passing of the Music Modernization Act, which focuses on three major elements; all aimed at giving more revenue to the songwriters and creating a level playing field.
Radio continues to ignore Female artists and choking their oxygen supply into mainstream acceptance. Despite this, headline acts like Kasey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert continue to forge successful careers against such apathy. Taylor Swift continued to fight against the big three; Sony BMG, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group in getting a better share for artist Revenue from such outlets as Spotify, Apple, You Tube and Amazon.
The breakthrough of independent artist Chris Stapleton and the CMA and ACM Awards was encouraging but his Country Rock sound and Bluesy vocal delivery is hardly the template for the market going forward. The sub genres of Country music continue to expand and the lines are blurred between Americana, Contemporary Folk, Roots, Rockabilly and Inde-Cow Punk sounds.
Streaming services continue to outstrip physical CD sales and the need to support live music and emerging artists has never been more evident as the industry returns to a business model that was originally defined as a cottage industry… activity carried on in musicians’ basements, garages, homes and local coffee houses. Hopefully, the quality of musical output will not diminish and the talent of unknown artists will somehow continue to endure. Here’s to 2019 and a more positive attitude to the joys of creating music that an audience will find transcending and vibrant.
There is nothing more rewarding than discovering talented artists previously unknown to me and 2018 was a big winner in this regard. No fewer than ten artists that appeared on my radar are included in my twenty favourites of the year with three females Kayla Ray, Hadley Mc Call Thackston and players over the past six months.
Equally satisfying during the year was the emergence of acts recording what I consider to be quality country music, despite the lack of industry support. Chris Stapleton’s breakthrough in recent years has led to several younger outlaw artists cropping up, together with industry recognition for other like-minded artists such as Dallas Moore, Whitey Morgan and Cody Jinks. Hopefully, the trend will continue this year.
1 Kayla Ray Yesterday & Me
The album I kept returning to since it’s release. No compromise country album from a young lady whose writing matches her exquisite vocals. Honest and from the heart, Ray sounds as if she’s lived every line on the album.
2 Joshua Hedley Mr. Jukebox
Stunning debut on Jack White’s Third Man Records from the artist well known for his four-hourcover’s sessions at Robert’s Western World in Nashville. Evidence that Hedley is as adapt adept at penning his own tearjerkers as he is at interpreting the work of others.
3 J.P.Harris Sometimes Dogs Bar At Nothing
Slight change in direction but an equally impressive collection of songs from East Nashville’s top man. Less honky tonk and more reflective than his previous outings, the album reinforces his ability to write material from a personal perspective that holds its own with any of his outlaw heroes.
4 Hadley Mc Call Thackston Self-Titled
Sensational debut from the young Georgia born Thackston, inspired by her relocation to Wolfe Island in Canada. Effortlessly blends old timey with folk and jazz leanings, there’s a divine innocence about the whole album from an artist that has the potential to establish herself as one of the break through acts of her generation in the Americana field.
5 Kristina Murray Southern Ambrosia
Described by J.P. Harris as the outstanding country singer in the industry at present, Murray’s killer second album proves that she is much more than the ‘go to’ backing vocalist in East Nashville. Songs written from difficult times and life experiences recall an early career Carlene Carter but with more edge and bite. A few decades back Murray would have been a household name in country music and let’s hope the industry recognises her special talents and brings her music to the audience it deserves.
6 Cliff Westfall Baby You Win
Hands down album cover of the year but could the material do the package justice? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’! Westfall is another artist who cut his teeth in punk and cowpunk before revisiting the music of his early years growing up in small town Kentucky. Shades of early Dwight Yoakam and the ability to make you weep, toe tap and giggle in equal amounts.
7 Courtney Marie Andrews May Your Kindness Remain
It seemed unlikely that Andrews could recreate the dizzy heights of her stunning 2017 album Honest Life. However, taking a slight change in musical direction, she still maintained the stand out quality of the album’s predecessor. Not surprisingly it ended up on numerous ‘Best of 2018’ listings.
8 Carson McHone Carousel
An album that continues to make its impact on me, sounding better of each listen. The Austin based Mc Hone has paid her dues playing honky tonk bars from the age of sixteen and Carousel is evidence that there’s so much more to her than that gorgeous dreamlike vocal. Songs that reveal an artist growing in confidence and maturity, Mc Hone seems destined to follow in the footsteps of Courtney Marie Andrews and make the deserved industry breakthrough.
9 Pat Reedy & The Longtime Goners That’s All There Is And There Ain’t No More
No nonsense, straight down the middle country from ex-busker and building site labourer Pat Reedy. Simplicity is the key here with songs laced with hooks, twang, clever guitar breaks, no end of humour and Reedy’s trademark monotone and wonderfully accented vocal. Best album title of the year also!
10 H.C.Mc Entire Lionheart
A classic and deeply personal recording from the frontwoman with Indie outfit Mount Moriah. Lionheart confronts an unforgiving back-story of conflict and rejection from a gay woman whose love of her home State of North Carolina shines through, despite her exclusion. Equally impressive, both musically and lyrically, the album was inspired by the ‘coming out’ of established country singer Chely Wright in 2010.
11 Amy Ray Holler
Sixth solo release from Indigo Girl Amy Ray and a career best. Covering the emotional baggage of a ifetime spent in Georgia, it reflects on the personal struggles of Ray and many of her fellow Southerners. Production by Brian Speiser is particularly impressive introducing strings and horns alongside a vast array of instrumentation yet never sounding overcrowded.
12 Bennett Wilson Poole Self-Titled
Written and recorded over a number of weekends as a side project, Bennett Wilson Poole quickly established themselves as a genuine U.K. super group with the release of their self-titled album. Three writers and vocalists could have spelled danger but on the contrary they managed to produce a consistently strong collection of songs.
13.Mike & The Moonpies Steak Night At The Prairie Rose
A fun album from start to finish by one of the outstanding Texas dance bands of their time. Everyday tales of life experiences both on and off the road and killer playing throughout.
14 Codi Parker & Jodi James The Lonesomest Sound That Can Sound
Echoes of Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings from the Baton Rouge duo that combine gorgeous harmonies with equally impressive playing. A laid back treasure.
15 Whitey Morgan & The 78’s Hard Times & White Lines
Modern day Outlaw Whitey Morgan’s sixth album has nods in the direction of Merle and Waylon.Recorded at Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas and self-produced by Morgan, it captures the full-on sound perfected by Morgan and his 78’s relentless touring schedule.
16 Suburban Dirts I Want Blood
An unexpected gem from an unexpected source. An absorbing and exceptionally well researched album of gothic and blood thirsty tales of pre-cowboy America all the way from Hoddesdon in Herefordshire.
17 Lera Lynn Plays Well With Others
Following the 2016 release of her experimental indie folk album Resister, Lera Lynn returns to more familiar territory with a splendid Americana recording. Co-produced with John Paul White and ncluding co-writes with Andrew Combs, Dylan LeBlanc, Rodney Crowell and Nicole Atkins, it’s further confirmation of her talents as both a vocalist and songwriter.
18 Alejandro Escovedo The Crossing
Very much an album of its time, the tale of two young immigrants and their struggles surviving in the present day United States. Classic Escovedo, it mixes full on rockers with masterful balladry.
19 Carter Sampson Lucky
Business as usual from the Queen Of Oklahoma whose 2018 release matched the quality of its excellent predecessor Wilder Side. Mixing straight down the middle honky tonk, rockabilly and country ballads is Sampson’s forte and her gorgeous vocals do just that from start to finish on Lucky.
20 Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis Wild! Wild! Wild!
Surely one of the most underrated and underappreciated artists of the past three decades, Fulks often suffers from his versatility and ability to effortlessly switch genres. He’s lost some fans and industry support along the way as a result of his musical globetrotting, but continues to record albums of the highest standard. His co-release with Jerry Lee Lewis sister Lina Gail is up there with his best, a belting mix of country, rockabilly, gospel and rock n roll.
GIGS OF THE YEAR
Gig of the year at 3rd & Lindsley Nashville. Three of the best on the same bill!
1 J.P.Harris / Jaime Wyatt / Mike & The Moonpies – 3rd & Lindsley Nashville
2 Courtney Marie Andrews Whelan’s
3 Marlon Williams Whelan’s
4 HC Mc Entire The Mercy Lounge, Nashville
5 Jason James Acme & Seed, Nashville
6 J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, Glasgow
7 Mary Gauthier The Set, Kilkenny
8 Hadley Mc Call Thackston Static Roots, Oberhausen
9 Bennett Wilson Poole Static Roots, Oberhausen
10Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis American Legion, Nashville
11 Peter Bruntnell Trio Cleere’s, Kilkenny
12 Emmylou Harris O3 Arena
13 This Is The Kit Whelan’s
14 Rosanne Cash National Concert Hall
15 Pat Reedy The Underground, Nashville
16 Colter Wall The Station Inn Nashville
17 Sam Outlaw Oron Mor, Glasgow
18 Susto St. Andrews, Glasgow
19 The Sleepwalkers Kytelers, Kilkenny
20 The Cordovas Static Roots, Oberhausen
Compiling a “Best Of” list is a daunting task every year but this time it’s very different. For starters I have no safety net in the person of our beloved and very sadly missed editor and matriarch of all things Country, Sandy Harsch. We lost Sandy physically a few short weeks back but for me, her spirit and attention to detail are so embedded in my daily broadcasters diary that I’m constantly ready to dodge that Lightning Bolt from Above if I err in even the smallest detail. Sandy will be forever in our hearts and all my Lonesome Highway endeavors will be spiritually checked by her before passing them on to All Y’all Lonesome Highwaymen out there.
Secondly there has been a seed change in the release method of new music in my Bluegrass and Beyond world in the last year or so. All the major artists are drip feeding us radio buffs with a few singles prior to new albums hitting the airwaves. As a result the quality of new music has risen to astounding levels and made my task of selecting a Best Of list harder than ever before.
So below you’ll find my twenty most played CDs in alphabetical order of artists names because to single out any one project or to rearrange them in a “Top 20” style would be totally unfair to all the amazing work being done to put “Bluegrass” in all it’s current forms right out there where the whole listening audience can fully appreciate just how talented this long ignored genre really is.
1 Brandon Lee Adams Time That I Was Leaving
Probably my eureka album of the year. Been internet friends with this guy for years but a few listens to this album really showed me what a fine Singer, Songwriter and Guitar Player he is. Deffo one to watch for the future.
2Brandon Rickman What Kids And Dogs Know
I keep bumping into this fella all over the acoustic music world in all his different joint efforts but this solo album just keeps me locked in his whirlwind of great listens. Super talented guy. Check him out.
3 Cindy G Moonshiners Daughter
Produced by rising star producer Jim Van Cleve this stunning album is both a musical and visual treat and has placed this long hidden talented lady where she needs to be in the Bluegrass Cosmos. Highly and selfishly recommended.
4 Del McCoury Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
Although he has unbuckled the family safety harness and let the “Travelling McCoury’s” find their own way in the world Del just has to do what he does best since God was a Boy. He’s still singing Bluegrass as good as he ever did. Another fan favourite.
5 Dennis K Duff Songs From Lyon County
Huge thanks to my old pal Martha Moore for the intro to this little gem which became the first ever album that I played track for track on all my radio shows. Another un-mined gem of a songwriter that needs further research and a superb line up singers to highlight his talent.
6 Earls of Leicester Live at the CMA Theater
This one needs no help from me. It’s simply Jerry Douglas and his Bluegrass All Stars having a ball at a live show. Grab some popcorn and sit back for a full nights concert. As good as it gets.
7 Jim Lauderdale Time Flies
He’s still everybody’d favourite musical buddy. Jim rewards us with a selection typical gems that found plenty of airtime on all my radio show. Also got my first ever photo on a Jim Lauderdale album.
8 John DuffeyTribute Artists Epilogue
These few lines can’t begin to do justice to this mammoth project to honour the memory and contribution of the long time front man of The Country Gentleman and The Seldom Scene. 14 tracks and twice that many of music’s finest make this one that needs to be in everybody’s favourite’s archive. It’s in mine for sure.
9 Larry Cordle Tales from East Kentucky
Maybe he’s trying to punish the industry moguls for the “Murder on Music Row” but The Mighty Cord just keeps on stuffing my archive with one CD after another of pure listening pleasure. A humble and super talented gent may he long continue to turn out albums of this style of storytelling magic.
10 Midnight Skyracer Fire
The first release from UK based all girl Bluegrass superstars in the making is just a pointer to their on stage electrifying performance. While I mourn Tabitha Agnew’s sidestep from Cup O’Joe and the swallowing up of the Carrivick Sisters the sum of the parts simply says watch these gals. They’re a force to be reckoned with.
11 Mike Mitchell Small Town
My long time friend Mike Mitchell’s story of survival against all the all the health odds that life can throw could have swayed me in my review of this his latest CD. But no, this is one of those albums that grabs you by the earlobes and just makes you sit back and listen to all the little word and music sparkles that this soon to be finally recognized super cool nice guy has laid out for us in his “small town.”
12 Missy Raines Royal Traveller
First introduced to me as the bass boss in Claire Lynch’s band I have grown to admire this pillar of cross genre country based music in all the years I’ve listen to Bluegrass music. An early in ’18 release of “Swept Away” a single the launched the “First Ladies of Bluegrass” and heralded an album that takes a few listens to fully appreciate but “Royal Traveller” is definitely there for the long haul.
13 Mountain Home Family Come See About Me
When the Bluegrass community decides to do a fund raiser they do it in style. The Mountain Home Family under the baton of Doyle Lawson and Mickey Gamble put together an 11 track Gospel tinged tribute for the IBMA trust fund that is never far from my hand. The 2nd ever album to get track by track cover on all my shows. It’s still available to help our less well off bluegrass buddies.
14 Rhonda Vincent Bluegrass Legends Live At The Ryman
One of the highlights of my year was to finally get to sit and chat with the amazing bluegrass icon the is Rhonda Vincent and as a parting gift she gave me a copy of her Live at The Ryman with Bluegrass Legends Jesse McReynolds, Mac Wiseman and Sonny and Bobby Osborne. “Nuff said, just go and get it. It’s a classic.
15 Rick Lang Gonna Sing Gonna Shout
The first release on Jerry Salley’s new Billy Blue Records label. It features the song writing talents of one of Bluegrass’s finest and yet to be fully appreciated woedsmiths. Far too many superstar singers to list off but this is one of my top Bluegrass Gospel albums for many years.
16 Sister Sadie Sister Sadie ll
Dale Ann Bradley. Tina Adair, Gina Britt, Deanie Richardson and Beth Lawrence as Sister Sadie are destined to hit the record books as the best ever All Girl Bluegrass band of all time. Live or ecorded they are “Chicken Soup For The Soul”. This is obviously their 2nd release and perfectly highlights their solo and combo skills. Just a joy to listen to. Highly recommended.
17 Tellico Woven Waters
This one sneaked up on me as a download from AirPlay Direct and I have raving about it on air before I checked out the band’s background and I found out that I had been previously just as enthusiastic about their original incarnation as Dehlia Low. If this is what’s happening to hardcore North Carolina mountain music then long may it continue. If you like Gillian Welsh, you’ll love this.
18 Tim Stafford and Bobby Starnes What We Leave Behind, A Songwriters Collection
This on just arrived on my lap a week or two before Christmas and is set to be one of my favourite albums for many years. Blue Highway front man Tim Stafford and his long time school pal have turn out a 14 track cross genre masterpiece that is best summed up in my ace from the pack “Keep It Merle.” It’s a beaut.
19 We Banjo 3 Haven
This latest offering from the CeltGrass supergroup of the brothers David and Martin Howley and Enda and Fergal Scahill was a calculated leap in the dark that has paid off in spades with the bands audiences on their tour circuit mainly in the US. I’ve watched them grow in confidence since they were actually three young fellas playing mainly Irish Trad to packed festival audiences here. With all tracks written in-house and a stellar lineup of support musicians this is yet another page in the ongoing legend that is WB3.
20 The Willis Clan Speak My Mind
It’s not for me to comment on the family hardships that preceded this outspoken and soul bearing set of uplifting lyrics and musical inspirations. With the band tightened from the original 12 piece full family stage show to a mind blowing and really talented 6 piece of the elder siblings they have opened their hearts, minds and souls to the world at large. This is a sit down and listen deeply, album and with a totally off the wall version of “Ring of Fire” to wrap it up these kids are a force to be reckoned with, right across the whole musical spectrum.
GIGS OF THE YEAR
Even though I’m not going to as many live gigs as I did in the past with my weekly radio shows taking up most of my free time it would still take a small book to comment on all the great acts that I did get to see during the year. If this list is what I got to see can you imagine what I missed so I really appeal to all you loyal Lonesome Highwaymen and Women to keep supporting as many live gigs as possible to be sure that al these great acts keep coming over that extra few miles to add Ireland to their tours.
Here we go with just a small comment where I need to brag and no insult to acts that are too numerous to mention at festivals and major gatherings.
Greg Blake Band and Sarah Savoy at Midwinter Fest in Bunratty Great year opener as always.
Emmylou Harris, Margo Price, Kasey Musgraves and Faith Hill & Tim McGraw C2C Dublin. Best of a very mixed bag of New Country
Chris Jones and the Night Drivers - snow afflicted Nationwide tour
Pete Cummins and Terry Woods reunion in Whelans. Need to see these two old pals more often
Nashville TV Show Live Final Tour 3 Arena. I’ll really miss seeing these guys.
Keifer Southerland Academy, Dublin. Way better than I expected
Omagh Ulster American Folk Park Festival is always my Bluegrass Highlight of the year. Check the website for a full list but the biggie for me was meeting up again with Darin and Broke Aldridge. Best duo on any circuit anywhere.
Gretchen Peters Liberty Hall, Dublin. This superstar needs to come back more often
Home Free with support from Jeffrey East. My surprise laid back gig of the year.
Seamie O’Dowd, Mairtin O’Connor and Mairghead NiDhoghnaill in Whelans. This was my main Trad fix of the year. Love them all as soloists as well.
IBMA fest in Raleigh in September. Wow and double wow. Highlights only here of a full week in Bluegrass Heaven. Everyone I met I had already seen on CD covers through the years. Absolute highlights were seeing Patty Loveless at last, meeting Rhonda Vincent and the live in the round with songwriters Brink Brinkman, Shannon Slaughter and Jerry Salley. Otherwise no sleep for 3 days and ticked every major Bluegrass act in the world off my must see list.
Time Jumpers Nashville. Enough said - Best Live Band in the World bar none.
Allison Krauss with Ron Block and The Cox Family 3 Arena Blues Fest and Harmony Heaven for me.
Thomas Gabriel. Johnny Cash’s grandson is the real deal and not to be missed when he comes back this year.
BlackBerry Smoke closed out my year. Noisy but hardcore Southern Rock as I remember it.
GIGS OF THE YEAR
1Joan Baez The Waterfront, Belfast
2 Jeff Scroggins & Colorado Ardara Bluegrass, Co Donegal
3 Seamus Fogarty, Billy Byrnes Kilkenny Roots
4 Bennett Wilson Poole Cleeres, Kilkenny Roots
5 Courtney Marie Andrews The Black Box, Belfast
6 Darin & Brooke Aldridge Band Omagh Bluegrass Festival
7 Richard Thompson The Empire, Belfast
8 Molly Tuttle & Rachel Baiman The Green Room, Belfast
9 Mary Gauthier The Set Theatre, Kilkenny Roots
10 Rodney Crowell The Portico, Ards
This year we profoundly miss the end of year best of list contribution from Sandy. She is much missed by us all here at Lonesome Highway, yet her spirit is still with us in the music we play and listen to.