Friday, December 20, 2013

James Kelly's best Americana of 2013

Posted By on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Here are 10 Americana (for lack of a better term) albums (in alphabetical order) that I fully enjoyed this year.

Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture of You

Guy lost his wife and lifelong companion/collaborator Susanna in 2012, and this album is a fine tribute to a wonderful person. Getting on in years himself, Clark has never shied away from dealing with the reality of life's challenging moments, and does so with his usual grace and honesty.

Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait

While the material here is from a three-year stretch (1968-71) when Dylan was going through one of his transformative stages, it stands as a more cogent and listenable collection than the original Self Portrait album. The stripped down demos with David Bromberg are amazing, and the peek into how certain songs mutated over time is fascinating.

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, Bakersfield

The only problem with this album is that it is too short! Ten classic "Bakersfield Sound" tracks, covering Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, this jewel should have been a four CD box set. Gill is still one of the best country singers in the world, and Franklin's steel playing is masterful.

The James Hunter Six, Minute By Minute

Sadly overlooked by the press and public, this is a fine collection of deep blue-eyed soul from one of the coolest singers around. Hunter and his band are channeling an era when music mattered, and they do it so well.

Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Isbell proves that sobriety does not stifle creativity, as he dives deep into his own psyche with a much clearer perspective, and the results are just as good if not better than his stellar past efforts. He is one of the most important and precise songwriters of this generation, and has grown by leaps and bounds with each new record.

Kris Kristofferson, Feeling Mortal

Saying goodbye to so many of his dear friends and collaborators obviously moved Kristofferson to ponder his own time and place on this plane. Painful at times, moving almost always, his words are gold and somehow make facing the ultimate end a bit more tolerable. He speaks for us all.

The Mavericks, Suited Up And Ready/In Time

After hitting the scene with a bang over 20 years ago, the Mavericks fell prey to the changing face of mainstream country radio. It is no surprise that this reunion album is chock full of catchy Latin rhythms, fine Orbison-esque vocals by Raul Malo, and a still-fresh level of honky tonk energy that puts the current radio crap in the corner.

Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Buddy & Jim

Old friends Miller and Lauderdale, who have worked together off and on for years, released this official collaboration and it is a joy to behold. Both are top shelf Americana artists on their own, and this romp gives them the opportunity to have some fun, show off a bit, and do the type of music they love. So will you.

Willie Sugarcapps, Self-titled

More like a party jam session than a formal recording, this conglomeration consisting of Grayson Capps, Will Kimbrough, Sugarcane Jane, and Corky Hughes should be in the dictionary under "organic." You can hear the fun oozing out on every track, and the collaborative magic is all over the place. Fun times, fun party, fun stuff.

Richard Thompson, Electric

Recorded in Nashville with Buddy Miller on the dials and support from Nashville's finest alt-country players, Thompson manages to reshape his usual mold into a new and interesting form. There's still the neo-folk ballads, and the high-energy rockers, but they take on a revived sense of urgency and freshness in Miller and company's hands.

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