#1 Patty Griffin - Downtown Church
Recorded in a gorgeous Presbyterian church in downtown Nashville, this album is a compilation of gospel tunes beautifully crafted by producer Buddy Miller. Contributors to this album include Emmylou Harris, Jim Lauderdale, Mike Farris, Raul Malo and gospel all-stars Ann and Regina McCrary. Although an album of covers usually won't be near my list of top 20 this one is so spectacular that I have to catapult it all the way to the number one spot.
#2 Nathaniel Rateliff - In Memory of Loss
Raised in a Missouri town with a population of 60, Nathaniel bolted in his teens to Denver where he worked in a truck-loading yard. An illness laid him off and gave him time to hone his musical side, the results are spectacular. While not technically his first recording (he has an album out with his current band but under the name "The Wheel"), this is his debut using his name. This album is so hauntingly beautiful and touching I recommend you save it until late in the evening when no one is around. I lent this album to another DJ (who I respect). She said she didn't think much of it. I don't respect her anymore.
#3 Frazey Ford - Obadiah
This is the debut solo album for The Be Good Tanyas chief vocalist Frazey Ford. Wonderfully subtle yet soulful, this album keeps finding its way to my CD player. I can't help playing it over and over. Ford's voice might annoy some (she tends to do the retro folk voice-oscillation, e.g., Joan Baez), but if that doesn't derail you I promise there's almost nothing wrong with this charming record.
#4 Sam Quinn - The Fake That Sunk A Thousand Ships
Formerly the male half of the band The Everybodyfields, this debut solo release supposedly was written as therapy for "a real bad year" in Quinn's life. All I know is this album is one of the most touching I've ever heard. I hesitate to recommend it for fear that it only has that effect on me. But through extensive research (playing it for my wife and friend Jim), it does indeed touch everyone, so get out a tissue for you eyes and enjoy.
#5 The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
Why the 5' 6" Sweedish singer Kristian Matsson would call himself "The Tallest Man on Earth" I have no idea. I've theorized but...I'm just guessing. Maybe that's the point: his music is a lot like his name - because you don't know the exact meaning you're forced to apply your own interpretation, and thus, own a piece of the art that is "The Tallest Man on Earth." A extremely subtle album, once you start grasping at his beautiful song writing you'll be forever hooked.
#6 Have Gun, Will Travel - Postcards From the Friendly City
This is the sophomore release for the pride of Tampa Florida. Their debut (Casting Shadows As Tall As Giants) made my Top 10 in 2008 and here they are again in 2010. What I love about this band is their fusion of folk, alt-country and indie-rock. Great songwriting with a nice regional bias puts icing on a truly scrumptious cake. Can't wait to see what the future hold for these young guns.
#7 Shinyribs - Well After Awhile
Have you ever tried to write a song? For most of us its friggin' hard. For The Gourds frontman Kevin "Shinyribs" Russel its so easy that he can't get the time to record them all. What to do? Release some of 'em under a pseudonym. One of the things I love about the Americana genre is its invitation to blend music styles. This record directly blends soul and country, two unlikely bed mates but perfectly matched in this tremendous release.
#8 Caleb Klauder - Western Country
I think Caleb might be possessed by some long-dead 1940's country western recording star (maybe even Hank). His CD's keep getting closer and closer to something released 70 year ago. That's not a criticism, oh no, its praise. Not only does he do it as good or better then those of the past but you also get a top quality recording. This CD is an absolute joy from beginning to end. Put it on and imagine seeing Caleb perform at some 1940's honky tonk.
#9 Mike + Ruthy - Million to One
This husband and wife team seem to be stuck under the heading "folk-rock duo." Whatever. This album, funded in part by fans, fits under my definition of Americana and it is a joy to listen to. Mike and Ruthy (the daughter of Jay Ungar) toured for 7 years as part of The Mammals. They left the band to start a family. Thank goodness for us they did because it led to this tremendous release.
#10 Yvette Landry - Should Have Known
A beautiful mix of song styles, from honky-tonk country, to bluegrass to zydeco form this spectacular debut release. Landry's been in the music biz her whole life but this is the first time out-front with both her guitar and her songs. I worry that she'll fall in the huge crack that exists between Americana and mainstream country. This album deserves equal play in both worlds.
#11 Jimmy Baldwin - Vivador
One of the goofiest bastards in this genre (just look at the album cover for proof), Jimmy has a hoot of a record. The album is surprisingly beautiful despite the obvious comical angle (e.g., "what the world needs now is peace, love and chicken fried steak"). Jimmy's unique harmony dominates a fun and enjoyable record. The Cactus-Headed Troubadour strikes again.
#12 D.B. Rielly - Love Potions and Snake Oil
This guy sounds like he's been recording his entire life, but, believe it or not, this is his debut release. Rielly crafts his songs with catchy hooks albeit from wide ranging genres like blues, zydeco, pop and even mariachi. A beautifully put together record that's hard not to like. One of my criteria for an album to be in my top 20 is that I like or love almost every song on the record. This album easily makes that criteria.
#13 Peter Karp & Sue Foley - He Said She Said
A big surprise from two folks more renown as blues musicians. This album came to exist via the two corresponding while on separate tours. Eventually they started writing together and came up with an album that's supposed to chronicle the ups and downs of relationships from both the male and female perspective, hence the title "He Said She Said." All I know is that it works. And it works much better as an Americana record than a blues one.
#14 Screen Door Porch - Screen Door Porch
This must be the year for debut releases. Another makes my Top 20! This one is courtesy of Jackson Hole, WY. I doubt there's many screen door porches in Wyoming but this duo consists of Seador Rose who hails from North Carolina and Aaron Davis from Kentucky. They started Screen Door Porch in Jackson Hole but now reside in Austin Texas. I got turned on to this duo via a listener from New York, and my show is broadcast in Oregon. I think we got the country about covered. Great debut, I can hardly wait to see what other gems this duo has for us in the future.
#15 Green Whiskey - Triple Shot High
I have a vision of how this band came to be: Two guys in their twenties from a tiny Texas town, writing songs, playing guitars and drinking are hanging out at the local watering hole when they meet a guy in his fifties that's been on the fringe of the music scene his adult life. "Let's make a record." I have no idea if that's how it happened but if I was the script writer... Great alt-country, whiskey infused record. I hope they don't drink the profits.
#16 Glossary - Feral Fire
Glossary is, for me, the icon for new southern rock. I've liked everything these guys have done in the past, but Feral Fire is undoubtedly the best release from the boys from Murfreesboro. It's going to be hard to follow this act. This album is a little less twanged and more rock than their earlier work but in no way does that deter my liking. Turn the amps up to eleven and enjoy.
#17 Old 97's - The Grand Theatre Volume One
Like fine wine these guys just keep getting better. If I had to define the Old 97's sound I'd call it punk-rock infused country, and I'd say its appeal would diminish rapidly the further away you get from 20-years-old. This band is all in their 40's now, as am I... I'm not feeling any less appeal. I think part of the success of this band is the attitude "this is what we do, and this is the sound we make, if you don't like it good for you, but if you do, oh, do we have a party for you."
#18 The Molenes - Good Times Comin'
Somehow the hard twang, alt-country sound of The Molenes is not my vision of the New Hampshire seacoast, but that's where these guy are from and where they do most of their shows. I can't believe I missed the previous two releases from this group. If those other discs were even close to Good Times Comin' they're worth finding.
#19 Pieta Brown - One and All
If my wife leaves me we've come to an agreement that I have permission to marry Pieta Brown. So I'll try not to sound biased. While One and All isn't her best disc its still an easy choice to make my Top 20 for 2010. Pieta is the daughter of Greg Brown so she's known the music business her whole life (her step mother is Iris DeMent). Her voice is truly mesmerizing and this CD makes an unbelievably gorgeous lullaby.
#20 John Mellencamp - No Better Than This
Talk about low-fi: this album was recorded in 13 days with a portable 1950's Ampex mono tape machine. From the recording to letting minimalist T-Bone Burnett produce it, to the throw-back subject matter, this disc was destined to be a favorite of mine. You got to love it when superstars do something that doesn't advance their careers but instead advances their passion. The Cougar made a gem!