1. Tommy Womack – There, I Said It! [Cedar Creek]: Bowling Green’s favorite son says it all–beautifully, desperately, and drunkenly. He may never be a rock star, but he’s our Bob Dylan.
2. Peter Case – Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John [Yep Roc]: If there’s a better combination of wordsmith and melody writer, I haven’t heard him or her. A true troubadour who remains criminally under the radar. “Ain’t Gonna Worry No More” is a song for our uneasy times.
3. The Avett Brothers – Emotionalism [Ramseur]: I didn’t really care for these guys until they showed some discipline on Four Thieves Gone. Then The Gleam got my attention lyrically. Emotionalism, however, is a stunner musically and lyrically.
4. Chris Knight – The Trailer Tapes [Drifter’s Church]: Recorded in 1996, this one just got a proper release in 2007 and was worth the wait. It’s a shame it took his appearance at a writer’s workshop session at the Country Music Hall of Fame (alongside Silas House, Scott Miller, and William Gay) for me to give this brilliant Kentucky songwriter his due.
5. Levon Helm – Dirt Farmer [Vanguard]: It’s hard to imagine a more welcome Americana comeback than this one. Silenced for health reasons for a number of years, it’s great to hear Levon singing again. Choice selection of traditional tunes and songs by the likes of Steve Earle and Buddy & Julie Miller make this a must.
6. Jason Isbell – Sirens Of The Ditch [New West]: A solo album from an ex-Drive-By Trucker that is the equal to a Truckers disc. I didn’t see that coming. “Shotgun Wedding” may be the catchiest song of the year. “Dress Blues” may be the saddest.
7. Wilco – Sky Blue Sky [Nonesuch]: Why did I include Sky Blue Sky in my Americana list this year? Well, like most Wilco albums, it’s one of my favorites of the year. But for the first time in years, Wilco sounds Americana again. Subversive in its comfortableness.
8. Mary Gauthier – Between Daylight And Dark [Lost Highway]: Don’t get me started on why radio hasn’t embraced this one like its predecessor, Mercy Now. So there’s no obvious single–so what? Possibly the best songwriter working today.
9. The Gougers – A Long Day For The Weathervane [self-released]: Formerly an acoustic band called The Sidehill Gougers, these Texans flipped the electic switch and made the most promising Americana debut of the year.
10. Blanche – Little Amber Bottles [Original Signal]: How can you be edgy and traditional at the same time? Just ask Detroit husband-and-wife Dan and Tracee Miller, who front Blanche. Spooky and dark, quiet and loud. Think the Handsome Family with the ability to bash you like Led Zeppelin.
11. John Fogerty – Revival [Fantasy]: Fogerty finally stopped running from himself and made a vintage Creedence Clearwater Revival album, filling a void left by the disintegration of one of the best bands ever.
12. Porter Wagoner – Wagonmaster [Anti-]: If you have mad talent, longevity, and refrain from chasing trends, the world will eventually come around to you. Hip to be square, indeed. Rest in peace.
13. John Mellencamp – Freedom’s Road [Universal]: The inclusion of this may be an eye-opener for some, but shouldn’t be. Put it on after listening to Guitar Town and you’ll see. “The Americans” and “Forgiveness” prove he has not lost his Scarecrow touch.
14. Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade [New West]: A terrific album, but I miss characters like John Lee Pettimore. Earle is best when he conveys universal truths through a smaller lens.
15. Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger [Lost Highway]: I did not give Adams another chance after the debacle of his Non-Commvention showcase appearance in Louisville. However, I stand by my original statement that, musically, the material and the performance was beautiful. It’s sad that his immature behavior dogged an otherwise welcome return to the country-rock sound that made Louisville love him in the first place. Man up, Ryan, and you could be the next Neil Young.
16. Gurf Morlix – Diamonds To Dust [Blue Corn]: Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier, Robert Earl Keen, Warren Zevon, and Buddy Miller are a few of the luminaries that have entrusted Austin’s do-it-all Morlix. This album’s a slow burn, but you’ll eventually be a fool for “Blanket” when Patty Griffin’s harmony vocals kick in.
17. Ry Cooder – My Name Is Buddy [Nonesuch]: Okay, it’s a concept album from the points of view of a transient cat, mouse, and toad who just happened to witness a lot of history, including the industrial revolution and befriending Hank Williams. Works for me.
18. Lyle Lovett and his Large Band – It’s Not Big It’s Large [Curb/Lost Highway]: I’m not sure if he’d take it as a compliment, but the older I get, the more I enjoy and appreciate Lyle Lovett. I get downright giddy when he name-checks Henryville, Indiana, a rural town not far from where I grew up.
19. Rocky Votolato – The Brag & Cuss [Barsuk]: A Seattle transplant from Texas who toes the indie-rock/Americana line well. Lucero turned me on to him, which is a good thing. He veers more towards country music on this, his 5th album.
20. Nick Lowe – At My Age [Yep Roc]: Nick Lowe can do any damn thing he wants, including becoming a country gentleman without losing an ounce of English wit. Comfy yet witty originals expertly delivered alongside Faron Young and Charlie Feathers covers for the good times.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Tim Krekel, Mofro, Son Volt, Bettye LaVette, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, The Holmes Brothers, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, John Prine & Mac Wiseman, Lucinda Williams, The Gourds, Southern Culture on the Skids, Charlie Louvin.
Michael’s Rules: First of all, it has to fit my sometimes confounding definition of Americana to be considered. That’s why Icky Thump and Magic are not on here. Reissues, live albums, greatest hits, and various artists collections are generally not considered.