Okay, here’s my guidelines. Live albums, tribute albums and albums of all covers RARELY make my lists because I’m all about the songwriting as well as the performance. Had to leave a lot of great stuff off this year. Without further ado, here are my top 20 AMERICANA albums of 2009.
1. Danny Barnes: Pizza Box [ATO] – Wry, sly, and a banjo genius. Dave Matthews and Robert Earl Keen call this guy up to play on their records.
2. Son Volt: American Central Dust [Rounder] – A welcome return to form from “the voice” reminiscient of Trace.
3. Levon Helm: Electric Dirt [Vanguard] – Yes, a lot of covers but it’s THAT good. Thank God for Levon’s return.
4. Magnolia Electric Co.: Josephine [Secretly Canadian] – Beautiful, beautiful record. Was my favorite for a good part of the year.
5. Gurf Morlix: Last Exit To Happyland [self-released] – Ace producer (Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, et. al.) and amazing guitarist has songwriting chops and good taste in vocalists to collaborate with.
6. Buddy & Julie Miller: Written In Chalk [New West] – No album had higher high points, but too many middling tracks kept this one out of the top spot.
7. Daddy: For A Second Time [Cedar Creek] – Bowling Green’s Tommy Womack and buddy Will Kimbrough do not disappoint with their second effort. One of the best live shows I saw this year was Daddy at The Basement in Nashville.
8. Eilen Jewell: Sea Of Tears [Signature Sounds] – Unbelieveable step forward for this Boston-based artist. Walking the line between rockabilly and country. “Shaking All Over” might be the cover song of the year.
9. Patterson Hood: Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) [Ruth St.] – With Drive-By Truckers’ relentless tourning, it’s hard to imagine Patterson having any time to write and record. “I Understand Now” is about the catchiest thing he’s ever done. This album has been sadly overlooked.
10. Israel Nash Gripka: New York Town [self-released] - This transplanted son of a Baptist minister from Missouri has real songwriting chops. Comparisons to Ryan Adams are inevitable.
11. Dawes: North Hills [ATO] – This album really grew on me. Some say CSNY, but I think Band & Buffalo Springfield.
12. Alela Diane: To Be Still [Rough Trade] – Haunting, gorgeous album from this California singer with an extensive following in Europe.
13. The Devil Makes Three: Do Wrong Right [Milan] – Heir to Old Crow Medicine Show? Compares favorably, and will get your feet moving.
14. Corb Lund: Losin’ Lately Gambler [New West] – Canadian musician with just the right number of beautiful ballads and up tempo alt-country rockers.
15. Scott Miller & The Commonwealth: For Crying Out Loud [F.A.Y.] – This man has the Midas touch. For a guy with his track record, he is sorely underrated. The pride of Knoxville.
16. Tom Gillam: Had Enough? [Smith] – Austin by way of Philly, this guy has the right blend of heartland rock a la Tom Petty with a country sensibility. Tim Krekel fans take note!
17. The Gourds: Haymaker [Yep Roc] – “Country Lovin” indeed! Austinites put on a terrific party record. Too bad some of the fun can’t be played on the radio!
18. Mark Olson & Gary Louris: Ready For The Flood [New West] – Long live the Jayhawks. These guys NEED to make music together. Their Louisville visit was one of my live music highlights of 2009.
19. Mickey Clark: Winding Highways [ear X-tacy] – Hey Louisville, you have a country legend. One of the very few who can sing a Townes Van Zandt tune and NOT make you miss Townes.
20. Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses: Roadhouse Sun [Lost Highway] – In my book, this is much better than his debut. “Bluebird” alone is worth getting the album.
Apologies to those great albums that didn’t make it. I chose to go with a lot of newcomers this year. Keep twangin’ and have a great 2010!