The artists we’re talking about today are all up for awards at Thursday’s gala at the Ryman Auditorium. So we’re talking the cream of Americana, here. Earlier in the year, I raved about nominees such as Buddy & Julie Miller, Justin Townes Earle, The Belleville Outfit and Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson. Add the five discs below to your essential-purchases list.
THE BAND OF HEATHENS/Don’t Call On Me
Writer: Ed Jurdi; Producer: Ray Wylie Hubbard; Publisher: Lila J Rae, BMI; BOH (track) (www.bandofheathens.com)
—One of the four nominees for the New & Emerging Artist AMA Award is this quintet of country-rocking Texans. The group’s fourth CD is due out any day, but it got its nomination based on its self-titled third disc. That record kicks off with this crunchy, rootsy, drawling gem. If only Nashville’s country music could sound this cool.
RAUL MALO/Hello Again
Writer: Raul Malo/Alan Miller; Producer: Steve Berlin/Raul Malo; Publisher: Rumbalo/EagleLand, BMI/ASCAP; Fantasy (track) (www.raulmalo.com)
—This guy is a true jewel of Music City. His Lucky One CD includes this deliciously melodic, soaring, rolling anthem. His peerless voice is goosed with just the right touch of echo. When he vaults to the top of his range, he sends shivers up your spine. Shut your eyes, turn it up, bask in its sonic glory and root for Raul as he competes for AMA Artist of the Year Thursday night.
THE FLATLANDERS/Homeland Refugee
Writer: Joe Ely/Butch Hancock/Jimmie Dale Gilmore; Producer: Lloyd Maines; Publisher: Tornado Temple/Two Roads/Jade EG, BMI; New West (track) (www.theflatlanders.com)
—This track from The Flatlanders’ Hills and Valleys CD is up for AMA Song of the Year. The evocative lyric describes a broken man who found that California’s “pastures of plenty” were empty promises. The homeless family is headed back to the Dust Bowl from whence they came. The three amigos sing it with tremendous yearning and heart.
WILLIE NELSON & ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL/Won’t You Ride In My Little Red Wagon
Writer: Rex Griffin; Producer: Ray Benson; Publisher: Hill & Range, BMI; Bismeaux (track)
—This year’s AMA Lifetime Achievement Award is going to the durable Asleep at the Wheeel. The band swings splendidly on the CD Willie & The Wheel. As usual, Ray Benson’s production is pristine. All the tunes are dandies—“Hesitation Blues,” “Bring it on Down to My House,” “Right or Wrong,” “Corrine, Corrina,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” and the rest. Paul Shaffer and Vince Gill guest on “South.” But for my money, Willie, the band and Benson are at their jivin’ best on this revival of Hank Penny’s 1939 smash hit, penned by Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Rex Griffin.
JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT/Soldiers Get Strange
Writer: none listed; Producer: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit; Publisher: none listed; Lightning Rod (track) (www.jasonisbell.com)
—The self-titled CD by Jason and his three bandmates is an AMA Album of the Year nominee. This urgent-sounding track features his dry vocal backed by thrashing electric guitar and crashing percussion. The lyrics attempt to understand what goes through the head of a returning vet from Iraq or Afghanistan. Elsewhere, the band is equally effective on acoustic-based tunes. Jason is based in Florence, Alabama, which is a super-legendary music center to hail from.
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