The Americana genre is bringing out its big guns this spring.
Such core artists as Steve Earle, former spouse Allison Moorer, the duo of Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, the late Jack Clement and such stalwarts as the McCrarys and Mike Henderson are all bringing forth new albums.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Liz Longley has evidently released three prior CDs, but her Sugar Hill debut is the first I’ve heard. This week’s DisCovery Award winner is booked at City Winery on April 22. Let a word to the wise be sufficient.
The Disc of the Day prize goes to the divinely gifted McCrary Sisters. Their record is out now, and as soon as May 12 rolls around, I urge you to also buy the latest by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell.
EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL/The Traveling Kind
Writers: none listed; Producer: Joe Henry; Publishers: none listed; Nonesuch (track)
-Their new CD drops on May 12, but is available digitally now. Its title tune and lead-off track finds their iconic voices harmonizing flawlessly throughout a wistful, loping, gently swaying ode to wandering spirits. As if their singing and the beautifully poetic song weren’t enough, the acoustic track ripples like a breeze-kissed pond.
SUGARCANE JANE/Home Nights
Writers: Crawford/Cason; Producer: Buzz Cason; Publishers: Dirt Roads End/Buzz Cason, BMI/ASCAP; ArenA (track)
-This haunting, minor-key gem gleams with sonic polish. It can be found on Dirt Road’s End, the debut CD by Sugarcane Jane. Nashvillians with good taste and long memories will recall this duo’s Anthony Crawford as a solo artist and as the ultimate sideman for folks like Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Forbert, Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill and more. After leaving Music City, he settled on Alabama’s Gulf Coast with the other half of Sugarcane Jane, his wife Savana Lee.
STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES/You’re The Best Lover That I Ever Had
Writer: Steve Earle; Producer: R.S. Field; Publishers: Exile on Jones Street, ASCAP; New West (track)
-Earle’s new Terraplane CD is a blues collection. On this low-key moaner, he sings in a brushy, husky, soft drawl that ranks among his most expressive performances in years. The whole collection is essential listening.
AMY SPEACE/Better Than This
Writers: Amy Speace/Kate Kim; Producer: Neilson Hubbard; Publishers: Amy Speace/Katherine Kim, ASCAP/BMI; Windbone (track)
-Baltimore-bred Speace is a Nashvillian who purposefully recorded her new That Kind of Girl in three days, live with such stellar Americana sidemen as Will Kimbrough, Dan Mitchell, Garrison Starr and producer Hubbard. She wished to capture the emotional immediacy of its song cycle about a failed romance and its aftermath. Here, she offers herself hope in a rushed, breathy vocal that seems to be a chin-up message to a bruised heart.
THE FAIRFIELD FOUR/Rock My Soul
Writers: traditional; Producers: The Fairfield Four/Lee Olsen; Publishers: public domain; Fairfield Four
-Established in 1925, this a cappella Nashville institution’s current lineup is Levert Allison, Larrice Byrd, Bobbye Sherrill and Joe Thompson. Without an instrument in sight, they stir up a mighty, rhythmic, urgent sound on the lead track of their Still Rockin’ My Soul CD. With a legacy that includes a 1997 Grammy Award and a high-profile appearance in the 2001 movie O Brother Where Art Thou, the “new” Fairfield Four carries the name forward in triumph with this disc. Lee Ann Womack drops by to sing soulfully with the fellows on “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Buy and believe.
LIZ LONGLEY/Outta My Head
Writer: Liz Longley; Producer: Gus Berry; Publishers: Luckelizz/Welk; ASCAP; Sugar Hill (track)
-I think I’m in love. As she spooled out this wafting, pulsing saga of romantic regret, I got completely lost in its delicious melody and her hooky chorus. Her supporting instrumentalists include such Nashville A-listers as Tom Bukovac, Michael Rhodes, J.T. Corenflos and John Hobbs. This lady has it all — tense vocal finesse, songwriting chops, dynamite production. Also check out “Bad Habit” and “Memphis.” Along with this track, they’re available as downloads on iTunes. I guarantee you’ll be as smitten as I am.
COWBOY JACK CLEMENT/I’ve Got A Thing About Trains
Writers: none listed; Producers: none listed; Publishers: none listed; I.R.S. (track)
-Recorded just before his death in 2013, For Once and For All finds Clement in surprisingly robust form singing versions of his songwriting classics “Miller’s Cave,” “Just a Girl I Used to Know,” “I Know One” (my favorite), “Just Between You and Me,” “Let the Chips Fall” and the like. The collection leads off with this baleful bit of nostalgia from the legendary Hall of Famer.
THE McCRARY SISTERS/By The Mark
Writers: Gillian Welch/David Rawlings; Producer: Buddy Miller; Publishers: Cracklin/Irving/Say Uncle/Buddy Miller, BMI; MCC/Thirty Tigers (track)
-If these gals can’t give you goosebumps, you must be clinically dead. Harmonizing as only siblings can, the four McCrarys are arguably — individually and collectively — the greatest soul singers in Music City. Their new Let’s Go collection finds them simply and sympathetically produced by Americana star Buddy Miller. Choosing listening tracks among these 16 gems is a fruitless enterprise, since each one captivates. Just play ‘em all.
THE MIKE HENDERSON BAND/I Wanta Know Why
Writer: Mike Henderson; Producer: Kevin McKendree; Publishers: none listed, BMI; EllerSoul (track)
-He’s in the running as World’s Coolest Human, since Henderson used to play ace bluegrass music in The SteelDrivers while still holding down his Monday-night residency at The Bluebird Cafe as our favorite blues rocker. It is in this latter guise that he has recorded the simmering slab of sound If You Think It’s Hot Here. The comeback collection leads off with this scorcher and doesn’t let up from then on. By the time you hit the halfway point, your ears are sweating. In addition to a clutch of new Henderson originals, the band covers Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and other bluesmen. We’re so lucky to have this group in our community.