The winter wind is chilling, but the sounds of Americana are warm indeed.
This week’s overview of the genre’s current music boasts the star power of Rodney Crowell & Lisa Morales, John Hiatt & Jerry Douglas, Old Crow Medicine Show and Jackson Browne.
Towering above ‘em all is Disc of the Day winner Keb’ Mo,’ an artist who never fails to impress.
The DISCovery Award this week goes to Sarah White of Richmond, Virginia.
JOHN HIATT WITH THE JERRY DOUGLAS BAND / “All the Lilacs in Ohio”
Writer: John Hiatt; Producer: Jerry Douglas; Label: New West
–The album is titled Leftover Feelings, but there is nothing “leftover” sounding about it. Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Hiatt unfurls yet another stunning set of his creations on this current collection. We generally think of him as a rocker, but with dobro master Douglas and his band “singing along” with their instruments, Hiatt touches the soul with aching ballads and, in this case, a lively bluegrassy pop outing with a bleak, lost-love lyric. This disc is presently nominated for a Grammy as the Americana Album of the Year.
LISA MORALES & RODNEY CROWELL / “Flyin’ and Cryin’”
Writers: Lisa Morales/Rodney Crowell; Producer: David Garza; Label: LM
–This single is a teaser for Morales’s upcoming album. With an ultra-subtle production of sighing strings, gently brushed drums and acoustic strumming, the duet achingly delineates a lost relationship. Rodney’s seasoned tones match Lisa’s resonant delivery exquisitely. She was half of Sisters Morales until sailing on as a solo with two prior CDs. Her sibling Roberta died of cancer last year. Mexican American Lisa Morales hails from Tuscon and is a cousin of the legendary Linda Ronstadt.
OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW / “Bombs Away”
Writer: Ketch Secor; Producers: Matt Ross-Spang/Old Crow Medicine Show; Label: ATO
–The string band rampages through this divorce song with breakneck fearlessness. If you’re going through the Big D, the best approach is to dive into the unknown with guts and glory, say these Opry stars. That’s Molly Tuttle providing the hot-damn banjo licks. Raucous and delightful, this is the second single from the band’s upcoming CD, following in the footsteps of the title tune, “Paint This Town.”
KEB’ MO’ / “Good to Be (Home Again)”
Writers: Kevin Moore/Mark Ramos Nishita; Producers: Kevin Moore/ Vince Gill; Label: Rounder
–Languid and loose-limbed, this contemplative groover celebrates the artist reconnecting with his roots. (The Nashvillian recently bought his childhood home in Compton, California and renovated it.) It is the title tune of an album that dropped last Friday. You’ll find collaborations with Darius Rucker, Kristin Chenoweth and Old Crow Medicine Show on the new collection, but as this sterling track demonstrates, Keb’ Mo’ soars even higher when he’s on his own. He remains one of the Americana genre’s greatest song craftsmen. Put this one on “repeat” again and again.
JACKSON BROWNE / “Downhill From Everywhere”
Writers: Jackson Browne/Jeff Young/Greg Leisz; Producer: Jackson Browne; Label: Inside
–Browne’s comeback Downhill From Everywhere is Grammy nominated as 2021’s Americana Album of the Year. Its title tune is a punchy folk rocker with a downcast ecological, anti-pollution lyric bolstered by intense vocal bursts. It’s very much in tune with his classic sound. He’s still that Laurel Canyon boomer you’ve known for all these years.
SARAH JAROSZ / “Mama”
Writer: Sarah Jarosz; Producer: Sarah Jarosz; Label: Rounder
–Sarah’s current Blue Heron Suite has a Best Folk Album Grammy nomination this year. This ethereal lead-off track has a lovely simplicity with her deftly plucked acoustic guitar backing her breathy, wistful, poignant soprano.
NATHANIEL RATELIFF & THE NIGHT SWEATS / “Survivor”
Writers: Nathaniel David Rateliff/Patrick Blair Meese/Sam Cohen; Producer: Brad Cook, RMB & Elijah Thomson; Label: Stax
–Drawn from this act’s new album, The Future, this dramatic funk-rock track mixes shuddering horn blasts with stinging electric guitar zaps and a stop-start undertow rhythm track. Atop it all is the front man’s seering, fierce lead vocal. It’s a wild ride.
KATIE GUSTAFSON / “See Me Now”
Writers: Katie Gustafson/Sam Ashworth; Producer: Sam Ashworth; Label: Mother Trucker
–Her echoey soprano vocal is surrounded by a swirl of electronics and a deep pool of twang bass. The introspective lyric took on extra significance to the Nashville singer-songwriter when she overcame breast cancer last year.
BRENT COBB / “When It’s My Time”
Writers: Brent Cobb/Layne Cobb/Mike Harmeier; Producer: Dave Cobb; Label: Ol’ Buddy
–Already one of the Americana genre’s standout singer-songwriters, Cobb turns his talent to gospel music on his upcoming CD. This advance track luxuriates in his captivating Georgia-accented phrasing with stately church keyboards and guitars. Not to mention soulful, Southern-fried backing vocals. Righteous in the extreme. Essential listening.
ELI PAPERBOY REED / “Mama Tried”
Writer: Merle Haggard; Producer: none listed’ Label: Yep Roc
–Now here’s a concept. White soul singer Reed is releasing an entire album of Merle Haggard songs, reinterpreted as horn-punctuated R&B tunes. It’s not my cup of tea, but you have to admit that it is intriguing. His blistering vocal attack threatens to overwhelm the story telling in “Mama Tried,” but otherwise the soul-music setting brings out new shades in the Hag’s hit.
TYLER CHILDERS / “Long Violent History”
Writer: Tyler Childers; Producers: Tyler Childers/Jesse Wells; Label: Hickman Holler
–This is the title tune of Childers’s 2021 CD, which is somewhat oddly nominated as a Best Folk album at this year’s Grammy Awards. His stone-country vocal on this struggling-Appalachia lyric is backed in waltz time by twin fiddles, perfectly picked banjo, mandolin chops and thumped bass. I don’t care what you call it, this man’s music is simply electrifying.
SARAH WHITE / “Different Drum”
Writer: Michael Nesmith; Producer: Stewart Myers; Label: White Star Sound
–White’s cover of this Linda Ronstadt/Stone Poneys classic is an intriguing introduction to a creative alto vocalist. Her slightly behind-the-beat phrasing and conversational pauses are wonderfully ear catching. The deep twang in the production is cool, too. It’s a marvelous tribute to the late, great Michael Nesmith.