Sunday, July 6, 2014

Best of 2014: Mid-year country and Southern rock

Wow. Here’s a first: Over the few years that I’ve been doing a Southern rock and country list, I’ve once or twice had to struggle to get 10 albums at the end of the year.

Hard rock and metal is my first love, so I don’t always dig into the country and Southern rock genres with the same vigor.

This year is a bit different, though. I’ve heard a little more and explored a little more, and I’ve got a Top 10 at midstream, all of which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m interested to see what this list looks like at the end of the year …

No. 10 — WILLIE NELSON – BAND OF BROTHERS: This record is not quite as much fun as his 2012 outing Heroes, but it’s still Willie Nelson. He penned most of the songs on this record, which has been a change from recent years, and no one can match the phrasing of Nelson’s performance.

No. 9 — MATT WOODS – WITH LOVE FROM BRUSHY MOUNTAIN: A relatively recent discovery for me, Woods is another one of those great songwriters that’s going unnoticed in a deluge of pickup trucks, dirt roads and parties in the field.

No. 8 — HELLBOUND GLORY – LV: This EP shows an undeniable maturing of Hellbound Glory main man Leroy Virgil and features probably one of the best songs he’s ever written. That said, I really miss the hell-raising fun of some of their older material.

No. 7 — RED EYE GRAVY – DUSTBOWL HANGOVER: Cowpunk, psychobilly and the occasional heartfelt, traditional country tune come together on this impressive outing. The band’s more joyful take on “Ain’t No Grave” is among my favorite songs of the year.

No. 6 — JACKSON TAYLOR AND THE SINNERS – LIVE AT BILLY BOBS: This CD/DVD set captures a rousing good time with Jackson Taylor at the legendary Billy Bob’s Texas. I can attest that it’s not as much fun as actually seeing Taylor live, but it’s still a great peformance.

No. 5 — SCOTT H. BIRAM – NOTHIN’ BUT BLOOD: The sacred and profane make fairly comfortable bedfellows on Biram’s latest effort. You can find anything from dirty, Motorhead-influenced heavy rock to an a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

No. 4 — WHISKEY MYERS – EARLY MORNING SHAKES: I’ve been remiss in getting this album reviewed, but it’s easily the best collection of Southern rock that I’ve heard this year. It grooves, it’s catchy and it rocks. “Headstone” might be my favorite song of the year from this list.

No. 3 — MAT D AND THE PROFANE SAINTS – HOLYOKE: Mat D was pretty much a completely accidental discovery for me, but I’m glad I stumbled on to him. I particularly like the dark and gritty acoustic numbers, and the record features some excellent songwriting.

No. 2 — STURGILL SIMPSON – METAMODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY MUSIC: On his second solo record, Simpson continues to impress with his soulful songs. Though he does throw a few different sounds at listeners here, it remains rooted in classic country. He’s the genuine article.

No. 1 — BOB WAYNE – BACK TO THE CAMPER: After an experimental two-record stint with metal label Century Media, Wayne gets back to what he’s always done with fantastic results. Back to the Camper showcases Wayne’s best songwriting to date, and he finds a perfect female foil in Elizabeth Cook, who guests on a couple of tracks. This album is Bob Wayne’s best work to date.

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