10 Best Country/Americana Albums (with a splash of Folk)
Come all ye faithful, for it ‘tis that time of year where “Best Of” lists are plentiful as curbside bell ringers.
I won’t HO HO HO you, asking for a donation, but I do hope you will take a moment to read this list of my personal favorite albums of 2019.
I also won’t pretend my tastes do not run to the raw and vulnerable over the glossy and upbeat. The order was even tougher to settle upon than narrowing the best albums list down to ten, because like all good art, these songs hit me differently at varying times. Nevertheless, they spoke to me with each and every listen.
10) Ordinary Elephant – Honest (May 2019 Berkalin Records) Despite their name, this husband and wife team possesses extraordinary talent. With hints of Guy Clark lyrically and vocals that often made me think of Gillian Welch, the tracks on Honest are often hauntingly beautiful “Scars We Keep” was the first song to catch my attention.
9) Sarah Potenza – Road To Rome (March 2019 Indie) It’s tricky to try and pigeonhole Potenza by genre, but Blues is as good as any such moniker for this former contestant on The Voice. “Keep on Holding” is my favorite and on the album version Potenza is joined by several others including Elizabeth Cook.
8) Bruce Robison & Kelly Willis – A Beautiful Life (June 2019 Motel Life Music) Another husband/wife team effort. This time laying down traditional Country sounds. She has the better voice, but he infuses more emotion into the lyrics and the combination here is stunning. “Astrodome” is my personal favorite because I have my own memories of the venerable stadium dating back to my high school FFA days.
7) Robert Ellis – Texas Piano Man (February 2019 New West Records) If Elton John were to get drunk on Shiner Bock, and create an album, while listening to old Willie records this is what the result would sound like. I loved the dark humor but poignancy behind “Nobody Smokes Anymore.”
6) Tyler Childers – Country Squire (August 2019 Hickman Holler Records/RCA Records) A popular pick on most lists, Childers turns back time by transposing me to my childhood when I would listen to country radio as I fell asleep. The title track kicks off his classic sound quite well.
5) The Highwomen – The Highwomen (September 2019 Low Country Sound/Elektra) Another album on almost everyone’s radar, this collection of talent did a great job of rekindling the magic of Country’s all-time best supergroup. “Wheels of Laredo” spoke the loudest to me and close the album with a hauntingly classic sound.
4) Houston Marchman – Highway Enchilada (April 2019 Winding Road Music) There is a fair chance you are unfamiliar with Marchman’s music. If so, remedy that situation my friend. “The Ballad of Pinky Hernandez” was perhaps my favorite song this year.
3) Hayes Carll – What It Is (February 2019 Dualtone Music) I reviewed this entire album over at Farce the Music, and if anything my appreciation has grown as the year went on. One of my best friends in the world argues that Carll’s wife, Alison Moorer put out an better album, but while her release is a very good album and emotional album, it did not take me on quite the same ride. For me, few to none can match the easy way Carll disarms a listener. Writing that feels natural and familiar yet impactful. Like a stoner prophet, Hayes Carll makes me think why hasn’t anyone else said that on almost every song. For me his work is always sneaky good and emotionally satisfying. This album has such a great track progression to it. I love the opening line to “Be There.”
2) Mike and the Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold (August 2019 Prairie Rose Records) “You Look Good In Neon” is the kind of country song the world is missing more of. These guys are so damn traditional that if you say their name three times Hee Haw will appear on your television screen.
1) Tom Russell – October In The Railroad Earth (March 2019 Frontera Records) The title track is an ode to writer Jack Kerouac but beyond the literary influence it carries a deeper meaning and sets off the album on a wonderful journey of its own. “Small Engine Repair” is another wonderful song that uses the simple to create a broad metaphor. My personal favorite is “T-bone Steak and Spanish Wine,” but there simply is not a bad track among the bunch. “Highway 46” is on the surface, a where were you when Merle Haggard died song, but really it is a tip of that hat to both discovery and loss. One could argue the ghost of Johnny Cash sat in while the 72-year-old Russell laid down his tracks as the influence is undeniable so it is fitting the final and eleventh track is a cover paying homage to The Man in Black.
Music is personal so I won’t stand on a soapbox and decry that this is the definitive best of list. I will say both in my role as a music writer, as well as my personal passion for good music, I listened to countless songs and more complete albums than most in 2019, and these were the ones that stuck with me. The ones that made me stop and think. The ones that fostered my own creative instincts and made me want to write the stories that fill my heart.
Travis Erwin is an author with several novels, a memoir, and numerous short stories to his publishing credit. He also writes and reviews music for a variety of sources including Farce the Music and LA on Lock. Check out his work wherever Fiction is sold, or find him on twitter @traviserwin.