Americana UK Staff Albums of 2007
And so another year draws to a close with the annual ritual of a group of grown men and women arguing over which album towered above all others over the last twelve months. All of the albums below are someone’s clear favourite and the ones near the top are the favourites of more than one of us which given the number of albums we get sent each year (it’s a four figure number) is testament enough to their greatness. Well, if you trust our judgement that is. A special mention here for Snowglobe’s “Doing the Distance” which we reviewed this year and has not only some of the best album artwork of recent times but would have easily made it on to the list below but for the fact that it was actually released in 2005. Sometimes the ones that slip through the net are the hidden treasures you want to shout from the rooftops. Anyway, on with the list….
- 1. Octoberman “Run From Safety” (White Whale) Octoberman’s Marc Morrissette, no relation to his famous female namesake, has to be one of the great up and coming Americana songwriters of our times, and if his latest band’s 2005 debut didn’t prove that, then this follow up certainly does. “Run From Safety” feels like all the things a modern Americana album should be – like one of those classic albums from the heyday of the genre’s late nineties revival, with hints of everyone from Neil Young to Sparklehorse to Elliot Smith, yet still managing to do something new whether it’s the unexpected appearance of rabble rousing choruses, unexpected horns or painfully evocative lyrics. Tempos and levels change within single tracks but the record still manages to fall together in a way that make it a whole piece you just couldn’t miss anything out from. By the time you reach the climactic “Chasing Ambulances” the lump in your throat that’s been building throughout the whole record ends up positively choking you. Simply put, it’s that great, and for that reason a worthy recipient of Americana UK’s best album of 2007.
- 2. Wilco “Sky Blue Sky” (Warners) Jeff Tweedy and co. return with their sixth studio album, veering away from the experimental edges of its predecessor and back to their more usual sounds, albeit with quieter edges and a consistency of brave songwriting. The Wilco vs Son Volt debate still rages on, but on the evidence of this, they’re closer to the winning line than ever.
- 3. Richmond Fontaine “Thirteen Cities” (Decor) Who hasn’t listened to a Richmond Fontaine song and wept hopelessly at some point? “Thirteen Cities” is the seventh – the seventh! – studio album from the Oregon band and with a cast of all the modern Americana greats including Calexico and Giant Sand, they hit the spot yet again. Just don’t forget your tissues.
- 4. Broken Family Band “Hello Love” (Track & Field) The Broken Family Band are arguably the best Americana band in the UK right now, and arguably not an Americana band at all. Their fourth studio album with Brian O'Shaughnessy on production credits finds them veering between indie and country, all bound together by lead singer Steve Adams’ genius talent for barbed lyrics.
- 5. Eilen Jewell “Letters From Sinners And Strangers” (Signature Sounds) Eilen Jewell has one of those names you want to correct when you see it written down, although you’d want to do anything but with her music. An incredibly sweet voice married to old style country tunes has invited comparisons with everyone from Lucinda Williams to Gillian Welch, but Jewell has a distinct talent of her own making, not least on her interpretations of classic country songs which she makes her own.
- 6. Emily Barker “Photos Fires Fables” (Iguana) The first solo album from Low Country vocalist Emily Barker proves that Australia might be a million miles away from the depths of the American south but still produces some of the finest country and folk musicians in the world. “Photos Fires Fables” is imaginative without being whimsical, melodic without being twee – in fact all the things you’d want an album to be from one of the nicest people in the business.
- 7. Okkervil River “The Stage Names” (Jagjaguwar) Okkervil River return this year with an album once again pushing the boundaries of both indie and Americana, with mandolin, pump organs, distorted feedback and drama a plenty, soaring above the growing list of Arcade Fire and Bright Eyes pretenders and doing so even more convincingly than they’ve managed before.
- 8. Crowded House “Time on Earth” (Parlophone) Originally conceived as a Neil Finn solo record, “Time on Earth” must have metaphorically reached out to the other band members since it brought them back together for the first time since the death of drummer Paul Hester for one of the albums of their career. Neil Finn’s songwriting is as acute as ever and the range of styles is breathtaking – proving once again that Crowded House just can’t do a bad record.
- 9. The Bairns “Rachel Unthank and the Winter Set” (EMI)Full of harmonies and meandering keyboard, the Northumbrian based Bairds play the new kind folk that Polly Harvey and Joanna Newsom have morphed into so successfully in recent years, with passion and sincerity in endless amounts. Just what the genre needs on the strength of the songs alone.
- 10. Dax Riggs “We Sing Of Only Blood or Love” (Fat Possum) Indie rock makes our list of 2007 with this debut project from Deadboy and the Elephantmen frontman Dax Rigss – bending notes around dramatic setpieces, his powerful voice and talented songwriting add up to one of the year’s great undiscovered gems.
- 11. Phil Campbell “Joy” (Safehouse) With nods towards Whiskeytown era Ryan Adams and Josh Ritter, Phil Campbell writes tunes of a quality in the range of anything Mr Adams has come out with in recent years, without any of the bluster to boot, and leaves you feeling uplifted in the way that only the best albums do – especially when few others know about them.
- 12. Great Lakes “Diamond Times” (Track & Field) The third album from Athens, Georgia based Great Lakes immediately evokes Lambchop and Kurt Wagner’s solo musings more than anyone else, with its blending of soul and bluesy elements (note the Hammond organ) with classic country slide and fiddle. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck sometimes it’s that great – influenced by but not trapped within the genre.
- 13. Jeff Kanzler "Black Top Road" (Independent) Jeff Kanzler writes beautifully understated tunes that straddle almost every genre of American roots music. His vocals compliment the songs beautifully, sounding like a cross between a more grizzled Ryan Adams and Johnny Hickman – it’s probably only be a matter of time before his talents become more widely and deservedly discovered.
- 14. Bob Delevante “Columbus and the Colossal Mistake” (Relay) Some of Nashville’s best known musicians, including Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller, join Bob Delevante on this his latest record, propelling him surely to be a name as known as theirs in his own right. Better known as a producer and photographer in recent times, his talents are clearly not restricted to one area – it doesn’t push any boundaries but he does what he does with extraordinary accomplishment.
- 15. Mark Cool and the Folk Stars: "Introducing..." (Independent)Someone described Mark Cool’s latest record as being like Nebraska era Bruce Springsteen mixed in with a bit of Keith Urban, with a smattering of Townes Van Zant, Johnny Cash and the Carter family thrown in. Sounds good enough to us – and the record does too.
- 16. Peter Case “Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John” (Yep Roc) How much mileage can there be in the ‘bloke with guitar singing his own songs’ format? It must, you’d think, be a fairly redundant formula what with this being the twenty first century and everything. But there is a warmth and richness evident which you can’t account for in Pro Tools, that a heavier production hand might have obscured – an outstanding record from a longtime outstanding talent.
- 17. Felice Brothers “Tonight at the Arizona” (Loose) Have you ever wondered if anyone will ever take the massive legacy of Bob Dylan and the Band circa The Basement Tapes and do something with it for a new generation without being mere copyists? The Felice Brothers do this and more - the new weird America set to an old but timeless beat, and it’s one to which we should all march.
- 18. Tommy Womack “There I Said It!” (Thirty Tigers) Tommy Womack is a legend of his own making, creating solo records now after years in Government Cheese and commendably open about his influences from the plethora of drugs of both prescription and recreational he’s encountered over the years. Courageous and compelling, few artists can make such an honest album so appealing – and it’s not short of laughs either.
- 19. Redlands Palomino Company “Take Me Home” (Laughing Outlaw) One of the great new wave of UK Americana bands on one of our favourite labels, Hannah and Alex Eton-Wall have produced an even more fleshed out version of their debut album with classic male female vocal harmonies and instrumentation to match – there’s not a weak track on the record.
- 20. Chris Bathgate “A Cork Tale Wake” (Quite Scientific) Chris Bathgate hails from Michigan and is a showpiece frontman for the whole scene there, producing records as he does such as “A Cork Tale Wake” – simple songs arranged creatively and full of interesting twists and turns. Never a dull listen, Bathgate gives his folk an edge that put s him a cut above his contemporaries and establishes him as talent here to stay.