Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This was a lot harder than I anticipated. I stated from the beginning, this was a banner year for music and a true breakout year for Americana. Having stated that, it makes my job very difficult to try to narrow down the field and not slight anyone that deserves accolades for releasing a brilliant album in 2017. Despite my best efforts, I feel that I will still short change some very talented musicians.
I had some loose criteria for judgement. 1) The release had to be a full length album. 2) There had to be some ties to country music/Americana 3) The release had to occur in 2017 (I made one exception for an album that was released on December 30, 2017 – close enough).
1) Ty Segall: (Self Titled) (Drag City) Just incredible! This release completely blew me away. This is innovation personified. If there was any doubt if Steve Albini still has his producer chops, this album proved that he does. And Ty Segall’s music plays perfectly into Albini’s wheelhouse, mixing music, harmony and noise to create something special. The best album of 2017.
Twangri-La’s review of Ty Segall
2) Lilly Hiatt: Trinity Lane (New West Records) A perfect blending of 90s alternative, country, and angst all mixed together. Lilly is a tour de force and this is just the beginning. Trinity Lane is the gateway to bigger and better things for Lilly and the boys in the band. This well oiled machine is poised for a breakout in ’18.
Twangri-La’s review of Trinity Lane
3) Will Hoge: Anchors (Edlow Records, Thirty Tigers) Mr. Will Hoge released his tenth album, Anchor, earlier this year. There are singer/songwriters and then there is Will Hoge. This album is clear evidence as to why Will is one of the most respected songwriters and composers out there today. Little Bit Of Rust (Track 3) makes this album priceless.
Twangri-La’s review of Anchors
4) Tyler Childers: Purgatory (Hickman Holler Records) Tyler Childers is carrying the torch for the great country legends that came before him. Names like Cash, Nelson, Haggard, and Jennings, Tyler is cut from the same cloth as those guys. He is a “true”badour and really loves his fans. And Sturgil Simpson produced Purgatory. Time will tell, but this could be an album for the ages.
Twangri-La’s review of Purgatory
5) Blackfoot Gypsies: To The Top (Plowboy Records) If rock and roll were bad, this would be rotten to the core. Luckily for all concerned, it is everything good. The Gypsies whip up a frenzied style of early 70s rock that sounds almost as good on the record as it does live. I said almost because as good as these guys sound on vinyl, their live show eclipses it. This album can be played right before or after Exile with pride.
Twangri-La’s review of To The Top
6) Turnpike Troubadours – A Long Way From Your Heart (Bossier City) I had heard that The Turnpike Troubadours were the best band in the world. I wanted to see for myself and in September of this year at Americana Fest, I got my chance. They are the best band in the world. This album cements that fact. No need to go through individual characteristics, just listen. This is not a hard sell at all.
Twangri-La’s review of A Long Way From Your Heart
7) Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures (Part 1) (Contender Records) This is rock and roll personified with plenty of loud guitar, pounding drum beats, and a big ol’ piana’. It’s hard not to listen to this and think of the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. The transitions between verse and chorus on all the tracks are executed to perfection. It makes a good song stupendous. There are lots of those on here.
Twangri-La’s review of Dirty Pictures (Part 1)
8) Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real (Self Titled) (Concord Music Group) Remember that old adage, “the apple don’t fall from the tree?” In Lukas’ case, he is directly under the tree. Even though he inherited a good bit of his pop’s talent, he still pays his dues. This album is a culmination of the talent, hard work, and dedication put in by Lukas over the years.
Twangri-La’s review of Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
9) Margo Price: American Made (Third Man Records) This is Margo’s second full release. There is no sophomore jinx here. American Made is not only a great stand alone album, it builds nicely on the first one. You can hear different instruments on this album and more production value. Underneath it all is the talented Miss Price and this album is the document.
Twangri-La’s review of American Made
10) Scott H. Biram: The Bad Testament (Bloodshot Records) The self proclaimed “dirty old one man band” release his ninth studio album and it is a damn good one. I am always astounded that performers, such as Biram, can constantly re-invent themselves and make music that is vital, timely, and just plain good. Scott has done this nine times in a row and he seems to be getting better with age.
Twangri-La’s review of The Bad Testament
11) Marty Stuart: Way Out West (Superlatone Records) This album is simply amazing. Marty is no newcomer to music, but he is still making music that is fresh as spring flowers. Way Out West is all the proof you need. This album is gritty, spacey, and haunting. It really makes you feel as if you are trekking through the desert. His band, including guitar virtuoso, Kenny Vaughan, is the best in the biz.
Twangri-La’s review of Way Out West
12) The Craig Brown Band: The Lucky Ones Forget (Third Man Records) The most refreshing thing about The Lucky Ones Forget is the discipline not to mess up a great thing. This album does not contain a lot of bells and whistles. There are no harps, cello’s, or woodwinds. What there is – is music that is brilliant in its ability to be understated. Just solid music that is cleverly written and extremely well presented.
Twangri-La’s review of The Lucky Ones Forget
13) Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: Sidelong (Bloodshot Records) Sarah Shook has such an amazing voice that it may be easy to overlook the other elements on Sidelong. But don’t, because the band is outstanding. They are all (including Sarah) great players and they have that chemistry to know what the other band members are going to do. That chemistry just flies through the speakers and hits you like a ton of bricks. The Nail may be the best song of the year.
Twangri-La’s review of Sidelong
14) The Magnetisers: Self Titled (Pangea Alps) From the first time I heard this, I knew this was something special. The music is incredibly captivating and that holds up for the entire album. It’s a little bit country, a little bit of noise pop, and some jangle sprinkled in. I am not too sure who the musicians are on this, apparently they wanted to record this anonymously. That’s a shame really, this is so good the artists should get their due.
Twangri-La’s review of The Magnetisers
15) Emily Duff: Maybe In The Morning (Mod Prom Records) Absolute swampy, country, rock and roll in its purest form. Maybe In The Morning is a treat to listen to. I am going to call Maybe In The Morning ear candy. It is sweet and satisfying and the more you get, the more you want. This was recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. The trademark Muscle Shoals sound is undeniable.
Twangri-La’s review of Maybe In The Morning
16) King James & The Special Men: Act Like You Know (Special Man Industries) Who doesn’t love New Orleans? I think the answer is no one. Forget the double negatives: everyone loves New Orleans. But, we can’t always get there. Listening to Act Like You Know is instant New Orleans. All of the five senses are represented on this amazing release.
Twangri-La’s review of Act Like You Know
17) Shoddy Blacktooth: Don’t Forget To Die The writing on this is absolutely astounding. It is thought provoking while still being light hearted at times. Shoddy’s voice is outstanding. He has a very nice range that he sings in, which is pleasing to my ears. When Shoddy belts out “dyin’s no different” on Song For Elon Musk (Track 2), it awakens emotions in me that have been dormant for a while.
Twangri-La’s review of Don’t Forget To Die
18) Jeremy Pinnell: Ties Of Blood And Affection (SofaBurn Records) Complete kick ass outlaw country from the opening note to the closing note. Jeremy hails from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. He is very proud of his hometown and with good reason. “I am born and proud to be from Cincinnati”, says Pinnell. Just honest songwriting and great twangy country music makes this one a standout.
Twangri-La’s review of Ties Of Blood And Affection
19) Bohannons: Luminary Angels (Cornelius Chapel Records) Power pop is not something to be ashamed of. That is, if it’s done well. Bohannons handle it like experts in the field. It’s a little raucous at times, but that’s the beauty. You can take some rough elements and still create pop music that is both profound and a great listen. Bohannons hit a home run. One of my favorite album covers, ever.
Twangri-La’s review of Luminary Angels
20) The Typical Johnsons: Rustbelt Renaissance Another great offering from The Typical Johnsons. More of that gritty, blue collar southern rock the we have come to expect from the guys and gal in this tight outfit from the Dayton, OH area. This ten song offering is filled with fine writing and keen observations. The musicianship exhibited by all the members is top notch. They are still very much on the uptick coming into 2018.
Twangri-La’s review of Rustbelt Renaissance
21) Colter Wall: Self Titled (Young Mary’s Record Company) There are many questions of the universe that are difficult to answer: 1) How old is the earth? 2) How was the earth created? 3) How can Colter Wall write and sing like he does at a mere 22 years old? Maybe that question should be moved up to number one. I don’t want to get bogged down with that. His singing style and writing is legendary already.
Twangri-La’s review of Colter Wall
22) Chris Shiflett: West Coast Town (SideOneDummy Records) Chris is the lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters and also plays in Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. Those are two tough acts to follow, for sure. Many folks in bands do solo albums, but most don’t make a real impact. That was then, this is now. Chris released an Americana five carat diamond in West Coast Town.
Twangri-La’s review of West Coast Town
23) Hans Chew : Open Sea (At The Helm Records) I loved this one from the very first note. Normally, my attention span is way too short to listen to an album full of songs that average six minutes plus. But these songs are so interesting, I could go a whole lot longer. Every song on this six song album is a classic in the making. Not only are the songs pleasantly lengthy, they contain some serious face melting moments.
Twangri-La’s review of Open Sea
24) The Yawpers – Boy In A Well (Bloodshot Records) This is not for people that scare easily. Boy In A Well is a 38 minute journey on the biggest, most frightening roller coaster in the world. It is full of dips, twists and turns. It is a bit scary at times, but it is also invigorating. There are also some very beautiful, sensitive moments as well. When you exit this thrill ride, you will go through the line to ride it again.
Twangri-La’s review of Boy In A Well
25) JD McPherson: Undivided Heart And Soul (New West Records) One of the greatest soulful voices in music today. JD can belt out the notes with the best of them, both living and deceased. This album is firmly planted in the golden age of early rock and roll, soul, and psychedelia. Every song on this collection is great and could easily be a favorite.
Twangri-La’s review of Undivided Heart And Soul
26) Jaime Wyatt: Felony Blues (Forty Below Records) Going back to the roots. Jaime is a true outlaw country artist. Her voice is fantastic and she can twang it up with the best of ’em. The seven songs on this collection are all hit worthy. Felony Blues is partly about Wyatt’s own stint in prison. Those days are behind her now and she is making meaningful, moving music for all to enjoy. And enjoy you will, when you listen.
Twangri-La’s review of Felony Blues
27) Old 97’s: Graveyard Whistling (ATO Records) These four Texas boys are still going strong, proven by the strength of their 11th studio album, Graveyard Whistling. This album went back to basics as the band sounds more like the bar band they were when they first started. And it sure sounds great. Drinking Song (Track 9) is a throwback to the early 90s when they began blending punk and country. They still got it.
Twangri-La‘s review of Graveyard Whistling
28) Son Volt: Notes Of Blue (Transmit Sound) After every new Son Volt album, I always say that “this one is their best yet”. Let me repeat myself, this one is their best yet. The songs are tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Jay and company mix the hard and soft beautifully, having a pretty even distribution of hard vs soft songs. As always, all the songs are well written and just musically sound.
Twangri-La’s review of Notes Of Blue
29) Nikki Lane – Highway Queen (New West Records) Girl power! Nikki has the perfect blend of femininity and pure rage in her songs. This album kicks more ass than an MMA fighter. Everything I like is in here: good vocals. spacey guitar, good writing, and twang out the wazoo. It’s got it all. This album is the everything bagel of music. It’s got all the ingredients you need and you don’t have to make an exclusive decision.
Twangri-La’s review of Highway Queen