Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Top 10 Favourite Festival Sets of 2016

The 2016 festival year began and ended in an indoors setting with a major overseas event being the showpiece of the summer. The line up for two days spent at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville Kentucky threw plenty of candidates for this list into the mix and the four eventually chosen represented the cream of this eclectic music event rich with a roots and Americana inclusion. Back on home soil, Maverick and Moseley Folk were their usual stoic efforts, while C2C in March finally delivered a stellar two days from the ever decreasing pool of exceptional artists operating within the country music mainstream. High and Lonesome extended the festival season to the end of November with a commendable line up from both sides of the Atlantic. Finally a quick mention for the Jinney Ring Folk Festival which provided two fine candidates for this list in sets by Lucy Ward and Sam Carter. As usual this personal choice is entirely subjective and each artist contributed something significantly memorable to the glorious concept of multi-artist gatherings.

 1. Alabama Shakes - Forecastle Festival, Louisville, Kentucky 
A hot and humid night under the I-65/I-64 intersection in downtown Louisville on the banks of the Ohio river. A packed crowd orchestrated in chants celebrating the city's most famous citizen - the late Muhammed Ali - which carried on as the best live band in the world strode onto stage at 9:30. Whether headlining the Calgary Folk Festival, a venue in Birmingham UK or a field in their steaming southern homeland, Brittany Howard and her band continue to blow me away as a live act. Call it soul, blues, rock, Americana - it's absolutely awesome and will live long in the memory as the outdoor festival moment of 2016.
 2. Brandi Carlile - Forecastle Festival, Louisville, Kentucky
This was the first of three live Brandi Carlile experiences in 2016 and finally an opportunity to hear songs from her evolving classic album The Firewatcher's Daughter in the presence of their creators. The entity of Brandi and the twins was in blistering form right from the beginning of her headline set on one of this festival's supporting stages. Her fervent fan base made sure Brandi was in precious company and she repaid them with a superb performance - rocking, tender, emotional and uplifting in equal portions. The set was packed with interesting material and by the end of 2016 the appreciation of this artist was sealed lock, stock and barrel.
 3. Miranda Lambert - C2C Festival, O2 Arena, London
The long wait to see one of modern country music's most revered performers in Europe was ended with this Friday night headline set in London. I'm afraid objectivity was binned for an hour, but then music allows ones mind to sometimes wallow in a different sphere where the world of judgement is exceeded by the thrill of the moment. Many long hours of listening to Miranda for over a decade was packaged for a brief moment and for me there was no place I'd rather be on the evening of March 11th 2016.
 4. Chris Stapleton - C2C Festival, O2 Arena, London
For many Chris Stapelton was the star of this festival which excelled with its artist choices in 2016. This was no big band show, just a small gathering onstage led by Chris and his wife Morgane who almost stole the show with her version of 'You are My Sunshine'. The power of the voice, songs and aura held a packed arena in the palm of the performer's hand and it was easy to detect being in the presence of someone making significant inroads in altering the direction of modern mainstream country music.

 5. Carter Sampson - Maverick Festival, Suffolk
The album had already made a profound effect when Carter was added to the Maverick Festival line up. Over the weekend she made three stage appearances: a contribution to the Jimmy Rodgers tribute show; a live radio session for Leader's American Pie and her own Saturday afternoon set on the Barn stage. All three confirmed the stature evident in the album which went on to become a firm favourite over the course of the year. The next step is to widen her UK presence and this begins with a series of dates in the New Year. But at this moment, let's just reflect on the impact Carter made in 2016.
 6. Laura Gibson - Moseley Folk Festival, Birmingham
Birmingham's own very unique folk festival throws up a lot of eclectic offerings when it comes to town in early September. There is normally an healthy contingent from across the Atlantic and the act who caught the eye most this year was Laura Gibson. Mingling between a style calling at various points of folk, indie and Americana, Laura possessed the most ear pleasing of voices that matched the idyllic setting of Moseley Park. Like sole festival slots, the time on stage can be frustratingly short when you're in an artist's groove and there was never going to be a chance of not yearning for more when Laura Gibson completed hers.
 7. Sarah Jarosz - Forecastle Festival, Louisville, Kentucky
It was two years since seeing Sarah play a series of shows in the UK when she appeared on the Forecastle Festival stage on Saturday afternoon. Forty-five minutes later a much developed artist emerged adding a maturer presence to her prodigious musical talent. This appearance was in tandem with getting a copy of her new album and together they made her one of premier artists to cross my path in the summer months. The trio format for this show worked well as we were served a delightful offering of tracks from her now developing seriously good back catalogue alongside the trademark Dylan cover she revels in.
 8. Kacey Musgraves - C2C Festival, O2 Arena, London
The question prior to Kacey's C2C scheduling slot was how would she come across in an arena setting after impressing immensely in her smaller UK shows to date. The answer was remarkably well and from a decent position on the floor, the sound was surprisingly good for a setting often beset with difficulties in this basic gig requirement. Hopefully her UK liaison will revert back to those smaller shows, but in the grateful knowledge that she cut it when the stakes were raised.
 9. Ryan Adams - Forecastle, Louisville, Kentucky
The first admission is that due to a clash with the Brandi Carlile set, the first fifteen minutes of Ryan Adams Sunday headline billing at Forecastle was missed. Hence a distant position at the back of the packed audience gathering was assumed to see an artist ripened for such as an eclectic music event as Forecastle. The effect from this position was not dampened as Ryan played a super set. One golden gig moment of this event (even perhaps of the whole year) was the crowd reaction to the reference to Kentucky in his Americana masterpiece 'Oh My Sweet Carolina', A fitting end to a sensational couple of days at an event a long way from home.
10. Applewood Road - High and Lonesome Festival, Leeds
The 2016 festival season had a surprise extension when a couple of favourite artists were added to the High and Lonesome line up in late November thus making the trip north more viable. It was in effect a toss up between Applewood Road and Robert Ellis for the final spot in this list with the former edging it due to the sheer beauty of the music they have made throughout the year. The setting of a decommissioned church with its acoustic splendour was heaven sent for Emily Barker, Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace. The ladies duly obliged with a serene performance.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Top 25 Favourite Gigs of 2016

Although I had a fairly extensive gig year, the first acknowledgement is to those dedicated folks on the circuit who far exceed the number I manage to attend and their commitment to live music is utterly admirable. 2016 proved to be an exceptional year with the fortunate experience of being able to see many personal favourites. The year was bolstered by an mid summer US road trip and in some format all but two of my gigs and festival days had some coverage on the blog. For the second successive year, the ninety mark was hit aided by an exceptional full band in-store set by Elizabeth Cook in Nashville. Live music continues to be the utopia of the blogging experience and even when circumstances test the endeavour, the ultimate satisfaction of recording the memory in the written format wins the day. Of course the twenty five chosen performances to form the favourite list is a purely personal entity, but hopefully sharing it will resonate with some folks out there. Happy reading and here's to 2017.

 1. Brandi Carlile - O2 Sheperd's Bush Empire London and Merriweather Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland 
For the first time in the five years of publishing this list, the top spot was shared between two contrasting live appearances. The whole experience of seeing Brandi Carlile share the setting with Old Crow Medicine Show and Dawes in the US was unforgettable from a host of fronts, but for sheer connectivity her London gig raised the bar of appreciation considerably. These two shows fully deserve an equal top billing and went a long way to sealing the stellar mantle on which I place the music of Brandi Carlile on.
 2. Dixie Chicks - Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham
The tour came out of the blue in light of the band's continuing decade long recording inactivity, but the scheduling of a Birmingham show was the icing on the cake. Make no mistake this was Dixie Chicks 2016 not 2003, when they last visited the city. However they continue to be one of the most important acts in American music and it is critical that they continue to operate on such as scale. Throwback maybe, wonderful absolutely.
 3. Cale Tyson - The Bullingdon, Oxford
The find of 2015 was a fabulous enhancement in 2016. There is something significant about Cale Tyson's stage persona that brings out the core of influential live music. This year the band accompanied him and the ceiling ceased to be the limit. Evidence is gathering of the UK being a special place in the heart of Cale Tyson and his ever increasing visits to these shores move him up a notch each time. Clubhouse Records deserve a pat on the back for introducing Cale and his marvellous musical style to British audiences.
 4. Gretchen Peters - Atrix, Bromsgrove 
If 2017 is to be a UK hiatus for Gretchen Peters then she left us with a wonderful memory, and quite possibly the best set of performances from a long association with our country. Maybe it was the enhanced band format or the bedding in of the live versions of the BLACKBIRDS songs, but this show was easily a highlight of seeing Gretchen live several times over the last ten years. The added excitement is that the best of Gretchen Peters is possibly still to come and ongoing inspiration is sure to fuel the future.
 5. Jason Isbell - O2 Academy, Bristol 
Expect shows from Jason Isbell's January UK tour to top many lists this yuletide season and this will be fully justifiable having attended the Bristol date on the tour. The full band was on fire as his latest two records were brought to life in their full glory. Another artist where praise is beginning to align with their stature, Jason Isbell goes from strength to strength and he is a valuable acquisition to any music fan's appreciation sphere.
 6. Margo Price - The Exchange, Bristol 
Apart from a status as one of the widely praised artists of the year, the success of this show from a personal perspective stemmed from the fact that Margo had to work the mic all night as she was unable to play guitar. The songs from her debut solo album are purely personal and they are best served with a totally expressive performance. This was delivered in epic proportions and not only were we listening to songs from a great album but being performed by a very special artist.
 7. Brandy Clark - The Glee Club, Birmingham 
A previous winner of this blog's album of year, 2016 saw Brandy's follow up hit the shelves and an inaugural set of live dates around the UK to essentially showcase both records. From a personal point of view, her songs are best served stripped back and acoustic, the very format of this show which erased any fear of disappointment. Full credit to Ben Glover's opening set as well.
 8. Bruce Springsteen - Ricoh Arena, Coventry 
OK Bruce fans this will always be number one in your book and if the sole criteria was scale of impression then seeing the Boss pour everything into a three hour show with top band in tow is tough to beat. My journey and level of intensity into the works of Bruce Springsteen does not go anywhere near to equating that of many of his devoted fans, but that did not stop being fully engrossed in his every movement and moment on stage. This position is a fair assessment of my investment in one of American music's most iconic performers with perhaps a level of appreciation lifted considerably after one June evening spent in a Midlands football stadium.
 9. Aoife O'Donovan - The Bullingdon, Oxford
2015 was the year three of America's most precious contemporary roots musician talents collaborated in the I'm With Her project. 2016 saw each spin off back into their solo worlds with Aoife leading the way courtesy of a most engaging performance back in the early part of the year. The trio format helped Aoife bring out the best of her songs and the Oxford show immediately lodged in my brain refusing to be budged as the gigs piled on.
10. Hayes Carll - Glee Club, Nottingham
Hayes Carll has now settled back into the groove of touring his classic Texas troubadour style in the UK after a period of self doubt to whom he was playing for. This is good news and the Nottingham show complete with the most impressive pedal steel playing all year (and there were a few) showed Hayes in an immensely positive light. The back catalogue is now heading towards legendary status, joined by another new album this year and the inimitable poise and posture of Hayes Carll continues to light up the gig venues he is booked to play.

 11. Sara Watkins - The Bullingdon, Oxford
Any potential dampener of Sara appearing solo rather than in some band format was completely eliminated after witnessing a truly astonishing one person performance at this show. Effortlessly moving between multiple instruments was made so easy by this talented performer who certainly directs her exceptional ability in an engaging way. Bringing to life the new record was another successful feature of this evening and marked an artist right at the core of the US folks, roots and Americana movement.
 12. The Milk Carton Kids - Union Chapel, London
On your first visit to the iconic Union Chapel venue, there is probably a no finer appropriate act to see than The Milk Carton Kids, fully equipped with their trademark harmonies and idealistic rendition of the acoustic song. The pin drop environment was perfectly made for this duo which pioneers a throwback sound so impeccably in contemporary times.
 13. Danny and the Champions of the World - The Donkey, Leicester
The best live band in Britain is a strongly adhered tag to Danny Wilson and his eternal bunch of Champs and being able to perform so effectively in a wide variety of settings is a testimony to their stage presence. No end of year gig list is complete without their entry and you might as well cut and paste them into 2017 such is the consistency.
 14. Treetop Flyers - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
Pushing the Champs hard though is another London based band in the Treetop Flyers who know how to cultivate a superb show awash with keys, guitars, percussion and a lead singer chin deep in the pure emotion of song. Striding the line between West Coast rock, gritty Americana and suburban indie, their shows continue to stand out and this gig was joined later in the year with a similar memorable performance at the Moseley Folk Festival.
 15. Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman - Atrix, Bromsgrove
UK folk genre stalwarts Kathryn and Sean took the honours in a live setting for this strand of music in 2016 with a superb theatre show in Bromsgrove. Maybe the strength of their successful duo act is the diversity of inspiration and interpretation along with the most magical and memorable of songs. They really are a must see act on the circuit and can act as a conduit into the genre for folks with a casual interest; they are that good to see live. 
 16. Carrie Rodriguez - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
This was Carrie's long awaited debut gig in the city of Birmingham though she had played in neighbouring Wolverhampton with Chip Taylor a while back. Those patient to finally see her in a local setting were not disappointed as Carrie and husband Luke splendidly dealt with a range of material from the excellent new record to plenty of fine songs from the back catalogue. Essentially Carrie's elegant fiddle playing and serene vocals stole the show and universal praise flooded this intimate venue gig.
 17. The Stray Birds - The Bullingdon, Oxford
Following in the footsteps of their impressive discovery in 2015, The Stray Birds returned to the UK accompanied by a brand new record and an enhanced band format with additional percussion. The results were just the same and yielded another successful Oxford trip to support the excellent job done by Mike and the Empty Rooms Promotions team. While roots music will always be the core of The Stray Birds, their ability to reach out via a wider sound base was shown in its full glare at this fabulous show.
 18. Lera Lynn - Bodega, Nottingham
The mystique and style of Lera Lynn was hidden no more in 2016 as a first opportunity to grasp her cult charm was seized with a trip to the Nottingham gig. Plenty of electric twang and a full band backing added to the atmospheric flavour of this all-consuming show which swung around a multitude of Southern genres throughout its duration.
 19. Hannah Aldridge and Lilly Hiatt - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
'Somebody's Daughter' was the apt soundtrack to this double header gig, which was absolutely owned by two ladies striving to make their own mark in the Americana music world. Seriously good songs intrinsically link Hannah and Lilly as well as an inner desire to commit the issues of their own hearts to song. Contrasts in style of delivery existed, but sentiment was perfectly aligned as we were taken into a world of different shades, characters and emotions.

20. The Bros. Landreth - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
Having heard so many positive projections about The Bros. Landreth as a live act, it was a pleasure to join the bandwagon after seeing them bring their accomplished sound to Birmingham this year. The venue was awash with cultured guitar waves to provide a swashbuckling soundtrack for heaps of both, sibling and full band harmonies. What next for this band, remains one of the most enticing questions for 2017.
 21. Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Rainbow, Birmingham
Two years after joining the Hurray for the Riff Raff appreciation club, the union of admiration was sealed by seeing Alynda and her band live in this Birmingham gig, which proved rare in the light of future scheduling. The whole aurora surrounding Alynda transcended from studio to stage and once again limitless potential exists to where she can advance with her band in forthcoming years.
 22. Michele Stodart - Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham
A re-scheduled date made this gig accessible which showed there can be a silver lining to a postponement. The success of this show was based on some amazing artistic chemistry between Michele and her lead guitarist Raevennan Husbandes. Such a sound stretched the confines of the Kitchen without detrimental effect amidst a show generally full of your usual singer-songwriter sensibilities.
 23. My Darling Clementine - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
It's a testimony to Michael and Lou that they can consistently put on a show that nestles in the upper limits of a busy gig year. The Hare and Hounds was granted a rare full band show and a fine assortment of musicians didn't disappoint as the whistle was sounded to signal the next phase of the My Darling Clementine career.
 24. Austin Lucas with The Dreaming Spires - Hare and Hounds, Birmingham
Austin Lucas was seen twice this year and this appearance in Birmingham with British favourites The Dreaming Spires 'trumped' his solo show in Asheville during the summer US road trip. Austin remains a deeply ingrained musician wonderfully capable of transmitting the intensity of his music to an audience at close quarters. Throw in your usual high planed performance from The Dreaming Spires alongside a super opening set from Katy Bennett meant a special night was assigned to the positive side of the memory bank.

25. Time Jumpers - 3rd and Lindsley, Nashville, Tennessee
This list began with reference to a Stateside gig and is splendidly concluded in the company of some of the finest country musicians that you could wish to see in their iconic Nashville home. Maybe it was the good fortune of catching the legendary Vince Gill effectively leading them on this occasion, but you knew you were witnessing something special from the very start of the show.

Thanks to Andy D for the Carrie Rodriguez pic

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Top 30 Favourite Albums of 2016

Is there room for another end of year album list? I hope so because here comes an humble collection of my favourite releases in 2016. One thing about this list is the term best is nowhere to be found as it treats music listening as a subjective beast, with the only important outcome being to what extent it connects. Each year Otis Gibbs puts critics lists in perspective by implying that few dispute their anointing tendencies from a relative small listening sample in relation to the number of albums hitting the market. In defence of such lists, there is a finite listening capacity and there will no doubt be many albums released this year that will eventually find their way to me in good time. However it is good fun to reflect on the last twelve months at an opportune moment and one absolute certainty is the pride that emanates from being able to connect with these thirty albums. Debating the strength of 2016 is left for another time as these personal favourites get the crowning moment from this personal vanity project.

1 - Carter Sampson - Wilder Side   Album Review

Simple, evocative, moving, and etching what makes roots music special into a consolidated record begin to explain why Carter Sampson's music hit me so hard with the first few listens to Wilder Side. Its connectivity was complete and the process of communicating the imagery of a far away land blended perfectly with the ideal vocal style. A fully deserved 'left field album of the year' sealed further with a mid summer visit to our shores.

2 - Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter   Gig Review

Being distant from the pre-release hype aided the initial impact of hearing this record which ensured some format was actively available all year at the swipe of a screen. Its theme and sincerity captured the mood of its intended genre with the execution ensuring the follow up interest was not going to fall flat. Many spins can exhaust a record, but this was not the case for Margo Price's 2016 esteemed effort.
3 - Dori Freeman - Dori Freeman

Picking up on this record from the Saving Country Music website was the most enlightening discovery all year from a third source.Its beauty, purity and effortless excellence made it an instant winner. The next step is hopefully an enhanced international presence, but if this does not materialise, an indelible mark of the music of Dori Freeman has been left on the chosen few who crossed her path, far and wide across the wires.
4 - Lucinda Williams - The Ghosts of Highway 20   Album Review

This highly fertile period of Lucinda Williams music-making saw a second consecutive double album hit the airwaves, and a no less immortal impact than her back to form record of 2014. The theme was pure romance - warts and all - while the style was immersed deep into the subject. Each lengthy listen was enormously rewarding and always providing reasons why Americana culture is a mesmerising subject when told through the gritty medium of song.
5 - Miranda Lambert - The Weight of These Wings

The most highly anticipated album of the 2016 which didn't disappoint when emerging in the final six weeks of the year. This exceedingly complex double album will need more time to establish its true worth and while Miranda did not reach the instant gratifying heights of Platinum, one suspects that longevity will be the key, making this not an album of one year, but many.
6 - Shovels & Rope - Little Seeds   Album Review

Perhaps the year's most demanding album with more nooks, crannies and hidden gems than a rock pool shoreline. Even going back to it now reveals more qualities, and if not a top five album then probably the most enjoyable one to discover through multiple listens. Its eclectic nature keeps it fresh and it has the potential to grow further with planned overseas touring.
7 - Cale Tyson - Careless Soul   Album Review

After initially tempting us with a couple of EP releases, Cale went the full distance this year with a scintillating album heading very much in the direction of the genre indicated in the title. A little listening adjustment was required when first encountering this record, complete with strings and exploring the soulful avenue of country music, but its effect soon matched that of Cale in his extremely engaging live shows.
8 - Sam Outlaw - Angeleno   Album Review

This album took its UK bow early in the new year and received loads of positive press when Sam visited this country around the same time. This proved the first of several fruitful visits and after hitting initial soaring heights from first listen, the album refused to dip throughout the year. Leaning to the traditional wing, complete with Californian influences, helped make this a successful release and a lofty position in the end of year accolades.
9 - Elizabeth Cook - Exodus of Venus

First part of this year's surprise sound releases as Elizabeth bounced back into the recording stratosphere with a record steering a little way from her trademark country heritage. The effect was no less endearing as the unmistakable vocals still adorned track after track amidst a sound that veered in an indie and Americana direction.
10 - Sara Watkins - Young In All The Wrong Ways   Gig Review

The second sound switch saw Sara break out from a predominately roots based influence and provide a considerable edge to her incredibly impressive prodigious music. Another release with an indie tinge and moments which left you in awe of what creative wells artists can dip into to form their music.

11 - Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth

Definitely one of the most talked about albums of 2016 especially towards the end of the year with its multiple Grammy nominations. The record showed a determined independent streak to Sturgill as by and large he left the country sound on the shelf, albeit it will always surface in the vocals. An album that you could periodically return to and pick up different elements while admiring Sturgill's intention to stretch the limits of his artistic domain.
12 - Carrie Rodriguez and the Lonely Hearts - Lola   Album Review

A personal vanity project; a bi-lingual masterpiece and the fruits of an immensely talented and creative individual are just three possible tags adorning this superb album by Carrie, ably supported by husband Luke and some incredible players. A sparkling continuation of a career rich with some exceptional material.
13 - Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small Town

Following up 12 STORIES was always going to be an interesting task for Brandy in light of the enormous amount of attention bestowed on her. There was a marked change in some of the production arrangements, but the core of the record was a batch of incredibly well structured and cutting songs. Brandy Clark is going to continue to write and record many fine songs long into the future and a fair chunk of this year's album will blossom with her.

14 - Birds of Chicago - Real Midnight   Album Review

An album that didn't get the attention it deserved in the UK for possibly promotional reasons, but one that showcased fully the chemistry and talents of JT and Ali. They do really blend well together and this record captured that magic right to its heart.
15 - Wild Ponies - Radiant   Album Review

The tracks from this album sounded great upon first listen in a live setting and it was an honour to further savour them in the recorded format upon eventual release. Doug and Telisha exploit their musical talents in the right way and the result is a growing influence among keen listeners getting to grips with the subtle left field sounds of roots, country and Americana - laced with a dose of good ole rock 'n' roll.
16 - Trevor Alguire - Perish in the Light   Album Review

The year's blueprint album of how to make a successful record incorporating all the best parts of country, folk and Americana. A truly authentic sound emanated from constant plays of this record which showed that stellar Canadian songwriting is in rude health away from the limelight of this nation's leading artists. Trevor Alguire was an unknown name prior to coming across this album but quickly you felt he belonged.

17 - Kelsey Waldon - I've Got A Way   Album Review

A summer find on the cross Atlantic wires and an album which has gathered momentum on a wider stage throughout the year. Upon listening to this fine collection of traditional leaning country songs, little time was wasted in establishing their true worth and they sounded great by hooking me in from play number one. Once again a record that will transcend 2016.
18 - Lori McKenna - The Bird & The Rifle

Although there is a lengthy list of Lori McKenna records, and an even longer one of her successful cuts, this year's release has possibly been her most acclaimed one to date. Those behind the Grammy nominations agreed with this statement and who could argue after a continual feasting on the delights of Lori's eternally beautiful songs. A songwriter's album and a suggested breakout record for an artist primed to take full control of their own songs in a performing capacity.
19 - Parker Millsap - The Very Last Day

An elusive international release, but one which hooks you completely in and demands of barrage of repeat plays. This Parker Millsap album certainly did that during hours of driving in the US this summer, and providing a soundtrack that was never going to be seriously troubled by country radio. Perhaps a wider sound base than his previous record, but one still of a seasoned veteran rather than a young guy barely entering his mid twenties.
20 - The Stray Birds - Magic Fire   Album Review

In a year where several established artists on this list let their sounds saunter in variable directions, the same could apply to The Stray Birds. Regular listens to their album release of 2016 suggested a subtle move away from a pure roots sound and one where enhanced production dictated a switch. This was still entirely in credit circles thus making it an instantly enjoyable record to encounter during the year and thoroughly deserved to creep into the top twenty.

21 - The Black Feathers - Soaked To The Bone   Album Review

Another debut album and the honour of being the highest placed British based release, thus flying in the face of an unashamed North American bias. There was sufficient evidence from the previous EP and numerous live performances that Ray and Sian were going to deliver and the results didn't disappoint.
22 - Jim Lauderdale - This Changes Everything   Album Review
Traditional leaning country releases generally require the listener to go searching these days, but when you come across one as good as Jim Lauderdale's 2016 album, the endeavour to seek out is worthwhile. All the tracks originated in some format from the pen of Jim and passed the authenticity test with flying colours.
23 - Austin Lucas - Between The Moon & The Midwest   Album Review

A deeply personal record and one which UK label At The Helm Records entrusted to give it significant life this side of the pond. Definitely independent country music with an impassioned edge and not scared to fly in the face of orchestrated opinion. This album was easy to believe in and countless spins ensured a legacy intact.
24 - Treetop Flyers - Palomino   Album Review

Another rare UK entry in this US dominated parade, but one which you could detect a Stateside influence lurking among the pool of straight up suburban British rock 'n' roll. A refusal to leave the car CD player around its February release date ensured that this record was destined to be a stayer and knock the door very loudly when the time came to reckon up the year's album listening.
25 - William Michael Morgan - Vinyl

A rare mainstream country music release to make the final cut in 2016 and one dominated by its throwback 90s vibes. It is interesting how times have changed when a record like this is deemed nostalgic but its foot tapping qualities made it an instant hit. A really strong popular track often acted as a listening conduit, but the rest of the album shaped up well when given a chance.

26 - Lissie - My Wild West   Gig Review

Widening the core domain of ones listening repertoire can often reap rewards, and engaging with the music of Lissie was one of the year's refreshing discoveries. Catching this performer in the midst of transitional change makes it an exciting time to latch onto the Lissie bandwagon and the listening derived from seeking out this album has hopefully started a fruitful period of artist appreciation.
27 - Applewood Road - Applewood Road   Album Review

There is no limit to the extraordinary talents and horizons of British based Aussie Emily Barker. Just keeping up with her many ventures can be a challenge, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. This collaboration with Americans Amber Rubarth and Amy Speace was an educational lesson in a simplistic approach to make a truly pure record, free of blemished imperfections. Minimalism is all that was required for this record to standout.
28 - Hayes Carll - Lovers And Leavers   Gig Review

This 2016 Hayes Carll album was eagerly awaited by his legions of fans and they were rewarded with a strong record, albeit slightly more downbeat and generally bereft of his trademark quirky numbers. However there was still ample evidence of his highly valued Texan songwriter status and packed with meaningful songs ready to launch the next phase of his career.
29 - Aubrie Sellers - New City Blues

The year started with this album getting limited overseas exposure before ending with a major label signing and plans for a more widespread roll out. While showing that the family music genes were being put to good use, the general feel is that this record was owned by Aubrie's generation rather than possessing revivalist tendencies. Forming part of the US summer road trip soundtrack ensured its longevity would lift it into end of year recognition territory.
30 - Sarah Jarosz - Undercurrent

Just sneaking into the top 30 is another Grammy nominated record and an album which primarily showed an artist maturing further in a sophisticated direction. Sarah Jarosz has limitless potential to where she takes her music and this record was bound together by an exceptional lead track demonstrating an ability to write a song primed for higher industry recognition.

Songs That Shaped 2016