Here are six country, roots and rockabilly releases worth a listen, even if your musical tastes usually don’t venture below the Mason/Dixon line.
Grammy favorites Sturgill Simpson and Maren Morris led the pack among country-flavored acts with breakout albums this year -- but they were far from the only country comforts of 2016. Here are six country, roots and rockabilly releases worth a listen, even if your musical tastes usually don’t venture below the Mason/Dixon line.
“case/lang/veirs,” case/lang/veirs. Laura Veirs, arguably the least known of the all-star trio behind this celebrated alt-country collaboration, is the surprise standout, delivering poignant, pointed lyrics in a voice that manages to be both earthy and ethereal. But to say that bandmates k.d. lang and Neko Case are no slouches either would be a monumental understatement. Highlight: “Song For Judee”
“Break Time,” Garry Tallent. Awash in rockabilly riffs, twangy fiddles and party-time zydeco, this solo debut by the longtime E Street Band bassist is a raunchy retro pleasure. Most surprising are Tallent’s lived-in but utterly engaging vocals -- he’s clearly picked up a lot from his Boss. Highlight: “Say It Out Loud”
“The Original Jenny Whiteley,” Jenny Whiteley. The celebrated Canadian folkie offers twangy, down-home takes on country livin’, groundhog wranglin’, banjo-pluckin’ -- and, for good measure, the challenges of being a working musician. Altogether it’s a toe-tapping collection of harmonica- and fiddle-driven joy. Highlight: “Banjo Girl”
“Real,” Lydia Loveless. Anyone who thinks modern country music lacks bite hasn’t heard Loveless, who mixes twang, angst and a punkish longing to great effect on her latest effort. Even when she’s suffering she doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and we’re all the better for it. Highlight: “Clumps”
“Boston, Texas,” Matt York. The title’s apropos -- the Boston-area singer-songwriter perfectly blends outlaw country honky-tonk with a sardonic East Coast attitude on this short but punchy collection. York’s tunes resonate with rockabilly rumble and alt-rock crunch, like The Replacements by way of Steve Earle. Highlight: “New To You”
“Upland Stories,” Robbie Fulks. There’s something utterly real about the characters in this folk-country collection of backwater tales, reminiscences and declarations, and as delivered in Fulks’ warm tenor they inspire sighs, tears, and more than a few belly laughs -- just like life. Highlight: “Needed”
Peter Chianca is Director of News & Operations for Gatehouse Media North of Boston and author of “Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums.” Follow him on Twitter at @pchianca.