Many people fell in love with country music for the first time after hearing Laura Cantrell’s ‘Not the Tremblin’ Kind’ album way back in the year 2000. This very special first album was re-released in the year 2016 and supported with a comprehensive U.K. tour, its also very special Manchester night reviewed by TMF. Like her much missed pal John Peel, Laura’s a music radio presenter of note: just read her fantastically written and selected favourite albums of the year.
Margo Price is a great discovery, a strong, soulful country singer backed by a funky country band. This album covers the basics of life for a knockabout East Nashville country singer: drinking, cheating, living close to the bone and on the edge. The standout song, ‘Hands of Time’, is a showcase for Price's emotional depth, turning a family's hard luck story into a plea for mercy in a cold world.
Best track: ‘Hands of Time’
Paul Burch's song cycle based on the life of the America's first country music star, Jimmie Rodgers. Deeper than a tribute album, these songs weave details and events from Jimmie Rodgers life into a earthy portrait of the artist steeped in the blues. Burch's crack backing band, the WPA Ballclub, including Nashville A listers such as bassist Dennis Crouch and multi instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, breathe vigorous life into songs about the person behind the “Singing Brakeman” icon.
Best track: ‘Gunter Hotel Blues’
Elizabeth's last album, Welder, was one of my favorites of the last several years, so Exodus of Venus was going to have to hit a high bar to be anywhere close to as satisfying. Cook's growth as a songwriter is impressive as is the emergence of her ferocity as a singer, no longer the funny gal singing ‘Sometimes it Takes Balls to be a Woman’ on the Grand Ole Opry, Cook razor wit tackles tough subjects and emotional places in songs like ‘Evacuation’ and ‘Methodone Blues’.
Best track: ‘Evacuation’
Amanda Shires has the observations of a poet and the fiddle chops of a former Texas Troubador, a surprising grit and strength shining through her delicate vocals. Her album My Piece of Land is a fine sketch book of a emotional landscapes, expanding horizons and the sudden, aching longing for home.
Best track: ‘Mineral Wells’
Sara Watkins has a great voice and impressive musicality, and in the last few years has matured into a fine songwriter as well. My daughter was obsessed with a song on Sun Midnight Sun, and I've found myself hitting repeat on several on her new album. Her voice can stretch from sweet ethereality to a stubborn, stony wail, and the music likewise can veer from beautifully atmospheric to a dense wall of sound, highs and lows ably navigated, some corners turned on two wheels, quite a ride.
Best track: ‘Young In All The Wrong Ways’