Americana Champions Shone Bright in 2014

by Robert Kinsler

Before fully moving on into the new year, it seems essential to celebrate several overlooked masterworks from 2014.

sturgill-simpson_metamodern-soundsArtist: Sturgill Simpson
Title: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard

Tell me more: There is a reason that Sturgill Simpson is set to play at both the acclaimed Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals in Indio, California this spring. The Kentucky native’s outstanding sophomore album “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” is both a celebration of authentic country and genre-bending modernism. Highlights include “Turtles all the Way Down” with its perfect mix of country and gospel, “Long White Line” featuring a swirling psychedelic finish, and the tender “The Promise” with Simpson’s voice mostly hushed until a soaring finale reveals his baritone at its most ardent. Information: SturgillSimpson.com.

ray-price-beautyArtist: Ray Price
Title: Beauty Is… (Amerimonte Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Ray Price, Vince Gill, George Jones

Tell me more: When Ray Price died at age 87 in December 2013, country music lost one of its most beloved voices. The release of 2014’s “Beauty Is…” featured the final recordings made by Price as he was battling cancer, allowing his glorious baritone to shine while delivering 12 bittersweet ballads. Things get going with Price and Vince Gill joining forces on “Beauty Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder.” Later Martina McBride sings with Price on the symphonic “An Affair to Remember.” But it really is Price who gets to impress here, with “This Thing of Ours” and “No More Songs to Sing” particularly poignant. Information: BeautyIsRayPrice.com.

dave-alvin-phil-alvin_common-groundArtists: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin
Title: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc Records)
You might like if you enjoy: The Blasters, John Doe

Tell me more: When brothers Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin decided to record their tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, it marked their first studio collaboration since The Blasters’ “Hard Line” (1985). A celebration of Broonzy’s groundbreaking blues compositions as much as the Alvins’ own fiery approach, the blend of Phil’s raucous vocals and harmonica with Dave’s blistering guitar work and gentle baritone are a potent combo across the riveting collection. Information: yeproc.com.

fallen-stars_way-out-westArtist: The Fallen Stars
Title: Way Out West (The Fallen Stars)
You might like if you enjoy: The Mastersons, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris

Tell me more: On their latest LP “Way Out West,” Huntington Beach-based the Fallen Stars (husband-and-wife Bobbo and Tracy Byrnes, and drummer Brandon Allen) are joined by a strong cast of talented players including keyboardist Rami Jaffee (the Wallflowers) for a surefire run that includes a couple of originals and a wealth of artful covers.  Among the many winning reworkings on the disc are the Fallen Stars’ versions of the X classic “4th of July” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison” and Chris Tarmy’s  edgy rocker “Las Vegas.”  Information: TheFallenStars.com.

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