Boudin Dan’s Faves of 2019
As usual time of the year, we close out with our annual list of 2019 albums that hit the sweet spot in one way or the other. Whereas most all are out of the mainstream, to these ears the 13 albums here all had a little extra something special that had me returning again and again to each. We also list our “Honorable Mention” selections which are equally worth seeking out. In no real order, here are the 2019 releases that most lit up my world.
Ex Hex – It’s Real (Merge Records)
No live show during 2019 gave me anywhere near the rush that Ex Hex did on a hot and steamy riverside night in early July in a funky old former factory turned event space in the Hudson River Valley. The gal power trio featuring guitarist Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag), bassist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura Harris delivered inspiring and harmonious R&R from its mid-year release It’s Real. The recorded product is equally as exhilarating.
Jason Hawk Harris – Love & the Dark (Bloodshot Records)
An album leaning to the edgier side of Americana music (with punk and twang sidetracks), Houston-via-Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Jason Hawk Harris turns three years of upheaval in his life into the powerful collection of songs comprising his striking debut Love & the Dark.
Fruit Bats – Gold Past Life (Merge Records)
Fruit Bats is the brainchild of singer and songwriter Eric D. Johnson and on Gold Past Life he keeps it simple and honest delivering a collection of pop nuggets overflowing with substance, style and touches of twang and all delivered in a near-falsetto voice so full of air and charm it can’t help but tickle the senses.
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (Matador Records)
As demonstrated over multiple albums over the last decade, the ability to so artfully blend acoustic and electric guitar into such an alluring swath of sounds is a trademark for guitarist Steve Gunn. His work can be meticulous, and it can be melodic, the best of both worlds, and the 2019’s The Unseen In Between personifies those qualities in spades.
Paul Cauthen – Room 41 (Lightning Rod Records)
Cauthen first gained attention as one half of the acclaimed roots rock duo Sons of Fathers before splitting off on a solo path. In possession of a smooth and bellowing baritone (think Waylon Jennings for comparison’s sake), his is a voice readymade for storytelling which is exactly what he does and quite well, I might add, on the very trippy Room 41.
Girls on Grass- Dirty Power (self-released)
Terrific, twangy pop & roll with great songs, to boot, with a serious nod to The Replacements and ‘90s alt country from a way under the radar Brooklyn foursome. Also features my favorite single song of the year, “Got to Laugh to Keep from Cryin’.”
Durand Jones & the Indications – American Love Call (Dead Oceans/Colemine Records)
Indianapolis-based Durand Jones & the Indications specialize in circa-1960s & ‘70s old school soul & R&B and as a sophomore platter American Love Call attests, they do it all quite well resulting in a record that stand toe to toe with the works of acts like Leon Bridges and the late Charles Bradley.
Yola – Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound Records)
On her debut for Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label (and utilizing his expert house band), British singer Yola delivers an exquisite collection of country soul that establishes her as a force to be reckoned with. Her passionate delivery across the 12 tracks comprising Walk Through Fire are just dripping with deep soul and gutbucket emotion.
Daniel Norgren – Wooh Dang (Superpuma Records)
Wooh Dang from Swedish singer/songwriter Daniel Norgren feels like some long-lost Folkways album. For it, Norgren retreated to a rural, 19th-century farmhouse near his home to make the record, analog-style. Possessing a pliant and likeable voice to go with a sensitive lyrical style and lock-step backing band, the result is a scrappy collection of folk tunes as woodsy as they are atmospheric, and quite addictive.
Caroline Spence – Mint Condition (Rounder Records)
Some singers do it with raw vocal power while others opt for finesse and sensitivity. On her third full-length album Mint Condition, hazy-voiced singer/songwriter Caroline Spence goes for the latter. It’s a record that sinks its teeth in slowly in a nuanced way and that is Spence’s magic.
Ian Noe – Between the Country (National Treasury Recordings)
Is Ian Noe the next in a recent line of Kentucky natives like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers to make a big splash on the Americana scene? With aromas ranging from Woody Guthrie to late ‘60s/early ‘70s Laurel Canyon folk rock to Dylan in Nashville to straight-up alt country, his Dave Cobb-produced debut Between the Country sure as heck makes a case for it.
Kendell Marvel – Solid Gold Sounds (Easy Eye Sound Records)
The title of this album says it all: Solid Gold Sounds. Primarily known for his songwriting abilities contributing to the works of others, Nashville-based Kendell Marvel steps from behind the songwriter curtain to deliver a crafty set of autobiographical-leaning songs in the country style. His first for Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label, it feels like classic ‘90s Nashville country.
Various Artists – Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots (Bloodshot Records)
Too Late to Pray: Defiant Chicago Roots celebrates 25 years in business for Chicago-based indie Bloodshot Records. For it, Bloodshot reached out to 22 artists from its Windy City backyard, some known but most likely not, in putting together a mash of classic country, bluegrass, rockabilly, folk, and straight-up rock & roll with the end result an album akin to a really great mix tape.
Honorable Mention: The Suitcase Junket – Mean Dog, Trampoline (Signature Sounds Records); Kelsey Waldon – White Noise, White Lines (Oh Boy Records); Joan Shelly – Like the River Loves the Sea (No Quarter Records); Robert Forster – Inferno (Tapete Records); Jake Xerxes Fussell – Out of Sight (Paradise of Bachelors Records); Beth Bombara – Evergreen (Lemp Electric); Samantha Fish – Kill or Be Kind (Rounder Records); Allison Moorer – Blood (Autotelic Records); Tanya Tucker – While I’m Livin’ (Fantasy Records).
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)