by: Thomas D. Mooney
About mid-January, I was sitting at my desk reading a handful of articles written about New Slang favorite, American Aquarium. Their upcoming album Wolves (officially released Tuesday Feb 03), has been deservingly called their best album to date and seemingly at the cusp of being the breakout stars of 2015.
It’s been many years, tears, massive amounts of hard work, perseverance and determination, and well as just being a group of talented individuals who have steadily worked on their craft and became better at virtually everything since their debut album Antique Hearts in 2006.
With that, I threw the question out there to Twitter. Who was the artist poised to take over the hypothetical championship belt with who I thought were the overall winners of the last five years.
2010: Ryan Bingham hot off his work on Crazy Heart and his album Junky Star.
2011: Hayes Carll with his rambling set of American storytelling songs with KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories).
2012: John Fullbright with his Grammy nominated From the Ground Up–Though, we did agree with Galleywinter who brought up Fullbright’s former running mates Turnpike Troubadours who released Diamonds & Gasoline as having a pretty damn good 2012 as well.
2013: Jason Isbell with the American classic Southeastern.
2014: Sturgill Simpson with the album christened, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, as the return to “classic country” standards.
So who is that next band? We all through out some names–AA, William Clark Green, Shinyribs, John Moreland, Jonathan Tyler, Andrew Combs–and many, many more, but you get the idea.
In short, we’ve decided to keep up with this on a month-to-month basis–something that should be viewed as a fun, interesting way to discuss who has been having pretty damn good months as the year passes.
And so it goes.
January Power Rankings
January has to really start off with the reigning Championship belt holder retaining ownership. It’s not because other folks didn’t reach out and go for it either. Simpson just simply has some serious staying power. He announced that he would be signing a record deal with Atlantic Records, which is a pretty big deal. It’s been reported time and time again that Metamodern Sounds was made with a budget of about $4,000 dollars so actually being on a label means Simpson will have just about anything and everything at his disposal whenever he goes into the studio to record his next record. Add in the fact that he’s currently selling out shows from here to the moon and doing so until
2053 the end of end of July (at least according to his site)–including a jam-packed weekend of four Texas dates (More here.) You should also read the latest Simpson interview done by Nashville Scene here.
The 2010 championship belt holder returned to form with the release of Fear and Saturday Night, his fifth “major label” album and follow-up to 2012’s uneven Tomorrowland. It’s no secret that Bingham has continuously been looking to shake the “Texas country” label since Mescalito. The labeling of Bingham has obviously been a misguided one. Tomorrowland was basically Bingham’s last attempt to do so–and did he ever (Though, I do think it did backfire to an extent with “Guess Who’s Knockin'” that ended up being a battle cry for confused frat cowboys across the south). With Saturday Night, found that middle ground of being able to write about things he’s familiar with while continuing to expand sonically. At his core, he’s still that West Texas cowboy searching for enlightenment, truth, and sometimes, himself. He’s currently on a sold out solo tour in Europe (ends 2/10) before going on a co-headlining tour with Memphis rockers Lucero for the better parts of February and March. We’ll have more on Bingham in review of Fear and Saturday Night shortly.
No single band has come off this past year’s MusicFest in Steamboat Springs, Colo. hotter than American Aquarium. Do you feel the buzz machine at work? Jump on the bandwagon if you haven’t done so already. They’ve just today (Feb 3) released their latest album Wolves (We’ll count this towards February). They’re in just about every music publication of relevancy as of late. They’re getting rave reviews–and not just for Wolves–for their live performances, their work ethic, their coming of age, their determination, etc. For a band who wears the “Hardest Working Band Going” patch proudly, you’ve come to expect seeing them announce a run monster run of shows, but even I had to do a double take when they announced 52 show dates in 80 days. That’s a show a week for an entire year crunched into just under three months. That’s just incredible. This past weekend was their “Wolves Weekend” in their hometown of Raleigh. It was back-to-back sold out Album Release shows at the Lincoln Theatre with the likes of Black Lillies, Turnpike Troubadours, John Moreland, and Cory Branan opening over the two night event (here’s a show review from Raleigh’s Indy Week here).
Wade Bowen has been on a tear as of late. He’s still coming in hot after releasing Wade Bowen back in late October. We’ve talked glowingly about that record a ton in the past few months (Read here and here.) Really, if you talk about 2014, you could argue that he’d be up at the second or third for the year. As far as this month goes though, he’s done a few really cool things. 1) He played “When I Woke Up Today” on Conan the second week of January, his first national late night spotlight (Watch here.) 2) He and Randy Rogers announced a long rumored and awaited collaborative album titled Hold My Beer with a slated release date of April 06 (More on that here).
Cody Canada & The Departed
Cody Canada & The Departed released their third full-length album–and first after the departure of co-founder Seth James–HippieLovePunk, in mid-January. As Galleywinter pointed out in their review of the album, when an album releases, it’s typical of bands to tweet about an album, but The Departed certainly had the widest range of folks copping and supporting the album’s release–“everyone from Dierks Bentley to Sons of Bill.” It’s certainly partly because of the legacy Canada and company. At this point, it’s not just contemporaries of theirs left in awe, it’s all those kids who picked up a guitar, pen and pad, and started a garage rock band after the release of any of Cross Canadian Ragweed’s albums that sprinkled the past decade. But more than anything, it’s just that HippieLovePunk is 1) a solid set of songs, 2) the first of The Departed albums that feels totally comfortable with who they are. You can’t be naive to think of them as just Cody Canada & The Departed. They are Cody Canada & The Departed (Cross Canadian Ragweed’s new band)–as unfair as that probably is–it’s still true. They hold a certain level of esteem that few bands even know about.
Other Albums Released In January That We’ve Enjoyed That You Could Classify as “Americana”
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors Medicine
Benton Leachman Bury the Hatchet
Cody Jinks Adobe Sessions
The Lone Bellow Then Came the Morning
Punch Brothers The Phosphorescent Blues
Justin Townes Earle Absent Fathers
Haley Cole Illusions
Natalie Prass Natalie Prass
The Decemberists What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World