2010 has been a bumper crop year for outstanding REAL/Outlaw/roots/underground/insurgent country to say the least. And no, I’m not just being a cheerleader for our team. I’ll be the first to admit that 2009 was a down year, except for some good ones from the Bloodshot Records gang (Justin Townes Earle, Scott H. Biram, Wayne Hancock) and a few other select projects. The result is some projects that may have been serious candidates for Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in another calendar cycle will not appear, and the requirements must become even more rigorous.
For an album to be considered this year, it must be a top-caliber project not just for this year, but for all-time. It must be groundbreaking, earth-shatteringly good, as well as accessible, innovative, and must be measured against the artist’s other projects as well. Is it the best the individual artist has put out during the span of their career? For example, some will grumble that Hank III’s Rebel Within is not here, but it cannot compete with 2005’s Straight To Hell, and even Hank III has said he’s holding something back until his post-Curb Records era begins. The Album of the Year will likely be the best album put out since Hank III’s 2005 offering, making it really more like the album of the last decade.
And this album must be a good ambassador for independent roots music. When someone chides us for only liking things because they are obscure, or when we say our music is better in quality, will this project reflect the best music we have to offer, and be listenable to a mainstream ear?
There will be an “Essential Albums for 2010″ list coming soon that will be much more broad, so don’t worry, people like Jayke Orvis, Lucky Tubb, and .357 String Band will get their due. There will be a “Song of the Year” list coming too, and please, leave your votes, thoughts, complaints, write-in campaigns etc. below. Feedback by readers WILL be considered in the final decision.
After laying out a harsh gauntlet of provisions, here are my Album of the Year candidates:
Ray Wylie Hubbard – A. Enlightenment
Back in the day, Ray Wylie Hubbard had the handle of “The Forgotten Outlaw.” I’m afraid that this album too will be “forgotten” but it deserves as bright of a spotlight as any in 2010. He was the artist that other Austin artists listened to in the early Austin days. His style has dramatically changed since then, but not his level of influence, and innovation in sound. This album is as fresh and relevant as any put out by artists half his age, and defines a new chapter in country blues. (read review)
Hellbound Glory – Old Highs & New Lows
This album came out of the gate as an Album of the Year candidate early in the year. It has been sitting in the clubhouse while many other projects take their best shots, and here it still sits atop the leaderboard. The quality of this album is undeniable, from the songwriting, to the musicianship, and the accessibility. This is not some obscure project that you must have an ear for underground country to appreciate. Save for the racy-drug-infused lyrics, it is an album for the masses that is nealy impossible to wear out. (read review)
Possessed By Paul James – Feed The Family
The first thing you will hear from fans of Possessed by Paul James is how amazing he is live. Well I’ve seen him live twice in the last few months, and as amazing as the live version is, I like the album better. Yes, a man whose name is always proceeded by “You HAVE to see him live,” has topped himself by the sheer quality of this project. This was the only album this year I could not find anything to pick on. If you’re looking for heavy twang, there’s not much of that here, Possessed works more in the mold of the Texas songwriters, the Townes and Guy Clarks. But he’s also evolved from that to his own style that can’t be pigeon holed, including deep ties to the roots in the instrumentation and themes. (read review)
Roger Alan Wade – Deguello Motel
Who says music is dominated by youth? This is the second album by an older artist who might have put out the best work of their career, or the best work this year, period. Dequello Motel might lack the instrumentation of the other candidates, but it doesn’t lack the scope, or the transcendent songwriting and staying power that an Album of the Year must have. And yes, Dequello Motel is a ‘must have’ to say the least. Great album cover too. (read review)
Also a special mention goes out to the Outlaw Radio Compilation, certainly an essential album for 2010, and may have as many great original songs as any of the other candidates above. But in such a banner year for music, it seems wrong to give a compilation this distinction, though certainly if a fifth candidate would be added, the Outlaw Radio Vol.1 would be it.