As summer turns to fall, it becomes time to consider what some of the best songs and albums released in country and roots music this year might be. Of course this is always a subjective exercise, but rarely do the most worthy titles rise out of the crowd of recorded works to win a Grammy or a CMA Award. Emily Scott Robinson’s Traveling Mercies, and Charles Wesley Godwin’s Seneca Creek are titles likely to be passed over for the biggest of industry awards, but that doesn’t mean both are not worthy as being considered among the year’s best. Both are regularly cited by well-informed fans when talk turns to the best records that have been released in 2019 so far.
The 2019 installment of AmericanaFest seemed especially packed with top-level talent, and both Emily Scott Robinson and Charles Wesley Godwin made the trek to Nashville hoping to put renewed interest behind their 2019 efforts. And like their albums, they both stood out in the crowded field of country and roots music performers and hopefuls.
Emily Scott Robinson is a songwriter in the purest sense who dropped out of living the regular life to travel the country in a motorhome to share her stories. Traveling Mercies is the perfect encapsulation of her journey, from “Borrowed Rooms and Old Wood Floors,” to the the honky tonk of “White Hot Country Mess.” The record also feels potently relevant to 2019, especially the song “The Dress,” which might be one of the year’s best.
When Emily Scott Robinson took the stage at 3rd and Lindsley—one of Nashville’s best listening rooms—she proved her magic wasn’t just resigned to her recording efforts. Her command of attention through her skill with storytelling behind a supple voice kept the impressive crowd compelled throughout the show, making it one of the standout sets of the 2019 AmericanaFest season. Whether playing with her band, or hushing the room performing solo as she did with “The Dress,” Robinson proved she was worthy of greater attention.
Charles Wesley Godwin doesn’t always tour with a band like he did to AmericanaFest, and when he took the stage on the 5th floor club of Nashville’s Cambria Hotel, it was truly a rare performance. Recently signed to True Grit Management—which also presides over big names like Cody Jinks and Whitey Morgan—he came to AmericanaFest as a name on the rise, and left a deep impression on the assembled crowd. Similar to Emily Scott Robinson, Godwin could entertain with a full band behind him, or manage the intimate moments and hush a room with just his voice and acoustic guitar, sharing very personal stories tied to his West Virginia home and upbringing.
With both these artists, it’s the personal nature of their stories, the spellbinding aspect of their songwriting, and their skill as performers that make them full contenders to represent the future of independent country and roots music. Flubs can be fixed in the studio, and session players can embellish the efforts of a performer. But the live context is where you can really take the measure of an artist and if their worthy of the highest praise. Both Emily Scott Robinson and Charles Wesley Godwin shined in their opportunities, and fortified themselves as top contenders for 2019 end-of-year honors.