1. Guy Davis
Juba Dance (M.C. Records)
Juba Dance starts off with echoing string bands, then segues to the Delta before adding a ballad and the title song — an old-time banjo tune suitable for flat footing. Davis is a master of the blues and beyond, writing new songs with the sassy humor of the old guys and sharing them with the same simplicity.
2. Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott
Memories and Moments (Full Skies)
Together and individually, these two have written laundry lists of country hits. Here, they indulge themselves in long-form thoughts and social commentary, like on “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”: “Coal is still black/ It ain’t never turnin’ green.” O’Brien and Scott are country voices harmonizing over virtuosic acoustic strings, inviting you to contemplate a bit beyond the typical romantic ’plaints.
3. Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel et al
Remembering Little Walter (Blind Pig)
Little Walter Jacobs was one of the first to demonstrate the variety of sounds — big and commanding, growling and fierce, bouncing and fun — that could be coaxed from the tiny harmonica. His ideas set the trend, and his licks are still lifted wholesale. Here, five acolytes keep the flame glowing brightly with a tribute.
4. Sarah Jarosz
Build Me Up From the Bones (Sugar Hill)
Already on her third CD at just 22, Jarosz is looking like a force of nature. She’s finished her New England Conservatory degree, and now blends classical and jazz ideas into her own songs, with sophisticated lyrics and inspired settings for small string ensemble.
5. Susan Werner
Hayseed (Sleeve Dog)
These are some of Werner’s funniest songs yet, twanging through the early years of a Midwestern farm kid’s envies and joys.
6. Vince Gill and Paul Franklin
Bakersfield (MCA Nashville)
The title refers to the distinct country sound born in California and perfected by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard — whose works are reprised here by two of the most expressive musicians working in country today.
7. Dale Watson
and his Lonestars
El Rancho Azul (Red House)
Honky-tonk music lives and breathes on El Rancho Azul, and is freshly described by Watson and band.
8. Ganey Arsement
Le Forgeron (Salty Bayou Music)
Ganey plays American roots music, with the added advantage of having grown up with a Cajun accordion in his hands. He rocks and swings, has the blues and shakes them off with a two-step, in a carousel ride spinning through all kinds of Americana.
9. Claire Lynch
Dear Sister (Compass)
Americana is said to be defined as “too twangy for commercial country, but too uptown for bluegrass.” You can count Lynch in with that crowd, with a love of sophistication and subtlety evident in both her own writing and her performances of the songs of others.
10. Gary Lucas
Cinefantastique (Northern Spy)
For people who love the John Fahey-Leo Kottke style of fevered imagination rendered on finger-picked guitar, Cinefantastique is a treasure. Lucas honors 17 old themes from the big screen — Liberty Valance, Vertigo, even a 30-second Howdy Doody recap. Surprisingly, they’re as captivating here as in their original films.
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