2013 was a great year for Americana music. From legendary performers like Guy Clark and Rodney Crowell to an ever strengthening youth movement featuring the likes of Sarah Jarosz and Joy Kills Sorrow, there was something for everyone. Narrowing the impressive list of Americana releases down to 20 was a tough task. But in the end, these albums spent more time in our rotation than any others.
10. Guy Clark- My Favorite Picture of You
While much of the attention for this album has, deservedly, been given to its sentimental title track, there's plenty more goodness to earn "My Favorite Picture of You" a spot in the Top 10 and proof that the 71 year old Clark still has some of the genre's best songwriting skills. From the topical Tex-Mex of "El Coyote" to the Celtic-Appalachian murder ballad "The Death of Sis Draper", Clark nails it. His voice is a little rougher than it once was but like fellow troubadours Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, the rough edge just serves to enhance the music he's making today.
9. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell- Old Yellow Moon
Considering Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have been working together for over 40 years, it's amazing they just now got around to making a duets album. While a normal duets album by two Americana titans could run the risk of tripping over its own weight, "Old Yellow Moon" benefits from that long professional relationship and seems completely organic, even intimate. Listening to "Old Yellow Moon" feels like you're sitting around the fireplace in Emmylou or Rodney's living room and listening to two old pals pick away a cold winter evening surrounded by friends.
8. Willie Sugarcapps- S/T
While James Brown was famously known as the "hardest working man in show business", we'd humbly submit Will Kimbrough's name for that honor. The guy has played with, written with, or produced everyone from Todd Snider to Jimmy Buffett to Tommy Womack. Now Kimbrough can add Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes, and Savanna Lee and Anthony Crawford (collectively known as Sugarcane Jane) to that long list. While the members of Willie Sugarcapps are spread geographically throughout Tennessee and Alabama, their roots are all in the Gulf Coast and "Willie Sugarcapps" plants itself firmly in that soil. Recorded in a marathon 8 hour session, "Willie Sugarcapps" retains enough rough edges that many bands would have called it a rehearsal. But producer Trina Shoemaker wisely left most of the raw feeling in and it just completely works with the style of music they set out to create.
7. The Civil Wars- S/T
It's a shame that the internal civil war between bandmates John Paul White and Joy Williams has completely dominated the press coverage of the release of The Civil Wars self-titled Sophmore release. Even without the internal strife, the duo was going to have a hard time following up the once in a generation brilliance of "Barton Hollow" and it not feel like a letdown. But whether a conscious choice on the part of the band or producer Charlie Peacock or just a by-product, the tensions between White and Williams served to add an edge to songs like "The One That Got Away" and "I Had Me a Girl" that might not have been present under more pleasant working conditions. "The Civil Wars" never quite manages to top "Barton Hollow" but it's a much nearer miss than many expected.
6. Aoife O'Donovan- Fossils
After years of making waves with progressive bluegrass group Crooked Still, Aoife O'Donovan stepped out on her own with a superb solo album "Fossils." Wisely choosing to leave the bluegrass to her band, O'Donovan ventures much more into folk-rock with "Fossils". Her wispy voice and strong instrumental backing are a perfect accompaniment to her vulnerable yet resolute lyrics.
Stay tuned for our Top 5 Americana albums of 2013 and let us know your favorites in the comments.