“Better Than Myself” This debut had a similar “where did that come from?” effect on this listener as Jamey Johnson’s 2009 detonation “That Lonesome Song,” and in a year that saw a boatload of fine records tapping old-school country, it topped ’em all. It’s stuffed full of Williams’s whiskey-soaked voice singing songs about freak flags and strange days, accompanied by uncompromising, Waylon-channeling, steel-drenched country music. Most wondrous of all, it was released by a major label.
Kacy & Clayton
“The Siren’s Song” Saskatchewan cousins Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum went more electric on their 2017 release, bringing a fuller sound to a singular amalgam that is equal parts English folk and psychedelic country. You’d swear that “The Siren’s Song” is a tour through trad material, but except for a single song, it all came from their combined pens. Throughout, Anderson’s trill is a miracle of melancholy.
“Colter Wall” Take yourself to some place where Waylon Jennings intersects with Townes Van Zandt and you’ll have an idea of what this young, north-of-the-border troubadour is about. His baritone burr, the stories he tells, and the intense, spare music he plays on his debut full-length all belie the fact that he’s just north of 20 years old.
“Other People” The Rails are married couple James Walbourne, whose name you might recognize from his guitar work with the Pernice Brothers, Son Volt, and the Pretenders, and Kami Thompson, whose name you might recognize from her parents, Richard and Linda. The pair’s marvelous second album, a compendium of vestigial English folk and simmering, minor-key pop (translation: no happy songs), wasn’t released domestically and received almost no attention stateside, which makes it one of this year’s overlooked gems.
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives
“Way Out West” Stuart and his band of hot-shots made the West their theme on their latest, channeling a multitude of spirits — Marty Robbins, the Byrds, Benny Goodman, and the Ventures among them — into truck-driver country and pill-popping psychedelia, resonating gospel and desert twang, rumbling instrumentals and spine-chilling harmonizing, bending whatever American roots forms strike their fancy into an capacious brand of country that has no parallel.
“Ladies Auxiliary” Most of Scott Miller’s days are spent tending to the Virginia cattle farm he took over from his parents several years ago, but he still finds time to make the occasional record. Thank God for that, because he’s one of Americana music’s premier songwriters. Besides his songs — replete, as ever, with stories and commentaries by turns wry, amused, bemused — the star here is his all-female, mostly acoustic backing band, the Ladies Auxiliary of the title.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
“Soul of a Woman” Sharon Jones’s passing in 2016 was one of music’s great losses that year, but it turns out that the diminutive singer with the huge voice left us a gift: her finished vocals for a final release. Her band added the music to the voice for this aptly titled testament, and it’s as fine a collection of their incendiary take on various flavors of vintage funk ’n’ soul as Jones and company ever put to tape.
“Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls” In which the ridiculously prolific, relentlessly collaborative expat Welshman saddles up with some Chicago pals and heads south to Alabama, where he rendezvous with legendary Nashville Cat Norbert Putnam and some Muscle Shoals giants for a session that infuses his version of alternative country with that locale’s singular soul sensibilities.
Lee Ann Womack
“The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone” If that ain’t a perfect title for a country record, I don’t know what is. Womack delivers on what it promises with an album heavy on the countrypolitan and country-soul that combines old and now — revisiting standards (“Long Black Veil,” “He Called Me Baby”), and drawing on the songwriting talents of young guns like Brent Cobb and Andrew Combs and a resurfacing Waylon Payne.
“Trinity Lane” At times you can hear echoes of her old man, John, in daughter Lilly’s music, but she’s far from simply a chip off the old block. With a little bit of roots and a whole lot of thrash, her tough-minded lyrics and the twangy keen of her vocals, “Trinity Lane” has the sound of an artist who’s starting to come into her own.
Local artist pick
“Psychotic Melancholia” You might expect that throwing together blistering garage-rock (“No Room For Jesus”), classic country sounds (“Old Flames”), and German leid (Schumann’s “Wehmut”) would lead to a disjointed mess, but on her solo debut album, this classically trained opera singer gone rock-and-roll puts her gale-force voice in service to all that and somehow makes it hang together beautifully.Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.