Consensus, schmensus! When we asked our core staff and contributors to put together their individual Top 10 lists of their favorite Americana releases of 2016, we kinda knew that no one album would emerge as an across-the-board favorite. There was just too much great music in the past year for everyone to choose from. So although there were a few artists that popped up on multiple lists (like Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Lucinda Williams, the Drive-By Truckers and the Quaker City Night Hawks), for the most part, our individual selections varied wildly, with more than 100 different titles represented. And not just from the so-called “usual suspects,” either.

Granted, if you are a regular visitor to, you may well remember us reviewing or covering a lot of these albums and artists over the last 12 months. But there’s also a number that we admittedly should have covered but just didn’t get around to, or missed completely (until now, at least). And, because we gave everyone a fair amount of leeway as to how “Americana” an album or artist had to be in order to be eligible, you’ll likely find a few on here that might seem pretty far outside the lines of even the loosest definition of the genre. But we like it that way. Because if we can all agree that great songwriting is one of, if not the most important qualifiers for Americana, who in their right mind is gonna deny the likes of Paul Simon, Nick Cave or especially the late Leonard Cohen a seat at the table, at least once a year?


ZACH JENNINGS, Lone Star Music Owner

skelton-tree1) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds Ltd.)
2) Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
3) Drive-By Truckers, American Band
4) Paul Cauthen, My Gospel (Lightning Rod)
5) Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (RCA/Vanner)
6) Quaker City Night Hawks, El Astronauta (Lightning Rod)
7) William Tyler, Modern Country (Merge)
8) Okkervil River, Away (ATO)
9) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
10) Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man Records)

Honorable Mentions
Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis; The Deer, Tempest & Rapture; Various Artists, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay; Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth; Lydia Loveless, Real;  Maren Morris, Hero; Shearwater, Jet Plane and Oxbow; Bonnie Bishop, Ain’t Who I Was; Jeremy Plato & the Departed, In Retrospect; Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Something Real

RICHARD SKANSE, Lone Star Music Editor

Love You Strong1) Terri Hendrix, Love You Strong and The Slaughterhouse Sessions (Wilory)
Resorting to “ties” on these deals may seem a cheat, but seeing as how both of these releases were making my list anyway, bundling them together at least opens up a spot for someone else. There’s also the fact that, as distinctive as Love You Strong and The Slaughterhouse Sessions may be from each other, both are part of Terri Hendrix’s ongoing Project 5 series, which she’ll finish off with another two albums and a memoir later this year. Love You Strong, released in February, is the warmer and more intimate of the first two installments; at equal turns tender, vulnerable and resilient, it’s a testament to inner strength as reflected through a prism of hope, heart, and humor. October’s Slaughterhouse, by contrast, is stridently assertive; a fierce, blues and gospel-infused battle cry of defiance against apathy, racism, snake-oil hucksterism, the politics of fear and defeatist malaise. By design, both albums hold up just fine on their own — but pair the former’s strong-hearted defense with the latter’s rousing call-to-arms offense, and you have the most poignant and focused 80 minutes of music of this Texas songwriter’s 20-year recording career.

2) Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy)
Burn Somethiburn-something-beautifulng Beautiful finds Alejandro Escovedo continuing the hottest hot streak of his career by trading one dream team (producer Tony Visconti, co-writer Chuck Prophet and the best band in Austin) for another (co-producers and co-writers Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows, plus an A-team of Pacific Northwest indie rock vets) — and sounding like he’s having the absolute time of his life. Sure, he wrestles with sobering (literally) thoughts of mortality and at one point even sulks about not wanting to play guitar anymore, but don’t let that fool you: He’s still too in love with love and addicted to the beauty and the buzz of rock ’n’ roll to give up the fight and fire. Burn Something Beautiful is a record that thinks deep while exulting in the glorious abandon of loud guitars and charging the Apocalypse with T Rex riffs — or, as Escovedo puts it best in a vinyl-only bonus track, “End times are coming / I say bring it on!” Of course, Escovedo’s never been shy about brandishing his influences, so there’s plenty of Velvets-era Lou Reed and Mott the Hoople in the mix, too, and maybe even a playful nod to R.E.M.’s underrated Monster, via the buzzsaw guitars ripping through the intro of the explosive opener, “Horizontal.” The lyrics on that one don’t really make a lick of sense, but who cares when the whole song is such an exhilarating rush?

Robert Ellis Album Cover3) Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis (New West)
I’m not one to normally give a damn about the whole “saving country music” cause, but I can almost feel kinda bad for the jilted traditionalists who cried over their longnecks when Houston kid Robert Ellis stopped playing straight honky-tonk and started getting all, for lack of a better word, weird. I mean, how often does a voice that pure and perfect for singing classic country come along, anyway? But the genre purists’ loss is the rest of Americana (and American) music’s gain, because Ellis is just too gifted a singer, writer, instrumentalist, band leader and producer to be confined to any one stylistic corner. Like 2014’s equally exquisite The Lights From the Chemical Plant before it, Ellis’ latest effortlessly blurs the lines between country, alt-country, pop, indie rock, electronica and even jazz to create a gorgeous hybrid sound all of his own that never rings forced or patchwork. Factor in his stunning acumen for both words and melody (as best evidenced here on the terrific “Amanda Jane,” “The High Road,” and “Elephant”), and again, that voice, and you can’t help but anxiously look forward to what Ellis does next — and thank the maker that he’s not still stuck in the past.

El Astronauta4) Quaker City Night Hawks, El Astronauta (Lightning Rod)
The 13th Floor Elevators may have gotten there first (perhaps inadvertently), and Austin retro-metalheads the Sword as recently as 2010 with their own third album, Warp Riders, but no Texas band has ever done a better job at fusing boogie, blues, rock, and psychedelic prog with sci-fi and Western overtures than Fort Worth’s Quaker City Night Hawks do on El Astronauta. You can still hear traces of their more terrestrial roots as Sons of Anarchy-approved Southern rockers in groovers like “Duendes” and “Medicine Man,” but songs like “Something to Burn,” “Beat the Machine” and especially “The Last Great Audit” sound tailor-made for headphone tripping and/or a good laser light show. This record was one of my earliest new obsessions of 2016, and months later it still sounds every bit as thrilling as it did the first time that it caught me completely unawares.

american-band5) Drive-By Truckers, American Band (ATO)
Anyone who calls this the Drive-By Truckers’ “best album since Southern Rock Opera has clearly been asleep at the wheel for well over a decade, because Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and their revolving crew of cohorts have cranked out at least as many keepers as clunkers in the 15 years since their much-lauded breakthrough. So drop the “since” nonsense and just call American Band what it is: the Truckers’ best album, period. This is rock music as war reporting from the front lines of national unrest and despair, with Cooley cracking wise on politics and the seedy underbelly of the moral majority in “Kinky Hypocrite,” and Hood, ever the conscientious, meditative observer, taking an unflinching look at race relations growing tenser by the headline and pondering “What It Means.” There’s really not a song on here that wouldn’t be the highlight on any other Truckers record, but the best of the bunch is the Cooley opener “Ramon Casiano,” a true-story account of murder and injustice on the Mexican border 85 years ago that’s as charged with pathos, purpose and present day relevancy as Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.”

Ghosts of Highway 206) Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20 Records)
Remember back when Lucinda Williams was pegged as a painstaking perfectionist who could labor for years over making an album — or at least over her 1998 breakthrough, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road? Well, that Lu left the building ages ago, and was replaced by one of the most reliably prolific artists in Americana this side of Steve Earle. The Ghosts of Highway 20 is her second double album in two years, and much like 2014’s even longer Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, it’s a record that both demands and rewards patience, if not total-immersion focus. Although I’m still partial to 2007’s West and 2011’s Blessed when it comes to Williams’ output over the last decade, Ghosts really does live up to its name in the way it just sort of creeps up and envelops you in wisps of bittersweet memory and forlorn beauty. And if the individual songs don’t always linger with you for long after they pass — this being a record far heavier on atmosphere and mood than hooks — the ones that do (namely, the title track and “House of Earth,” the latter featuring music by Williams and words by Woody Guthrie) haunt like hell.

Kicked Out of Eden7) Javier Escovedo, Kicked Out of Eden (Saustex Media)
As much as I dig every minute of Blue & Lonesome, it really doesn’t hold a candle to this, the best new Stones album of 2016. Javier Escovedo — West Coast punk pioneer (with the Zeros), co-frontman of Austin’s now more-a-legend-than-a-band True Believers and yes, brother of you-know-who — may not sing like Jagger, but songs like “Downtown” and “It Ain’t Easy” prove he’s got the Keith swagger and rollicking Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street-style roll down cold. He’s got a lotta sloppy, starry-eyed Johnny Thunders in him, too, and the pop smarts to fashion all of the above (including his own past punk and rock lives) into tight, bracing originals catchy enough to sing along to halfway through the first listen. His slower songs here are disarmingly lovely (especially the jangly “Just Like All the Rest” and the closing “Searchin’ for You”), but its the rockers that make Kicked Out of Eden such a blast straight out of the gate. By the time the storming “Gypsy Son” hits like a mofo just before the end, don’t be surprised if you feel both utterly spent and raring to start it all up again.

theweightofthesewings8) Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (RCA/Vanner)
Seeing as how this is the first Miranda Lambert album that I’ve ever listened to all the way through more than once, it’s funny that it also happens to be her longest. Part of that may just be that I’m a sucker for a big artistic statement — and a 24-song, 94-minute double-album certainly trips that “what’s all this about?” wire. But it really is the weight and not just the span of These Wings that impresses most. As much as she’s always been a been a cut above the bulk of her competition on country radio, up until now Lambert has stuck more or less to the mainstream playbook, at least sonically; but with The Weight of These Wings, she sounds like a woman who’s come to the triumphant realization that the only rules she need follow (or even break on a whim) are her own. That’s not to say there aren’t a handful of songs here that could and likely will garner heavy radio rotation and burn up the country singles chart; but the atmospheric production throughout favors raw grit and singed-wire sizzle over slick polish and shine. It’s a bold and edgy approach not just for a Nashville Star gone rogue, but one that just about any seasoned Americana maverick could envy.

little-seeds9) Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds (New West)
The Americana landscape (and a good portion of the indie and rock worlds, too) is littered with male/female duos of either the White Stripes and the Swell Season variety, but South Carolina’s Shovels & Rope are in a class of their own. Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent bring a ferocity and energy to the spare drum kit and banjo template that’s as charged with elemental power as prime Led Zeppelin, and when they actually plug in and commit full-tilt to rocking out, look out. Little Seeds is the tenacious duo’s most electric outing yet, kicking off with the wickedly funny (and genuinely kickass) glam rocker “I Know” and riding that thrilling high straight through to the end.

Rest in Chaos10) Hard Working Americans, Rest in Chaos
If you love long, noodly jamming and Todd Snider’s easy going stoner-storyteller persona, you just might hate Rest in Chaos. Because despite having Snider as the frontman and main songwriter and such jam band vets as Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools and Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Neal Casal on bass and guitar, respectively, the Hard Working Americans sound hellbent on defying preconceived expectations on this, their second album and first comprised of their own material instead of covers (save for Guy Clark’s “The High Price of Inspiration”). That means Snider’s lyrics lean serious even when he’s still being clever (the guy can’t help it), and the band sounds more committed to serving the songs than just setting up endless solos (well, except for on the aptly titled, nearly-8-minute “Acid.”) Maybe some or all of that sounds like a willful waste of natural resources, but the result is a record that serves clear notice that the Hard Working Americans are very much a legit band and not just a goof-around side project. Songs like “Half Ass Moses,” “Roman Candles” and especially the bittersweet “Massacre” rank amongst the best that Snider’s ever written, and when the band has a mind to, it flat out rocks.

Honorable Mentions
Amanda Shires, My Piece of Land; Beaver Nelson, Positive; New Mystery Girl, Crawl Through Your Hair; John Dee Graham, Knoxville Skyline; Bonnie Whitmore, F@*k with Sad Girls; Lucas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Something Real; Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome

Best Reissues
Lubbock on Everything AlbumTerry Allen, Juarez and Lubbock (on everything)
(Paradise of Bachelors)
For my money, Terry Allen’s first two albums are hands down the two greatest Texas songwriter albums of all time, and boutique record label Paradise of Bachelors has given both the royal treatment they’ve long deserved. The albums themselves — 1975’s enigmatic Juarez, a brutal road movie steeped in blood, lust and “tragic magic,” and 1980’s Lubbock (on everything), a bitingly funny but poignant omnibus of Panhandle character studies and art mob satire — have never sounded better, and the visual presentation and quality of the new, extensive liner notes (featuring excellent critical essays, song notes by Allen himself, peer appreciations by Dave Alvin and David Byrne and dozens of photos and pictures of Allen’s visual art) — is breathtaking. And that goes for both the gatefold vinyl and CD formats.

KRISTEN TOWNSEND, Lone Star Music Advertising/Office Manager

RRB_NEON_highres_RGB-11) Randy Rogers Band, Nothing Shines Like Neon (Tommy Jackson Records)
2) Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)
3) Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
4) (Tie)
Troy Cartwright, Don’t Fade (Hard Luck Recording Company)
Various Artists, Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll (Eight30 Records)
5) Ryan Beaver, Rx (St. Beaver Music)
6) Lydia Loveless, Real (Bloodshot)
7) Flatland Cavalry, Humble Folks (
8) Dolly Shine, Walkabout (Vision Entertainment)
9) Quaker City Night Hawks, El Astronauta (Lightning Rod)
10) Various Artists, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay (Eight30 Records)

Honorable Mentions
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings; Luke Bell, Luke Bell; Chris King, Animal; John Evans, Polyester

LYNNE MARGOLIS, Lone Star Music Contributor

The Very Last Day1) Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
Like his Okla-homies John Fullbright and John Moreland, 23-year-old Parker Millsap’s songwriting has matured rapidly, and his performances have grown even more dynamic than they were when he hit the Americana scene just a few years ago. Mixing blues, rockabilly and sanctified gospel soul, he sounds a little bit Elvis, a little Tom Waits. He does Saturday night and Sunday morning, particularly in songs like his cover of the Mississippi Fred McDowell/Rev. Gary Davis tune, “You Gotta Move.” (Yes, it’s the one most people think of as a Stones song.) You’d swear the lord and the devil are duking it out in Millsap’s high-tenor howl and acoustic guitar strums. But it’s the wrenching heartache of “Heaven Sent,” in which a regret-filled son begs his judgmental preacher father to answer the question, Did you love me when he was just my friend?, that elevates this album to No. 1.

stranger-to-stranger2) Paul Simon, Stranger to Stranger (Concord/Universal)
Paul Simon is as much musicologist as songwriter, and his constant search for new sounds and rhythms has intrigued us since he stuck a Brazilian cuíca drum into “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” — well before he defied the apartheid-era boycott of South Africa to record Graceland. But his songs serve as far more than conduits for musical discoveries; whether personal confessions or broader cultural observations, they often behave as prisms, turning each subject into a spectrum of thoughts and emotions. And illuminating them brilliantly.

dig-in-deep3) Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep (Redwing)
Whether she’s getting nasty with a slide- and innuendo-filled blues or going for a bit of pop sheen, Bonnie Raitt can pull off just about anything she tries. But she still likes to surprise us; this time, she does it with an oh-so-suggestive cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” She also delivers a trio of gorgeous ballads — Bonnie Bishop’s “Undone,” producer Joe Henry’s “You’ve Changed My Mind” and her own “The Ones We Couldn’t Be” — that shine like diamonds.

4) Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears (New West)
Boy’s got looks and licks. Humor and heart. Attitude and gratitude. He can make you laugh and think, with a Tom Petty tone (as on “Dime”), a Wilburys lilt (“Little Movies”) or an East Nashville twang (“Memphis Rain”). Or, as his pal BP Fallon put it, “The cat’s songwriting is treble mega in a lineage that embraces the Fabs to Willie and the driest wryness since John Lennon.” All of the above. He’s clever and cool. And his career is getting hot.

5) Drive-By Truckers, American Band (ATO)
They gained fame with a manifesto about Southern culture on the skids, and this time around, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and company take a gander at the whole U.S.A. And what they see ain’t pretty, folks. But the album is fine, indeed. And very necessary. We absolutely need artists to question the status quo, especially in times of turmoil.

blues-ballads6) Luther Dickinson, Blues & Ballads (New West)
“I like the phrase roots music, because you’re not talking about folk music, or blues, or country,” Luther Dickinson explained in a recent interview. “It transcends all those subgenres. It’s not even Southern. It’s American roots music. So it doesn’t matter how you present the song; it’s the repertoire — it’s the poetry and the melodies — that have to be preserved. … Those songs will be lost … if we don’t carry them on.” And that’s what this album, subtitled A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II, is all about. With guests including Mavis Staples, JJ Grey and Jason Isbell, Dickinson catalogues and reconfigures songs from his solo, North Mississippi Allstars and Sons of Mudboy albums, making them sound as old as the hills and as fresh as spring.

true-sadness7) The Avett Brothers, True Sadness (Island/Republic)
These guys don’t make bad albums. Each time, they manage to find new energy sources; this go-around, that includes the addition of violinist Tania Elizabeth, keyboardist/bassist Paul Difiglia and drummer Mike Marsh as band members (along with elevating longtime cellist Joe Kwon to that status with co-founders Scott and Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford). They’ve also gone through life changes that couldn’t help but inform their work. And yet, despite the album’s title, these songs reflect joy, too — with gorgeous harmonies and, in some cases, a bounce that makes them infectious listens.

Terri Hendrix Slaughterhouse Sessions8) Terri Hendrix, The Slaughterhouse Sessions (Wilory)
Terri Hendrix got a crazy notion to release a five-part project in one year: four albums and a book. She didn’t succeed (it’s still a work in progress), but what she has achieved so far is more than most people could do in triple that time frame. This elemental acoustic blues-gospel set, recorded with producer and musical partner Lloyd Maines, is the second entry in Project 5; in it, she addresses war, poverty, racism and other issues that need examining, in songs stripped to their essences and built to last.

9) Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20 Records)
As exorcisms go, The Ghosts of Highway 20 would not appear to be successful. But as a full-on confrontation of the painful demons Lucinda Williams has carried through her life, it’s an epic battle. In the end — over two discs — she admits she’ll never vanquish them completely. But she still manages to find the resolve it takes to fight on, which is all any of us can do. The telling of how she attains that realization — and finds that resolve in spite of it — is both searing and mesmerizing.

10) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers
(Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
Hayes Carll went through a divorce before making this album, and it caused him to eschew his usual doses of humor to concentrate instead on the pain and sorrow. And boy, does he ever — exposing his soul completely in the process. But he also sings about finding new love, wrapping a bandage of hope around his heart and forging ahead. A little worse for the wear, of course, but such is life.

HOLLY GLEASON, Lone Star Music Contributor

Lovers and Leavers1) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
Easy to underestimate, the lanky songwriter as well known for his irony as his tender explorations of romance delivers a quiet masterpiece that makes the listener stop and take stock of what really matters. In the midst of some serious life upheaval, Hayes Carll channeled his truth into an album that eschews his signature novelty to offer unguarded vulnerability, genuine hope and a song cycle through loss, finding love and one’s self and even a new plateau that suggests Willie Nelson’s seminal Phases & Stages.

the-bird-the-rifle2) Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)
The mother of six from outer Boston has a fragility to her truth that — like Patty Griffin — can cut you open, gut you like a fish and leave you near speechless. After a watered-down run on a Nashville major and a pair of CMA Song of the Year Awards, McKenna returns as clear and as true as her earliest work. Like Carson McCullers or Eudora Welty, these are songs from the lives no one sees — reminding us to live right where we are, to find the purpose in the pain, own the glory in the small things. It’s a slight of hand that renders valid what so many might see as the treason of thinking small.

3) Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Wings (RCA/Vanner)
After the wildly disappointing “Something Bad’s About to Happen,” a big glossy duet with her only blond bombshell competition Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert doesn’t just check her game, she peels back the layers of big radio to create an intimate double album that marinates in a variety of Americana influences. Not one to sidestep the obvious, she never descends into a he-said, she-said take down of her last year, but rather weaves an unapologetic picture of a complicated woman facing life’s challenges on her own terms. More importantly, Wings suggests — in this ADD/ADHD world — the extended gaze (or listen) can be achieved if the creative being is mindful of the music they’re making and the way the songs interact with each other. Lambert is here for the long, slow stare.

4) Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20
(Highway 20 Records)
They say when an artist is happy, their art shrivels and grows flaccid. Not Lucinda Williams, the long-suffering queen of anguish and raw desire. Since marrying Tom Overby, she’s created a pair of double albums that are pure poetry, bristling with lean rock muscle and the wide open twang that makes her an American texture, like Steinbeck, Welty or Faulkner. Elegiac, bruised, slightly holy, mortality becomes something musically visceral — and raises Williams’ own game another level. From the parched dust of the opening “Dust” to the Coltrane-evoking “Faith & Grace,” Ghosts haunts at the deepest levels: spiritually, musically and personally.

this-changes-everything5) Jim Lauderdale, This Changes Everything (Sky Crunch Records)
A string of cancelled Texas shows led to Jim Lauderdale’s most country album in a decade — working with his Lone Star touring band, finding a suppleness and spark that suits beer joints and Friday nights. This Changes Everything shows the melody swell and surge across a traditional foundation that’s made the man who coined “now that’s Americana” George Strait’s second most recorded writer. Working with producer Tommy Detamore, Lauderdale proved what straight-up country can be: not something staunchly archival, but genuinely vital.

Midwest Farmers Daughter6) Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man Records)
Leave it to Jack White to not only out Nashville the Music City’s essence, but find a girl who — like Loretta Lynn — has lived the songs she writes and sings. Margot Price was a street fighter for her music, selling the car and her engagement ring, to make this album; stoic when every major and indie passed, she maintained her conviction in the music and soldiered on till finding a like-minded compatriot on the business side. It adds resonance to “This Town Gets Around,” perhaps the best call out/putdown of small-town thinking/hypocrisy since Jeannie C. Riley socked it to “The Harper Valley PTA.”

silver-tears7) Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears (New West)
Slightly left of left, acrid in his humor and startlingly diverse in his influences, Aaron Lee Tasjan has drifted from the Duke Ellington Award and Berklee to Semi-Precious Weapons, the New York Dolls (filling Johnny Thunders’ platforms) and finally East Nashville, where the myriad styles merged for Silver Tears. Randy Newman, John Prine, Lord Buckley and Todd Snider co-mingle on his New West debut — and as a core sample of today’s 20-somethings’ resilience and seeing through the crap, this paints an optimistic and smart picture. The kids are alright, indeed.

newcityblues2238) Aubrie Sellers, New City Blues (Atlantic/Warner Bros.)
Deeming it garage country, Sellers’ all-electric guitar debut snarled, hissed and suggested a kind of feminist Nashville lean that was tired of holding its tongue. Calling out brokered beauty standards and tabloid click bait (“Magazines”), shallow hair flippers (“Paper Doll”), her own dysthymia (“Losing Ground”) and oily come-ons (“Liar, Liar”), she’s a seething fireball in a maelstrom of barbed-wire guitars and slamming drums. For all the ballast, “Humming Song,” “People Talking,” and “Dreaming in the Day” have a sweetness that demonstrates the purity of her tone and intention. Complicated and jubilantly cathartic, watch her burn the garage down.

blue-ridge-blood9) Chelle Rose, Blue Ridge Blood (Lil’ Damsel)
Gut bucket, raw, real, Chelle Rose makes no concessions to anything but her essence. If the raucous Ray Wylie Hubbard-produced Ghost of Browder Holler announced a kinetic firebrand, Blue Ridge Blood exhumes the roots and ripples in a past more intriguing than most of us could conjure. Think Flannery O’Connor with a mountain holler home, a strong dose of dobro and a voice that oozed out of the cracked (or scorched) earth, molten, hot and clinging to your soul. That is the magic of Rose’s latest: it takes the brazen bravado and wrings it out with an Appalachian tenor that is both spooky and torn open.

for-better-or-worse10) John Prine, For Better, or Worse (Oh Boy)
John Prine, arguably America’s finest roots songwriter, turns his gravel-ravaged husk of a voice to traditional country. What lifts this is the effervescence he finds singing with girls! Fizzyness and joy exudes from duets with progressive new guarders Kacey Musgraves, Holly Williams and Amanda Shires, mainstream traditions Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack and Alison Krauss, old friends Iris DeMent and wife Fiona and left field gems Susan Tedeschi and Morgane Stapleton. Obscurities (“Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out,” “Mental Cruelty”) meet hard country classics (“Cold, Cold Heart,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music”). A sampler of what makes classic country jukeboxes the greatest sacrament of the broken hearted, wild eyed or smitten can hope to find.

MIKE ETHAN MESSICK, Lone Star Music Contributor / Songwriter

Not trying to be difficult here, but I wanted to focus on bands and songwriters from Texas specifically; I’m sure Sturgill Simpson and Shovels & Rope will get plenty of well-deserved attention elsewhere.

Bomber Heights_digipack.indd1) Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Bomber Heights (
When they are firing on all cylinders creatively, this is the mightiest band in the Texas alt-country underground. Rodney Parker’s vocal brawn and guitar crunch, leavened with evocative songwriting and some brainy dynamics, remain an underrated force of nature.  That being said, arguably the best song here is the subtlest, the twilit closing track “Moon.”

Polyester2) John Evans, Polyester (Splice Records)
A genre-bending veteran of Texas music, John Evans blended his honky-tonk roots with psychedelic folk-rock and fuzz-bomb rock ’n’ roll on this year’s model. Fun, heartbreaking, and sunnily optimistic depending on the song, Polyester broke a too-long absence from a guy with one of the deepest (if most criminally under-appreciated) catalogs around. Check out “Sweet Dreams” first if you have any doubts.

No Turning Back3) Larry Hooper, No Turning Back (
One of Texas songwriting’s great (and gravelly) underdogs, Larry Hooper hit the studio with multi-instrumental hero Jeff Plankenhorn to make a tour-de-force out of his best batch of originals yet. It earned him some well-deserved radio play for “Daydreams” and matched up his writerly smarts with a killer folk-rock pulse.

4) Chris King, Animal
(Classic Horse Records)
A darker, moodier flipside to Chris King’s 2013 breakthrough Native SonAnimal keeps the music at pensive slow burn, only occasionally bursting out with a rocker like “Borderland.”  The threads of hurt and self-recrimination brooding through the lyrics are genuinely unnerving, although King’s plaintive and relatable voice makes it eminently listenable.

5) Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy)
There’s always been some element of rock ’n’ roll historian in Alejandro Escovedo’s brilliantly eclectic mix; the last couple of years have likely been hard on him in terms of losing heroes, friends, and influences. Predictably enough, he sounds more inspired than defeated, giving writerly gravity to the sweet buzz of “Heartbeat Smile” and vulnerability to the swaggering likes of “Johnny Volume.”

Dust & Wind6) Charlie Stout, Dust & Wind (New American Frontier)
One of the year’s most talked-about debuts earned attention not only for the quality of the songs themselves (they are consistently detailed, compelling, and provocative) but for the hard-not-to-romanticize way they were recorded (solo acoustic on an old four-track recorder in an abandoned desert church). Stout’s writing would still haunt you if this was recorded in some slickly conventional Nashville  studio, but there’s much to be said for the crickets-and-semis ambiance seeping in around the margins. It sounds like an unnerving missive from the last man on earth.

Midnight Motel7) Jack Ingram, Midnight Motel (Rounder/Universal)
After a long drought of new material and a purposeful step away from the Nashville record label shuffle, Jack Ingram got loose, chatty, and subtle to make a record unique from not only his own back catalog but just about any other Texas/Americana artist nowadays.  Driven by dusky acoustics and off-the-cuff arrangements and bound together with Ingram’s storytelling patter, it succeeds as both a unique experiment and a welcome return to the game.

Sawdust8) Shad Blair, Sawdust (
Another long-awaited follow-up, Shad Blair’s third record is as accessible and easy-to-like as the best mainstream country but spiked with his folksinger’s eye for detail and a bit of ornery storyteller edge. It finds a sweet spot somewhere between the homey buzz of vintage Don Williams and the more ragged edge of Steve Earle.

9) Joe Teichman, Heart Over Mind (Tremolo Joe Records)
Blessed with a sturdy baritone, Joe Teichman sounds like he’s spent much of his young life putting in the miles and hours to come up with lyrics of sufficient depth and resonance to match that distinctive voice. On his first full-length, he succeeds over and over again, crafting gems of heartache, reflection, and optimism.

10) Dub Miller, The Midnight Ambassador
(Smith Music Group)
Giving John Evans and Jack Ingram a run for their money on the year’s best “welcome back” story, Dub Miller came swinging back into the Texas singer-songwriter fold with an album deeper, wiser, and wittier than the solid records he made back in his next-Pat Green contender days. He might’ve taken a long break, but it clearly wasn’t wasted time.

Drive-By Truckers (Photo by Danny Clinch)

Although there was no consensus favorite picked by our writers this year, the Drive-By Truckers’ American Band was one of the few albums that did make its way onto most of our lists. (Photo by Danny Clinch)

DON McLEESE, Lone Star Music Contributor

I have discovered, mainly through social media, that there are those who have left the rock-critic racket (or have been left behind by it) but who can’t shake the habit of making Top 10 lists. I am not one of them. As much as I enjoy reading the lists of others (mainly to see what I haven’t heard or might have under appreciated), I’ve never enjoyed the logistics of making my own. I simply can’t remember album titles or what came out when. Even stuff released a month ago can slip my mind.

So this year, I’m just winging it. When compiling these was part of my job, I’d start the year with a fresh Word document and keep adding releases that might merit consideration. By the time it came to making the list, I’d have as many as a 100 contenders, including well over half that made me wonder why I’d ever thought they could be Top 10-worthy.  Once I’d sliced and diced, the actual ranking was kinda fun. I think the worst sort of critic is the wimp who arranges in alphabetical or some order other than preference. The most common explanation is that you can’t really rank art against other art, in which case why bother to make a list in the first place? (The less acknowledged reason, especially in smaller ponds such as this, is that said critic actually knows many of these artists, and doesn’t want No. 7 to learn how much he prefers No. 1.)

This year for me had just a couple of real standouts, but a very deep bench. Though there was no doubt in my mind about No. 1, I have at least another 10 that didn’t make the cut that were as strong as most that did. And I also decided not even to consider the Bob Dylan 1966 Live Recordings box, the collection that has been my daily listening since its release. Yes, it has the best songs of anything issued this year, the most electrifying musical dynamic and an artistic vision that extends well beyond words and notes. But if I insisted that the most inspired music of 2016 was recorded 50 years ago, I’d just get depressed.

1. Drive-By Truckers, American Band (ATO)
I gained fresh perspective on my Texas experience after I moved away, and I suspect the same is true for Patterson Hood after his move northwest. When this election-year broadside was released, I thought it was inconceivable that Trump could win, and the material hits me harder now that the unthinkable has somehow transpired. Plus I like the way the title reminds me of Grand Funk.

2. Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
This carries the sort of electric charge that reminds me of young Bruce Springsteen and even younger Buddy Holly. And it’s such a big leap from its predecessor that it promises a singular trajectory. He sings with an apocalyptic urgency, like there’s no tomorrow. And he’s just killer live.

you-want-it-darker3. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)
I always want it darker. And no artist has ever gotten so much better as he’s gotten so much older. There is no songwriter’s catalogue that compares with his, including Dylan’s.  This benediction is his best studio album since 1992’s The Future. Which was also pretty dark (“it is murder”).

4. Lucinda Williams, The Ghosts of Highway 20 (Highway 20 Records)
Her recordings were once all over the map, but she has refined her focus on this second consecutive double-disc set. As I wrote at the time of release, “the dual guitars of Bill Frisell and co-producer Greg Leisz generate incendiary interplay reminiscent of  Derek and the Dominoes or the best of the Allman Brothers.”

5. John Paul White, Beulah (Single Lock Records)
I never cared much for the Civil Wars and always figured this guy was the lesser partner in any case. But this is such a subtle stunner, a chamber reverie. It makes every note count and every interval between notes count even more.

exodus-of-venus6. Elizabeth Cook, Exodus of Venus (Agent Love Records)
Recovery and a hint of redemption, with a wicked wit and an intoxicating power that shows why people get hooked. I love the spirit of this, and the jagged edge. She went down battling, and she has fought her way back. This is the soundtrack.

7. Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories (Bloodshot)
Such a talented musician with such a sharp wit and encyclopedic reach. But sometimes he’s a little too much of a smart aleck for his own good. This is not one of those times.

8. Donnie Fritts, Oh My Goodness (Single Lock Records)
Easily the best album of the veteran sideman-songwriter’s career, for which he has producer John Paul White to thank. And it was this release that got me interested in White’s (though the two don’t sound anything like each other). Perhaps my favorite musical seam is the one mined by the likes of Dan Penn and Arthur Alexander, the one between roadhouse country and Southern soul, and Funky Donnie Fritts has provided the year’s best example of that.

9. Alejandro Escovedo, Burn Something Beautiful (Fantasy)
I love the sound achieved by Alejandro and co-producer Peter Buck, who were both record store clerks before they became rock stars, and seem here like they were flipping through their collections and sharing favorites before entering the studio. Even when Al’s moaning that he no longer has anything to sing about or desire to play the guitar, the musical crunch contradicts him.

its-a-world-of-love-and-hope10. The Flat Five, It’s a World of Love & Hope (Bloodshot)
Kelly Hogan is a national treasure, as anyone who has heard her recently with Alejandro or the Decembrists or all the way back to the Jody Grind can attest. She and Nora O’ Connor (so often her partner in harmony) exemplify the sort of teamwork that makes this quintet such a shimmering pop delight. Great to see that one of the finest club bands anywhere finally has an album that at least hints at their extraordinary musical range. What’s so funny ’bout love and hope?

ANDREW DANSBY, Lone Star Music Contributor

schmilcoComposing a list for a site with a name such as this one presents different challenges than a list for the year in general. So I took my Top 10 of 2016 and started making obvious cuts. For instance, an album of classical music by a guy from Iceland — that doesn’t fit no matter how far you stretch the parameters of Texas or Americana music. Even if that composer has a formidable beard. I also had the Knowles sisters on my 2016 list. And while both Beyonce and Solange are Houston natives, they operate in a 21st century pop sphere (admittedly a daring, progressive one that pushed the genre out of complacency) that doesn’t necessarily speak to enthusiasts of what we’d call roots or Americana.

My favorite album of 2016 had violin all oThor & Friendsver it, and was funereal in the way many great rootsy albums are. Initially something about Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree felt like a stretch to include here. But why would it be odder to include than Wilco’s Schmilco? I can’t explain that one, either, other than for the reason that one of Wilco’s previous lives walked close to this difficult-to-summarize type of music(s). So I included it. The emotions stirred up on Cave’s record are universally relatable, and the album is so understated as to blow like the wind through all sorts of music. It’s rootsy. It’s also many other things. Death is that way.

Maybe Thor & Friends is a stretch, too. It’s not really an album for fans of singer-songwriters as it has no lyrics. But Thor Harris is a La Porte native and the music on his album was largely played on acoustic instruments, some of which he built himself from wood and wire and found materials. What’s rootsier than that?

A Sailor's Guide to Earth1) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
(Bad Seeds Ltd.)
2) William Tyler, Modern Country
3) Thor & Friends, Thor & Friends
(L.M. Dupli-Cation)
4) Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
5) Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle
(CN Records/Thirty Tigers)
6) Jack Ingram, Midnight Motel
7) Wilco, Schmilco
8) Drive-By Truckers, American Band
9) Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis (New West)
10) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers
(Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)

DIANA FINLAY-HENDRICKS, Lone Star Music Contributor

Assignment: My Top Ten Americana album releases for 2016
Perimeters: Avoid re-releases but live albums are okay
Challenges (Solutions)

  1. Limiting the list to ten (Bundling)
  2. Comparing apples to oranges and ranking them (Chronological listing by release date)

And so I have come up with my list of Around 10 (more or less) Essential Albums for 2016.

1) Bonnie Raitt, Dig In Deep (Redwing)
Bonnie Raitt’s Dig in Deep was an easy pick and has topped my list since its February release.  For this, her 20th studio album. Bonnie digs deep into her pocket of talent and comes up with an album that just feels right for all moods. (Favorite cuts: “Unintended Consequence of Love” and “The Ones We Couldn’t Be”)

for-the-good-times2) Willie Nelson, Summertime: Willie Sings Gerswhin (Sony); For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (Legacy/Sony); The Demos Project, Vol. One (Sony/ATV), The Demos Project, Vol. Two (Sony/ATV)
Holy shit. At 83, Willie Nelson has released four good projects this year.

a)  When he received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2015, he said he was going to record some of his favorite Gershwin classics. Willie’s a man of his word. Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin debuted at No. 1 on the jazz charts and is up for a Grammy in 2017. (Favorite cuts: “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”)
b) For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price belongs on my list for several reasons. The material stands the test of time, and is music Willie cut his teeth on. It also gives me the chance to recall my favorite Jimmy Day story of Willie and Ray. The legendary Jimmy Day was playing steel guitar with Price’s Cherokee Cowboys when Willie rolled into Nashville, broke and with a family to feed. Jimmy said, “Ray needs a bass player. Come on the road with us.” Willie said, “But Jimmy, I don’t know how to play bass.” Jimmy said, “It can’t be that hard. It’s only four strings.” Then he went to Ray and said, “Willie is a great bass player. Let’s get him before someone else does.” With that, Willie became a Cherokee Cowboy for a while, and a lifelong friend of Ray Price. (Favorite cuts: “For the Good Times” and “Make the World Go Away.”)
c) The Demos Projects – Vol. 1 and 2: These two album are on my list because when he first came home to Texas, Willie didn’t just wake up in the outlaw movement. He paid some dues playing the dancehall circuit with a band in matching cowboy shirts. The songs on these two albums bring to mind all of the cover bands who played these songs over cornmeal covered dance floors long after Willie went rogue. (Favorite cuts: “Where Were You Yesterday” and “Half A Man” on Vol. 1. / “Night Life” and “Little Things” on Vol. 2)

3) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
I get it. Hayes Carll wants to break out of the novelty niche that his crowd has come to expect. With Lovers and Leavers, he takes a giant step toward a more serious tone, with no novelty cuts and without compromising his perfectly phrased lyrics and that melancholy, sometimes mournful vocal style. Hayes is one of the best storytellers of this generation. Listen. (Favorite cuts: “The Magic Kid” and “Good While It Lasted.”)

cedar-creek-sessons4) Kris Kristofferson, Demos (Columbia); Extras (Columbia); Cedar Creek Sessions (KK Records)
Kris Kristofferson celebrated his 80th year with three releases. As I write this the day after my own 59th birthday, maybe I am a little nostalgic, but Kris continues to hit the nail on the head with three projects that capture my heart.
a. Cedar Creek Sessions: Celebrating his 80th birthday with an album he recorded in Austin in 2014 produced by his longtime friend and manager Tamara Saviano, and Shawn Camp. The double album includes a comfortable mix of bare bones and full blown production. And Kristofferson’s vocals have never sounded so strong. (Favorite cuts: “Stagger Mountain Tragedy” and “Duvalier’s Dream.”)
b. Demos – It was like finding a time capsule of nearly forgotten songs when I unwrapped this album – Kris at his prime with lyrics to take to the bank and that rough voice that was not quite so ragged.  I want to quote about 50 lines here but LSM Editor Richard Skanse would cut them and say it makes the story drag. But every aspiring songwriter should listen to this album to see how words fit together. (Favorite cuts: ”Gypsy Rose and I Don’t Give A Curse” and “Bread For the Body (And Food For The Soul)”)
c. Extras – Extras has more released cuts Kristofferson fans will be familiar with, including John Prine’s “Hello In There,” but still offers some unreleased treasures that will bring tears to your eyes and find a place in your soul. (Favorite cuts: ”Down To Her Socks” and “From The Bottle to the Bottom.”)

redemption-and-ruin5) The Devil Makes Three: Redemption and Ruin (New West)
The Devil Makes Three’s second album on New West has an organic sound that brings memories of Greezy Wheels and Joe Bob’s Bar and Grill Band in the early days of Cheatham Street Warehouse. It’s feel-good music with a ’70s message of gospel, weed and hospitality. (Favorite cuts: “Come On Up to the House” and “Champagne and Reefer.”)

6) Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, Shine a Little Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad (Cooking Vinyl)
An unlikely match: Bragg, an English songwriter and left-wing activist, and award-winning American songwriter and producer Henry took it upon themselves to pay homage to the Great American Railroad and her songs. I love the rawness of the arrangements and the roughness of the production. And sometimes, you just need the freedom of a train song.  (Favorite cuts: “Waiting for A Train” and “Gentle On My Mind.”)

7) Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (Columbia)
Another damned loss in 2016. It’s said that he knew he was dying and this was going to be his last project. What would you do if you had one more chance to finish your story? You Want It Darker does an admirable job. The title track is a punch in the gut that speaks directly to our mortality. The theme, being ready to go, strikes a chord with “Traveling Light” and “Leaving the Table” and carries through. Interestingly, like more traditional blues, this album will lift your spirits, despite the theme. How can you not revel in the company of Cohen’ brilliant writing?   (Favorite cuts: “Traveling Light” and “If I Didn’t Have Your Love.”)

highway-prayer8) Various Artists, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay (Eight30 Records); Highway Prayer: A Tribute to Adam Carroll (Eight30 Records); Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris (New Rounder)

a. Dreamer: Tribute to Kent Finlay: This album touches my heart for obvious reasons. I lived and loved many of these songs. Kent was so proud of each of these artists. Of the many tributes and honors that he received in his lifetime, this is surely one that means the most. (Favorite cuts: “I’ve Written Some Life” and “Hill Country.”)

b. Highway Prayer, the Adam Carroll tribute, was a labor of love. It feels like a family reunion, last night around the campfire, and college homecoming rolled into one. One of my favorite songwriters is celebrated by more than a dozen of his friends and fans as his songs are showcased by James McMurtry, Slaid Cleves, Hayes Carll, Terri Hendrix and more. If you have not yet discovered the songwriting of Carroll, pick up this sampler. Not only does it showcase his  lyrics, it’s a patchwork quilt of some of the greatest singer-songwriters in the field. And when your fans are also your heroes, magic happens. (Favorite cuts: “Red Bandana Blues” and “Screen Door”).

c. Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris is a live concert recording that recognizes Harris’ ear for good songs and celebrates a lifetime of friendships. Recorded in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., early in 2015, it features a who’s who of Americana music coming together to celebrate one of their own. Steve Earle remembers the twang of his roots with “Sin City,” and Mavis Staples knocks it out of the park with one of the most soulful versions of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” I liked Jonathan Bernstein’s Rolling Stone description of the evening’s lineup, “… scrappy and elegant, mainstream and indie, legendary and freshman — reflected the many artistic dividing lines that Harris has straddled throughout her entire career.” (Favorite cuts: “Two More Bottles of  Wine” and “You’re Still on My Mind.”)

blue-lonesome9) The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome (Interscope)
Mick and Keith are both 73, Charlie Watts is 75, and Ronnie Wood is the baby of the Rolling Stones at a fresh young 69. So the new Blue & Lonesome project might be set aside as an obligatory throw-down album to generate a little more revenue. But it is on my Top 10 stack. The live feel of the project, the energy of the musicianship and the soulful lyric performances continue to baffle those life insurance actuaries. Produced by Don Was, their first studio album in more than a decade continues the Stones’ tradition of roots and roadhouses. (Favorite cuts: “Just Like I Treat You” and “Hate To See You Go.”)

10) Tony Bennett, Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 (9RPM Records/Columbia)
Tony Bennett Celebrates 90 takes the cake as this pop star knocks it out of the park. This is not one of those sappy duet albums that serves to carry the old star across the finish line. While he swaps lyrics with everyone from Billy Joel to Andrea Bocelli, he carries the songs. I compared Bennett’s vocals from this live album to a studio production recorded in 1964, and his voice has maintained its vibrant strength and soul. Move over Mick, Keith, Willie, and Kristofferson — and let Tony show us how it’s done. (Favorite cuts: “The Best is Yet To Come” and  “How Do You Keep The Music Playing.”)

I would have included the Randy Rogers Band’ s Nothing Shines Like Neon, but I think that album speaks for itself. With the acclaim Neon has received from Lone Star Music and other media outlets, I felt comfortable culling it from my list to make room for other favorites that might not be on the readers’ radars. I would, however, like to offer honorable mentions to Terry Allen’s reissued Lubbock (on everything), because it’s a masterpiece and has stood the test of time, and to Bob Dylan for his 2016 releases, The Real Royal Albert Hall – 1966 Concert Live and Fallen Angels, because a folk singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

CODY OXLEY, Lone Star Music Contributor

1) Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis (New West)
This album runs the full gamut of emotions love elicits. Robert Ellis has no comparable contemporary, so surely that makes him a true artist. This album takes Americana to the symphony.

streetlight2) Walt Wilkins, Streetlight (Highway 29 Records)
Another collection of life-affirming tunes became a required accessory in the face of a turbulent 2016.

3) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
A new Hayes Carll album could trip over its shoelaces and land on my Top 10 list. This one, highlighting family dynamics, most definitely doesn’t trip. On some tracks, it just hurts to listen.  And others, they heal.

4) Todd Snider, Eastside Bulldog (Agonia Records/Aimless Records)
No songwriter reacts to the world with more wink wink, nudge nudge. Is he firing the confetti cannons at crime or at gentrification, at the music industry or at its haters? Both? Or just writing a love letter to his neighborhood?

Follow Me Down5) Lew Card, Follow Me Down (MRC)
A sweet goodbye letter to Texas that dips into different genres to keep your ears on their toes.

6) Charlie Stout, Dust & Wind (New American Frontier)
Recording in an abandoned church in West Texas, Charlie Stout finally sheds some of his mystique to put an album in the hands of people. Powerful songwriting with thundering delivery.

7) Cody Jinks, I’m Not the Devil (Cody Jinks Music)
The best neo-traditional country album in what is quickly (and thankfully) becoming a crowded arena.

Dreamer8) Various Artists, Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay (Eight30 Records)
An elegy from his students and friends showcases the Cheatham Street Warehouse owner behind much of Texas’s music.

9) Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Bomber Heights (
Literate lyrics with songs of dramatic swells and ambling portraits. Perhaps as much a masterpiece as their classic The Lonesome Dirge.

10) Bonnie Bishop, Ain’t Who I Was (Plan BB)
The year’s best bounce back artist took a bluesy approach and a high profile producer to show a less guarded side of herself. Welcome back to Texas.

THOMAS D. MOONEY, Lone Star Music Contributor

My Gospel1) Paul Cauthen, My Gospel (Lightning Rod)
2) Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)
3) Quaker City Night Hawks, El Astronauta (Lightning Rod)
4) Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
5) Lori McKenna, The Bird & the Rifle (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)
6) Flatland Cavalry, Humble Folks (
7) Jacob Furr, Sierra Madre (Miniature Empire Records)
8) Brent Cobb, Shine On Rainy Day (Atlantic/Low Country Sound)
9) Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man Records)
10) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)

Honorable Mentions
BJ Barham, Rockingham; Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Bomber Heights; Ryan Beaver, Rx; Lydia Loveless, Real; Reckless Kelly, Sunset Motel

Best Reissues
Terry Allen, Lubbock (on everything); Terry Allen, Juarez; Thrift Store Cowboys, Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping

ADAM DAWSON, Lone Star Music Contributor

1) Aaron Lee Tasjan, Silver Tears
(New West)
Aaron Lee Tasjan is the chameleon of Americana music. Silver Tears genre hops with ease, blending a brilliant pop sensibility with dirty blues, country balladry, folk intelligence, a poet’s mind and a rocker’s heart. Tasjan does all of this without it becoming the least bit hokey or gimmicky and never loses sight of the song. After spending over a decade being known as a guitar playing wizard, Aaron has now established himself as one of if not the most exciting young songwriter of this era. Favorite Track: “12 Bar Blues”

how-to-survive2) Matt Woods, How to Survive (Lonely Ones Records)
With all of the talk surrounding the Simpsons and Stapletons of the world, their huge crossover success and their “saving” real country music, there needs to be more attention focused on Knoxville native Matt Woods. With How to Survive, Woods has shown that he is easily in that class of country songsmiths and has the chops to not only hang with but to best those folks that are getting the airplay. Favorite Track: “Fireflies”

3) Tommy Womack, Namaste (
Namaste is the perfect follow up to Tommy Womack’s previous two releases, all of which are among the most personal and breathtakingly honest works in the Americana genre. No writer working today has a better ability to rip their heart out onstage or recording on every track with no apologies at all. Favorite Track : “Nashville”

4) Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
Parker Millsap’s second record eclipses his critically acclaimed debut, which is something that I’m not sure many were expecting. The songwriting is more mature on this release and the sound on the record is a lot closer to the raucous atmosphere of a live Millsap show. Favorite Track : “Heaven Sent”

5) Brock Zeman, The Carnival is Back in Town (Busted Flat)
A concept record about an early to mid 1900s traveling show? Could have been a disaster, but in the adept songwriting hands of Brock Zeman it is an amazing set of songs that find you under the big top, drinking with the freaks of the sideshow and mourning their lost love ones around roadside graves. He had been threatening and teasing this record for a decade at live shows and it’s great to finally have it released. Favorite Track : “The Juggler”

6) Hayes Carll, Lovers and Leavers (Hwy 87 Records/Relativity Entertainment)
It might take a few listens, but when this Hayes Carll album finally starts to grow on you, it grows quick. While it lacks the honky-tonk rockers that find their way onto other Hayes records, Lovers and Leavers is his most introspective and thoughtful release thus far into his career. Favorite Track: “Good While It Lasted”

7) The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
The best Stones album since ’78’s Some Girls; somewhere in heaven, Muddy and Wolf are sharing a drink and nodding to each other over this one. Favorite Track : “Just Your Fool”

8) Chicago Farmer, Midwest Side Stories (
Chicago Farmer — aka Cody Diekhoff — has a refreshingly firm grip on where he comes from. The songs on this record are covered to the elbows in dirt from the fields and smell of the sweaty factory floors. If the Midwest is looking for a voice, the search is over.

9) Elizabeth Cook, Exodus of Venus (Agent Love Records)
Addiction, depression, divorce and all kinds of strife fill the songs of this record. When you mix those with Elizabeth Cook’s quirky vocal style and a grittier sound than she has ever used before, you get her finest album to date. Favorite Track : “Methadone Blues”

Soulslide10) Jeff Plankenhorn, Soulslide (Loungeside Records)

With his third studio album (and fourth overall) ,Jeff Plankenhorn has finally made a record that really represents what he is as an artist. The “sideman” stigma is often difficult to shed, but Soulslide finds Plankenhorn not only shaking it off but happily dancing and singing on its grave. Favorite Track: “Trouble Find Me”

J. POET, Lone Star Music Contributor

undercurrent1) The Lumineers, Cleopatra (Dualtone)
2) Dale Watson, Under the Influence (Red River)
3) Sarah Jarosz, Undercurrent
(Concord/Sugar Hill/Universal)
4) Lydia Loveless, Real (Bloodshot)
5) The Handsome Family, Unseen (Loose Music)
6) Various Artists, God Don’t Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson (Alligator)
7) Brent Cobb, Shine On Rainy Day (Atlantic/Low Country Sound)
8) Paul Cauthen, My Gospel (Lightning Rod)
9) Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward, Bomber Heights (
10) Willie Nelson, For the Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price (Legacy/Sony)

D.C. BLOOM, Lone Star Music Contributor / Songwriter

Positive1) Beaver Nelson, Positive (Freedom)
2) Birds of Chicago, Real Midnight (Five Head Entertainment)
3) Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, Colvin & Earle (Fantasy)
4) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds Ltd)
5) Elizabeth Cook, Exodus of Venus (Agent Love Records)
6) Dan Bern, Adderal Holiday (DBHQ)
7) Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day (Okrahoma)
8) Andrew Bird, Are You Serious (Concord)
9) David Francey, Empty Train (Idla/Laker Music)
10) The Jayhawks, Paging Mr. Proust (Relativity Entertainment/Sham)

CHISUM BURNETT, Superfly’s Lone Star Music Emporium Record Store Dude

1) Drive-By Truckers, American Band
2016, to say the very least, was a politically charged year. American Band, the 11th studio album from the Truckers, echoed the political climate with a Southern drawl, loud-ass guitars and biting commentary from a left-of-center viewpoint. While the overt political nature of Hood and Cooley’s lyrics might alienate some of their fanbase, the songs on American Band are some of the best the band has written in years: quite an impressive feat for a group who already has little-to-no filler or duds in their back catalogue.

2) Luke Bell, Luke Bell (
Putting it plainly, authenticity is a big deal in the country music/Americana realm. Luckily for Luke Bell, a former Wyoming ranch hand, he has it in spades. Bell writes about what he knows: hard work, harder times, heartache, and honky-tonkin’, and delivers 10 tracks of modern traditional country that hearken back to the golden age of the genre without the kitsch of retro-acts.

3) Robert Ellis, Robert Ellis (New West)
The Lake Jackson-born singer-songwriter continues to push the envelope with his innovative blending of country, pop and jazz styles while refining and sharpening his songwriting skills on his third New West Records release. The result is 11 eclectic, anthemic songs centered around heartache and forlorn lost love. Ellis’s self-titled album, while still entirely original, just might be his most easily accessible yet in the best of ways.

mosey4) Daniel Romano, Mosey (New West)
Mosey finds this Canadian singer/songwriter/producer/poet/visual artist/all-around enigma shrugging off the slicked-back, twangy, Nudie Suited-traditional country of his prior albums in exchange for wild, unbridled, track suited-60’s rock ’n’ roll psychedelia — comparable to an even stranger Lee Hazlewood or Dylan’s mid ‘60s rock trilogy of albums, complete with a Serge Gainsbourg-esque guest appearance from actress Rachel McAdams and Afrobeat interludes. It’s an album that is every bit as interesting to listen to as it is to trying to describe.

5) Aaron Lee Tasjan Silver Tears (New West)
On his New West Records debut, Aaron Lee Tasjan effortlessly demonstrates what’s made him Americana’s best kept secret: seriously good songwriting backed up by seriously good playing. The 12 tracks here take influences from Tasjan’s impressive, eclectic musical resume and pairs them with a smart, witty, and at times tongue-in-cheek style of writing reminiscent of his fellow East Nashville peers. You’re going to be hearing a lot about Tasjan in the future.

6) Chris King, Animal (Classic Records)
Within the first few shoegaze-atmospheric seconds of the opening track, “Animal”, it becomes abundantly clear that Chris King’s album of the same name is not going to be your typical Texas singer-songwriter fare. King takes his already excellently crafted songs and pushes them to new heights by exploring new sonic territories, resulting in an album that is at times ethereal and melancholic, but entirely original, especially for the Texas scene.

7) Paul Cauthen, My Gospel (Lightning Rod)
The lengthy amount of time and trouble it took Paul Cauthen to make his solo debut was completely worth it: it’s one helluva strong, solid album. Compared to his work in gone-too-soon Americana wunderkinds Sons of Fathers, My Gospel is a musical rebirth for Cauthen, complete with ’70s country-folk and gospel influenced instrumentation that suits the singer-songwriter’s newfound voice like a well-worn but dependable pair of boots. It’s a road-weary yet hopeful album that has all the toughness and grit of Waylon in his prime, and the theatrical tenderness of later-day Elvis.

8) Charlie Stout, Dust & Wind (New American Frontier)
Some artists spend small fortunes to record in lavish, fancy state-of-the-art studios in big cities and come out of the experience with subpar to mediocre albums. Charlie Stout goes into an abandoned church in the New Mexican desert with only a guitar, some recording equipment, and a handful of lean but extremely mean songs and comes out with an album that puts all of those bloated-budget snoozers to shame. Quality and content over cost, y’all: a true testament to DIY-ethic.

9) Jack Ingram, Midnight Motel (Rounder/Universal)
Jack Ingram made us wait seven years for a new studio album, and it was entirely worth it. Recorded live and with minimal overdubbing, Midnight Motel puts the listener in the position of a fly on the wall in the studio bearing witness to a songwriter going back to his roots and emerging stronger than ever after spending too long in the wasteland that is the trappings of mainstream success. It’s a seemingly flawed and imperfect yet undeniably charming album that gains its strength by not only showcasing Ingram’s best songwriting ever, but by also making us feel like we’re a part of it.

redneck-shit10) Wheeler Walker Jr, Redneck Shit (Pepper Hill Records)
Whether you “get” him or not, it’s hard to deny that Wheeler Walker Jr was country music’s true break-out artist of 2016. Within just mere weeks of his miraculous appearing out of obscurity (if you believe the backstory), Wheeler managed to raise just as much, if not more, hell and havoc on Music Row as the originators of the Outlaw Country movement. And he did so not only through hilarious Twitter feuds, but also with an album chock-full of actually-good-despite-the-joke country music, courtesy of an ace backing band and Americana King Midas-producer, Dave Cobb. Redneck Shit might not be an album for everyone, but it certainly deserves its own place in country music’s pantheon of great comedy albums.