Back Road Bound’s Favorite Songs in 2015 (Pt.1)

Wait, you think, that can’t be right. Eric Andersen’s I Shall Go Unbounded on a 2015 mix? Damn right you are, it dates from 1966. But with all of my year end mixes they only contains a fraction of new music. I have neither got the time nor the money (yeah, I know we’ve got filesharing nowadays) to listen/buy all the new releases I could be interested in. And I am always discovering both new and old music, so just putting new music on a mix doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I originally intended to make two mixes but as I am, as usual, somewhat short of time this will be the only one , at least for now, as the second part is already pretty much finished so I might upload that at some point.

You can listen to the mix over on my Mixcloud page:

Eric Andersen : I Shall Go Unbounded (from ‘Bout Changes And Things)

Eric ANdersen 'Bout Changes And Things Cover jpegBelieve it or not, I hadn’t really heard about Eric Andersen until last year, but once I heard Thirsty Boots, I immediately was hooked on his Dylanesque acoustic guitar/harmonica sounds. He certainly wrote brilliant songs judging from the uniformly excellent ones on ‘Bout Changes And Things, and his voice is a bit better than Dylan’s.

Robert Earl Keen : This World Is Not My Home (from Happy Prisoner (The Bluegrass Sessions))

Robert Earl Keen Happy Prisoner Cover jpeg Happy Prisoner without a doubt is my favorite album released in 2015. Why it is ranked so far down in some of the Best Of 2015 lists (e.g. somewhere way down in the 30′ s in No Depression) is absolutely beyond me. Nothing about this album couldn’t be called perfect: Neither the choice of songs (most of them very old or traditionals) or their rough-around-the-edges treatment (take Wayfaring Stranger, doubtlessly recorded hundreds of times, sounds totally fresh and new on here) could possibly have been done better in a Bluegrass context. Genius.

Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer : When I Go (from When I Go)

Dave Carter With Tracy Grammer When I Go Cover JpegOne or the other of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s releases was always right next to my CD player for most of this year, and I probably listened to their music more than anybody else’s during the course of 2015. Due to Dave Carter’s early passing, they didn’t release too many albums, but every single one of them I own so far enchanted me to the highest degree. Theirs was a sound as gentle as imaginative, yet steeped in age-old traditions and the lyrics where alway astounding and captivating with their own kind of spiritualistic American realism. Their music is as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream.

Eric Bibb : Shingle By Shingle (from An Evenng with Eric Bibb)

An Evening With Eric Bibb Cover Jpeg

Yet another masterful release (recorded in 2002 and released in 2007) by Eric Bibb, an artist I have grown very, very fond of in the past 12 months. This concert shows him only accompanied by a bass player, in fine mood and on top of his game. All he needs to make a release as powerful and convincing as this if you ask me, although he is known not to limit his stylistic expressions and has got an all-encompassing sense of musical openness. Soulful sounds and lyrics, whether they are slightly melancholic (yet hopeful) as on Shingle By Shingle or full of glee as on Lonesome Valley or I Heard The Angels Singing, they are played to perfection in a nevertheless spontaneous way.

Conor Oberst : Four Strong Winds (from Another Day, Another Time)

Another Day Another Time Cover JpegFour Strong Winds is taken from the mighty fine concert performance inspired by The Coen Brother’s fab Inside Llewyn Davis. This is exactly how I like Mr. Bright Eyes/Desaparecidos like best. Just him, his brittle, still young sounding voice, a few acoustic guitars and background vocals (by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings), and a splendid song (by Canadian Folk/Country legend Ian Tyson). Lovely and melancholic.

Dar Williams : Southern California Wants To Be Western New York (from Mortal City)

Dar Williams Mortal City Cover Jpeg

A youthful Dar Williams convinces with this simple, affecting Acoustic Folk gem taken from one of her early releases, Mortal City is chock-full of gorgeous and intensively arranged songs, of which Southern California… is just one of my favorite songs.

The Pines : Banks Of The Ohio (from Pasture Folk Songs)

The Pines Pasture CD-cover jpegThe best of the young-ish Alternative Country/Dark Folk bands to come out of the US in a very long time in my opinion, The Pines don’t disappoint with this brief in between 7-song EP (read my review here). The traditional Banks Of The Ohio has hardly been done more melancholic and lovely than on here and is just one of the 7 (yes, that’s right) highlights on Pasture for me. Their next full-length album is due for release in early February 2016 (again on Red House Records), so watch this space.

Greg Brown : Poor Backslider (from Down In There)

Greg Brown Down In There Cover JpegAs soon as I heard and saw Greg Brown’s fantastic, spontaneous live rendition of Poor Backslider on the highly recommended Brown documentary Hacklebarney Tunes (available as part of the fine If I had Known CD/DVD compilation) I fell in love with the sad tale of a Hillbilly alcoholic going through all the motions that stem from such a scenario. This is a full-steam version with a fabulous slide guitar by Mr. Bo Ramsey (of course it is fabulous) and a brilliantly told tale straight of the American Heartland – who could do such a song better than Mr. Brown? Nobody, that’s who, if you ask me.

Bill Morrissey : Small Town On The River (from The Essential Collection)

Bill Morrissey Essential Collection Cover JpegSmall Town In The River for me has become one of Bill Morrissey’s signature songs. Like most of his songs it’s a wonderfully melancholic and beautiful tale of things not going too well, this time for a whole town.

Joan Shelley : Something Small (from Electric Ursa)

Joan Shelley Electric Ursa cover jpeg

Read my recent review of Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa here

Dave Rawlings Machine : The Trip (from Nashville Obsolete)

Dave Rawlings Machine Nashville Obsolete Cover Jpeg

The Trip is by far the most outstanding song on Nashville Obsolete (all of the almost 11 minutes of it). Totally relaxed and brilliantly executed and arranged (naturally I should say, this is a Dave Rawlings/Gillian Welch release after all)

Lucy Kaplansky : Every Grain Of Sand (from A Nod To Bob 2)

A Nod To Bob 2 Cover Jpeg

Like many songs on A Nod To Bob 2, Every Grain Of Sand made me realise (again) just how good a songwriter Bob Dylan is. Just listen to the lyrics on Every Grain Of Sand, that the stripped-down piano arrangement and Kaplansky’s vocals are quite beautiful does help too of course.

Jorma Kaukonen : San Francisco Bay Blues (from 2003-08-08 The Bottom Line New York City, NY)

Another artist I didn’t really have on my radar until a few months ago. Kaukonen is of course something of a legend, as a member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, but I doubt there are many of both bands releases I would like better than the 35 song, 3 and a half hour set of expertly crafted, acoustic Swinging/Rock’n’Rolling and otherwise infectious Folk/Country-Blues fest that is this 2003 live set. Almost every song’s a hit and the musicianship (with a Mandolin and a slide guitar player accompanying him here) on display here is outstanding.

Jimmy LaFave : Not Dark Yet (from A Nod To Bob 2)

A Nod To Bob 2 Cover Jpeg

This version of one of the, for me, comparatively few highlights of Dylan’s later career, is outstanding due to its relaxed and wistful mood and the perfect, but not too perfect arrangement. Time for me to delve into LaFave’s other records I guess.

Judy Collins : Bob Dylan’s Dream (from Judy Collins Sings Dylan)

Judy Collins Sings Dylan Cover JpegBob Dylan’s Dream has always been a particular Dylan fave of mine, and this version is one of the best (and certainly the most beautiful) songs on an album that is, in parts, not doing Dylan’s songs justice, as quite a few songs are arranged far too tame and MOR for my taste. That said, there are a few other songs also worth hearing, but this is probably the most successfully realised one.

Donovan : Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do? (from Catch The Wind)

Donovan Catch The Wind Cover Jpeg

With Donovan being from Scotland, this is a departure from the usual and heavily North American-centric theme of this here blog. But Why Do You Treat me…? sounds suitably Dylanesque and is downright tongue in cheek fun

 

Joan Shelley : Electric Ursa

Joan Shelley Electric Ursa cover jpeg

Out of the batch of new CD’s I bought recently, none has enchanted my quite as much as Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa. Being previously unbeknownst to me, a favourable review of her new album Over And Even attracted my attention to her, a quick listen of Electric Ursa on iTunes quickly made me realise I might be in for something very good. Which Electric Ursa indeed did turn out to be.

Joan Shelley hails from Louisville, KY. I am as yet not too informed on her musical background, but some tracks, especially the utterly fabulous album opener Something Small make me suspect she’s rather from an Independent Rock/Post-Rock background than from a straight Folk or Country one as wouldn’t be totally surprising given where she’s from. Although Folk clearly is the style most prominent in her work, even more so on her new album than on here. Something Small also is the highlight for me on Electric Ursa, it’s full of tension, and the hypnotic, mantra-like chorus of ‘It’s all layed out in front for you to take it’ is just magic. It’s the melodic phrasing and some of the guitar work on many tracks making her work stand out from many of her Folk contemporaries. I don’t even know if she herself would put herself in that musical corner, but the review mentioned above made me believe that.

River Low is turning up the tempo a little bit on here and is a VERY lovely and straightforward piece of acoustic Folk magic – just as I like it.

Moss and Marrow and First Of August both slow things down considerably and are dominated by the hushed sounds of gently strummed acoustic guitars, only sparsely augmented by instruments such as keyboards (Moss And Marrow) and lead guitar (First of August). They also, like many of her songs (on Over And Even as well), remind me a bit of a not-quite-so-dark Low, coupled with some prime Cowboy Junkies. Another comparison coming to mind (mine at least, I’m probably one of only few people still remembering them) mid-90’s alt country band Tarnation, mainly due to the reverb-drenched lead guitar on First Of August.

The short Remedios is a gorgeous instrumental (featuring her choir voice, but no words) and starting off with a lone and lonesome banjo to be accompanied by violin and dreamy keyboard sounds later in the song, giving it a hymnal, pastoral lullaby feeling. Dreamy being the appropriate word anyway to describe her music, all of her songs I so far know (on here and on her new album) possess that late night, sleepy atmosphere I am very much drawn to.

A short album (only about 33 minutes) but one sure to linger in my mind for a very long time.

Derroll Adams : The Mountain

Derroll Adams (1925 – 2000) was an American Folk Singer, living for most of his life in Europe. He worked extensively with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the 1950’s and became friends with Donovan.

Having just discovered his work I do not yet know much about him and am not very familar with his music, but this song has a captivating quality I find hard to resist.

The Honey Dewdrops : Tangled Country

The Honey Dewdrops Tangled Country album cover jpeg

Tangled Country is the 4th album by Baltimore’s The Honey Dewdrops. Not a trace to be found of the Wire’s gritty, ugly urbanism on it, thankfully.

The Honey Dewdrops are on the way to carving themselves a niche of exceedingly fine purveyors of the lonesome, gentle side of Alternative Country. Young was the first track of theirs I ever heard, and it quickly became clear to me, that their music was exactly my cup of tea. It’s a poignant summarization of the feeling many of us can relate to (certainly I can) of not being that young anymore and finding yourself slightly bewildered by the changes taking place to anybody else’s lifestyle, except you. The only thing preventing it from becoming a classic for me are its rather modern lyrics with their allusions to flat screen TV’s, Bluetooth and Facebook.

There’s a number of outstanding songs on here, such as the aforementioned Young. But this excellent song gets topped by Loneliest Songs – which is simply stunningly beautiful and lovely. One of the best songs I have heard in a long while. Plus, it’s pretty much the only song I can think of on which the bass is the instrument I like best, it’s plucking away wonderfully and forlornly in the background. Their masterpiece of a song so far, I’d say (not having heard any of their other records). Also excellent is the gorgeous Numb, the song most veering towards conventional country music sounds, I love the harmonica on here a whole lot.

The instrumental album closer Remington is quite amazing too, although it’s making do without Laurie Wortman’s enchanting vocals which are contributing substantially to making most songs on Tangled Country especially wonderful.

I am most probably not the only that has to think about Gillian Welch & David Rawlings listening to their music. And the fact that they do not quite reach that other, slightly more famous couple’s mile high class, can only be attributed to Welch and Rawlings being so far above and beyond anybody else in the field of this kind of music, at least in my book. BUT, on this very fine album, they definitely do come rather close to that on a number of songs. An album to cherish for a long, long time.

A fine live version of Loneliest Songs (without that fabulous bass of the album version, unfortunately).

 

Gillian Welch : Hard Times

Most everybody knows Hard Times, and in case you don’t, here’s the skinny. It was written by Stephen (Collins) Foster and published in 1854. The first audio recording of it was released in 1905 (if Wikipedia is right). There have been dozens (probably more like hundreds) of recordings done since by the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith ( I would love to hear Iron & Wine’s, undoubtedly fine, version too, but couldn’t find it anywhere). Of course I don’t know all of them, but I simply cannot imagine there’s one better and more beautiful one than Gillian Welch’s. And Dave Rawlings’, I should add. I always thought it a shame they are referred to simply as Gillian Welch, as his contributions, mainly on the guitar, are crucial to what is making most of their songs so wonderful and good. Hard Times is no exception to this. The typically reduced simple banjo and acoustic guitar arrangement is absolutely befitting a song like Hard Times, not to mention Welch’s unmistakable voice. It’s taken from 2011’s The Harrow & The Harvest. Dave Rawlings Machine’s new album Nashville Obsolete is out on September 18th and most probably one of 2015’s outstanding releases. Rejoice (I certainly am).