Yes, some friends think I have a sweetheart gig sitting in the office handicapping and gambling all day and night, but anyone that has spent more than 20 straight minutes listening to a diseased talking head on TVG knows the mute button and cranking music can be a horseplayer’s best friend. Not to mention the only way to remain sane.
I think I spent more money downloading albums than I did betting on the Pick 6 in California this year, and it may have been money wisely spent, as it was a good year in music.
I base my rankings on an uncomplicated formula that combines songwriting, music, how many tickets I cashed when listening, and in one case, extra points were awarded for the band contributing to producing my worst hangover of 2014 after a live show.
Apparently, I can drink like a rock star, but can’t drink with rock stars.
20. Sarah Borges “Radio Sweetheart”
Motherhood has not slowed Sarah down much, releasing her fifth album in 2014 through Pledge Music, and touring throughout the country with Girls, Guns & Glory. Her album “The Stars Are Out” made my 2009 list. Her music is anything and everything between country, folk and rock, and she puts on a great live show. She even listed me in her liner notes, if anyone still has any idea what liner notes are.
19. Drivin’ N’ Cryin “Songs For The Turntable”
These veteran southern rockers are one of the most underrated bands touring today. They put a series of four EP’s out last year, and any of the four could have made the list. Frontman Kevin Kinney has been at it for 30 years, and writes the music for the television series Archer in his spare time. They put on a raucous live show when they blew through town, and I could barely keep up with Kevin and Tim doing shots after the show until dawn. Kevin’s departing words were, “Where’s the tour bus dude?”
18. Old 97’s “Most Messed Up”
The first time I listened to “Most Messed Up”, I thought some frat house has taken Rhett and Murry hostage. With songs like “Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” and “Most Messed Up”, there was no other explanation. There is less alt-country and more rock and roll than in any previous album. Which makes sense because if you have seen Rhett do a full flying dismount off a speaker at a live show, you know the guy does not age.
17. Micky & the Motorcars “Hearts from Above”
Texas alt-country is alive and well, just many people outside of the state and the Midwest don’t seem to know it. “Hearts From Above” is the band’s best album to date. Micky’s brothers make up Reckless Kelly, and along with the Randy Rogers Band, Jason Bolland and the Stragglers and Cody Canada and the Departed, there is a ton of good music coming out of the Lone Star State.
16. Sarah Jarosz “Build Me Up From Bones”
Sarah is a native of Austin and put out her debut album at the age of 19 and is a gifted songwriter and musician (mandolin and banjo) with a very bright future. Her album “Build Me Up From Bones” actually came out in September of 2013, but I am including it in my list because I played it so much last year.
15. John Howie Jr. & the Rosewood Bluff “Everything Except Goodbye”
Every time I play a John Howie Jr. tune, it reminds me just how much Luke Bryan sucks. Howie, the former frontman of Two Dollar Pistols is still putting out genuine country music with his band the Rosewood Bluff. George Jones and Johnny Cash would approve. He is the real deal.
14. Lucinda Williams “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone”
Lucinda gets better with each album, and since her debut in 1979, there have only been 10 more. Her latest release, which is out on her own label Highway 20 Records, is her first album since “Blessed” came out in 2011.
13. Sturgill Simpson “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”
Sturgill’s second solo album has been well received, with more edge than his first release. He is one of the most talented singer songwriters based in Nashville right now, although it sounds like he would rather be elsewhere. In an interview with The Fader, he remarked, “Everyone [in Nashville] is just spinning their wheels trying to think of what’s next, but nobody’s got the balls to make the gamble so they keep spinning their thumbs and counting on the formula. It seems so self-destructive, they’re praying to a dying business model. I certainly love the sound of old records, but I don’t ever want to be a novelty niche thing and live in that world. It’s important to pay homage, but at the same time… They say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” The only way to fix it might be to break the fuck out of it.”
12. Hard Working Americans “Hard Working Americans”
When you put Todd Snider, Dave Schools, Neal Casal, Chad Staehly, Duane Trucks and Jesse Aycock together good things are going to happen. The album is all covers of some of the best-written songs on the planet. My favorite of course is the cover of Kevin Gordon’s “Down to the Well.”
11. The Dirty Guv’nahs “Hearts on Fire”
“Hearts on Fire” is the fourth release from the Knoxville, Tennessee band and their best effort. They play mostly in the southeast and they are known to put on a great live show, although I still have not seen them. A mix of roots rock and alt-country, the latest release is strong from start to finish, and probably ranks up there as one of my most listened to records last year.
10. Reed Foehl “Lost in the West”
I had not heard of Reed Foehl until The Hard Working Americans mentioned he had a new album coming out. If he is good enough for Todd Snider, he is good enough for me. A former member of American Junction and Great American Taxi, his latest release is his fourth solo effort. It’s roots rock with come country mixed in, and his voice reminds me of Neil Young. His previous album Stone Beautiful is strong as well. He is touring with Todd Snider, who puts on a great show.
9. Chuck Prophet “Night Surfer”
Chuck is one of my favorite songwriters and co-wrote songs on Alejandro Escovedo’s “Real Animal,” my favorite album of 2008. His storytelling and music is very unique and is a good follow up to his San Francisco themed “Temple Beautiful.”
8. The Dirty River Boys “The Dirty River Boys”
Based in El Paso, their latest release can best be described as…um…well…it can’t. Toss in some honky tonk, rock and roll, red dirt, country, Americana, Celtic rock and that would be a start. The surprise album of the year, it’s great.
7. Billy the Kid “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades”
Billy Pettinger made my list in 2012 with “Stars, Exploding” and she had a great 2014, touring with Chuck Ragan, Frank Turner and the Vans Tour. She signed to Xtra Mile Recordings and worked with Frank Turner on her latest release. Billy is a gifted songwriter with an incredible voice. Marry me Billy.
6. Paul Thorn “Too Blessed to be Stressed”
Paul’s latest album’s name came from something his grandmother used to say. He is a much better singer songwriter than he was a boxer, although he once stepped into the ring against Roberto Duran. “Everybody Needs Somebody” is probably my favorite song of 2014. His YouTube videos from the road are hysterical.
5. John Fullbright “Songs”
The first cut on John’s latest is titled “Happy” but there is not much else happy on this album. It is stripped down music usually with just a guitar or a piano and he pours his heart out in each and every song. His first album earned him a Grammy nomination for best Americana album. This album is light years better.
4. Ryan Adams “Ryan Adams”
Ryan’s self-titled album is even better than “Ashes and Fire” which was released in 2011. The song “Gimme Something Good” was nominated for a Grammy for best rock song and best rock performance and the album was nominated for best rock album. If he wins, the acceptance speech should be great. Set your DVR.
3. The New Basement Tapes “Lost on the River”
Take long lost Bob Dylan lyrics and hand them over to T. Bone Burnett and magic will happen. Burnett put Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James and Marcus Mumford in a studio for two weeks and an amazing album was produced. Showtime put together a documentary on the process, and it is a must see for any music fan. I’m a big Dawes fan but even I was saying, what is Taylor Goldsmith doing there? His songs are a highlight of the album.
2. Girls, Guns, & Glory “Good Luck”
Who is this honky tonk band Sarah Borges is touring with? Turns out it is Girls, Guns & Glory and they put out a really good record this year. Rolling Stone named them one of 10 Bands You Need to Know. After listening to their last album a hundred times, I know them pretty well now.
1. Lydia Loveless “Somewhere Else”
She is Patsy Cline with a bit of a bad attitude. She is a little bit country with some punk mixed in for good measure. She does not mind dropping a few F-bombs in her songs. At the young age of 24, she sings plenty about heartache, which makes me wonder what her former loves were thinking. “To be truly yourself is to be completely unafraid,” she said in an interview with Boxx Magazine. “It’s just so much better when you let go and stop worrying about what people think and just make the art that comes out of you.” Thankfully, she is true to her words.