Baltimore City Paper

Strum und Twang: Top 10 in country

It was a good year for country music. Sturgill Simpson took a lot of people by surprise with his psych-country space opera, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” a release that is doing a lot to reintegrate country and soul. Country music (at its best) is essentially soul music, with most of the information transmitted through the inflections and tones in the human voice. Neil Diamond wrote in the liner notes to Waylon Jennings 1975 album “Dreaming My Dreams”: “The human voice is the only instrument that manages to give a glimpse of the singer’s soul.” The beautiful part about this is you can’t fake it; the tough part is it’s an extraordinarily difficult genre to excel in. Meanwhile, Jenny Scheinman and Sam Amidon provide signs that some of the most interesting things happening in country are on the border between country and jazz, creating albums that feel primitive and progressive at the same time. The guitarist Bill Frisell plays on both of those albums, as well as Lucinda’s album, and I think this infusion of improvisation and learned musicians into country is exactly what it needs to get away from the boneheaded alt-country rock crap that we’ve suffered through for so many years now. 

  1. Sturgill Simpson, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” (High Top Mountain Records)
  2. Jenny Scheinman, “The Littlest Prisoner” (Sony)
  3. Lucinda Williams, “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone” (Highway 20 Records)
  4. Arty Hill, “Heart on My Dirty Sleeve” (Highlandtown Music)
  5. Billy Joe Shaver, “Long in the Tooth” (Lightning Rod Records)
  6. Caleb Stine, “Maybe God is Lonely Too” (self-released)
  7. Sam Amidon, “Lily-O” (Nonesuch Records)
  8. Johnny Cash, “Out Among The Stars” (Legacy Recordings)
  9. Justin Townes Earle, “Single Mothers” (Vagrant Records)
  10. D.T. Huber, “Electric Park” (self-released)