What a year. Plenty of big names from our musical corner of the world departed (Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, Guy Clark, Ralph Stanley, Red Simpson, Jean Shepard, Leon Russell, Steve Young, Glenn Frey, Chips Moman, Dave Swarbrick and Scotty Moore), a sign that the golden era of music from the 60s and 70s is well and truly in the rear view mirror as increasingly the stars, heroes and heroines take their final bow.
Of course there was still a plethora of new and reissued music to pore over, soak up and relish. The newest generation made their mark, the exponents of American primitive guitar music found their feet with full bands and rock and psychedelic country excursions and Australian artists showed that the talent at home is the equal of anything being produced in the world of Americana music.
Looking across our list of the 40 LPs that we listened to and loved the most, there is a wide range of styles, from solo acoustic to full electric bands, folk to country, from rock to those influenced by jazz and electronica. It all falls under the same roof around these parts. Hopefully you’ll find a few albums on this list that you haven’t heard yet and, as usual, we’d love to hear what your favourite releases were in 2016.
1. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
Hood, Cooley and band have built an epic back catalogue of albums over the last two decades and American Band is right up there with their very best. It rocks, it soothes and it was the most poetically prescient album of the year. It touched on modern America and its cultural, economic, political and societal struggles it still wrestles with. The band balanced education, commentary and incisive critique with country rock ‘n’ roll and weary yet defiant melancholy.
2. Richmond Fontaine – You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To
The swan song LP from one of our favourite Americana bands. They’ve detailed the trials and tribulations of the heartbroken and disillusioned with a literary grace and a soundtrack that conveyed pain and revelation with real emotion. Here they wove characters and stories from previous albums into a beautiful parting gift to their fans and each other.
The Felice Bros. seem to be in their own magical universe at times, weaving poetry, nursery rhymes and a supremely catchy and melodic sense into yet another excellent set of songs which imbue their abstract characters with humour, eccentricity and pathos.
4. Case/Lang/Veirs – Case/Lang/Veirs
On paper this sounded like a fascinating collaboration between kd lang, Neko Case and Laura Veirs so it was surprising and pleasing that the end result exceeded the pre-release expectations. A warm and organic vibe permeates this record with all three showcasing their songwriting and singing and most importantly, weaving those exceptional qualities together into a singular record that sound like nothing else in 2016.
Unfortunately this album took on even greater meaning with the death of Cohen so quickly after it was released. Prior to that the spectre of mortality hung heavily over what is one of the poet’s finest works. That characteristic black humour runs deep and cuts wickedly throughout the album and ultimately it feels like a final chapter of a creative life well lived.
6. Jason Walker – All-Night Ghost Town
8. Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Line
9. Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Haven’t Been Sung
10. Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts Of Highway 20
12. Jonny Fritz – Sweet Creep
13. Big Smoke – Time Is Golden
16. Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau
17. William Tyler – Modern Country
18. Will Wood – Magpie Brain & Other Stories
19. Luther Dickinson – Blues & Ballads
20. Adam Young – Elementary Carnival Blues
21. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
22. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
23. Neil Young – Peace Trail
25. Freya Josephine Hollick – The Unceremonious Junking Of Me
26. Neil Young + Promise Of The Real – Earth
27. Jen Mize – Warnings & Wisdom
28. Wilco – Schmilco
32. Henry Wagons – After What I Did Last Night…
33. Fallon Cush – Bee In Your Bonnet
35. Chris Pickering – Canyons
36. Lucy Roleff – This Paradise
37. Chuck Johnson – Velvet Arc
38. Malcolm Holcombe – Another Black Hole
40. The Jayhawks – Paging Mr Proust