As a Bluegrass Today reviewer – not to mention as a bluegrass fan in general – I listen to a lot of music throughout the year. Most of it’s good, some of it’s not so good, but a few albums have been great.
There’s twelve months in a year, so here’s my top twelve albums of the year, in no particular order (except for number one).
Another Day from Life – Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, despite a few recent lineup changes, just keep getting better. This album has toe-tappers, songs that make you think, and some of the best harmonies in bluegrass.
Turn On a Dime – Lonesome River Band
Although the Chronology albums were good, this return to the classic LRB sound was a treat for fans. Their funky update of Shelly’s Winter Love was fun, and songs like Teardrop Express and Bonnie Brown are what modern traditional grass is all about.
Standing Tall and Tough – Crowe, Lawson, & Williams
These three men may have gotten their starts in the first few decades of bluegrass music, but they’re still some of the best in the entire genre. I could listen to Paul Williams do Hills of Roane County all day long. “In the beautiful hills…”
Trouble Follows Me – Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice
In today’s traditional bluegrass, it doesn’t get much better than Sisk. This is one of the best lineups of his group I’ve heard in a while, and Sisk is one of the best at doing lonesome. He does a great job at carrying on the Carter Stanley sound.
In The Wind Somewhere – Richard Bennett
This is Bennett’s best solo work to date. No, it doesn’t have banjo, but the excellent song choice more than makes up for it. Bennett is always compared to Tony Rice, but he’s a great artist in his own right.
The Game – Blue Highway
Several songs from this album have hit number one here on Bluegrass Today, thanks to a combination of top-notch songwriting, singing, and instrumentation. Blue Highway is one of the most consistent bands in bluegrass music, and this album was another winner.
Just to Hear the Whistle Blow – Tim Stafford
Stafford was named IBMA Songwriter of the Year for 2014, and this album showcases some of his best original work. Some of it ventures into folk and jazz territory, but it’s all good. The band is a bluegrass who’s who, and Stafford’s guitar work is excellent.
Into My Own – Bryan Sutton
Sutton has become known more as a session musician recently, but this solo effort brought him back into the mainstream bluegrass consciousness. He’s a wonderful guitarist, and he proves to be a fine vocalist, too. Among my favorites were Swannanoa Tunnel and That’s Where I Belong.
1 – Clay Hess Band
This one flew a bit under the radar this year, although a couple of the songs have received pretty heavy airplay on bluegrass radio. Hess is perhaps the best at “mash” (listen to his cut of Six More Miles) and songs like Empty Old Coal Town and Homesick With the Blues are well-written and well-performed.
Lonesome And Then Some – Larry Sparks
Another bluegrass legend who’s still one of the best. The first single, Bitterweeds, hasn’t hardly left the Top 10 on Bluegrass Today since it was released. As the old cliché goes, Sparks could sing the phone book and we’d all listen.
Five – Balsam Range
I’d judge this as one of the best of the year based on two songs alone – country covers The Future’s Not What It Used to Be and Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold). Other highlights from the 2014 Entertainers of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year were I Spend My Days Below the Ground and From a Georgia Battlefield.
And, at least in my opinion, the best album of the year…
The Earls of Leicester – The Earls of Leicester
I love Flatt and Scruggs, and this is the closest anyone has come to recreating their precision, drive, and groove since 1969. Just the thought of this group – and the brief preview I saw at last year’s IBMA Awards – had me more excited than any music has in a long time, and the resulting album was even better than I had hoped. Long live the music of Flatt and Scruggs!