Ryan Evans, host of Tree with Roots and KZUM’s program director, offers his musical highlights from 2016
Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life
I can’t stop listening to this. My favorite new discovery of 2016, Courtney Marie Andrews is only 26 but Honest Life is the Arizona native’s sixth release. My first introduction was the album’s “Irene,” a catchy piano-drenched tale about a woman who can’t catch a break with a chorus that lives in my head for days at a time. The album is full of vivid character-driven songs that are partly inspired by her experience as a bartender, presented with effortlessly smooth country backing.
Matt Cox: The Cost of Everything and the Value of Nothing
Largely recorded live in one marathon Omaha session, there may be no voice that conveys the feel of life in the midwest for me better than Iowa native Matt Cox. His songwriting and guitar playing also make this one of my favorites of 2016.
Drive-by Truckers: American Band
The band’s most political album is also one of its best. There’s something incredibly moving about hearing these songs about violence, race and a country not living up to its potential delivered in the trademark southern drawl of the Truckers. Songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley prove why they are some of the best storytellers around right now. American Band is essential listening for anyone who can’t leave 2016 behind fast enough.
Jack Hotel: Voices from the Moon
It’s been ages since I’ve nearly worn out a physical CD, but the Lincoln roots band’s sophomore album has barely left my car’s player since it was released in May. If you’re about listening to an album in-sequence, one of the best three-song runs of the year can be found in the mid-record trio of “From the Window of a Train,” “Barstool Fighter Pilot” and “Memories of Flying.” I’ve lost count of how many times that batch of songs has driven me home at the end of the day.
Kacy and Clayton: Strange Country
I’m a sucker for new music with a 60 year-old sound. Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum, second cousins from Saskatchewan, are barely in their early 20s but this release marks their third album. Their cosmic blend of folk and acoustic blues conjures up mid-60s British songwriters but has an incredibly refreshing 21st century sound that constantly tips its hat to folk music traditions.
Mandolin Orange: Blindfaller
This album would make my list based on the track “Wildfire” alone. The powerful lamentation about slavery’s lasting impact on the south and the country as a whole is easily one of my favorite songs of the year. The rest of the album contains some of the North Carolina duo’s most upbeat songs, but what I’ve always loved about Mandolin Orange is the music’s easygoing vibe and lyrical sophistication. Few songwriters or performers are as effective at pulling off both love (and loss) songs and socially conscious music as beautifully as Mandolin Orange.
Margo Price: Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Let’s establish an official genre for country-meets-soul music and call it “soultry.” Margo Price shall be its queen. I love the songwriting on this record and her energy brings it home.
Shovels and Rope: Little Seeds
It’s tempting to suggest this album is equal parts this honky-tonk icon and that punk rock legend. At this point, it sounds purely like Shovels and Rope. It’s been well recorded that this is likely the duo’s most personal album, tackling subjects close to home, from death and dementia to the memorable tribute to The Band’s Garth Hudson (“The Last Hawk”). For me, the band’s storytelling and decisions on how they present those tales has always been the appeal.
Dwight Yoakam – Rococo Theatre, April 14
JJ Grey w/ Ben Miller Band – Bourbon Theatre, May 8
Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples – Pinewood Bowl, June 22
The Hottman Sisters – Schillingbridge Rhythm and Brews Fest, June 25
Josh Ritter w/ Joe Pug – Slowdown (Omaha), July 11
Walk By Sea – Lincoln Calling, October 6
Sara Watkins – Lied Center, November 30