MCP Picks: The Best Albums of 2017

With the new year knocking at our door and calling us forward, we can’t forget all the goodness that 2017 had to offer–maybe not so much culturally or politically, but there were definitely some damn fine albums released this year. MCP highlights ten releases that made an indelible impression on us–drum roll please!

Andrew Combs – Canyons Of My Mind  (New West Records)

This country crooner was a treat to see live; his heartfelt melodies and dreamy music are a strength to this storyteller’s album, and Canyons of My Mind is just what the doctor ordered for a relaxing afternoon or a quiet moment.  This has been a dinner party favorite for me, as friends can relax to his sweet tunes, but get caught off guard when they become entranced in his lyrical style. — Sharon Zehender, Contributor

Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure (New West Records)

Ever the shape-shifter, Daniel Romano is at his best in his most recent form, Modern Pressure. The Canadian’s latest is as quintessential an example of a modern Americana record as it is unique, which is no small feat in a genre notorious for thumbing its collective nose at innovation.  “Pride of Queens,” an ode to the Ramones, is a stand-out, but this is a record with great flow–no track is out of place. The opiate interludes give the listener room to breathe while still providing the kind of mesmerizing, albeit strange, ear candy we’ve come to expect from Romano (see “Mosey”). Americana music is in dire need of a fresh take. Daniel Romano provides it. — Jason Harris, Contributor

Hayley Thompson-King – Psychotic Melancholia (Hard To Kill Records)

We can’t say enough about Psychotic Melancholia from Florida-bred Boston-based opera-singer-turned country wailer Hayley Thompson-King. With her debut album, Thompson-King puts her kickstand down in the realm of gritty garage rockicana, and shows it who’s boss. With a voice like a freight train, her stories pack a powerful punch–the self-described “skeptical kid with her hand up in Sunday School,” tell tales out of (Sunday) school inspired by the so-called “bad girls of the Bible,” viewed through the lens of gender politics and feminism, something she calls a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album.” I call it a winner. — Susan Hubbard, Editor

JD McPherson – Undivided Heart and Soul (New West Records)

JD McPherson‘s Undivided Heart and Soul has been on constant rotation.  I can’t get over the fuzzed-out guitar and retro vibes made modern here. JD’s voice is classic, both earnest and gritty. The depth of the bass and subtle undertones make this complex album one to wear out, and one that will stay relevant for ages, touching and pulling from so many genres. I can’t tell you how much I love this album to its core. — Sharon Zehender, Contributor

Jillette Johnson – All I Ever See In You Is Me (Rounder Records)

There is something starkly personal in Jillette Johnson’s works on this album. Sure, many songwriters start from internal reflection, but Johnson has an emotional inflection in her voice that pulls you in and makes you experience her feelings right along with her. She has the vocals to be singing about anything yet remains true to herself with songs about self-image, equality, drastic consequences, and painful memories. The album is musically minimalistic, allowing you to truly appreciate the powerful vocals and absorb the lyrical imagery. If you haven’t listened to the song “Bunny” from this album, take a few minutes in a quiet place to let the tide of Johnson’s voice wash over you, and the underlying emotional struggle sweep you away. — George Maifair, Contributor

Josh Ritter – Gathering (Pytheas Recordings)

Considered lyrical royalty by many, Josh Ritter has yet to shed the “poet trapped in a songwriter’s body” label.  There is no stronger case for Ritter being freed of this superfluous tag, than Gathering.  Ear-worms and catchy choruses abound on Ritter’s most mature offering yet.  The orchestration is particularly masterful, leaving room for the lyrics and vocal delivery to be the emotional engine of the songs.  “Train Go By” manages to create the effect of a slow train through brushed snare drums and pizzicato strings without devolving into the dreaded realm of “text-painting,” and “Dreams” utilizes a repressed, enraged sound palette that parallels the tortured inner-workings of its main character. Gathering is careful, and measured.  As with all his music, the omnipresent smile and cleverness remain, but the salt and pepper hair and bird’s eye outlook are welcome additions. — Jason Harris, Contributor

Rodney Crowell – Close Ties (New West Records)

If someone read me a synopsis of Close Ties, I could have easily written it off as a collection of Americana clichés. An artist that just wants his music heard. Heartache and authenticity. An artist evoking the names of Nashville musical legends. Those elements are in almost every Americana bio you read today. However, Rodney Crowell is a living, breathing part of the very fabric of Americana music. He’s had the commercial success and can readily compare it to critical acclaim, and more importantly, artistic satisfaction.  When he sings about Susanna Clark, it’s his real emotion coming out; not the theory of what Guy and Susanna Clark might have been like back in the day.He knew them, drank and smoked with them, and experienced the ups and downs of friendship with them. He’s the real deal and the album is an Americana diary of one of the genre’s greatest influences. — George Maifair, Contributor

Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West Records)

Part battle cry, part celebration, the title track lets you know that the Secret Sisters have regrouped from some not too distant and devastating blows in their musical career and personal lives. The album has something new from the Sisters—touches of optimism cast a bit of sunlight on their oft-dark lyrical path. However, they didn’t forget to include a murder ballad and plenty of heartache. It’s the yin and yang of the album that makes it an always delightful listen, no matter what the mood. For example, you don’t have to look further than the Sisters’ use of an upbeat melody and tender harmonies to make you almost forget that “He’s Fine” comes from a painful place. Whether sad or happy—or more appropriately, less sad—the Sisters’ crafted an album that held my attention all year. — George Maifair, Contributor

The Steel Woods – Straw In The Wind (Woods Music/Thirty Tigers)

Straw In The Wind, the debut LP from Nashville-based country rock outfit The Steel Woods begins with a song called “Axe,”that builds like it’s virtually rising from the mighty cypress swamps in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. The strike of a bass drum at the beginning of each musical phrase echoes like a sledgehammer pounding big tent stakes into southern red dirt, and you know right away that The Steel Woods are here to stay. Building their sound on the same stylistic supports found in the historical foundation of American music, The Steel Woods seamlessly blend Appalachian-infused roots with gritty country, barn-burning blues, and good old rock n’ roll, creating a stunning collection of blue collar tales for the everyman that feels as familiar as an heirloom quilt or the smell of your Maw Maw’s homemade biscuits baking in the oven. — Susan Hubbard, Editor

Tyler Childers – Purgatory (Hickman Holler Records/Thirty Tigers)

Instead of making “lake life” pontoon party-inspired songs about solo cups and pickup trucks in the spirit of redneck escapism, songcrafter Tyler Childers croons of drug addiction and hardship, relevant issues faced on the daily by the folks in his eastern Kentucky home. In the vein of classic country icons like Hank Williams, Sr. and grassy giants like Bill Monroe, those original progenitors of punk rock passion, Childers relays stories of drug and moonshine-fueled wild nights, heartache, and burned-out troubadours. Produced by Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson, Purgatory houses honky tonk-heavy tunes, outlaw-esque beat-driven rambling road songs, and fiery acoustic features that set the bluegrass field aflame—a beautiful nod to the native sounds of Kentucky.  With his grizzled, accented wail and his soul-baring lyricism, Childers shines authentically at every turn. He’s as country as cornbread and as honest as the day is long. — Susan Hubbard, Editor

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