February 28, 2022
Our new column covering the best country (and country-adjacent) music on Bandcamp returns for February, featuring soulful Americana from the Pacific Northwest, psychedelic folk-pop from a promising singer-songwriter, traditional bluegrass from one of the genre’s giants, and a sophomore effort released 50 years after the artist’s debut, among other excellent releases. Enjoy!
Kieran Kane and Rayna Gellert
The Flowers that Bloom in Spring
Kieran Kane’s a folk-music lifer, known for his work in the all-star trio Kane Welch Kaplin and his killer songs, which have been recorded by big names like John Prine and Emmylou Harris. Rayna Gellert’s a world-class fiddler who grew up playing old-time music before finding success in the 2000s with her string band Uncle Earl. Together, they’re not an odd couple, but a finely tuned folk duo whose parts fit together perfectly. The songs on their third album are built from memorable melodies, homespun harmonies, hard times, heartbreak, and the clarion sound of strings plucked, strummed, and bowed.
The Del McCoury Band
With the death of giants like Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson over the past decade, the title of greatest living bluegrasser these days probably belongs to legendary guitarist and singer Del McCoury. Almost Proud captures his namesake band at their traditional best, brewing up a crisp and clean blend of boom-chick strings, bouncing basslines, and McCoury’s trademark tenor vocals. Dad and his sons—mandolinist Ronnie McCoury and banjoist Rob McCoury, who joined in the ‘80s—have been playing together for so long, they sound like they’ve discovered a new, stronger strain of familial chemistry.
Way Up in the Hills
Less than a year ago, Melissa Carper released one of 2021’s best country albums. Now, she’s back with Sad Daddy, a quartet of Arkansas-based singers and songwriters who used their pandemic-related spare time in 2020 to record their third album, Way Up in the Hills. They did so at a cabin on an Arkansas lake, which is probably why these songs sound more like a front-porch jam session than a “real” recording session. Across a dozen tracks, the foursome tries out bluegrass, country, folk, and Western swing, occasionally accompanied by the sound of bacon frying or insects flying in the background. Close your eyes tight enough and this one turns into an escape hatch from the real world. Way up in the hills, indeed.
Here it is, folks: just your typical follow-up—five decades later!—to what’s widely considered the first album from an openly gay country artist. If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard ‘em all, right? But seriously, Lavender Country’s 1973 debut remains a classic for its vibrant twang, its sense of humor, and its fearless queerness, and their sophomore effort, Blackberry Rose, delivers more of the same but in significantly higher fidelity. So when Patrick Haggerty drops a nugget of wisdom in among the punchlines, you can’t miss it: “Everybody in this place is smiling but we’re all dying inside,” he sings in “Gay Bar Blues.” Preach, Patrick! Long live Lavender Country!
We’ve got more than our fair share of pandemic albums out there these days, but few glow as brightly as this sophomore effort from honey-voiced singer-songwriter Erin Rae. Up and down the track list, Rae sings about real stuff in relatable ways: fear and self-doubt, toxic relationships, self-discovery in solitude, personal triumph, modern womanhood and beyond. And musically, she gently fuses psychedelic folk, vintage pop, and cosmic country with seamless results. Lighten Up is unmistakably rooted in country music, but the contemporary artist it brings to mind first and foremost is psych-folk adventurer Weyes Blood: a testament to Rae’s omnivorous approach.
The Long Way Home
There are a lot of things to like about Marty Bush’s classic country music, but two elements stand out as pillars of his sound: Bush’s voice, a canyon-deep baritone that most country singers would eat their hat to have. And the pedal steel playing of Devon Teran, whose sublime, spectral tone cuts through the weight of Bush’s songs, elevating them. A quick scroll through Bush’s Facebook page reveals a man who screenprints his own T-shirts and gigs regularly at bars around the Midwest. Here’s hoping The Long Way Home earns him the break he deserves.
The Sea Drift
The Delines’s Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone are a match made in country-soul heaven. Boone (formerly of Austin-based alt-country cult faves The Damnations TX) could sing the phone book and make it sound like a story you don’t want to miss. And Vlautin (formerly of Portland-based Americana heroes Richmond Fontaine) is a successful author with a handful of well-reviewed books to his name. With The Delines, Vlautin writes vividly lived-in short stories about the heartbroken and the down-and-out, and Boone sings the hell of those stories, wrapping her stirring alto around their characters. Lest they be ignored, the band behind these two holds its own, unspooling an unhurried take on roots and soul that is positively sumptuous.
Bellingham, Washington is way up in the northwest corner of the United States—about as far as you can get from Appalachia without leaving the lower 48. But Andy Bunn’s roots run all the way back to the Southeast, and Hickory is a good reminder that top-shelf country-bluegrass can come from anywhere. Backed by a skilled band that includes Seattle instrumental wizard Eli West (who also produced the album), Bunn delivers songs based on old family stories through a perfectly fine-grit vocal rasp. The result recalls Steve Earle’s dabbles in bluegrass—a high compliment.
Andrew Bryant used to play in Water Liars, a beloved Americana band from Mississippi active in the mid-’10s. Now, though, he makes records in his home (under his own name), filling them with tuneful twangy rock ‘n’ roll that seems to pour out of him in an endless stream. This month, however, finds Bryant focused on other folks’s music. His new album Sentimental Covers features Bryant-ized versions of works by songwriters like Jason Molina, Guy Clark, Chan Marshall, John Prine, and David Berman, whose “Slow Education” sounds like a late-era Johnny Cash recording. Such material might overwhelm a lesser musician, but Bryant is sturdy, skilled, and serious about his craft.