2017 - The Year In Review


The scope of what falls under the umbrella of Americana and Hardcore Country music has changed considerably since Lonesome Highway first published. The original motivation was to cover a variety of artists who played music that was directly influenced and describable as “country music” and who received little mention in the more mainstream media. It’s pretty much still that way and many of the artists we have featured online and on the Lonesome Highway Radio Show (Monday 11.30 -12.30 Dublin City FM103.2) are largely unknown quantities for most they are all making music that is worth discovering.

This year is no exception. Names like Colter Wall, Wes Youssi, Zephaniah Ohora, Jamie Wyatt and Jade Jackson are all ones that will doubtless continue to make great albums while some other relative newcomers like Nikki Lane, Sam Outlaw, Turnpike Troubadours and Laura Benitez continue to do so alongside such veterans as Marty Stuart, Moot Davis and Slaid Cleeves continue their individual musical paths with career highs. All the time expanding and refining their craft.

The kind of music that we all like to listen to here at Lonesome Towers has been rewarding and refreshing. There are always artists on the fringes who are making great music. In that light we thanks all the artists, PR companies, labels and others who pass on their music for us to consider for reviewing. It is a privilege. Not everything, for one reason or another makes the cut, and some of the artists who we would like to review or interview are not always readily available. 

There has always been an ongoing debate about what is country and what its not. Something that has been going on for over 50 years and will continue. The central pretext is the might dollar. It is what motivates the industry and has always done so - to think differently would be a falsehood. Of course there have been anomalies that allow for hope that the industry might move away from the bro-county, male-dominated, shallow advertising friendly output that dominates the charts and mainstream radio. Chris Stapelton, Sturgill Simpson, Aaron Watson and Jason Isbell have all made big inroads in the charts and in the hearts of many who are looking for something more substantial. While there are really only two kinds of music: good and bad - the subjective and individual preferences we all have cause us to make our own choices as to what fits any particular genre category ourselves. 

All we can do at Lonesome Highway is point you in a direction, with our choices, that we hope you will enjoy.

On a personal note as I sat down to consider the notion of a Top Twenty I made a list of some of the albums which impressed me, for a variety of reasons, over the last year. To illuminate the many options I had I have decided to include that list and in the full knowledge that I may have forgotten a good album along the way. Bringing these down to a list of twenty was an equally difficult task. But under orders from Mr. Culliton I have made that choice and although numbered from one to twenty the order could easily change from day to day!

But needs must, so: 

1 Turnpike Troubadours A Long Way From Your Heart

Some Alt.Country styled songwriting that is never retro while sounding like honest to god country music. The imagery matches the performance and is outstanding on both fronts. Reminds me of the late great Backsliders.

2 Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives Way Out West

Fabulous and Superlative indeed with the band every much a part of it;s creation as it’s leader. Stuart is now a genuine candidate to step into the boots of those that in spired him. 

3 Wes Youssi & The Country Champs Down Low

Portland, Oregan based graphic designer has also designed his music to please any lover of unpretentious hard-core country, Solid, dependable and a labour of love from all involved.

4 Said Cleeves Ghost On The Car Radio

There is an added toughness to this Scrappy Jud Newcomb produced album. It again showcases Cleaves crafted and rewarding songwriting that has empathy and ebullience that goes from the concern of Drunken Barber’s Hand to the old-school country of The Old Guard.

5 Jamie Wyatt Felony Blues

The debut release from a singer/songwriter who had previously recorded some unreleased tracks. This mini-album features songs that relates to her time spent in prison from drug related issues. It will appeal to those who like some toughness in their music.

6 Moot Davis Hierarchy of Crows

A change of direction from Davis. This one rocks hard as well as hitting the honky-tonk dance floor.Some may not have likes this approach but to these ears it was diverse and diverting from the titles tracks Zeppelinesque feel to the country twang of What’s The Matter With Me.

7 Jeremy Pinnell Ties Of Blood and Affection

The somewhat scary looking Pinnell made an album that built on his debut release and moved from the dark side to something more positive, but not without moments of darkness and doubt. A tight and solid piece of work that reminded you that he loves this music as much as we do and that everything doesn’t have to up lightweight fluff.

8 Nikki Lane Highway Queen

Her latest album is her best yet and this stylish singer has co-produced an album with a contemporary sound that never looses sight of its intentions. Recorded in Texas and Tennessee it has a foot in both camps and a head and heart that acknowledges the lineage of the many strong woman in country music.

9 Casey James Prestwood Born Too Late

Was going to dismiss this cracker of an album because of a 2016 release date credit but saw it featured in a lot of list for this year. It deserves to be there because of top notch honky-tonk songs and a good band in The Burning Angels and occasional guests including Lloyd Green, Bill Kirchin and Kenny Vaughan.

10 Zephaniah Ohora This Highway

Another new name who is firmly playing music that is not going to fit any other category other than Honky-tonk, Bakersfieldstyle country. This New York native has guitarist/producer Jim Campilongo and steel player Join Graboff as featured album players for his original songs. Doer Freeman joins him for the sole cover Somethin’ Stupid.

11 Ags Connolly Nothin’ Unexpected

The UK also turned out some fine recordings this year including My Darling Clementine’s Still Testifying. Ags latest release is right up there in terms of quality, production, writing and singing. Dean Owens produced and kept it local. 

12 Sunny Sweeny Trophy

With the likes of Brandy Clark and Miranda Lambert for writing songs relevant to a female point of view this little gem should not be overlooked. Contemporary enough to be on a major label (as she once was) but better under her own guidance on her own independent label. For a prime example try Better Bad Idea.

13 Tyler Childers Purgatory

This album, produced by Sturgill Simpson, announced a new talent with a old heart. This is traditional with a touch ofthe outlaw attitude that is prevalent at the moment but Childers proves himself on of the best, Simpson’s production is just right and reminds you that Simpson still has an affinity for the right stuff.

14 Laura Benitez and The Heartache With All Its Thorns

As the title suggest that life is to be lived despite it’s pricks and pains. Benitez and her band The Heartache play with an upbeat intention that even when the lyrics may suggest something different is positive and pleasurable. It has a distinct border feel on some tracks that is a delight.

15 Jade Jackson Gilded

Another woman with her own mind and metal. Her songs got the approval of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness a man who is not unfamiliar with the joys of playing country music himself. It is fat free and as far from Nashville mainstream as one could wish for.

16 Sam Outlaw Tender Heart 

After the acclaim of his Ry Cooder produced album Outlaw helms this album himself and shows that he has learnt from the experience and continues to define is own sound rooted in LA country music. He continues to impress and has a growing audience in Europe.

17 Amber Cross Savage On The Downhill

Another powerful combination of words, vocal and playing. On her third album Cross shows just how good she is. Producer Ray Bonneville gathers a crew of players like Rick Richards and Gurf Morlix to bring her songs to a place that best shows off just what a fine artist she is. 

18 Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters Self Titled

Platt takes the spotlight on this album and produces. She has proven herself a songwriter and singer of note andmoves on to the next stage. She is the equal of some of her better know contemporaries and with music this good may soon join their ranks. Country music played with heart.

19 JD McPherson Undivided Heart & Soul

The third album from the rock ’n’ roll and should influenced singer/songwriter is his best yet with a strong support from his long time band that includes bassist Jimmy Sutton. This one rocks and proves that his music will survive and thrive after moving on from a major label deal.

20 Jeffrey Martin One Go Around

From the opening track Poor Man this reveals itself largely as a melancholic collection of songs that look at the sad and often unexposed underbelly of the lower strata of society. Martin does it in a way that evokes empathy while also not be afraid to delve into personal failings. This is all done in a musical style that is arresting Americana.


Any of these could easily have made it into the Top Twenty on a given day. All are worthy of investigation.

Moot Davis  - Hierarchy of Crows

Ags Connolly - Nothin’ Unexpected

The Country Side of Harmonica Slim - A Drink After Midnight

Lillie Mae - Forever and Then Some

Margo Price - All American Made

Sunny Sweeney - Trophy 

Colter Wall - Self Titled

Zephaniah Ohora  - This Highway

Rick Shea - The Town Where I Live

Amber Cross - Savage On The Downhill

Turnpike Troubadours - A Long Way From Your Heart

Petunia and The Vipers - Lonesome Heavy and Lonesome

Steve Earle and The Dukes - So You Wannabe An Outlaw

Jeremy Pinnell - Ties of Blood and Affection

Tom Russell - Folk Hotel

Chris Hillman - Bidin’ My Time

Jace Everett - Dust & Dirt

Jeffrey Martin - One Go Round

Porter &The Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes - Don’t Go Baby, It’s Gonna Get Weird Without You

Wes Youssi & The Country Champs - Down Low

Laura Benitez and The Heartache - With All Its Thorns

Ray Scott - Guitar For Sale

Said Cleaves - Ghost On The Car Radio

Jim White - Waffles, Triangles & Jesus

John Moreland - Big Bad Love

Christopher Rees - The Nashville Songs

Lilly Hiatt - Trinity Lane

JD McPherson Undivided Heart & Soul

Kacy & Clayton - The Siren’s Song

Nikki Lane - Highway Queen

Justin Townes Earle _ Kids In The Street

Matt Patershuk - Same As I Ever Have Been

Ciara Sidine - Unbroken Line

My Darling Clementine - Still Testifying

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters - Self Titled

Jamie Wyatt - Felony Blues

Jade Jackson - Gilded

Jason Eady - Self Titled

Angaleena Presley - Wrangled

Sam Outlaw - Tender Heart

The Mavericks - Brand New Day 

Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives - Way Out West

Miss Tess - Baby, We All Know

Rodney Crowell - Close Ties

Charlie and The Regrets - Rivers in the Streets

The Deslondes - Hurry Home

Chris Stapleton - From A Room - Vol. 1

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

Tyler Childers - Purgatory

Slaid Cleeves - Ghost On The Car Radio

Casey James Prestwood - Born Too Late

Gigs of the Year

The standout, on many levels, was the criminally under attended Slim Cessna’s Auto Club in Whelans. The other notable live events were Margo Price in The Button Factory, James McMurtry in Whelan’s Michael McDermott at the DC Club, Eilen Jewell in The Sound House and Western Centuries at The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival.



If Country music is defined as a true reflection of the environment and society within which it exists, rooted in story songs that mirror the push & pull of daily living; then the Industry barometer of the CMA Awards is in need of a sharp reality-check. 

The latest ceremony showed itself to be without real direction and posed the confusing question as to who is behind the decisions that promote certain artists and records on the night.

Can we really consider as truly representative of the industry, the pairing of Jason Derulo and Luke Bryan, or allowing the strange collaboration of Kenny Chesney with P!nk; before Alicia Keys and Maren Morris were granted licence to deliver a glossy version of country-soul, smothered in strings. Keith Urban carried away four separate awards as his latest release, Ripcord, continued the increasing trend in taking a turn into hip-hop and electronic influences, country-pop that allows for loops and beat heavy drum machines. There’s a lot to criticize about the hip-hop beats of contemporary acts, but there is ample evidence that the roots of country music have always flirted with mainstream recognition and pop culture.

Country music radio, with restricted play lists, continues to ignore the increasing number of Female Artists who are forging careers and the likes of Angaleena Presley; Nikki Lane; Brandy Clark; RaeLynn; Kelsea Ballerini; Whitney Rose; Lilly Hiatt and Lily Mae fight for recognition, along with countless others, in a seemingly overcrowded marketplace. There are an equivalent number of male artists also elbowing forward for room at the front of the queue for recognition and success,  but the road for their female counterparts seems to be stonier and harder to climb.

The awful reality of the Route 91 Country Music Festival in Las Vegas and the mass shooting that left 58 people dead and 546 injured, was the defining moment of 2017. It placed the issue of gun control front and centre in an industry that has always reflected a conservative, religious and rural attitude; one which allowed Trump to garner blind support and which has always supported the Second Amendment. 

Tim McGraw spoke out about gun control where others were reluctant to alienate their core audience and if artists take his lead then we might see a positive backlash and some insight in the recorded output of Country music during 2018. 

Sam Hunt achieved a run of 34 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs and the highest-charting country song on the Hot 100 singles in four years with his song “Body Like A Back Road” -  record-breaking and just when I thought that Bro-Country was a dying beast…

This year we saw the passing of some great artists in Glen Campbell, Don Williams, Greg Allman, Chuck Berry, D.L. Menard, Fats Domino and Tom Petty. They all brought so much inspiration and rich variety to what we define as Country/Folk/Roots music and in their own passing, give the torch to others to carry into a future that is always shaped by what has gone before.

Top 12 Albums of the year:

1 Aaron Watson Vaquero

This collection of great songs highlighted an artist who is still calling all the shots in his career and not accepting compromise on any front. A great listen on every level.

2 Willie Nelson God’s Problem Child

The voice is as distinctive as ever and the song-writing has never been quite as astute. This music legend tackles and reflects upon some of the big questions as he turned 84.    

3 Glen Campbell Adíos

A sad loss to the music world and this release was both poignant and sensitive to the failing health of a talent that has influenced so many and brought joy across the decades of a distinguished career.

4 Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway

A release of great power and righteous anger in reflecting on the African American experience over time passed. Intense and impressive in both construct and delivery.  

5 Chris Stapleton From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2

Outlaw Country artist that ticks all the boxes. Great songs and terrific playing that prove the quality of this musician and built upon the initial success of his Traveler debut in 2015.

6 Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Nashville Sound

A song collection that shows the continuing maturity of this song-writer and his ability  to deliver on all fronts. A superb live act and a recording artist of growing influence. 

7 Lee Ann Womack The Lonely, The Lonesome and The Gone 

Three years since her last release, Lee Ann returned with a work of enduring, timeless quality. Her vocal delivery continues to be her real strength and the songs are equally compelling.

8 Sara Evans Words

Another superb record from an artist who returned after a three-year hiatus. Excellent songs delivered with confidence and passion from a talent who remains one of the best singers in Country music.

9 The Sadies Northern Passages

Always a class act and very much revered within the industry for their ability to create powerful records and live performances. One of Canada’s finest.

10 Steve Earle So You Wanna Be An Outlaw

A return to his Country roots with a very strong collection of songs and a great band to deliver them. This is a very welcome return to form. 

11 Courtney Marie Andrews Honest Life

A release that took the critics by surprise with her mature reflections on life and love plus a voice that really commands attention.

12 Margo Price All American Made

Impressive follow-up to the success of her debut release last year. She proves her ability to write songs with a broad influence and her confidence has grown in the studio as a result of increasing success.

Top Emerging Artists of the year:

Lonesome Highway originally came into being as an ally for artists who are not internationally recognised and to provide a filter and platform upon which their music could gain a wider audience. 

This continues to be our central ethos and the following artists have been reviewed by me over the past year and their recent releases are deserving of a place in any music collection:

The Novel Ideas Self Titled

Sands & Hearne Time Is A Line

Ryne Doughty Date Night

Worry Dolls Go Get Gone

Susan Catteneo The Hammer & The Heart

I Draw Slow Your Face To The Sun

The Remedy Club Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes

Beki Hemingway Whins & Weather

Romantica Shadowlands

Jesse Waldman Mansion Full Of Ghosts

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards California Calling

The Wailin’ Jennies Fifteen


Various Artists The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson

Gillian Welch Boots No. 1

Dr. John The Atco Albums Collection

Tom Petty The Complete Studio Albums. Volumes: 1 & 2

Natalie Merchant The Natalie Merchant Collection 


Johnny Cash The Original Sun Albums (1957-1964)

Gene Clark The Lost Studio Sessions (1964 – 1982)

Fairport Convention Come All Ye: The First Ten Years 

George Jones Birth Of A Legend. The Truly Complete Starday & Mercury Recordings 1954 – 1961

Clifton Chernier Louisiana Stomp. Recordings 1954 – 1960

Elvis Presley A Boy From Tupelo: The Complete 1953 – 1955 Recordings


Best Live Gigs:

Margo Price The Button Factory

Maria McKee St Patrick’s Cathedral

James McMurtry Whelan’s

Hamell On Trial/Clive Barnes Whelan’s

Country 2 Country 3 Arena

Over The Rhine Unitarian Church

Jackson Browne Vicar Street 

Courtney Marie Andrews Whelan’s

Slim Cessna Auto Club Whelan’s

Jess Klein DC Club

Michael McDermott/Beki Hemingway DC Club

Eilen Jewell The Sound House


The year past was all the better for the introduction of many acts unknown to me twelve months ago. That six of these acts (Courtney Marie Andrews, Susto, Jade Jackson, Colter Wall, Zephaniah OHora and Rachael Baiman) made my favourite twenty albums of the year is testament to the strength of the industry in terms of emerging talent, notwithstanding the reality that the financial rewards are meagre for many artists, to say the least.

Fortunately, the live music scene in Dublin and further afield remains as vibrant as ever thanks to the work of the promoters, large and small, that continue to bring so many acts to Ireland despite the financial risks involved. The line up of visiting acts for the first half of 2018 is already incredible with Deep Dark Woods, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, This Is The Kit, Courtney Marie Andrews, Robyn Hitchcock, Marlon Williams, Lucas Nelson, Willy Vlautin, Mary Gauthier, Damian Jurado, Hays Caryll, The Weather Station, Beth Orton, The Mavericks, Nikki Lane, The Blasters, Jeff Tweedy, Joe Henry, Iron & Wire, Randy Newman and The Secret Sisters all on their way to our shores.

I was once again fortunate to attend some excellent festivals this year in Kilkenny, Nashville, Oberhausen and Groningen, each special it its own way and each reviewed on our website.

Thanks to our readers for all the support for our Website, Facebook Page and more recently our weekly Radio Show on 103.2 Dublin City FM. Our Facebook ‘friends’ have increased from 260 to well over 1000 over the past two years giving us both the audience and the encouragement to plough ahead. 

Finally, and most importantly, a mention for Willie Meighan of Rollercoaster Records and much more who passed away last November. Willie was hugely proactive in bringing so much live music to Kilkenny and farther afield and one of the organisers of Kilkenny Roots Festival for many years.  He will be sadly missed but never forgotten by all that had the pleasure of knowing him. 

Here’s to a great and music filled 2018!   

International Albums

1 Margo Price American Made

Equally impressive successor to her superb debut solo album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. Broad lens material this time around as Price goes more political and less personal.  

2 Courtney Marie Andrews Honest Life

Nine years since the release of her debut album and still only 26 years old, Honest Life is a deserved industry breakthrough which finally brought her music to a large audience.

3 Andrew Combs Canyons Of My Mind

Spirituality and environmental issues dominate recently married Combs most impressive work to date.  A much fuller sound to his previous work.          

4 Zephaniah OHora This Highway

No frills traditional honky tonk at its finest from the New York resident with nods in the direction of Merle Haggard and Dale Watson. 

5 Susto @I’m Fine Today

Dreamy psychedelic Americana from South Carolina’s Susto with a sound that pushes out the musical boundaries in many different directions.

6 Jim White Waffles, Triangles & Jesus

WT&J’s finds Jim White at his personal soul-searching best with humour and passion always close to the surface. Repeated listening advised.

7 Jade Jackson Gilded 

Stunning debut from yet another young artist whose career kicked off with punk and morphed into raw country. For Lucinda Williams lovers.

8 Lillie Mae Forever and Then Some 

Jack White’s sidekick and fiddle player lets loose with a dazzling mixture of pure country and roots aided by brother Frank and sisters Amber-Dawn and Scarlett 

9 Hurrah For The Riff Raff The Navigator

A change in direction for the most talented Alynda Segarra with this fine concept album revisiting in style her Puerto Rican roots and early childhood in Brooklyn. 

10 Colter Wall Self Titled

Maturity decades beyond his years for the 22-year-old Wall, riveting tales of anguish and survival Townes Van Zandt style. Exceptional song writing described by Steve Earle as the finest he’s come across in the past 25 years. 

11 The Weather Station Self Titled

Following on from the quality of Loyalty (2015), Tamara Lindeman seventh album finds her coming out of her shell somewhat with a more aggressive and rocky feel and sounding all the better for it. 

12 Lilly Hiatt Trinity Lane

A career best three albums in for Nashville’s Hiatt. It’s a gutsy, personal album that tackles family issues and insecurities, all wonderfully it has to be said. Chip off the old block.

13 Jason Isbell The Nashville Sound 

Probably the best pound for pound songwriter of his generation, Isbell completes a hat trick of classic albums following in the footsteps of Southeastern (2013) and Something More Than Free (2015)

14 John Blek Catharsis Vol.1

Conceived in a hospital bed while being treated for an unwelcomed virus the album copper fastens Blek as one of the country’s most creative and talented song writers.   

15 Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway

The strongest protest album of the year from an artist who is not only a classic musician and vocalist but can now also add songwriter to those credentials.

16 Malojian Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home

No easy pigeon hole to categorise Stevie Scullion so let’s call this splendid album Americana for the purpose of including it here. A joy from start to finish.

17 Dori Freeman Letters Never Read

Business as usual for Freeman following her debut album released in 2016. Her stunning crystal-clear vocal is the show stopper once more. Produced by Teddy Thompson it also includes contributions from Aoife O’Donovan, Neal Casal and Kacy & Clayton. 

18 My Darling Clementine Still Testifying

Another gem from surely the most under rated UK act. Gorgeous vocal harmonies from Michael Weston King and Lou Dalglish who add a bit of blues this time around to their classic country sound.

19 Rachel Baiman Shame 

Proving that she’s more than a fiddle and banjo virtuoso, Baiman’s debut album Shame combines stunning playing with hardnosed lyrics that immediately brings to mind the work of Gillian Welch. 

20 The Deep Dark Woods Yarrow

After a four-year break Ryan Boldt and crew return with dark southern gothic tales beautifully delivered by his band and enhanced once more by some gorgeous backing vocals by Kacy Anderson (of Kacy and Clayton fame)


Irish Albums:

1 John Blek Catharsis Vol.1

2 Malojian Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home

3 Holly Macve Golden Eagle

4 Seamus Fogarty The Curious Hand

5 Jack Lukeman Magic Days 

6 The Remedy Club Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes

7 Richie Healy The Perilous Tree

8 Dovecote Self-Titled 

9 Marlene Enright Placemats & Second Cuts

10 Lankum Beneath The Earth & Sky



1 Hurrah For The Riff Raff Take Root, Groningen

2 Drive By Truckers Cannery Row, Nashville

3 Margo Price Button Factory, Dublin

4 Courtney Marie Andrews Whelan’s, Dublin

5 Peter Bruntnell & Band Cleeres, Kilkenny

6 J.P.Harris Mercy Lounge, Nashville

7 Lillie Mae Third Man Records, Nashville

8 Aaron Lee Tasjan Yee Haw Tent, Nashville

9 Lilly Hiatt Third Man Records, Nashville

10 Danny & The Champions of the World Static Roots Festival 

11 Rhiannon Giddens Whelan’s Dublin

12 Jim White with Clive Barnes Whelan’s, Dublin

13 Aimee Mann National Stadium, Dublin

14 John Prine with Amanda Shires Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

15 Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles Static Roots Festival 

16 Andrew Combs Cleeres Kilkenny

17 Western Centuries Billy, Byrnes, Kilkenny

18 Brandy Clark/Jim Lauderdale Sugar Club, Dublin

19 Chuck Prophet Errigle Inn, Belfast

20 Zephaniah OHora Mercy Lounge, Nashville



Gigs Of The Year (This list is in no particular order):

1 Merlefest 2017 North Carolina

2 Jimmy Webb St James Church, London

3 Courtney Marie Andrews Bangor

4 John Prine & Sturgill Simpson Letterkenny

5 Karine Polwart A Pocket Of Wind Resistance Belfast Festival

6 James McMurtry Real Music Club, Belfast

7 Dale Ann Bradley UAFP Bluegrass & Old Time Festival, Omagh

8 Jackson Browne Vicar Street

9 Tristan & Jeff Scroggins Ardara Bluegrass Festival 

10 Margo Price & Aaron Lee Tasjan Celtic Connections, Glasgow


Ten Good Reason to Visit Kilkenny Rhythm & Roots Festival


Kilkenny Roots Festival is fast approaching and Lonesome Highway look forward to another May weekend of quality music, renewed friendships and lots more - for many reasons. Here are ten for starters.

Smithwick’s Music Trail

The Music Trail or ‘freebies’ are a vital ingredient of what makes Roots weekend so memorable annually and this year the festival organisers have surpassed themselves with the quality of artists and acts on offer. The difficulty for the punter is getting around The Marble City to take in as many as possible. This year’s trail includes Peter Bruntnell and Band playing four shows, yes four folks, in what could be a test of stamina and staying power for one of Kilkenny’s favourite adopted sons. It’s fair to say that Peter Bruntnell would most likely have sold out The Set Theatre had he been scheduled to perform there so do not miss the opportunity to witness, on at least one occasion, one of UK’s finest songwriters of the past decade. Also performing on four occasions over the weekend are Mothers Little Helpers, one of a number of projects associated with James Walbourne. Regarded as the premier UK guitarist of his generation, Walbourne’s other commitments include touring with The Pretenders and of course as a member with his wife Kami Thompson of The Rails who stole the show at Roots a couple of years back. Billy Byrnes pub on the Sunday afternoon of the festival is not the place to meet for afternoon tea or a quiet pint. Trouble Pilgrims have become resident there in recent years delivering their full on, punky, raucous sound, carrying on the tradition of their former lives as The Radiators from Space, the finest punk / new wave band from these shores. Winners of The Lonesome Highway’s coveted ‘best dressed band’ at last year’s festival, The Pilgrims will be expected to defend that accolade in style again this year. Kilkenny is also well represented by two acts that the locals get to see on a regularly. TV Jones and The Tomahawks live shows are always a festival highlight particularly on their home territory in Ryan’s Bar. Fronted by the coolest of cool Mr. Jimi Conroy these boys are the heart and soul of the festival but get to Ryans early or you won’t get in the door. For those that have the staying power to be still standing on the Monday evening The Barfly’s are a must. The locals get to see these guys perform every Sunday night at The Pumphouse so stay around to sample one of the most talented bunch of musicians with a huge repertoire of material to choose from. 

Carter Sampson

Not surprisingly the first act to sell out this year, The Queen of Oklahoma finally gets to perform in Ireland. A favourite of Lonesome Highway for some while Carter has the voice, the songs and the stories to have you checking out her back catalogue of outstanding albums.  

Holly Macre

The organisers of the festival have a happy knack of booking artists before they make an industry breakthrough and are still relatively unknown. Alabama Shakes, Duke & The King and Jason Isbell come to mind and they have struck gold again with Holly Macre, the Galway born UK resident. The twenty-one-year-old may have been a new name to many when invited to play Roots some months ago but has since been receiving rave reviews for her stunning and quite unique album Golden Eagle and her performances at SXSW in Austin in March, the second year in succession that she appeared at that festival.

Western Centuries

The opening act at any festival often sets the scene for what is to follow and needs careful consideration. Kicking off the festivities this year are Western Centuries a collaboration of three singer songwriters, talented blue grassers together with bass, pedal steel and drums. Their 2016 album Weight of the World featured in Lonesome Highway’s Best of 2016 so expect meticulous playing, harmonies to die for and bundles of fun. 

The Americans

It says a lot when you’ve appeared of The Late Show with David Letterman and T.Bone Burnett hails you as one of his favourite live bands. Welcome to The Americans whose rocking take on the American songbook will no doubt send us home sweating.

The Handsome Family

No longer have a band with a cult following The Handsome Family finally made the industry breakthrough they richly deserve following the selection of Far From Any Road as the theme song for the TV blockbuster True Detective. Even more satisfying is the fact that they have not  veered from or diluted their style since reaching a larger audience. Further evidence for under the radar and  fringe acts  that they can make it to the next level with a spot of good fortune 

Yola Carter

You could be forgiven for assuming Yola Carter hailed from Memphis Tennessee given her powerful unadulterated country soul vocal. Voted UK Artist of The Year at The AMA UK Awards this year, the former lead singer with Phantom Limb actually hails from Bristol and is another artist featured in the festival that has the potential to carve out a prolonged and successful industry career.

Joan Shelley

There is a gentle and somewhat understated quality to the music of Kentucky resident Joan Shelley. Breezy folk melodies delivered with a hypnotic vocal style that can silence a room in an instant. 

Rollercoaster Records

A visit to Kilkenny at any time of the year demands a visit to Rollercoaster Records (The happiest little record shop in the world!) and at Roots weekend it is the festival hub. Expect to rub shoulders with artists, locals, annual visitors and the proprietor Willie Meighan who plays a major role in the organisation of the festival together with promoting the stellar acts that play Kilkenny every other month of the year. Willie is more than ably assisted by Dave Holland who manages to keep smiling despite the pressures of his other commitments as sound engineer at many of the gigs over the weekend and killer guitarist with local band The Barflys. Gareth Kehoe, who promotes gigs in Waterford, is the latest addition to the music heads that manage this treasured outlet.  Be sure to grab a few albums when you’re in there too from his extensive selection.  

The Craic

Regardless of who performs at the festival the overall atmosphere is fun, comradery and friendship in the picturesque streets and many, many pubs and venues throughout the city.  So many lasting friendships have originated at the festival particularly from the overseas visitors who return each year be it from England, Scotland or further afield. The festival is financed on a tiny budget by the organisers who invest so much time and effort to host the best music small festival bar none. Lonesome Highway looks forward to renewing old acquaintances, hearing some great music and having the craic again this year. See you all there!


Review Of The Year 2016



Country Music, Roots Music,  Americana,  Ameripolitan- call it what you will. How do you, do we, define the music we listen to (and review)? When we started out doing Lonesome Highway it looked like we were able to cover all the bases. All the music we liked that seemed to fit our remit, but now I’m not so sure. Much of what is called ”country music” these days bears no relationship to the music I love and my personal definition of it.  Yet that music that first drew me in is still out there. The list below is a testament to that.  As long as I can remember there has not been a year without a significant number of albums that fulfil my need to listen to music that meant something on some level. Some are staunchly traditional in nature and could have been made anytime over the last several decades, while others have taken the form and transposed it into something more contemporary while retaining the spirit of the music. 

Perhaps the C2C Festival was a perfect example of the range of music that now fits under the corporate “country” umbrella. From out and out pop and hard rock/soft metal to those who, on record, have elements of country music in their sound but live are a much more boisterous affair to the more traditional elements of the outstanding Ashley Monroe and the long-standing Bakersfield influenced sound of Dwight Yoakum.

‘Something for everyone’ it could be argued and certainly the most interesting line-up for C2C at that point. Yet one wonders how well it would have gone down if it had been aimed at one sector or another.  Perhaps there is an opening for more small stages to feature up coming acts of one strand or another - as happened in the London staging of the event.

One thinks back to the show in the then Point Theatre that was headlined by the very mainstream and crossover Reba McIntyre yet also featured Brad Paisley and Ricky Skaggs as well as Wayne Hancock and The Derailers on the bill (not to mention your Lonesome Highway team doing between act DJ work and stage announcements).  A truly wide ranging and cosmopolitan line-up. Showing that the music can be many faceted but still include artists who are normally on the fringes. But times and tastes change, though the feeling is that in the mainstream you get what they want you to hear and see rather than what you might want - or at least have a chance you might not otherwise have to see some of these acts.  Then at least you can make up your own mind.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR  (in no particular order):

Luke Bell Luke Bell

Honeycutters On The Ropes

Jack Ingram Midnight Motel

Cody Jinks I’m Not The Devil

Dori Freeman Dori Freeman

Western Centuries Weight Of The World 

Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms Innocent Road

Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Buddy Miller & Friends Cayamo Sessions At Sea

Dave Insley Just The Way That I Am

The Heresies I Want My Honky Tonk Back

The Cactus Blossoms Your Dreaming

All of these above albums stick close to an individual take on traditional country music.

Grant-Lee Philips The Narrows

Michael McDermott Willow Springs

Danny Schmidt Owls

The Handsome Family Unseen

Nate Currin The Madman And The Poet

Kacy & Clayton Strange Country

Teddy Thompson & Kelly Jones Little Windows

Jesse Dayton The Revealer

Reckless Kelly Sunset Motel

While these albums explore a broader context that includes story telling in a roots rock, folk or country-rock way.


They all share an integrity and vision that remains true to the artist rather than a enforced PR idea of

what might sell in quantity or gain airplay on what is currently passing for “country radio” in the main.

They all deserve to but most likely won’t.


Gigs Of the Year

Lindi Ortega - Whelans, Dublin

Michael McDermott - Whelans, Dublin

The Cactus Blossoms  - Rough Trade, New York City

Blue Rodeo - Grand Social, Dublin

Chris Stapelton - C2C, Dublin

Ashley Monroe - C2C, Dublin

Joe Ely - BB King Club, New York City



2016 was a ruthless year in the music industry, taking the lives of Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Sharon Jones, Prince, Leon Russell and Glen Fry in the space of ten months.

By way of contradiction 2016 offered, for me, most probably the finest output of music, across many genres for many a year, resulting in an altogether challenging task of selecting year of end album, song and concert highlight lists. 

After much deliberation and mind changing my favourites in order of preference were: 

The Albums:

Richmond Fontaine You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

Fittingly bowing out with a piece of work to match their best, Willy Vlautin both revisited characters from previous albums and introduced us to other unfortunate and desperate individuals. A brilliant swansong.

Margo Price Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Wonderful autobiographical tales delivered with honesty from an artist virtually unheard of twelve months ago. A true indication of what perseverance and belief in oneself can achieve, it took a lot of rejection before Jack White’s Third Man Records recognised the quality and signed Price to their label. 

Peter Bruntnell Nos Da Camrade

Possibly a career best from Bruntnell, one of the UK’s finest songwriters for many years. Equalling the dizzy heights of his 2002 classic Normal for Bridgwater. 

Dori Freeman Dori Freeman

Breath of fresh air from the 25-year-old from Virginia. Simple, crystal clear vocals, crafted song writing and fortunately benefiting from not being over produced.  

Neko Case, kd lang, Laura Veirs Case, Lang, Veirs

More than the sum of their parts, the challenge offered to them resulted in a piece of work to match any of their individual releases. 

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles Soon Enough

Soon Enough found the young Nashville resident Rae out front rather than contributing backing vocals to other’s music. Beautifully delivered vocals and equally impressive songs from one of the finds of 2016.

Ryley Walker Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

Appropriate successor to 2015’s Primrose Green with Walker in more experimental form with his hypnotic mix of folk, psychedelic and free form jazz.

Carter Sampson Wilder Side

Finally making a deserved breakthrough in Europe the artist known as The Queen of Oklahoma repeats the high standard of her 2011 recording Mockingbird Sing.

Drive-By Truckers American Band

There most complete and strongest album since The Dirty South (2004) with the band tackling current thorny political issues and in particular racism. Not simply a protest album but one that questions with much concern what is exactly happening presently in their home country.

Marlon Williams Marlon Williams

The 24-year-old New Zealander’s debut album is a blend of Scott Walker vocals and Tim Buckley emotions with lashings of country twang on the side. It’s a lot of fun too!

Aoife O’Donovan In The Magic Hour

Delightful introspective concept album reflecting on freedom, childhood and mortality. The work in particular found O’Donovan exploring her Irish roots following the passing of her grandfather in Clonakilty, Cork where she spent many summers as a child.

 The Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust

Featuring the line-up that appeared on Rainy Day Music in 2003, it’s business as usual with songs, harmonies and melodies to match that 2003 classic. 

Lucinda Williams The Ghost of Highway 20

More than a mere survivor, Williams has continued to challenge herself in recent years to attain the perfection she always strives for. The Ghost of Highway 20, in a similar vein to 2014’s Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, more than reaches her high standards. The common denominator on her current double album, is Interstate 20 which runs between Texas and Georgia and the various locations in between that inspired some of the most personal songs written by her.

Jim Lauderdale This Changes Everything

Back to basics for the prolific Lauderdale with a ‘country’ album afters 2015’s venture into Memphis soul with Soul Searching

Daniel Romano Mosey

Nudie suit replaced by a sombrero for Romano’s latest which experiments with a sound closer to the Mexican border than Nashville but which works every bit as well as his previous impressive output. 

John Blek Cut The Light

Quality set of songs from the prolific young Cork songwriter. More laid back than his work as leader of John Blek and The Rats and displaying an ability to pen classic folk songs with traditional leanings as well as the fuller sound of his writing with his band.

Aaron Lee Tasjan Silver Tears

An artist with the ability to amuse as well as excite the listener with his skills as a songwriter, musician and indeed performer. Silver Tears is a further indication as to why comparisons are being made with big hitters Todd Snider and Hayes Caryll. 

Amanda Shires My Piece of Land

A mature and reflective recording from an artist that improves album on album. Shires and her husband Jason Isbell appear to be both benefiting in creative terms since their marriage. Long may it last.

Elizabeth Cook Exodus of Venus

Reflection on a period of personal turmoil, Cook has produced an album that compares with her best, often dealing with painful and personal issues. Not anywhere as much twang as her previous work but from the heart and with Dharma Gate she has recorded one of the most beautiful songs of the year.

Hayes Caryll Lovers & Leavers

Personal stories closer to home than on his previous albums but every bit as impressive from one of the most talented song writers in the Americana genre.  


 Gene Clark  American Dreamer 1964-1974

Superb body of work featuring twenty four tracks from The Byrds, Dillard and Clark, The Flying Burritos and Clark’s solo work. 

Gillian Welch Revival

A thrilling revisitation of her debut album.


The Shows:

Margo Price at the Deaf Institute, Manchester

Jason Isbell at the O2 ABC Glasgow

Richmond Fontaine at St. Patricks Gateway, Waterford

Dori Freeman at Cannery Row, Nashville

Natalie Merchant at The Olympia, Dublin

Dylan LeBlanc at The Anchor, Nashville

Peter Bruntnell at Ryan’s, Kilkenny

Giant Sand at Whelan’s, Dublin

Marlon Williams at The Mercy Lounge, Nashville

Hayes Caryll at The Set, Kilkenny



The Year in Review – 2016

It is a well-worn statement that reminds us “constant change is here to stay” and nothing could ring more true when I look at the state of things across the broad spectrum that is classed as Country Music today.

We have the similar adage that “change is good”, so as things move on, you would expect that they improve over time…

Well, when the year ends with Beyoncé appearing onstage at the CMA Awards singing with the reformed Dixie Chicks (watch out Trump) and Garth Brooks wins Entertainer of the Year at the same headline event; you just have to wonder…

At least there was due recognition for Dolly Parton with a Lifetime Achievement Award and for Randy Travis who appeared onstage for the first time in public since his stroke to rapturous applause. Signs that the industry hasn’t lost all its’ class yet…

Sadly, Country music radio is choking the life out of the Industry with restricted play lists and no opportunity for new artists to have their music heard across the U.S.A.

I think back to Elvis and the impact he had in the 1950’s when rockabilly changed the way that teenagers listened to what was the Country sound of the time. 

Forward to the Eagles in the 1970’s and the introduction of a commercial rock sound into what was popularised as Country-Rock.

Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw gave us big-hat stadium country into the 1990’s and in the last decade everything exploded with other musical genres crossing over into country territory as the urban shift to the big cities continued at a pace for the next generations of rural kids who grew up listening to their Parents’ record collections.

Country Rap and hip-hop influences have been emerging with plenty of looped beats and hard driving syncopated rhythms and synth drums filling out the sound of many contemporary country music artists.

At least Bro-Country seems to have run out of road and all those trucks where everything was supposed to happen have ground to a halt and started to rust – good riddance!! 

The future will certainly be different to anything we can imagine but whether country music ever returns to its’ roots is highly debatable. In the year where we lost the legendary Merle Haggard perhaps the past is better left where it was & that is in the past …

 Top 12 Albums of the year:

 The Ghosts of Highway 20 - Lucinda Williams

 The queen of bittersweet reflection is still calling the shots with this compelling 2-disc release 

Down To My Last Bad Habit - Vince Gill

 The voice is as pure as ever and the soulful playing just reminds me how good he has always been. Pure class.

You Can’t Go Back If There Is Nothing To Go Back To - Richmond Fontaine

 Wonderful music and a storyteller’s gift for lyrical narrative. This wonderful band called it a day this year but what a way to bow out.

Reckless - Martina McBride

Back to her best with the first release in 5 years. This veteran of the microphone can still sing most of the opposition into a country cocked hat.

The Things That We Are Made Of  - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Call her Folk or call her Country, Mary still holds the contemporary crown for literary song-writing and sweetly sourced melody.  A real gem.

The Weight of These Wings - Miranda Lambert

Her body of work is building nicely and this was the sign of a mature woman coming out of the crowd of young developing artists to deliver a song collection that is both moving and of enduring quality.

American Band - Drive-By Truckers 

Still a distance above any pretenders to their throne. The riffs and rhythms are as strong as ever and the songs hit hard with an angry political statement about the state of the U.S.A. One of their best.

In The Magic Hour - Aoife O’Donovan

 An excellent song collection from this blossoming talent which puts her into the Premier League of ‘ones to watch’.

Exodus Of Venus - Elizabeth Cook

 What a strong return after a 6-year absence. Songs that visit deeply personal matters are addressed with plenty of grit and rousing sassy class.

Little Seeds - Shovels & Rope

Always a joy to listen to this duo who have delivered another strong collection of songs that have swagger and passion.

Robert Ellis - Robert Ellis  

 A very under-rated song-writer who delivers another quality album filled with life lessons and reflection.

Scheherazade - Freakwater

First release in 11 years and what a wonderful example of classy mature song-writing and harmony singing from 2 ladies on the dark side of Country introspection.


Emerging artists:

All the following artists have been reviewed by Lonesome Highway over the past year and are deserving of a place in any music collection. Terrific releases, one ‘n’ all;

Long Time Leaving - Christa Couture

Starlight Highway - Corinne West

Muscle and Bone - Peter Gallway

The Poet and the Rose - Buford Pope

Soon Enough - Erin Rae & the Meanwhiles

Fall Away Blues - Red Tail Ring

Color Wheel - Jenai Huff

Fairweather - Roger Roger

Follow Me Moon - Mia Rose Lynne

Tears and Laughter - Robin Greenstein

Tree - Anna Elisabeth Laub

The Wayside - Kelley McRae


Gretchen Peters - Essential

Blue Rodeo - 1987 to 1993. Eight disc treasure chest.

Emmylou Harris - The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris

Eddi Reader - The Blanco Y Negro Years. Five discs of real quality.


Van Morrison - It’s Too Late to Stop Now (Expanded edition with DVD. Essential)

Steve Earle - Guitar Town (30th Anniversary edition)

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris - The Complete Trio Collection

Various Artists - The Last Waltz (40th Anniversary edition)

Live Gigs

Patty Griffin - The Olympia. January

Krista Detor - Ballymore Eustace. February

Eddi Reader - The Pavillion. February

Blue Rodeo - The Grand Social. May

Doug Paisley - Whelans. June

Lera Lynn - Whelans. June

Carlene Carter - Whelans. June

Country 2 Country - 3 Arena. June

Freakwater - Whelans. October

Richmond Fontaine - Whelans. October



Songs of the Year:

God is a Working Man - Jason Isbell

Burning House - Cam

Friend of the Devil - Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley

Pushin’ Time - Miranda Lambert

No More Crying The Blues - Cactus Blossoms

All Blue - Luke Bell

Rum - Brothers Osborne

Ain’t Nobody - Dori Freeman

Story - Drake White (acoustic live)

Train of Time - Shakin’ Stevens (apocalyptic white gospel from an unlikely source)

Albums of the Year:

The Weight of These Wings - Miranda Lambert

Southern Family - Various Artists

I’m Coming Over - Chris Young

For Better, or Worse - John Prine & Various Duet Guests

El Camino - Frankie Ballard

Young In All The Wrong Ways - Sara Watkins

Swimming Pools, Movie Stars - Dwight Yoakam

New City Blues - Aubrie Sellers

Rattle & Roar - Earls of Leicester

North By South - Claire Lynch

Gig of the Year:

The Alvins - Whelans, Dublin

Disappointment of the year: Chronic over-production – Jay Joyce totally messed up Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town just as busbee 

over-decorated Maren Morris’ otherwise excellent Hero. Both these albums would have made my top 10 list otherwise. Producers 

should try to live by the maxim that it is helping the artist, not show off the producer’s ego and pet signature sound.


Ronnie Norton

Best Gigs in date order

Sturgill Simpson - Button Factory, January

Lindy Ortega - Grand Social January

Chris Stapleton/Ashley Monroe/Dwight Yoakum - C2C 3 Arena, March

Dierks Bentley - Olympia,  April 

Lera Lynn - Whelans, June

Phil Vassar - Whelans, June

Hot Club of Cowtown - Sugar Club, October 

Donal Lunny and Mick Hanly - Conservative Club, November

Plus, too many class acts to mention at each

Shannonside Festival - Six Mile Bridge Winter

Galway Arts Festival - Galway Summer

Omagh Bluegrass Festival - Omagh  

Best Albums 2016 (I can’t even begin to number rate them)

They are all special in their own way and I suppose I wrote them as they came to mind so that might be a sort of listing.

We Banjo 3 - Galway String Theory

Planxty - Between the Jigs and the Reels - A Retrospective

Special Consensus - Long I Ride

Earls of Leicester - Rattle and Roar

Dolly Parton/Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt - Complete Trio Collection

Band of Ruhks - Band of Ruhks

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - The Country Blues

Claire Lynch - North by South

Blue Highway - Original Traditional

Time Jumpers - Little Sister 

John Prine - For Better or Worse

Del McCoy - Del and Woody

Cup O’Joe - Bluebirds

Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms - Innocent Road

Sarah Jarosz - Undercurrent

Tyler Grant - Earth And Wood

O’Connor Band - Coming Home

Balsam Range - Mountain Voodoo

Cathal Hayden - Hooked On Banjo

Fireball Mail - Bending The Rails  

20 here and I could easily hit another 20. Bluegrass, crossover country/trad and straight folk they made for an amazing year of great listens.  

All of the above and so many more that I haven’t listed are the staple music of my Ronnie Norton - Lonesome Highway radio shows on 

www.cmrnashville.com and www.worldwidebluegrass.com check the websites for broadcast times.