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 and check the websites for broadcast times.


Albums of the Year and More 2015

We here at Lonesome Highway would like to take the opportunity to thank all the Artists, Labels, PR companies, Promoters, Agents, Crews and Venue Staff for their support throughout the year in facilitating interviews, album and live reviews.

We also wanted to thank those who visit Lonesome Highway during the year. Happy Trails to you all.

Stephen Rapid’s 2015 

Reading about country music one soon learns that from almost the start there were complaints that country music was changing and moving away from its roots. One of the most profound of these was when Chet Atkins introduced the countrypolitan cross over sounds at the expense of fiddle and steel guitar in order to increase market share and to combat the incursion of rock 'n' roll to a younger audience. Looking back artists like Patsy Cline and Ray Price, amongst others, now seem a part of the tapestry. Indeed some of the artists who appeared in the '90s and were considered to be cross over sound much more "country" now in the light of some the recent output from Music Row and radio. However I would think that many of those artists were being swayed by the dictates of their labels  - who, in truth, have also been about the fiscal bottom line. The business of the music business has always predominated.

But if you look and listen there has always been good music out there. Often on the fringes, in the shadows and either self-released or on small indie labels. Some like New West and the distribution company Thirty Tigers in the US or Loose closer to home still have an aesthetic and purpose that centres around releasing good music. What exactly good music is will always be an open question. What we set out to cover in Lonesome Highway from its inception has become much broader as the definitions of what is Roots or Americana is open to very subjective interpretation. In the coming year we will try to get a little closer to our core remit which means that out and out blues, soul or indie will likely find less space on the site. 

As these lists below show we have broad and open minded attitudes to the music we love and hope to continue to receive and write about it.

So 10 albums of the year no particular order:

Sam Outlaw Angeleno

A smooth and attractive sound from the California native whose Ry Cooder produced album is one I have returned to often. His sound draws on classic country but feels very much of its time.

Lindi Ortega Faded Gloryville

The spiky Canadian has broadened her sound but her songs and distinctive voice never stray too far from the hardcore country she loves.

Sarah Gayle Meech Tennessee Love Song

Nashville based honky tanker has her album produced by Hank 3 steel guitar player Andy Gibson who get a memorable performance from Meech and the assembled musicians. This has very little in common with whats coming down the pike in Music Row.

Chris Stapelton The Traveller

At first I wasn’t totally convinced by the hype but soon came to regards its mix of country, soul and other elements, all delivered in a voice for the ages, as fairly essential.

Jason Isbell Something More Than Free

In some ways the last album hit home harder but this is a more than worthy follow up and expands Isbell’s reach as a genre defining roots artist.

Jason James Self-Titled

Debut of the year from a outstanding news artist who along with the likes of Mo Bandy is showing a clean pair of heels to the would be contenders when it comes to country music with integrity.

Ryan Bingham Fear and Saturday Night

The best album to date from the gravel voiced Americana man. This album brings together the various strands of his music so far in one satisfying whole.

Daniel Romano If I've Only One Time Askin'

A nod to countrypolitan and classic era country that adds his own unique and slightly surrealistic touch to the proceedings.

The Rizdales Blue Ain't The Word

They take on a legend by covering a selection of week and lesser know Ray Price songs but do it my being themselves and also being respectful to the songs. A very fine tribute album.

Ethan Johns Silver Liner

The latest album by producer, songwriter and singer Johns utilises a tight musical combo that includes steel guitarist BJ Cole and some guest including Gillian Welch to great effect. An album that should not be overlooked.

No ten albums can really sum up a year so here's a list of some of the other albums that on a different day would be up there:

Cale Tyson Introducing

Dwight Yoakam Second Hand Heart

Daniel Meade Keep Right Away

Phil Lee Some Gotta Love

Malpass Brothers Self-Titled

Ashley Monroe The Blade

Nora Jane Struthers Wake

James McMurtry Complicated Games

Eilen Jewell Sundowner Ghost Town

Joe Ely Panhandle Rambler

Rod Picott Fortune

Speedbuggy USA South of Bakersfield

Top Gigs:

JP Harris and the Tough Choices at Whelans

The Grahams at The Naul

Jim Lauderdale at Whelans

Best live album:

Greg Trooper Live At The Red Room


Ronnie Norton Top Albums 2015

Here’s my top ten in no particular order. 

Gibson Brothers Brotherhood

A tribute to brother harmonies from the best brother band around today in any genre. It’s a keeper.

Adkins & Loudermilk  Adkins & Loudermilk

Dave Adkins and Edgar Loudermilk have been ploughing separate Bluegrass furrows for a few years now. This is their first joint venture and their stunning vocals alone make this a must for this years list.

Maples Brothers  Malpass Brothers.

I met these two retro dressed, young Elvis lookalikes at the Omagh Bluegrass festival a couple of years ago. Was blown away by their southern charm and retro country sound. The fact that have opened for Merle for the past while is recommendation enough for most folks.

Dale Ann Bradley Pocket Full Of Keys

Another Omagh buddy of mine. And she just keeps on turning out albums that if she were not in Bluegrass would have her up there with any of the female rock superstars. She’s a Bluegrass superstar.

Various Artists Orthophonic Joy

This Carl Jackson produced revisit to the 1927 Bristol Sessions has a cast of Bluegrass and Country superstars and is one for the archives. Carl jackson continues to astound all with his production skills.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge Snapshots

This young husband and wife team have sneaked in over the last few years to become true Bluegrass superheroes. I’ve been a huge fan for ages and Brooke’s voice is one of the best I’ve ever heard in any genre.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out It’s About Tyme 

I have 15 lllrd Tyme out albums in my collection but this one stands head and shoulders above the others. Vocal, instrumentation and song choice are all superb and it’s a constant companion on my iPod when I need a musical lift.

Donna Ulisse Hard Cry Moon

Donna and a cast of Bluegrass A-Listed musicians take a set of Donna’s own compositions and co-writes and deliver yet another amazing album that is almost on constant rotation on my leisure listening.

The Cox Family Gone Like The Cotton

In my eyes the Cox Family can do no wrong musically. We almost lost them to a very serious motor accident in 2000 but when Producer Alison Krauss found and reworked these songs from a lost Asylum album it felt like all my Christmases had come at once.

Chris Stapleton Traveller   

I’m lucky enough to have been a fan of this guy from his Steeldriver days but now I have to share him with the world. One listen is all you need to see why he has blown the Nashville Country thinking out of the water and is the shining light on Country Music’s road to recovery. Looking forward to seeing him live at C2C in march.

Sandy Harsch Top Albums 2015

Kacey Musgraces Pagent Material

Chris Stapleton Traveller

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams Self Titled

Gretchen Peters Blackbirds

Don Henley Cass County

Ashley Monroe The Blade

David Rawlings Machine Nashville Overload

The Grahams Glory Bound

Amy Space The Killer In Me

Eilen Jewell Sundowner Ghost Town

Best compilation:

Alan Jackson Genuine


Paul McGees 2015

As the Music Industry continues to reinvent itself, post MP3 and illegal download controversies, we have seen another year of change.

Streaming has become the most favoured means of listening to music among the present generation and this development has seen the numbers of paid record sales continue to shrink. This has been the defining new direction regarding music consumption.

With Taylor Swift taking on Spotify on behalf of countless artists who rely increasingly on links to Facebook, Twitter and You Tube to maintain their tenuous careers, the changes experienced in Country Music have been far reaching. Album sales have fallen by 36% since 2008 and this hits the industry hard across all ages, income brackets and markets. 

With increasingly blurred lines between pop and country music the contemporary sound has moved further towards Bro-Country with songs about girls, beer and trucks being produced on the back of syncopated rhythms, more heavy beat grooves and an increased reliance on technology to develop a new sound. We even have rapped verses creeping into the song structures with new artists collaborating with Hip Hop artists to broaden the genre even wider. 

Where it will all end is anybody’s guess; perhaps a swing back to traditional country is too much to wish for as the new pop/urban influence mirrors the changing cultural landscape. Gone is the predominantly agrarian life of the rural communities who survived on the land and in their place has grown a brash, partying, sense of entitlement among the modern youth who like their music with attitude.

Time passes and we must embrace change. Even if the Country music of yesterday is no longer relevant to today there is still a place for roots based musicians to carry the torch without opting for loops and sampled sounds. 

The playing field has been mainly populated by newcomers such as Sam Hunt, Kip Moore, Thomas Rhett, Sam Outlaw, Mo Pitney, Luke Bryan and others, who have dominated new sales.

However, the old guard continue to put up a righteous fight as proven by new releases from Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Dave & Phil Alvin, Reba McEntire and Joe Ely to name a few.

One thing is certain; we all still listen to the radio and a great song still holds sway over other contenders to the crown of what makes Country music so special. 

Top 10 Country/Folk/Roots releases for the year are as follows;

  1. Tom Russell - Rose of Roscrae
  2. James McMurtry - Complicated Game
  3. Shelby Lynne - I Can't Imagine
  4. Alison Moorer - Down To Believing
  5. Ryan Bingham - Fear & Saturday Night
  6. Patty Griffin - Servant of Love
  7. Lone Bellow - Then Came the Morning
  8. Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
  9. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds
  10. Dar Williams - Emerald

Top gigs during the year were;

  1. The Lone Bellow at Whelan’s (July)
  2. Greg Brown at Whelan’s (February)
  3. Patty Griffin at Whelan’s (September)
  4. Tom Russell at Whelan’s (September)
  5. Mary Gauthier at the Button Factory (May)
  6. Chuck Brodsky at the DC Club (July)

Best live recordings were;

Drive By Truckers - It's Great to be Alive 

Blue Rodeo - Live at Massey Hall

Best compilation / retrospective;

Chris Smither - Still on the Levee

Cowboy Junkies – Notes Falling Slow

Top 10 unknown artists  - 2015 releases;

  1. Brock Zeman - Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil's Back 
  2. 3hattrio - Dark Desert Night 
  3. Sugar Brown - Poor Lazarus 
  4. Canaan Smith - Bronco 
  5. Jen Starsinic – The Flood & the Fire
  6. Kevin Sekhani - Day Ain't Done 
  7. Jami Lynn - Fall is a Good Time to Die 
  8. Hat Check Girl - At 2 in the Morning 
  9. Krista Detor – Barely
  10. Norma McDonald – Burn the Tapes


Declan Culliton’s 2015

The past year has been personally the most rewarding music wise for quite some time. The year kicked off in some style with a trip to Glasgow in January for a weekend of Celtic Connection shows. Allison Moorer, Lambchop and Calexico performing on consecutive nights proved to be the attraction together with the opportunity to reunite with many UK friends who attend the Kilkenny Roots festival every May weekend.

March arrived with an invitation from the good folk at Lonesome Highway to contribute to their wonderful magazine. The involvement with the magazine over the past nine months has introduced me to numerous outstanding bands and artists who operate slightly under the radar particularly in the album review section of Lonesome Highway

 The Kilkenny Roots Festival in May rewarded the annual pilgrimage to the Marble City with a mouth-watering line up which included the Country ballads of Cale Tyson, English folk beautifully delivered by The Rails, Mexican styled mariachi from Calexico and the upbeat and punky Trouble Pilgrims among many others. The festival is, for me, the premier Roots festival in Europe bringing quality bands and artists performing in intimate venues to appreciative audiences. It also affords the opportunity to renew acquaintances with the locals and the annual visitors who travel from the UK, Belfast and every corner of Ireland to enjoy the weekend every year. 

Returning to Nashville in September for the Americana Music Festival was another highlight of 2015 and featured in the Live Reviews section of Lonesome Highway in October.

I’ve listed below my personal favourite albums and gigs of 2015 below and already look forward to what promises to be another bumper year for gigs and albums in 2016.

The Albums

1.David Corley – Available Light

Somethings are worth waiting for. David Corley waited until the ripe age of 53 to release an album that probably would have been my album of the year for the past decade. Harrowing, desperate and liberating in equal measures.

2.Samantha Crain – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

The title folk singer is too easily bandied around and often used in an incorrect context. No truer description could be used to describe the work of Samantha Crain who writes and sings about the day to day struggles of the ordinary and often unfortunate. She has never done it better than on this recording.

3.Ryley Walker – Primrose Green

An experimentation in the British folk genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s resulted in this gem from Ryley Walker. Primrose Green recalls the work of John Martyn, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Van Morrison 

4.Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

United opinion from country, Americana and rock critics as one of the best albums of the year, an achievement in itself from one of the most talented songwriters of his era. Can articulate in one sentence what can take others a chapter to achieve.

5. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love

Beautifully written dealing with heartache and relationship break up in particular. Striped back sound with some splendid atmospheric trumpet playing by Ephraim

6. Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete 

A worthy successor the Rawling’s excellent Friend of a Friend from 2009. The highlight being the eleven minute masterpiece The Trip.

7. John Blek & The Rats - Borders

Superb second album from Ireland’s premier Americana band. Had the track Funeral Home being written by Jason Isbell it probably would be Grammy nominated!

8. James Mc Murtry – Complicated Games

A career highlight from Mc Murtry. Twelve stories delivered with his deadpan vocal, particular favourites being Copper Canteen and Carlisle’s Haul

9. Ashley Munroe – The Blade

Equal in quality to her excellent debut album Like a Rose. Hugely under rated songwriter and unrivalled, for me, as the best female country vocalist at present.

10. Nora Jane Struthers – Wave

More rocky and less country than her previous album Carnival perhaps but a solid, mature piece of work from the former member of bluegrass band Bearfoot. 

11. Lilly Hiatt – Royal Blue

Being the offspring of musically talented parentage can often be a handicap. Not the case listening to this gem from Lilly Hiatt with an edgy and enough twang sound to satisfy both the Country and Americana lovers

12. Gretchen Peters – Blackbirds 

Business as usual from here with this outstanding album equalling the quality of 2012’s Hello Cruel World. Outstanding song writing, Blackbirds and When All You Got is a Hammer particular standouts. 

13. Chris Stapleton – The Traveller

Taking a break from writing killer songs other artists Stapleton raised the bar even higher with this marvellous debut solo album. Male vocalist and Album of the Year at the CMA’s.

14. Kurt Vile – Believe I’m Going Down

Acoustic and stripped back offering from the king of cool! No electric guitar this time around but plenty of great acoustic work and wonderful banjo playing

15. Whitey Morgan & The 78’s – Sonic Ranch

Outlaw Country is in safe hands as long as the Waylon loving Whitey Morgan continues to record and perform. Great, great sound.

16. Sam Outlaw

Excellent production by Ry Cooder on this debut album by an artist likely to make a commercial impact going forward. Who Do You Think You Are, Country Love Song and the title track bring to mind a young Dwight Yoakam or Buck Owens.

17. Shelby Lynn – I Can’t Imagine

The voice, the accent, the phrasing never seems to disappoint. The classic country closing track I Can’t Imagine is particularly wonderful.

18. Anna Mitchell – To the Bone

Impressive radio friendly debut album from the young Cork singer song writer suggesting she has a promising career ahead of her.

19. Chris Laterzo – West Coast Sound

Think late 70’s classic Neil Young for this gem from the Los Angeles based singer songwriter

20. Daniel Knox – Self Titled

Superb Americana second album from the Scott Walker sounding Daniel Kno

The Gigs

  1. 1. Lee Ann Womack / Sam Outlaw / Jim Lauderdale / Whitey  Morgan & The 78’s  at The 3rd & Lindsley Nashville
  2. 2. David Corley  at Cleeres Kilkenny
  3. 3. Frazey Ford at Whelans Dublin
  4. 4. Samantha Crain at The Pumphouse Kilkenny
  5. 5. J.P.Harris  & The Tough Choices at The Fond Object East Nashville
  6. 6. John Prine at Vicar Street
  7. 7. The Rails at Cleeres Kilkenny
  8. 8. Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell at The National Concert Hall Dublin
  9. 9. Ron Sexsmith at Whelans Dublin
  10. 10. Rhiannon Giddens at Whelans Dublin




Albums Of The Year


Stephen Rapid 20 albums of note 2014

In no particular order here are just some of the albums that I have

enjoyed and returned to throughout the year. All fall to some degree

into my definition of country music - given that that, in itself, is a 

pretty broad church:

Jeremy Pinnell OH/KY

JP Harris and there Tough Choices - Home Is Where The Hurt Is

Laura Benitez and the Heartache - Heartless Woman

Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer - The Flower Of The Muscle Shoals

Doug Seegers - Going Down To The River

Nikki Lane - All Or Nothin

Corb Lund - Counterfeit Blues

Cina Samuelson - Roots & Memories

Karen Jonas - Oklahoma Lottery

Mark Sinnis  - It’s Been A Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Small Two Heroes

Sturgill Simpsom - Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Paul Burch - Fevers

Jim Lauderdale - I’m A Song

Ben Miller Band - Any Way, Shape or Form

Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives - Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

Daniel Meade - Keep Right Away

Don Williams - Reflections

Ryan Bingham - Fear and Saturday Night

Ronnie Fauss - Built To Break


Paul McGee Top Ten Americana Releases 2014

Dawn Landes - Bluebird

Rosanne Cash - The River & The Thread

Lucinda Williams - Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

Robert Ellis - The Lights From The Central Chemical Plant

Birds Of Chicago - Live From Space

Holly Williams - The Highway

Mary Gauthier- Trouble & Love

Eliza Gilkyson - The Nocturne Diaries

Jason Tyler Burton - Headwaters

Drive By Truckers - Built To Break


Sandy Harsch Top Ten Albums 2014

Dave & Phil Alvin - Common Ground (The Songs of  Big Bill Bronzy)

Unexpected, delightful and incredibly musical.

Zac Brown Band- The Grohl Sessions (Volume One)

Great combination of band and producer, loved them live @ the 2013 CMA Awards show.

Doobie Brothers - Southbound

A lot more country than a great deal of Nashville now – and can guest Doobies Chris Young and Charlie Worsham sing!

Earls of Leicester - Earls of Leicester

A labour of love for an all-star cast which works perfectly. The revelation is Shawn Camp’s hard high-lonesome vocals.

Hurray for the Riff-Raff - Small Town Heroes

Good songs, well sung, with a surprising honky-tonk edge.

Ben Miller Band - Any Way, Shape or Form

I feel like Butch Cassidy – who are these guys?! Doesn’t matter, they are unique and can really play great rough roadhouse music.

Red Molly - The Red Album

Saw them years ago at Merlefest and loved them and the Molls have just got better. Singing, song choice and writing are superb and live they are dynamite.

Sturgill Simpsom - Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

The most country voice since Jamie Johnson, he writes amazing songs and goes where most people don’t – into real country. An extraordinary album.

Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives - Saturday Night/Sunday Morning

Sin and salvation; Marty and the boys are at home in both, with Brother Kenny Vaughan’s fabulous guitar work to the fore. 

Lee Ann Womack - The Way I’m Livin’

One of the great voices in Nashville, Womack is now happy on an independent label, making superb music. Gorgeous song choices, powerful vocals.


Ronnie Norton’s Ten Top Albums 2014

Here’s my list of the 10 albums that particularly caught my eye and ear during the last year. 

Because I listen to so many types of music I have not listed them in a "No1 and downwards” 

order. Let’s just say they are all joint No1’s: 

We Banjo 3 - Gather The Good 

Two sets of brothers with a genre defying album that takes Celtic Crossover to a whole new level. 

They are on a quest for world domination and 2015 could well be their year.

True North - Elsebound    

"It’s Bluegrass, Jim, but not as we know it”  Fell in long distance love with Kristen Grainger’s voice

and the band’s original songs and approach to my sort of music. Definitely my tastiest find of the year.

Four Wheel Drive - Travelling Kind    

Europe’s finest Bluegrass band, loosely based in The Netherlands. But the addition of the crystal clear 

and pure “Country“ voice of regular guest vocalist Jolanda Peters keeps this CD right in the front of my 

"must play regularly” box.

Driven - You’ll Be Lonely And I’ll Be Gone 

Released in late 2013 this sneaks in because Driven got right to me from my very first listen. This slightly 

west of Nashvile band represents for me all that is hopeful for the future of Bluegrass music

Irene Kelley - Pennsylvania Coal 

Carrying a real guilt feeling because I took so long to give this little gem a proper listen. Her first album in 

over 10 years with a stellar line up of Bluegrass’s finest musicians makes and Irene’s amazing voice and 

songwriting makes “Pennsylvania Coal” a real diamond in the rough.

The Earls Of Leicester - The Earls Of Leicester 

Too little space here to give Jerry and the boys the credit they deserve. A tribute to Flatt and Scruggs that 

has been brewing in Jerry’s mind for years. Destined to be a long term classic album by the cream of the 

Bluegrass world’s very best musicians.

Crowe, Lawson And Williams - Standing Tall And Tough    

J.D Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams are the benchmark for as they call it “This great American 

music called Bluegrass”. Classic Country and Blistering Bluegrass from three of my superheroes. 

Claire Lynch - Holiday

At last a Christmas album to knock “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band” Christmas album 1997 off the top of my 

Christmas tree. Claire Lynch has set the bar for me for all Holiday albums in the future, but this is not just 

a holiday album it’s an acoustic music treat as only The Claire Lynch can deliver.

Larry Cordle And Lonesome Standard Time - All Star Duets 

The Mighty Cord and 12 of Country’s finest duet partners and 12 of Larry’s favourite compositions make 

this the "must have” album of the year. You know all the songs and now you get them supercharged and 

all in one place.

Rhonda Vincent - Only Me 

A 2 CD musical trip to a Bluegrass / Country leisure park as on Rhonda can do it. Sit back, kick off your 

boots and choose your flavour of the day, Rhonda Vincent, Bluegrass or Country singer. Your choice or 

both. Stunning album.


This tale of respect came from our good friend, the poet, Pat Ingoldsby


Book Review

Michael Ublandi Lost American Nights - lyrics & Poems  Moon Tide Press

This is an updated version of a book first published in 2006 and features lyrics and poems from across his career. It also features some black and white images of Ubladni to give the book a visual aspect. His website is so that nails his colours to the mast. How well do lyrics work without the music is a point that is often raised about lyric books. They serve two purposes, one to allow listeners to read lyrics and secondly for the words themselves. There is a difference between a poem and a lyric although that line can be blurred sometimes. Ublandi writes words that evoke images that are totally in keeping with their musical setting which range from the street rock 'n' roll of Avenue Of 10 Cent Hearts from his album of that title to Mardi Gras from Empty Bottles through to the country-styled words of My Liver's Bad, My Life's A Mess (And I Blame You Sweetheart) which features on his latest country focused album Last Of The Honky Tonks. Each section is titled Dream Sequence. Number 9 for instance is subtitled Pedal Steel Marquee and the words there fit that overall lyrical concept. Ublandi's fans will find this collection a handy source of his lyrics while others will find, as with all poets, the words that mean most to them. This is one man's life, loves and lamintations laid bare for all to see.

Page 1 2