Best of 2009: Stocking Stuffers from the Southeast

rootsThe Avett Brothers
I & Love & You

The Avett Brothers took a jet plane to Malibu and cut their major-label debut with powerhouse producer Rick Rubin. The influence is immediately apparent. The band’s delicately ragged Appalachian-hued punk pop has been polished even further. With all of the hype behind their energetic, foot-stomping live shows, this album is a bold move at such a pinnacle career point, but the Avetts have always been true to their own hearts. Perhaps they sum up this effort with the chorus of the catchy rocker “Slight Figure of Speech”: “I cut my chest wide open. They come and watch us bleed. Is it all like I was hoping?” We’ll see.

rootsThe Black Crowes
Before the Frost

The Black Crowes have finally made a great album again. It was recorded live in front of an intimate audience at Levon Helm’s barn, and the crowd definitely gave the band just the right energy. In addition to the expected amount of crunchy Dixie boogie, the Robinson brothers also expand their roots rock pallete, delivering a pedal-steel driven roadhouse ballad (“Appaloosa”), some pulsing disco stoner groove (“I Ain’t Hiding”), and even an introspective, acoustic CSNY throwback (“What is Time”). And new lead guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) is probably the Crowes’ best personnel move ever.

rootsHill Country Revue
Make a Move

Luther Dickinson’s band mates in the Allstars—brother Cody Dickinson and bassist Chris Chew—have formed a new crew. Hill Country Revue picks up the youth-charged revival of the Mississippi Delta blues. Their debut Make a Move is the rowdy confluence of the juke joint and the rock club—a fist-pumping good time with gritty gut bucket guitar licks and smoky vocal howls. As Cody aptly describes it, “We play the blues of the Mississippi hill country as though it’s been dosed with Viagra.”

rootsBryan Sutton
Almost Live

A pickin’ party with Bryan Sutton is an all-star affair: you have to be the best to play, and you’d better bring your A-game. Joining Sutton on Almost Live are bluegrass heavyweights with whom he has long shared the stage, friends like Tim O’Brien, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, and Chris Thile, and their collective pickin’ is tight. Each note on this record rings with clarity and precision, the byproduct of Sutton being—and playing with—the very best in the bluegrass game.

For a Second Time

This collaboration between Nashville songwriting sages Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough represents all that is good about Music City. Womack and Kimbrough, with their incendiary wit, jolting humor, and stark honesty, are the dusty brick and concrete too often overshadowed by the glitzy high rises of the pop-addled Nashville music barons. Womack is at his rambling best on “I Went to Heaven In a Dream Last Night,” and Kimbrough’s “Redemption is The Mother’s Only Son” is pure eloquence.

rootsThe Black Lillies
Whiskey Angel

The debut record from The Black Lillies marks the return of Cruz Contreras to the Southeastern music scene. Contreras, founder of Robinella & The CC String Band, has teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Leah Gardner, pedal steel player Tom Pryor, drummer Jamie Cook, and bassist Jeff Woods, to spin bluesy, Appalachia-tinged country yarns. Though together for just a year, The Black Lillies are quickly garnering a solid fan base with their cross-genre approach to Americana music.

rootsPatterson Hood
Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

The ominous opening chords of the title track—a tale of gun shots and salvation found at the altar of oneself—are classic Patterson Hood: foreboding and introspective. Yet he easily switches from the brooding tenor of “Heavy and Hanging” or the disenchantment of “She’s A Little Randy” and “Screwtopia” to the whimsy of “Granddaddy.” Hood shows that his life, like ours, is a tangle of delight and disappointment, clarity and confusion. A labor of love some 15 years in the making, Murdering Oscar was certainly worth the wait.

rootsSons of Bill
One Town Away

Fast-rising country-tinged rockers Sons of Bill recorded One Town Away with noted producer Jim Scott, who has previously worked with Tom Petty, Wilco, and Whiskeytown. Charlottesville’s next big thing  will almost assuredly attract even more new fans. The big-belt-buckle Nashville crowd will dig the band’s hook laden songwriting; the most discerning roots rock fan will latch on to the gritty honesty of the record’s 12 tracks; and coeds will be driven lusty-eyed during sing-along favorites like “Broken Bottles” or guaranteed crowd pleaser “Going Home.”  BRO

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