Brothers From Another Mother: Indie-folk Middle Brother made their debut album in Nashville.
My Morning Jacket
Jim James and his Kentucky-bred crew toned down the cosmic soul experimentation of 2008’s Evil Urges and got back to some of the cavernous rock anthems and chilling ballads of their earlier years. Quite possibly the band’s most satisfying collection of songs from start to finish, Circuital gave a broad picture of what the Jacket does best—from the big arena riffs of the title track to the mellow utopian folk of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” all blanketed in the undertone of alt-country warmth.
The Harrow and the Harvest
Although Welch took her time (eight years) coming up with a new album, she stuck to her guns. With acoustic guitars and the purest of harmonies, the Nashville songstress and her long time musical partner David Rawlings released a collection of tunes with a simple throwback aesthetic that sounds completely out of time. Whether it’s with the banjo-driven spiritual “Hard Times” or the hard-luck character ballad “The Way It Goes,” Welch proves she’s still the best companion for sipping whiskey on the front porch.
The Truckers keep cranking out great albums. Following last year’s rock bombast of The Big To-Do, the band decided to dive into the soul and R&B of their Muscle Shoals roots. There are still plenty of vivid, dark tales from the South’s underbelly, but the distortion is largely turned down in favor of slow-burning grooves, especially on standouts like “Used to Be a Cop” and “The Thanksgiving Filter.” The group also delivers an endearing reading of Eddie Hinton’s Motown hit “Everybody Needs Love.”
This supergroup of indie-folk heroes—John McCauley of Deer Tick, Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes—headed down to Nashville and passed around songs like a new school Traveling Wilburys. The sessions yielded a collective sound that you wouldn’t expect from three bandleaders. With McCauley’s gritty blue-collar wit and Vasquez and Goldsmith’s more heart-on-sleeve earnestness, the group found a roots rock chemistry that easily rivals the work of their respective bands.
The Valley Wind
Before Tyler Ramsey became the lead guitarist for indie rockers Band of Horses, the tunesmith was a fixture on the local Asheville, N.C., music scene as a solo singer-songwriter. Fortunately Ramsey found time to make another solo record, because it’s his best one yet. Blending intricate finger picking and narrative lyrics deftly laced with natural imagery, The Valley Wind conjures the haunting melancholy of Neil Young with the addition of some fitting rock atmospherics.
Next in the line of superb male-female duo acts, Baltimore’s Wye Oak achieves a broad sound on Civilian that grows on you with each listen. With Jenn Wasner on guitar and soaring lead vocals and Andy Stack on drums, keys, and backing vocals, the band moves well beyond expected garage rock into bold soundscapes with intelligent indie composition that delivers—from wailing to chilling—a roller coaster of emotion.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Here We Rest
Four years after leaving the Drive-By truckers, Isbell has fully realized his voice as a solo artist. Before making Here We Rest, he slowed his touring schedule and went home to rural Alabama to reconnect with his roots. The result is a dusty journey down multiple roads of American roots music: the windows-down acoustic highway ballad “Alabama Pines,” a cautionary tale through a country waltz in “Codeine,” vintage folk in the finger-picked “Daisy Mae,” dirty road house rock in “Never Could Believe,” and uplifting soul in “Heart on a String.”
Former band mates of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, this trio from Durham, N.C., released a bold self-titled effort that starts with a base of sparse indie folk and finds multiple ways to explode with full sonic color. Their songs are rooted in simple Americana structures and country-flavored harmonies, but they’re filled out with orchestral textures and psychedelic flourishes. “These Words” is the most deliberate with a cacophony of glitchy blips and industrial beats infiltrating a delicate piano melody. The bluesy “Scorned” drifts into slow-motion collision of gutbucket guitar and distorted harmonica, while Vernon steps in to riff with his old crew on the sprawling eight-minute atmospheric rocker “Get Right.”