Top 5 Roots Albums of 2023 for Swinging to the Beat, Boots on Your Feet
Year-End Top 5
Finding new, worthwhile roots music can be tedious. Because I often have to look to the past for quality, that tends to be where my tastes lie. While these artists definitely have vintage characteristics, each of them is finding new, original ways to use these elements.
Colter Wall = Ramblin’ Jack Elliot + John Prine + Guy Clark
This cowpoke has been writing and performing for almost a decade, and honestly, there are very few artists who even come close to his sincerity. That’s how he goes from subdued singer-songwriter on songs such as “Corralling the Blues” to a rowdy, honky-tonk stalwart on “Standing Here,” which has some fantastic pedal steel playing. Wall’s deep, striking baritone has set him apart since the beginning of his career, but it’s his tales of the prairie and colorful characters, enriched by his gritty croon, that fortifies Little Songs.
La Honda Records
Vincent Neil = Charlie Crockett + Luke Bell + Waylon Jennings
Put on this record for the friend who is always complaining about how nobody makes great country music anymore—you’ll hear nothing but silence from them for the following 40 minutes. For his third full-length release, Emerson—who would be written off as a traditionalist if it weren’t for his glaring originality—has Shooter Jennings in the producer’s chair. I can’t help but wonder if it’s his influence on “Man From Uvalde,” which borders on psychedelic but never strays too far from the tone set by the first track “Time of the Rambler,” which portrays a wanderlust that only a well-crafted country tune can.
Hot House West = Louis Armstrong & His Hot 5 + Hot Club of Cowtown + The Jazz Messengers
This Salt Lake outfit has been slinging swing for years, starting as a quartet of students in the University of Utah music program and now playing as a full, 12-piece orchestra. After a name change and a few different iterations, Hot House West can adeptly tackle Western swing tunes such as “Stay a Little Longer” just as well as standards like “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” The addition of the full orchestra and Hayley Kirkland joining Nathan Royal on lead vocals allows for so many avenues to be explored. HHW may paint with vintage and traditional colors, but the final product is both current and vibrant.
Deke Dickerson & the Whippersnappers = Johnny Horton + Reverend Horton Heat
Hillbilly renaissance man Deke Dickerson is a noted guitarist, producer, author and guitar collector—to name a few of the hats he wears. His most recent band is country-leaning rockabilly; it’s catchy and fun, as Deke’s projects always are. The moody “Wild Wild Thing” drips with ominous swagger as the bad-boy protagonist tells an infatuated girl, “You’re foolin’ with a wild, wild thing.” “Baby’s Gone Uptown” is the full hoedown treatment with fiddle playin’ to boot, and it may call to mind an episode of Hee Haw you saw decades ago—but I can’t say that wasn’t Deke’s intention.
Country Side of Harmonica Sam = Buck Owens + Jason James + Zephaniah O’hora
If “vintage,” “traditional” and “throwback” aren’t words you immediately run toward, then this record may not be for you. Approaching a slavish devotion to the classic elements in their sound, this Swedish band is keeping that old honky-tonk sound alive. “The Little White Houses” is a standout tune, with a salsa rhythm and Peter Andersson’s steel playing sounding vaguely Hawaiian. Yes, at first listen this band might fool you into thinking that their shuffles are straight from the late ‘50s, but it’s immensely well-crafted and thought out. Besides, good music never has an expiration date.
Read more Year-End Top 5 Reviews from past years here:
Top 5 Alternative Folk (ish) Albums of 2020
Top 5 Experimental Albums for Shedding Your Human Skin