So it’s that very exciting time of the year when us members of the AMA (UK) get to nominate those musicians and songwriters that have made our world a much better and more tolerable place to live in over the last year. It was John Miles (remember him kids?!) who actually wrote the immortal line, “To live without my music would be impossible to do”, and I’m guessing that all of us here under the umbrella of the AMA (UK & USA!) would concur heartily with that sentiment?!
I actually believe that this year has been a veritable cornucopia in terms of top class releases from around the world – and nestled in amongst all the big hitters like Steve Earle & Shawn Colvin, Don Henley, Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Chris Stapleton, Van Morrison, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell (who have all weighed in with typically vital – and more importantly, relevant – releases), for me it’s those smaller more independent artists that seemingly come from nowhere with a collection of songs that just leave you thinking “where the hell did that come from?!” , that make this time of year so fascinating and the current americana “scene” so exciting.
For what it’s worth, here are my nominations – influenced only by the fact that I’ve actually listened to the music and for whatever reason (obscure or latent) it has touched a nerve, made me laugh, made me cry, made me angry or made me happy.
UK Album Of The Year – Lewis and Leigh “Ghost”. Tough to single one out, as there have been some awesome releases by UK artists this year. The Black Feathers “Soaked To The Bone” was equally impressive, but I’ve plumped for Lewis & Leigh by virtue of the fact that they have actually had three weeks on the Americana (UK) music charts Top 40, peaking at number 14. A beautifully put together collection of songs, where the music has a chance to breathe without the suffocating jacket of over-production.
International Album Of The Year – Blitzen Trapper “All Across This Land”. Ever eager not to be “genre-lised”, this album sees the Portland-based band moving more towards a slightly softer ‘country-inflected’ sound. The ‘art rock’ elements that are their trademark are still there, but this release is pure genius with every song bang on the money. A cohesive eclectic soundscape spanning the North American continent.
UK Artist Of The Year – Goat Roper Rodeo Band. As a promoter, i’ve had the pleasure of seeing these boys grow in stature and confidence over the last couple of years. Seeing them a few years ago at Maverick, and then more recently at our own sold out show with them, I am totally convinced that the Rhyl-based trio, and their inimitable brand of cosmic country blue, are well on the way to big things. I have described them as “the Everly Brothers on speed”, and while that is maybe a flippant observation, these boys are not only superb songwriters, they’re also top drawer entertainers and players. More fun than pants-full of monkeys!
International Artist Of The Year – Andrew Duhon. For me, this New Orleans-based songwriter is genuinely the “real deal”. His Grammy-nominated album “The Moorings” was, and still is, a landmark release. He tours the UK every year, each time growing his audience and ever honing his craft. An Andrew Duhon show is a chance to catch a master songwriter at work – lyrically the depth is astounding and literary-like in quality, and musically it is clear that each note is wrenched deep from within his soul. He is a story teller like no other.
UK Song Of The Year – The Jigantics “Frankly”. So many great songs from so many great songwriters, but I’ve gone for this one by a band a lot of you might not have heard of yet. Written by drummer Martin Fitzgibbon (who proves that drummers do often have the best voices!), this is an astute and acerbic attack that lambasts the “none for you, and all for me” culture that has been all-pervasive over the last few (?) years. Lyrically and musically this hits home with storm force – the b(w)ankers and the tax dodging, champagne quaffing classes take a figurative and richly deserved knuckle duster of a song, bang on the chin! It made me angry when I heard it and it moved me, and that’s what great music has the capacity to do.
International Song Of The Year – Carter Sampson – “Wilder Side”. A complete newcomer to me, the “Queen Of Oaklahoma” and the title track of her album, just knocked me sideways with this beautiful sunshine song. Gorgeous vocals and aching pedal steel entwine to lift the spirits – and the whole album is just as delightful. I caught her at Maverick Festival this year with just her and her trusty acoustic, and suffice to say she charmed everyone in sight.
UK Instrumentalist Of The Year – Henry Senior Jnr. Hot on the heels of ace British americana record labels such as Clubhouse and At The Helm, we now have the Maiden Voyage Recording Company, set up by none other than Del Day (ARK PR) and Danny George Wilson (Danny & The Champions Of The World), and their debut release “Plates Of Meat” from pedal steel maestro Henry Senior Jnr. This instrumental album is nothing short of phenomenal – if you can listen to an album full of instrumentals and then reach for the replay button then you know you have something special. Pedal Steel playing taken, not just out of it’s comfort zone, but to another dimension! Country-funk anyone?