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Radio Bristol’s Top Albums of 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, it becomes a time for reflection – and so Radio Bristol would like to take the opportunity to look back at some of the releases that made this past year memorable on the music front. This year saw releases from many great artists, including some heavy hitters like Billy Strings and Tyler Childers, and many breakout artists like Adeem the Artist, Miko Marks, and more. With so many great releases this year, it’s tough to narrow it down, but here are just a few of our recommendations for some of this year’s standout releases.  As always, if you tune into Radio Bristol you’re sure to hear all these artists regularly spinning on our airwaves!

49 Winchester // Fortune Favors the Bold

The boot-scuffing barstool ballads of 49 Winchester’s fourth studio album, Fortune Favors the Bold, has landed the band national acclaim and the mega fandom of country music superstars such as Luke Combs. A festival favorite at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Russell County, Virginia natives have gone from playing small venues on Bristol’s State Street to selling out theaters across the country.

Composed of high school buddies who grew up together in nearby Castlewood, Virginia, 49 Winchester’s newest release relates genuine downhome grit with dang-good storytelling, showcasing the group’s infectious Southern rock-infused brand of Appalachian folk meets country soul.

Leyla McCalla // Breaking the Thermometer (To Hide the Fever)

New Orleans-based multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla’s newest album, Breaking the Thermometer, explores her Haitian-American heritage through the troublesome history of Creole-language based Radio Haiti, an independent station that for decades confronted corruption with traditional Creole music. This interdisciplinary project, commissioned by Duke University, also combines storytelling, dance, video projection, and audio recordings from the Radio Haiti Archive which can be viewed during live performances.

Breaking the Thermometer feels like an exuberant analysis of culture, physiological space, and political discourse, with vibrant cello arrangements and emotive organic soundscapes that feel epic in scale and intensity.

Image: Album cover has a stark black background with a Black woman sitting in the center of it. She has her hair pulled back and faces to the left; she is wearing a white cross-over short-sleeved top and dark pants/skirt.

The A’s // Fruit

Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and longtime musical collaborator Alexandra Sauser-Monnig teamed up for a new project as The A’s, recently releasing Fruit, an idiosyncratic collection of folk songs that glean inspiration from early country music’s yodeling farm girls, The DeZurik Sisters. Recorded over a two-week stint during balmy summer nights at Sylvan Esso’s Chapel Hill studio “The Betty,” the pair playfully procured songs such as Harry Nilsson “He Needs Me” and traditional ballads like “Swing and Turn Jubilee” and “Copper Kettle” with endearing whimsy and hair-raising vocal harmonies.

The clarity of their voices peppered amidst a capella and thoughtfully accompanied atmospheric tracks create a glowing sense of intimacy, harkening back to early American field recordings, while sounding ultra contemporary. A perfect choice for a rainy day or a sun dappled picnic!

Image: Two white women lie in the center of the image looking at the camera. The woman in the foreground is wearing all black and sunglasses; she has medium-length brown hair. The woman behind her is wearing all white and has platinum blond hair. Vibrantly colored fruits and flowers are painted on the background behind them.

Brennen Leigh// Obsessed with the West

Brennen Leigh’s collaborative Western swing-inspired record Obsessed with the West hit the vintage vibes music lover’s scene with a punch. Produced by Ray Benson, whose legendary band Asleep at the Wheel also backed Leigh on the recording, this album is a grand excursion into a well-loved subgenre of country music. Punctuated by 1940s jump blues, folk cowboy balladry, and jazz-infused country, the tracks read like a love note addressed to the austere beauty of the Western plains. Nashville by-way-of Austin, Texas-based singer Leigh’s voice sways across the rollicking big band like a silk cloud of sawdust with a mellow swagger that feels effortlessly cool.

Image: Album cover has a reddish brown border around the central photograph. In the photo, a young white woman with long brown hair is walking towards the camera; she wears a reddish-brown and white prairie-style top and skirt with western belt. A landscape of scrubby brush and mountains can be seen behind her.

Charlie Crockett // Man from Waco

Charlie Crockett, the record-slinging Texan with an ever-expanding discography of retro-tinged Americana gold, has now become one of the most popular artists in independent country. Crockett is currently landing in a new stratosphere for roots musicians dominating the independent Americana radio with the #1 album and #1 song on the release of Man from Waco.

Man From Waco is a loosely conceptualized project with a theme song that both introduces and closes the album, drawing its inspiration from legendary country music singer James Hand. Mostly recorded live by Crockett and his band The Blue Drifters,’ this new album solidifies Crockett’s monstrous talent and incredible ability to turn out top grade recordings.

Swimming through multiple genres – including funk, R&B, soul, Tex-Mex, Western swing, folk, and traditional country – Crockett treads water through uncharted territories with an easy grin, maintaining his authentic aww-shucks attitude and relaxed cowboy charm though vulnerable lyrics.

Image: This album cover shows a scrubby mountainous landscape with a Black man in western clothes walking down a slope in the foreground. He wears a cowboy hat, blue shirt, and jeans, and he carries a black guitar case.

Willie Carlisle // Peculiar, Missouri

Peculiar, Missouri, Willi Carlisle’s newest release on Free Dirt Records, further authenticates the rising songwriter’s rare talent for storytelling. Packed full of poetic grit and intimate ruminations on the human condition, Carlisle’s musical performance feels like Allen Ginsburg and Utah Phillps bore a folkster lovechild with a voracious proclivity for personal truth.

This album acts as a stylistic barometer of American folk music, with flashes of honky tonk on the socially-aware single “Vanlife,” Tejano-on-Cowboy border ballad “Este Mundo,” and talking blues on the title track – an anxious Guthrie-esque account of an existential “come apart” in the Walmart cosmetic aisle. Every so often Carlisle releases a tremulous yawp amidst impossibly witty lyrics like a reflexive revolt against the absurdity of existence; his voice feels like something familiar and something wholly new that we’ve never heard before.

Image: Album cover and CD, both pink. In the center of the album cover is a sepia photograph of a white man from the shoulder up. He has dark hair and a short beard, and is wearing a cowboy hat and collared button-down shirt. In each corner of the album are graphic symbols like a hand with a pen and a crying eye.

Tyler Childers // Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?

Liberator of free thought in country songwriting the Kentucky poet Tyler Childers’ triple-LP Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is a complex celebration of traditional Appalachian religious music, offering social commentary with an ecumenical scope. The album’s eight tracks are imagined in three different arrangements – the “Hallelujah” version, which has an unadorned “live” feel; the “Jubilee” version, which has more of the production you’d expect from a country music recording, and a “Joyful Noise” version, which seems to delve into the energetic essence of each song though electronic remixes and auditory environments with sound bites from artists such as Jean Ritchie and country comedian Jerry Clower.

Deeply divisional for fans of Childers’ more acoustic releases, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? is striking for its imaginative qualities and Childers’ uninhibited sonic journey through nostalgia, spirituality, and contemporary awareness.

Image: Album cover is red with a linen-like book cover feel. In the center in gold writing is the name of the album, Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven? and a small dog.

 S. G. Goodman // Teeth Marks

Western Kentucky-based songsmith, S. G. Goodman made an indelible mark on southern music with their debut album Old-Time Feeling in 2020; its pensive production and self-aware lyricism caught the attention of major music industry players, such as Tyler Childers who recently covered the single “Space and Time.”

Now the queer-identified farmer’s daughter who grew up near the banks of the Mississippi River is carving a place as a rising voice in new-south roots rock on Teeth Marks. Enveloped by surging post-punk meets 1960s southern rock reverb clad guitar, Goodman’s achy voice quavers like an exposed nerve with acute realizations that stem from a progressive rural consciousness, making this album easily one of most intriguing releases of the year.

Image: Album cover is white with a line drawing in the style of connect-the-dots. Numbered dots outline the main part of the drawing -- that of a woman who sits backwards in a wooden chair; she looks to the right and holds a red ball in one hand.

Melissa Carper // Ramblin’ Soul

For the second year in a row, we have to include Austin-based stand-up bassist Melissa Carper’s and her latest recording Ramblin’ Soul. With a similar recipe that created her beloved Daddy’s Country Gold in 2021, Carper’s newest collection of songs was also recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee. Produced by Andrija Tokic and Dennis Crouch of The Time Jumpers, Ramblin’ Soul definitely has a healthy helping of that extra special sauce that has made Carper become a stand out artist on the Americana charts.

With an alluring varnish of vintage tone, Carper masterfully encapsulates a multitude of classic American sounds with glimmers of Western swing, rhythm and blues, country, soul, jazz, and folk, that both sound impressively authentic to the era, and gratifyingly pleasant to hear. This is definitely an album you can put on without skipping a track, perfect for cooking up a mess of biscuits with Caper’s blissful Billie Holiday by way of Loretta Lynn-sque vocals simmering on the backburner.

Vaden Landers // Lock the Door

We would be remiss to not include a local release on this list. East Tennessee native and Bristol resident Vaden Landers envisions traditional country music through a lens made razor sharp by countless performances at dive bars and regional venues, with an undeniable finesse that can only be gained through road-worn experience.

You may have caught Landers performing at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion this year or at State Street’s Cascade Draft House where he and his band – The Hot n’ Ready String Band – played a weekly residency this summer. As a rising purveyor of irrefutable country music, Landers’ newest release on Hill House Records has masterful production, calling to mind the golden era of country music production in the mid-1950s known as The Nashville Sound. Produced at The Bomb Shelter by Andrija Tokic and John James Tourville, the 12 tracks on Lock the Door relay songs of love, heartbreak, and hard living, while Landers’ satisfyingly raspy twang summersaults and yodels across old-school sounding lyrics. No doubt borrowing vocal techniques from country greats such as George Jones and Johnny Paycheck, the album feels like a country fan’s daydream. At Radio Bristol we’ve been spinning this album in heavy rotation and think it’s well worth the listen!

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio Bristol Spotlight: Erika Lewis

Radio Bristol is proud to offer a platform to local and regional artists who are often underrepresented on a national level yet deserving of that audience. In expanding upon Radio Bristol’s core mission, we are pleased to bring you Radio Bristol Spotlight, a blog series highlighting top emerging artists in our region. Through interviews and performances, we will learn more about the musicians who help to make Southern Appalachia one of the richest and most unique musical landscapes in the world.

Photograph of a young white woman with brown curly hair pulled back at the nape of her neck. She is wearing a sleeveless blue-patterned top and a delicate beaded necklace. She is in a field with flowers behind her.

Erika Lewis.

At the Radio Bristol studio this past month, we hosted an awe-inspiring vocalist whose earthy country-jazz dusted vocals have danced up and down Bourbon Street for years as a member of the New Orleans-based Tuba Skinny, a street band whose specialty lies in early jazz, ragtime, and blues. Recently relocated to the Asheville area, Erika Lewis paid us a visit to share a handful of original tunes, many of which will be featured on a new release due out this coming April.

Urged to put together a new collection of songs after facing a health scare that could have impaired her ability to sing, Lewis gathered a supportive group of old friends and astounding musicians – including Tuba Skinny’s instrumental maestro Shaye Cohn – to record a new album around the end of 2020. Sessions took place at The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, Tennessee, an acclaimed vintage-gear-clad studio. Guided by celebrated audio engineer Andrija Tokic (Hurray for The Riff Raff, Alabama Shakes, The Deslondes) and produced by multi-instrumentalist John James Tourville, the new album features a retrospective of Lewis’s songwriting and leans into a more heavily reverb coated 1960s sound. Lewis said that creating the new album became a practice of learning to actively “embrace herself” as she chose to start putting out music with her own name and departed from an earlier moniker, Lonesome Doves, under which Lewis released Waiting for Stars in 2016. To check out tracks on her earlier material, subscribe to Erika Lewis on Bandcamp.

The album cover has the artist's name and album title at the top. The image underneath shows a young white woman in a blue-patterned dress sitting in a field and playing a guitar. She has curly-ish brown hair, pulled back at the nape of her neck, and she is looking into the distance towards the mountains.

Asheville songwriter Erika Lewis is set to release A Walk Around the Sun in late April.

During the interview and on-air performance, Lewis shared the track “Bluebirds” from Waiting for Stars, a lilting minor key stomp with world-worn lyrics and weighty western vibes. Accompanied by John James on pedal steel and harmony vocals/acoustic guitar from Lillyanna Huggins, the song’s swaying beat was accented by Lewis’s distinct voice, which rang out across notes like a beautifully toned, tarnished brass bell.

Afterward, Lewis interpreted a few stories from her past and offered thoughts about musical influences that have inspired her to write songs. In New Orleans, a scene of young musicians cropped up after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many of which had an interest in America’s musical past. Lewis made her way to town and began performing traditional Jazz tunes on the street with a collective of traveling musicians who later became known as Tuba Skinny, with whom she currently tours internationally. The group has also exploded virtually and currently has several videos online with millions of views. Growing up, Lewis said she always made up songs to pass the time and enjoyed listening to music from an early age. Her parents were both interested in music; her mother was a singer, and her father had a large collection of rhythm-and-blues records that Lewis remembers parsing through as a kid. In her early 20s, Lewis found herself working on a farm in upstate New York and became enamored by her roommate’s girlfriend, who happened to be acclaimed folk, country, and jazz-inspired songwriter Jolie Holland. Shortly after watching Holland perform, Lewis bought a guitar and began strumming along to her own songs.

While in our studio Lewis, James, and Huggins also performed a classic country-tinged waltz called “1,000 miles.” The swelling melody meandered around Lewis’s graceful singing, which bestowed starry-eyed lyrics about walking hand-in-hand with the one you love. Lewis said afterward that while she doesn’t know what the future holds because of the pandemic, she hopes to play out as much as possible in 2022 and is looking forward to getting her songwriting out into the world. While in the studio, Radio Bristol was bombarded by a slew of Canadian fans commenting online, all excited about Lewis’s appearance on the air.

We hope you will equally enjoy hearing her live performance of the single “Loser,” which will appear on her new album. The song displays descending scales of David Lynch-ian, reverb-laden guitar riffs in the space between wistful lyrics that plead “If I could only stop the pain of loving you.” The stand-out track swirls with bewitching 1960s pop-fused vocal harmonies and an atmospheric aura that draws the listener’s mind inside the tune.

Lewis’s album A Walk Around the Sun will be released on April 29 and can be purchased at https://erikalewismusic.bandcamp.com/.

Erika Lewis performing “Loser” in studio for On the Sunny Side in February 2022.

Ella Patrick is a Production Assistant at Radio Bristol. She also hosts Folk Yeah! on Radio Bristol and is a performing musician as Momma Molasses.

The Root of It: George Jackson on Ed Haley

Radio Bristol is excited to share “The Root of It,” a series connecting today’s influential musicians to often lesser known and sometimes obscure musicians of the early commercial recording era. The sounds and musicians we hear today on platforms like Radio Bristol can often be traced back to the sounds of earlier generations. What better way to discover these connections than to talk to the musicians themselves about some of the artists that have been integral in shaping their music? These influences, though generally not household names, continue to inspire those who dig deep to listen through the scratches and noise of old 78s, field recordings, and more, finding nuances and surprises that inevitably lead them on their own unique musical journeys.

For this installment of “The Root of It,” we spoke with Nashville-based fiddler George Jackson. Born in New Zealand, George discovered bluegrass music at 14 years old and began learning mostly from recordings. He took to string band music quickly and soon after won the Australian National Bluegrass Championship on fiddle three times; he now pursues a professional career here in Tennessee. With two award-winning albums under his belt – 2019’s Time and Place and the recently released Hair and Hide – Jackson has made quite an impact in the bluegrass, old-time, and folk world as a composer, nuanced musician, and band leader. George spoke to us about celebrated West Virginian fiddler Ed Haley.

George Jackson featuring Brad Kolodner performing “Neighbor Mike” off of his latest release Hair and Hide.

George Jackson:

As someone who was born on the other side of the world from where country music comes from – and whose journey through it started as a teen listening only to what I had exposure to around me, mostly just music from Béla Fleck and a few other relatively modern and flash bluegrass pickers – it’s been a continual journey of discovery for me. Throughout, I’ve been diving deeper and further back generation by generation into the history of early American country recording artists, learning where sounds I’m familiar with in modern recordings and players might have originated, or filtered down from, piecing together the lineage though my own experiences playing and learning this music from its practitioners. Ed Haley is a player that brought a lot of threads together for me when I discovered his music and playing, but of course his influence on me had been longer than I knew. Haley is a continual source of inspiration for fiddlers, and though I didn’t know it at the time, his influence on my playing started right back when I started learning American fiddle music, at the age of around 14 in my home land of New Zealand.

I’ve been aware of, and directly impacted by Haley’s music for a good number of years now, but before I knew his playing or even his name, I can trace some early influences that filtered down to me in my teen years. Haley’s virtuosic playing, tune writing, and iconic versions of fiddle tunes are a strong source of influence on subsequent generations of fiddlers in West Virginia and Kentucky where Haley was based, and much further afield spread by the home recordings he made that were later released – these filtered down through the likes of John Hartford into the bluegrass music scene until it reached me in New Zealand many years later. By the time it reached me of course, it had been through many hands and ears, but I can recognize certain Haley-influenced turns of phrase or stylistic details from the way I first learned to play tunes like “Forked Deer.”

This black-and-white image shows Ed Haley sitting in what looks to be a formalized portrait setting for a photographer. There is a painted landscape behind him and a patterned rug at his feet. He is a white man with partly closed eyes; he wears a dark fedora, a white button-down shirt, dark pants, and a lighter overcoat, buttoned-up. He is holding a fiddle and bow in his hands.
Blind from the age of three, fiddler Ed Haley influenced countless musicians including Clark Kessinger, John Hartford, and our guest blogger George Jackson.  Ed Haley seated with fiddle. Photo from West Virginia Music Hall of Fame

By the time I became aware of old-time music specifically, I was closer to my 20s, and as with most people who aren’t brought up in the geographic regions where this music is from or is being played regularly, my first exposure was to modern players and traveling old-time music gateway musicians such as Bruce Molsky. It’s at this point I get that next step closer to Haley’s music, because if his influence is now written into bluegrass fiddling DNA, its inescapable through the playing of almost all modern players of old-time fiddle. There are so many tunes I knew through jam sessions, concerts, and CDs that are Ed Haley specials – I knew this music and its spirit before I knew who to attribute them to specifically.

At a certain point, as happens with most of the music I’m exposed to, I wanted to hear it from the source, so I remember a day when the curiosity got the best of me and I’d heard the name Ed Haley one too many times. And so I finally got around to looking up Haley’s fiddling and listening through the static of some of his home recordings to the wonderfully virtuosic and melodic playing, along with its multiple variations that are his signature. All these threads of my musical journey started to come together, I’d recognize tunes from bluegrass jams amd recordings of modern old-time or bluegrass fiddlers, and I started to hear the root of many influences on my own playing looking back at me. It’s an amazing thing to be able to listen to music made almost a hundred years ago and, in a moment, see how far that sound has traveled, changed, and also stayed the same.

I’ve recorded a few tunes I learned directly from Haley’s playing recently, and when I learn these tunes they feel natural – I recognize the patterns under my fingers. Though playing an Ed Haley tune is never easy, there are always some finger buster moments that make you stop and think, “Boy, this guy was good!” On my new album, there’s a rendition of Haley’s “Ida Red” that’s a total burner of a tune. The first phrase still trips me up if I’m not concentrating, those micro-movements of multiple pinky finger notes on the E string are something else. It doesn’t get much better than Ed Haley, and I’ll be learning things from him for a long time yet, I’m sure.

Ed Haley’s squirrely rendition of “Ida Red.”

To learn more about George Jackson or to purchase his new album Hair and Hide, visit georgejacksonmusic.com. Released in November 2021, Hair and Hide is an exploration of fiddle and banjo through 14 songs featuring some of the finest players of their generation, including appearances from Jake Blount, Frank Evans, BB Bowness, and more.

The cover image shows George Jackson standing in a pasture with a barn or farmhouse behind him. He is a white man with slightly longer wavy hair and a beard. He is wearing a white patterned button-down shirt with a brown or ochre-colored cardigan and jeans. He holds a small black and white goat in one hand and a fiddle in the other.
George Jackson’s critically acclaimed release Hair and Hide debuted on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts in mid-November.

Kris Truelsen is the Radio Bristol Program Director. He also performs in the band Bill and the Belles.