The months between back-to-school and holiday shopping are always the music industry’s busiest seasons, as major acts in all genres release big albums and jockey for places in Christmas stockings and critics’ year-end lists. This fall, the calendar is already crowded with a wealth of familiar bluegrass and Americana names, including the Avett Brothers, Sarah Jarosz and a former Drive-By Trucker. Here are 10 upcoming albums we’re especially excited to hear.
The Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion (American, Oct. 15)
OK, now the Avetts are just showing off. Magpie will be their second album in a year’s time, following just 11 months on the heels of 2012’s The Carpenter. The sessions for that album were so fruitful and productive that North Carolina’s favorite sons were able to pull a dozen more songs out of Rick Rubin’s beard. If first single “Another Is Waiting” is any indication, Magpie and the Dandelion will stay true to both the band’s banjo-driven rock and spiritually-questing lyrics.
The Band, Live at the Academy of Music 1971 (Capitol, Sept. 17)
Things weren’t looking great for The Band in ’71. Their third album, Cahoots, was a flop compared to their classic first two full-lengths, and already the group was riven by internal strife. A high note, however, was their late-year run at the Academy of Music in New York — four shows leading up to a fiery New Year’s performance with Bob Dylan. Forty-one years after they released a condensed version of those shows as Rock of Ages, Robbie Robertson has curated a 4-CD/1-DVD boxed set documenting that period in Band lore. The set includes all four shows in their entirety, pus new appreciations by Jim James and Marcus Mumford.
Brandy Clark, 12 Stories (TBA, Oct. 22)
Albums leak all the time, but rare is the studio debut that exists as a bootleg long before it gets an actual label and release date. Clark’s debut, 12 Stories, created some heavy buzz thanks to her songwriting contributions to recent albums by Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and The Band Perry. Her own songs showcase not only her smoky vocals, but also the kind of wry humor and concrete details that have become her signature.
Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up From Bones (Sugar Hill, Sept. 24)
Jarosz recorded her third solo album while finishing up at the New England Conservatory, where she graduated with honors. A gifted multi-instrumentalist who was jamming with Ricky Skaggs as a teenager, the 22-year-old Texan emphasizes her evocative songwriting as strongly as she does her instrumental technique. In addition to covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Joanna Newsom, these new songs are among Jarosz’ more personal as well as her most eloquently austere.
Nick Lowe: Quality Street (Yep Roc, Oct. 29)
This year the sound of breaking glass is from Christmas ornaments. Nearly 40 years into a career that has ranged from punk to pop star to country crooner (and from Johnny Cash’s son-in-law to Wilco’s touring buddy), Lowe has recorded his first-ever holiday album. Quality Street celebrates the birth of the baby Jesus (of Cool) with old hymns, a handful of new originals and covers of songs by Boudleaux Bryant, Roger Miller and obscure glam band Wizzard.
Del McCoury Band: The Streets of Baltimore (McCoury Music, Sept. 17)
Back in the 1950s, McCoury cut his teeth in the dives and theaters around Baltimore, which were dangerous stomping grounds but wild musical laboratories mixing bluegrass, rockabilly and country. In addition to new compositions, there are covers of decades-old tunes made popular by Bobby Bare (the title track), Brenda Lee (“Too Many Rivers to Cross”) and Jerry Lee Lewis (“Once More With Feeling”). Expect all of them to be performed with McCoury’s sensitive vocals and the band’s razor-sharp picking skills.
Shonna Tucker and Eye Candy: A Tell All (Sweet Nectar, Oct. 15)
Earlier this year Tucker and John Neff abruptly exited the Drive-By Truckers, sparking rumors of hookups and breakups. Just a few months later, however, the duo are resurfacing with their debut as Eye Candy, with Neff playing guitar and Tucker playing bass and singing lead. While she has had a handful of tunes on the last three Truckers albums, on A Tell All, she commands an entire album of gritty country-funk songs full of downhome details about Southern families and Southern gossip mills.
Various: Divided & United (ATO, Fall)
Besides being a turning point in American history and race relations, the Civil War was also a period of intense musical innovation, as soldiers from all over the North and South merged their various regional traditions and techniques. Now, 150 years after Meade’s Army of the Potomac routed Lee’s Confederate incursion, producer Randall Poster has corralled a small army of country and roots artists to reinterpret these battlefield classics, including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Jamey Johnson, Steve Earle and Ashley Monroe.
Jimmy Webb: Still Within the Sound of My Voice (eOne, Sept. 10)
While best known as one of country music’s greatest songwriters — he gave the world “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston,” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” — Webb has come into his own as a singer and performer in recent years. Still Within the Sound of My Voice finds him again sharing vocal duties with some impressive names, including Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson and Brian Wilson. Best may be his reminiscence of the King, “Elvis and Me,” on which he’s joined by none other than the Jordanaires.
Tony Joe White: Hoodoo (Yep Roc, Sept. 17)
White may have long ago retired his leather pants, but his brand of lowdown swamp rock is experiencing a resurgence lately, thanks to last year’s excellent Country Funk 1969-1975 and this year’s Swamp People soundtrack. For his Yep Roc debut the Swamp Fox penned nine tunes on his ranch outside of Nashville and recorded them live in a Civil War-era church. The vibe is simmering and ominous, and even in his 70s, White still sings in that impossibly low, rich baritone that might as well be on another wavelength entirely.