10 Americana Albums to Seek Out in 2014

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Although we’re just a few days into a new year, CMT Edge is already looking ahead to a full schedule of upcoming releases. Here are 10 albums we can’t wait to hear in 2014.

Johnny Cash, Out Among the Stars (March 25)
Johnny Cash’s Out Among the Stars, is compiled from forgotten sessions held with producer Billy Sherrill in the early 1980s, including two duets with June Carter Cash and one with Waylon Jennings. The ‘80s weren’t the Man in Black’s most productive period, but if Stars is half as satisfying as Johnny 99 or Inside a Swedish Prison from that same era, it’ll be a welcome addition to his incredible catalog.
Key track: A superlatively somber cover of David Allan Coe’s “She Used to Love Me a Lot.”

Drive-By Truckers, English Oceans (March 4)
Here’s a bit of trivia: English Oceans will be the first Drive-By Truckers album written entirely by mainstays Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood. On every record by the famed Southern rock band, the duo shared lyric-penning duties with Rob Malone, Jason Isbell or Shonna Tucker. (One-time bassist Adam Howell got a co-write on their 1998 debut, Gangstabilly.) But after Tucker and guitarist John Neff left the group to form Eye Candy, the Truckers reconfigured themselves into a powerful, more nimble rock quintet.
Key track: The epic closer “Grand Canyon,” written in memory of the band’s longtime merch guy Craig Lieske.

Robert Ellis, The Lights From the Chemical Plant (Feb. 11)
For his second album with New West Records, Robert Ellis moved from Houston, Texas, to Nashville in order (get this) to sound less country. Rather than make another Americana album, the Texan simply wanted to make an American album, one less dependent on genre or Lone Star influences. Of course, his rusty barb of a voice will always bear comparisons to Kristofferson, but The Lights From the Chemical Plant, which was produced by Jacquire King (Norah Jones, Kings of Leon), owes just as much to Randy Newman and Paul Simon.
Key track: A pedal-steel-drenched cover of Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” which sounds a little unexpected sung by a guy in his 20s.

Hard Working Americans, Hard Working Americans (Jan. 21)
The Hard Working Americans are both a cover act and a supergroup. Todd Snider corralled members of Widespread Panic, Great American Taxi and King Lincoln to record new versions of some of his favorite songs. Their self-titled debut veers from Faron Young’s “Black Land Farmer” to Drivin N Cryin’s trailer-park anthem “Straight to Hell,” with songs by Hayes Carll and Gillian Welch in between.
Key track: A particularly raucous and outraged cover of Randy Newman’s “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man).”

Hiss Golden Messenger, Bad Debt (Jan. 14)
M.C. Taylor recorded and planned to release his second album as Hiss Golden Messenger back in 2010 but lost almost all of the CD stock when his label’s warehouse burned during the London riots. Three years later, it’s finally getting a wide release on his new label, Paradise of Bachelors. Taylor recorded these songs at his home, playing quietly so as not to wake his newborn son. That gives the songs a buzzy field-recording quality that will sound all the more austere after the Appalachian folk-rock of 2013’s Haw.
Key track: “Jesus Shot Me in the Head,” which may sound like a Flaming Lips song title but is actually a moving account of Paul’s conversion at Damascus.

Hurray for the Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes (Feb. 11)
As Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alynda Lee Segarra melds the folk tradition of Appalachia with the jazzier sounds of her adopted hometown of New Orleans. That blend plus her economical songwriting has led to opening slots for Alabama Shakes and Shovels & Rope, as well as a deal with ATO Records. Small Town Heroes is her first for that label and features a loose band of Big Easy musicians, including some cloggers as percussionists.
Key track: “The Body Electric,” a chilling rebuke of a century’s worth of murder ballads.

Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition, Dark Night of the Soul (Feb. 18)
Magnolia State eccentric (and former Squirrel Nut Zipper) Jimbo Mathus returns with another collection of Southern funk-soul-gospel-etc. rock songs, his third in two years. It’s a rambling showcase for his steely lyricism, off-kilter vocals and unbounded musical wanderlust. “Hawkeye Jordan” is a distant cousin to Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses,” while “Fire in the Canebrake” sounds like The Band lost in the Mississippi swamps.
Key track: “Casey Caught the Cannonball,” a retelling of the Casey Jones story that Mathus based on a roadside historical plaque.

Doug Paisley, Strong Feelings (Jan. 21)
Call it Canadiana: This Toronto musician recruited some of his country’s most notable roots musicians for his third solo album. The Band’s Garth Hudson plays keys, Colin Stetson (Bon Iver, Arcade Fire) plays reeds, and Mary Margaret O’Hara provides backing vocals. Most of all, it’s a showcase for Paisley’s deceptively easygoing songs, which draw you in before bringing the pain.
Key track: “Radio Girl” may be the most overtly country track he’s ever recorded, a catchy ditty bookended by Hudson’s piano.

Amy Ray, Goodnight Tender (Jan. 28)
Known as the idiosyncratic half of the Indigo Girls, Amy Ray has forged a pretty wide-ranging solo career, with no regard for genre and a jones to indulge all the out-there ideas that would never work at her day job. Goodnight Tender is her honky-tonk album, a collection of squirrelly, country-leaning tunes featuring North Carolina’s Megafaun as her backing band and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon on mandolin and harmonies.
Key track: “The Gig That Matters,” a rollicking update on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that imagines heaven as the best jam session imaginable.

Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams (Jan. 14)
It’s hard to believe that Williams’ career-making third album, released to overwhelming acclaim in 1988, has managed to go out of print. It’s arguably the wellspring of contemporary Americana, an album that mixes stately country rock with some of the most beautifully plainspoken lyrics ever set to paper. UK-based Rough Trade took a chance after hearing her demos, back when no other label would sign her. In conjunction with Thirty Tigers, Williams is reissuing the album on her own label along with a full disc of live tracks.
Key track: A performance of “Crescent City” that bypasses the original recording’s fiddle coda for a gorgeously restrained guitar solo by Gurf Morlix.

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