Now that the snow is melting into a gross, gray sludge and the polar vortex has retreated, we can finally — hopefully? — look forward to spring. By the time you hear these upcoming Americana records, your heavy coats will be hung in the back of the closet, and the ice salts and snow shovel will be stowed in the garage.
Black Prairie, Fortune (Sugar Hill, April 22)
With the Decemberists on indefinite hiatus, this eccentric, rootsy side project has turned into a full-time job. The group started as an instrumental outfit playing in living rooms and kitchens in Portland, Ore., with no set lineup but a lively take on acoustic folk music. Their fourth album is perhaps their most daring to date — 13 vocal tunes about 19th-century fur trappers and roving packs of ghost wolves set to music that evokes the dusty primitivism of John Fahey as well as the lumbering stomp of Led Zeppelin.
Rodney Crowell, Tarpaper Sky (New West, April 15)
Crowell started this project a few years ago but found his sessions interrupted by two other projects: KIN, a collaborative album with memoirist Mary Karr, and Old Yellow Moon, a Grammy-winning project with Emmylou Harris. Tarpaper Sky represents a long-awaited reunion with Crowell’s backing band from his 1988 career-maker Diamonds & Dirt, and the years have been kind to the musicians who toe the line between rock and Americana. Crowell again proves himself a keen storyteller and imaginative lyricist, and even though “God I’m Missing You” was sung by Lucinda Williams on KIN, he still manages to put his stamp on that heartbreaker.
Merle Haggard, Okie From Muskogee Anniversary Edition (Capitol Nashville, March 25)
Hag’s 1969 hit remains his most notorious single as well as his most polarizing, not only because it trash-talks the counterculture but because the singer has since dismissed it as a spoof. The same year it became a No. 1 country smash, Capitol made it the centerpiece of a live album recorded in Muskogee, Okla., and it became one of his most popular releases. Some 45 years later, the album has been remastered and will be rereleased with the CD/digital debut of The Fightin’ Side of Me, a live album recorded in Philadelphia during the ‘70s.
Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball (Nonesuch, April 8)
Harris’ career didn’t need rehabilitating in the mid-‘90s, but her collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois remains a standout from this era and a reminder that her catalog thrives on reinvention. The music is drenched in reverb that sounds as big as Texas, and Harris sings songs by Neil Young, Steve Earle and Julie Miller like she’s worrying over old memories. Nonesuch Records is expanding Wrecking Ball to two CDs and one DVD, which is the best kind of overkill.
Infamous Stringdusters, Let It Go (High Country, April 1)
Sometimes the setting can be everything. Last fall, the award-winning bluegrass-pop group Infamous Stringdusters took a sojourn to White Star Sound, a studio deep in the Virginia hills outside of Charlottesville. There the quintet recorded a heady batch of stylistically diverse songs drawing on their precise instrumental chops as well as their penchant for rambling jams. When they hit the road this spring, they’ll donate proceeds from their album release tour to the Conservation Alliance.
Nikki Lane, All or Nothin’ (New West, May 6)
“It’s always the right time to do the wrong thing,” Lane sings on All or Nothin’, her second full-length project and debut for New West Records. The Nashville singer-songwriter — who also owns a boutique selling vintage cowboy boots — has an eye for trouble, and these dozen cleverly-observed, breathlessly-sung tunes chronicle the ups and downs of romantic fallout. Producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys builds a wall of sound for her, sort of like if Phil Spector had produced records at the Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Keb’ Mo’, BLUESAmericana (Kind of Blue Music, April 22)
That album title is crucial. Keb’ Mo’ has never been merely a bluesman but an artist with an adventurously wide stylistic range that covers all Americana. His first album in three years encompasses plaintive folk, barbed R&B and a bit of Dixieland jazz. Featuring contributions from songwriter Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train to Georgia”) and the California Feetwarmers (an L.A. band, not a pair of socks), BLUESAmericana is about more than simply genre distinctions. Keb’ Mo’ wrote these songs during a tumultuous time in his marriage, which means songs like “The Worst Is Yet to Come” bristle with biting humor.
Nickel Creek, A Dotted Line (Nonesuch, April 1)
That hiatus wasn’t so indefinite after all. Nine years after their last album, the progressive bluegrass trio reunites for this collection of 10 new songs. Its members started playing together as kids — Sara Watkins and Chris Thile were both 8, Sean Watkins an old man at 11 — and they have gone on to enviable solo careers in the meantime, which makes Nickel Creek something of an Americana supergroup in retrospect. There are no indie-rock covers on A Dotted Line, but songs like “Hayloft,” which rambles along on a hip-hop drum loop, continue to push against the boundaries.
Old 97s, Most Messed Up (ATO, April 29)
It’s been 20 years since the Old 97s stormed out of Dallas and unleashed their debut Hitchhike to Rhome on the world. To celebrate that landmark anniversary, the quartet signed to ATO Records and recorded a concept album about celebrating that landmark anniversary. Seven-minute opener “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” is an autobiography in music, not only recounting their many misadventures together but promising many more in the next two decades.
Various Artists, Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne (Music Road, April 1)
The West Coast singer-songwriter gets his first tribute collection, a double album co-produced by Tamara Saviano, who has led similar tributes to Guy Clark, Stephen Foster and Kris Kristofferson. The track list shows the breadth of Browne’s influence, which ranges from his contemporaries (J.D. Souther, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen) to artists from younger generations (Ben Harper, Griffin House) who have long looked up to the songwriter.