The Last Bison — Quill: plinking acoustic folk with fierce vocals; this is an album that’s marked by its spaces as much as its music, places the strong vocal lines and harmonies stand out a cappella. Quill is heavy with strings that don’t usually make it onto an American-influenced album, and it stands out with the sad songs of the cello and the plaintive violins. Check it out via Noisetrade.
These United States — These United States: Drawing influences from all over the history of music, frontman Jesse Elliott has put together an incredibly hooky album that’s part alt.country and part fuzzed out New York indie pop, full of hand claps and summer feelings. This is their fifth record, but the first I’ve heard, and I can’t believe I’ve ignored them this long.
The Henry Clay People — Twenty-Five For The Rest Of Our Lives: part the Hold Steady, part the Clash, the Henry Clay People have grown up since their last record, and they’re raging against it on this one, shouted choruses and crashing punk guitars a step rougher and yet more polished than their previous sunny California garage pop.
Magnolia Mountain — Town and Country: another excellent release from This Is American Music, Magnolia Mountain makes far more traditional country/Appalachian folk than most of TIAM’s rockier bands; beautiful harmonies and great picking on both guitar and banjo. Contains a startlingly spectacular cover of Will Johnson’s gorgeous “Just To Know What You’ve Been Dreaming”.
Old Crow Medicine Show — Carry Me Back: a return to strictly traditional bluegrass after a diversion into genre-boundary pushing on the excellent Tennessee Pusher, this is a great record from a solidly established band. With tracks like “We Don’t Grow Tobacco Anymore” and “Mississippi Saturday Night”, it’s also an overt love song to the South, a subject that OCMS is no stranger to, but which is evident in spades on this album. Lovely and well done.
Kelly Hogan — I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: friend of Bloodshot records Kelly Hogan has been around the alt country and Americana scenes for years, with her whiskey smooth voice and ability to harmonize with everyone on the planet, but this is her first record under her own name in 8 years. It’s a collection of songs that Hogan wrote for herself, and that she collected from friends and collaborators, and it’s absolutely staggering, both in writing and in voice. The title track alone, with Hogan cooing like a pop star and wailing like a Delta blues singer from the ’20s sometimes in the same line, would be worth the purchase, but every song is just as good as the last. This is a stellar surprise in 2012.