I have a large amount of respect for the business acumen and hook-writing capabilities of some of the foremost power players in Nashville– the Lukes, Blakes and Keith. Sometimes, it’s nice to have my brain chew on some disposable (pop-ish) country music as I navigate my day.
But, more often than not, I prefer music with a little more depth and substance. I like hearing songs performed by the person who actually wrote the lyrics. These days, I guess you could say the majority of my music falls under the broad banner of “Americana.” I like old stuff from The Band, Allman Brothers, and John Hiatt. I love the Texas troubadours, like Robert Earl Keen and Jerry Jeff Walker. And the talent from up-and-coming stars such as Sturgill Simpson is undeniable.
These are the singer-songwriters that always seem to be at the top of my playlists:
The son of the famed author Larry McMurtry (heyo “Lonesome Dove”) continues to jaunt up and down the highways of this country (and beyond) plying his craft. McMurtry has a command of the English language and storytelling that is on par with the best novelists of our time.
James McMurtry is provocative, introspective, and wryly hilarious. He has a new album coming out this month. Here’s the first single off that record.
Don’t wear those bedazzled “country” jeans when you go to watch Hayes (or even when you listen to him). Hayes Carll hails from Texas, went to college in Arkansas, and crisscrosses this country singing his wonderful canon of work. Carll’s songs are full of melancholy, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. He’s self-deprecating, impossibly romantic and best seen in a quiet, old, dark venue.
Carll will make you laugh your ass off with his wild stories and perspectives on life. He’ll also make you cry and reflect. “I guess you could say I write degenerate love songs,” Carll says. “That, and songs about people who’re wedged between not much and even less; people who see how hopeless it is and somehow make it work anyway. And the best kind of irony, sometimes, is applying no irony and letting reality do the work.”
The last couple years have been absolutely massive for Jason Isbell. The former Drive-By Trucker has sobered up, gotten married to Americana darling Amanda Shires, and ridden the wild success of his last album– Southeastern. Isbell has fought off his personal demons and is finally realizing his incredible potential. His writing and storytelling has received major critical acclaim. Hell, he’s a favorite of David Letterman.
The next time Jason Isbell makes a stop in your neck of the woods, you better get your tickets quick. He sells out just about anywhere he cools his heels for an evening. I hope you listen and get inspired the way I do.
What do you think of this trio? I’ll keep sharing my favorites, and I’d love to hear some of yours.
Image Source: Jeremy Scott for CO, Hayes Carll, Scott Dudelson/Best Music Photography