Year-end Top 10 list: Randy Lewis
No. 1. Emmylou Harris “Hard Bargain” (Nonesuch). This exquisite collection from the woman who has been the conscience of progressive country music for more than three decades ranks with the best work she's done. Intelligent, empathetic and unflaggingly insightful about the depths to which humanity can sink as well as the pinnacles to which it can rise.
No. 2. Anna Calvi “Anna Calvi” (Domino). A powerfully impressive, richly atmospheric debut from an English singer-songwriter-guitarist who wraps striking sketches of romantic obsession in evocative soundscapes in the tradition of Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti and delivers then with the visceral power of Dick Dale and PJ Harvey.
No. 3. Shelby Lynne “Revelation” (Everso). The rabble-rousing alt-country singer and songwriter tackles head on the legacy of tragedy life handed her. She neither flinches from painful truths, nor gives in to despair.
No. 4. Joe Henry “Reverie” (Anti-). Henry's deceptively casual approach to music making creates an ambience of musical freedom, which he uses to great advantage in his obliquely impressionistic songs.
No. 5. DeVotchKa “100 Lovers” (Anti-). The Colorado collective's catholic musical reach is inspiring.
No. 6. John Hiatt, “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns” (New West). One of the esteemed singer-songwriter's strongest efforts in years, an examination of those things that really count in life once one learns how to move beyond the trivialities that so often consume us.
No. 7. Dave Alvin “Eleven Eleven” (Yep Roc). Loss and its myriad ripples are at the heart of the veteran Southland rocker's sharply etched songs.
No. 8. Hayes Carll “KMAG YOYO” (Lost Highway). One of the freshest voices to emerge in country in years, this Texan happily avoids all the cliches that hamper so many in the field. His songwriting and his vocal delivery are equally freewheeling.
No. 9. Steve Earle “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (New West). Earle never lost his gift as a writer, but his voice had long been ravaged by the self-destructive path he has left behind as he has regained his career footing — and his expressive capabilities.
No. 10. Mike Eldred Trio, “61 and 49” (Zoho Roots). Bringing life to a genre as thoroughly trod as the blues isn't easy, but veteran Southland guitarist, singer and songwriter makes it seem easy on this thoroughly energized session.
— Randy Lewis
Photo: Emmylou Harris. Credit: Jack Spencer.