Sunday, January 26, 2014

TybeeDawg’s Pick of the Litter 2013

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When we finally rip that last month off from the auto parts calendar on the wall, its just human nature to look back at the previous year and reflect on what we saw, heard or felt. That remembrance is always a mixture of reality and perception, of what we wanted to have happen and what really did.

But that’s life.

John Lennon said “life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” and Warren Zevon famously quipped in his song that “life’ll kill ya.” Both are true and unfortunately, on January 18th of 2013, Craig Lieske was snatched, untimely, from this world.  Craig was more than the “merch guy” for the Drive-By Truckers; he was, to many, the face and soul of the band, the person fans talked to at every show, who always had a smile and a kind word. Craig passed away in the night during the band’s three-night homecoming stand at the 40 Watt and if anyone ever doubted the transformative, healing power of music, well, just talk to anyone who attended those shows.

The 2013 Pick of the Litter is dedicated to Craig Lieske: music lover, musician, music fan.  As Patterson Hood sings in Grand Canyon, a goodbye of sorts to Lieske from their upcoming release English Oceans, “I’ll lift my glass and smile.”

Album of the Year – Jason Isbell - Southeastern – Isbell’s new record is a finely polished dark gem, gleaming with addiction, redemption, and gumption.  Jason Isbell, through force of will and lack of alcohol, has forged his most complete set of songs yet and easily the finest record of the year.

Debut record of the YearWillie Sugarcapps - Nurtured in the fertile soil of the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm in Silverhill, Alabama, Willie Sugarcapps is roots music at its most organic. Five musicians who discovered that they love making music together and that people love what they do. Will Kimbrough joins with Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes (Capps’ guitar player), Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee (Sugarcane Jane) to create a mixture of bayou blues and country-rock with outstanding harmonies and incredible musicianship.

Song of the Year – Jason Isbell – Elephant - As a songwriter, Isbell is operating at a stratospheric, Guy Clark level, constructing lines like “sharecropper eyes and hair almost all gone.” Inside of Elephant, Southeastern’s emotional centerpiece, a tale of watching a friend suffer from cancer, he creates a place all too real.

Billy Bragg at Americanarama.
Live Performance of the Year – This is probably the hardest one to fill in given the elusive nature of the category. There are so many variables that don’t exist in the studio…sound, weather, the attitude of the artist or the audience…and my own subjective experience. But, I’ll have to give the nod to two of Billy Bragg’s Americana Festival appearances in Nashville. A radio interview as part of the conference and a solo performance at Americanarama, a sidebar daytime festival held in the backyard of Grimey’s New & Preloved Music, were both illuminating. Billy Bragg proved that punk can grow up, that attitude doesn’t have to disappear at 30, or 40, or even 50, that we can still rail against injustice with grey in our hair or with no hair at all, and we can do it with style, humor, panache and intelligence.

Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott.
Music Festival of the Year – The Americana Music Festival and Conference – Nashville has hosted this amazing collection of showcases, conference panels and an incredibly well-done awards show each year for the last fourteen years, and each year, it’s grown in popularity. The awards show at the Ryman sells out and many of the nightly showcases are standing-room only, but the showcase wristbands are still a good deal and the quality of music is unparalleled. Highlights of the 2013 festival were St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien, Scott Miller, and Houndmouth, but no matter where you end up, you’re bound to find some of the best and brightest Americana artists playing for a crowd of music lovers.

What else was good last year? Plenty:

My Favorite Picture of You – Guy Clark
The Marshall Mathers LP2 – Eminem
Tooth & Nail – Billy Bragg
Live in San Francisco – Ry Cooder            
This River – JJ Grey and Mofro
Opening Day - Peter Cooper
From the Hills below the City – Houndmouth
Down Fell the Doves – Amanda Shires  
Memories and Moments - Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott                              
My Dearest Darkest Neighbor – Hurray for the Riff Raff

Looking back, 2013 was truly a fine year of music from both new and established artists. 2014 is already off to a good start as I type this, with very strong releases from Rosanne Cash, Tinsley Ellis, Bruce Springsteen and the Hard Working Americans, a “super-group” with Todd Snider and Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), which is leading the early pack for album of the year.

My friend Anthony knew Craig Lieske.  My friend Anthony just celebrated his 40th birthday and his birthday wish for us was for “everyone to read good literature, listen to good music, and love one another a little more on our next trip around the sun.”  I concur.  I’m pretty damn sure Craig would too.

Curtis Lynch
Playgrounds Magazine January 2014

Photo of Craig Lieske courtesy of Beth Branson-Lakes.