Culture Currents and No Depression Celebrate the Best Roots Music Albums of 2015

ND2015_CoverThe cover of the first edition of No Depression’s revived print publication in 2015.

Like many, I feared for the fate of No Depression: The Roots Music Authority when, financially strapped, it folded as a print magazine operation in 2008, and became a sprawling online site. The publication had exposed a vast movement of simultaneously backward-and-forward-looking musical art and craft, mining most of the  indigenous genres that have shaped the history of American music.

So the irony rang darkly that ND had forsaken the traditional print media form in which it had, despite its fascination with music traditions, bucked conventionality and even easy category — note the previous subtitle: The Bi-monthy Journal of Alt.Country Movement (Whatever that is) — for the fashionable and engulfing virtual presence of e-media.

No Dep merle-haggard

A cover of the print edition of No Depression magazine, established in 1995, here in its print-edition heyday.

And today, as The Carter Family once sang and as the 1980s alt-country band Uncle Tupelo revived the sentiment: “There’s no depression in heaven,” and plenty less in the roots-music realms of battered, tattered planet Earth.

The results of have proved mainly rich expansion and even improvement in successive stages. The online edition soon became a strong international community of music lovers, as the editors allowed broad lee-way for anyone in the community to contribute, in a quite democratic manner. As a long-time music/arts journalist, I joined the community quickly and enjoyed the sense of connection, dialogue and debate among engaged, passionate people throughout Cyberscape.

Puttering along on modest funds, the website finally gained invaluable financial influx when purchased by FreshGrass LLC in 2014. The new dual leadership instigated a largely successful redesign and streamlining of the site, with a return to a strong accent on professional journalism without betraying the music community that gives site its unique vitality. Then, bucked most trends of mass media by returning to a print edition in September 2015, which publishes articles written exclusively for the print edition.

They also began to again commission long online cover stories from journalists in the community, with very competitive pay, to which I gladly contributed with a major profile of the great Chicano roots-rock band Los Lobos, upon release of their superb 2015 album Gates of Gold. Shortly after, the still-under-recognized 40-year-old group finally earned a nomination for The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, boosted by a fascinating new band biography Los Lobos: Dream in Blue by Chris Morris.

gates of gold cover

So a hearty Culture Currents congratulations to No Depression, ably headed by vibrant and industrious editor Kim Reuhl, for a remarkable year of revival and reinvention.

Besides regular contributions, including jazz postings that I hope expanded the purview of the site, I’ve also contributed to‘s annual critics’ top 10, which complements the readers’ best of the year list of 50 favorite albums.

Interestingly this year, my choices harmonized more with the larger community than with the other critics, as none of my top 10 choices concurred with the critics aggregate top 10. There’s no second-guessing on my choices although — with roots music’s remarkable breadth and depth — a goodly handful of surely-worthy albums eluded me by my poll deadline. Nevertheless here is my top 10 for the year followed by (on the link) the community top 50 albums of 2015. And finally the composite of the NoDepression critics best albums of 2015.

Here for Culture Currents (Vernaculars Speak) is my critics poll top 10 albums of 2015 chosen by, with links to CC/ND coverage I gave certain albums. As I wrote to editor Kim Reuhl in submitting this list, “I really struggled with the top two, which are a virtual a tie for best of the year, in my book. But as great as Gates is as a group statement, and though richer musically, McMurtry’s Complicated Game represents him in his prime and, even encompassing relationships, sticks in my brain and heart as a single artist’s vision of America.”

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Kevin Lynch — Top 10 roots music recordings of 2015

  1. Complicated Game — James McMurtry
  2. Gates of Gold — Los Lobos
  3. Happy Prisoner:  The Bluegrass Sessions —  Robert Earl Keen
  4.      Understory — Bill Camplin
  5. Salt as Wolves — Jeffrey Foucault
  6.    The Firewatcher’s Daughter — Brandi Carlile
  7. Terraplane — Steve Earle
  8.    Second Hand Heart – Dwight Yoakam
  9.    Kokomo Kid — Guy Davis
  10. The Trackless Woods — Iris DeMent

And this is the Readers’ Poll of Top 50 albums of 2015 followed by the ND critics top ten.

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