April was an excellent month for country and country-adjacent music on Bandcamp, with some big names releasing excellent records. But there are hidden gems out there, too, like an impressive debut from a new blues artist, sheepish folk songs by a guy who has co-written with Weezer, and a strangely compelling mishmash of lo-fi pedal steel experiments. Check ‘em all out below.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
In his songs, Joshua Hedley has called himself “Mr. Jukebox” (on the 2018 album of the same name) and a “singing professor of country and western” (on his brand new album Neon Blue). However, those nicknames seem insufficient for a guy who is more like a walking, talking encyclopedia of twang. Where Jukebox explored the sounds of mid-20th century country music, Neon Blue tackles the early 1990s, when the fiddle and steel guitar of the genre’s past collided with the arena-ready choruses and rock guitars of its present. Hedley is a skilled singer, songwriter, and player who handles all the above with aplomb.
Hard Times and a Woman
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
It’s hard to believe that Hard Times and a Woman is Richmond, Virginia singer, songwriter, and guitarist Justin Golden’s debut, but it is, and it is proof that some musicians emerge fully formed and ready to shine. Across the album, Golden’s songs are stirring and sturdily built around lyrics that distinctly illuminate the Black experience in America. At the same time, he never fails to let a little light in—poppy guitar jangle here, radiant background harmonies there. The result is a patchwork of blues, country, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll that feels three-dimensional and deeply rooted.
Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway
Compact Disc (CD)
After several albums of exquisite Americana music, NorCal-to-Nashville mega-talent Molly Tuttle decided it was time to make a bluegrass record. So she gathered a band of killer pickers and called in a jaw-dropping roster of guests, including Sierra Hull, Margo Price, Billy Strings, Dan Tyminski, and Gillian Welch. (Nice Rolodex, Molly!) This crew, unsurprisingly, turned out 13 tracks of modern, ultra-melodic bluegrass that feel like zooming down a long, straight stretch of asphalt toward a bright blue horizon. Tuttle fills her songs with social commentary and stories of badass women, which only adds to the sense that you are listening to the future of roots music.
Over the past several years, Jarrad K has been primarily a behind-the-scenes guy, co-writing songs with Weezer (among others), producing many records, and closely collaborating with Ruston Kelly on his last two (excellent) albums. On Progress, he steps into the spotlight—sort of. K’s first full-length effort is a quiet, almost sheepish collection of self-recorded indie-folk songs about love, loss, fear, doubt, perseverance, and deliverance—it is the sound of sadness and a studio wizard colliding, basically. Progress is stripped down and dimly lit, but the emotions that run through these tunes are raw, real, and relatable.
The Dead Tongues
Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, Vinyl LP
In the second half of 2020, when many musicians used their newfound free time to write and record, former Hiss Golden Messenger guitarist Ryan Gustafson put down his instruments and contemplated quitting the game altogether. After a few months in the wilderness, he found new inspiration, returned to songwriting, and recorded Dust, an album of ambling country, blues, and rock that unfolds slowly, like shadows moving across some Appalachian mountain. It is a collection that’s sometimes bluegrassy, sometimes jammy, and always beautiful, doubling as an excellent reminder that we all should rest and recharge now and then.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
A veteran of the New York City underground, Zachary Cale’s brand of folk rock sits somewhere near the midpoint between Kurt Vile’s breezy, mystical jams and the quietly simmering intensity of Amen Dunes. And therein lies his magic: Cale is a multi-dimensional song-conjurer, capable of crafting songs that saunter and shimmer on the surface, but hold deeper, darker insights that reveal themselves upon repeated listens. “Miles ahead or miles behind,” he sings creakily on Skywriting. “It don’t pay to think that way, for miles don’t measure your worth, my friend.”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Canadian singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell has a gift for making mesmerizing music with few tools. The songs on her new album Stolen Time are simply arranged, with an acoustic guitar or piano as the foundation and an occasional horn or harmonica or accordion for color. The result is a collection of eclectic folk songs that are sparse, pretty, and, at times, almost ambient. Nevertheless, the backbone of this work is Lapell’s voice, which is softly spellbinding and has drawn comparisons to none other than Gillian Welch. Welch’s earthy vocals evoke dusty bygone times; Lapell’s, by contrast, feel dreamy and modern. Stolen Time will transport you to somewhere lush and lovely if you let it.
Old Crow Medicine Show
Paint This Town
At some point, “Wagon Wheel” became so ubiquitous among local cover bands that bars across the country banned the song. That’s not the fault of Old Crow Medicine Show, who just wrote a song everyone wanted to sing, which is not a bad thing! Nearly two decades later, the ever-evolving cast of O.C.M.S. is still spreading the string-band gospel, and their new album Paint This Town sounds like a mid-career revival, thanks to a reinvigorated punk spirit, the addition of permanent drummer Jerry Pentecost, and a thematic turn toward heavy issues like addiction, divorce, climate change, and racism in America.
First Generation American
At a time when the United States’s vaunted melting pot is under attack, along comes Elliah Heifetz, a singer-songwriter who embodies the concept. The son of political refugees from the Soviet Union, Heifetz peppers his debut full-length with cleverly written tunes about the immigrant experience in America, struggles with mental health and the pressures of making music in a world driven by streaming and social media. Here, Heifetz—who has a flourishing career as a composer for stage and screen—bounces effortlessly back and forth between boisterous country-rock and gentle, pretty, Prine-style folk songs.
I Am Watching You
There are a lot of immaculately crafted albums on this list, and then there is Brenden Provost’s I Am Watching You, a single 18-minute track that moves haphazardly from song to song. Sometimes songs fade out unexpectedly. Sometimes they stop mid-thought. Sometimes they crash into each other. Either this is a conscious aesthetic choice on Provost’s part, or I Am Watching You is a disorderly demo tape. Either way, it’s full of interesting songs, snippets, and musical ideas that are centered around twangy pedal steel guitar work and that give off pre-Mellow Gold Beck vibes.