BEST COUNTRY The Best Country Music on Bandcamp: February 2024 By Ben Salmon · March 11, 2024

As regular readers know, The Best Country on Bandcamp uses a broad definition of country, and this month we lean into the “country-ish” zone with albums by a New Orleans soul singer, a West Virginia roots rock band, and a couple of bluegrass artists making moody pop music. Dig into each, though, and you’ll hear the undertones that landed them here. Enjoy!

Willi Carlisle

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Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

If you aren’t already on the Willi Carlisle train, it’s time to grab your bindle and hop on. The Fayetteville, Arkansas folk singer made one of the best albums of 2022, and has now followed it up with another wonderful collection of vividly poignant stories that speak unvarnished truth. Whether he’s singing about forgiveness or spiritual confusion, self-loathing or society’s ills, a sweet-singing mama or a sad bastard of a dad, Carlisle does so with a sturdy voice and a lyrical creativity and precision matched by few of his peers. Critterland is the sound of a supremely skilled songwriter firing on all cylinders.

Missy Raines

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Compact Disc (CD)

First things first: Missy Raines is a world-class bassist who has won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bass Player of the Year award 10 times—more than anyone else. On Highlander, she also shows off her songwriting chops on clever tunes like “Who Needs A Mine?” which digs deep into the roots of the opioid crisis in her native West Virginia. Elsewhere, the album is a showcase for Raines and her band of bluegrass perfectos, Allegheny, plus an impressive list of guests that includes Kathy Mattea, Laurie Lewis, and Michael Cleveland. This is bluegrass at its best and bluegrass-y-est.

Daniel Young
Leave It Out To Dry

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Like the landscapes in his home state of Utah, Daniel Young’s fourth album of easygoing, twangy jams is dusty, expansive, and beautiful. The central component of Leave It Out to Dry, of course, is the songwriting, which blends rambling rock ‘n’ roll and slightly psychedelic country into the perfect soundtrack for watching the world blur by through a road-trip window. But it would be a mistake not to shout out Dylan Schorer and Muskrat Jones, who are both credited as playing pedal steel guitar on the record. Their work is consistently elegant and indispensable.

Hello, I’m Britti.

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

This debut from rising New Orleans powerhouse Brittiany Guerin is an excellent collection of soul, funk, pop, and R&B songs that are rooted in tradition but feel fresh and forward-looking at the same time. It’s on this list of February’s Best Country albums because of songs like “Back Where We Belong,” which proves Britti can do spacious, starlit pop-country, and “Keep Running,” a twang-rocker about moving on down the road. When she’s in country mode, Britti sounds like Golden Hour-era Kacey Musgraves gone Motown, and the results are stunning.

Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates
Restless Spirit

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Vinyl LP

When it comes time to write the liner notes for an album, most artists thank their families, friends, fellow bands, and such. Tucker Riggleman does that on Restless Spirit, but he also thanks the Dry Fork of the Cheat River, a cranberry bog, foxes and hawks—major sources of inspiration as he was writing this, his band’s sophomore effort, off the grid in a national forest. He then took that inspiration and cranked out 11 tracks of sturdy, overcast country rock about getting kicked in the teeth by life and getting up the next day. Relatable!

Desiree Cannon
Radio Heat

There’s unhurried country music, and then there’s Desiree Cannon’s sophomore effort Radio Heat, a set of 11 songs that seem to move across the mind like shadows across a room. Produced by Sam Doores of The Deslondes, the album reveals Cannon as an omnivorous artist capable of synthesizing a variety of styles—doo-wop, country pop, honky-tonk ballads, psychedelic folk, early rock ‘n’ roll—into a cohesive whole, and capturing a cool vibe along the way. This is not just one of the best country records of February, it’s one of the best-sounding releases of the young year.

Austin Leonard Jones
At The Polo Club

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Rest in peace, David Berman. Rise up, songwriters influenced—or who sound like they’re influenced, at least—by David Berman. California eccentric Austin Leonard Jones employs the same sort of deadpan vocal style and storytelling acumen as the late Silver Jews/Purple Mountains man, and he’s backed by a band with the chops to pull off that classic country sound, plus at least one instrumental train song. Don’t sleep on this understated release, folks—it’s another winner from the excellent Perpetual Doom record label.

Chatham County Line

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

You can find all kinds of bands out there bending and reshaping bluegrass in different ways. But you won’t find many doing it as successfully as Chatham County Line does on their 10th album, Hiyo. Formed two decades ago in Raleigh, North Carolina, CCL made its name as a bluegrass band—a bluegrass band that pushed against the boundaries of the genre, but unquestionably a bluegrass band. Here—aided by the departure of their banjo player—they jump out of the box with both feet, adding synths and programmed rhythms, beefing up the electric guitars, exploring moodier sounds, and coming out sounding something like the Wilco of bluegrass.

Sarah Jarosz
Polaroid Lovers

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Here we have another bluegrass stalwart growing and changing, trying on new sounds and styles, and finding great success. Since she was 18 years old, Sarah Jarosz has worked as a respected multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, with no fewer than four Grammy awards to her name in folk, roots, and Americana categories. Her seventh album, Polaroid Lovers, is a confident move into a more electrified pop-rock sound, which actually shifts the focus away from her virtuosity and toward her songcraft and her strong voice. If she keeps heading in this direction, we probably can’t keep her in Best of Country much longer. She’ll be OK.

The Roseline
Keystone Of The Heart

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

The Roseline is from Lawrence, Kansas, which is about as deep into the American Heartland as you can get. Accordingly, this long-running five-piece makes melodic, meat-and-potatoes roots rock that’s catchy enough to have landed the band a number of placements in films and TV shows. You can hear the appeal all over the band’s new album Keystone Of The Heart, which boasts nine warm, jangling Americana songs that suggest Whiskeytown without the bad attitude. Songwriter Colin Halliburton says it’s a protest record about hatred, violence, the end of a marriage, and the slog of existence under late-stage capitalism. That may be true, but if you’re blithely bopping along, you may not notice!

Raoul Eden

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This month’s album of solo instrumental acoustic guitar music comes from Raoul Eden, a French player who is inspired by the giants of the genre—John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Jack Rose—but also by African and Middle Eastern music, Indian ragas, various flavors of the blues, and Western classical music. On Anima, he takes all of these influences and unspools seven songs that are lyrical without saying a word, even as they crackle like a live wire.

Daniel Ullom
Happy Birthday Dewey

For his new album celebrating the music of North Carolina bluegrass legend Dewey Murphy, Best of Country veteran Daniel Ullom took up Murphy’s old Gibson F-5 mandolin, gathered a group of skilled pickers and recorded several old-time fiddle tunes plus a couple of Murphy originals. Flanked by banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass, Ullom leads the string band through 11 pitch-perfect performances that will thrill any fan of bluegrass or old-time music, and maybe some non-fans, too.

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