BEST COUNTRY The Best Country Music on Bandcamp: January 2024 By Ben Salmon · January 31, 2024

Welcome to Year Three of The Best Country Music on Bandcamp! As a reminder, this monthly round-up includes not just country music, but also stuff that’s country-adjacent, like singer-songwriters, old-time music, Western swing, Southern rock, solo acoustic guitar, and so on. And as an administrative note, please be aware that a few albums on this list came out in December, too late for November’s edition of Best Country Music and in the middle of year-end best-of-2023 season. You’ll find Appalachian honky-tonk, low-key country covers, teenage blues from Ireland, and more. Enjoy!

Shawn Hess
Wild Onion

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

What kind of country music scene do they have out there in Laramie, Wyoming? Your guess is as good as mine, unless you live there, in which case your guess is probably better than mine. Here’s what I do know: Laramie is the home of singer-songwriter Shawn Hess, a singer-songwriter who excels at recording and releasing twangy music that sounds like it’s several decades old. A follow-up to his fine 2022 album Hey, Friend, Wild Onion is a 10-track collection of well-crafted country and western music that ranges from “traditional” to “throwback” to “are you sure this record is new and not actually from the ‘60s?”

Lizzie No

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

The first sentence on the “about” page of Lizzie No’s website is short and sweet: “Let’s start with this: genre is a construct.” Fair enough! Here at Best Country Music, we have welcomed folk, bluegrass, Americana, roots rock, and beyond since day one. So Lizzie No’s new album Halfsies belongs here precisely because it’s a rousing and radiant document of the New York songwriter’s omnivorous approach to folk rock. Sometimes, No’s music is quiet and intimate. Sometimes, their pop instincts shine through. Sometimes, they’re downright punk-ish or Nashville-style twangy. In all cases (and those in between), No’s songs—the arrangements, the melodies, the stories—feel uncommonly vibrant, like they’re leaping from the speakers and into your heart.

Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), 2 x Vinyl LP

It’s appropriate that this live album from the band formerly known as Mandolin Orange is available on “smokey” vinyl, because Watchhouse’s songs seem to unfurl slowly and just hang in the air—especially when you can hear the sound of an enthusiastic audience in between. Musically speaking, the North Carolina duo conjures a lot of beauty out of a few basic parts, but Live at The Moody Theater crisply captures what makes them special: The shadows and light that lives within their arrangements. The nuances of their performance. The way their voices intertwine and melt into one. The impressive patience of their bluegrass-flecked folk music and the comfort it brings.

Colby T. Helms
Tales of Misfortune

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now: Colby T. Helms sounds a lot like Tyler Childers. Like, a lot. More precisely, Helms sounds like he is heavily influenced by Childers—no surprise, given their shared Appalachian roots and latter’s enormous stature among a rising generation of songwriters. Anyway, Helms’s vocal familiarity wouldn’t matter much if he couldn’t write a song, but he certainly can; Tales of Misfortune offers eight tracks of bluegrass-y country music about heartbreak, holler livin’, moonshine and loss, sung with the authority of someone from Boones Mill, Virginia, Population 250ish. Most impressive? Helms wrote these tunes as a senior in high school. He’s already good, and he’s just getting started.

Various Artists
STOP MVP: Artists From WV, VA & NC Against the Mountain Valley Pipeline

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Sprinkled in among this sprawling compilation’s 40 tracks are songs that don’t fit the premise of this column: Hip-hop, noise, drone music, rock ‘n’ roll. But most live within the broad universe of adventurous Appalachian roots music, with a pleasant surprise around every corner. Highlights include Elizabeth LaPrelle’s traditional singing, The Skyline Boogie Boys’ cosmic country, Joe Troop’s protest bluegrass, and sublime instrumental works by Joseph Decosimo, Yasmin Williams, and Grand Banks. This cup runneth over!

Old Heavy Hands
Small Fires

In last September’s column, I wondered if Bob Lefevre & the Already Gone’s brawny roots rock might signal a surge of bands that sound like Texas-based alt-country giants Slobberbone. I was kidding, mostly, but here’s another that fits the bill: Old Heavy Hands from Greensboro, North Carolina, whose new album Small Fires spills over with crunchy guitars, gravelly vocals, Springsteen horns, Southern rock, and punky twang. Drive By Truckers is a more likely touchstone for these dudes—either way, they’re carrying the torch for the “alt” side of alt-country, loud and proud.

Muireann Bradley
I Kept These Old Blues

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

This revelatory debut from Irish teenager Muireann Bradley is one of the aforementioned albums on this list that came out in December, so let’s catch up: Bradley, now 17 years old, grew up hearing her father’s blues records in the car and around their home in County Donegal, then started learning how to play some of her favorite tunes while stuck at home during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. I Kept These Old Blues features her uncluttered, voice-and-guitar take on 12 blues, ragtime, and folk standards, each played with impressive dexterity and sung with a youthfulness that brings new energy and perspective to these very old tunes.

Doug Paisley
Sad Old World

Less than a year after landing on Best Country Music on the strength of his own excellent songs, Canadian singer-songwriter Doug Paisley returns with an album of covers of classic country and folk tunes, plus one new original. An understated and underrated wonder for 15 years now, Paisley’s style is so distinctive—hushed and humble, but reliably luminous—he can’t help but Doug-ify classic love songs by legendary songwriters like Lefty Frizzell, Blaze Foley, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens, and Whitey Shafer. He makes them his own but does so with the care and respect they deserve.

Smith & Tegio
Can’t Stay Here

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Smith & Tegio sounds like a buddy cop TV show, or perhaps a top-shelf brand of marinara sauce. In fact, Smith & Tegio is Austin Smith and Mark Tegio, two songwriters from California who met through skateboarding and eventually bonded over their shared appreciation for songcraft icons like Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits. The music they make together sort of splits the difference between those two; it’s unmistakably country, but with ragged edges and a wild-eyed spirit that makes listening to Can’t Stay Here feel like you’re sitting on these dudes’ porch, listening to ‘em play just for you.

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