The best country (and country-adjacent) albums released on Bandcamp feature Texas legends and up-and-comers; three Pacific Northwesterners; and a compilation of giants paying tribute to one of the greatest to ever play bluegrass. Enjoy!
Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl
Kassi Valazza lives in Portland, but she’s originally from Arizona, and there’s a distinctly Southwestern vibe that flows throughout her new album Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing. At 10 tracks long, it feels spacious and deliberate, thanks partly to Valazza’s personal style: She is a gentle wanderer whose songs exude a sturdy self-assurance. Her delivery is as much British folk revival as anything, but her band’s desolate twang is unmistakably country, and Kassi Valazza Knows Nothing is one of the best country-ish records of 2023’s first half.
The Chicago Sessions
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco has produced some terrific records over the past several years, and one of his gifts in that role is the ability to recognize when he should just get out of the way and exquisitely capture a great artist doing what they do best. The Chicago Sessions is an uncluttered document of the world-class songcraft that has made Rodney Crowell a legend of Texas music and one of the giants of not-quite-mainstream country over the past five decades. Playing it loose with a live band, he sounds as good as he has in years.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
L.A. Shit is country music, L.A.-style. So what does that mean? It means this album contains all the usual country elements—rollicking piano parts, bent guitar strings, heartfelt stories—but they’re put together and presented in a way that feels more laid-back and less precious than so many of its contemporaries. Which is not to say that GracieHorse is unserious about its version of country music. They just approach it with a healthy dose of punk spirit and a heaping helping of West Coast cool. The result is a record that’s effortlessly charming.
Western Sky Music
In the past, Jeffrey Silverstein’s music has teetered on the edge of ambient and country music, in part because it felt like the Portland-based songwriter was reluctant to push himself in one direction or the other. Western Sky Music, however, is undeniably country, thanks in part to the pedal steel guitar of Barry Walker Jr. but also to Silverstein’s rhythm section—bassist Alex Chapman and drummer Dana Buoy (of Akron/Family)—who help him lock into one twangy, easygoing groove after another.
I Am A Pilgrim – Doc Watson at 100
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The legendary bluegrass guitarist, singer and songwriter Doc Watson would’ve turned 100 this year, and as a tribute, Grammy-winning jazz guitarist Matthew Stevens produced this tribute album, which features an all-star lineup of artists, including Steve Earle, Yasmin Williams, Jeff Parker, Rosanne Cash, and Marc Ribot. Highlights include a tender take on “The Last Thing On My Mind” by none other than Dolly Parton, plus Valerie June and Bill Frisell turning “Handsome Molly” into a beautiful clash of Space Age guitar and old-time banjo.
Nothing for Me, Please
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
Dean Johnson is best known as a member of the excellent Seattle-based country band The Sons of Rainier, and also as a bartender in town who occasionally grabs a guitar and plays some solo songs that dissipate into the night, but not before they become the stuff of local barstool legend. He had never, however, released a solo album. The songs on Nothing For Me Please were recorded five years ago—one was written nearly two decades ago—and all of them showcase Johnson’s homespun tenor, graceful melodies and softly swaying country-folk, flecked with hints of Everly Brothers pop ‘n’ soul. A gem like this can’t stay hidden forever, apparently.
Cassette, Vinyl LP
First of all: Kudos to these Houston natives for bringing forward the best band name of the month. Alien Eyelid sounds like a punk band, but this quartet’s music on Bronze Star is an intriguing collision of gritty country music, chooglin’ Southern rock, and extended jams like the one that closes “Where Elgin Bends” with two and a half minutes of bouncy bass, low-key guitar heroics and steady, almost motorik rhythms. If they didn’t already have a great name, you could call ‘em Neu! Young.
Compact Disc (CD)
Whitney Rose is nothing if not a workhorse. Rosie is the Austin-based singer-songwriter’s sixth album, and she’s already working on its follow-up. But before we move on to whatever she does next, let’s take a minute to appreciate Rose’s irresistible brand of countrypolitan music, which fuses the neon twang of classic country with the smooth, baroque sounds of ‘60s pop. Along the way, she always sounds even-keeled and completely in control. In fact, the only thing more impressive than the likability of Whitney Rose’s music might be just how easy she makes it sound.