While 2017 will be remembered for many things, it turned out to be a great year for new music. Artists including Steve Earle & the Dukes, Lee Ann Womack, Chris Stapleton, Rhiannon Giddeons and Jason Isbell turned out some amazing albums over the past 12 months, but you don’t need me to tell you that.
Instead, I am going to focus on my own purely subjective list that evolves mainly from music festivals I attended, interviews I conducted and stories I published online on this blog, HalfwaySouth.com or on HuffPost that features my favorite genres (primarily folk, Americana, country, rock) and up-and-coming artists that I hope you will take the time to listen to in the coming year and beyond.
And now, in no particular order, here’s my picks for the best listens of 2017. Happy listening!
Billy Strings –– When Michigander Billy Strings released his debut, psychedelic, thrash-y bluegrass album, “Turmoil & Tinfoil,” in September it charted at No. 3 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts. ‘Nuff said.
Anna Tivel –– Portland, Oregon-based Anna Tivel weaves vivid, complicated, tales of empathy and pain on her new album, “Small Believer,” released in September. Read more about what I thought of my exclusive first listen on HuffPo.
Dori Freeman — A native of Galax, Virginia, Dori Freeman‘s sophomore album, “Letters Never Read,” released in October finds Freeman in top form, with Teddy Thompson, Kacy & Clayton and Aoife O’Donovan.
Natalie Hemby — You may not have heard of Natalie Hemby, but you have heard her songs including “White Liar,” which she co-wrote with her friend Miranda Lambert. Hemby’s debut album “Puxico” hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart shortly after its January release and making Hemby the only female solo artist on the list.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band released a greatest hits album featuring five decades of American music in February. Check out this interview I did with founding member Jeff Hanna on the band’s 50th anniversary in September 2015.
Lowland Hum — A duo from Greensboro, North Carolina, who now call Charlottesville, Virginia home, Lowland Hum’s album, “Thin,” was released in February and followed up by a holiday album, ”Songs for Christmas Time,” a collection of low-key holiday tunes released in November.
The Steel Wheels — The four-piece Virginia-based string band The Steel Wheels is releasing its newest album, “Wild As We Came Here,” exclusively at the 30th anniversary of the Americana festival MerleFest.
Scythian — If MerleFest has a house band, it’s Scythian, the Celtic rockers who initially played their way into fans’ hearts busking outside the grounds as festival goers were waiting in line. The band also released its greatest hits album, “Dance All Night,” in April at the festival.
Zoe & Cloyd — Fans of the former Americana trio Red June will be happy to hear Zoe & Cloyd, the Appalachian roots husband and wife duo that made up two-thirds of that group, have a second full-length album, “Eyes Brand New,” coming out April 7.
Wild Ponies — Doug and Telisha Williams, otherwise known as the Wild Ponies decided to get back to their musical and geographic roots with their newest album, “Galax,” a tribute to Southwest Virginia and the nearby Blue Ridge Music Center, released in August.
Shiloh Hill — Shiloh Hill is a self-described eclectic folk-rock band that layers traditional folk instruments over a rock band rhythm section. The Greensboro, North Carolina-based band released its first full-length album, “Wildflower,” in August.
Mipso — Chapel Hill, North Carolina, quartet Mipso released its highly anticipated new album, “Coming Down The Mountain,” in April.
Super Doppler — Major & the Monbacks officially changed its name to Super Doppler prior to releasing “Moonlight Anthems” in June.
Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters — This band’s new self-titled album, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters, was released in June on Organic Records. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Platt is a storyteller by nature with an incredible band backing her. Learn more here.
Front Country — Front Country ‘s sophomore, “Other Love Songs,” which the progressive RootsPop band from San Francisco, California, refers to as their Roots Pop opus, was released in April.
Flatt Lonesome — Named the Vocal Group of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in Raleigh, North Carolina, Flatt Lonesome released “Silence In These Walls,” the fourth CD from this powerhouse vocal and instrumental group at IBMA in September.
Chamomile & Whiskey — The Nelson County, Virginia-based Chamomile & Whiskey‘s sophomore album “Sweet Afton” was released in October. This high-energy band’s eclectic sound is a mix of bluegrass melodies and traditional Irish rhythms blending Americana and Southern Rock with Irish, gypsy and old-time music.
Molly Tuttle — Named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year, Molly Tuttle is the first woman to win this coveted award. She released her EP, “Rise” in June.
Couldn’t Be Happiers — The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based duo, “Couldn’t Be Happiers,” is made up of Jodi Hildebran (vocals, guitar, harmonica) and Jordan Crosby Lee (vocals, guitar), who both happen to be Wake Forest University School of Law alumni.
Tyler Barham — Tyler Barham made “History” with the native Montanan’s newest EP, which charted at No. 7 on the iTunes Country Album Chart in May. Madison, North Carolina, native John Griffin is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who was a co-writer on three of the EPs songs: “History,” “Outrun the Radio” and “Don’t Need to Know.”