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2013: The Year in Roots Music

  • Katherine Cole

Slaid Cleaves (credit: Karen Cleaves)

Slaid Cleaves (credit: Karen Cleaves)

As we close out 2013, it's time to share some highlights of American Roots music highlights for the year.

They include Slaid Cleaves’ 10th release-“Still Fighting The War.” The original inspiration for the song came to Cleaves from a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a song that ended up taking him four years to write.

“I’d seen stories in the news about Vets coming back and having a hard time and you know, frankly, I knew…I remember writing down in a notebook when we went to war in Iraq… I said ’10 years from now, we’re going to have Iraq War Vets on every street corner, they’re going to be homeless," Cleaves said. "They’re going to be having a hard time adjusting. It’s going to be the Vietnam situation all over again.’ I wanted to write a song that kind of told their story. Not to advocate or anything. But just tell their story-that people are having a hard time coming back.”


Other discs receiving widespread acclaim this year include “American Kid,” the seventh release by Austin singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, “The Ash & Clay”-- a disc showcasing great harmonies by indie folk duo The Milk Carton Kids -- and “Build Me Up From Bones,” which earned Sarah Jarosz two Grammy nominations.

Jason Isbell performs at the 54th edition of the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, July 27, 2013.

Jason Isbell performs at the 54th edition of the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, July 27, 2013.

It has also been a big year for Nashville-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell. “Southeastern,” Isbell’s first album since quitting drinking, getting married and, as he puts it, “straightening my life out” has landed on many music critics’ “Best of 2013” lists.

Isbell creates vivid characters in his songs, blending country, rock and soul. After spending much of this year touring the U.S., Canada and Europe, Isbell just announced that in 2014 he will make his first ever tour of Australia and New Zealand.

It was a good year for bluegrass, too. Country star Alan Jackson talked for 15 years about making a bluegrass record and finally did, calling on many of Nashville’s best pickers to play with him.

Perennial favorite The Del McCoury band was back with “The Streets of Baltimore.” McCoury, who will turn 75 in two months, has been playing bluegrass and touring for more than half a century. The new recording finds the band covering Bobby Bare’s 1966 hit on the title track and the jazz standard “Misty,” They even bring in some honky-tonk piano as they tackle Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Once More With Feeling.”

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (Photo by Mark Seliger)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (Photo by Mark Seliger)

Other bluegrass albums of note this year include “Carry Me Home” by Old Crow Medicine Show and “Love Has Come for You,” the disc of original songs by Edie Brickell and the actor-comedian-author-and-musician Steve Martin.

The International Bluegrass Music Association named New York based quintet The Gibson Brothers “Entertainer of the Year” for a second straight year. They also named Eric Gibson “Songwriter of the Year” and "They Called it Music," which Gibson wrote with Joe Newberry, “Song of the Year.”
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