Year End Wrap Up Part 1

We got a lot of roots music in 2023 that we were not able to tell you about until now. Here are some of the best that came to us last year.

Danny O'Keefe - Circular Turns

Here's a real treat for O'Keefe fans in this 32-song collection of some of Danny's best-known cuts and fan favorites. Circular Turns is presented as a 2-CD set with the first CD holding songs that O'Keefe recorded between 1999 and 2017 while the second CD features a live show that was recorded in 2016. Included on the studio disc are re-recorded versions of the oft-covered "Angel Spread Your Wings," "Magdalena" and "The Road" which many will be familiar with because of Jackson Browne's cover. Also notable here is "Well, Well, Well," Danny's co-write with Bob Dylan. Most of the 17 songs cut in the studio are previously hard to find so fans will really appreciate this collection even before they pop in the second disc to hear the live set cut in St. Paul in 2016. Unlike the studio portion of the album that features a full band, the live set is just Danny and his guitar performing in an informal setting that leaves lots of room for him to talk about the songs in his intros. Circular Turns ends with the live take of O'Keefe's early hit "Goodtime Charlie's Got the Blues."

Alex Miller - Country

Miller's appearance on season 19 of "American Idol" was his springboard into a full time career as a country musician. Since then he has opened shows for the likes of Jamey Johnson, Lee Brice, Brooks & Dunn, Hank Williams Jr. and many others. Now, following on the heels of his successful Miller Time album from 2022 is Country, a five song EP. And country is exactly what the deep voiced native of Kentucky delivers here, with the hook-filled "Girl, I Know a Guy" and the Southern rock-tinged "When God Made the South." There are three songs that Miller co-wrote: "Every Time I Reach for You" that's filled with "missing you" sadness, the rollicking barn burner "Puttin' Up Hay" and the western swing of "Gettin' Lucky in Kentucky."

Clarence White - Lost Masters: 1963-1973

Here's a nice remembrance of the work of guitarist Clarence White who was a long-standing member of the Byrds (White died tragically in 1973 after being hit by a drunk driver while loading out from a gig.) The material here is split between acoustic and electric numbers, with many songs being done in the bluegrass style that White loved, from the opening cut "No Title Yet Blues," a banjo-driven romp penned by Eric Weissberg to "Fire on the Mountain" where White showcases his flat-picking guitar style to the pure hillbilly of "(Now and Then There's) A Fool Such as I." All of the preceding are instrumentals but also included is a great vocal number, a take on the Gene Parsons/Skip Battin co-write "Yesterday's Train." Highlights of the electric selections include a twangy instrumental take on Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" and an interpretation of the classic Bob Morris instrumental "Buckaroo" that was popularized by Buck Owens.

Sylvia Tyson - At the End of the Day

Tyson came to fame as one half of the folk duo Ian & Syvia way back in the '50s; she is now 83-years-old and has announced that At the End of the Day is her final album. With that considered, Tyson doesn't do any cover songs here; everything on the album was written or co-written by her. The mournful "Sweet Agony" is about the hope for new love while the also weepy "I Never Got Over You" reflects on love gone by and "Not Quite Rain" recalls the stylings of Ian & Sylvia. Sylvia's in a good mood for the upbeat, piano and fiddle-driven "Now Tell Me You've Got the Blues" with clever lyrics comparing one person's woes to those of someone better off. "Long Chain of Love" features prominent fiddle playing and is at a perfect mid-tempo for a dance; "Cynical Little Love Song" has an Irish-flavored bounce to it. "At the End of the Day" finds Sylvia singing to spare piano accompaniment and is clearly about facing one's mortality; fiddle, bass and drums kick in about halfway through the melancholy tune. Fiddle player Drew Jurecka, who features throughout, gets to take the album home with closing instrumental "Janet's Garden," one of the songs Tyson wrote on her own.

Kody West - Live at Billy Bob's Texas

If you're a country or Americana artist looking to record a live album in Texas there's no better venue than Billy Bob's in Fort Worth. West is from nearby Denton so this is his turf and the crowd gives him rousing support as he runs through a set of fan favorites. Working mostly in the roots rock vein and alt rock, West melds rock and modern country in the soaring "Buried Alive," mellows out with acoustic guitar and no band on the love song "Love Me Too" and "The Prayer" while "Alone" is an understated rocker with the band back on hand. If some of West's work reminds you of Incubus, well, you're right on; Kody says that Incubus has influenced him heavily and one of the set's standouts is a cover of their "Wish You Were Here." Another cover ends the generous 20-song set, a good Texas rockin' take on The Killers oldie "Mr. Brightside."

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