– 26 Years
CST's Take: It takes a courageous performer to swing the door wide open on a record, and it takes a skilled one to make you want to come inside to hum, sing, and dance along.
– West Cross Timbers
CST's Take: Even if, inexplicably, you don’t like fiddle or ukulele, you’ll stay for Amanda Shires’ singing voice and songwriting voice.
– Passion, Pride and What Might Have Been
CST's Take: True-to-her roots country music, with a voice and a presence that deserve the expert veteran accompaniment on the record and on the road.
– The Killer In Me
CST's Take: The kind of singer-songwriter that gives singer-songwriters a very good name, thanks to wit, a way with words, and the willingness to rock.
– BlackTop Road
CST's Take: Lovely (and theater-trained) vocals, penetrating songs and a restless heart that always finds its way back home with stories to tell.
– Honkytonk and Vine
CST's Take: David Serby's sounds great standing on the corner of Honkytonk and Vine, but he also has the talent to left-turn on to Tex-Mex and Country Soul.
– Nature of the Blues
CST's Take: By all accounts, a ton of mutual admiration exists between Joe Ely and Bruce Springsteen; Eric Hisaw’s hardworking-class Southwestern rock 'n' roll often feels like the perfect middle ground between that pair.
Girls Guns and Glory
– Inverted Valentine
CST's Take: Girls Guns and Glory have big-name heroes, and they honor them with Roy Orbison-styled vocals mixed with Hank heartbreak and Buddy and Chuck early-rock energy, finished with just the right amount of polish and radio readiness.
– Stand Up Man
CST's Take: West Coast (albeit with deep south roots) rockin' country, with wit, twang, and hooks applied in the perfect measure to sell the stories
Hearts and Daggers
– And there was Dust
CST's Take: Students of country classicism and celebrators of the rugged stories central to it (albeit with those tales reshaped by leader Kevin Wolfe's personal travels) and purveyors of bruised-and-boozed rockin' country
Hoots and Hellmouth
– The Holy Open Secret
CST's Take: CST has to admit that Hoots and Hellmouth themselves have said it best by stating that they represent "new music for old souls."
Joe Swank and the Zen Pirates
– Hank Williams Died for My Sins
CST's Take: A witty, rousing sermon preached to the alternative country choir from the Chicago/North Carolina singer and journalist on his third try.
– Big Gold Guitar in the Sky
CST's Take: Carries echoes of your basic roots-country- rock all-star team - Van Zandt, Young, Earle, Farrar - but also sports plenty of moments that are clearly pure Jon Itkin.
– Times Right Now
CST's Take: Songs celebrating the good ol’ days made in good ol’ today and somehow sounding like both; in other words, despite the throwback influences and vintage instruments, this isn’t antique music.
– Nowhere Nights
CST’s Take: Rootsy rock with a lot of heart and/or heart-baring rock that honors its roots (as in echoes, in varying degrees, of all listed under “Musical Influences” above)
– Faith in the Shadows
CST's Take: Songs masquerading as short stories (or maybe the other way around) presented in a voice, part Lucinda Williams and part Jimmie Dale Gilmore, that haunts and penetrates.
Mary Johnson Rockers
– No Place for Birds to Rest
CST's Take: A voice built for singing of lingering touches (check out her gorgeous Two Step) and songwriting skills built for the subtle but lasting detail.
– New Season Comin'
CST's Take: Matt Urmy has one of those old souls that you read about and a big ol' humanist heart a la John Prine (or Prine's honorary godson Todd Snider), and he presents his songs in a semi-raw voice that ranges from hushed to hallelujah and gives extra depth to his messages.
– Between the Whiskey and the Wine
CST's Take: Vintage country sounds and stories - in other words, from-the-heart writing and plenty of pedal steel guitar, just as Webb Pierce intended.
– Trailer Park Angel
CST's Take: Country-rock with a massive emphasis on the latter half. In other words, more Georgia Satellites than George Jones, more Dave Edmunds than Dave Dudley.
– Not Crazy Tonight
CST's Take: Texas-born roots rock with just the right amount of atmosphere. If Jimmy Webb hadn't written Galveston, R.G. Stark eventually would get around to doing so.
– The Spirit, The Water, and the Blood
CST's Take: A strong message presented gently, backed by a righteous blend of country gospel and soulful rock.
Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags
– All the Great Aviators Agree
CST's Take: A band van's worth of sounds and styles, with what seems like stops at every honky-tonk and pub on the Americana trail from the Pacific Northwest to Austin.
– Leap of Faith
CST's Take: If you subscribe to the Big Tent theory of Americana, then Seth Walker - with his blend of blues, gospel, pop, r&b, rock, and a dash country - just might be your poster boy.
Ted Russell Kamp
– Poor Man's Paradise
CST's Take: Top-notch singer/songwriter skills catches up with roots music as it wanders from the West Coast to Memphis and New Orleans and Nashville and...
– Still Your Fool
CST's Take: Bakersfield-in-Brooklyn time-machine country music with just the right congregation of fools, broken hearts and broken-hearted fools.
– Empty Pockets
CST's Take: Acoustic instrumentation creating rustic frames that serve to highlight the snapshots of fringe-dwellers within. Live, though, it’s another story; the frame glass has been known to crack.