Tracks of 2014: Highway Stars

Our look back at the best tracks of the year continues with some ladies and gentlemen with rootsy appeal…

Lucinda Williams - Burning Bridges The first album on Lucinda Williams’ own label, Highway 20, wasn’t a major departure from the folk-rock style she’s known for, but it somehow sounds that little bit more personal. This is Williams at her damaged but defiant best.

Needtobreathe - State I’m In Leave your prejudices about christian rock at the door for a moment and you’ll find a lot to like about this South Carolina trio’s blend of rootsy gospel-inflected folk and hands-in-the-air stadium anthemics, wrapped around songs that seem to get stronger with each album.

Sheryl Crow - We Oughta Be Drinking Although never one to hide her country influences, Sheryl Crow’s move to Nashville a few years back led to a full-blown affair with the genre, and this paean to “getting shitfaced” (as she describes it – who knew they even used that phrase in the US?) shows she’s not lost her sense of humour in transit.

Cory Branan - The No-Hit Wonder Too punk for country, and too country for punk, Cory Branan has so far failed to make major inroads on the public consciousness. So why not make light of the fact? This title track from his new album is a classic example of turning adversity to your advantage.

Hiss Golden Messenger - Saturday’s Song “I might get a little crazy, I’m gonna drink some whiskey,” threatens MC Taylor on this track from his fourth album as Hiss Golden Messenger. The shambling piano backing and alt-country boogie behind it might even stir you to join him. In moderation, of course.

Drive-By Truckers - Hanging On These Alabama blue-collar troubadours have slowly slogged their way to a loyal following in the states, and the relatively restrained approach on their 10th album English Oceans only served to highlight the deep-pile quality of songwriting.

Marc Ford - Blue Sky The former Black Crowes guitarist may be known for his blues playing, but the acoustically inclined country-rock approach of this solo album suits him just as well, even if we aren’t complaining when he brings a few cheeky electric licks to the party.

Mark Lanegan Band - Harvest Home This man seems to get more prolific as he gets older – he’s just released his third solo album in as many years, to add to his collaborations with Isobel Campbell and Duke Garwood, and his leathery throat shows no signs of producing diminishing returns any time soon.

Justin Townes Earle - Worried Bout The Weather On this track from Single Mothers, the first of two thematically linked albums set to include next year’s Absent Fathers, Earle (Steve’s son, since you ask) shows a sensitive side to his songs of drinking and heartbreak. We like.

Baskery - The No No These Swedish lasses are intriguingly difficult to categorise, even if they variously refer to themselves as ‘KillBilly’, and ‘Nordicana’. And that’s as true as ever on this alluring stew of twangy guitars, countrified harmonies, rootsy stomp and rock punch.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.