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The Best Albums of 2007 That No One Told You About
by Steve Circeo
It's time once again for what, in my opinion, are the best tunes you may have missed last year. You probably already have the latest releases from Ragweed, Walt Wilkins, Jack Ingram, Kevin Fowler, Kelly Willis, Shooter Jennings, Jimmy LaFave, Larry Joe Taylor, and other better known artists, so my goal each year is to turn you on to the music that doesn't necessarily get all the hype. These are the albums that stay in my CD player, the records that really makes me think, "Damn, I wish I could make music like that."

THE BEST: KANE WELCH KAPLIN – Kane Welch KaplinKane Welch Kaplin
Kane Welch Kaplin my #1 record of the year. This is stripped down Americana at its best, with fresh lyrics, beautiful vocal performances by Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, and some exciting, if subdued, instrumentation, including performances by Fats Kaplin on sitar and theremin. (And here I thought I had to go to a Sean McCarrey show to hear those instruments.) Songs like "I Wish I Had That Mandolin" and "Last Lost Highway" amaze me with the power wrapped inside the simplicity. That's great songwriting, folks.

THE REST, in alphabetical order by band/artist name.

Cody Hughes Davidson Band – Risky Game
Cody Hughes Davidson - Risky GameThe first studio album from this young gun out of Midland is remarkable. Cody Hughes Davidson wisely chose Keith Davis as his producer for Risky Game, and Keith's influence on this young songwriter's music is, while not heavy-handed, very much in evidence. It is perhaps best exemplified in the instrumentation for the powerful song "Huntsville Death Row" and also in my choice for Best Country Song of 2007 Not Released as a Single, "All Choked Up." Cody's voice is pure with a touch of rasp and his songwriting is simple and engaging.

Hans Frank – Unreleased Demo
Hans FrankHans Frank, formerly of 10 City Run, was kind enough to give me a copy of his 12-song demo this past summer, and to say I was blown away by it would be seriously understating its effect on me. This is the music I live to hear, full of independent spirit, soul, and weirdness. In addition to future classics like "Easter '94" and "Bleed, this collection includes my personal favorite, "Tar Tool," which is a country song about a zombie. 'Nuff said. I'm looking forward to the official release of this material, and you should be, too.

Jason Eady and the Wayward Apostles – Wild Eyed Serenade
Jason Eady - Wild Eyed SerenadeJason Eady took a big chance with this record. After all, his first release, From Underneath the Old, was very well received in Texas music circles, but with Wild Eyed Serenade, Jason has most decidedly ventured into the world of Americana. And, you know what? He seems very comfortable there. This is a beautifully self-produced effort that apparently landed Jason a spot on the 2008 American Songwriter Winter Tour.

Keith Davis – Answered Prayer
Keith Davis - Answered PrayerAfter self-producing his first record, the brilliant Sideman Blues, on a shoestring budget, Keith Davis went into the studio with Grammy®-nominated producer Mack Damon with the idea that he'd make a record that is big where it needs to be big, small where it needs to be small, and totally true to his vision for each song. The result is Answered Prayer, a damn fine record that not just combines, but beautifully blends blues, country, rock, and gospel.

Nathan Hamilton – Six Black Birds
Nathan Hamilton - Six Black BirdsNathan Hamilton may have been Kerrville's New Folk Award recipient in 2000, but he's rocking now! Six Black Birds packs a punch that doesn't let up until the end, the final song, where Nathan returns to his acoustic roots, just to show you he can still do it. The CD is worth picking up just for the song "Teeth," which has a great central riff and a heavy dose of attitude. Nathan leaves no doubt that his songwriting skills are intact, and I can't wait to follow him in whichever direction he heads next.

Pear Ratz – Holier Than Thou
Pear Ratz - Holier Than ThouIf you thought the Pear Ratz were just a garage band, well, you're right, but these guys are a garage band in the most positive sense of the phrase, and producer Bill Green captures the energy of one of the best live bands on the scene with this studio recording. The Ratz have been working on their songwriting skills since their critically acclaimed first album, Rat Now, and it shows. Hell, Holier Than Thou even includes a love ballad, "The Other You," which is, in fact, one of the best tracks on the record. Don't be concerned that these former metalmeisters have abandoned their roots, though, because they do bring on the noise, interspersed with some good ol' honkytonk with a couple of assists from their good friend Jarrod Birmingham.

Stephanie Briggs – Spark
Stephanie Briggs - SparkWith Spark, Stephanie Briggs has created a musical journey that includes "simple acoustic meanderings, wailing electric riffs, engaging instrumentation choices, and exciting vocal detours" (if I may quote my own review). The sound is pop, the melodies are fresh, and the style is innovative. All in all, a highly satisfying set of songs and a stunning achievement in pop music.

Terri Hendrix – Spiritual Kind
Terri Hendrix - Spiritual KindSpiritual Kind is enjoyable on so many levels, from the appreciation of a songwriter who is comfortable in her craft, through the thrill of listening to a performer who has the vocal range to carry off multiple genres, to the admiration of a master producer who makes it all come together. Terri, teamed up once again with producer Lloyd Maines, has created a soulful, introspective, wonderful piece of Americana, with just a touch of jazz thrown in for good measure.

Tres Womack – Freak Show
Tres Womack - Freak ShowRaw, dark, and powerful. That's how I'll describe Tres Womack's Freak Show. There's plenty of soul that went into this record, and, once again, Keith Davis's name surfaces as a player and producer. Hmmm… is this a trend? Face it, the guy's got skills. The songs are all written by Tres, who takes full advantage of the "alt" in alt-country with Freak Show. The tracks include one of the best songs I heard all year, "Sunday Morning." This record oozes soul and musical magic.

Zack Walther and the Cronkites – Live at Tavern in the Gruene
Zack Walther and the Cronkites - Live at Tavern in the GrueneI've heard some scuttlebutt that maybe this record is not as "live" as it could be, and to that I say, "Yeah? So?" The only live recordings you'll hear without any studio overdubs are the ones you make yourself with your handy little Zoom recorder, so get over it. Live at Tavern in the Gruene is without qualification one of the best albums of 2007. Zack's voice sounds great, Luke Leverett's guitar is just plain raw, the original tunes kick ass, and the covers included here, particularly John Lennon's "Instant Karma," are nicely done. A remake of Zack's original "Wrapped for Me," which is destined to become a favorite wedding song, is also included as a studio track on the album.

That wraps up my favorites for 2007. Your opinion is always appreciated, so drop me a line if you have something to say about these selections. See you 'round the music!

If you didn't see your album here, maybe Steve didn't hear it. To ensure you at least have a chance of making next year's list, mail your releases to Steve Circeo, PO Box 690031, San Antonio, TX 78269.

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