No Depression 2019 Readers and Critics Favorite Albums

No Depression magazine started out covering “Alt.Country…whatever that is”. As such, they still cover, well, Alt.not-country but we’re not quite sure whatever that is”. No Depression isn’t an “Americana” magazine, but it isn’t NOT an “Americana” outlet either. Mostly, though, No Depression (like the namesake album by Uncle Tupelo) covers the sorta music I like to listen to, and that commercial radio doesn’t play. Mostly.

The editors solicited a small poll of their regular reviewers and critics for the “good stuff”, the albums they couldn’t shut up about, in 2019:

  1. Our Native Daughters—Songs of Our Native Daughters. Rhiannon Giddens et al. thoughtful and thought-provoking release on Smithsonian Folkways. (Rhiannon is a No Depression Artist of the Decade, a well-deserved accolade and honor. She is a MacArthur Fellow, and released her own Grammy-nominated album this year in addition to her work with Carolina Chocolate Drops.)
  2. The Highwomen—The Highwomen. Brandi Carlile et al. (Brandi is a No Depression Artist of the Decade.) My sister really likes this one, and she has pretty good taste in music.
  3. Yola—Walk Through Fire. Grammy contender.
  4. Molly Tuttle—When You’re Ready. She’s good.
  5. Sturgill Simpson—Sound & Fury. NOT Country music, nor even Americana. Didn’t listen to it, but folks who liked it, well, they liked it.
  6. Hiss Golden Messenger—Terms of Surrender. meh.
  7. Fruit Bats—Gold Past Life. Who?
  8. Angel Olsen—All Mirrors. Um, who again?
  9. Tyler Childers—Country Squire. Grammy contender AND good music. I’m late to the Childers party, trying to make up for lost time.
  10. Son Volt—Union. Jay Farrar’s latest for the 99 percent in the grand tradition of Uncle Tupelo and No Depression. A bit political for my taste, even if I’m more sympathetic to the message than I might have been once upon a time.
  11. Aldous Harding—Designer
  12. Daniel Norgren—Wooh Dang
  13. Delbert McClinton—Tall, Dark & Handsome. Bluesy Grammy contender.
  14. Tanya Tucker—While I’m Livin’. Another Grammy contender AND good music. Go figure.
  15. Neil Young—Colorado. Points for name-dropping the Centennial State.
  16. Mavis Staples—We Get By. Everything she does is good.
  17. Michaela Anne—Desert Dove. I’ve get wierded out by last names that are first names. Don’t @ me.
  18. Buddy & Julie Miller—Breakdown on 20th Ave. South. My sister likes this too. I should have given it more attention.
  19. Julia Jacklin—Crushing.
  20. Kelsey Waldon—White Lines/White Noise. I meant to listen to her, just never got to it because I was too busy streaming Steve Earle’s tribute album to Guy Clark.

So Tyler Childers gets a Grammy nomination, a Top 10 in the prestigious No Depression Critics survey AND Tops the ND Readers’ 50 Favorite Roots Albums of 2019? Here’s the copy-paste of the start of the Readers’ list:

1. Tyler Childers – Country Squire
2. The Highwomen – The Highwomen
3. Sturgill Simpson – Sound & Fury
4. Bruce Springsteen – Western Stars
5. Hayes Carll – What It Is
6. Whiskey Myers – Whiskey Myers
7. Willie Nelson – Ride Me Back Home
8. Billy Strings – HOME
9. Buddy and Julie Miller – Breakdown on 20th Ave. South
10. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real – Turn off the News (Build a Garden)
11. Ian Noe – Between the Country
12. Steve Earle and the Dukes – Guy
13. Our Native Daughters – Songs of Our Native Daughters (tie)
13. Gary Clark Jr. – This Land (tie)
15. Son Volt – Union (tie)
15. Yola – Walk Through Fire (tie)
17. Mandolin Orange – Tides of a Teardrop
18. Rodney Crowell – Texas
19. Wilco – Ode to Joy (tie)
19. Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks (tie)

The Springsteen is good. My friend Sacha loves the Hayes Carll, and he’s rolling into my Top 10 for 2019. My friend Jay in Minnesota gave his Top pick to Whiskey Meyers—he was my best boss, and not just because of his great taste in Country-Rock music. Willie is always good, and Lukas’ album was pretty good, too. It’s nice to see Billy Strings get recognized. And as noted previously, Steve Earle was the victim of Airway Robbery on this poll also—no way GUY only polls Top 12. His tribute album to Guy Clark is A-Number One for my 2019.


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Americana Radio Top 100 Airplay for 2019

Hayes Carll and Good Companions

Hayes Carll’s album What It Is took the top spot for most spins by Americana Radio in 2019 (through 12/17/19). Denver’s very own The Lumineers’ cut “Gloria” off III was the single most spun single in 2019. Contrast this, as usual, with the Grammy’s complete lack of recognition of the artists and songs actually being played on Americana radio.

From the AMA PR:

Top 10 Americana Radio Airplay Albums of 2019
What It Is, Hayes Carll
Fever Breaks, Josh Ritter
III, The Lumineers
Turn Off the News (Build a Garden), Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
Signs, Tedeschi Trucks Band”
Jade Bird, Jade Bird
We Get By, Mavis Staples
American Love Song, Ryan Bingham
Walk Through Fire, Yola
Closer Than Together, The Avett Brothers
View the complete Top 100 albums list here.
Top 10 Americana Radio Airplay Singles of 2019
“Gloria,” The Lumineers (Appears on III)
“Old Black Magic,” Josh Ritter (Appears on Fever Breaks)
“Bad Case,” Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (Appears on Turn Off the News [Build a Garden])
“Stay High,” Brittany Howard (Appears on Jaime)
“High Steppin’,” The Avett Brothers (Appears on Closer Than Together)
“Hard Case,” Tedeschi Trucks Band (Appears on Signs)
“Change,” Mavis Staples (Appears on We Get By)
“Jingle and Go,” Ryan Bingham (Appears on American Love Song)
“All Your’n,” Tyler Childers (Appears on Country Squire)
“None’ya,” Hayes Carll (Appears on What It Is)
View the complete Top 100 singles list here.

I was just arguing with a friend over the merits and authenticity of Hayes Carll, in light of his chart-topping performance this year. She thinks it’s long deserved recognition. I, on the other hand, do like Carll’s latest effort, but I still get hung up on his transformation from 2002 suburban Woodlands Texas folk singer to 2019 Gee Shucks Texas Country boy. I mean, he’s good, he hangs out with Corb Lund and Ray Wylie Hubbard good. He’s picking-fights-with-Steve-Earle good. She makes a good point, too, that artists evolve and SOMETIMES that means they get better. Usually some producer gets ahold of them and they go all commercial, but not ALWAYS.

I’m trying to dwell less on negatives and be grateful for the positives in life. Hayes Carll and his music are good companions these days.

Speaking of companions, I definitely agree with the 8-9-10 spots on the Singles chart Substitute Tyler Childers’ “House Fire” for “All Your’n” on my list even if that’s one the Grammys and AMA agree upon. I didn’t want to like Ryan Bingham’s “Jingle and Go” but it’s an ear worm–I did stream more of Carll’s tracks on this album compared to Childers’ and Bingham’s, for what that’s worth.

And oh by the way, Steve Earle was ROBBED with airplay for GUY, his album in tribute to Guy Clark, only coming in #37. Airway Robbery—I knew the first time I played “Dublin Blues” with the early singles release, that this was going to be my #1 album of 2019, and you can jump up on the coffee table and tell everyone just that.


I wrote about the 2018 AMA Radio Charts last year, and the No Depression annual readers poll. I’ll have to get to the ND list.

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Grammy Award Nominations Don’t Get It All Wrong This Year

The Recording Academy announced their 2020 nominations for the 62nd Grammy Awards last month. While I could pan their General Field nominations as the typical generic, awful ear candy (in particular the controversial NasX-Billy Ray Cyrus fiasco), I won’t. Life is too short to rehash the basic fact that Pop Music Sucks. Moving on.

Drilling down on the Grammy categories I care about—Country and American Roots—the Academy didn’t get it all wrong this year.

The Country category starts at #26. Best Country Solo Performance. You know this year might just be different when this list starts with “All Your’n” by Tyler Childers. Wow. Just Wow.

  • All Your’n, Tyler Childers
  • Girl Goin’ Nowhere, Ashley McBryde
  • Ride Me Back Home, Willie Nelson
  • God’s Country, Blake Shelton
  • Bring My Flowers Now, Tanya Tucker

Wow. Of these, you’re only likely to hear Shelton on pop country radio these days. Childers’ Country Squire is very popular in certain quarters, as are the rest sans Blake, but… just… wow. Now the next category 27. Best Country Duo/Group Performance and beyond, bounces us back down to reality of pop country radio stars, so no worries that life as Nashville knows is it is in any danger. But Brandi Carlile and company got Tanya Tucker noticed again with While I’m Livin’, and Reba McEntire gets a well earned nod for her album Stronger than the Truth, as do the Pistol Annies for Interstate Gospel.

The American Roots Music category starts at 45. Best American Roots Performance. I gotta tell you, I’ve been an Americana guy for 20 years, but I wouldn’t necessarily know it from the Grammy noms. But I’m used to that. Before November, of these songs I’d only listened to Rhiannon Giddens’ “I’m On My Way”, really (that’s gonna scrabble my Top 20). I’ve Spotified some scrobbles since and they’re mostly not bad, though they’re not going to make the top of my year end list (except Giddens). Same for 46. Best American Roots Song, where I spun a bunch of Vince Gill, but didn’t consider “I Don’t Wanna Ride the Rails No More” as an “American Roots Song”, nor the strongest on the album. I do like I’m With Her (Jarosz, O’Donovan & Watkins) but I didn’t love their effort this time around. People I know have good taste really like Yola’s Walk Through Fire, and it is pretty good for cat 47.

Bluegrass (48) contenders stream well, but I woulda put Billy Strings on top here. I like Blues but I’m no where near the market, as shown by my lack of scrobbles in categories 49 & 50. Delbert McClinton is always fun. Then in 51. Best Folk Album, Patty Griffin’s self-titled album is just on an entirely different plane of existence from the rest of the contenders.

So we’ll see what the Academy members vote come January 26, 2020.

Amelia Blake, an online friend of mine, will be in the audience in L.A. Between us Internauts, she deserves a trophy more than most of the nominees, but that’s life.


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Colorado is Growing

Pagosa Sun November 14, 2019

PAGOSA SPRINGS—More people moved into Colorado last year than moved out, continuing the State’s trend of population growth.  In 2018, approximately 239,000 people were attracted to Colorado and just over 203,000 people left, for a net gain of about 36,000, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) estimates released October 31st.

In April 2020, the US Census Bureau will be making their once-a-decade count of all residents, including these newcomers.  Efforts are already underway in Colorado to help ensure a complete count.  Region Nine Economic Development District and the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments are coordinating efforts with the Colorado State Demographer’s Office.  Locally, the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce is organizing the Archuleta County Complete Count Committee.  Their first meeting is Friday, November 15th, 11 am, at the Chamber offices, 105 Hot Springs Blvd, in Pagosa Springs.

The large number of people moving into and out of Colorado will be a challenge for the Census.  In Pagosa Springs, Texas license plates aren’t unusual to see in traffic across Southwest Colorado, but statewide the largest number of new residents moved from California.  Over 28,000 people left the Golden State for the Centennial State in 2018, with almost 27,000 making the move from the Lone Star State.  Florida contributed about 14,000, followed by over 11,000 from New Mexico and over 9,000 from Virginia.

The road does go both ways.  Texas gained over 21,000 former Colorado residents in 2018, with close to 19,000 moving to California, and close to 16,000 moving to Florida.  Arizona attracted over 11,000, followed by the state of Washington.

The US Census Bureau is recruiting 500,000 temporary workers nationwide to help conduct the census next year, with some already in the field preparing for the decennial survey.  US Census staff in Archuleta County are anticipated to be managed out of Colorado Springs, with pay at about $14.00/hour [update $16.00/hr] and a flexible schedule.  For more information visit .

(Published in the Pagosa Sun, 11/14/19, update 11/26).

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ICYMI – The Diary of Pvt. Orrin Brown 1864-1865

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, I blogged the diary of my ancestor Pvt. Orrin Brown, Co. E, 14th Michigan Infantry, who marched through Georgia and the Carolinas with General Sherman. It remains some of the most popular material on this blog, now five years later.

As best we know, Orrin O. Brown was born in September 1836, at Wayne County, Michigan, to Orrin Brown, Sr. and Rhoda Weaver Brown of New York State. Orphaned at birth, his mother moved in with family in Will County, Illinois, only to become sick and die, leaving the baby to the care of relatives. In 1863, he went into the lumber trade and milling business at Sodus Township, Berrien County, Michigan. Answering the final call for service in the great War between the States for his older brother Norman, in October of 1864 he entered Company E, Fourteenth Michigan Infantry.

Company E mustered in at Kalamazoo, Michigan on the 13th of October, taking the train through Michigan City to Indianapolis where it met men from Illinois, going on to Nashville, Tennessee. The company helped with the clean up at Chattanooga from the 21st to November 3rd, when they departed on the train to Atlanta. Orrin saw the battlefield at Kennesaw Mountain and watched the city burn. Leaving on 15 November with General William T. Sherman’s army, he marched 300 miles through Georgia to Savannah, reaching that city on 11 December. The day after Christmas, he started marching northward towards Augusta and eventually ended up at Fayetteville, North Carolina, on 12 February 1865. His health failing, Orrin went to New Bern, NC, and boarded the U.S. Kennebeck on 30 April for a hospital at New York, leaving service in June 1865. He returned to Michigan and took up a career as a farmer. Orrin Brown passed away on 9 January 1909.

This is his story, written in his own words.

The original diary has been handed down through the family for 125 years. This version was set to disk from a typed manuscript in 1989 by John Shepard and Mary Shepard Gin, Orrin Brown’s great-great-great-grandchildren by way of his daughter Rhoda Brown Pugh, her daughter Lucy Pugh Tillstrom, her daughter Florence Tillstrom Shepard.  The transcription in PDF is available here. Original spelling and style has been left intact.

Please join us as we follow Pvt Orrin Brown, Company E, 14th Regiment Michigan Infantry, as he marches through Georgia and the Carolinas with General Sherman, 150 years ago.

(c) 2014, 2019 for format and presentation, JC Shepard, Pagosa Springs, CO

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Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership

Pagosa Springs’ namesake hot springs provide a unique local resource in a steady supply of naturally hot water, bubbling up in geothermal hot springs around which the town grew up.

The Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership is a 501c3 non-profit organization with a mission to educate the community in small-scale, sustainable agriculture using local renewable energy. Over the last 10 years, the GGP raised funds and has constructed three grow domes along the San Juan River, behind the historic Archuleta County Courthouse in downtown Pagosa Springs.

  • Education Dome (2017)
  • Community Garden Dome (2019)
  • Innovation Dome (2019)

Local architect Courtney King, a LEED Accredited Professional, contributed a cluster site plan with a riverside amphitheater, set in the floodplain of a public park. The GPP domes provide an example of inspired landscape architecture and design in an area that has suffered from either a lack of attention or out-of-context modernist whimsey. The site has become a popular gathering place during local festivals and events.


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Strategic Doing—Putting Good Plans to Work

We all hove done strategic planning. Now it’s time to try strategic doing.

Ed Morrison is founder of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. A one-time economic development consultant, like many of us one day Ed found himself in a public policy strategic planning exercise thinking There’s Gotta Be A Better Way. He talked to a lot of other people who cared a lot about all sorts of different public and private action, and a core group of practitioners and teachers started working on that better way.

This book is the result. Based on case studies steeped in theory, without coming across as a text book, Strategic Doing is about getting things done. Too often I’ve stared at the plans on my shelves, and wondered why they sit there gathering dust. Now I have some ideas how to focus my plans on implementation—strategic doing is one way to put good planning to work.

Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership, by E. Morrison, S. Hutcheson, E. Nilsen, J. Fadden & N. Franklin, 2019.

  1. Create and Maintain a Safe Space for Deep, Focused Conversation 
  2. Frame the Conversation with the Right Question 
  3. Identify Your Assets, Including the Hidden Ones 
  4. Link and Leverage Assets to identify New Opportunities 
  5. Look for the “Big Easy”
  6. Convert Your Ideas to Outcomes with Measurable Characteristics 
  7. Start Slowly to Go Fast—But Start 
  8. Draft Short-Term Action Plans That Include Everyone 
  9. Set 30/30 Meetings to Review, Learn, and Adjust 
  10. Nudge, Connect, and Promote to Reinforce New Habits 

This book review (minus Ed’s video) originally published in the APA Small Town & Rural Planning newsletter Summer 2019, and was briefly trending #StrategicPlanning on LinkedIn. I first wrote about #StrategicDoing back in 2015.


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Quicksand Soup – Miss You Darling Doesn’t Miss

Sand Sheff has been one of my favorite Colorado Americana artists since my radio days at KRFC in Fort Collins. Sand is, I suppose more technically, a regional West-of-Nashville/East-of-Bakersfield Rocky Mountain Western & Country artist. These days he’s taken up with a band over at Moab, Utah, way–Qucksand Soup, featuring top notch instrumental talent, five great vocalists, and catchy and unique songs, self described as “alt.bluegrass” whatever that is.

Quicksand Soup has a couple albums out, and now up on Spotify and other fine digital music platforms. The main event is titled Miss You Darling, and the collection of 13 songs doesn’t miss. Opening track “Kimberley” is the strongest song on the album, almost catchy enough for pop country radio without being too saccharine for traditional country enthusiasts. The Sand Sheff original continues strong songwriting credentials from his previous efforts, in particular Sheff’s 2004 release, Free On This Mountain, which remains one of my favorite all time albums.

The ensemble continues with a mix of Sheff-penned songs and covers, including Merle Travis’ “16 Tons” (and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt…) The tongue-in-cheek “You’re Too Fine To Have Your Face In A Phone” is too saccharine, but also continues in Sand’s tradition of having fun with the music. The title track comes in 5th position with tight harmonies, and a nice little mandolin run among the fiddle and guitar work. Overall, the album brings together a variety of County & Western tunes appealing to a broad audience, town or country.

Quicksand Soup also put out a traditional Western album, Colorado Trail, also in Sand Sheff’s tradition of cowboy music (i.e. Cowboyin’, Dust), and the website has links to Country Sweetgrass and Western Gospel releases. If you happen to be in the Beehive State, the band plays in Moab every Wednesday night thru summer, then at Helper Arts Festival in Helpr, Utah, on 8/16/19, and the Salt Lake City Bluegrass Concert on 8/17.

My only quibble with Quicksand Soup, and a reason I delayed my review since the CD dropped this spring, is that I got hung up on the band’s name. I’m not usually one to judge a book or band by it’s cover, but I did. I could take the “Quick” and the “sand” is obvious. The “Soup” not so much. “Quicksand” is topical for a Country band, though entirely too common band name hence the appellation. I just couldn’t get over the “Soup”. So I played the music at home–the Spotify link dropped more recently so my Quicksand Soup scrobbles are under-represented. And I warmed myself up to my expectations of Sheff’s songwriting and performing skills. The music speaks for itself.


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Extremely Big Waves and Holes

Colorado seems to have emerged from several years of drought. As of June 11th, the US Drought Monitor monitored no areas of the state in even an Abnormally Dry state. A good winter has left great snowpack in the San Juan Mountains. A good spring has filled the San Juan, Animas and other Four Corners rivers. The grass is green. Life is good.

It’s a big change from the Summer of 2015, just four years ago, when our rivers ran low and the Animas turned Tang with the detritus of ancient Silverton mines. These two photos were taken at about the same place, at Durango’s Whitewater Park. Not a direct side-by-side, but you can see the river’s got elevation in Summer of 2019. Yet as they warn, there are Extremely Big Waves and Holes Due to Water Level. Earlier today, a guided raft on the San Juan River above Pagosa Springs flipped, even on 1/2 the top flows of last week. One of the tourists on board drowned. Life is short, be careful out there.


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Stinking Springs Canyon

This view used to be called Stinking Springs Canyon, before the realtors got ahold of it. Looking southwest, southwest of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

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