Seneca by Charles Wesley Godwin
I always spoil what my favorite album of a calendar year is at the halfway point, so I see no reason why I can't spoil it at the end of the first quarter. As of March 2019, my favorite album in the country universe is Charles Wesley Godwin's Seneca. For a debut album, I'm mostly impressed at how much care went into crafting this record. Every little detail from the crow noise on “Seneca Creek” to the menacing horns that kick in at the climax of “The Last Bite” add layers of depth to the project. As a lyricist, Godwin's love letter to Appalachian life and the history behind it is evident, and he's a stellar vocalist at that. Overall, this is a debut album that doesn't feel like a debut album, but rather the work of someone who's excelled at his craft for decades. Godwin was born to make this record.
by Zackary Kephart of The Musical Divide
Forever by Vandoliers
I was torn with this decision. At first, I was convinced I’d go with Flatland Cavalry’s Homeland Insecurity. Such a warm, inviting band. Tight production, smart and meaningful lyrics with beautiful harmonies. But ultimately I decided to go with the record I couldn’t get out of my mind- Vandoliers’ Forever. Their brand of alternative country has appealed to me since their first record, which included plenty of country punk in the manner of Uncle Tupelo. Call me a sucker, but I immediately gravitate toward Americana bands that are able to authentically record alternative country in the vein of Uncle Tupelo. But what makes Forever stand out even more are the risks it takes. Horns open both “All on Black” and “Fallen Again.” Acoustic rockers like “Cigarettes in the Rain” provide a perfect amount of slow-down to the otherwise rollicking record. Vandoliers also chase even harder than their previous records some heartland themes not uncommon from bands like Whiskey Myers or the aforementioned Flatland Cavalry (“Tumbleweed” being the best example.). Forever kind of snuck up on me with it being a rather quiet release day, but I was blown away from the first track. The whole album is a great trip worth taking. As a side note, I’d also put forth Gary Clark Jr.’s This Land as a record that deserves your attention from the first quarter of the year.
by Nathan Kanuch of Shore2Shore Country
Homeland Insecurity by Flatland Cavalry
My favorite album of 2019 thus far has been Flatland Cavalry's Homeland Insecurity. Flatland Cavalry has continued to establish themselves as one of the best groups not only in the Texas scene but in all of country music. Homeland Insecurity is solid from top to bottom with the standouts being "Come Back Down" and "Sleeping Alone." Two things in particular really stand out in this album and that is the songwriting and the instrumentation. Flatland Cavalry is simply a pleasant band to listen to with songwriting akin to the quality of a Turnpike Troubadours record.
by Grant Ludmer of Critically Country
What It Is by Hayes Carll
You know a singer-songwriter is truly something when he releases an album that’s probably only your fourth favorite of his career and it still becomes your favorite of the first quarter of the year. That’s where I sit with Hayes Carll and his sixth studio album What It Is. What It Is features Carll’s typically great songwriting infused with his sense of humor, but it’s also his most political record to date – which he eloquently wrote about recently in No Depression. Carll pokes fun at white conservatism in “Fragile Men,” everybody pointing their fingers at everybody these days for every little thing in “Wild Pointy Finger,” and a billionaire trying to tell everybody he’s being treated unfair (an obvious message about President Donald Trump) in “Times Like These,” one of the true highlights of the album. It’s always a risk for a performer whose audience is probably drawn down the middle of political lines get political, but it makes them more badass for not really giving a damn and telling it like they see it. What It Is isn’t entirely political though with some of its best tracks like “None’ya” being about Carll’s relationship with fellow singer-songwriter Allison Moorer and the story song “Jesus and Elvis,” one of his career best that previously appeared on a Kenny Chesney album. Carll has been one of the best singer-songwriters in the Alt-Country/Americana genres for over a decade now and shows no signs of slowing down.
by Julian Spivey of The Word
Seneca by Charles Wesley Godwin
Two albums, incredibly both debuts, have blown me away so far in 2019, but I'd have to give a slight edge to Seneca by Charles Wesley Godwin over Emily Scott Robinson’s Traveling Mercies. Godwin’s album was crafted with so much care for every detail, from the songwriting to the instrumentation to the intricate production. This record is a journey through Appalachia, the stories of its people set against a backdrop that often makes it sound as if Godwin recorded the whole thing in lonely mines or on deserted mountainsides. It's not an album to play in the background; Seneca is a record made for opening the vinyl to study each lyric and listening to repeatedly so as not to miss any detail. It’s a nearly flawless record, especially for a debut.
by Megan Bledsoe of Country Exclusive