I was thinking about my favorite songwriters, and how so many of them had very long successful careers, i.e. Dylan, Waits, Prine etc. Then I began to think about how other artists with shorter careers may someday join that list. After awhile of turning these ideas around in my head, I started to think of it in terms of the baseball hall of fame. It’s so hard to compare today’s stars to hall of famers because we don’t know how the end looks. Will Giancarlo Stanton become the next Mickey Mantle or will he flame out ala Dale Murphy?
So I began to form yet another list, with some completely arbitrary criteria. This is my list of songwriters I think will make it to my imaginary Hall of Fame. In the spirit of full disclosure, I bent the criteria to fit the person that caused me to originally begin to think of this. The rules, the artist must have at least 2 records out of mostly original material (anyone can have a great rookie season, Pat Listach anyone?) and no more than 6. Any live records or E.P.s will not be counted, records that were made as part of a band or a duo will count as long as the artists songs were featured in said records. Also the artist must still be alive and active.
I originally had a list of about 12, but I have narrowed it down to the following 6. And with that the list in no particular order. I have written about some of them before and others this will be their first appearance on the Jukebox. If you are not familiar with them, make sure you check them out and buy a record or two.
To date this Texas songwriter has 4 incredible records. He has gained some national attention from his last two releases and has toured with some fairly big acts. Hayes has a biting sense of humor and can write songs that hit every facet of the Americana genre. My personal favorite record of his is, 2005’s Little Rock, which is a desert island record for me.
Picott hails from the Northeast but has landed in Nashville and is known by many as the co-writer to many of the Slaid Cleaves songs that we all love. What many are unaware of (including me for quite some time) is that Picott has released 6 stellar albums. Picott’s handle on writing songs from the every day man’s perspective places him firmly in this group in my opinion. His last record, Welding Burns was by far my favorite album released in 2011 and I still listen to it weekly (you can read my thoughts on that record here)
Sam Baker is one of those artists that when you discover his music you spend the next month trying to get everyone you know to listen to his songs. Baker didn’t begin recording until much later in life than most songwriters so he only has three records out so far and all three of them are must owns for every music fan. I had found myself checking his website obsessively for the last year in hopes that a new record would be announce and just recently was rewarded with the news that Say Grace will be out sometime this year. If I had to pick one of his albums to start out with it would be his 2009 record, Cotton.
JTE has gotten a lot of media coverage being the son of Steve Earle and the darling boy of the Americana scene for quite awhile and in some circles has a poor reputation, but damnitt I love his records. Some may find this an act of Alt Country heresy, but I’d put the younger Earle’s four records up against any four of his daddy’s any day of the week. If he continues on the path he has started his plaque will surely hang in this version of Cooperstown. For all of the accolades his second release received my favorite of his is still his 2008 full length debut, The Good Life.
My love for Carroll’s songs have been well documented on this site, but I cannot state enough how great of a songwriter he is. So far he has 4 solo studio records, 2 live records and phenomenal record made with fellow Texan Michael O’Connor. Carroll combines an off kilter delivery with amazing lyrics to create some of the best songs of our generation. He is already revered by his peers and seems to be well on his way to having a co-write on at least one album by every Americana artists out there that matters. As with Earle I believe the place to start with Carroll is his debut record, from 2000, South of Town. Of note, it has been nearly 5 years since Carroll’s last solo studio record (so it’s about time for another).
Hailing from an Iowan horse farm, Whitmore’s vocal tone alone puts him close to this list, and add in that he writes great songs and he’s a shoo in. I love the raw feel of his vocals, the instrumentation, the recordings and the songwriting that Whitmore lays out on all of his records. Seeing him live completely blew me away as well. Emotion is at the core of every song, but with Whitmore you don’t have to get any farther than the opening strum or word to be completely engulfed in the feeling of the song. Animals In The Dark, released in 2009 is my favorite record of his so far.
There were a few other artists that I had marked for this list but were ultimately cut off, more so for time restraints and size of the article that lack credentials. Here are those Honorable Mentions: