Bright Eyes – The People’s Key (February 15)
Conor Oberst dials back the Americana for the most sonically adventurous Bright Eyes album since Digital Ash in A Digital Urn. Everything else, from the thought-provoking lyrics to Oberst’s plaintive, searching voice, remains the same. Oberst singles out “Firewall,” the opening track, as one of his favorites.
Lucinda Williams – Blessed (March 1)
The veteran songwriter tackles themes of war, family, love and suicide on her tenth full-length LP. Every Lucinda Williams album gets tagged as a return to her Car Wheels greatness. This one actually deserves the title. Standout tracks: “Soldier Song,” “Buttercup,” and “Seeing Black,” written for the late Vic Chesnutt.
Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots (February 15)
The Drive-By Truckers are already great at what they do, creating southern rock operas and story songs that leave you hooked. But they may have outdone themselves with Go-Go Boots, which is, top to bottom, a modern-day classic. “We all said early on that our next record would come roaring out of the box and out of the speakers,” head Trucker Patterson Hood tells The Boot, “and we needed to make a reach-out-and-grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck kind of record. Even the name of it conjures up a show. That was the whole basis of the dividing line [between] the songs for ‘The Big To-Do’ and it’s shows and these other songs. I feel just as strongly about [the songs that will be on Go-Go Boots]. It’s just the other side of what we do.”
Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What (April 12)
We’re not so sure about the title, but all other signs point to a great new album from one of the all-time masters. Simon has called So Beautiful his best work since Graceland, and the first single, “Getting Ready For Christmas Day,” contains all the elements we look for in a Simon song. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for a Snoop Dogg collabo. Update: one new song, “Questions For The Angels,” actually mentions Jay-Z! And the title track, which we got a sneak peak of, is quite enjoyable as well.
Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (February 15)
Speaking of weird album titles, “She Left Me For Jesus” writer Hayes Carll will release KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) in February, the followup to his much buzzed-about Lost Highway debut Trouble In Mind. It includes road-tested material like “Hard Out There,” “Another Like You,” and the cozy fireside ballad “Grateful For Christmas.” The title track is a sped-up joy ride in the vein of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Make sure you get yourself a copy; songwriters like this don’t come around every day.
Middle Brother (TBA, March 2011)
We’re big fans of indie Americana acts Deer Tick, Dawes, and Delta Spirit. So when we found out that lead singers John McCauley, Taylor Goldsmith and Matt Vasquez have joined forces to record an album under the moniker Middle Brother, we immediately got all hot and bothered. Call it the Monsters of Folk paradigm — with that much talent in one band, how can they be bad?
Jessica Lea Mayfield (Tell Me, February 8 )
When you release your debut album at only nineteen years old, your next record is bound to reflect a certain new-found maturity. The moody singer-songwriter from Kent, Ohio has finished recording the followup to 2008’s acclaimed With Blasphemy, So Heartelt, with Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach again serving as producer. It’s made up of twelve of Mayfield’s “personal inner monologues,” and mixes emotional ballads with intelligent pop ditties. “I have so many people come to my shows and say, ‘I fell in love with you when I broke up with my ex or got a divorce.'” Mayfield tells the Cleveland Scene. “I’m like, ‘Oh, so you sit around and cry when listening to my music? That’s nice.’ But this new album is different. It’s about me breaking hearts. It’s about me making other people cry.”
Fleet Foxes (Spring 2011)
Every generation needs a Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Fleet Foxes are ours. The Seattle band command a lot of devotion: According to their Twitter feed, songs from their next album are already being covered on YouTube. The Foxes promise a more personal effort than their head-turning 2008 debut. Their still-untitled new one, the result of eight months of hard work, was partly conceived of in Big Sur, California, a favorite source of inspiration for Cali bands and On The Road author Jack Kerouac.
Lead singer Robin Pecknold tells Clashmusic.com: “I think in every facet from music to lyrics to song length to structure we were trying to push ourselves a bit on this record… It’s a lot more personal to me and direct in terms of the lyrics, less shrouded in metaphor or visuals. Musically I’d say it’s still in the same family but hopefully just more refined.”
My Morning Jacket (TBA)
Every My Morning Jacket album is an adventure. Look no farther than 2008’s genre-hopping Evil Urges for evidence of that. The Jacket spent part of 2010 taking stock in their impressive career, playing through all of their albums in succession during a series of gigs at Terminal Five in New York City. What sort of “peanut butter pudding surprises” do the band have in store for their next release? Keep your eye on American Songwriter for the answers.
Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean (January 25)
Like Devendra Banhart before him, beard-wearing indie folk sensation Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) has decided to go major, hooking up with Warner Bros. to release Kiss Each Other Clean. Our favorite song title? “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me.” We’ve already had the chance to hear sweet new tracks like “Walking Far From Home” and the synth-employing “Biting Your Tail,” and we’re pretty sure this album is going to be a triumph.
Honorable mentions: R.E.M., Okkervil River, Ron Sexsmith, Mountain Goats, Over The Rhine, Sarah Guthrie Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Teddy Thompson, The Strokes, The Decemberists, and of course, Radiohead. It’s going to be a pretty good year.