Todd Burge: My Top Albums of ’15

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This is the fourth in a series of year-end articles by WOUB contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

I don’t pay much attention to what’s new from year to year, unless I have released a new recording, which I did. If I were writing this about me, I’d have to tell you about how I was at John Prine’s studio, recording, and Bonnie Prince Billy and his sweater-clad doggie stopped by to write a song for True Detective with T-Bone Burnett in Prine’s office down the hall.

As Tim O’Brien was mixing one of my songs, T-Bone asked me if I wanted to smoke some “kind San Francisco weed” outside in the sub-zero Nashville weather. T-Bone then ordered a turkey sandwich, but left it behind as his wife called saying she had meatloaf. So I ate T-Bone’s sandwich. I was so wrapped up with the worry that I might have left my brain in San Francisco that I totally forgot that I was on a gluten-free diet. That was a personal musical moment that didn’t make my album any better or worse.

But that’s not why you called.

Here are 10 albums I discovered in 2015:

1. Old Man Luedecke, Domestic Eccentric –  This young man from Nova Scotia has a laid-back way of telling stories, like John Hartford meets Roger Miller. He’s a banjo guy, mainly, and mostly claw-hammer style. This album was recorded live in his cabin in the dead of winter and is mostly a duo with Tim O’Brien playing and producing. The tune “The Early Days” is worth the price of admission. Such a great song.

2. Malcolm Holcombe, The RCA Sessions – This underground folk legend plays his music inside that split-haired second: between the moment you think you might be running into a train and when you do. This album marks his 20th year as a performer and features songs from the last two decades, recorded afresh (live) in the legendary RCA Studios with some great players like Jared Tyler and David Roe Rorick. Gritty as hell.

3. Ona, American Fiction – West Virginia rock/Americana heroes cranked out a new recording that made everyone around here and way beyond stand up and pay attention. At first I downloaded it to support my WV scene, but I couldn’t stop listening. All any band needs is to put out an album this solid.

4. Wilco, Star Wars – I got this album because I was excited about Star Wars. Seriously, when does it peak for Wilco? Not yet, I feel.

5. Michael Hurley, Snockgrass (1980) — Well, this album was released 35 years ago, but it is new to me. This Nelsonville Music Festival perennial writes editor-free songs. Snockgrass features his vocal and there is very little percussion, which serves the songs well. It is deep, dark, smart and humorous.

6. Brandi Carlile, The Firewatcher’s Daughter – I’ve been a fan for a few years based on her performance on Austin City Limits, but, her set at the Nelsonville Music Festival this year was fantastic. Her band is a well-oiled machine and their live energy is not missing from this album. Check out “Mainstream” and “Alibi” for the sheer rock of it all, but there is some real laid back beauty here too.

7. John Lilly, Thinking About The Weather – Solid songs have been pouring out of this well-known West Virginia artist for decades. The songs are all brand new, yet could be placed on albums from 50 years ago and fit right in. I really like the stripped-down solo sound of this album.

8. Tim O’Brien, Pompadour – Tim O’Brien woke up one morning with a pompadour and churned out an album with his perfect piled-up hair that looked like a mountain range. Tim’s body of work has the staying power of a mountain range. The cover of Michael Hurley’s “Ditty Boy Twang” is flat-out great. Some traditional, some original.

9. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
 — For the love of Rock. This almost makes me want to get out my Lou Reed records, but I can’t stop listening to this.

10. Kenny Barron, At the Piano — This Jazz piano legend has released a lifetime of great work since this recording, but on this reissue of him playing solo back in 1981, we hear him doing the work of two bands.

Todd Burge is a traveling singer/songwriter who resides with his wife Lisa and two grade-school children, Sophia and Will, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Burge has been quoted as saying, “music put me where I am today.” Listen to Todd’s music at