My Favorite South Carolina Albums of 2015

Just as we’re tasked to do an ‘overall’ list, the local/regional focus of the Columbia Free Times means there’s also a ‘local’ one, which was published in the paper recently here. As before, my own list differed, which only goes to show there is way more good music being made around these parts than will fit in any old list. Here’s mine, with a few extras:

1. ColorBlind, ColorBlind

Justin Smith and Fat Rat Da Czar may not have set out to make a political statement with this collaborative effort, but in the times we’re in, this album qualifies. In a truly colorblind world this would just be a great buddy project with beats, lines, hooks, and unconditional friendship, what more could you ask for?

2. She Returns From War, Oh What A Love

Maybe it is the production from legend Don Dixon that ensconces the proceedings in a sympathetic yet understated acoustic elegance; maybe it is the songs themselves that are singular slices of how to be human. The answer is in both the voice and songwriting talent of Hunter Park, central figure in this shifting “group”.

3. Shovels & Rope, Busted Jukebox Volume 1

More than just a lark or filler between albums, this covers collection from Charleston’s husband and wife duo includes contributions from musical friends such as Shakey Graves, J. Roddy Walston, and Butch Walker. No irony or novelty here, just a series of revelatory romps through songs they obviously love from Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Rodney Crowell, and more.

4. The High Divers, Riverlust

Some albums sneak up on you, others just hit you right from the start; this is one of the latter–a tuneful, hummable joy that’s part Dire Straits, part Avett Brothers and all heart, soul, and rambling, shambling melody.

5. A Fragile Tomorrow, Make Me Over (MPress)

As trashy, over the top and in-your-face decadent as their last album was taut, restrained, and politely melodic, the boys in A Fragile Tomorrow have grown into a rock ‘n’ roll machine of glam-tastic proportions.

6. Atlas Road Crew, Halfway to Hopkins

This debut full-length with major league production values posits the gritty Charleston-based rockers as southern, but not southern rock; classic, but not classic rock; and ready for their star to rise—starting with a two month tour of Europe in 2016, the band seems well on their way.

7. Brian Robert, 1117 Magnolia

The Co. frontman now under his own name; this one revolves around the titular ode to a Charleston neighborhood bar and live music destination and retains a homespun charm throughout.

8. Debbie and the Skanks, Live and Buck Wild

Kicking out the jams has never been more fun than when radiant, rocking frontwoman Deborah Adedokun hooked up with the greasy grunts in The Skanks, and this live set is loud, boisterous, 100 proof.

9. The Prairie Willows, White Lies

Three ladies with brassy, classy voices singing three-part harmonies on original songs in the folk and old-time tradition; so well done you’d swear a tune like “Whiskey” was a remake of a ’20’s speakeasy standard.

10. Burnt Books, Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Stretching the boundaries of heavy music, hardcore, progressive metal, or whatever it is you call what Burnt Books does, this set may be the band’s best expression yet of their scorched earth approach to making music.  They’re still awesomer live, here’s a 20 minute set from Texas to prove it:

11. Brave Baby, Electric Friends

Brave Baby drummer Ryan Zimmerman has produced just about every other Charleston band in his practice space studio over the past few years; maybe it’s this eclectic resume that helps his main gig avoid sounding quite like anything else out there while maintaining a pleasant, shimmering perfection. If the Zombies were resurrected as an 00’s indie band, they’d sound like Brave Baby.

12. Mel Washington, Black Excellence

Covers? Sure, but singer and guitarist Mel Washington makes thematic sense with this surprisingly wide-ranging group of tunes from influential African-American artists including Beyonce and Sam Cooke, all sung with his subtle, soulful tonality. Missing a favorite song or artist of yours? There’s a second volume coming in 2016.

13. Heyrocco, Teenage Movie Soundtrack

This Charleston band spent much of its recent history in Nashville and England, but the music they make is still unabashedly 90’s American vintage alt-rock, mashing up lost alt-hit acts like Our Lady Peace and The Toadies with a healthy respect for the lads from the other side of the pond.

14. Angela Easterling, Common Law Wife

This upstate singer-songwriter and alt-country sweetheart is quietly building an impressive catalog of tunes with musical and life partner Brandon Turner, whose tasty lead guitar lifts these songs above the rest of the twangy crowd.

15. Villanova, Thread of Life

Back to their original name after a disappointing major label run as Weaving the Fate, Brian Conner and company got back to the basics of song, melody, and power pop with this crisply produced return to form.

And a bonus, my favorite new local song not on an album this past year:

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