5. Rancid – Tomorrow Never Comes
It has been six years since Rancid’s last album, and almost thirty since the seminal punk of ...And Out Come the Wolves. They didn’t crank out the best punk album of the year by reinventing anything. They just leaned into their strengths – 16 tracks in just 30 minutes, full of tight songwriting, crunching guitars, and the perfect blending of three imperfect voices. No band since the long-departed Minutemen has combined snotty irreverence with political insight, righteous anger with outlandish humor in two minutes as effectively as the boys from Albany, CA.
BEST TRACK: NEW AMERICAN
4. Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway – City of Gold
Fifty years from now, when some scholar is reviewing American pop music in the first half of the twenty-first century, Molly Tuttle is going to get an entire chapter. Barely thirty, she is already as good a bluegrass guitar player as there is. She has assembled a killer band to back her up. She is a first-rate vocalist. And she is developing into one of the best songwriters we have.
City of Gold isn’t a perfect album – Tuttle still struggles on some of her slower ballads which sacrifice song for ambient sound. But when she is good – and she usually is – she is brilliant. This is a rollicking album with at least three outright glorification of the joys of marijuana. It also offers love songs, heartbreak songs, and banjos and fiddles galore. Its leadoff cut – “El Dorado” – is an epic history of the American West (and by extension of the American psyche writ large), which scores bonus points for reminding listeners of Bob Dylan’s much-maligned “Self-Portrait,” which served as an inspiration. Everyone should hear this album – especially the Tennessee state legislature.
BEST SONG – EL DORADO