Donovan, here. I started National Road Magazine five years ago this month. I sat in the former Swizzle Stick Bar in Greencastle, listening to War Radio on a quiet, winter “First Friday,” when I turned to my fiancee, Wendi, and told her I was going to write about the band. Just like that, I decided “What the hell?”
A lot’s happened in that time. A whole lot of it has been good. There have been some lean moments, and in the last couple of years my “monthly” music profiles and features have fallen off a bit.
But, as we start this new decade, I’ve realized that I have always been my happiest when I’m telling the stories of the musicians who live in this part of the world with me.
So, I am recommitting to that mission for 2020. I don’t know how well I’ll pull of the “monthly” schedule, but I’m most certainly going to get back to doing the thing that makes the world a better place to live. God knows we could all do with a little happiness.
With that in mind, I think we’re going to kick-off 2020 with a retrospective celebration of the best stuff that crossed this website over the last half-decade.
And the first order of business…? We’re going to hand out some “awards” to the best of the best we’ve listened to since we fired up this pages. I figure we’ll call them the “Roadie” Awards. Why not?
We’re going to focus on the local and regional bands. So the big names with international accolades from European magazines, like Tad Robinson, are out. So are the folks we’ve written about who been on Letterman (Red Wanting Blue) or Conan (Mato Nanji).
But that local scene…? Those Midwestern and Hoosier musicians…? Those folks are the lifeblood of this magazine and the heart of a great weekend evening in the middle of Indiana.
We didn’t use any scientific method to accomplish this. Mostly this has been the result of five years of work meeting, interviewing, writing about, and listening to some of the hardest working people in the world.
Here are the nominees in TWO categories.
Support your favorite bands and songs
Our Nominees for Best Single 2010-2019
–Top 10 Announced as Follows:
10. Wednesday Jan 22nd
9. Friday Jan 24th
8. Sunday Jan 26th
7. Monday Jan 27th
6. Wednesday Jan 29th
5. Friday Jan 31st
4. Sunday Feb 2nd
3. Monday Feb 3rd
2. Wednesday Feb 5th
1. Wednesday Feb 5th
“Where Have You Been?” by Union Suit Rally
“Chris Cunningham’s mandolin is without question the group’s most distinct sound, smartly placed in every track around the work of Brad Powers’ vocals. Bands like this work when they stand on stage and bearing themselves to us as the same people they were when they got started, goofing around in the garage or the basement. Union Suit Rally gets that idea, and they sell it well. Totally worth a listen.”
“Colorado” by Cole Woodruff
“At a glance Cole Woodruff is quintessentially small town Hoosier. The open, plaid button-down shirt; the worn infantry cap with the frayed edges on the bill; the wispy scraggles of a five, six, and seven ‘o clock shadow; the friendly head-nod/shoulder-shrug combination. This is more than an image. A Frankfort native living north of Indy—and working in a nursing home by day—Woodruff is fully immersed in the Midwestern experience, and those themes echo in his music.”
“Coyote” by Bigfoot Yancey
“…it’s the band’s cosmic allure in person which makes becoming a fan worth the experience. Not because they cast the glitz and aura as a set of Kliptch-level superstars (but if that happens, they could pull it off), but because they stand before you as authentic human beings. Happy to play their stuff. Happy to toast the crowd. Happy to down a shot of Woodford. Happy to be a bunch of great friends calling themselves Bigfoot Yancey.”
“Building a Wall” by Fort Frances
“As front man for his Chicago-based act Fort Frances, Hoosier native David McMillin takes on the duties of songwriting and lead vocals. But what his band-mates add is a musical dimension he cannot create on his own. As much as he enjoys his solo work, it’s that time with the band which makes him a fully-faceted musician.”
“Ain’t Gonna Rain” by Will Scott
“Raised in Indy and Chicago, and influenced by both his father and later his step-father (the former a jazz guitarist, the latter a blues man), Scott’s development as a picker took off in his youth when his step-father made a fateful purchase.”
“Once in a While” by Gus Moon
“Gus Moon puts off a refreshing air of honesty and calm that seems to put others at ease. He’s polite to a fault, at times, another leftover from his local upbringing. Perhaps what makes Gus Moon stand out from the herd of other regional singer-songwriters is ability to be content. He shoots to kill with the narratives in his songs. But in life, Gus Moon is happy just to be in this little town tonight, at this little bar, at this little table, getting ready to play a little gathering space run by local college students.”
“Bad and Better Angels” by Cari Ray and the Shaky Legs
“I could say that Cari Ray is a superb, technical musician when she works the frets. That would be true. I could also say that Cari Ray’s voice is better than strong—it rings in even, resplendent peals of sound. That would also be true. I could say that Cari Ray evokes that sort of proud, confident, Midwestern independence which commands respect the moment you step in her presence. Yep, that’s true, also. And I could say that Cari Ray’s lyrical skills mix both tender honesty with frank bluntness…depending on the circumstances. Again…true. Any one of these attributes would be reason enough to grab a seat and check out a set. Combine them, and you’re all but compelled to watch her perform.”
“Centralia” by Nick Dittemeier and the Sawdusters
“From a young-adulthood of what he calls “a lot of hard, crappy jobs” to his maturation as a technical musician, a singer, and a presence on stage, it’s a journey Dittmeier tells well. And when he shoulders his Fender and leans into the microphone, he does so as a point of declaration. He’s worked a long time to be able to stand like that, and no matter what’s going on in his life or ours, he’s here do his job as a professional should. We’re going to like it, of course, because he’s pretty damn good at it.”
“Love’s Anthem” by War Radio
“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that good bands really begin in childhood. Both Tosh and Joel’s biographies speak to the importance of family influence in terms of nudging that talent toward its eventual manifestation in adult life.”
“Long Pour” by The Amanda Webb Band
“You could argue that Amanda Webb’s story is one about a promising young singer trying to redefine herself when that career abruptly ended. That story would be a myth. Amanda Webb’s story is one about sharing her life with everyone in her family. Sometimes that’s only a handful of people who share the same genes. Often it’s an entire community who share a love for music and companionship. The size of the family doesn’t really matter, however. To Webb, it’s all pretty much the same.”
“Coat Tails” by Rebekah Meldrum
“Hers is a commanding voice. Firm. Strong. She owns the stage exactly the way the face of a band with blues roots should. Her range, of course, encompasses something much more significant than her impressive degrees of contralto. Yes, the precision of it really gets you. While she flawlessly changes gears from a low, seductive husk to a ringing reverberation, Holdman walks his solo up and down the neck of his fret board. It’s professional. It’s polished. But it’s also rousing and moving, and that’s the thing we remember the most after she’s unplugged the microphone.”
“Jerusalem” by Paul Holdman
“Soft-spoken, self-effacing, and incredibly personable, when Holdman and I began speaking about our mothers our conversation moved quickly from a mutually professional arrangement to an intensely personal, powerfully deep, and profoundly comforting sit-down between friends.”
“Double Take” by Fort Frances
“We All Bleed Red” by Dacota Muckey
“…in his solo work, This is the Music That Heals Your Soul, that youthful swagger has found its footing. Trading in The Trip’s electric reverb for sounds ringing of acoustic guitars and piano keys, Muckey’s record (released early last spring) showcases a musical dexterity of style and gravitas.”
“Time” by Angela Norris White
“Like most songwriters, every tune White has written has a story behind it. Like most songwriters, each of those stories springs from a powerfully emotional experience. And like most songwriters, White is happy to explain the story behind the song, but she’s just as content to leave it as it is, and let us make what we want out of it.”
“Plain, Loud, and Clear” by Keller & Cole
“After their first song, you’ll be thinking about this duo for days. After their second song, you’ll be a serious fan. On CD or Spotify, Keller & Cole is catchy, engaging, and fun. But see them live and you’re bound to them. Working professionals who stumbled upon each other and slowly worked out their act, Landon Keller’s baseline vocals and rhythmic tempos frame Kara Cole’s powerful harmonies. But it’s that intangible quality, that thing that happens when they make eye-contact and then turn to those of us watching them. It’ the kind of feeling that’s more than a vibe or a groove. It’s a sensation reaching that communal experience most musicians dream of achieving.”
By Donovan Wheeler for Visit Indiana
“Because I Said I Would” by Carmichael
“Good rock-and-roll turns over the loose earth in our brains. Great rock-and-roll stays in our heads and gets us through a long week at work. Carmichael does all of that.”
“Monster” by Black Market Vinyl
“From the album’s title track—embedded midway through the album—to the record’s most telling tune, “Monster” (the worst beasts in the world are ourselves), Preacher’s Son provides one of the most compelling metaphors for the human experience yet. We are an unkind, hedonistic, and impulsive breed. We do awful things to each other, but we do our worst when we lie to ourselves about it. We do, however, hide it beautifully.”
“Driving Darkness” by War Radio
“Open Up Your Eyes” by Brandon Tinkler
“For all of the album’s retro panache, Open up Your Eyes is still a 21st century production. And here…in this century…in this indie music landscape, Brandon Tinkler has decided to set aside worn down labels such as “Americana” and “cross-genre” and instead create that record all his musical friends urged him to do for years. By those standards, the album is a refreshing change of style, pace, mood, and content.”
“You Belong to Me” by Jennie DeVoe
“The day I began to rethink my musical tastes was the day I discovered DeVoe. Actually I had showed up to see Tad Robinson. It was the autumn of 2011, and a steady downpour—the first one we had seen in months—had washed out Greencastle’s Crown Street Music Festival. Under the mammoth trusses supporting DePauw’s Lily Center, Tad belted the best songs of his canon. A satisfying show, despite the echoing reverb that comes with playing in a place that is half concrete and half cave. As Robinson moved to his finale, a restlessness wafted among the seats, and I kept overhearing the same name: Jennie. Jennie’s here. Have you heard her? She’s amazing.
Four minutes into her set I knew who Jennie DeVoe was. I wouldn’t forget, either.”
Our Nominees for Best Album/EP 2010-2019
–Top 5 Announced as Follows:
5. Saturday Jan 25th
4. Tuesday Jan 28th
3. Thursday Jan 30th
2. Saturday Feb 1st
1. Tuesday Feb 4th
Memories are Rolling Credits by Carmichael
Front Page of the Modern Age by Fort Frances
Open Up Your Eyes by Brandon Tinkler
Hills by Bigfoot Yancey
Trip to Try by Cyrus Youngman and the Kingfishers
Bad and Better Angels by Cari Ray and Shaky Legs
Tracks by War Radio
The Ladder by The Jon Strahl Band
Preacher’s Son by Black Market Vinyl
Gnawbone by Will Scott
Keller & Cole by Keller & Cole