Now that my shameless plug is complete, let me shamelessly plug the work of some excellent songwriters who are not me. Myself, I don't listen to much music that was made after about 1975, but I have proverbially spun all of these records til they wore through. Keep in mind that I have a strong bias towards great lyricists, so if that ain't your thing, you might want to read somebody else's list of recommendations. Also, keep in mind that all of these artists are even better live, so if you dig their records, sign their mailing lists.
Below are my top 5 not-widely-known-album recommendations, all of which are guaranteed home runs, some of which your music-loving friends and family may not already have.
1) Devon Sproule - Don't Hurry for Heaven - Buy it here
For fans of: Rickie Lee Jones, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Hoagy Carmichael
Who dig: Outstandingly playful, creative, wry, image-rich lyrics paired with earbogglingly beautiful melodies, presented by Devon's sweet, young, conversational vocals and skillful, warm jazz guitar.
Note: For the already-avid Devon fan, consider gifting her newest record, I Love You, Go Easy, on vinyl.
2) Milton - Grand Hotel - Buy it here
For fans of: Van Morrison, Randy Newman, John Prine, Nick Lowe
Who dig: Classic tunes (and I mean CLASSIC, like could-have-been-written-in-any-decade-by-any-of-the-aforementioned-greats), simple arrangements with great groove, conversational singing from a disarmingly honest, whip-smart, totally endearing songwriter.
Note: This song is not on this album. Grooveshark lacks the new record, but it's even better.
3) Anais Mitchell - The Brightness - Buy it here
For fans of: Joni Mitchell, Joanna Newsom, Leonard Cohen, Ani DiFranco
Who dig: Expansive, emotive, exuberant, pitch-perfect singing, sparse instrumentation, absolutely masterful wordplay. Topics include Jesus, apples, war in the Middle East, Hades and Persephone.
4) Mark Erelli - Little Vigils - Buy it here
For fans of: Jackson Browne, early Paul Simon, Loudon Wainwright III
Who dig: Incredibly sweet, melodic, totally love-filled songs, delivered with a shockingly adept voice (this dude has a five-octave range, all of which has the texture of warm honey). The songs are simple-but-surprising, honest, and introspective. I especially recommend this album if you're buying for your sweetheart, or for new parents.
Note: Again, this song is not on this album, but it is my favorite album of his. Damn you, Grooveshark! Also, Mark is touring with me in January as a special guest.
5) Cary Ann Hearst - Lions & Lambs - Buy it here
For fans of: The Band, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Steve Earle
Who dig: Instant heartbreak, fearless vocals, classic country melodies, totally asskicking drums and harmonies (think The Band with Janis Joplin as frontwoman), songs of death, courage and outlaws.