This year marks the 20th anniversary of JamBase. Part of the yearlong celebration includes the 20 For 20 series featuring 20 lists focusing on 20 notable topics and events of the JamBase era. The lists were compiled by current and former JamBase staff members and contributors, music industry professionals and other experts. Stay tuned for more, as the series continues throughout 2019 and we look back at two decades of encouraging fans to Go See Live Music!
The series debuts with 20 Standout Debut Albums By Jam Acts, which takes a chronological journey through memorable initial studio records released in the past two decades. In order to truly capture a sense of each of the past 20 years, this list presents one debut album released every year between 1999 and 2018.
1999 | Yonder Mountain String Band - Elevation
Released one year after their first proper shows, Yonder Mountain String Band’s debut album Elevation found the acoustic quartet coming down into the valley and announcing their prominent place in the newgrass/jamgrass scene.
The original Yonder lineup of banjoist Dave Johnston, bassist Ben Kaufmann, guitarist Adam Aijala and mandolinist Jeff Austin helped solidify their bluegrass bona fides by recruiting dobro player Sally Van Meter as producer and getting guest spots from fiddler Darol Anger and mandolinist Mike Marshall.
While some of the songs on the 15-track album released on the band’s own Frog Pad Records left the band’s live repertoire after Austin’s departure in 2014, several Elevation originals remain setlist mainstays, such as “On the Run,” “Left Me In A Hole,” “40 Miles From Denver” and “High On A Hilltop.”
2000 | Soulive - Turn It Out
In 1999, brothers Alan Evans (drums) and Neal Evans (keyboards) were looking for a guitarist to round out a lineup for some upcoming gigs. Old friend Eric Krasno offered his services and a few weeks later he was at the siblings’ home studio in Woodstock, New York recording what became Soulive‘s first EP, 1999’s Get Down!.
The following year, the New York City-based jazz-leaning trio issued Turn It Out with updated live versions of the Get Down! tracks “Uncle Junior” and “So Live!” featuring bassist Oteil Burbridge, as well as studio takes on “Rudy’s Way” with guest saxophonist Sam Kininger and “Turn It Out.” The record also featured guitarist John Scofield on “Tabasco” and “Nealization.”
Eric Krasno’s brother Jeff Krasno produced Turn It Out and issued it on his Velour Recordings label. The following year, Soulive moved to acclaimed jazz label Blue Note Records for the release of their sophomore LP, Doin’ Something.
2001 | The Word - The Word
Keyboardist John Medeski and guitarist Luther Dickinson bonded over a shared love of sacred steel guitar when the former’s band Medeski, Martin & Wood brought the latter’s band North Mississippi Allstars on tour in 1998. It was the first tour for NMA, which at the time included Luther’s brother Cody Dickinson on drums and Chris Chew on bass, and Medeski and Luther spent hours together listening to Arhoolie Records sacred steel compilations.
The pair hatched the idea to record an instrumental album based on the pedal steel guitar passionately played in sanctified churches. Prior to the sessions at Medeski’s studio in Brooklyn, the Allstars and Medeski learned of the New Jersey-based sacred steel guitarist Robert Randolph who was asked to participate.
“We were all under the spell of the sacred steel compilations,” said Luther Dickinson. “They were records that change your life. We asked Robert Randolph to open for us at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, and it was his first gig outside the church. Medeski was there and we invited Robert to join us at our recording session.”
The Word‘s 11-track self-titled debut was issued by Ropeadope Records and contained their version of “Without God,” a song Randolph recorded on the Arhoolie comp Sacred Steel Live! that served as a catalyst to the collaborative project. It would be 14 years before the supergroup reassembled to record 2015’s Soul Food.
2002 | Phil Lesh & Friends - There And Back Again
In 1999, when Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh returned to performing after receiving a liver transplant the year before, he did so under the Phil Lesh & Friends moniker. An ever-evolving cast of supporting musicians has played alongside Lesh over the past 20 years, with the most consistent lineup occurring between late-2000 and Lesh joining his former band mates in The Dead in 2003.
Known informally as “The Quintet” lineup, “The Q” found Lesh backed by guitarists Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring, keyboardist Rob Barraco and drummer John Molo. The most enduring Phil & Friends lineup is also the only to enter the studio to record an album together.
Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter co-wrote six of the 11 tracks on There And Back Again, including latter-day Dead original “Liberty,” “No More Do I” and “Night Of A Thousand Stars.” The band recorded Haynes’ tribute to Jerry Garcia, “Patchwork Quilt,” which has since been performed many times by Haynes solo and with his band Gov’t Mule.
2003 | Mike Gordon - Inside In
Phish bassist Mike Gordon made his film directorial debut with his 2001 feature length, Outside Out. The largely instrumental soundtrack to the absurdist movie starring the late Col. Bruce Hampton served as the basis for Inside In, Gordon’s debut solo album that came out two years later.
Gordon worked with drummer Russ Lawton, pedal steel guitarist Gordon Stone and keyboardist/horn player James Harvey on what became Inside In. Guests who contributed include Gordon’s Phish band mate, drummer Jon Fishman, along with banjo master Bela Fleck, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, percussionist Roy “Futureman” Wooten, pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage, renowned fiddler Vassar Clements and others.
Mike formed his first solo band to tour in support of Inside In, a project featuring guitarist Scott Murawski since its inception in 2003. The album introduced popular Gordon originals such as “Soulfood Man,” “Couch Lady” and “Exit Wound.”
2004 | Greensky Bluegrass - Less Than Supper
In 2000, banjoist Michael Arlen Bont, guitarist Dave Bruzza and mandolinist Paul Hoffman formed Greensky Bluegrass in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Four years later, the trio teamed with dobroist Al Bastes and bassist Chris Carr to record what resulted in the 12-track LP, Less Than Supper.
Tracked at Hoffman’s rural Michigan home on Big Blue Lake, the majority of the songs on the album – both originals and covers – remain part of the band’s live repertoire. The album showcases GSBG’s early arrangement of the traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” GSBG also works in the traditional “Texas Gales” with John Hartford’s “Steam Powered Aeroplane,” alongside bluegrass versions of reggae legends Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” and Peter Tosh’s “Stop That Train,” the latter incorporating an interpolation of the traditional “Salt Creek.”
The title track, the album-opening “New Rize Hill,” “Out & Under,” “Through The Trees” and “Depot Bay” are among the Less Than Supper originals still regularly popping up in Greensky’s live setlists.
2005 | Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - Nothing But The Water
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals self-produced and self-recorded their debut album, Nothing But The Water. The 11-tracks were written or co-written by keyboardist/vocalist/frontwoman Grace Potter, who was just 22-years-old, and The Nocturnals at the time, bassist Bryan Dondero, drummer Matt Burr and guitarist Scott Tournett.
Less than a year after its initial release, the record was remastered and reissued by Universal Music Group’s Hollywood Records. The group followed-up their debut with three additional successful studio albums on Hollywood.
Though Potter began to focus on her solo career in 2015, she still regularly performs the two-part Nothing But Water title tracks live in concert.
2006 | The Wood Brothers - Ways Not To Lose
Following years of touring with King Johnson, guitarist Oliver Wood teamed with his brother, bassist Chris Wood – who himself had logged a decade’s worth of touring with Medeski, Martin & Wood – to record a batch of Oliver’s original songs (and the traditional “Angel Band”).
The subsequent sessions at Allarie Studios in Shokan, New York with Chris’ band mate John Medeski enlisted as producer, resulted in The Wood Brothers debut album on Blue Note Records, Ways Not To Lose. The siblings brought in drummer Kenny Wollesen to augment five of the record’s 12 tracks.
The group, which now includes percussionist Jano Rix, regularly performs the Ways Not Lose songs “Luckiest Man,” “Atlas,” “Tried and Tempted,” “Spirit,” “Chocolate on My Tongue” and “Where My Baby Might Be.”
2007 | Twiddle - Natural Evolution of Consciousness
“Vermont-based jam quartet” is no easy moniker to step into, but given their geographic location, improvisational style and guitar/keyboards/drums/bass combination, Twiddle further fit into that billing with their 2007 debut album Natural Evolution Of Consciousness.
Founded in 2004 at Castleton State College (now Castleton University) in Castleton, Vermont, guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, keyboardist Ryan Dempsey, drummer Brook Jordan and original bassist Billy Comstock recorded their debut at Mount Hollywood Studio in the nearby town of Mount Holly in Rutland County.
While some of the 10 songs on Natural Evolution Of Consciousness have become live rarities, originals such as “The Catapiller,” “Subconscious Prelude” and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig’s favorite “Jamflowman” are often still performed live by the band.
2008 | Marco Benevento - Invisible Baby
Keyboardist Marco Benevento came on the scene in the early-2000s with drummer Joe Russo, releasing four full-length Benevento/Russo Duo studio albums through 2006. The pair, who currently honor the Grateful Dead as members of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, joined Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon for a tour that year.
In 2007, Benevento and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey bassist Reed Mathis went out on a solo tour with The Slip drummer Andrew Barr behind the kit on the East Coast and drummer Matt Chamberlain joining on the West Coast. The same group of musicians appears on Invisible Baby — Chamberlin on five tracks, Barr on three tracks — which features Benevento conjuring sounds from piano, Mellotron, circuit bent toys, a variety of keyboards, banjo and more.
Standout cuts include “Bus Ride,” “Atari” and “The Real Morning Party” — the last of which is still in Marco’s live repertoire and has been performed by him with moe. on two occasions.
2009 | Aqueous - Aqueous
The earliest seeds of Aqueous date back to 2006 and North Tonawanda High School in North Tonawanda, New York. Over the next two years, the band slowly emerged onto the Buffalo/Rochester scene, gradually growing into larger gigs in front of more and more people.
It wasn’t until 2009 when guitarists Mike Gantzer and David Loss, bassist Evan McPhaden and original drummer Brad Darrall recorded their six-song debut album in former percussionist Nick Sonricker’s home studio.
Capturing the group’s early sound that predates Loss’ incorporation of keyboards, the guitar-centric release is made up of originals and current live staples “Uncle Phil’s Parachute,” “Dave’s Song,” and “Mice,” as well as rarities “Mind Games,” “Falling” and the Gantzer solo acoustic improvisation “The Pioneer.”
2010 | Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds - Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds
Born into a musical family in New York’s Catskills Mountains, vocalist Arleigh Kincheloe was 18 when she took flight as Sister Sparrow. With her brother, harmonica player Jackson Kincheloe, they co-founded in 2008 with their cousin Bram Kincheloe on drums.
After a couple of years building a dedicated live following, the group went into Avatar Studios in New York City to record their self-titled debut.
The resulting 12-track LP was recorded almost completely live during a single 12-hour session. It introduced the live favorites “Freight Train,” “Road Trip” and “Untie My Shoelaces,” among others.
2011 | Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator
Singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi and her husband, guitarist Derek Trucks, had been together for more than a decade when they joined forces and formed their namesake Tedeschi Trucks Band in 2010. Trucks brought a resume highlighted by his time with The Allman Brothers Band and leading his own solo band.
Tedeschi’s successful solo career to that point placed her among the top blues-leaning singer-songwriters with an impressive roster of collaborators. It’s probably not surprising then that Revelator earned the group the Grammy Award for Best Blues album. Trucks produced the record at Swamp Raga – the couple’s home studio in Jacksonville, Florida – with engineer Jim Scott.
Tedeschi and Trucks were backed by original bassist Oteil Burbridge and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Kofi Burbridge, as well as drummers Tyler Greenwell and J. J. Johnson, vocalists Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers, saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trombonist Saunders Sermons and trumpeter Maurice Brown.
Guitarists Oliver Wood and Eric Krasno were among the guests contributing to the album that presented such standouts as “Midnight In Harlem,” “Bound for Glory,” Don’t Let Me Slide,” “Shelter” and “Learn How To Love.”
2012 | Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Big Moon Ritual
The Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson released a solo album, New Earth Mud, in 2002 and toured in support with a short-lived band. The tumultuous final years of The Black Crowes saw lineup changes, extended breaks and finally, Chris ending his partnership with his brother Rich Robinson following the band’s concert on December 14, 2013, at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.
It was back in 2011 when Chris Robinson formed the project christened the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and a year later he and the band made up of former Crowes’ keyboardist Adam MacDougall, along with guitarist Neal Casal, bassist Mark Dutton and drummer George Sluppick, went into the famed Los Angeles recording studio Sunset Sound.
Those sessions with producer Thom Monahan resulted in the seven-song Blue Moon Ritual and CRB live staples “Rosalee,” “Tulsa Yesterday,” “Star or Stone,” “One Hundred Days of Rain” and “Tomorrow Blues” as well as the band’s sophomore album, The Magic Door, which also came out in 2012. The fate of the band currently remains unclear, as The CRB announced MacDougall’s departure and an upcoming indefinite hiatus.
2013 | TAUK - Homunculus
New York-based four-piece TAUK first began to coalesce while guitarist Matt Jalbert, bassist Charlie Dolan and keyboardist Alric “A.C.” Carter were attending middle school together in Long Island.
The early incarnation of the band made a couple of out-of-print recordings with former vocalist Alessandro Zanelli and drummer Adam Akpinar, but moved to their current, all-instrumental formation with the addition of current drummer Isaac Teel in 2012.
The then-solidified lineup recorded their first instrumental album together with acclaimed producer Robert Carranza, releasing the 10-song Homunculus in 2013. Carranza maintained his relationship with TAUK, producing each their subsequent studio efforts. “Dead Signal,” “The Chemist” and “Afro-Tonic” are some of the Homunculus tracks still populating the band’s live sets.
2014 | Hard Working Americans - Hard Working Americans
Formed in late-2013, Hard Working Americans brought together singer-songwriter Todd Snider, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools and (soon-to-be WSP) drummer Duane Trucks, Chris Robinson Brotherhood guitarist Neal Casal and Great American Taxi keyboardist Chad Staehly.
The supergroup met up at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios in Mill Valley, California to record a batch of covers for what ended up becoming their 11-track self-titled debut album. Their first LP features arrangements of songs by Will Kimbrough, Frankie Miller, Randy Newman, Hayes Carll and David Rawlings & Gillian Welch, among others.
The apparent chemistry on Hard Working Americans led the supergroup to continue to tour and the recording of their 2016 album Rest In Chaos that saw them incorporate original material for the first time.
2015 | The Marcus King Band - Soul Insight
Getting signed to Warren Haynes’ record label Evil Teen at the age of 19 shined a bright spotlight on Greenville, South Carolina-native Marcus King. The then teenage guitarist’s introduction to The Marcus King Band‘s self-described brand of “soul-influenced, psychedelic Southern rock” was produced by King and featured 12 original compositions.
Nearly all of the Soul Insight tracks, such as “Always,” “Fraudulent Waffle,” “Dyin’” and “Keep Moving,” have been retained as part of the group’s live shows. The success of Soul Insight led to The Marcus King Band’s move to Fantasy Recordings alongside Haynes and Gov’t Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band and others.
Haynes continued his relationship with the young guitarist and produced the band’s self-titled follow-up that came out in 2016.
2016 | Reed Mathis and Electric Beethoven - Beathoven
When bassist Reed Mathis revealed his long-in-the-making project Electric Beethoven, he coined the output “CDM” (Classical Dance Music).
Focusing on reinterpretations of the work of renowned classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven – specifically, movements from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 6 – Mathis employed an all-star group of collaborators during sessions held over the course of several years. Mathis traveled around the country to meet and record with the participating musicians in their hometowns.
Those who appear on the nine-track record include Phish’s Page McConnell and Mike Gordon, Galactic’s Stanton Moore, The Barr Brothers’ Brad Barr and Andrew Barr, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s Joe Russo and Marco Benevento, as well as Matt Chamberlain, Mike Dillon, Robert Walter, Jared Tyler, Jason Smart, Luke Bolla and Steve Pryor.
2017 | Billy Strings - Turmoil & Tinfoil
Before branching out as a solo artist, guitarist Billy Strings gained notoriety alongside fellow Michigan native, mandolinist Don Julin, on 2013’s album of traditional bluegrass tunes Rock Of Ages and its similarly structured live follow-up in 2014, Fiddle Tune X.
A solo album in name only, 2017’s Turmoil & Tinfoil features guest appearances by Molly Tuttle, Bryan Sutton, Miss Tess, John Mailander, Shad Cobb and Peter Madcat Ruth, as well as a core band made up of mandolinist Drew Matulich, banjo player Billy Failing and bassist Brad Tucker.
Released less than a month before his 25th birthday, Strings’ independent debut was recorded in his native Michigan at GBH Studios in East Lansing with producer/engineer Glenn Brown. Additional tracking was done in Strings’ current hometown at Nashville’s Sputnik Sound studio.
2018 | The Magpie Salute - High Water I
Originally conceived as a 10-piece band led by former The Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson in 2016, The Magpie Salute put out a live album in 2017 made up of covers and one truly new original.
A slimmed-down version of the band made up of The Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien, as well as keyboardist Matt Slocum (who replaced the late Eddie Harsch), drummer Joe Magistro and Robinson’s Hookah Brown band mate, vocalist John Hogg converged on Dark Horse Studios near Nashville to record the 12 new original The Magpie Salute songs that makeup High Water I.
As the title implies, the studio debut is one-half of a two-album set, with its companion due sometime in 2019.
20 For 20: Standout Debut Albums By Jam Acts Spotify Playlist
We have a lot of exciting things planned in honor of JamBase’s 20th anniversary. We’ll be back soon with another of our 20 For 20 lists of 20 memorable events of the past 20 years as we continue to look back at the past two decades of music throughout the rest of 2019.