Kelly McCartney

It doesn't get much better than Loretta Lynn singing her life's story on the stage of Ryman Auditorium. That's the stuff of legends; the stuff on which country-music dreams have been built for more than a few decades.

Backed only by Ry Cooder and his magnificent riffs, Rodney Crowell offered up a tender take on "God I'm Missing You" as part of his Americana Music Awards performance. The song of longing was composed as a collaboration between Crowell and a poet friend of his, Mary Karr, and was originally voiced by Lucinda Williams on Crowell and Karr's 2012 album Kin.

Look no further than this performance to understand and appreciate the current state of American roots music: It's alive and very, very well. Rosanne Cash, along with a band led by her husband and producer John Leventhal, worked through "A Feather's Not A Bird" from 2014's The River & The Thread, perhaps the finest record of her exceedingly fine career.

Young Oklahoma upstart Parker Millsap took the Americana world by storm in 2014, thanks in part to fiery live performances like this one. Here, Millsap (accompanied by Michael Rose on upright bass and Daniel Foulks on fiddle) preaches his "Truck Stop Gospel" in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, known as the Mother Church of Country Music.

One of the most captivating voices in Americana music, Hurray For The Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra turns the personal into the political in "The Body Electric," from 2014's Small Town Heroes. The song and album wowed fans and critics with its understated urgency, and this performance is just as impassioned and unflinching as the narrative it conveys.

SET LIST

  • "The Body Electric"

Last year was a great one for Americana music, from both the longtime pillars of the form and its emerging young vanguard. Robert Ellis falls squarely into the latter group, as evidenced by this performance of "Only Lies" from 2014's The Lights From The Chemical Plant.

Putting her glorious pipes to work on Willie Dixon's "I Want To Be Loved," Cassandra Wilson offered a master class in vocal restraint at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Where she could have easily reached for the rafters, Wilson chose to follow the song's lead and, instead, slide down into more sultry terrain.

Introduced at the Americana Music Awards as "the hero of outlaw country" by Elizabeth Cook (who surely knows of what she speaks), Sturgill Simpson did his darnedest not to disappoint as he ripped and roared through "Life Of Sin" from his breakthrough album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

Winner of the 2014 Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne demonstrated exactly why the honor was bestowed upon him with a rendering of "The Long Way Around," a cut from his album Standing In The Breach.

The song wraps a melody around a look back at his life and times, touching on gun violence, environmental destruction, income inequality and other issues. But, as he always does, Browne burnishes the politics with poetry.

SET LIST

For his second song in a performance at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, Jackson Browne reached back 40 years to play "Fountain Of Sorrow," from 1974's classic Late For The Sky.