In 2016, the St. Louis Blues Society's release 15 in 15 has been spun by KDHX DJs more than any other new release. The compilation album of local artists performing original material sits at the intersection of the community station dedicated to independent media and the community organization dedicated to local blues.

KDHX Music Director Nick Acquisto explained the meaningfulness of the position: "Local compilations have been on KDHX's year-end top spins list and local spins lists in the past. 15 in 15 is the first compilation to be number one, not to mention by such a large margin. It's a tremendous indicator of how many great blues artists are making notable music in St. Louis right now and how much KDHX supports and champions the blues on this station. The St. Louis Blues Society compilations are a perfect starting point for finding the best of it made right now."

Hearing the news about the KDHX's Top Spins of 2016 list, the two individuals most responsible for 15 in 15 reacted in unison: "That's awesome." Jeremy Segel-Moss, the Chair of the St. Louis Blues Society also said, "I think it's a great accolade to the continuum and depth of talent in this town. It's great to hear local blues music on a world class community station." Paul Niehaus IV, the producer and STLBS board member, echoed those sentiments: "I am happy and pleased about the award. It shows that people are enjoying it. The album is a sign of how deep and creative the well of talent is here."

15 in 15 set out to present each local artist naturally and in their best light. The enthusiastic response by the KDHX DJs suggests the Blues Society hit the mark. A group of DJs interviewed for this article often praised the Blues Society for their progress and effectiveness in recent years as a result of "the new generation bringing new energy" to the organization, especially through the efforts of Segel-Moss and Niehaus, both talented and respected musicians in their own right. To borrow from one interviewee, Niehaus' Blue Lotus Studio, "brought to life the artists' dimensions with production and engineering of such high quality that it compares with the very best." In the words of another DJ, "The STLBS compilation CDs are all the evidence anyone would need to prove the health and vitality of the organization."

The success confirmed by the release's position at the top of KDHX's Top Album Spins of 2016 (and the station's Top Local Spins) couldn't be better timed because there's more to come. This January the Blues Society will release 16 in 16, a completely new collection of acts and original material. If these quotations from KDHX DJs about 15 in 15 are any indication, the new compilation will be another invaluable document of the city's vibrant blues scene.

Art Dwyer: The move from 14 to 15 gave us all original music by local artists, and it represents the best of our city. I play them all because they are all good. I'm an old timer and it's great to hear new material from other veterans like "Let the Demons Out" from Renee Smith and "Ain't That Lovin' You" from Roland Johnson. They are as good as anyone anywhere. Then there's Miss Jubilee and Rum Drum Ramblers . . . all different but all from the same musical tree.

East Side Slim: I like two things: it had new self-written songs in different genres from fun to socially relevant and everything in between, and the material was very strong. I loved "Tampa Style" by Ron Edwards and Ethan Leinwand. It was done in the older style so convincingly and respectfully. I played "Bottlesnake Blues" many times. Renee Smith's "Let the Demons Out" is fresh material that shows what a powerhouse vocalist she is. "Reap what You Sow" by the Kingdom Brothers and "Pike's Peak" by The St. Louis Social Club are among my favorites.

Hound Dog Brown (STLBS board member): The CD is jam-packed with A grade material by contemporary local blues musicians and that makes it difficult to pick out favorites. For me, blues does not have to be too fancy or prettified. Give me some blazing bottleneck slide on a twangy resonator guitar, and a well-played piano made of wood, and I'm as happy as a clam in the sand. Two tracks on this CD which fit this description are "Bottlesnake Blues" by the duo of Nick Pence and Ethan Leinwand and "To Get Along" by the Rum Drum Ramblers.

Doug McKay: I liked 14 in 14 but 15 in 15 is much better with its original material. It exposed some artists and is a fabulous resource. I particularly liked the cuts by Marquise Knox, Aaron Griffin, Rum Drum Ramblers and Big Mike Aguirre. This gave us the opportunity to play Big Mike's his music. This was my first exposure to The Green McDonough Band and it fired me up. The Kingdom Brothers are here and they put out one of the very best albums of the year. Letter to Memphis's "Oleatha Shuffle" isn't my style but I really like it.

Tom 'Papa' Ray: The CD has sympathetic production by Paul Niehaus. He understands the implements of sound; he's a musician himself. All the performers I know have positive things to say about their experience with Paul and Blue Lotus. Every cut has merit. Marquise Knox, Renee Smith, Roland Johnson, Green McDonough and Rum Drum Ramblers all have particularly strong performances. The cuts are all different, not everyone has the same sonic profile. For example, Roland Johnson's cut sounds like a 1960s Muscle Shoals production. Not a bad thing at all.

Sunny Boy Mason: The CD is very good because all of the songs are good. The sound quality of the production is excellent. Paul Niehaus did a great job on this. While it's hard to pick favorites when the entire album is so good, if I had to pick three favorites they would be the songs by the Bottlesnakes, Rum Drum Ramblers and Miss Jubilee.

Ron Edwards (STLBS founder and chair emeritus): The purpose of the STLBS is to support and promote STL Blues music and this CD is perfectly aligned with that goal. It brought together the musical community in a cross-generational way. My song "Tampa Style" with Ethan Leinwand ties back to former generations of STL piano guitar blues duets. With its broad variety of talent and styles the CD offered something for every DJ to play. I particularly liked the Bottlesnakes really tight old-style duet, the Rum Drum Ramblers infectious number and the Green McDonough Band's "Bone to Pick." But I also liked the different styles of Roland Johnson, Marquise Knox, Renee Smith, Big Mike Aguirre and Miss Jubilee.


We always champion numerous local bands and artists on our airwaves, but 2016 marks the first time a compilation of local artists has been the most-spun album of the year. The St. Louis Blues Society's second annual compilation of its kind, features some of the best new blues coming out of the city, including Marquise Knox, Renee Smith, Rum Drum Ramblers and twelve others who contributed new recordings that have gotten a lot of attention here. It's with pleasure we announce its position at the top of the list. Read more about the release and what KDHX DJs had to say about it's representation of the city's blues scene in Bob Baugh's article, "'15 in 15' at the top of the charts for KDHX in 2016."

Other showings of note include St. Louis' Middle Class Fashion, who surprised us with an electronic indie-pop album that we couldn't stop spinning, but their new album iii isn't the band's first release to rank high on a KDHX year-end lists. And longtime St. Louis soulman Roland Johnson took a big leap forward with his stellar first album of originals, Imagine This. Guitarist, songwriter and producer Paul Niehaus was not only heavily involved with Johnson's album, but also recorded all of the new songs on the local 15 in 15 compilation. Relatively later in the year releases have also made a strong showing in only a little time, including Aquitaine's Transformation and Sidney Street Shakers' Laugh My Weary Blues Away as well as Goodbye Terrible Youth from American Wrestlers.

Browse the Top Local Spins below and you'll recognize many of the names from our Top Album Spins of 2016, which includes artists from all over. But dig into any entry on this list and you may come across a new St. Louis favorite.


159 Various Artists 15 in 15 St. Louis Blues Society
99 Middle Class Fashion iii self-released
71 Roland Johnson Imagine This Blue Lotus
57 Sleepy Kitty Flux EP Euclid
50 Cave States True Life Undertow
47 The Green McDonough Band The Green McDonough Band self-released
43 The Vondrukes On This Ride Together Single Street
40 The Fade The Fade - EP self-released
36 Kenny Rice House Party Jam Jar
36 Kingdom Brothers Times Hard Groove Ready
35 Southwest Watson Sweethearts Endless Horizon Big Muddy
34 Brothers Lazaroff Dangerous Times self-released
34 The Aching Hearts Tell It To Me self-released
33 Aquitaine Transformation self-released
29 Kip Loui The Hill Recordings with JJ Loui self-released
28 Brian Andrew Marek "Drowner" Rubberstamp
28 Jeremiah Johnson Band Blues Heart Attack Connor Ray Music
28 Mvstermind Cusp MM
25 American Wrestlers Goodbye Terrible Youth Fat Possum
25 Illphonics Gone with the Trends The Record Machine
25 Jon Valley Pacific Communication Fervid Seed
24 Jack Grelle Got Dressed Up to Be Let Down Big Muddy
24 Whoa Thunder Hop to It - EP self-released
22 The Trophy Mules Sunset Collapse - EP self-released
22 Town Mountain Southern Crescent Lohi
21 Ivas John Good Days a Comin' Right Side Up
21 Kevin Bowers Nova self-released
 20 Letter to Memphis Come on Home self-released
20  Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost The Revolution Has Come Elevate
20 The Educated Guess Another Educated Guess self-released
19 Accelerando Accelerando! self-released
17 The Grooveliner The Grooveliner - EP Sweater
17 The Harmans In the Time That You Gave Me self-released
17 The People's Songs from the Chicken Shack self-released
16 Keokuk Keokuk self-released
16 Miss Molly Simms Borrowed or Sold - EP self-released
16 Old Salt Union Cut and Run - EP self-released


Gary McClure talks about his band American Wrestlers in a way that makes its existence seem paradoxically both a fluke and inevitable. When the Scottish musician moved to St. Louis in 2014, he did so for personal reasons, leaving the relatively successful project Working for a Nuclear Free City behind him in Manchester, England. The story of how he got from there to where he is now—touring on a well-received second American Wrestlers' album, Goodbye Terrible Youth—illuminates McClure's unrelenting drive to write and his unabashed fondness for the music he grew up listening to.

American Wrestlers' self-titled debut, released in 2015, was written and recorded entirely by McClure, demo-style to a cassette, at his new home in St. Louis. It featured a lo-fi recording approach and efficient arrangements that illuminated McClure's innate sense for melody and balance within his self-described "retro alternative rock." When that batch of songs was recorded, American Wrestlers wasn't a band in any practical sense: there were no other members, no record deal, no online presence. "I was convinced no one would ever listen to it," McClure says of those recordings created during idle time as he waited for his green card to arrive.

But people did listen and the response was predominantly positive. A&R staff at Fat Possum Records liked a track posted on a Scottish music blog and was one of nine labels to reach out about working with McClure. Once Fat Possum agreed to put out the recordings under the American Wrestlers banner, McClure needed to turn his bedroom project into a band capable of bringing his compositions to life on stage. This turned out to be harder than one might expect, but after hours of combing through Craigslist posts for potential members, one or two false starts, and six different drummers, American Wrestlers became a band. (The current lineup includes McClure's wife Bridgette Imperial on keys, Ian Reitz on bass and Josh Van Hoorebeke on drums.) The first LP was released; the band toured and fans and music journalists were generally into it all.

Fast-forward to fall 2016, and Goodby Terrible Youth is released. The record is about as natural and incremental of a follow-up to that debut as one could expect. As with the first album, McClure wrote and demoed all of the material in isolation, bringing songs to the band to record. They'd strip away his demo tracks—keys, drums, bass—one-by-one, recording as individual players but remaining relatively faithful to the demo parts. The result is a recording of a collective of players, while nearly everything that you hear emanated from McClure himself.

On writing in a more collaborative fashion, he says, "It's not that they can't do it; they can. When writing, I go through every different combination I can. I'll try all the complex variations." The resulting demos created in isolation are, for McClure, the distillation of hours of trial in service of the greater concept of the song and efficiency of melody. This is a shift from the writing style of Working for a Nuclear Free City, in which McClure and his partner Phil Kay wrote very collaboratively. As McClure tells it, they would often start a new song in the morning, workshop it all day and scrap it if it didn't come together by evening. McClure estimates that WFANFC left upwards of 2,000 unfinished ideas behind. But he's not eager to go back to that model, stating gleefully, "Now I can make the music that I wanted to make as a teenager but was stopped by Phil's interference."

Goodbye Terrible Youth presents American Wrestlers as a full-fledged band, with live drums replacing the drum tracks of the first record, and a sound that more closely reflects that band's live performances. When touring off that first album, McClure recalls the dissonance of concertgoers buying the demo-like LP at the merch table after seeing them perform as a full band: "There were guys buying the vinyl going, 'I love that, I've never heard of you guys before. I loved that show, I can't wait to get this home.' I thought, should I tell them?" With the new album, no caveats will be necessary.

From the almost-anthemic "Amazing Grace" to the propelled jangle and fuzz of "Give Up," the new album from American Wrestlers will resonate with fans of the band's debut and surely appeal to a lot of listeners new to their music. It's colored with the types of melody and texture more common in '80s and '90s alternative rock, presented more currently with a fresh, non-nostalgic vision. While McClure's initial deal with Fat Possum records only these first two albums, he's already started work on a third. "I've tried to write the next record almost before the new one's out, so I don't feel there's pressure. I've already got four songs...just in case Goodbye Terrible Youth gets really good exposure."

It seems likely that we'll see a third LP from American Wrestlers, but McClure is less confident that the band will continue much beyond that. Ruminating aloud on the longevity of the project, he says, "I think it has one more record in it. I think after three, maybe I don't know, it feels weird to do more than three." Whatever the fate of American Wrestlers, McClure is unlikely to stop writing any time soon: "I've put so much of my life into making music now, I can't stop." 

The American Wrestlers will celebrate the release of Goodbye Terrible Youth at Off Broadway this coming Thursday, December 15 with the help of Bruiser Queen, Commander Keen, and The Free Years.


The tumultuous year of 2016 is drawing to a close. Despite the many musical greats we've lost, let's take a look at some of the great new releases that have come to be in 2016. These are the new albums and EPs that KDHX DJs have collectively been excited enough to spin on-air again and again throughout the year. 

Browse the full list and check out the KDHX Top Local Spins and KDHX DJ Top Ten lists for more KDHX favorites of 2016. 

159 Various Artists 15 in 15 St. Louis Blues Society
102 The James Hunter Six Hold On! Daptone
99 Middle Class Fashion iii self-released
96 Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial Matador
88 Charles Bradley Changes Dunham
73 David Bowie Blackstar Columbia
71 Margo Price Midwest Farmer's Daughter Third Man
71 Roland Johnson Imagine This Blue Lotus
66 Eleanor Friedberger New View Frenchkiss
63 Thao & The Get Down Stay Down A Man Alive Ribbon Music
61 case/lang/veirs case/lang/veirs Anti-
60 Michael Kiwanuka Love & Hate Interscope
57 Sleepy Kitty Flux EP Euclid
57 The Monkees Good Times! Rhino
54 Bob Mould Patch the Sky Merge
52 Angel Olsen My Woman Jagjaguwar
52 Nada Surf You Know Who You Are Barsuk
51 Mavis Staples Livin' On a High Note Anti-
51 Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool XL
50 Cave States True Life Undertow
50 De la Soul and the Anonymous Nobody... A.O.I., LLC
49 Andrew Bird Are You Serious Concord / Loma Vista
49 Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide to Earth Atlantic
43 Santigold 99 Cents Downtown
47 The Green McDonough Band The Green McDonough Band self-released
46 Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression Loma Vista
45 Nick Waterhouse Never Twice Innovative Leisure
43 Mount Moriah How to Dance Merge
43 Quilt Plaza Mexican Summer
43 Robbie Fulks Upland Stories Bloodshot
43 The Vondrukes On This Ride Together Single Street
42 Savages Adore Life Matador
42 Various Artists God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson Alligator
41 The Julie Ruin Hit Reset Hardly Art
40 Tedeschi Trucks Band Let Me Get By Fantasy
40 The Fade The Fade - EP self-released
39 Loretta Lynn Full Circle Legacy
38 Kristin Kontrol X-Communicate Sub Pop
37 Wild Nothing Life of Pause Captured Tracks
36 Bonnie Raitt Dig In Deep Red Wing
36 Kenny Rice House Party Jam Jar
36 Kingdom Brothers Times Hard Groove Ready
35 Lydia Loveless Real Bloodshot
35 Mayer Hawthorne Man About Town Vagrant
35 Southwest Watson Sweethearts Endless Horizon Big Muddy
35 The Bo-Keys Heartaches by the Number Omnivore
34 Brothers Lazaroff Dangerous Times self-released
34 M. Ward More Rain Merge
34 PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project Vagrant / Island
34 The Aching Hearts Tell It To Me self-released
34 Wilco Schmilco Anti-
33 Aquitaine The Transformation self-released
33 DIIV Is the Is Are Captured Tracks
33 Dr. Dog The Psychedelic Swamp Anti-
33 Paul Simon Stranger to Stranger Concord
33 The Jayhawks Paging Mr. Proust Thirty Tigers
32 Bleached Welcome to Worms Dead Oceans/Hostess
32 Dressy Bessy Kingsized  Yep Roc
32 Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker Columbia
32 M83 Junk Mute
31 DJ Shadow The Mountain Will Fall Mass Appeal
31 Teeanage Fanclub Here Merge
30 Big Thief Masterpiece Saddle Creek
30 Wussy Forever Sounds Shake It
29 Band of Horses Why Are You OK Insterscope
29 Kip Loui The Hill Recordings with JJ Loui self-released
29 Marta Ren & the Groovelvets Stop, Look, Listen Record Kicks
29 The Cactus Blossoms You're Dreaming Red House
29 Various Artists Day of the Dead 4AD
29 Whitney Light Upon the Lake Secretly Canadian
28 Allen Toussaint American Tunes Nonesuch
28 Anderson .Paak Malibu Steel Wool Entertainment
28 Brian Andrew Marek "Drowner" Rubberstamp
28 Drive-by Truckers American Band ATO
28 Eli "Paperboy" Reed My Way Home Yep Roc
28 Jeremiah Johnson Band Blues Heart Attack  Connor Ray Music
28 Mvstermind Cusp MM
28 Night Beats Who Sold My Generation Heavenly
28  Buddy Miller & Friends Cayamo Sessions At Sea New West
28 Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings Miss Sharon Jones! (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Daptone
28 Villagers Where Have You Been All My Life? Domino
27 Allah-Las Calico Review Mexican Summer
27 Carrie Rodriguez Lola  Luz Records
27 Chairlift Moth Columbia
27 Cloud Cult The Seeker Rebel Group
27 Curtis Salgado The Beautiful Lowdown Alligator
27 Danny Brown  Atrocity Exhibition Warp
27 Minor Victories Minor Victories Fat Possum
27 Sam Bush Storyman Sugar Hill
27 The Earls of Leicester Rattle & Roar Rounder
27 Peter Wolf A Cure for Loneliness Concord
27 The Suffers The Suffers Rhyme & Reason
26 Deerhoof The Magic Polyvinyl
26 Dinosaur Jr. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not Jagjaguwar/Hostess
26 Frightened Rabbit Painting of a Panic Attack Atlantic
25 American Wrestlers Goodbye Terrible Youth Fat Possum
25 Illphonics Gone with the Trends The Record Machine
25  Jon Valley Pacific Communication Fervid Seed
25 Karl Blau Introducing Karl Blau Raven Marching Band
25 Ladyhawke Wild Things Polyvinyl
25 Laura Gibson Empire Builder Barsuk
25 Parker Millsap The Very Last Day Okrahoma
25 Zion World Revolution Lion Roots


On November 22, Jim James called in to Wax Lyrical for a little conversation with Caron House in advance of James' upcoming performance at the Pageant on Tuesday, November 29 with opener Twin Limb. Like all our radio programs, the entire broadcast of that evening's edition of Wax Lyrical can be found streaming from the 88.1 KDHX archives for two weeks after the initial air date. Enjoy the full show here or read the interview below.

Caron House: I'm thrilled to be joined via phone with Jim James. Welcome!

Jim James: Hey, how's it going?

CH: It's going well. How are you? You're out on tour right now, correct?

JJ: I am.

CH: You'll be in St. Louis performing at the Pageant in a week. What are we in store for on this tour?

JJ: Well, I don't know. I think that's up to you. [laughs] I think it's different for everybody. Obviously, I hope people come and have a good time, and -- I don't know -- just get emotional and have fun. I hope it's a beautiful thing for whoever comes.

CH: Each night's a different energy, kind of a choose-your-own-adventure thing?

JJ: Exactly.

CH: I want to chat with you a bit about the new album, Eternally Even. You're very well know for fronting My Morning Jacket and as a member of the supergroup Monsters of Folk. You've collaborated with all kinds of artists including Elvis Costello, Jay Farrar, and Rhiannon Giddens. What makes you decide to step aside from that and launch a solo effort?

JJ: I like to do as many different things as I can and I love to just play music by myself in the studio when I'm not at home. With the solo stuff it ends up being collaborative with a lot of people anyways, but it always starts out me at home messing around with stuff. Then it's also fun, once the album's over, to go and do a tour for it with a different band and just enjoy playing music with new people. It's always kind of a different journey. But I feel like that's what makes life fun.

CH: Solo albums offer a different way to collaborate, you're saying?

JJ: Yeah.

CH: For this solo album, you enlisted the help of a co-producer. You brought Blake Mills on board. What was the dynamic like working on this album with a co-producer?

JJ: Blake's great! I feel like sometimes your head gets buried so deep in a project -- especially when you're working on it by yourself -- that you really need somebody else to come in and help you figure out what's good and what's bad. Blake's really great at doing that and just has amazing ears and amazing thoughts. He really knows what he wants and what he thinks sounds great. Yeah, it was really great working with him.

CH: Jim, as you were starting to think of this new album, Eternally Even, what did you set out to accomplish when taking this on?

JJ: A lot of things. I mean, there are a lot of things going on in the record. There's a lot of personal stuff and there's a lot of stuff just thinking about and talking about the world. What a crazy time we're in right now. I think most everybody's heads are spinning no matter what or which way you voted or which way you tend to lean. It's just a really difficult time for our country and for the world.

I wanted to talk about some of that stuff and talk about hope for peace and love and acceptance and equality. Just a hope that some of us can start to drop these labels that we put on ourselves of liberal or conservative -- or even man and woman and black and white and gay and straight. All these labels really divide us, and I feel like the divide-and-conquer technique has been working so well. We all need to be talking about how we can stop this. How do we just see each other as equals, no matter what our life path is? And also really just trying to talk to people from different walks of life -- or who may have voted differently from us -- and trying to see where we can find common ground.

CH: That is a very worthy goal, and I understand after this tour you're not resting on your laurels. You're actually going back into the studio; there's a new My Morning Jack album on the way. What direction are you going to take with this album?

JJ: I don't know. We'll see. I've got a bunch of songs written. And you never really know until you're actually in there recording them. It's hard. You may think you know which way it's going to go, but then it always surprises you.

CH: Jim James, such a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing you when you perform at the Pageant on November 29.

JJ: Thanks so much.


To see all of Dustin Winter's photographs of Jim James (and Twin Limb) at the Pageant, click below.

Jim James with Twin Limb at the Pageant, November 29. 2016

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