Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

9. The Highest Order
If It's Real
(Idée Fixe)

It was Simone Schmidt's year in 2013. Bouncing back from the breakup of alt-country heroes One Hundred Dollars, Schmidt proved that she hadn't lost her ability to tell a harrowing tale better than many others in this country. Her second release of the year, Fiver's slow-rolling Lost the Plot, was a closer relative to One Hundred Hundreds, but it was the April release of the Highest Order's If It's Real that really elevated Schmidt's position as one of the country's preeminent country songwriters.

Showcasing as much of her love for psych as it does country, Schmidt steers the band through an album rich in depth and clarity. Schmidt weaves a pensive countrified jam into a transcendent and all-encompassing psych stomp on "Rainbow of Blues," one of the album's standout tracks.

While One Hundred Dollars saw Schmidt voicing the pains of her wandering soul, she adopted a sense of resolution on If It's Real. "Luxury Liner," a cover of the Gram Parsons classic, might come across as a simple, plaintive blues-driven offering, but peel away the layers and there's evidence of Schmidt's evolving abilities as an interpreter. (Editor's note: an earlier version of this write-up cited "Luxury Liner" as a Schmidt original.)

Simone Schmidt has a very clear idea now of who she is as a songwriter, and the Highest Order is one of a few signs from Schmidt of more good things to come. (Joshua Kloke)