2016 was a rollercoaster of a year that ends with many vowing to better themselves and their community and to reach outside of their comfort zones. I wanted to express my desire to be better in my year-end list. I don't think it's out of the question to assume that we want harmony through a unified, diverse and loving world. The best thing I can do is listen to people whose experiences are different than mine. Music is a starting point and this practice definitely includes, but is not limited to folk music, whether it be Kaia Kater, Frank Ocean, Anohni or Mitski. I have been attempting to slow down, buy more records, stay off Facebook and take in the messages these songwriters are sending us. I will be reaching out and looking for faces and experiences that do not look like my own.
1. Bon Iver - 22 A Million (Jagjaguwar)
Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) has again reinvented their sound on their third record, but the core of emotional, infectiously heartbreaking melody remains. Vernon uses religious imagery and numerology to convey a study of deep self-exploration. Using samples galore (Paolo Nutini, Stevie Nicks, Fionn Reagan just to name a few), Vernon's experimental and digital approach marvelously captures the human heart on this exceptional album. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "33 "GOD""
2. Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate (UMGRI Interscope)
Although not an outright folk record, UK singer Michael Kiwanuka's second LP deserves to be set alongside the great soul music songwriter Marvin Gaye. Love & Hate is an epic listen that leaves an impression on the first song (Cold Little Heart) that runs almost 10 minutes. The striking "Black Man in a White World", demands your attention. Sonically, this record lives in that classic 1970's lushly produced soul records, thanks in part to producer Danger Mouse. iTunes . Amazon.com
Super groups make me nervous, so I tamped down my expectations when I heard Neko Case, kd Lang and Laura Veirs were making a record. Well, turns out I'm an idiot. These three monster talents did not call it in. It sounds like they are aiming to make the record of their lives together. Sweeping harmonies, lush production (thank you Tucker Martine) and poignant songwriting make this collaboration one of the top super groups of modern music. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "Atomic Number"
4. Aoife O'Donovan - In The Magic Hour (Yep Roc)
Aoife O'Donovan's profile has been rising for over a decade and In The Magic Hour is taking her to the next level. Best known for fronting Crooked Still, O'Donovan's phrasing is her own, but encompasses the best in Olde English and Irish folk of yore. Produced by Tucker Martine (who worked on her last album Fossils), this record has expanded experimentation with a little bit more (good) weirdness not heard from her output previously. It seems as though, no matter how much dissonance Martine tosses in there, Aoife's lead is strong, steady and completely captivating. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "The King of All Birds"
5. Mavis Staples - Livin' on a High Note (Anti)
Oh my God, do we need Mavis Staples now! Her spirit, her history, her voice, her energy are all gathered on this beautiful album. Produced by M. Ward (She & Him) it includes songs written specifically for Mavis by a new generation of songwriters. Ben Harper, Valerie June, Neko Case and Justin Vernon are a few of the musicians who have thoughtfully written songs for the legendary Staples, whose lively interpretations make it clear that this great woman has more to say and thank God for that. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "High Note"
6. Mark Erelli - For a Song (Mark Erelli)
C'mon! "I am just a Yankee boy/born and bred in Boston" is your record's opening line!? Mark Erelli, I love you. It doesn't get more classic New England folk-nostalgic than Mark Erelli singing about being in Boston, trying to get home Boston or just being reminded you're from Boston. He can do that with his magic voice and songs, which are among some of the finest he's written. Erelli has spent the last six years as a member of Barnstar and playing sideman for Lori McKenna and Paula Cole. The influence of those side projects have pleasantly made themselves in his own music making For a Song his strongest release to date. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "For a Song"
7. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker (Columbia)
Leonard Cohen's final album is perfect. Cohen, who died the week of the U.S. Presidential Election, gave us one final gift of morose, haunting and beautiful poetry. His magnificent words are accompanied by sparse instrumentation, which, of course, includes a monk-like choir. Leonard's musician son Adam Cohen produced the album and followed his father's wishes in terms of musical direction. What a hell of a goodbye. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "You Want It Darker"
8. Kaia Kater - Nine Pin (Kingswood Records)
Kaia Kater is sharp young woman who creates meaningful folk music with a message. Nine Pin, her second LP, centers on the experience and struggle people of color face daily in North America, both from personal experience and from current events. Her roots lay in the folk music of Canada (she grew up in Toronto) and West Virginia Appalachia where she spent time studying the music of the people. Kater's style is strongly grounded in traditional folk banjo accompanied by her deep beautiful tenor voice. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "Paradise Fell"
9. The Lumineers - Cleopatra (Dualtone Music)
The Lumineers are not a college-bro band. They were just as surprised as everyone when their "Ho Hey" song ended up being a big radio hit for the Denver based folk band. Cleopatra serves as a reaction to that success by showcasing the depth and seriously smart side of the band. Who better to guide them into the world of deep dark feelings than Simone Felice (formerly of The Felice Brothers)? Felice, who produced the album, has almost died at least twice and it often reflects in his work. The Lumineers signature hooks and snappy percussion still shines through on the first few songs. The second half proves to be mostly Wesley Schultz playing solo acoustic with just touches of Jeremiah Fraites' percussion. iTunes . Amazon.com
10. Andrew Bird - Are You Serious (Loma Vista)
My most re-visited album of 2016 is Andrew Bird's first traditional pop release since 2012. This is Andrew Bird post-marriage, post-child and post-spouse-living-though-cancer, which is a lot to process, so it takes a lot of listens to soak in. Luckily, at least for an Andrew Bird record, it's easy to digest and this a musician who is not always so straightforward. This record changes every time you put it on: the lyrics pop, the strings pluck and sway and the beats are sweet where they need to be. I don't want the smart and experimental Andrew Bird to make such an easy record every time, but it feels so good when he does. iTunes . Amazon.com
Song: "Roma Fade"
Posted by Linda Fahey at December 17, 2016 6:46 PM