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Folk Alley's Best of 2016 - Elena See's Top 10 Albums

December 17, 2016

elena see 1 square crop 250.jpgBy Elena See,

Bluegrass, country, rock'n'roll, good old-fashioned folk music - 2016 had it all. I found myself gravitating toward slower, more melancholy music this year...not sure why - the state of the world, maybe. Or maybe that's just what caught my ear at the right time. As always, there was way too much great music to choose just 10 albums...but these are the 10 albums I kept coming back to. Enjoy!

Tedeschi Trucks Band.jpg1. Tedeschi Trucks Band: Let Me Get By (Fantasy Records)

As if from a distance, the music starts, slowly getting louder and louder until at last you have no choice but to acknowledge that it's there, in front of you, demanding your attention. That's what "Anyhow," one of the stand out tracks on the Tedeschi Trucks Band's 2016 release Let Me Get By does. This album came out in early 2016 - January - and it's one I've gone back to over and over for the past 11 months. If I had to pick a number one album for the year, this would be it. iTunes .

Infamous Stringdusters 2016.jpg2. Infamous Stringdusters: Ladies and Gentlemen (Compass Records)

It takes a lot of confidence to stand in the back and let someone else take center stage. Well, a lot of confidence and, in this particular case, a lot of respect. Nashville's Infamous Stringdusters invited some of their favorite female musicians to take center stage for their 2016 release Ladies and Gentlemen. What better way to show off their musicianship and their ability to weave and blend with the vocals of some of folk music's finest? "Old Whiskey Bottle" features Della Mae's Celia Woodsmith. iTunes .

HoneyCutters.jpg3. The Honeycutters: On the Ropes (Orgainic Records)

2016 was a big year for Asheville, NC based band The Honeycutters. Lots of touring and a new release - On the Ropes. Their 2015 release, Me Oh My, made my best of list last year and so I was really happy they came back again in 2016 with an album that's equally as engaging. And who doesn't love a song about never giving up, never quitting, and never letting anyone keep you down? That's what "On the Ropes" is all about. iTunes .

Mavis Livin On A Highnote.jpg4. Mavis Staples: Livin' on a High Note (Anti/Epitaph)

If ever there was a musician who deserved the title "living legend," it's the great Mavis Staples. 2016 showed the world that she has a lot left to say and do - "I think about this album as a new beginning in my career," she said when she released Livin' on a High Note. Merrill Garbus of The Tune Yards says she wrote "Action" for Mavis...and also for audiences who might need some inspiration to be brave. iTunes .

Shindell Careless.jpg5. Richard Shindell: Careless (Amalgamated Balladry)

I've been a Richard Shindell fan for as long as I can remember. There's something warm and cozy about his voice and something almost overly poetic and yet very, very human about his lyrics. In Careless, he pulls no punches, sugarcoats nothing, and puts his own unique spin on topics you already thought you knew about. Nature, for example, seems to take second place to the needs and demands of humanity in "The Deer on the Parkway" and, as Richard Shindell reminds us, that's not necessarily right. iTunes .

Dori Freeman.jpg6. Dori Freeman: Dori Freeman (Trade Root Music Group)

When Virginia based musician Dori Freeman sent a Facebook message and a video of one of her songs to Teddy Thompson, she wasn't really expecting him to respond...but he did. He told her he liked her sound and the two struck up a correspondence which culminated in Teddy Thompson serving as producer for her 2016 self-titled debut album. Lots of her songs are sad, she says, and "Fine, Fine, Fine" is no different - you feel like you're eavesdropping on an intimate that is coming to an end. iTunes .

Robert Ellis.jpg7. Robert Ellis: Robert Ellis (New West Records)

In any relationship, there are issues that come up and you have to decide whether or not you're going to address them. Do you bring everything into the open? Or do you choose to ignore certain things? It's a question Houston, TX based musician Robert Ellis explores in "Elephant," a song that's almost uncomfortable in its honesty and a song you'll find on his 2016 self-titled release. iTunes .

Courtney Marie Andrews.jpg8. Courtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life (Mama Bird Recording Co)

Expecting the unexpected: that's the overarching theme Courtney Marie Andrews explores on her 2016 release Honest Life. During the years she spent touring as a guitarist and backup singer for a huge roster of musicians, she also developed her own voice as a songwriter and Honest Life gives that voice a chance to shine. "Rookie Dreaming," one of the stand out tracks on the album, is what Andrews describes as "essentially a coming of age song." So, heartbreak, despair, confusion, mourning? Yep, all here. iTunes .

Lori McKenna 2016.jpg9. Lori McKenna: The Bird and the Rifle (CN Records, Thirty Tigers)

Lori McKenna. You might not be familiar with her name but you're probably familiar with her work. She writes hit songs for some mega superstars in the country and pop music worlds (think: Tim McGraw, Alison Krauss, Little Big Town) and all the while quietly keeps back a few well-chosen gems for herself which she releases every few years. 2016's The Bird and the Rifle is her 10th solo recording and there's not a weak track on the album. "Wreck You" touches ground McKenna is more than familiar with - worrying about a relationship, doubting whether or not it's going to last - but there's nothing tired or boring about it. It's a gorgeous lament. iTunes .

Parker Millsap 2016.jpg10. Parker Millsap: The Very Last Day (Okrahoma Records/Thirty Tigers)

Oklahoma native Parker Millsap offers some sage advice on his 2016 release The Very Last Day: Whatever life throws at you? Open your arms wide and embrace it. After all, he seems to say, what, if anything, can you actually control? With a gruff blues and gospel tinged voice that sounds much older and wiser than his actual years, a guitar that seems capable of near impossible musical feats and simple words that tell a powerful story, Parker Millsap considers the end of the world...or, in "Pining," the end of a relationship. iTunes .

Posted by Linda Fahey at December 17, 2016 9:32 PM

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