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Folk Alley's Best of 2016 - Kelly McCartney's Ten Best Singer/Songwriter Records

December 21, 2016

Kelly McCartney headshot 12.2016 400x400.jpgby Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

Once upon a time, singer/songwriter records involved little more than an artist, a guitar, and some songs. But producers like Dave Cobb, Joe Henry, Gary Paczosa, and John Paul White have taken the form to new heights, adding textures and tones that enhance the music without ever overpowering it. Long story short: These aren't your mama's folk records.


Listen on Spotify







shires 300.jpgAmanda Shires: My Piece of Land (BMG Music)

Having a way with words is a gift not all songwriters wield well. Too often, they take the low road of easy emotion and simple sentiment. Amanda Shires runs right past those without looking twice, headed straight for the high hills of poetry with lyrical lines that carve themselves into the hearts of their listeners. iTunes . Amazon.com






cobb 300.jpgBrent Cobb: Shine on Rainy Day (Elektra Records)

One of three Dave Cobb productions to make the cut, Brent Cobb's Shine on Rainy Day takes a similar tack to Andrew Combs' All These Dreams last year, in that it harkens back to the early '70s when country music collided with folk-rock in the music of Glen Campbell, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, and others. It's a stellar set the Cobb cousins have offered up. iTunes . Amazon.com







chely300.jpgChely Wright: I Am the Rain (Painted Red Music Group)

Not all albums stand up to a deep, deep listen, while some get better and better the more you linger inside them. I Am the Rain is a lingerer. On first blush, it's lovely enough. But spend a bit more time with eyes closed and headphones on and its beauty will find its way to you. And what beauty it is. iTunes . Amazon.com







honest-life 300.jpgCourtney Marie Andrews: Honest Life (Mama Bird Recordings)

Sometimes a record comes along and captivates your ears within the first few bars. This is one of those times. So much more than just a girl with a guitar, Courtney Marie Andrews has made a virtually flawless LP with Honest Life. Yes, she tips her hat to early Joni Mitchell in a big, big way; but she does so with such grace and gravitas that any comparisons are well-warranted. iTunes . Amazon.com







layus 300.jpgDan Layus: Dangerous Things (Plated Records)

Coming out fairly quietly this Fall, Dan Layus's Dangerous Things made a late-stage, dark horse run to get on this list. Nevertheless, it's a worthy entry, showcasing the kind of music Layus has long wanted to make. The wonder of Dangerous Things lies in its sparseness. It is what it is. And what it is is a beautiful, beautiful record. iTunes . Amazon.com







leblanc 300.jpgDylan LeBlanc: Cautionary Tale (Single Lock Records )

This was my first favorite record of 2016 and stood its ground all year to remain tied for the number one spot with two others. Every song on the set is a stunner, as Dylan LeBlanc dives in to deconstruct his demons and set them to music. Addiction, depression, and hard Southern living are the threads running through Cautionary Tale and LeBlanc alternately cuts and ties them as he sees fit. iTunes . Amazon.com







beulah 300.jpegJohn Paul White: Beulah (Single Lock Records)

If John Paul White has an artistic chip on his shoulder, let's hope it stays there because he has shown us something special with Beulah. There's a dark, almost Southern Gothic vibe to this set. Part of that is embedded in White's plaintive voice. The rest of it comes from the somewhat haunted quality of his writing and production. iTunes . Amazon.com







mckenna 300.jpgLori McKenna: The Bird & the Rifle (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)

A mainstay of the folk circuit for the past 15 years, Lori McKenna has always displayed a rare deftness with detail. And it's wonderful to see her get recognized and rewarded for her gifts on a much bigger stage. The Bird & the Rifle brings together everything folkies have long-loved about McKenna and packages it in a way that a broader audience can also appreciate it - Grammy voters, included. iTunes . Amazon.com







watkins 300.jpgSara Watkins: Young in All the Wrong Ways (New West Records)

Sara Watkins upped her artistic ante on this release delivering a set of songs that is absolutely mesmerizing. "Like New Year's Day" and "Without a Word," in particular are so beautiful, you'll want to crawl inside them, never to return to normal life ever again. That's just what happens when melody and magic mingle. iTunes . Amazon.com







jarosz 300.jpgSarah Jarosz: Undercurrent (Sugar Hill Records)

The second Grammy nominee on the list, Sarah Jarosz has also taken a big step forward with Undercurrent. And casual fans might well become dedicated followers because of it. This is another case of still waters running very deep, demanding and deserving a little extra effort on the part of listeners who will, in turn, be handsomely rewarded. iTunes . Amazon.com






Posted by Linda Fahey at December 21, 2016 10:22 AM


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