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Folk Alley's Best of 2015 Stream

December 31, 2015

bestof15.stream 400x400.jpgListen to our special Best of 2015 side stream featuring over 7 hours of the best folk, roots and Americana music of the past year, as selected by the Folk Alley hosts, staff and listeners.

Click HERE to listen. Or you can listen via the Folk Alley mobile app, available HERE.











Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:44 PM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Ann VerWiebe's Favorite Albums of the Year

December 23, 2015

Thumbnail image for Ann VerWiebe WKSU.jpegAnn VerWiebe's Favorite Albums of the Year

The best part of my job is listening to the new releases that have been added to the Folk Alley stream so that I can write about them in the 'AlleyChat' newsletter. And, this year has been crazy good! So many albums were previewed at FolkAlley.com, making me fall in love with new music time and time again!








T10-Rhiannon.jpgRhiannon Giddens, 'Tomorrow Is My Turn' (Nonesuch)
As much as I hate it when bands I love break up, a bunch of amazing work was born out of the Carolina Chocolate Drops split. Rhiannon Giddens is a vocal powerhouse with a love of roots music of all sorts, laying down emotion and power that blows the walls down. iTunes * Amazon.com






T10-Caitlin.jpgCaitlin Canty, 'Reckless Skyline' (Caitlin Canty)
This collection is well-deserved of the praise it's receiving. Great songs, snappy performances. I'm happy Folk Alley caught a piece of her rising star. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Rateliff.jpgNathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, 'Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' (Stax)
You can tell when I love someone because I won't stop tweeting about them. This CD is honky-tonk soul and once I picked it up, I could not put it down. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Jayme-Stone.jpgJayme Stone, 'Jayme Stone's Lomax Project' (Borealis Records)
We crossed paths with the Lomax Project at Summerfolk in Owen Sound, Ontario. The album is a true crossing of folk old and new with songs collected by Alan Lomax and contributions from some of the best players in the business. iTunes * Amazon.com






T10-Isbell.jpgJason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free' (Southeastern Records)
Talk about lightening in a bottle! With two well-deserved Grammy noms, each song on Isbell's latest CD made me jump to the next with gleeful anticipation. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Mike-Ruthy.jpgMike + Ruthy Band, 'Bright As You Can' (Humble Abode Music)
I've been a fan of Mike and Ruthy since their time with The Mammals (just try Googling that!). This collection adds an Americana vibe to what feels like a family get-together. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Decemberists.jpgThe Decemberists, 'What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World' (Capitol)
The entire band back together after four years of solo work and side projects (including Black Prairie). This album reflects a band that has had its share of real-world struggles. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Griffin.jpgPatty Griffin, 'Servant of Love' (PGM)
Patty Griffin's voice cuts through a wall of mediocrity. Her songs shut out everything happening around me and pull me a world of their own. And, I'm so glad they do. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Darlingside.jpgDarlingside, 'Birds Say' (More Doug Records)
Here was my surprise of the year. Tightly written, atmospheric songs that make this album the big bowl of happy I want to pour over my face daily. iTunes * Amazon.com








T10-Good-Lovelies.jpgThe Good Lovelies, 'Burn the Plan' (Six Shooters Records)
The Good Lovelies are my queens of harmony. The Canadian trio have grown personally and musically, and bring an expanded world view to an album inspired by life's indirections. iTunes * Amazon.com





Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:45 AM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Jon Nungesser's Top 5 Albums of the Year

Jon Nungesser.jpgJon Nungesser's Top 5 Albums of the Year

It's hard to think of all the great albums that came out in the span of the last 12 months! 2015 will surely be remembered for having had amazing artists who created so many stellar records that are diverse in their sound and lyrical content, and will keep us listening well into the new year.

Here are five of my favorites from 2015.








Something[1].jpgJason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free' (Southeastern)
I feel as though this album really picks up where 'Southeastern' left off. Where as in 2013 he was just getting out of rehab and recording his last album - there was a hint of cautious optimism in his work. For 'Something More than Free,' Isbell seems to be in a much steadier place and it shows in tracks such as "24 Frames" and "If It Takes a Lifetime." He seems to be thankful for where he is and we're thankful for the music he's creating. iTunes * Amazon.com






milk.jpgThe Milk Carton Kids, 'Monterey' (Anti/Epitaph)
Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan really show off their close harmonies and weaving guitars on this one - it's a sound that could be easily mistaken for a lost classic of the 60's folk era. There is no backing band, no frills on this album - just a mastery of their chosen instruments that these two exude in fine fashion. Take a listen to "Asheville Skies," "Monterrey," and "The City of Our Lady." iTunes * Amazon.com






watkins.jpgWatkins Family Hour, 'Watkins Family Hour' (Family Hour Records)
What started as a show with friends for Sara and Sean Watkins at L.A.'s famed venue Largo has blossomed into an album that takes the spirit of a live show and bottles it up for all of us listening. They are joined by an all-star cast including Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, and Dawes just to name a few. The Watkins seem to be like a nice wine, they only get better with age! iTunes * Amazon.com






sufjan[1].jpgSufjan Stevens, 'Carrie & Lowell' (Asthmathic Kitty)
This album has to be considered one of the best of 2015. Stevens returns to a mostly indie-folk vibe for this record which is largely an homage to his mother who passed away in 2012. It may not be the most cheerful album of 2015, but it commands you to keep listening as it pulls at your heart strings the entire time. iTunes * Amazon.com






decemberists[1].jpgThe Decemberists, 'What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World' (Capitol)
It took going through our CD collection to remember that this record was actually released in 2015 (It seems so long ago now!) Regardless, The Portland band headed by Colin Meloy comes out swinging with their brand of indie-folk-rock. It's a solid album with many different themes having produced such tracks as "Make You Better" seemingly heard everywhere in the first months of 2015. iTunes * Amazon.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Matt Reilly's Top Albums of the Year

December 22, 2015

Reilly-WXPN-Headshot-150x150.jpgMatt Reilly's Top 5 Albums of 2015

I'm not particularly fond of best of, year-end lists because I'm invariably going to have to snub somebody who deserves to be on the list. This year the pattern continues as 2015 was a banner year for names we know putting out great albums.

Without further ado:








Patty Griffin Servant.jpgPatty Griffin, 'Servant of Love' (Thirty Tigers)
We all know Patty is a master at crafting great songs. 'Servant of Love' comes on the heels of her breakup with a certain rock star (think weighted balloon airship), and there is some bite to this record. While she maintains otherwise, it's doubtful this record could have been made under different circumstances. I think we all come out winners on this one. iTunes * Amazon.com






Glen Hansard Ramble.jpgGlen Hansard, 'Didn't He Ramble' (ANTI-)
Hansard is well known for his love of the busking lifestyle and the artists that live that life. That love definitely shines through on this record with its earthly feel. Well-crafted songs that in no way are a downer. iTunes * Amazon.com






Israel Nash.jpgIsrael Nash, 'Israel Nash's Silver Season' (Thirty Tigers)
Obvious Neil Young comparisons aside, this record feels like the wide open space of Texas where it was recorded. This is an album that requires you to pay attention. Let yourself get immersed in this one, you'll be glad you took the time. iTunes * Amazon.com






Laura Marling Short Movie.jpgLaura Marling, 'Short Movie' (Virgin)
I love Laura Marling because she channels classic British Folk all while moving the genre forward. She's clearly an old soul. 'Short Movie' continues the trend of Marling playing with intricate phrasing and angular song structure. It's fascinating and familiar all at once. iTunes * Amazon.com






Isbell Free.jpgJason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free' (Thirty Tigers)
This is a truly remarkable record because it takes the mundane and makes it extraordinary. The heartbreak and struggle in the songs, especially "Speed Trap Town," makes this album more relatable the older you get. iTunes * Amazon.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:20 AM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Barb Heller's Top Bluegrass Albums of the Year

December 21, 2015

Barb guitar.jpgBarb Heller's Top Bluegrass Albums of the Year

In between shifts at Folk Alley, I'm a bluegrass radio host for North Country Public Radio in northern New York. I live a few miles from the mighty St. Lawrence River that divides the US and Canada. You might think it strange that I'd be such a bluegrass fan, living in the Big Cheese State of NY, but we're rich in many kinds of music here.

My "favorites" list this year is in no particular order, and I'm particularly fond of performers who bend their chosen genre a bit. You'll find a lot of bend in this year's list of favorites. Enjoy - and Happy Holidays! - Barb




Steeldrivers.jpgThe Steeldrivers, 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings' (Rounder)
I rarely listen to albums over and over. This one's different - I've been playing it for weeks now, over and over. The songwriting is so vivid that it gets more real every time I hear it. Gary Nichols' lead singing just takes me away. I'm a northerner, but I feel the south in every cut on this great album. Two words: Get it. iTunes * Amazon.com






Ickes and Hensley.jpgRob Ickes & Trey Hensley, 'Before The Sun Goes Down' (Compass Records)
I first met Trey Hensley a few years ago, when he performed at a festival near my home. I've known about Rob Ickes for years - 15-time IBMA dobro player of the year, and Blue Highway band member for 20+ years. Trey Hensley is one of the slickest bluegrass guitarists I've ever seen - and he's doubly blessed with a deep, classic country voice. Together, they're a force to be reckoned with. They produce a sound that's so much bigger than just two. The songs are beautifully rendered - with a slant toward the country genre. These guys could shred these songs with their instruments.... but they don't. They know just when to stop. iTunes * Amazon.com




Tommy Hillbenders.jpgThe Hillbenders, 'Tommy - A Bluegrass Opry' (Compass Records)
As the name implies, this IS a remake of the classic WHO rock opera. Wow! I've seen this show live a couple of times, and it just gets better and better. If you liked the original, you'll love this album, and you should treat yourself to a Hillbenders show, complete with stage dancing and lighting. iTunes * Amazon.com






Bumper Jacksons.jpgBumper Jacksons, 'Too Big World' (Bumper Jacksons)
Sometimes I write notes on the cd jackets as they come in. This one has one word on the front: FUN! This DC-area group has taken a pretty wide variety of songs and turned each one into a little sideshow. Even the serious medicine goes down easy with this band. You'll be shuffling your feet before you realize you're dancing to a gospel song. It's.... fun. iTunes * Amazon.com






Gleaves.jpgSam Gleaves, 'Ain't We Brothers' (Community Music)
Gleaves is an openly gay musician from Appalachia... who sings about a gay miner from Appalachia. Hats off to this young man for boldly going where bluegrass has feared to tread. With a groundswell of support behind this album (produced by Cathy Fink, with guest appearances by Tim O'Brien, Laurie Lewis and Janis Ian), you're sure to hear more about Sam Gleaves in coming years. His choice of songs is as sweet as his gentle voice. Get in on this one. iTunes * Amazon.com




Here are a few more albums that have turned my head this year:


Ronnie Reno.jpgRonnie Reno, 'Lessons Learned' (Rural Rhythm) The Reno name has been a household word in bluegrass circles for decades. Ronnie Reno grew up in the shadow of Reno & Smiley, his dad's band. Ronnie grew up to be a songwriter, performer, radio and TV host, and opening act for some of the biggest names in country music. He's written most of the songs on his latest album, and he's clearly learned his lessons well. Great playing, singing, and excellent content and production quality on this album. iTunes * Amazon.com




Cox Family.jpgThe Cox Family, 'Gone Like The Cotton' (Rounder)
Recorded in 1998, and just released in October of 2015, this collection - produced by Alison Krauss - is just as good as the first Cox Family album. Velvety, melt-in-your-mouth vocals, great instrumental arrangements, and a wide range of songs bring out all the great things this band has to offer. The album also features some big name studio guests (Sam Bush, Barry Bales, Alison Krauss, Ron Block, Andrea Zonn, to name a few). If you like the sound of Alison Krauss, you'll love this one, too. iTunes * Amazon.com




Norman Blake.jpgNorman Blake, 'Wood, Wire & Words' (Western Jubilee Recording Company/Plectraphone Records)
Still making great music in his 70's, Norman Blake is a living classic. Good stories, good picking, and an honest, straight-ahead great set of music. If you've heard anything by Norman Blake over the last 40 years, you know he's a great historian, guitarist, and songwriter. He sets the bar high. iTunes * Amazon.com




Sideline.jpgSideline, 'Session 2' (Mountain Fever Records)
If bluegrass music was a buffet, Sideline would be the meat & potatoes. These guys all have other bands that they tour with, but they put this project together in their spare time. The result is down-home, dead-on great playing. If you're a traditionalist, put this one on your must-have list. iTunes * Amazon.com






Banjo Babes 2016.jpg... and, last but not least, an upcoming release that I haven't actually heard yet. I just LOVE the concept: 2016 Banjo Babes Calendar and CD set.
I met one of the original Banjo Babes this year at a music festival, and that's the first I'd heard of this project. I got the 2015 edition. The music is OK; a compilation of tracks in various genres by 12 women who all happen to play banjo - but the concept is priceless! The 2016 calendar/cd combo is a must-have for the banjo lover in your life. Every mechanic needs one of these in the shop, too. Available - HERE.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:01 PM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Kelly McCartney's 10 Best Records Made in Music City, U.S.A.

December 18, 2015

K Mac Head shot square 150.jpg10 Best Records Made in Music City, U.S.A.
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

Nashville gets banged around a lot over what's it's doing wrong when it comes to music. But it's also doing a whole lot right as this list of albums indicates. It's a collision of the country, folk, soul, and rock that is being played with passion in Music City -- sometimes on one record -- and it stands as a testament to a town that is absolutely bursting with talent.








AL Shakes[3].jpgAlabama Shakes, 'Sound & Color' (ATO Records)
The Shakes took a huge sonic leap forward from their debut record on this one and came up with one of the freshest-sounding albums of the year. A few of the cuts on the back half wander pretty far afield, but it's hard to fault a band for innovating. iTunes * Amazon.com






East.jpgAnderson East, 'Delilah' (New Elektra)
To launch his new label, producer Dave Cobb chose Anderson East's 'Delilah' and rightfully so. The young singer/songwriter brings it hard on this set, belting out both Southern soul and folky ballads with an emotional and technical maturity that belies his age. iTunes * Amazon.com






Combs.jpgAndrew Combs, 'All These Dreams' (Coin Records)
For fans of early '70s FM radio, 'All These Dreams' is a must-listen. Here, Andrew Combs recalls all the greats of that decades-past era -- Mickey Newbury, Roy Orbison, Paul Simon, Glen Campbell, and more -- but he does so through his own contemporary lens. iTunes * Amazon.com






Monroe.jpgAshley Monroe, 'The Blade' (Warner Music Nashville)
One listen to this record and it's clear that "real" country music is alive and well... just maybe not on any mainstream radio stations. Ashley Monroe knows how to write and wring her heart out, that's for damn sure. But, alongside instant-classic heartbreakers like "The Blade" and "Bombshell," she always throws in a couple winks and nods to let us know it's all gonna be okay. iTunes * Amazon.com






Spence.jpgCaroline Spence, 'Somehow' (CD Baby)
Speaking of country heartbreakers... With her folky leanings, Caroline Spence isn't as stone cold as Ashley Monroe is, but she, too, knows her way around a song. One listen to "Trains Cry" or "Whiskey Watered Down" or "Don't Call" proves that. Taken as a whole, the understated 'Somehow' also proves that sometimes a little less makes for a whole lot more. iTunes * Amazon.com






Stapleton.jpgChris Stapleton, 'Traveller' (Mercury Nashville)
A lot has been made in the past month about Chris Stapleton, but keen observers can claim to have loved him for a lot longer than that. They can also celebrate the break-out success he's enjoying with 'Traveller.' Like 'The Blade,' it's proof positive that Nashville still knows what it's doing. iTunes * Amazon.com






Peters.jpgGretchen Peters, 'Blackbirds' (Scarlet)
Though she cut her songwriting teeth in country, Gretchen Peters has made her artist's name in Americana and 'Blackbirds' has etched it into the hearts and minds of fans around the world this year. For mature audiences only, this album casts a long and lovely shadow as it walks head-on into some tough emotional terrain. iTunes * Amazon.com






Isbell.jpgJason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free' (Southeastern Records)
Some hardcore fans of 2013's 'Southeastern' have found fault in its follow-up because it wasn't a sequel. That's an unfair standard, though, because what Jason Isbell does on 'Something More Than Free' is really quite special. He purposely got more tactical with his lyrics and, simultaneously, more adventurous with his music. The result is indeed separate, but surely equal, to 'Southeastern.' iTunes * Amazon.com




Amanfu[2].jpgRuby Amanfu, 'Standing Still' (Rival & Co Records)
Too often, an album of covers feels like a reductive redux of great material. Not so on 'Standing Still.' Here, Ruby Amanfu deconstructs songs by Bob Dylan, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the Heartless Bastards, and others only to rebuild them in her own gloriously soulful image. It's a stunning collection that shows how songwriting and singing are two equally important sides of the same coin. iTunes * Amazon.com




Culwell.jpgRyan Culwell, 'Flatlands' (Lightning Rod)
In the grand tradition of Texas troubadours inhabited by the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, that's where Ryan Culwell fits. 'Flatlands' digs deep into the stories of lives in his panhandle homeland and comes up with some real doozies. Pairing his deft craftsmanship with fierce performances, Culwell delivers a knock-out punch with this one. iTunes * Amazon.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:20 PM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Elena See's Top 10 Albums of the Year

Thumbnail image for elena see 1 square crop 250.jpgElena See's Top 10 Albums of 2015

Oh, it really IS the most wonderful time of the year! 'Tis the season for "best of" lists and, like every year, there's simply so much great music that it's just plain hard - darn near impossible, as a matter of fact - to choose the 5 best or 10 best or 20 best recordings. So, below, not the "10 Best Records of the Year" but the "10 Records I Can't Imagine NOT Listening to for Years and Years to Come."








HoneyCutters.jpgThe Honeycutters, 'Me Oh My' (Organic Records)
Personal. That's the word that springs to mind when I listen to this record. Each song seems to somehow speak to an experience I've had or people I've known in my life. And I'm a sucker for music and musicians that make me contemplate my own past. And for songs that make me want to try harder (ahem, "Jukebox"). iTunes * Amazon.com






Gretchen Peters.jpgGretchen Peters, 'Blackbirds' (Scarlet)
Provoking. Gretchen Peters pushes me with this record. She's forcing me to think of things I might not want to consider. "Pretty Things," for example, is a heartbreaking song that inspires tears and rage in equal turns. And add to that the intense and creepy story she shares in the title track - no surprise that this record is on "repeat" on my playlist. iTunes * Amazon.com






Eilen Jewell.jpgEilen Jewell, 'Sundown Over Ghost Town' (Signature Sounds)
Melancholy. There's something about Eilen Jewel's voice that just touches my heart. And her crafty way of telling the stories of people and places that have definitely known better times...and may not ever know better times again is so, so admirable. "Half Broke Horse" is a song I'll listen to repeatedly and a song that makes me tear up every time I hear it. iTunes * Amazon.com






SCR.jpgSteep Canyon Rangers, 'Radio' (Rounder)
Awesome. This band, these musicians - they blow me away. I'm awestruck by their virtuosity, by their wordless communication, by their utter precision that still manages to retain an air of spontaneity. And Jerry Douglas as a producer? More, please. Surprises in this album (good ones) include: "Down That Road Again" and "Wasted." iTunes * Amazon.com






Amy Helm.jpgAmy Helm, 'Didn't it Rain' (Entertainment One Music)
Thankful. I've been a fan of Amy Helm's for a long time. I loved her band Ollabelle and when I read that she was going to release her debut solo album earlier this year, I just closed my eyes and said a silent, "thank you." Her voice. Her VOICE. It's huge and powerful and...words fail. iTunes * Amazon.com






Darlingside.jpgDarlingside, 'Birds Say' (More Doug Records)
Surprise. I didn't know much about Darlingside before this album. And what I did know - I just thought it was kind of blandly pleasing music. Ha! Wrong! Birds Say made me sit up and pay attention to this quartet. There's something about their harmonies that makes me wish I'd been around for the heyday of bands like The Byrds. Check out "White Horses." iTunes * Amazon.com






REK.jpgRobert Earl Keen, 'Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions' (Dualtone)
Happy. There's such joy in this record, such happiness. It's...eager. I love the fact that Robert Earl Keen, this legend of outlaw country, loves bluegrass with his whole heart. And I love the fact that he loves it so much that he almost DIDN'T make the album - he was worried he wouldn't be able to properly honor the tradition. No worries, REK. iTunes * Amazon.com






Mike + Ruthy.jpgThe Mike + Ruthy Band, 'Bright As You Can' (Humble Abode Music)
Thoughtful. Besides Ruth Ungar's simply amazing voice (which, ok, for some reason I've never really noticed before), the lyrics on this album are so very thoughtful. They're...crafted. That's the word. Very carefully crafted, not a word or a phrase out of place. From rollicking good times to more tender reflections, this album is a winner from start to finish. iTunes * Amazon.com






Jason Isbell.jpgJason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free' (Southeastern Records)
Engaging. Jason Isbell has done it again - he has totally and completely engaged me in his music. I was wary of this album after Southeastern, I admit. But you know what? I like this one even more. He's a master storyteller, Jason Isbell. And he's spinning tales I will always want to hear. "Speed Trap Town" is a stand out for me. iTunes * Amazon.com






Caitlin Canty.jpgCaitlin Canty, 'Reckless Skyline' (Caitlin Canty)
New. Caitlin Canty was one of my favorite new discoveries of 2015. Her voice is beautiful. Her songwriting is thoughtful and her musicianship, from her own performance to the musicians she chose to surround herself with on the album (Jeffrey Foucault produced it), is top-notch. Can't wait to hear what she'll do next. iTunes * Amazon.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:30 AM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Cindy Howes' Top 10 Albums of the Year

December 17, 2015

Chowes-square crop .jpgCindy Howes' Top 10 Albums of 2015.

I thought 2015 was an awesome year for music, especially when it comes to the more roots/folk records that came out. I also appreciated the good rock records (Alabama Shakes, Beirut), soul records (Anderson East, Leon Bridges) and indie pop (Kopecky, Chvrches). 2015 was also the year I got my record-player act together, so I am proud to say that my music purchases were up (I got the Adele record on compact disc AND vinyl). I tried out Apple Music and found that Spotify was more to my liking, but wish that they would improve their social functionality. When it comes to this group of albums, my favorite kind of "folk" music has elements of classic country (Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton) or elements of classic progressive pop/singer/songwriter (Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Dusty Springfield) and that's mainly what you find when you peruse this best-of list.

Listen to my Best of 2015 playlist at Spotify - HERE


01_Kacey Musgraves.jpg1. Kacey Musgraves - 'Pageant Materia'l (Mercury Records)
Kacey Musgraves' second major label country record continues to defy the Texas native's modern contemporaries while putting her own twist on the genre's classic sound. Although the topics covered on 'Pageant Material' are not as weighty as her previous release (like her stance on LGBT acceptance on songs like "Follow Your Arrow"), she still makes quite an impression on songs like "Biscuits," "Good Ol' Boys Club" and the title track. With her laugh out loud lyrics that call to mind songs by Conway Twitty and a voice that'll make you think of Dolly Parton, Musgraves' liberal leaning viewpoints are a breath of fresh air to the country music world. iTunes * Amazon.com


02_jason isbell.jpg2. Jason Isbell - 'Something More Than Free' (Southeastern Records)
Jason Isbell's ability to tell a gut-wrenching story fires on all cylinders on the follow-up to his massively successful 'Southeastern.' It's always the record after the one that grabs everyone's attention that matters most and Isbell's performance does not disappoint. Although inspiration comes from his own life, from his mother's tale of being a teen mom ("Children of Children,") to the title track written about his hard-working father, these songs are for everyone. The ease of 'Something More Than Free,' prove he's gracefully stepping into the role of the modern blue-collar troubadour. iTunes * Amazon.com


03_brooke annibale.jpg3. Brooke Annibale - 'The Simple Fear' (Brooke Annibale)
Brooke Annibale may have found her sound in Nashville, but her heart and soul come from Pittsburgh, PA. The Belmont grad spent almost a decade in Music City where she found some success particularly in TV placements ('Vampire Diaries,' 'Pretty Little Liars,' 'One Tree Hill,' etc.) before a move back to her hometown in the North. On 'The Simple Fear,' Annibale's dark, alluring voice is accompanied by dynamically produced songs that tackle facing fears, accepting change and the ever uphill journey of finding your way to your true home. iTunes * Amazon.com




04_Villagers.png4. Villagers - 'Darling Arithmetic' (Domino Recording)
The third full-length album, 'Darling Arithmetic,' finds Villagers' Conor O'Brien being more honest than ever before. "It took a little time to be honest/ It took a little time to be me," on the opening track "Courage." Earlier in 2015, The Dublin resident came out as a gay man while talking to The Irish Times. However, the album's themes touch more on human love, rather than it simply being a "coming out" record. O'Brien's lyrics and gorgeous production take center stage in what is a quiet, but yet very loud, declaration of self-love. iTunes * Amazon.com




05_The Lone Bellow.jpeg5. The Lone Bellow - 'Then Came The Morning' (Descendant Records)
On their very impressive follow up to 2013's self-titled record, The Lone Bellow establish themselves as one of New York's most exciting musically inclined story-tellers. 'Then Came The Morning from The Lone Bellow' is not unlike if Paul Simon fronted The Band. Produced by Aaron Dessner of The National, the record is filled with ordinary stories from the every-day lives of others turned into extraordinary anthems, all surrounded with the explosive harmonies and sweeping instrumentation. iTunes * Amazon.com




06_Glen Hansard.jpg6. Glen Hansard - 'Didn't He Ramble' (Plateau Records)
For his second solo record, Glen Hansard has managed to weave the beauty of Irish tradition seamlessly into a beautiful modern take on a singer/songwriter album. It is clear that the influence of Marketa Irglova's (the other half of The Swell Season) subtle touches has stayed with him on songs like "Wedding Ring" and "Just To Be The One". Adversely, his street performer's dynamic spirit is still alive and well on songs like "Lowly Deserter". The restraint Hansard displays on certain moments of 'Didn't He Ramble,' make the energizing parts all the more potent. iTunes * Amazon.com




07_Brandi Carlile.jpg7. Brandi Carlile - 'Firewatcher's Daughter' (ATO)
On her most commercially successful and critically acclaimed release, Brandi Carlile sounds the most free she has ever sounded. Her fifth studio album has a range of dynamics and hits on topics of addiction and the beauty of comfortable love. The focal point is the awesomeness of Carlile's vocal ability that is, of course, elevated by the ever-present Hansroth twins. Be sure to make all the way to the end of the album, where Brandi and the twins turn The Avett Brothers' "Murder In The City" into a marriage equality anthem. iTunes * Amazon.com




08_David Ramirez.png8. David Ramirez - 'Fables' (Sweetworld)
Austin, TX songwriter, David Ramirez takes on a new approach to making music and living life: honesty and the results are more than satisfying. The gorgeous 'Fables,' produced in Seattle by long-time pal Noah Gundersen, came about after a 3-year break. During that time, a full record was scrapped and his relationship got more serious. You can hear the personal growth in songs like "Harder to Lie" where Ramirez's lovely baritone sings stirring lines like "I fed you fables and fooled you with words from my tongue/ Trying to make you think I was a better man than I was/But if you're asking me now/I'll tell you the truth/ It's getting harder and harder to lie to you." iTunes * Amazon.com


09_JesseLafser large.png9. Jesse Lafser - 'Raised On The Plains' (Jesse Lafser)
The stage is set on Jesse Lafser's 'Raised on The Plains' with the opening track "Jack Hat Blues", which contains Chuck Berry-esque guitars and words sung like an androgynous Bob Dylan. The St. Louis native's latest album is American roots music in its truest form, along with Lafser's poignant lyrics, inspired by travels to the American Southwest. The emotion in her voice and her two-finger guitar picking pours through every track, but highlights include "Rosey" and "Mountain Air". iTunes * Amazon.com




10_Son Little.png10. Son Little - 'Son Little' (ANTI-)
Born in L.A. to a teacher and a preacher, Aaron Livingston's music may cover more genres than just folk, but as Son Little, he brings classic American elements into his strong new self-titled release. The foundation for this album lies in Son Little's unique voice that transcends the blues, rock, folk and modern R&B. If Howlin' Wolf was making modern music, it could sound like "Nice Dreams" or "Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches." Livingston's delivery is full of passion and ache on songs like "O Mother" and sweetness on "Lay Down." iTunes * Amazon.com


Other notable folk-ish records: Laura Marling, 'Short Movie;' Jeffrey Foucault, 'Salt As Wolves;' Josh Ritter, 'Sermon On The Rocks;' Ana Egge, 'Bright Shadow;' Mandolin Orange, 'Such Jubilee;' Sharon Van Etten, 'I Don't Want To Let You Down;' The Weepies, 'Sirens;' Barnstar!, 'Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!;' and Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony, 'Hark,'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:22 PM

PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151210

December 16, 2015

Thumbnail image for Folk-Alley-Logo_medium.jpgPLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151210. Aired between December 11 - December 17, 2015. Hosted by Elena See

Artist - Song - Album - Label

Hour 1 - (featuring our in-studio Session with singer-songwriter, Brooke Annibale)

Alicia Witt - I'm Not Ready For Christmas - [single] - Alicia Witt

Pat Donohue - Linus and Lucy - Pat Donohue - Red House

Over The Rhine - Darlin' (Christmas is Coming) - Snow Angels - Great Speckled Dog

Shovels & Rope - (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding (feat. Lucius) - Busted Jukebox, Volume 1 - Dualtone

Elvis Costello - Sulpher To Sugarcane - Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane - Hear Music

Brooke Annibale - Find My Way (in-studio) - Folk Alley in-studio session - Folk Alley/WKSU exclusive

Brooke Annibale - The Good Hurt (in-studio) - Folk Alley in-studio session - Folk Alley/WKSU exclusive

Brooke Annibale - Decide (in-studio) - Folk Alley in-studio session - Folk Alley/WKSU exclusive

David Myles - I Wouldn't Dance - So Far - Little Tiny

David Myles - Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo - It's Christmas - Little Tiny

Amy Helm - Deep Water - Didn't It Rain - Entertainment One Music

Jayme Stone - Old Christmas - Jayme Stone's Lomax Project - Borealis

Shawn Mullins - It All Comes Down To Love - My Stupid Heart - Sugar Hill/Concord


Hour 2

The Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Band - Lights of Chanukah - A Fiddler's Holiday - The Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Band

The Claire Lynch Band - In the Window - Holiday! - Thrill Hill

Robert Earl Keen - Footprints In the Snow - Happy Prisoner - The Bluegrass Sessions - Dualtone

Eilen Jewell - Worried Mind - Sundown Over Ghost Town - Signature Sounds

The Mike + Ruthy Band - Rock On Little Jane - Bright As You Can - Humble Abode

Steep Canyon Rangers - Radio - Radio - Rounder

Danny Barnes - Cut A Rug - Got Myself Together (10 Years Late) - Eight 30 Records

Steve Martin - Pitkin County Turnaround - The Crow - Steve Martin

Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Pretty Polly - Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Rounder

Rhiannon Giddens - Moonshiner's Daughter - Factory Girl (EP) - Nonesuch

Kaia Kater - Moonshiner - Sorrow Bound - Kingswood

The Wainwright Sisters - Prairie Lullaby - Songs in the Dark - Pias America

Black Prairie - Across the Black Prairie - Feast of the Hunters' Moon - Sugar Hill

Jason Isbell - Hudson Commodore - Something More Than Free - Southeastern

Sufjan Stevens - Lumberjack Christmas/ No One Can Save You From Christmases Past - Silver & Gold - Asthmatic Kitty

Daniel Martin Moore - It's Christmas - [single] - SofaBurn



Folk Alley's weekly, syndicated radio show, hosted by Elena See, is produced by WKSU (NPR-affiliate in Kent, OH). The show is available for free to stations via PRX.org or via FTP for non-PRX members. Stations may air the show as either a one-, or two-hour program. The Folk Alley Radio Show is presently carried by over 40 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:17 PM

A Q & A with Shawn Mullins

December 11, 2015

by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

shawnIMG_0523.jpgBefore -- and after -- Shawn Mullins was a pop star in the late '90s, he was a songwriter of both substance and style. While his early 'Big Blue Sky' release shared a folky kinship with Shawn Colvin, some of his later records were more in step with the classic country of Kris Kristofferson. On his latest set, 'My Stupid Heart,' Mullins mixes all of those styles, and a few others, into a big, glorious gumbo of artistry that, by most all accounts, is his best album yet.

Kelly McCartney: For the first time since 'Beneath the Velvet Sun,' you worked with a producer who's an old friend of yours. How'd it feel to let go the reins?

Shawn Mullins: Well, I've always worked with old friends when it comes to production and engineering... mostly the same folks, really. The big difference on this record is that I didn't want to be the producer, so I was glad to let go of the reins, so to speak. With Lari [White] producing, I had no worries at all when it came to that.

There are some great sounds on this thing. The title track alone combines a Roy Orbison snare with some Beatles harmonies. Did you have those ideas going in or did Lari bring some of that along with her?

From the writing of "My Stupid Heart" on, Chuck Cannon, Lari, and I all talked about that -- how the song cried out for a Beatles/Beach Boys arrangement. In the end, Lari is the one responsible for the sounds you hear and don't hear. She's one hell of a producer.

The crazy percussion and wild hollering on "It All Comes Down to Love"... that must've been a fun day in the studio. How do elements like that come about? Trial and error? Whiskey and weed?

It was a fun day. Some of that stuff happened after the first day, though. During playback at one point, I took a pencil and started beating on a whiskey glass and wine bottle, then I picked up a maraca and started playing this weird metal ashtray thing. Chuck grabbed a really great microphone and stuck it on all that as I was doing it. That's probably the crazy percussion sound you're noticing. Wine-bottle-whiskey-glass-ashtray-maraca. That's my son Murphy in the intro, and my beagle Jack. Chuck tracked Jack on his iPad while he was barking into the woods right outside the studio. That stuff doesn't typically happen if I'm drunk or stoned. We're all relaxed enough to have a good time, but still on our toes and focused.

When Ferguson was in the headlines, there was some criticism that artists weren't responding. But you get into it here with the song "Ferguson." Do you feel pressure -- externally or internally -- to take issues on?

I don't feel any pressure externally or internally to take those or any issues on. That song was a challenge, though, for sure. A challenge to Chuck and me as songwriters. There's a lot being said in there, in that story, and then there's a lot left unsaid... purposefully. I guess we, as writers, just wanted it to be said. We didn't feel pressure to do it, but found it challenging and necessary. We weren't hearing other artists talking about it much so we took it on.

A lot of critics (me included) are calling this your best album in a long time, possibly ever. How's that feel -- to know you still got it... in spades?

It feels great. I'm really proud of this one. It was a total team effort. Honestly, I'm not sure what else I would do if I didn't do this. I just know that I'm thankful and glad to be doing good work.

###

'My Stupid Heart' is out now and available at iTunes and Amazon.com.


Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:15 PM

Album Review: David Myles, 'It's Christmas'

December 7, 2015

by Elena See, FolkAlley.com

David Myles Its Christmas.jpg"It's the warm firelight on a cold winter's night, it's the stranger that's holding the door. It's the generous smile, the mother and child, it is peace ringing out over war."

You'll hear those words in the title track of Halifax, Nova Scotia based musician David Myles's new Christmas recording, It's Christmas. Those sentiments perfectly encapsulate the warm, gooey, softly smiling feeling that's supposed to sweep over us during the holiday season. David Myles loves Christmas, it seems, and he wants us to love it, too.

In Myles's musical hands, the Christmas classics from which you cannot escape come December 1 have a fresh feel. The songs almost sound new, believe it or not, as if they'd just been written. Even the most inflexible Grinch might find his or her mouth cracking up in a smile listening to Myles's jaunty version of "The Christmas Song," and his jazzy, swinging way of telling the melancholy story that's been told for decades in "I'll Be Home For Christmas."

Now, if you're a fan of the Christmas classics and simply want to listen to them (and only them) over and over again...well, you can do that with It's Christmas. Myles lets his voice ring in a gorgeous (if very short) version of "Silent Night," and he and his band share a pretty pleasing rendition of "White Christmas," too - it's more upbeat than the classic Bing Crosby version, and a bit more hopeful...more smiles, fewer tears.

In addition to putting his own crooning stamp on the Christmas classics, Myles also shares three brand new Christmas songs: "It's Christmas" ponders on what the season and holiday should really be about (family, friends, love, peace); "The Gift" is a reflection on generosity and hope and a reminder to make time for the important people in our lives; and "Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo" is a humorous take on the idea that we don't always get what we want - even at Christmastime.

In fact, you can add "Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo" to your Christmas playlist right now. Folk Alley is offering the exclusive, free download of the tune below! Merry Christmas!

###

'It's Christmas' is available now at iTunes and Amazon.com.

CLICK HERE for a free MP3 download of "Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo"




Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:09 PM

PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151203

December 6, 2015

Thumbnail image for Folk-Alley-Logo_medium.jpgPLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151203. Aired between December 4 - December 10, 2015. Hosted by Elena See

Artist - Song - Album - Label

Hour 1

Joni Mitchell - River - Blue - Reprise

Sam Bush - Let It Snow - A Very Special Acoustic Christmas - Lost Highway

The Living Sisters - Hanukkah - Harmony Is Real: Songs for a Happy Holiday - Vanguard

The Honeycutters - Jukebox - Me Oh My - Organic

Ellis Paul (in studio) - Jukebox On My Grave - Folk Alley in-studio recording 6-11-2010 - Folk Alley/WKSU exclusive recording

Lance Canales - Cold Dark Hole - The Blessing and the Curse - Music Road

Ray Bonneville - Wild Thing For You - Rough Luck - Stonefly

Shovels & Rope - Nothing Takes The Place Of You (feat. JD McPherson) - Busted Jukebox, Volume 1 - Dualtone

Bridget Kearney & Benjamin Lazar Davis - Firu - Bawa (EP) - Signature Sounds

Rhiannon Giddens - That Lonesome Road - Factory Girl (EP) - Nonesuch

David Ramirez - Harder To Lie - Fables - Sweetworld

Fairport Convention - Mr. Sands is in the Building - Old-New-Borrowed-Blue - Fairport Convention

Kacey Musgraves - Pageant Material - Pageant Material - Mercury Nashville

John Prine - Everything Is Cool - An Americana Christmas - New West

Bob Dylan (Johnny Cash) - Girl From The North Country - Nashville Skyline - Columbia

Hour 2

Free the Honey - Take Me Home - Fine Bloom - Free the Honey

Joe Craven - Camptown - Camptown - Blender

The Wainwright Sisters - El Condor Pasa - Songs in the Dark - Pias America

Ben Caplan - I Got Me A Woman - Birds With Broken Wings - Coalition

Levon Helm - Got Me A Woman - Dirt Farmer - Vanguard

Caitlin Canty - Wore Your Ring - Reckless Skyline - Caitlin Canty

Jeffrey Foucault - Rico - Salt As Wolves - Blueblade

The Suitcase Junket - Wherever I Wake Up - Make Time - Whistlepig

Danny Barnes - Get Myself Together - Got Myself Together (10 Years Late) - Eight 30

Danny Barnes - Get It On Down the Line - Got Myself Together (10 Years Late) - Eight 30

Watkins Family Hour - Early Morning Rain - Watkins Family Hour - Family Hour

John Fahey - Atlantic High - Rain forests, Oceans, & Other Themes - Varrick

David Myles - Need A Break - So Far - Little Tiny

Eliza Gilkyson - Think About You - Paradise Hotel - Red House

Kevin Gordon (in-studio) - Following a Sign (Preacher's Wife) (in-studio) - Folk Alley in-studio session - Folk Alley/WKSU exclusive



Folk Alley's weekly, syndicated radio show, hosted by Elena See, is produced by WKSU (NPR-affiliate in Kent, OH). The show is available for free to stations via PRX.org or via FTP for non-PRX members. Stations may air the show as either a one-, or two-hour program. The Folk Alley Radio Show is presently carried by over 40 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com

Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:20 PM

Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Listener Poll

December 2, 2015

Best of 2015 470 sq.jpgVOTE!! Folk Alley's Best of 2015 - Listener Poll

2015 was another incredible year for great folk, roots and Americana music! Everything from debut and breakout albums by new artists on the scene, to brilliant masterpieces from some of our favorite songwriters, and everything in between.

Folk Alley wants to know YOUR Top 10 favorite folk, roots and Americana albums of the year. If you're like us, this is no easy task. Good luck whittling your choices down to only ten.

We will compile votes until Tuesday, December 15. The Top 50 Albums as voted on by Folk Alley listeners will be revealed on December 16th.

CLICK HERE to VOTE!

Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:31 PM

Album Review: Natalie Merchant, 'Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlily Recordings'

by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

Natalie Merchant Paradise 400.jpgEven though they may be encoded with 1s and 0s or enshrined in vinyl grooves, songs are not static entities. They live and breathe, expand and contract as the years wear on. They take on different meanings for the listener, just as they do for the artist. It's no wonder, then, that singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant has chosen to revisit her solo career's seminal set of songs with the distance of 20 years behind her -- much like Alanis Morissette did with 'Jagged Little Pill,' though only 10 years on.

Coming off her incredibly successful run with 10,000 Maniac, Merchant made her solo stand with 'Tigerlily' back in 1995. To mark its anniversary, she has reworked those compositions with the power of hindsight and the benefit of maturation for 'Paradise Is There.' Some may cite the effort as an unnecessary nostalgic remembering, but it's more than that. Sure, the unforgettable vibe and groove of "Carnival" have been blunted (and Katell Keineg's vocals forsaken). But, what Merchant has lost of pep in her step, she's gained in purpose of her position. Take, for instance, "Beloved Wife." Having gone through divorce and motherhood, Merchant now brings that much more gravitas to the words: "You were the love for certain of my life. You were simply my beloved wife ... I can't believe I've lost the very best of me."

As with anything, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have... well, in this case, 'Paradise.'

###

'Paradise Is There: The New Tigerlilly Recordings' [CD/DVD] is available now via Nonesuch Records at iTunes and Amazon.com.




Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:00 PM

A Q & A with Brooke Annibale

by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

Brooke Annibale 300.jpgThough singer/songwriter Brooke Annibale hails from Pittsburgh, she did a tour of duty in Nashville before returning home last year. Those contrasting environs are both present in her work. Indeed, she's both a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll, to borrow the old Osmond analysis. Her new album, 'The Simple Fear,' signals her breaking of the writer's block that hit after her 2013 release, 'the Word In Your Eyes" EP. And it finds Annibale in fine form.

Kelly McCartney: Though they aren't musicians, your family has worked in and around music for a couple of generations. Are you one of those people who had no real choice in the matter -- you just music was it for you from early on?

Brooke Annibale: My parents weren't musicians, but my maternal grandfather was a guitarist and always encouraged me to learn guitar or drums, which I was interested in as a kid. It took until I was a teenager to take a real interest in learning guitar. I started learning guitar specifically to write songs. Since I started, there hasn't been anything else I've wanted to do with my life more than play music. So I guess you could say it was just "it" for me, but no one was pushing me into it.

You spent some time in Nashville, but moved back to Pittsburgh last year. What's the music scene like there?

The Pittsburgh scene is much more condensed than the Nashville music scene, for sure, but still very interesting and strong. The Pittsburgh scene has several really great bands and singer/songwriters that I've enjoyed collaborating with and playing shows with. There's anything from the danceable indie-pop band Donora -- who are on the same Pittsburgh-originated label as Wiz Khalifa -- to great folk acts like Judith Avers and the Early Mays. Because of the scene's size, everyone pretty much knows everyone else, which creates a great community and a lot of collaboration.

Writer's block aside, do you write better -- or more -- when you're happy or sad? Or do you approach it as a job and power through?

My instinct is to answer "sad," but honestly it's when I'm going through a lot of changes or some sort of situation that takes a lot of processing. I've always used songwriting and music as a therapeutic processing method for whatever I'm going through at the time. Sometimes it's all about inspiration, and sometimes it is about approaching it like a job. But even when I approach it like a job, I have to keep my head in a place where I'm writing from honest emotions.

What's the first truly good song you remember writing? And, at what point do you know a song's good?

I wrote a song when I was 15 or 16 called "Go Unnoticed" and, while I wouldn't really consider it my best work now, I still occasionally get an email or message about that song. People tell me they heard it a long time ago and can't find their copy of it and ask how they can get it. It astonishes me a bit that people have held onto their connection to a song I wrote over 10 years ago.

Now, I think I know a song I'm writing is good when either it gets stuck in my own head or I just want to keep playing it. Also, I have to connect with it emotionally in some way or else I'll get bored with it. Then I'll start playing those songs live, and can usually tell from how they come out in front of a live audience if they will hold up in the long run.

You seem to bend and blend genres in your work. Do you think we're getting to a point where labels mean and matter less? Or will we always need descriptors to help us out?

I think most people want to define what they are hearing in some way. If people have just heard me, they want to tell me who or what I sound like and, if people haven't heard me yet, they want to know who I sound like. So, I do think it's important, to a certain extent. It definitely gets people interested in hearing your music if they sort of know what to expect and already enjoy those references. Whether that's a vocal or style reference, it gives people something to relate to before they've even heard my music.

###

'The Simple Fear' is out now and available at iTunes and Amazon.com.







Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:50 PM

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