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Best Folk Music of 2008?

November 26, 2008

It's that time of year to reflect back on all the great music released in 2008, and to compile our annual "Best Of" lists. We'll be posting our individual Folk Alley staff picks on the website soon, but this is the place for you - the Folk Alley audience - to tell us your favorite new CDs released in '08 (so far), your favorite new musical discoveries (e.g. new artists or bands that you recently discovered,) or how about your favorite new songs of the year?

Please add your favorites for 2008 below, and help us build our Best of 2008 Side Stream that will be available on-demand at the end of December and through the month of January.

Let's hear 'em!

To help refresh your memory, see below for a list of (most of) the new music added to Folk Alley in 2008..

Blue Highway - Through the Window of a Train
Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Experience - Live! World Wide
Beth Nielsen Chapman - Prism: The Human Family Songbook
Heidi Talbot - In Love & Light
Ray Bonneville - Goin' by Feel
Polecat Creek - Ordinary Seasons
Angel Band - Beautiful Noise
Carrie Newcomer - The Geography of Light
Blowzabella - Octomento
Dave Rice and His Old Time Cronies - Ned Went A'Fishin'
Meg Hutchinson - Come Up Full
Outlaw Social - Dry Bones
Caroline Herring - Lantana
Belleville Outfit - Wanderin'
Kym Tuvim - Nothing Sweet Nothing
Brooks Williams - The Time I Spend with You
Anna Wolfe - My Treasure
Shotgun Party - Shotgun Party
NewFound Road - Life in a Song
Dixie Bee-Liners - Ripe
Sally Barris - Restless Soul
Tret Fure - True Compass
Lily Wilson - Stargazer
Mando Saenz - Bucket
Punch Brothers - Punch
Kate Rusby - Awkward Annie
Erica Wheeler - Good Summer Rain
The Avett Brothers - Mignonette
Allison Moorer - Mocking Bird
Mae Robertson - Meet the Sun Halfway
The Weepies - Hideaway
Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic, Vol. 2
David Wilcox - Airstream
Tim O'Brien - Chameleon
Kensington Prairie - Captured in Still Life
The Gibson Brothers - Iron & Diamonds
Brian Henke - Tree of Life
The Waybacks - Loaded
Fayssoux McLean - Early
The Waifs - sundirtwater
The Bobs - Get your Monkey off my Dog
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder - Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947
Kathy Mattea - Coal
Karan Casey - Ships in the Forest
Dave Cousins - Secret Paths
Lindsay Mac - Small Revolution
Steve Dawson - Waiting for the Lights to Come Up
Shannon Wurst - Sunday Pie
Cara Luft - The Light Fantastic
Shawn Mullins - Honeydew
Eric Bibb - Get Onboard
Mozaik - Changing Trains
Victoria Vox - Chameleon
Van Morrison - Keep it Simple
Oliver Schroer - Hymns and Hers
Old Man Luedecke - Proof of Love
Lissa Schneckenburger - Song
Steppin' In It - Simple Tunes for Troubled Times
Capercaillie - Roses and Tears
Willie Nelson - Moment of Forever
Andy Cohen - Ridiculous Instrumentals
Railroad Earth - Amen Corner
Corbet/Chrisman/Tice - Early
Sirens - Look Up
John McCutcheon - Sermon on the Mound
The Wilders - Someone's Got to Pay
Robert Bowlin - Six String Soliloquy
Sarah Sample - Never Close Enough
The Biscuit Burners - Take Me Home
Terence Martin - Even Trade
South Austin Jug Band - Strange Invitation
Spring Creek - Lonesome Way To Go
Joe Crookston - Able Baker Charlie and Dog
Joel Rafael - Thirteen Stories High
Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet - Abigail Washburn & the Sparrow Quartet
Crooked Still - Still Crooked
We're About 9 - Paperdust::Stardust
Kerfuffle - To the Ground
Pat Wictor - Sunset Waltz
Joe Cocker - Hymn For My Soul
The Stairwell Sisters - Get Off Your Money
Guy Forsyth - Calico Girl
Eliza Gilkyson - Beautiful World
Wayne Henderson - Made & Played
Ellis Paul - The Dragonfly Races
Blue Line Highway - A Perfect Curve
Amy Meyers - Lucky
Angel Band - With Roots & Wings
Colin Meloy - Colin Meloy Sings Live!
Jack Williams - Don't Let Go!
Jann Klose - Reverie
The Infamous Stringdusters - The Infamous Stringdusters
Maddy Prior - Seven for Old England
Lau - Lau Live
Christine Albert - Paris, TexaFrance
Jayme Stone - The Utmost
Joe Ely & Joel Guzman - Live Cactus!
Longview - Deep in the Mountains
Rachael Davis - Antebellum Queens
Chatham County Line - IV
Railroad Earth - Amen Corner
Cara - In Between Times
Natalia Zuckerman - Brand New Frame
Kort McCumber - Lickskillet Road
Breabach - Big Spree
Aidan O'Rourke - Sirius
The Brass Kings - Washboard Rope Guitar
The Belle Epoque Ensemble - havona Shores
Anne, Robbin & Holly - A Thistledown Nest
Willie Nelson / Wynton Marsalis - Two Men With The Blues
Kimmie Rhodes - Walls Fall Down
Peter Siegel - Living in Rome
The Horse Flies - Until the Ocean
Emmylou Harris - All I Intended to Be
Conjunto Jardin - Yerba Buena
Meatyard - Toot Toot Boom Boom
Kristin Andreassen - Kiss Me Hello
Red Molly - Love and Other Tragedies
Robby Hecht - Late Last Night
Kaiser Cartel - March Forth
Greg Greenway - Standing on the Side of Love
Greg Laswell - Three Flights From Alto Nido
Michael Doucet - From Now On
Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life
Moving Hearts - Live in Dublin
Blue Moon Rising - One Lonely Shadow
Various - Putumayo Presents: Quebec
Feufollet - Cow Island Hop
The Duhks - Fast Paced World
Jakob Dylan - Seeing Things
John Mellencamp - Life Death Love and Freedom
Various - 10 Years of European World of Bluegrass
Solas - For Love and Laughter
Dana & Susan Robinson - 'Round My Door
Jonathan Byrd - The Law and the Lonesome
Rusty Truck - Luck's Changing Lanes
Vance Gilbert - Up on Rockfield
TrioTresca - Umpa Umpa: Balli E Canzi Tradiz
Hal Ketchum - Father Time
Pete Kennedy - Guitarslinger
Darrell Scott - Modern Hymns
Cephas & Wiggins - Richmond Blues
Bread and Bones - I Know Stories
Cadillac Sky - Gravity's Our Enemy
Johnny Flynn - A Larum
Sloan Wainwright - Rediscovery
Ferron - Boulder
Pitch the Peat - Far From Home
Donna the Buffalo - Silverlined
Drew Emmitt - Long Road
Vasen - Live in Japan
Band'o - Huu
Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson - Rattlin' Bones
Joan Baez - Day After Tomorrow
Kitty Donohoe - Northern Border
Lynne Hanson - Eleven Months
Mark Erelli - Delivered
Anne McCue - East of Electric
Putumayo - Acoustic France
Susan Gibson - New Dog Old Tricks
Catie Curtis - Sweet Life
Donal Hinely - Blue State Boy
Ashley Brooke Toussant - All Songs in English
Fotheringay - 2
The Gordons - Time Will Tell Our Story
Lowen and Navarro - Learning to Fall
Robin Williamson - Journey's Edge
Celeste Krenz - My Mother and Me
Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light
Dar Williams - Promised Land
Jonatha Brooke - The Works
Pete Seeger - At 89
Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher
Steve Dawson - Telescope
Cherryholmes - III: Don't Believe
Tony Rice - NIght Flyer
Robin and Linda Williams - Buena Vista
Chris Stuart and Backcountry - Crooked Man

Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:02 PM | Comments (6)

Cookin' With New Releases (Better Read This Before You Order)

November 25, 2008


Kelly Mulhollen and Donna Stjerna are Still On The Hill. They are from the Ozarks and have been creating quirky and creative traditionally based music for years. Recently they began quizzing their audiences to see if anyone knew of any interesting backwoods people with untold stories. They received enough suggestions for a dozen albums.

They discovered Clara Byler, a woman from Batesville who began collecting coffee mugs and tying them to a tree in her front yard. This was creative therapy for Clara who learned that her son was dying of AIDS. They learned about Jessi Jones who made banjos and could whittle wood chains 20' long. He told them a funny story about 7 pies. You'll hear it on Folk Alley. Through this album you'll discover the talents of an ex-slave stonemason named Willie. Somewhat forgotton, his grave now has a proper tombstone commemorating his efforts. Then there is Coin Harvey who wanted to build a pyramid to warn future civlizations not to make the same mistakes.

Kelly and Donna's research generated enough interest that they received a grant to complete the project. They have captured a part of the history of their region and made it into a musical documentary that we can all be proud of. Reading about and listening to Ozark: A Celebration in Song is an enlightening experience and should make you curious about the untold wonder in your own neighborhood.

Greensky five interstates.jpgGREENSKY BLUEGRASS ~ FIVE INTERSTATES

Greensky Bluegrass is a contemporary bluegrass band based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan.They won the best new band contest at Telluride in 2006 and have been opening for groups like Sam Bush, Ralph Stanley, and the Flecktones.

What does that mean, anyway - contemporary bluegrass? Well, the group features bluegrass instruments: banjo, guitar, mandolin, dobro, and upright bass. They can sing high and lonesome if required. What separates them from most traditional bands is that they write and perform their own songs. More significantly, they cover topics usually not included in the standard fair: accepting the natural decline of life ("Old Barns"), a reflection about personal sacrifice for the good of others ("Reverend") and a zen appoach to making decisions ("Against The Days").

The chord structure is thoughtful as well, and the arrangements often allow for solo improvization. Musically, any of these songs are worth hearing, but the fact that they bring up these topics makes them worth hearing over and over. The heart is drawn to appearances, but it's the mind that falls in love. These songs stay with you.

The only knock might be the production values. The levels aren't well mixed. The vocals don't stand out above the instruments and the instrumental solos don't stand out against the rhythm section. I saw them live and noticed the same thing, so perhaps this is the sound they are going for. Either that or this is the sound producer Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth) likes. Tim has produced their last two CDs. It might be time for a set of outside ears. That's all Greensky needs to get to the next level.


You've heard them on A Praire Home Companion over 3 decades, but you might still see them at a house concert. Despite being the most familiar artists on Garrison Keillor's radio show, Robin and Linda are as genuine and as down to earth as your favorite aunt and uncle. On top of that they are musical poets.

The album begins with a marvelous observation about successful relationships. The best couples give each other freedom which only makes their bond stronger. ("Tied Down, Home Free"). The Williams are also not hesitant to tackle controversy. "I'm Invisible Man" discusses the homeless, raising the point that not everyone is on the streets because they didn't try. Robin told me in our recent interview, which you can hear on Folk Alley, that homelessness, usually ignored, will soon be our problem like it or not. There is also a testimony to famous instruments which you can see in the Country Music Hall of Fame ("Maybelle's Guitar and Monroe's Mandolin.") Though the heroes have left us, their tools remain, and seeing them behind glass is like witnessing the results of an archeological dig.

Like fine wine, Robin and Linda just keep getting better. Producer Tim O'Brien, who plays on almost every song, respected their material, and coaxed the best out of his performers.

There is plenty of variety in the subjects covered, the instruments chosen and the arrangements created. Ask for this bottle of Robin & Linda Williams, as you'll find something to go with any meal.


Born in Iowa, Lindsay Mac has quite a resume of the places she's been. She has studied at the Interlochen School for the Arts, The Royal College of Music in London, the San Francisco Conservatory, The Berklee School of Music in Boston, and Dartmouth College, where she studied medicine. She has also been a ski patroller in Utah and lived in a cabin with a wood stove. Needless to say, she has some life experiences to draw from.

Not too many songwriters accompany themselves on cello. Even fewer are women.
That makes Lindsay Mac pretty special. She is not a gimmick however; Lindsay's songs
hold up and she delivers them with flair.

"Faith" reveals the story of two people with entirely different backgrounds, one wealthy and one not. Both are miserable, but have high hopes. Why? Mac is hoping you'll figure it out.

"Does She" crys out with emotions we've all worked through - the wonder about our replacement in a broken love affair. We learn about a young man's dreams, and how they were changed by a well trained army recruiter ("His Dreams"). There's even a Beatle tune, "Blackbird," and if you listen closely, you'll hear the sound of the imperfections of a vinyl record skipping to the beat. Lindsay must be too young to remember that sound, but you may remember wishing that the skip would join the beat. Here it does.

Some of the songs are too personal, and sometimes Mac's delivery is a bit strident, but the songs above are top shelf, and seem too grow better with each listen. That usually means there was a lot there to begin with.

Posted by Jim Blum at 5:34 PM

Why Workshops Work (25 Kent State Folk Fest Sessions are Different)

November 18, 2008

Years ago as a kid I heard Al Bartholet talking about the Kent State Folk Festival on the radio. Ready for something different I decided to go. Much to my disappointment the concerts were sold out, so I went to the free workshops. To many, a workshop means you bring your instrument and sit in on a group lesson. Not at Kent State. These workshops are more discussion/illustration and often focus on themes. Stage/audience barriers are gone and it's easy for a surface interest in folk music to become infatuation.

There are 5 per hour covering 5 hours. You cannot get to all of them, though I tried.

Rio Neon offered "Re-arrangements." The five piece band showed how they take an existing song and change it to fit their group. They played a recording of the earliest version of the song and then they performed it their way. It was fascinating and there were lots of questions. The Rhondas demonstrated harmony as Jen Maurer coaxed the audience into singing the three parts.

Several from the Folk Alley music library led sessions. Jann Klose and Adam Klein held a discussion about "Performing Abroad." Jann is from Germany and Adam has lived in Mali and worked with the Peace Corp. Chris Castle joined Matt & Shannon Heaton for "Folk Alley Networking." The three explained how they used Folk Alley's Open Mic website feature to gain exposure and then to find work around the country. Matt & Shannon also presented "Anatomy of an Irish Session" and filled in for Alex Bevan with "Making Your Own CD"

There WERE some opportunities for beginning players. Woodsy's Music guitar instructor Kerry Kean talked about "Effective Practice." Another Woodsy's teacher, Dale Galgozy, offered "Instructor/Student Dynamics," cleverly presenting two teachers and two students allowing the audience to witness the interaction. Despite what I said earlier about these workshops being mostly demonstrational, I see the festival presenting more opportunities for attendees to actually play, likely in an organized jam setting.

One of the best sessions was "Bluegrass and Old Time, What's the Difference?" Hillbilly IDOL guitarist, Paul Kovac, had a bluegrass banjo player and a bluegrass fiddler standing to his left and an old timey fiddler and banjo player seated to his right. He played with both sets of players. Paul compared the differences and similarities to Democracy and Socialism: "Old Time music is like socialism. Everyone plays in unison, and takes pride in the group effort. There is no required beginning or end to the tune and often no one sings. Bluegrass is like a democracy. The songs are very structured but individuals can show their own personality through improvisation." Paul then added, slightly tongue in cheek: "The problem with Bluegrass as a democracy is that everyone gets their chance at a solo whether or not they have anything brilliant to add."

The Kent State Folk Festival workshops are an introduction. They are a means for anyone to develop more of an interest, plus they are loads of fun. Since they are free, there is no barrier to entry.

See you there next November!

Workshop Day at the Kent State Student Center:

Posted by Jim Blum at 10:52 AM

Al's Ode to John Martyn

November 12, 2008

Often a musical moment finds you in the strangest ways. Last Sunday while watching my newest favorite HBO series, True Blood, with my stepdaughter, I heard a familiar voice and a familiar tune. The voice, unmistakably Dr. John, the tune I knew, but I couldn't place it immediately. And then it hit me like a brick. It was Dr. John doing John Martyn's "I Don't Want to Know." Wow. John Martyn - one of my musical heroes from college radio, when I play albums like Sold Air quite often and absolutely loved his work. Later, when my radio career took me to Macon Georgia in the late 70s, I saw John warming up for Eric Clapton and to be honest, I felt like I was the only one who knew who John was in Macon. So, after I gathered myself, I went immediately to YouTube to see what I could find. I was saddened to see that life and time has not been kind to John.

In February, John received the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for his lifetime of achievement. The award was presented to him by his old friend Phil Collins and he was later joined on stage by John Paul Jones who played mandolin with John.

John has a vocal style that is so soulful and doesn't mask the pain he has suffered in his life - it's chilling at times. His guitar playing is unique, in fact years ago I discussed John's style with Michael Hedges. While we were driving to Kent to produce a television show, Michael told me that John was his favorite guitarist and one of his major influences (which, in a way, wasn't too surprising). So we listened to John's music most of our drive together.

I've offered two videos to remind us that John is still hanging in there making music with the same passion. Here's to you John!

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 3:43 PM | Comments (1)

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