- December 03, 2020
- Devon Léger
- Album Reviews
by Devon Léger, Folk Alley
It’s the last Bandcamp Friday of the year! Much love to everyone at Bandcamp for being so willing to support artists by waiving their fees and creating a tidal wave of album sales each first Friday of the month for most of 2020. Did you know that you can also buy merch from bands via Bandcamp? It’s just as easy as buying CDs, vinyl, and cassettes from bands and the perfect way to support your favorite artists AND get your holiday shopping done right!
From one of my favorite record labels, Sahel Sounds labelhead Christopher Kirkley presents here a chapbook of North African fables he collected himself in his travels through Niger and Northern Mali. Full of djinns, magic, and desert monsters, the tales are captivating and some have never been written down before. Great gift for new parents; I read these to my daughter and they spun through both of our imaginations.
Laura Cortese’s 2020 album, Bitter Better, is one of my favorites of the year. She effortlessly melds electronic elements with indie folk songwriting, and comes from a trad background on the fiddle. The songs are just so well crafted. Catchy, even! I haven’t been able to pick up the companion book she’s offering with the album yet, but it looks great! Photos, lyrics, essays, and even recipes! Her Bandcamp merch page also offers some nice pins and cute “disktrasa” (Swedish sponge cloths for your dishes).
Minnesota indie folk songwriter Humbird (Siri Undlin) spent two weeks pre-COVID riding the rails across the USA. From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, she traveled with photographer Kendall Rock and writer Amanda Flores, stopping in 10 cities, meeting strangers, playing shows, visiting family, and learning about the history of American trains. Siri created a fun zine about the trip, full of pics and essays and musings on travel in the USA. She’s an excellent writer and also has a great chapbook of a Scandinavian-inspired fable she wrote that’s available through her website. Zines seem a thing of the past, but I hope that more artists in 2021 will start to document their lives and their travels in zine form. It’s a great way to get closer to the artistic processes of your favorite artists.
Canadian folk singer Taylor Ashton released one of my favorite albums this year, The Romantic, on Signature Sounds. He’s a near-magical songwriter, able to imbue the most unusual ideas with deep pathos. Check out his song “Straight Back” to hear how he turns his back posture into a humble ode to lost love. Along with some gorgeous vinyl, he’s offering up a hand-drawn chapbook to go along with the album, showcasing his art for each track. He’s a lovely visual artist as well and the chapbook helps bring the songs more to life. Buy it with the vinyl and introduce a family member to their new favorite songwriter!
Folk/Punk duo Adrian + Meredith have a new album coming in 2021 (or earlier), and in the meantime they’ve got some fun merch for one of the songs on the album, a rollicking cover of the classic Midwestern polka classic “Who Stole the Kishka”. I’ve heard them play this live and never thought anyone could make polka sound cool again, but they pull it off! I think the new album will meld their love for their Midwestern roots with a more Nashville-based Americana sound in some interesting ways. If you grew up in the Midwest with this song or know somebody who did, get them a "Who Stole the Kishka" shirt, koozie, or tote bag.
Nashville Americana songwriter Michaela Anne’s been a favorite of mine for years, especially with her 2019 album, Desert Dove. She’s released some new music in 2020, but what caught my eye in terms of great merch is her sardonic t-shirt emblazoned “If I Wanted Your Opinion, You Would Know.” For every woman who’s had to suffer through a man’s unfounded, ungrounded, and confounding opinions about her music post-gig (or anywhere else in life), this t-shirt might help a bit. Also 10% of all sales go to the Girls Opportunity Alliance, which “seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education.”
Canadian songwriter Terra Spencer might get the prize for the most unusual side gig (Nova Scotian funeral director), and I wonder if that gig inspired her unique merch offering. In addition to the purchase of her new album, Chasing Rabbits, you can get a lovely carrot cake candle (mmmm…) plus some handmade greeting cards. It’s a nice touch, and a nice bonus. Spencer’s album is a heartfelt slice of folk songwriting with tinges of Canadian life and well worth picking up!
Canadian bassist (now living in New York), Jen Hodge’s new album, The Girl in the Groove, is a hot vintage jazz shot to the arm. And to celebrate, she’s selling some pretty cute shot glasses. Illustrated by Shawna Mauchline of the popular cartoon Rick & Mory! Super cute, and a fun way to bring a little jazz and liquor into someone’s life these holidays. It’s a great album too for putting on in the background on Christmas morning to get that vintage, gather-around-the-tree-for-presents vibe.
What could be more metal than giving the gift of bones this year to a loved one? I mean, of course, the wooden bones used as an instrument in different folk music traditions. Not real bones, duh. Sangre de Muerdago are a favorite band of mine, bridging the Galician folk traditions they know so well with elements of folk metal and black metal. Their new album Xuntas, came out in late 2020 and is rich with old Spanish sounds. They have great merch overall, from shirts to pins to back patches, but the wooden bones they sell look beautiful and I didn’t know that Galician music used the bones! If you haven’t tried to play the bones before, they’re quite fun though a little tricky to figure out. But there’s lots of tutorials online to help you (check out Dom Flemons’ videos on this since he’s one of the best players).
Let us know in the comments what band merch you’ve been spending your holiday money on! And if you want more merch ideas that are not on Bandcamp, I can say that I am super into these: