Best of 2018: Cindy Howes Best Folk Albums of the Year

by Cindy Howes (@cindycast), Folk Alley

Recently, I have found myself recommitting to the Boston folk music scene that I fell in love with while in college. I have reconnected in a big way with those sounds and people by attending the Miles of Music Camp, which is run by Laura Cortese and Kristin Andreassen and takes place on an island in New Hampshire. That trip inspired me to start Basic Folk, a podcast featuring authentic and honest conversations with folk musicians that fly under the radar. Also, I am happy to report that I will be physically bringing myself back to New England in 2019 for a new marketing gig at Emerson College’s radio station, WERS. (I’ll still be continuing my work at Folk Alley, so don’t worry!!) That station is where it all began for me: playing Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli, Ellis Paul, Peter Mulvey and so many other of my favorites on the radio. My top ten this year reflects my strong bond with that world.


Ana Egge, White Tiger

This album is an absolute gem! Ana, dubbed “The Nina Simone of folk” by Lucinda Williams, is always towing the line on what she can do with her beautiful songs. This time around, she collaborated with the talented and boundary-pushing producer Alec Spiegelman (Cuddle Magic), who incorporated some subtle electronic elements alongside beautiful woodwind arrangements. Amazon - iTunes



Kaia Kater, Grenades

Canadian Kaia Kater is a brave, smart and thoughtful clawhammer banjo player and this time around she’s created a concept album that explores her identity as the child of an immigrant. Her father came to Canada from Grenada in the 1980’s during a time of turmoil. On her record, she explores that journey and her own journey of self through groovy (like soulful organ groovy) songs that also give you a strong sense of who she is as a person. Amazon - iTunes



Darlingside, Extralife

This band came from outer space. I am 97% sure of that. I don’t understand how humans create those kind of harmonies. Additionally, the Massachusetts folk band throws in some futuristic other-wordly not-so-folk electronic production. Rest assured, it only adds to the overall insanely satisfying experience of their lovely folk roots. Amazon - iTunes



Jeffrey Foucault, Blood Brothers

Jeff’s cool emotive vocal delivery and heart-wrenching songwriting is the reason he’s on my list this year. The record starts with him singing about doing the dishes and I just want to fall apart and I’m not 100% sure how he does that. His poetry and wide-open heart are continually unexpected delights. Amazon - iTunes



The Stray Birds, Let It Pass

Did you know The Stray Birds put a record out this year? Did you know they broke up right before it came out? Does that mean you shouldn’t put it on and turn the dang thing up to 11? Because you definitely should. The evolution of this folk trio had turned into an all out John Henry-like locomotive. It’s an incredible goodbye for a special band. Amazon - iTunes



The War & Treaty, Healing Tide

Michael and Tanya Trotter are the inspirational force behind this much talked about soulful roots band. Buddy Miller did a fantastic job producing the record that makes you wanna stand up and shout to the skies at one moment and fall to your knees at the next. The group came to my Pittsburgh radio station in the days after the Tree of Life massacre that devastated our city. They gave us hope in their music and their reassuring words that we are all in this healing together. They had the entire studio audience in tears at the end. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Amazon - iTunes



Ray LaMontagne, Part of the Light

I’m not seeing this album on a lot of high-profile year-end lists and it makes me scratch my head because it’s just soooo lovely. I feel like Ray has made me (personally) wait for this album for like 12 years. It’s a brilliant, beautiful throwback to the sounds of his debut album, although (as you might suspect) there is maturity and a little more magic in the songs. His best since Till The Sun Turns Black. Amazon - iTunes



The Low Anthem, The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea

I met these guys at an open mic at Club Passim 100 years ago and have continued to be floored by their creativity, but they have taken it to the next level. The Salt Doll’s backstory is based on the fable of a salt doll that wants to get to know the ocean. Every time she goes deeper into the ocean, she learns something, but physically loses a part of herself. It’s just beautiful. I have to get Wes Anderson’s number, so I can convince him to turn their concept album into a movie. He already has the soundtrack. Amazon - iTunes



Ben Howard, Noonday Dream

The UK singer songwriter is able to set a mood with his creative guitar work that changes with each release. Honestly, I loved his last record so much that I was not really into this one. It took about 3 listens to understand the vibe Howard was creating. It is definitely a more subtle vibe, but one that is texturally sophisticated. It’s a good album if you need quiet and stillness. Amazon - iTunes


Joan Baez, Whistle Down The Wind

I have to hand it to Joan Baez for remaining the coolest and most constant True North in folk music. Not sure anyone would argue that,but her entire career and life story have been something anyone should aspire to. The way she has taken care of her golden voice is commendable. The fact that she’s allowed herself to stay curious about the world and seeking out the best songs to interpret have boosted songwriter’s (Josh Ritter in particular) careers. From Tom Waits to Ritter to Mary Chapin Carpenter, Baez has selected songs that set a particular mood. The pinnacle of that mood manifests with her interpretation of Zoe Mulford “The President Sang Amazing Grace.” Amazon - iTunes





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