- December 06, 2020
- Elena See
- Best of 2020
by Elena See, Folk Alley
I want to hear Ondara’s perspective of the world. A young man with big dreams and big hopes (not to mention a big voice), he’s sharing ideas and thoughts and concepts that I’ve never even dreamed of thinking about. It’s a privilege to be able to hear his words and his voice; he’s diving deep into some of the world’s biggest problems and his voice offers answers worth listening to.
The Steep Canyon Rangers say they’re driven by the song rather than by the genre. So, is it bluegrass? Is it Americana? Is it country? Who cares? The point, they say, is the song. What’s the song saying, what’s the song about, who is the song most meaningful to? Those are the questions this talented band asks when they get together to make their music. And their new recording, Arm in Arm, is filled with good songs. Each one has its own sound and its own meaning and each one rolls into the next seamlessly. I’ve loved this band for a long time and it’s comforting to know that’s not going to change anytime in the near future.
Kyshona Armstrong is a force of nature. She’s got a fantastically interesting backstory and her music comes from a place of real experiences - the kind you and I probably haven’t had. I love her mission and her goal - to help heal others with music (and to help heal herself, too). (By the way, “Fear” is also a song she sang during an exclusive Folk Alley Session this year! Check it out on the Sessions page.)
This album makes my list because Gretchen Peters is bringing a songwriter I wasn’t super familiar with front and center. And I don’t know if it’s the beauty of the lyrics Mickey Newbury composed or Gretchen Peters’ addictive voice that makes me want to keep listening...likely, it’s a combination of everything. Beautifully produced with gorgeous melancholy, this one’s hard to resist.
History! That’s what this album represents. If you too sometimes feel incredibly fortunate that you get to experience the sounds of decades ago in 2020, and if you too are regularly amazed at the talent, tenacity, and virtuosity of musicians of the past, then you too will want to listen to this piece of musical history over and over again.
Jake Blount’s the kind of songwriter who takes the musical traditions of the past, holds them up to the light, examines them from every angle, and then creates something that’s brand new...with a hint of the best parts of the musical tradition he was examining. He’s a bold voice and I’ll be eager to hear what he does next.
Sierra Hull’s been making music for almost her entire life. And she’s gone through some ups and downs, as we all do. 25 Trips chronicles all of her ups and downs, all of her learning moments and big life experiences up to this moment in her life and career. She’s talented and creative and her music is a joy to listen to. (She’s a good interview, too - check out her exclusive 2020 Folk Alley Session on the Sessions page!)
This one surprised me. I was blown away by the harmonies the band shares on this album, not to mention by their excellent musicianship. Their songs this time around are all about human nature, mortality, and finding the strength in accepting what lies beyond our control. It’s not hard to find a LOT to love in this newest album.
Why SG Goodman? Her voice. I’ve rarely heard something so intense, so haunting. Whether she’s diving in deep to some swampy rock ‘n’ roll or baring her soul to anyone who wants to listen, her pain and her intensity is hard to ignore and hard to avoid. Caution: your heartstrings WILL be tugged.
The Lowest Pair - an interesting name for a duo, and a name inspired by one of the pair’s heroes, John Hartford. The Lowest Pair is Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee and they started making music together in 2013. I’d never heard of them before this album but I’m sure they’ll show up on my list again. What stands out about The Lowest Pair is how genuine they seem. They’re not flashy, their virtuosity (which is obvious) is almost never on display. Instead, they stay true to simple, honest lyrics and lean deeply into solid vocal harmonies. You’ll lean in, too.