I know it feels crazy to think about end of the year lists right now, but here's the thing. I'm hoping that my end of the year lists will both re-inspire me after a year of great music and terrible news and will also be a little prayer to bring this awful year to a close.
Jake Blount - Spider Tales
Jake Blount's 2020 album was a breakout moment for a voice that brought a Black, queer perspective to centuries of American roots music. Hailed by NPR, Time Magazine, Paste, Rolling Stone, Bandcamp, and more as a revelation, Blount's Spider Tales unveiled the coded anger in Black American musical history. Oh yeah, and he won Steve Martin's Banjo Prize!
Teddy Thompson - Heartbreaker Please
Teddy Thompson's 2020 solo album, his first in years, was a look forward to a New York City beseiged by a global pandemic, and a look backwards at Thompson's love of 1950s songwriting. Released on Thirty Tigers, the album's a breakup album, but also a love letter to his home in New York City even as the walls were closing in.
Cinder Well - No Summer
Set in small town Ireland, Cinder Well's doom folk release No Summer was an album for those who struggle to fit in, who are working to belong. With rave reviews from NPR, The Guardian (who picked it as their Folk Album of the Month), Paste, WNYC, Rolling Stone, and more, Cinder Well's vision of a darkly oppressive Irish summer during quarantine showed her lyrical power.
The Legendary Ingramettes - Take A Look in the Book
With six decades of music, sixty-five years of song, and generations tied together through the force of will of a matriarchy of powerful African-American women, The Legendary Ingramettes new album was an absolute force of power. Led by Almeta Ingram-Miller, The Legendary Ingramettes crafted intense, roof-raising versions of Appalachian and gospel classics including Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands" and Ola Belle Reed's "I've Endured".
Possessed by Paul James - As We Go Wandering
Possessed by Paul James is a roaddog hero, a one-man band revival meeting, an exceptionally powerful and inspiring public speaker and songwriter. He's currently in a bitter political race in his Texas hometown, getting hit by brutal political attacks for trying to stand up for all of us. His 2020 album was a standout release from a storied career from a pioneer of alt-country.
Pharis & Jason Romero - Bet On Love
Masters of acoustic tone, Pharis & Jason Romero live on their beautiful acreage in the tiny tiny town of Horsefly in British Columbia. They build some of the best banjos in the world and though they come out of the Appalachian stringband scene (and are revered there), their new album shows how the power of Pharis' songwriting. Lush with banjo, guitar, and a rich rich feeling of home and family, Bet On Love was the anthem we didn't know we needed, hell didn't even know we had, in 2020.
Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton
What a discovery this album was! Taken from Doc Watson's first real performance in New York City, in 1962(!), this live album from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings shows an American musical legend at the point of origin. Playing tunes and singing songs with his father-in-law Gaither Carlton, Watson sounds assured, relaxed, and overjoyed to be sharing this beautiful music with a brand-new kind of audience.
Seamus Egan - Early Bright
One of the most decorated and influential Irish-American trad artists, Seamus Egan was at the head of the Irish supergroup Solas for years. Now he's returned to his roots in composition, crafting an album of finely tuned instrumentals from a cabin in Vermont. He's a staggering virtuoso across a myriad of instruments, but the point to this music isn't showing off but composing something powerful that will last.
Emily Barker - A Dark Murmuration of Words
Australian by way of the UK, folk singer Emily Barker's new album is beautifully written, but it's a fearless perspective on the ills that are ravaging our society today, from the destruction of environment to the industrial legacy of racism in both the US and Australia. Released via Thirty Tigers, Barker's album is a tour de force, proof that a soft-spoken singer can still have a powerful voice.
Photo Credits: (1) Hearth Music, (2) Jake Blount, (3) The Legendary Ingramettes, (4) Doc Watson, Gaither Carlton & Merle Watson, (5) Cinder Well (unknown/website).