It’s almost cliche to have a top ten list anymore, but it’s just something we love to do around here. It’s pretty incredible to find an album early in the year and have it last. It’s also wonderful to find something in early December that blows you away. So, if I had to give 2013 music a theme I’d call it the Year of the Phoenix because out of the ashes of the music industry we’re seeing beautiful rising artists.
I’m going to start by cheating with a list of some honorable mentions: Les Enfants – Les Enfants EP, Fionn Regan – The Bunkhouse Vol. I, Ivan and Alyosha – All the Times We Had, Hollis Brown – Ride on the Train, Courrier – Cathedrals of Color, Lake Street Dive – Fun Machine EP, David Mayfield Parade – Good Man Down, Being Buffalo – Start the Fire EP, Wooly and the Mammoth – at bay, Jack Klatt – Love Me Lonely
10. Elijah and the Moon – The Lonesome World Beyond the Trees
-I hate that I always compare these guys to Fleet Foxes, but that’s really the best comparison I can make. They have their own sound, though, that deserves its own credit. The lyrics are complex, the harmonies are incredibly tight, and it’s evident that this is a serious rising folk act. They earned their spot on this list with “The Mountainside” and “Always” especially.
9. Ringer T – Nothing But Time
-I’m a big fan of multi-generational music. It’s the stuff that everyone from your grandpa to your grandkids can tap their toes or get up and dance. Ringer T brings that kind of joyous versatility to their music. Their bio on their bandcamp explains that they are a group of friends making music for the love of it. That personality and charm comes through in their pop rock sound, great vocal blending, and upbeat style. For my money, “Let Me Be Your Man” is probably the best track on the album.
8. The Green Boys – Oh Delia
-If we gave out genre-specific album of the year awards, this would be a major contender for roots country for me. I tweeted something about this album being a must listen for all country music fans. Everything from the meandering lead vocal to the crisp backing strings make this a phenomenal album. There really are no “skip” tracks on this traditional bastion. These guys should be all over NPR and the big outlets… like yesterday. “My Love” is potentially the best track, but that’s like picking your favorite ice cream flavor… they’re all so good!
7. Le Wrens – Don’t Forget Me EP
-To get a four song EP on this list means that pretty much every note of every track has to be amazing. Friends, I give you Le Wrens. Anyone who follows my writing on here knows all about them, but until I’m watching them on the Grammys I am going to keep writing about them. From soft vocal blending to well-mixed strings, these Gundersen siblings continue to create phenomenal music. Fans of authentic folk music, like much of what seems to be emerging in the Great Northwest, need to have this album. “Tickets for Teasing” is the best song on the album and one of my songs of the year.
6. David Ramirez – The Rooster EP
-Picking a “best” singer songwriter is not really possible, but David Ramirez is definitely in the room on that conversation… and his EP The Rooster is a thing of beauty. His ability to capture relatable lyrics is pretty much incredible. With the exception of Taylor Goldsmith, there might not be anyone else capable of writing the kind of powerful lyrics that Ramirez does. Although “The Forgiven” is my favorite on the album, they are all really incredible.
5. Bears of Legend – Good Morning, Motherland
-This album was a total surprise this year, but I absolutely fell in love with it. It doesn’t really “fit” in any tidy genre, but I’ll say it’s definitely folk music. Sounding a bit like several different bands (most notably St. Paul de Vence), Bears of Legend bring the genius songwriting that really make an album transcendent. From the song of the year candidate “Cantelina Star” to “The Mornings I’ve Let You Down” and “Cold Like the Heart of Men” this album is full of amazing songs. Vocal blending, unique melodies, and an incredible grasp of songwriting complexities make this a must-listen album for all folk music fans.
4. Jus Post Bellum – Oh July
-Geoffrey Wilson is my favorite songwriter that I discovered this year. It’s probably just best to reference my own review here, “Fans of new folk music need this album. Aficionados of Americana music will delight in this album from start to finish. Folks that like American history will get a kick out of the layered imagery throughout and may appreciate the music as well. In short, there are not very many readers of this site that will not enjoy this album.” The tracks “Abe and Johnny” and “Lake, Minnesota” are my personal favorites, but the whole album is breathtaking.
3. Mandolin Orange – This Side of Jordan
-It’s no secret that I love these two brilliant musicians. Mandolin Orange are one of the bands that can somehow peer into my soul and write songs about what they see. Andrew Marlin’s vocal tone, which I’ve oddly heard critiqued, makes their sound all the more genuine. When I wrote my original review of them, I put three of the songs on my “song of the year” list. They’re just an incredible duo with the kind of believable authenticity that makes listeners want to snuggle right up to their music with a mason jar of something “warm.”
2. The Wood Brothers – The Muse
-Everything from whimsical to deathly serious, I’ve run out of ways to describe the Wood Brothers to inquiring minds. They have the incredible ability to get listeners to believe what they sing. Dealing with themes from heart ache to superfluous drinking and covering styles from Bayou blues to traditional bluegrass, the Wood Brothers are an extremely entertaining band. There are few artists that I want to hear live more than these remarkably talented gentlemen. The title track “The Muse” is definitely the best on the album, but the rest is pretty stellar.
1. Penny and Sparrow – tenboom
-With both “Bones” and “Brothers” making my top 10 songs list, there’s little doubt this album would appear here, but it really is the best album of the year. I had to deliberate the order of 2-4 a lot, but Penny and Sparrow were clearly #1 from very early in the year. What makes Kyle and Andy so good at what they do is their remarkable blending and sincerity. It’s evident throughout the album that they are conveying more than words and ideas; they are conveying genuine heartfelt emotions. More than just another album, tenboom is a real piece of contemporary artwork… and it’s gorgeous.