Albums might actually be more difficult to compile than best songs. There’s no easy way to determine one album as better than another. Instead, we make our judgments based largely in how we feel about a particular album as a whole. For me, this list represents albums that highlight various styles. I hope some of you will enjoy them as much as I have.
10) T.G. Elias – T. G. Elias
-T. G. Elias is a remarkably gifted guitar player and songwriter. With a sound that personifies “blues folk” T.G. Elias quickly made me a fan. I found this album through the highly-scientific “I clicked on it” method. I found several of the tracks relaxing and enjoyable. I think it’s a start-to-finish great album, which is what put it on this list.
Tracks of note: “Final Ever Fling of an Englishman” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”
9) Widowmaker – The Wink and the Gun
-I promise this whole list isn’t British, just these first two. The Widowmaker is a terrifically gifted finger-picking guitarist who also has a flair for incredible songwriting. It’s another album that is good from beginning to end. This is a high quality folk album that deserves much, much more play.
Tracks of note: “What We’re Doing” and “Two Pence Piece”
8) The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
-I’ve been a fan of The Avett Brothers for a while now. There latest, The Carpenter, was more of the same in the best way possible. They don’t really have a place on this site since they are far from “emerging,” but they fit safely in the folk and roots country world enough I wanted to include them.
Tracks of note: “The Once and Future Carpenter” and “A Father’s First Spring”
7) Mumford and Sons – Babel
-Okay so we have back to back mega albums here. Mumford and Sons are the standard bearers (and most popular) group in the genres that we feature. Ignoring this album on a best-of list would be just foolish. With fantastic strings, especially banjo, and top-of-their-class harmonies Mumford and Sons are going to be around for a very long time.
Tracks of note: “Below My Feet” and “Not With Haste”
6) The Spring Standards – Yellow/Gold
-No matter how many times I write about The Spring Standards I continue to struggle with a way to describe them. I’ve often compared them to Fleetwood Mac because of their classic 70s feel. But, at the same time, what they’ve captured is a magnetism that keeps the spirit of that music alive without it just being a karaoke machine. Yellow/Gold is the kind of album (a double one, at that) which keeps me listening over and over because of the catchy harmonies, the variety of writing styles, and an overall enjoyable sound.
Tracks of note: “Crushing Pennies” and “So Simple, So True”
5) Good Old War – Come Back As Rain
-The three Philadelphia rockers continue to bring catchy vocal hooks to the music landscape. 2012 probably was the year that music historians will call GOW’s “breakout year.” After watching their videos from SXSW sponsored by large corporations, I realized they had made it to the mainstream. This album again shows off some of their incredible overall writing and keeps the harmonies that made them famous.
Top Tracks: “Loud Love,” “Amazing Eyes,” and “Better Weather”
4) St Paul de Vence – St Paul de Vence
-St Paul de Vence, an incredible indie folk band from Seattle, released this album in the early part of 2012. When I heard it, I was stunned and immediately wanted to know more about the band. Fortunately, the bandcamp page for the album explained the historical storyline that informed the album. It’s so incredible throughout. I particularly loved the “Old World” flavor of some of the songs. It’s a real treat for lovers of folk… and if you like history this is an extra special delight.
Top Tracks: “For Hummingbird, Heron, and Honeybee” and “Pink Wine”
3) The Oh Hellos – Through the Valley
-I’ll be honest this album blew me away. I remember running across The Oh Hellos sometime late last year, but this new album Through the Valley was just on another level. The harmonies were phenomenal. What I really liked, beyond the amazingly fluid music itself, was the depth of the lyrics. I found myself continuously impressed with how the album made me FEEL. So spiritual. So emotional. So good.
Top Tracks: “The Lament of Eustice Scrubb” and “I Was Wrong”
2) Green River Ordinance – Under Fire
-The first time Casey played this album for me, I told him they sounded like Rascal Flatts. I would just like to publicly apologize to GRO and Casey. This album is far beyond commercial country. This is a fantastic piece of writing and incredible sing-along album. Enjoy it as a roadtrip album, for sure. For those who haven’t heard GRO, they are blues-, country-, rock- pop.
Top Tracks: “Under Fire” and “Dancing Shoes”
Album unavailable streaming.
1) Wayfarer – The River
-I heard about this album from a friend and also because I was a facebook “friend” of Sherwood the band. I cried a little after their breakup, but then I heard Dan Koch started a new band called Wayfarer. I clicked the link. I never turned back. Their niche is “repurposed hymns” which may sound a bit dull to the passive observer. But what they’ve done is take these deep, powerful 19th century lyrics and breathed new life into them with 21st century folk revival music. If that doesn’t tickle the fancy of the readers of this blog… well, you probably stopped reading a long time ago. Oh, and by the way, the harmonies are out of this world. You may note I did not select a single song from this album for my top songs… because they were all so good I couldn’t pick just one. Instead I chose the whole album for my number one. I have no idea how many albums I listened to this year (but it’s a lot), and this was without a doubt the best start-to-finish album.
Top Tracks: “Shall We Gather at the River” and “What Wondrous Love is This”