10) Eva and the Vagabond Tales – Uncharted Ocean
-Somewhere deep in my soul is a travelling vagabond who loves the idea of sitting around campfires every night playing music. That spirit feels good listening to this album from Eva and the Vagabond Tales. It’s equal parts mysterious string work along with old time jazz style as well. It seems like the kind of music that blends affectionately several styles from American music in the 20s and 30s. There’s also some more modern rock elements that blend the styles together. The star of the show, though, is the lead vocalist. I like literally every track on the album.
9) Jeremiah Daly – SPIL
-If you’ve been around my coverage at all in the past five years, you already know about Jeremiah Daly. Imagine my surprise this year to learn that Daly had a brand new LP out. Imagine my further delight that it’s more of what makes his music so good. These lush arrangements include a lead acoustic guitar, eloquent lyricism, and delightfully satisfying orchestral arrangements. This is what folk music is for me. If you only have time for one or two, I recommend the opener “Second Wind” and the closer “Heaven.” It’s a fantastic album.
8) Cat Clyde – Hunter’s Trance
-Comparisons for Cat Clyde’s music come from as far ranging as Janis Joplin to Loretta Lynn. Clyde has a timeless Americana voice that packs as much punch as it does persuasive beauty. I am a FAN of this lady’s incredible talent. Perhaps what I love most about Clyde’s work is that it’s so consistently good and she doesn’t seem to care about what’s trendy. She marches to the beat of her own drum. If I recall, “Anymore” was the first track off the album that I heard and it reached right into my heart and grabbed it. I’d say start there. But give yourself a spin on “Bird Bone” and “All the Black” too. Thank me later.
7) MABES – Wait and See
-MABES was one of those artists who impressed us with the first track, then again and again. It got to a point that I didn’t even need to hear the track to know we’d cover it. The quality is consistent on every track from this immensely talented singer songwriter. I think a recent comparison could be someone like Taylor Swift, but honestly I hear an older Lilith Fair style sound in MABES as well. She’s as much Sarah Maclachlan or Jewel as she is modern artists. The title track “Wait and See” was the one that stole my heart, so I recommend starting there.
6) Corey Kilgannon – As Above, So Below
-Last year Jeremy Messersmith’s album stunned me with meaningful, thoughtful lyrical work and I never thought I’d hear something like it again. Enter Kilgannon’s phenomenal writing. This is such an exceptional album that I really struggle with how to describe it. I knew that the lyrics were genius level from first listen. But the more you listen, the more you will be blown away by the cinematic and often-dynamic orchestrations as well. This is a miraculous album. That might be a strange choice of description, but if you’ve listened to it you’ll understand why I say that. The social consciousness is inspiring but the wisdom and insight in the writing is beyond anything else in music today. Stop what you’re doing and listen to this album. It is explicit and has several adult themes, so it’s definitely not for playing at the party. But concentrate and consider it — start at the beginning and don’t skip anything.
5) Laura Jean Anderson – Lonesome No More
-Laura Jean Anderson’s voice gives me chills. She’s timeless. Country folk compare her to Patsy. Jazz folk compare her to Etta. But fans of Americana can claim her as our own. Oh my word the clarity on the vocal is out of this world. The intimacy in little pockets throughout the album make you feel like she’s singing just for you. Tracks like “Love you most” and the title track “Lonesome no more” will make you think you’ve clicked your heels back to a better, simpler time. It’s hard to say I like this album; the truth is I love this album. LJA is on my short list of artists I want to see live… and I honestly can’t wait for that day. This is an outstanding record.
4) Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a past life
-I’ve been a fan of Maggie Rogers since her early folk work, so imagine my delight to see her take off in 2019. This is what stardom looks like. One of the things I love most about Maggie Rogers is her ability to show such pure joy in her performances. Of course her track “Alaska” became a smash hit, so it seems silly to talk about it as a 2019 release. But yet that song along with the track inspired by its reception, “Light on” are both exceptional tracks. If you’re not familiar with what makes Rogers so magnetic and exciting it’s her infusion of American folk music with European dance music. This alchemy creates something that has an incredible amount of spirit to it. It has inspired me personally many thousands of times over. Rogers has an army of dedicated fans who love her poetic lyricism and “leave it on the stage” style. That spirit oozes through on this album, one that will be a favorite for me forever.
3) Tyler Childers – Country Squire
-The funny thing about ranking this album this high is that all of my favorite Childers songs are on his previous album. So this is my second favorite Childers album and it’s still a top 5 album for the year. Yep, he’s that good. If you don’t know this Kentucky troubadour, you’re in for a treat here. Embodying the spirit of classic country music brought to life with all the snark of John Prine’s mocking style, Childers represents a devil may care attitude that resonates with many. Somewhat ironically I think the soulful “All Your’n” is probably my favorite on the entire album. It’s clear that Childers has an Americana direction more so than a pure country style. I love this album and am already looking forward to the next one.
2) Andrea von Kampen – Old Country
-Andrea von Kampen is one of my favorite artists making music today – full stop. I love this album and plan to get it on vinyl soon. The quality of these songs is simply phenomenal. The style is quintessential Dylanesque folk music, complete with orchestral backing and a sound that you would swear came from a major label in the early 70s. Instead, this is a product of the von Kampen family, between Andrea’s stunning vocals and her brother’s professional orchestrations. The two have created a sound that continues to stun me after months of repeated listens. “Portland” was my favorite until a half an hour later when the cover of Dylan’s “If you see her say hello” won my heart. I’m a lifelong fan. I can’t stop listening to this album this year.
1) Mandolin Orange – Tides of a Teardrop
-Fans of Americana have known about Mandolin Orange for years, but if you don’t know this name stop right now and listen. These two artists create one of the most dynamic, powerful roots country duos you’ll ever hear. The tender songwriting, seamless string work, and delicate vocals feel like the front porch you wish you could sit on every day of your life. It’s lonesome sometimes, inspiring other times, but it always feels authentic. This specific album was largely inspired by a loss in the life of one of the songwriters. This evident public grief and processing makes for some heartwrenching, soul moving stuff. It’s a hard album to finish with dry eyes. “Mother Deer,” “Suspended in Heaven,” and “Time we made time” will all give you chills, almost guaranteed. This is a genre-defining album that bares the soul of its writer… and its people.