Thursday, October 28

Top 10 Folk Albums of 2020 | Folk music

10. Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn – Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn

Behold the Banjo Guzheng Pickin ‘Girls, as the title says of one of the many joyful collaborations here, bringing together diverse traditional music from China’s underserved communities and the clawhammer style of banjo that began in West Africa before being reclaimed by the southern United States. On many tracks, such as the beautiful Water Is Wide / Wusuli Boat Song, a weave of a Scottish ballad with a traditional Hezhe, this record is a constant celebration of how music can help us explore common ground and rediscover it together. .

9. Linda Buckley – From Ocean’s Floor

The legacy of the sean-nós Gaelic singing style returned on two magnificent albums this year: The Edge of the Sea by Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin, and this more experimental matter by Linda Buckley. The voice of Iarla Ó Lionáird from the folk group Gloaming swells and falls around the strings of the contemporary Irish chamber group Crash Ensemble, creating a hypnotic sonic manifestation of the sea. The mood pulls you into a cycle of sad and timeless songs about love and loss, and a tradition that still has a profound effect and carries with it many centuries.

Alasdair Roberts.
Alasdair Roberts. Photograph: Andy Catlin / Alamy

8. Alasdair Roberts – The Songs of My Boyhood

Roberts is so prolific that it’s easy to forget how great he is. This year also came out a lovely simplified collection of Scottish songs, Fretted and Indebted, but this album reviewing his early recordings, under the pseudonym “Appendix Out”, felt particularly moving, especially since he had just become a father. Without some of the more experimental flourishes of the originals, Roberts’ high-pitched, high-pitched voice becomes the star of beautiful songs like the resplendent Autumn and Arcane Lore.

7. Sam Lee – Old Wow

Produced as a soul album by Bernard Butler, Old Wow is a warm and refined tribute to the powers of nature. At times, it feels sprinkled with fairy lights, especially in the beautiful duet with Liz Fraser, The Moon Shines Bright, which Lee learned from the late Roma singer Freda Black, and in the many moments when Lee’s voice has room for to wander. When he sings “for your heart is heavy gold / for your precious hand to hold” in Worthy Wood, you feel every syllable in your bones.

6. Burd Ellen – Says the never after

A set of impressive versions of winter songs full of strangeness and unease, as our pandemic year deserves. Burd Ellen brings warmth to the season with their direct vocal harmonies, but ice in the immersive sonic experiments that surround them: shaky synth drones, treated guitars, and shaky zithers have never been better used. Best are a surprising five-and-a-half minute version of Hela’r Dryw Bach (Hunting the Wren’s Welsh Christmas carol) that sounds ready for an award-winning indie horror film, and a loud-sounding version of the Corpus Christi Christmas carol. with sadness and brightness.

5. Cinder Well – No Summer

Born in California but living in County Clare, Amelia Baker has soaked up the rich and raw climate of today’s popular Irish scene. Her voice and songs contain little echoes of the work of Lisa O’Neill and Lankum, but also of the acute simplicity of alternative folk artists that emerged in the early 2000s, such as Laura Veirs and Diane Cluck. Recorded in a church with little accompaniment, her version of Jean Ritchie’s The Cuckoo is beautiful and naked. The dark love letter The Doorway, a Baker original, also plunges you into a moment of lost love.

4. Bróna McVittie – The Man on the Mountain

Beginning as a lost soundtrack to a popular late 1960s movie, Man on the Mountain turns into a whirlwind of gentle, pastoral psychology. Its centerpiece is an astonishing seven-minute version of the traditional Irish The Lark in the Clear Air featuring improv trumpeter Arve Henriksen, opening like a wildflower taken in slow motion.

3. Jake Blount – Spider Tales

A glorious collection of black and queer-rooted music that vibrates with urgent, almost punk energy throughout. Blount’s banjo, violin, and voice are lustful and mellifluous, but the images he releases often feel brutally of the moment: the blood rushing through the streets in Mad Mama’s Blues, the men murdered in The Angels Done Bowed Down. Blount’s version of Where did you sleep last night? From Lead Belly, now a longing plea from a man to his man, it feels feverishly new.

2. Shirley Collins – Heart’s Ease

In this year’s strange summer like no other, it was especially exciting to hear Shirley Collins enjoying the traditional and familiar songs that she has loved all her life. Proud of the bow amidst the thicket of the guitar, the dobro and the hurdy-gurdy, her voice has gained confidence, a stable life raft in the rough sea. Wondrous Love and Crowlink are the extremes of the album, the first full of awe of rosy cheeks and wide eyes, the second majestic and ghostly magnificence.

1. Yorkston / Thorne / Khan – Navarasa: Nine emotions

This third album by James Yorkston, Jon Thorne and Suhail Yusuf Khan takes its title from Bharata Muni’s beginning of the nine emotions that together represent the scope of human expression, then explores them through nine expansive and constantly searching tracks, connecting Scottish folk songs, Khan’s incredible. playing sarangi and singing with qawwali influence, and Thorne’s deft improvised double bass. A consistently enriching and generous record.

• What were your favorite folk albums of the year? Share your tips in the comments below.

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