The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year. Courtesy of the artist hide captiontoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year.Courtesy of the artist
More than any year in recent memory, the folk and roots music of 2012 was focused on collective roots, elements of ancestry, the stories and events which unite us. The finest traditional albums released paid homage to Nova Scotia and Appalachia. The strongest singer-songwriter records told of the hard struggles of working class people — stories which haven't changed drastically from generation to generation, but continue to be provide hope and promise. And our favorite albums from new artists (The Stray Birds, The Lumineers) were full of universal coming-of-age themes: facing reality with determination, learning how to proceed with courage. This was not a year of navel-gazing, confessional songwriting. Folksingers in 2012, more often than not, were making music to highlight communities. Given that, if another wave of the folk revival has been swelling in recent years, 2012 may be remembered as a year when it crested.
Top 10 Folk & Americana Albums Of 2012
cover for Young Man In America hide captiontoggle caption /
The economy was on everyone's mind this year, Anais Mitchell's ode to the working class hit the zeitgeist. The story she tells across these eleven songs is about ordinary people struggling through uncertainty and love toward basic pleasures. They face the possibility their lives will never be as great as they dreamed, and seek to make peace with what they have. She sings about hard work ("Dying Day") and the tough choices whose ramifications will inform the rest of our lives ("Shepherd"). She sets the stage on the title track – a song of ambition and promise, the hopes of a generation crash head first into economic woes and the loneliness of reality. Yet, the disc never falls into the trap of feeling sorry for itself. From start to finish, it's an album about the strength of human dignity and its place in the oft-elusive American dream.
When Black Prairie burst on the scene with their debut in 2012, folks were pleasantly surprised that members of the Decemberists could really, legitimately, pick the heck out of traditional-style bluegrass. This year, they stretched their wings a little further to embrace all manner of the folk music which has influenced them for years. There are traces of everything from Simon &Garfunkel-style singer-songwriter tunes to accordion-thick Vaudeville instrumentals, folk-goth heartbreak songs and, sure, even some bluegrass...all exquisitely delivered.
cover for Leaving Eden hide captiontoggle caption
There are plenty of folk troubadours tackling old-school music in an attempt at nostalgia. They step into a character to keep a certain style alive. But, while they play-act their songs, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are embodying traditional music in a way that is remarkably current and relevant. There's nothing false or put-on about the way they deliver a song like "Read 'Em John." They would bring the same energy to a fully plugged-in pop version of the same; they simply recognized they were capable of delivering it compellingly using nothing more than their voices and clapping hands. This is folk music at its truest, most artful and unadulterated.
cover for Sing The Delta hide captiontoggle caption
Iris DeMent has made a career of writing and singing songs about faith and pain and perspective. But, on Sing the Delta, she has once and for all climbed into the skin of her songs. These are not songsabout life in the Delta or stories about the sorts of people you might find in the Delta. This is the closest approximation to how the Delta itself might sing, if it had a human voice. It's intensely personal, real, and raw; at once profane and profound. Where a lesser artist might have felt inclined to make a musical study of Delta life, DeMent cuts to the chase and embodies the spirit of the Delta.
cover for Kin hide captiontoggle caption