It’s early yet, and the albums which have been announced for release in 2012 only get us into April, so who’s to say what will come later in the year. That said, though, there’s definitely some great music due in the first quarter of 2012, from protest music to innovative chamber-folk-indie-pop-fusion stuff, to ten whole new songs from Leonard Cohen. As my inaugural post here at Folk Alley, I’ve chosen to highlight five discs due to drop this winter and spring from some of the best artists in the field. See what you think, mark your calendar, then let us know what you’re looking forward to in 2012.
1. Ani DiFranco – Which Side Are You On? (Righteous Babe, Jan. 17)
As Brooklyn, the Carolinas, and the Northwest have been churning out chamber-folk innovators like nobody’s business, Ani DiFranco has been holding it down for the more traditional topical song lovers. Sure, she’s had her diversions into the twisty darkness of heartbreak through the years, but this new album (her first in a whopping three years – ages for the “little folksinger”) is heavily charged and rather politicized. If anyone was going to make music of the word “abortion,” it was bound to be DiFranco. That moment (“Amendment”) is just one of many likely to incite some…response. Besides, Pete Seeger picks a banjo on this one as DiFranco revives Florence Reece’s classic labor anthem on the title track (albeit with new lyrics). It’s available for pre-order at her site.
2. Laura Gibson – Le Grande (HUSH, Jan. 24)
Laura Gibson’s follow-up to the subtle beauty of 2009’s Beast of Seasons is, as the title suggests, slightly less understated. Gibson’s voice, in all its earnest glory, can sound a bit like the creaking of the rope as the tire swing swings. But instead of putting it in the center of the album, her voice here is countered by ambitious instrumentation and imaginative arrangements. Which is to say it’s one of many well-considered instruments reaching toward a new and intriguing goal. Fans of Gibson’s previous efforts won’t have to strain to find her rural folk roots, but those coming along for the first time will be introduced to a languid sort of chamber folk – a more energetic offering, to be sure. This one will take all year, I reckon, to reveal all its secrets. (You can stream it this week – beginning Jan. 8 – at NPR.)
3. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Jan. 31)
Any release from Leonard Cohen is welcome in my world, particularly one which delivers brand new songs. There are ten of them on this disc and, based on the one that’s available for streaming on his website, it’s bound to do all the things we’ve come to expect from Cohen’s music: seduce, question, darken, meditate, and inspire.
4. Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden (Nonesuch, Feb. 28)
Carolina Chocolate Drops have so consistently blown my mind, the only thing I can imagine that would take their appeal up a notch would be teaming up with someone like Buddy Miller to produce a new album. Of course, they went and did just that for their 2012 release, which means the disc is sure to be as true to the Drops’ artistic vision as is possible. Though Dom Flemons has announced a side project of trad folk with Virginia-based fiddler Boo Hanks, this new CCDs disc is likely to follow a similar path to 2010’s Grammy-winning Genuine Negro Jig and firmly straddle the wide gap between old timey and cutting edge.
5. Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Mom & Pop Music, Mar. 6)
Every time Andrew Bird has put an album out, it’s wound up being one of the best indie releases of the year. Yes, that’s a strong statement, but the music backs itself up. Sure, his work is folk music only by the loosest of definitions but, like his previous efforts, this one is likely to defy genre definition and appeal to audiences across the board.