Folk Alley’s Best of 2011 – Barb Heller

by Barb Heller, host on FolkAlley.com M-F 7:00pm to midnight; Sat & Sun 9:00am to 2:00pm (ET)

Sometimes my favorite things even surprise me. This year banjos have caught my ear. It was a great year for new music, and I hope you enjoy these picks even half as much as I have! I hope you’ll contribute your suggestions to our favorites list too! Happy New Year everyone, and happy listening.

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Gibson Brothers
Help My Brother

Eric and Leigh Gibson have been singing together since they were kids, and playing bluegrass professionally since they were teens. I’ve always enjoyed their music, but – unlike many bands – the Gibsons continue to improve their singing, their writing, and their musical arrangements. Their current band lineup is stellar, and their writing is at the top of their game. And… you just can’t beat the sound of two blood brothers singing together. They sound like one voice. Every track is solid, original bluegrass. Great listening!

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Gillian Welch
The Harrow and the Harvest

I can’t say I love every song on this album, but Gillian Welch is the kind of songwriter that gives me a great sense of musical security. I know the arrangement will be tasteful; that it won’t be too wordy (ever!) or too gaudy. Sparse, pointed, not over-dramatic. I don’t relate to the subjects of many of her songs, but that doesn’t change my admiration for this album. Listening to her music is like looking at an abstract painting, and just enjoying the way the colors work together. Solid writing and really solid arrangements between musicians who work well together.

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Kruger Brothers
Christmas Magic

I know most of us don’t think about Christmas music most of the year, but I have to make mention of this beautiful collection of songs for winter and Christmas. The arrangements run the gamut from jazzy to kitschy to classical. It opens with “The Lights in Our Village”, a reflective look back at Christmas in the Swiss countryside of their childhood. It’s the single original track on the album (by Uwe Kruger). Then there’s Mele Kalikimaka – and (I can hardly believe I’m saying this) you’ll even want to sing along! J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring” closes the album (with girls’ chorus), with Irving Berlin, Bernard Smith, and Sammy Cahn songs in between. It’s my new favorite.

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