Folk Alley’s Best of 2012 – Matt Watroba’s Top Picks of the Year

Matt Watroba’s Top Folk Albums of 2012

by Matt Watroba, folkalley.com

2012 is almost completely in the rear view mirror which means it’s time to take a look back at some of outstanding releases of the year. I’m happy to report, at least from this host’s point of view, that the state of the music is good! There are so many obvious choices this year–Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Lumineers, Iris Dement–I decided to limit my list to a few of the releases that might get overlooked. Here they are in alphabetical order:

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Kevin Crawford, Carrying the Tune

This is just a solid collection of tunes, produced flawlessly and played with virtuosity. Most people know Kevin’s work as the flute and whistle player for Lunasa. On this recording he is backed by John Doyle on guitars, Mick Conneely on Bouzouki, and Brian Morrissey thumping the bodhran. You’ll find jigs, reels, waltzes, and hornpipes–perfectly arranged for maximum musicality.

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Rayna Gellert, Old Light: Songs From My Childhood and Other Gone Worlds

Wow. Rayna Gellert has taken, what she calls, an obsession for traditional music and turned it into a shining example of what can happen when a talented young performer draws from the old to create the new, and takes from the new to re-imagine the old. The result is a kind of originality these ears haven’t heard in a while. Nathan Salsburg’s guitar is present throughout as well as guest appearances by Abigail Washburn, Kai Welch, Scott Miller, and Alice Gerrard.

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I Draw Slow, Redhills

I think this one took everybody at Folk Alley by surprise this year–especially when we realized that the band wasn’t from Virginia. They are, in fact, from Ireland. It makes perfect sense really. Most of the music that settled in the American South migrated from either that part of Europe or from Africa. It’s just really exciting to hear the influence once again in the form of well written songs that sound traditional. Once you realize they are from Ireland, you hear that direct influence as well. This is simply a solid band. Oh, and that song “Goldmine” is a gem.

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Old Crow Medicine Show, Carry Me Back

Given that Old Crow Medicine Show’s very existence as a band was under question just a few years back, it was really good to see such a solid and coherent collection of songs emerge in 2012. The quintessential road band, Old Crow continues to be a polished outfit playing well-written new songs with an authentic old-time feel. “Levi,” “Carry Me Back to Virginia,” “Genevieve,” and “Ways of Man” all stand out for me.

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Cathie Ryan, Through Wind and Rain

I have loved Cathie’s singing since her days with Cherish the Ladies. Her solo records have been consistently well written, performed, and produced, but I think she bumps it up another level on Through Wind and Rain. Perhaps it’s because she took more of a hand as producer. This one just seems personal. As you might expect, this is a mix of traditional, original and contemporary songs, but you can hear Cathie’s heart and soul in every one of them–in the singing, of course, but also in the arrangements. Cathie is backed by a stellar group of musicians led by the amazing John Doyle and Seamus Eagan.

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The Steel Wheels, Lay Down, Lay Low

Keep your eyes (and ears) on this quartet from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. They can play, they can sing, they can write, and they can perform. I loved their album, Redwing, and I was really hoping for a strong follow-up. Well, I got it. Combining the talents of band members, Trent Wagler, Eric Brubaker, Brian Dickel, and Jay Lapp, Lay Down, Lay Low delivers a high energy mix of modern mountain music with really solid four part harmony. Hear the CD, see them live!


The Waymores, The Waymores

There is an exciting trend right now for outstanding solo performers and writers to band together to record and tour. Groups like Brother Sun and the Refugees are good examples of this. The Waymores are from Nashville and they are Don Henry, Sally Barris, and Tom Kimmel–all award- winning, hit songwriters. Not the names you see in bold print on the Billboard Country chart, but the names in parenthesis–the song crafters. But what happens when they get together? Harmony. Harmony of humor, harmony of notes, and harmony of friendship. You can hear it all in this collection of finely crafted and lovingly performed songs.


Various Artists, Mercyland: Hymns For the Rest Of Us

I’m kind of a sucker for songs held together by a theme–especially when it’s done this well. Mercyland was the brainchild of Nashville songwriter and producer Phil Madeira. He decided to tempt his musical friends into contributing songs that felt spiritual without sounding religious or preachy. I’ve heard some refer to the genre as “agnostic gospel.” Lucky for us, Phil has some talented friends. These talented friends include (among others) Emmylou Harris, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Buddy Miller. The songs and styles are varied, but there is a consistent and pleasing spirit throughout.

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