Folk Alley’s Best of 2015 – Elena See’s Top 10 Albums of the Year

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Elena See’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

Oh, it really IS the most wonderful time of the year! ‘Tis the season for “best of” lists and, like every year, there’s simply so much great music that it’s just plain hard – darn near impossible, as a matter of fact – to choose the 5 best or 10 best or 20 best recordings. So, below, not the “10 Best Records of the Year” but the “10 Records I Can’t Imagine NOT Listening to for Years and Years to Come.”


The Honeycutters, ‘Me Oh My’ (Organic Records)
Personal. That’s the word that springs to mind when I listen to this record. Each song seems to somehow speak to an experience I’ve had or people I’ve known in my life. And I’m a sucker for music and musicians that make me contemplate my own past. And for songs that make me want to try harder (ahem, “Jukebox”). iTunes * Amazon.com

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Gretchen Peters, ‘Blackbirds’ (Scarlet)
Provoking. Gretchen Peters pushes me with this record. She’s forcing me to think of things I might not want to consider. “Pretty Things,” for example, is a heartbreaking song that inspires tears and rage in equal turns. And add to that the intense and creepy story she shares in the title track – no surprise that this record is on “repeat” on my playlist. iTunes * Amazon.com

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Eilen Jewell, ‘Sundown Over Ghost Town’ (Signature Sounds)
Melancholy. There’s something about Eilen Jewel’s voice that just touches my heart. And her crafty way of telling the stories of people and places that have definitely known better times…and may not ever know better times again is so, so admirable. “Half Broke Horse” is a song I’ll listen to repeatedly and a song that makes me tear up every time I hear it. iTunes * Amazon.com


Steep Canyon Rangers, ‘Radio’ (Rounder)
Awesome. This band, these musicians – they blow me away. I’m awestruck by their virtuosity, by their wordless communication, by their utter precision that still manages to retain an air of spontaneity. And Jerry Douglas as a producer? More, please. Surprises in this album (good ones) include: “Down That Road Again” and “Wasted.” iTunes * Amazon.com

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Amy Helm, ‘Didn’t it Rain’ (Entertainment One Music)
Thankful. I’ve been a fan of Amy Helm’s for a long time. I loved her band Ollabelle and when I read that she was going to release her debut solo album earlier this year, I just closed my eyes and said a silent, “thank you.” Her voice. Her VOICE. It’s huge and powerful and…words fail. iTunes * Amazon.com


Darlingside, ‘Birds Say’ (More Doug Records)
Surprise. I didn’t know much about Darlingside before this album. And what I did know – I just thought it was kind of blandly pleasing music. Ha! Wrong! Birds Say made me sit up and pay attention to this quartet. There’s something about their harmonies that makes me wish I’d been around for the heyday of bands like The Byrds. Check out “White Horses.” iTunes * Amazon.com


Robert Earl Keen, ‘Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions’ (Dualtone)
Happy. There’s such joy in this record, such happiness. It’s…eager. I love the fact that Robert Earl Keen, this legend of outlaw country, loves bluegrass with his whole heart. And I love the fact that he loves it so much that he almost DIDN’T make the album – he was worried he wouldn’t be able to properly honor the tradition. No worries, REK. iTunes * Amazon.com

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The Mike + Ruthy Band, ‘Bright As You Can’ (Humble Abode Music)
Thoughtful. Besides Ruth Ungar’s simply amazing voice (which, ok, for some reason I’ve never really noticed before), the lyrics on this album are so very thoughtful. They’re…crafted. That’s the word. Very carefully crafted, not a word or a phrase out of place. From rollicking good times to more tender reflections, this album is a winner from start to finish. iTunes * Amazon.com

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Jason Isbell, ‘Something More Than Free’ (Southeastern Records)
Engaging. Jason Isbell has done it again – he has totally and completely engaged me in his music. I was wary of this album after Southeastern, I admit. But you know what? I like this one even more. He’s a master storyteller, Jason Isbell. And he’s spinning tales I will always want to hear. “Speed Trap Town” is a stand out for me. iTunes * Amazon.com

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Caitlin Canty, ‘Reckless Skyline’ (Caitlin Canty)
New. Caitlin Canty was one of my favorite new discoveries of 2015. Her voice is beautiful. Her songwriting is thoughtful and her musicianship, from her own performance to the musicians she chose to surround herself with on the album (Jeffrey Foucault produced it), is top-notch. Can’t wait to hear what she’ll do next. iTunes * Amazon.com

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