Musically, 2017 was a year of discovery and, frankly, awe. It started in February when I attended the Folk Alliance International Conference for the first time in … oh, nearly a decade or so. Being surrounded by people so enthusiastic and excited about music was infectious. It reminded me that, in spite of everything else that’s wrong with the world today, there’s a whole lot of good music being made. It was a much-needed reminder this year, too. Below, in no particular order, music that surprised me, inspired me, engaged me, and delighted me. I hope it does all those things for you, too.
The Mavericks: Brand New Day (Mono Mundo Recordings)
The weeks leading up to the 2016 United States presidential election were…challenging. And suddenly, small differences of opinion seemed insurmountable. Raul Malo’s voice is, as always, an incredible comfort. Plus, reminders to never stop fighting for what is right and to keep our ears, hearts, and minds open are always welcome.
Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (New West Records)
Two words: Kick. Ass. Approaching life with an eyes-wide-open, take no prisoners attitude, outlaw country rocker Nikki Lane is a musician who’s so spunky and so tough that there’s nothing in the world that scares her. And that kind of attitude is exactly what I needed in 2017.
The Mastersons: Transient Lullaby (Red House Records)
A gorgeous amalgamation of voices, instruments, harmonies, and lyrics – that’s what Transient Lullaby is all about. Created by a couple of the best “side players” in the business, this album showcases the soloist talents of Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore.
David Ramirez: We’re Not Going Anyway (Sweetworld)
David Ramirez was one of my new discoveries this year – shameful, really, since he’s been making good music for a while now. The Austin-based songwriter’s lens is one that will enable you to see things from a different perspective than your own – something we all need to do now.
Flatt Lonesome: Silence in These Walls (Home Music Company)
Fronted by siblings Kelsi Robertson Harrigill, Charlie Robertson, and Buddy Robertson, Flatt Lonesome is an extraordinary example of a talented young bluegrass band. Not afraid to incorporate all sorts of diverse musical interests and influences, Silence in These Walls is a clear indicator that the future of music is in great hands.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (Southeastern Records)
Really, what is there to say about this record? I almost didn’t include it on my list. Not because it’s NOT a favorite or a best of the year, but because I know everyone else is going to include it, too. Whether it’s the super obvious tracks (“White Man’s World”) or the more subtle ones (“Hope the High Road”), these musicians have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the world.
Chastity Brown: Silhouette of Sirens (Red House Records)
There’s lots to say about Chastity Brown’s Silhouette of Sirens. But for me, it comes down to her voice. Her voice! What a gorgeous sound she creates…in fact, her voice is a sound I can listen to without knowing (or caring) what she’s saying. Of course – she’s saying lots of great things. But that voice! Sigh.
Lenore.: Lenore. (Lenore.)
I love the backstory of this band – a couple of down on their luck musicians meet each other…and voila. Musical magic. Lenore. is a Portland, Oregon band and is one of many great bands/musicians coming out of that west coast scene. What makes these two musical friends stand out, though, is their very, very unusual – and very, very captivating – vocal harmonies. Their voices together – something truly magical.
Bill Scorzari: Through These Waves (Bill Scorzari)
Bill Scorzari, a New York-based musician, is someone who (I’m ashamed to say) I was not familiar with before this album. Rough and gritty, grumbly and tough…his voice runs the gamut of emotions. And this album runs through a whole gamut of emotions, too. It was perhaps the most surprising album of 2017 for me.
Twisted Pine: Twisted Pine (Signature Sounds Recordings)
Fun – that’s the word that comes to my mind when I think of this young Boston-based band. Whether they’re on stage or in the studio (check out Folk Alley’s exclusive session, if you haven’t already), a great sense of fun – something we all needed in 2017 – pervades their music. A delight.