Folk Alley’s Best of 2017 – Kelly McCartney’s 10 Overlooked/Underrated Singer/Songwriter Records

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10 Overlooked/Underrated Singer/Songwriter Records of 2017

There are a lot of amazing artists making magnificent music — many of whom doing so just under the radar. The top however-many lists that round out each year are wonderful, but there are always records that don’t make the cut for one reason or another. Still, they deserve to be heard… starting with these.


LISTEN to this playlist on Spotify.

Aimee Mann: ‘Mental Illness’ (Super Ego Records)

Aimee Mann is a fantastic songwriter. That should be enough to warrant a listen, but if you need more… ‘Mental Illness’ is her finest effort in over a decade. And that’s really saying something because even her worst records are better than many artists’ bests. iTunes

Andrew Combs: ‘Canyons of My Mind’ (New West Records)

Andrew Combs’ ‘All These Dreams’ was in my top two for 2015, so the bar was HIGH. On ‘Canyons,’ he rambles and ranges further from the musical center of ‘Dreams,’ incorporating a wider spectrum of sounds and styles. And it’s lovely to behold. iTunes

Ani DiFranco: ‘Binary’ (Righteous Babe Records)

No one writes songs and records sounds like Ani DiFranco does. There’s something so beautifully tweaked in her brain that allows her to make music a full-contact sport. It’s kind of ridiculous and definitely righteous. iTunes

Anna Tivel: ‘Small Believer’ (Fluff and Gravy)

There’s something about the vibe of an Anna Tivel record that is so very, very soothing… even while the songwriting that lingers underneath cuts right to the core. If your heart is going to be broken, may it be broken so beautifully as this. iTunes

Caroline Spence: ‘Spades & Roses’ (Tone Tree Music)

This gal… blimey! Caroline Spence uses metaphors and imagery in ways that few other songwriters do. On ‘Spades & Roses,’ she does so to stunning effect, particularly on tunes like “Softball” and “All the Beds I’ve Made.” She’s so good. Really. Just so good. iTunes

Chastity Brown: ‘Silhouette of Sirens’ (Red House Records)

Chastity Brown has a way of turning a thoroughly ordinary phrase about an incredibly mundane detail into absolute poetry. No idea how she makes “I was three feet away from the love of my life” pack such a damn punch, but she does. Time and again. iTunes

John Craigie: ‘No Rain, No Rose’ (Zabriskie Point Records)

That breezy, California folk-rock sound of the late ’60s/early ’70s is always a winner, and John Craigie leans right on into it on ‘No Rain, No Rose.’ iTunes

Kelly McFarling: ‘Water Dog’ (Kelly McFarling)

This is just a cool record, top to bottom. And, since it is the Year of the Banjo, at least one record on the list had to step pretty well to it. But Kelly McFarling uses the banjo similarly to Pieta Brown or Birds of Chicago. That is to say, lovingly and sparingly. iTunes

Sera Cahoone: ‘From Where I Started’ (Lady Muleskinner Records)

What a charmer this one is. There’s nothing fancy or frivolous about what Sera Cahoone does on ‘From Where I Started,’ but that allows the thoughtfulness and heart to come shining through. (Bonus points for the banjos!) iTunes

Will Hoge: ‘Anchors’ (EDLO Records)

Not sure any other artist this year captured the challenges and charms of long-term relationships the way Will Hoge did. On ‘Anchors,’ Hoge’s writing matches the nuance that is, necessarily, a part of living our way into — and sometimes out of — love. iTunes

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