Over on Facebook I’m a member of a private group that listens to albums all day long. All you do is post what you’re listening to, and maybe a blurb about things. I’ve been a member for a few years now, thanks to Tim Hall (who left FB shortly thereafter).
As a result of the group, I’ve discovered more music than I’ve ever dabbled with before. In recent years, a new pattern has developed in my tastes – female folk/singer-songwriters. This year’s list is filled with them.
I actually have a list with sixty-eight releases on it that I culled down to the top twenty-five, but even that’s iffy. Things could change a month from now as new records appear from December or earlier that I hadn’t discovered. Suffice it to say, though, my top ten is pretty much always going to contain these ten, maybe just not in the order of 2-10.
The albums in positions 1-15 got played a lot. The albums in 16-25 were played nowhere near enough for me to gain a deeper appreciation for them, which might have moved them higher up the list.
My #1 overall is probably my second-most played record of the year – most played goes to Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. I feel H.C.E. is a flawed masterpiece, and as I was putting this list together, it kept dropping a notch until it settled in at #12. I played Wilson the most because I kept trying to get the back half, pre-coda. Ancestral just never clicked for me.
I fought long and hard for my #1 to not be #1 – I didn’t want to seem like I was being a loyal fanboy. I make no secret that Railroad Earth is my favorite band, but this collection of songs they recorded with Warren Haynes is beyond special. I love him, too, especially acoustic, so this was a dream pairing for me. It helps that there’s not one duff track on it, and the three live shows I saw were off-the-hook.
So, without further adieu, he’s my top twenty-five.
1. Warren Haynes featuring Railroad Earth – Ashes & Dust. Outstanding Americana
2. Ryley Walker – Primrose Green. Folk/roots. Think Nick Drake meets Jeff Buckley.
3. Caitlin Canty – Reckless Skyline. A haunting folk/blues record, produced by the artist at number four on the list.
4. Jeffrey Foucault – Salt as Wolves. Breathtaking, and Caitlin Canty returns the favor and appears on this record.
5. Acorn Falling – 2nd Plateau of Normalcy. Danish ambient/prog. Again, a very haunting record.
6. Kristin Andreassen – Gondolier. Stellar record by Kristin, former member of Uncle Earl.
7. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space. Electronica that uses recordings from the history of spaceflight.
8. Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow Is My Turn. Folk/roots by the powerful voice of the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
9. The Staves – If I Was. The English acoustic folk rock trio of sisters delivered an amazing record.
10. Melody Gardot – Currency of Man. A departure from her previous records, this is much more modern sounding.
11. Galley Beggar – Silence & Tears. Do you like Fairport Convention? Check these folks out. Pay My Body Home has some of the most cracking guitar on it in years, and it may be my song of the year.
12. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. It’s been called The Wall for the Twenty-First Century. The based-on-a-true-story of a popular woman who dies in her flat in London and isn’t discovered for three years is haunting. The first four tracks are jaw-dropping good, and the end always brings tears to the eyes.
13. Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds – The Weather Below. Dirty soul led by a killer voice.
14. Niyaz – The Fourth Light. Azim Ali. If you like Dead Can Dance, you’ll like this.
15. Mew – +-. A stellar record from the Danish alt-rockers.
16. Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats – self-titled. More dirty soul. Came to this one late, and it could climb higher in retrospects.
17. Rura – Despite the Dark. Scots trad for a new century.
18. Steve Hackett – Wolflight. The guitar-god delivers a good record. Not great, as the lyrics really suck in places.
19. The Unthanks – Mount the Air. The English folk group delivered a strong record, which I just never played as much as I should. Go google them performing King Crimson’s Starless and prepare to be floored.
20. Paper Aeroplanes – Joy. The Welsh alt-pop band delivered a really enjoyable record. Needs more time, too.
21. Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine. A strong record from the Polish proggers.
22. David Gilmour – Rattle That Lock. The Floydian maestro delivered a decent album, which for me, doesn’t floor me like I’d hoped.
23. Karnataka – Secrets of Angels. The English prog band now fronted by Hayley Griffiths, who was a member of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. It arrived on Spotify too late to get many plays, but I suspect it’ll rise.
24. Nad Sylvan – Courting the Widow. The album by Steve Hackett’s singer for the Genesis Revisited/Extended shows. It’s actually a stronger album than Steve’s, probably, but I’ve only played it a few times.
25. Rachel Sermanni – Tied to the Moon. The sophomore album by the Scottish singer, she changed up from her folk-stylings and added more modern sounds on things. I still love her, but this album hasn’t connected as much as I wanted it to. Still, check out her releases.
I didn’t put EPs or live albums in the mix this year. If I had, these were some of the live albums:
Ryuichi Sakamoto/Illuha//Taylor Deupree – Perpetual
Gov’t Mule – Sco-Mule
Snarky Puppy/Metropole Orkest – Sylva
Tauk – Headroom
Big Big Train – Wassail (EP) . Interim release by the best damned prog band in the world. If you like the A Trick of the Tail/Wind and Wuthering era of Genesis, give them a try. Anything released from 2009, onward.
Zero She Flies – The River (EP). My friend Jamie’s band. His older band, Mermaid Kiss, has morphed into this new band, and the EP (and there’s a single, too) are fantastic.
So there you have it. 2015 musically at a glance.