If you’re a folk fan, then you know that the over-abundance of stunning talent within the realm never leaves a year without some truly stellar releases. It’s no surprise,then, that 2019 is already exciting to ponder. Among Folk Alley favorites, Dylan LeBlanc has been in the studio with Dave Cobb, whileCaroline Spence got it done with Dan Knobler. Gretchen Peters has avery special project on the horizon; Jenny Lewis has a follow-up to her 2014 break-out; and Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell all teamed up to make Songs of Our Native Daughters for SmithsonianFolkways. Yeah. It’s gonna be a(nother) good year.
Here are some albums of particular note:
Maya de Vitry: Adaptations (January)
With her first solo flight upon the dissolution of the Straybirds, Maya de Vitry stretches all of her wings. The sound and substance of Adaptations are both departures, so set aside any expectations or assumptions you may have. Here, de Vitry leaves the fiddles and picks of her former string band behind in favor of warm electric guitar noodles courtesy of guitarist Anthony da Costa and producer Dan Knobler. The mood is more studied and serious, though not fully somber. It’s as if she’s a newly winged butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, letting us all witness the entire, lovely transformation.
Standout tracks: ”What the Moon Said,” “Anybody’s Friend,” & “Go Tell a Bird”
Yola: Walk through Fire (February)
British country-soul goddess Yola is going to take the world by storm with this album produced by DanAuerbach. Due to its throwback vibe and Yola’s hard-earned songs,this album feels like it’s been around a whole bunch of blocks. Part of what makes it an instant classic is its grace. Yola is a powerhouse, in every possible way. But she reins herself in on this set, tempering her voice to show its full, nuanced range. Yeah, she can belt. And she does. But she can also break your heart. And she does that, too. What’s more is that, as great as this record is, Yola’s live show is even more potent.
Standout tracks: “Faraway Look,” “Lonely the Night,” & “Still Gone”
Mandolin Orange: Tides of a Teardrop (February)
Some albums so clearly evoke a mood that you can’t help but want to follow their lead. With Tides of a Teardrop, Mandolin Orange crafts a song cycle that will have you longing to be holed up in a mountain cabin as the snow falls all around you. A crackling fire, a cozy blanket, a jigsaw puzzle, a hot tea, and this record are all you’re going to want this winter. It’s a perfect soundtrack for a season of intimacy, impermanence, and introspection, as it rides the rollercoaster that is grief regarding the death of songwriter Andrew Marlin’s mother when he was 18.
Standout tracks: “Golden Embers,”“Into the Sun,” & “Lonely All the Time”
J.S. Ondara: Tales of America (February)
Having grown up in Nairobi learning about music through folk icons and alt-rock bands, singer/songwriter J.S. Ondara moved to Minneapolis in 2013 to pursue his path. He’s now toured with artists ranging from Anderson East to Lindsey Buckingham,and is now ready to issue his debut album. Both of Ondara’s voices —the literal and the metaphorical — are welcome additions to the roots music community. His immigrant’s perspective of a country in chaos and a life in motion is something we should all pay attention to. And, because it’s delivered in a deeply lovely way, paying attention is a pleasurable experience.
Standout tracks: “Torch Song,” “Saying Goodbye,” & “Good Question”
Anna Tivel: The Question(April)
Anna Tivel sneaks up on you. Or, rather, her songwriting does. You probably will not notice, right away. You’ll be listening along thinking, “What a lovely record this is!” Then, seemingly out of nowhere but actually having been there all along, one of her lyrics will wallop you right where (and when) you most need it. Like in the title track of her upcoming album, The Question,“Eyeliner and nylons, the calm upon your face drawn, revealing next to nothing — a deal you don’t believe. And the Bible in a locked drawer, the past you gave it up for, the hymnal and the comfort in exchange for living free.” The devil may well be in the details,but so is the beauty of great songwriting.
Standout tracks: “The Question,”“Fenceline,” & “Worthless”