Time to run down our favourite albums of 2016. One of the best things about doing a radio show is getting loads of great music to audition each week. Like every year, I’ve enjoyed some wonderful recordings – much of it by independent artists with little backing to support their music, and careers. One of the hardest things to do though, is to narrow down all the fabulous music that we received to our ten favourite recordings of the year. It’s never an easy thing to do, but do it I must, if I’m to bring you Folk Roots Radio’s The Best Albums of 2016.
To make the selection process as smooth as possible, I pick a 25 album long list each year, then narrow it down to what I consider my Top 10. Even picking a Top 25 was challenging, as I had to leave out albums I loved, to avoid starting off with an even longer list. As for my final list of ten? Well, that would be different if I finalized it on another day. And, like all Best of lists these choices are very subjective and very personal. To make things easier, I only included albums I’ve received from October 1st, 2015 – September 30th, 2016 which is why you may recognize several 2015 releases in this list.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy listening to tracks from my favourite albums of 2016. It’s my great privilege to bring lots of great music and interviews to you each week on Folk Roots Radio, something I’ll be continuing to do as we move into 2017.
Thanks to all the artists who share their music with us, and thank you for listening. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself in the studio each week. If there are albums, you think I should have included, get in touch. Maybe they didn’t make on my radar, or perhaps I never received a copy of something I just have to listen to. As I mentioned before all these “Best of” lists are very subjective, but they’re also a fun way to reflect on a year gone by, and hopefully get people to check out some great music they may not have realized they liked.
So let’s get started… in reverse order, here are my Top 10 albums of 2016. Enjoy!
Folk Roots Radio – The Best Albums of 2016
1. Corin Raymond – Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams (2016, Local Rascal Records)
Corin Raymond is a singer-songwriter who loves a good lyric as much as a good melody. “Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams” features ten songs, eight co-written with top drawer songwriters Jonathan Byrd, Sean Cotton and Rob Vaarmeyer, Rakhu Lokanathan and Jaxon Haldane alongside one Corin Raymond original, “Morning Glories” and the other, a cover of Doug Norquay‘s “Best Demented Cowgirl Face” (one of the best and most intriguing song titles out there). Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams is quintessential Corin Raymond, featuring some fabulous word craft, especially on the glorious “Morning Glories”, a standout track on an album full of standout tracks. I should mention that David Gillis was named ‘Producer of the Year’ at the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards for his work on the album. Check out our interview with Corin recorded around the launch of “Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams” HERE. We have another interview recorded with Corin at the recent Folk Music Ontario we’ll bring to you in the coming weeks. For more information about Corin’s music, visit corinraymond.com.
2. Kaia Kater – Nine Pin (2016, Self)
Kaia Kater‘s sophomore recording “Nine Pin” was recorded in just one day in Toronto, with Chris Bartos, the producer of her debut album “Sorrow Bound”. Nine Pin is a concept album that takes as its inspiration the Black Lives Matter movement and Kaia’s own experience growing up as a person of colour in North America – but also touches on more personal source material such as love and loss. And it’s an album that gives Kaia free reign to push her own boundaries using her old-time Appalachian banjo as the leaping off point for powerful lyrical songs that show maturity way beyond her years. For more information about Kaia Kater, visit kaiakater.com. Kaia Kater was the winner of the Pushing the Boundaries award at the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards. For more information about Kaia’s music, visit kaiakater.com.
3. The Andrew Collins Trio – And It Was Good (2016, Self)
Mandolin master and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Collins had already achieved greatness as an in-demand session player and part of Toronto’s famed Foggy Hogtown Boys and Creaking Tree String Quartet before setting out with his own Andrew Collins Trio, to create something very special indeed for their second effort “And It Was Good”… a concept album that uses as its theme, the biblical seven days of creation story, referenced by the eight individual tracks, that merrily criss-cross musical borders. The Andrew Collins Trio – Andrew Collins on mandolin, mandocello, mandolin and little fiddle, accompanied by Mike Mezzatesta (mandolin, guitar, fiddle) and James McEleney (bass, mandocello) with support from the Phantasmagoria String Quartet (John Showman and Trent Freeman on violins, Ben Plotnick on viola and Eric Wright on cello) serve up music that takes in classical baroque, jazz, bluegrass, folk and celtic influences with a nod to the crossover work of the late great Oliver Schroer, in a format that, because of the prominent strings, has been described as chambergrass. And It Was Good is a fantastic album – sublime, even – and an album that deserves to be listened through from beginning to end. The Andrew Collins Trio were winners of Instrumental Group of the Year at the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
4. Noah Zacharin – Strange Rider (2016, Self)
Toronto-based singer-songwriter Noah Zacharin has just released his seventh recording, the genre-defying “Strange Rider”, an album that moves effortlessly between blues, jazz, folk, pop and r n’ b, and even throws some doo-wop into the mix. The album features ten older Noah Zacharin songs given the widescreen treatment, with support from co-producer Douglas September, and an elite group of Toronto musicians and backing vocalists, aided by legendary side players Ralph Carney (Tom Waits) on horns and Ken Pearson (Janis Joplin) on piano. The album has a wonderful expansive and lush feel, without ever feeling over-bearing or forced – and really rewards multiple listening. You can check out that interview HERE. For more information about Noah’s music, visit noahsong.com.
5. Erin Costelo – Down Below, The Status Quo (2016, Pheromone Distribution/Fontana North)
Erin Costelo from Halifax NS released “Down Below, The Status Quo”, a fabulous slice of genre bending soulful pop that skips from R&B/Soul to bluesy jazz and features ten tracks that Erin wrote and arranged, and produced at Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland Yard studio with engineer Thomas Stajcer. Gifted with a fabulous expressive voice, that harkens back to some of the great female vocalists of the golden age of soulful blues and jazz, joining Erin on the album are longtime guitarist Clive MacNutt, bassist Ian Bennett, drummers Dave Marsh and Matt Gallant, alongside the Blue Engine String Quartet and horns from Matt Myer, Andrew Jackson and Andrew MacKelvie. Down Below, The Status Quo is another one of those albums that reminds me, that great music needs to be shared – and that shows like this shouldn’t be constrained by a rigid focus on genre. For more information about Erin Costelo, visit erincostelo.ca.
6. Benjamin Dakota Rogers – Whiskey & Pine (2016, Self)
Multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and composer, the prolific Benjamin Dakota Rogers is pushing the boundaries of traditional folk with each album release. Combining fiddle, guitar and mandolin with his unique voice and strong lyrics he creates music that demands your attention. Benjamin has picked up Canadian Folk Music Awards for each of his three releases; the “Wayfarer” E.P. from 2014, 2015’s “The Strong Man’s Address to the Circus Crowd” and his latest “Whiskey & Pine”, 11 songs featuring strong vocals, and powerful guitar and fiddle, with support from Chris Rait on stand-up bass, guitar and djembe. Benjamin joined us at the Folk Music Ontario conference in 2014 to chat about his music and play a live version of what was then a new song “Whiskey and Pine”. You can check out that interview HERE. And guess, what – we also have a 2016 FMO interview to bring you, with yet more new songs from a rising talent on the folk scene. For more information about Benjamin’s music visit benjaminrogersmusic.com.
7. Dione Taylor – Born Free (2015, Matay Records)
Dione Taylor comes from the jazz world, but the E.P. “Born Free’, her soulful and spiritual dip into the blues, deserves to be thought of as a full length album. Why? Because even at seven songs, it feels like it’s whole and complete – an album that takes as its lead growing up in pastor’s home in rural Saskatchewan but moves on to openly and engagingly tackle some of life’s major themes… love, death, injustice and liberty. From the first beat to the last, it’s an engaging ride. Fabulous vocal delivery as you’d expect from such a well trained voice, with some great musical arrangements make this album, a joy from beginning to end. For more information about Dione’s music visit dionetaylor.com
8. Lizanne Knott – Excellent Day (2016, Proper)
Long-standing member of the Philadelphia music scene and partner in Grammy Award winning MorningStar Studios, Lizanne Knott released a great new album earlier this year – the bluesy and jazzy “Excellent Day”. A smoky and sultry delight, it features eight original songs and four well-chosen covers… The Gershwins’ “Ain’t Necessarily So”, Springsteen’s “Stolen Car”, Janis Ian’s “Sometimes” and Jef Lee Johnson’s “Excellent Day”. Despite critical acclaim, Lizanne Knott’s still generally better known in the UK than North America. Time to change that. You can check out our interview with Lizanne Knott HERE. For more information about her music, visit lizanneknott.com.
9. Free the Honey – Fine Bloom (2015, Self)
“Fine Bloom”, the debut album by Gunnison Colorado based folk quartet Free The Honey was actually a September 2015 release, but as I didn’t receive it until October last year I’m considering it as part of my 2016 selection. The album features 13 original tunes with a wonderful old-time gospel-folk bluegrass feel and great harmonies that makes you feel like you’re stepping into a folk music revival meeting in a cosy coffee house in Appalachia! For more information about the band, visit freethehoney.com.
10. Gary & Whit – Matches (2015, Self)
Gary & Whit are husband and wife singer/songwriter Gary and Whitney French from Goose Bay, Newfoundland and now based on the west coast of the island in Cornerbrook. With Gary on acoustic guitar/vocals and Whitney on vocals the album features beautiful songs, with engaging lyrics and gorgeous harmonies that really connect with the listener. Their album “Matches” was an instant hit for me – one of those records that you have to listen to, right through. My only regret is that I still don’t have an interview with them. Time to remedy that. For more information about Gary & Whit’s music, visit garyandwhit.com.
The Next Fifteen
Arnie Naiman – My Lucky Stars
Bentall Taylor Ulrich – Tightrope Walk
Big Little Lions – Just Keep Moving
Chris Coole – The Tumbling River
Coco Love Alcorn – Wonderland
David Francey – Empty Train
Donovan Woods – Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled
Duane Rutter – Crazy Things
Julian Taylor Band – Desert Star
Ken Dunn – The Great Unknown
Mark Brown – Skin and Bone
Ranagri – Voices
Scott Shea – Pendulum
Ten Strings and a Goat Skin – Auprès Du Poêle
The Small Glories – Wondrous Traveller