Well, it’s that time of year – time to run down our favourite albums of 2017. One of the best things about doing a radio show is that you get loads of great music to audition each week. One of the hardest things to do, though, is to take all that great music and narrow it down to your ten favourite recordings of the year. As someone who loves to make best of lists, it’s a fun thing to do, and, if, by doing that, I can expose people to new music they may not have heard, so much the better. As always, this Best of 2017 list only includes those albums that were received from October 1st, 2016 – September 30th, 2017. Listen to tracks from the Top 10 and check out the full playlist below.
Deciding on your favourite albums of the year is a tricky undertaking. To make the process a little easier, I start off with a list of over 40 albums, and narrow it down to a favourite 25, before picking out what I consider my Top 10 which for fun (and to create a bit of suspense) I put into a final order to deliver on a special episode of Folk Roots Radio. Even picking a Top 25 is challenging, as there are so many great albums you have to leave out. And as far as a Top 10 is concerned – well, this list would likely be a bit different if I pulled it together on a different day. Like all Best of lists, these choices are very subjective and very personal, which is why it’s always fun to check out what other people have recommended.
Thanks to all the artists who share their music with us, and thank you for listening. If there are albums you think I should have included, please 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. Or maybe you just want to share your list. You can do that on our Folk Roots Radio facebook page. You can also get in touch with my on Twitter @folkrootsradio.
So here they are… tracks from my favourite albums of 2017!
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The Top 10
1. Rob Lutes, A Walk In The Dark (September 8 2017)
Montreal based blues roots performer Rob Lutes album “Walk In The Dark” is one of those albums that once you put it on, you need to stay with it right until the end. Featuring twelve strong originals, a couple of co-writes with award-winning Americana songwriter Dale Boyle and a cover of John Prine‘s “Rocky Mountain Time”, the album finds Lutes, a Kerrville New Folk winner, Maple Blues and Canadian Folk Music Awards nominee exploring a wide range of subjects and paying homage to some heroes: James Cotton (on “There’s No Way to Tell You That Tonight”) and guitarist Joseph Spence (on the instrumental “Spence”). Rob Lutes soulful voice, some great fingerstyle playing and support from some of the finest blues and roots players in the business, including regular side player guitarist Rob MacDonald, keyboardist Bob Stagg, Guy Bélanger on harmonica and Joe Grass on mandolin – make this album a tour de force. Check out our interview with Rob Lutes HERE. Visit Rob Lutes online at roblutes.com.
2. Rachel Baiman, Shame (June 2 2017)
Breakout Americana artist Rachel Baiman‘s new album “Shame” is an exploration of growing up female in North America. From the title track about abortion and politics, to love, sex, and abuse in relationships, to classism and inequality in her re-write of Andy Irvine’s working class anthem “Never Tire of the Road,” the album is ambitious in its scope, yet remains cohesive through Baiman’s personal perspective. A departure from her stripped-down work with progressive folk duo 10 String Symphony, Shame is lush and varied in instrumentation and musical texture. Inspired in equal parts by John Hartford and Courtney Barnett, Baiman’s influences span a wide range, but years spent playing traditional music shine through in the album’s firmly rooted sound. For more information, visit rachelbaiman.com.
3. Abigail Lapell, Hide Nor Hair (January 9 2017)
Toronto based folk-noir singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell’s sophomore album, “Hide Nor Hair” was heavily influenced by her time in the art folk scene in Montreal in the 2000s. The album recorded in Toronto with Chris Stringer (Ohbijou, Timber Timbre), features ten songs with a cinematic quality that take love and loss as their central theme, and provide a platform for a voice that floats over a musical accompaniment that features harmonica, piano, finger style guitar from Abigail alongside drummer (and whistle soloist) Benjamin Hermann; Rachael Cardiello on viola; Joe Ernewein on bass; Mike Eckert on pedal steel and longtime collaborator Jessica Moore on backup vocals. Abigail Lapell was the recipient of the 2016 Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award for the song “Jordan,” which appears on the new record. You can find an interview with Abigail Lapell on the website HERE. Visit Abigail Lapell online at abigaillapell.com.
4. Ken Yates, Huntsville (October 4 2016)
Ken Yates is one of Canada’s brightest young singer-songwriters. Unforgettable melodies, emotionally charged storytelling, and top-notch guitar chops are all on display on his second full length album “Huntsville” – the 11 tracks capturing his artistic evolution amid extensive touring over the past three years. Originally intended to be an acoustic recording, working with producer Jim Bryson allowed the album to fully express its potential. So much so that Ken took home the awards for both English Songwriter of the Year and New/Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2017 Canadian Folk Music Awards. Check out our interview with Ken Yates HERE. Visit Ken Yates online at kenyates.com.
5. Harpeth Rising, Against The Tides (April 28 2017)
Written after a very contentious US presidential election, art folk trio Harpeth Rising‘s sophomore album, “Against All Tides” (2017, Midwest Records) probably captured the existential angst of the human experience in the Age of Trump better than anyone else. Featuring lyrics from Jordan Greenberg, alongside arrangements from Maria Di Meglio, Michelle Younger and Greenberg, the album also includes covers of two songs written by Jordan’s father, David Greenberg and a cover of Joan Baez’s Prison Trilogy, an indictment of the prison system and immigration laws. Check out Harpeth Rising online at harpethrising.com.
6. Jerry Leger, Nonsense & Heartache (March 31 2017)
Singer/songwriter Jerry Leger‘s latest album turned out to be two albums and a double vinyl one at that. “Nonsense And Heartache”, produced by Michael Timmins from the Cowboy Junkies, is really two different collections – “Nonsense”, an album of upbeat electric bluesy rock and roll, and “Heartache” which has more of a laid-back 70s singer-songwriter style vibe. Recorded live off the floor, the albums feature multi-instrumentalist James McKie, bassist Dan Mock, and drummer Kyle Sullivan, along with guest vocalist Angie Hilts. The ragged-but-right results perfectly complement Leger’s tales of characters on the fringe, attempting to unravel life’s mysteries. For more information, visit jerryleger.com.
7. Richard Laviolette, Taking The Long Way Home (March 10 2017)
Richard Laviolette is a songwriter who really puts his life and personal passions into his music. His new country roots album, “Taking The Long Way Home” (2017, You’ve Changed Records) is all about remaining resilient in the face of life’s challenges whether they relate to personal issues, family, health – whatever – basically everything we all deal with on a daily basis. It’s also an album that emphasizes how much it helps to take the daily ups and downs with as much of a sense of humour as you can manage. With some lovely warm production from Andy Magoffin from the House of Miracles studio in Cambridge Ontario, and some really talented roots players who know how to play with a light touch – it’s a very entertaining listen. Joining Richard on the album are Lisa Bozikovic on piano, Matt Reeves on lead guitar, Jessy Bell Smith (Skydiggers) on vocal harmonies, Julia Narveson (Ever Lovin’ Jug Band) on fiddle and double bass, Aaron Goldstein on pedal steel, Heather Kirby (Ohbijou) on electric bass, and Aaron Curtis on drums. Check out our interview with Richard Laviolette HERE. Find Richard Laviolette online at richardlaviolette.bandcamp.com.
8. Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio, Singin’ (June 30 2017)
The Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio have just released the full-length album “Singin’” (2017, Vessel Recordings), the follow up to their hugely successful debut EP, “Still She Will Fly” (2015, Vessel Recordings). Singin’ features ten Heather Pierson originals and a couple of well chosen covers that move effortlessly from Appalachian folk to New Orleans traditional jazz. Heather Pierson plays piano, acoustic guitar, tenor banjo, ukulele, and melodica on the album with support from Davy Sturtevant on dobro, fiddle, mandolin, cornet, banjo, and acoustic guitar; and Shawn Nadeau on upright bass. Check out Heather Pierson online at heatherpierson.com.
9. Sarah Jane Scouten, When The Bloom Falls From The Rose (June 16 2017)
Sarah Jane Scouten‘s third full-length album “When the Bloom Falls From the Rose” is a wonderful mix of country and folk styles. Featuring ten original songs, ranging in style from classic honky tonk to indie-folk, alongside two fairly unknown traditional Western Canadian songs discovered on crackly recordings in university archives and given new life through Scouten’s haunting arrangements, the album was recorded in Toronto at Revolution Recording with veteran Canadian producer Andre Wahl (Hawksley Workman, Jill Barber, Gina Horswood). For more information visit sarahjanescouten.com.
10. Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro, Static In The Wires (February 13 2017)
Welsh born lap guitar wizard Martin Harley (Martin plays a 100 year Weissenborn Hawaiian acoustic lap guitar) has been creating quite a stir for his live performances, witnessed on his great album with stand-up bassist Daniel Kimbro, “Live From Southern Ground” (2015, Del Mundo Records). His studio album follow-up “Static In The Wires” features 14 time Grammy winner Jerry Douglas (Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Dolly Parton), Derek Mixon (Chris Stapleton, Sam Lewis) and Micah Hulsher (Alabama Shakes). Visit Martin Harley online at martinharley.com.
The Next Fifteen
100 Mile House – Hiraeth (November 18 2016)
Beyries – Landing (February 24 2017)
Shawn William Clarke – Topaz (September 1 2017)
Scott Cook – Further Down The Line (March 24 2017)
John Craigie – No Rain, No Rose (January 27 2017)
Brendan Scott Friel – Quiet Cars (March 18 2017)
MANdolinMAN – Unfolding The Roots (March 24 2017)
Danny Michel – Khlebnikov (January 20 2017)
Carmel Mikol – Daughter Of A Working Man (May 1 2017)
Zoe Mulford – Small Brown Birds (February 3 2017)
Ian Sherwood – Bring The Light (September 15 2017)
Merlin Snider – One Light Many Windows (November 21 2016)
Jayme Stone – Folklife (April 7 2017)
Jenny Whiteley – The Original Jenny Whiteley (September 16 2016)*
Campbell Woods – Oxford Street (April 25 2017)
* Album received after September 30, 2016.