It’s that time of year… we’re holding back the interviews on Folk Roots Radio as we check out our ten favourite albums of 2018. One of the best things about doing a radio show is getting loads of great music to listen to each week. One of the hardest things to do, though, is to take all that fabulous music and narrow it down to your ten favourite recordings of the year. To make the selection process go as smoothly as possible, I actually start off with about 40 albums that I’ve really enjoyed, and narrow that down to a 25 album long list, and then select what I consider my ten favourite albums. You can check out The Top 10 on this episode, and The Next 15 on Episode 418 of Folk Roots Radio. So here they are… in reverse order, Folk Roots Radio’s favourite albums of 2018. Listen to The Top 10 and check out the full playlist below.
As always, this is a very subjective and personal selection, and putting them in order is more about having fun and creating suspense than anything else. 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 like.
This list also only includes those albums that were received from October 1, 2017 until October 31 2018. We’ve previously used September 30 as the cut off for Best of the Year consideration, but with so much great music dropping in October this year, we decided to push the cut off back a month, from now on. If there are albums, you think I should have included, get in touch. Maybe they didn’t make them on to my radar, or perhaps I never received a copy of something I just have to listen to. Enjoy!
The Top 10
1. Jesse Matas, Tamarock
Every now and again an album arrives in the mail really that makes you sit up take notice – “Tamarock” from Crooked Brother Jesse Matas is one of those albums. Featuring a fine laidback vocal style, and some great musicianship, the album has a lovely sonic palate and a production that really gives the instruments space to breath. But, above all, it’s full of some really interesting songs with great lyrical imagery – and that’s what makes this album a recording that you really need to check out. Recorded (mostly) live-off-the-floor at Private Ear Recording in Winnipeg MB before relocation to Waterloo ON, Tamarock is Jesse’s first release since 2014’s “Thank You, I’m Sorry”, the third album from the Crooked Brothers. Jesse Matas joined us on Folk Roots Radio to chat about his music. You can check out that interview HERE. Visit Jesse Matas online at jessematas.com.
2. Pharis & Jason Romero, Sweet Old Religion
Pharis & Jason’s last album,”A Wanderer I’ll Stay” picked up the 2016 Juno for Traditional Roots Album of the Year. However, after taking time off from recording to allow for the birth of their second child, a devastating fire tore through Jason Romero’s banjo workshop in Horsefly BC. It was hard to imagine that Pharis & Jason could get back on their feet quickly, but with some great community support they were not only able to get the banjo making business up and running again but also found time to head back into the studio to produce another acclaimed recording, “Sweet Old Religion” – an album of intense gratitude for the support they received, it was also their first to feature entirely original songs. Pharis & Jason are a fantastic live act – definitely check them out, if you get the chance. Check out Pharis & Jason Romero online at pharisandjason.com
3. Melanie Brulée, Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind
“Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” is a fabulous slice of pedal steel driven country music that comes complete with its own widescreen spaghetti western like vibe. Melanie Brulée is in fine voice on twelve tracks that reflect on relationships, loss and addiction, and joined by some great players including pedal steel player Kevin “The General” Neal who brings much of the sound to the recording, with guitars from Champagne James Robertson (Lindi Ortega, New Country Rehab), Kyle Teixeira on bass and Adam Warner on drums. This is definitely not your average country album. Melanie Brulée joined us on Folk Roots Radio to chat about the new album. You can find that interview on the website HERE. For more information, visit melaniebrulee.com.
4. Steve Dawson, Lucky Hand
Multiple juno-award winning sideman and producer Steve Dawson’s eighth album “Lucky Hand” is an all instrumental recording that features ten tracks of solo, duo and full-bodied string quartet music, with a dynamic and almost cinematic scope. Joining Steve on the recording are his old partner Jesse Zubot, who scored the string arrangements for a group of up and coming string players from the Vancouver scene including Jesse, and his brother Josh, on violin. Nashville’s Charlie McCoy is also along for the ride, on harmonica. Recorded live off the floor, Steve placed up to twelve different microphones around the studio to capture the guitar and orchestration, and the wonderful warm sound that really allows these compositions to take flight. It’s a fabulous album, and in a style that reminds me of some of Bruce Cockburn’s great instrumental excursions. Visit Steve Dawson online at stevedawson.ca.
5. Carly Dow, Comet
Banjo toting roots singer-songwriter Carly Dow’s second album “Comet” is more celestial in tone than her earthy debut “Ingrained”, yet still feels deeply connected to nature and the wildness that lives amongst us – and within us. Featuring ten new songs written at Carly’s mostly off-the-grid, backwoods retreat in the wilds of Manitoba, the new album, was co-produced with Matt Filopoulus, and features Carly Dow on her signature clawhammer banjo and acoustic guitar with support from some fine Winnipeg based musicians including Matt Filopoulus on electric guitar, pedal steel and dobro; Murray Jewett and Julian Bradford (strings) and Jeremy Rusu (accordion) with harmony vocals from Madeleine Roger and Logan McKillop. Check out our interview with Carly Dow HERE. Find Carly Dow online at carlydowmusic.com.
6. Annie Lou, End Zone
Old Time/bluegrass influenced singer-songwriter Annie Lou’s fourth album “End Zone” was called End Zone, not because its a sports related album, but because most of the songs were written during the last months of her mother’s life. The title track (and it’s reprise) are an exploration of that time when the end is near, but not quite. The album was produced by Andrew Collins and features almost a who’s who from the Canadian roots scene including Andrew Collins on mandolin and guitar, Max Heineman on upright bass and vocals, Sarah Hamilton on fiddle and vocals, John Showman and Trent Freeman on fiddle, Frank Evans on banjo, Burke Carroll on pedal steel, and Ivan Rosenberg on dobro. For more information, visit annielou.ca.
7. Kaia Kater, Grenades
Kaia Kater’s third album Grenades moves beyond the banjo driven songs of her first two albums to produce a recording that is almost conceptual in nature as it reflects on her father’s traumatic early life in Grenada prior to emigration to Canada in 1986, while continuing a theme from Kaia’s acclaimed second recording “Nine Pin” – Kaia’s life as a woman of colour in music, in a world where racism is still a part of daily life. Grenades was produced by Erin Costelo, and also features Christine Bougie on electric guitar, Andrew Jackson on trombone and David Parker on French horn. Visit Kaia Kater online at kaiakater.com.
8. Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita, Soar
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita produce breathtakingly beautiful music on Welsh harp and the Kora – the 21 string Senegalese West African Harp. Their second album together, “Soar” is a wonderfully atmospheric and inspiring recording that blurs the boundaries between world music, classical, folk and traditional genres, and highly recommended for those who love mostly instrumental music with a new age edge. The track we play on this episode, “Cofiwich Dryweryn”, which means ‘remember Tryweryn’ was written by Catrin to commemorate one of the defining moments in Welsh political history – the flooding of the Tryweryn valley in north Wales in 1965 to create the Llyn Celyn reservoir that supplies water to the city of Liverpool. The Welsh-speaking village of Capel Celyn was abandoned to the water, its inhabitants forced to leave their homes. The anger felt in Wales lead to huge protests, acts of sabotage and a rise in support for Welsh nationalist groups. “I wrote this piece a long time ago,” Catrin says. “The Welsh language was disappearing fast. It wasn’t being taught in schools, and then this happened and fuelled everybody’s anger. It was an iconic moment.” Find Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita online at catrinfinchandseckoukeita.com.
9. Lucy Wainwright Roche, Little Beast
Lucy Wainwright Roche, the daughter of Loudon Wainwright III and Suzzy Roche, and a half sibling to Rufus and Martha Wainwright produced a fine album “Little Beast” this year. A melancholic masterpiece, the album tells stories of empty lives and dysfunctional relationships with lyrics that don’t hesitate to cut to the quick. Recorded in Nashville and co-produced with Jordan Brooke Hamlin (Indigo Girls), this is a recording that really rewards repeated listening, and despite the emotional weight of some of the songs, it still feels very uplifting. For more information visit lucywainwrightroche.com.
10. The Young Novelists, In City & Country
The Young Novelists’ third studio album “In City & Country” was recorded in Montreal with producer Howard Bilerman who’s worked with Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen and The Wooden Sky. Fronted by Graydon James and Laura Spink, the album explores the idea of community through the lens of those stranger-than-fiction tales that get passed from neighbour to neighbour over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Each song was inspired by a different small town in Ontario – Graydon and Laura actually travelled to and researched the history of the towns – and from those efforts distilled a group of songs that aim to tease apart what it means to belong and what it means to be an outsider, and how the communities we make share more similarities than differences. Featuring some beautiful vocals, and gorgeous harmonies, it’s definitely worth checking out. Graydon James and Laura Spink joined us on Folk Roots Radio for a fun conversation about the new album. You can find that interview on the website HERE. Check out The Young Novelists online at theyoungnovelists.com.
The Next Fifteen
Jay Aymar, Your Perfect Matador
Kim Beggs, Said Little Sparrow
Big Little Lions, Alive & Well
Jon Brooks, No One Travels Alone
Erin Costelo, Sweet Marie
The Ennis Sisters, Keeping Time
David Graff, Supposed To Fly
Lonesome Ace Stringband, When The Sun Comes Up
The LYNNeS, Heartbreak Song For The Radio
Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar, Run To Me
David Milton, Songs From The Bell Man
Jory Nash, Wilderness Years
Madeleine Roger, Cottonwood
Dana Sipos, Trick Of The Light
Noah Zacharin, A Startle Of Wings
That’s all we have time for, this time around. Thanks to all the artists who share their music with us, and thank you for listening. We have a lot of great music and interviews to bring you on future shows. I hope you’ll join us!
You can listen to this episode again on Soundcloud by following the link below. You can also listen to episodes of Folk Roots Radio, on demand, via iTunes, Stitcher and Tune-in Radio. (Click on the highlighted link to reach your chosen platform.)
Nicolas & The Iceni (Theme)
Lucy She Rises
Roll Right (2018, self)
The Young Novelists
In City & Country (2018, Self) CDN
Lucy Wainwright Roche
Quit With Me (feat. Matthew Perryman Jones)
Little Beast (2018, Self)
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita
Soar (2018, bendigedig)
Grenades (2018, Acronym Records/Smithsonian Folkways) CDN
End Zone & End Zone (Reprise)
End Zone (2018, Self) CDN
Comet (2018, Self) CDN
Lucky Hand (2018, Black Hen Music) CDN
Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind (2018, Lapin Blanc) CDN
Pharis & Jason Romero
Age Old Dream
Sweet Old Religion (2018, Borealis Records) CDN
Tamarock (2018, Self) CDN