NPR logo Folk Alley's Top 10 Folk And Americana Albums Of 2014

Folk Alley's Top 10 Folk And Americana Albums Of 2014

Rosanne Cash made one of Folk Alley's favorite albums of 2014, The River & The Thread. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Rosanne Cash made one of Folk Alley's favorite albums of 2014, The River & The Thread.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

From legends to upstarts, the year in roots music had something for everyone, with highlights ranging from the solo acoustic sketches of Steve Dawson to the orchestra-backed epics of First Aid Kit.

One of the threads tying together several of our top 10 albums (chosen by our friends at Folk Alley) was artists who'd made fans wait for new projects: Nickel Creek, The Duhks and Rosanne Cash all fall into that category. In the end, though, the only real common denominator of these 10 picks is that they all, in some way, looked to the past in order to survey the present.

The Top 10 Folk And Americana Albums Of 2014

Cover for They Promised You Mercy

Amelia Curran, 'They Promised You Mercy'

On her new album, Amelia Curran can broach just about any difficult subject, couch it in a "na na na na" chorus, and leave listeners feeling okay about themselves. That's exactly the tack Curran takes straight off the bat in They Promised You Mercy, setting the tone for an appealing 11-song set. She even finds joy when the tone dims in songs like "I Am The Night," "Time, Time" and "You've Changed."

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Song
They Promised You Mercy
Album
They Promised You Mercy
Artist
Amelia Curran
Label
Six Shooter Records
Released
2014

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Cover for Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, 'Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn'

Though they'd worked together in other settings, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn had never recorded a straight-up duo project until this self-titled album. Because they're also a married couple, Fleck and Washburn know each other well, both as people and as masters of the banjo. That understanding allows for a depth of intimacy and exchange that would be hard to come by otherwise. In traditional and original songs alike, there are so many musical winks and nods sneaked into this charming, imaginative set that each subsequent listen reveals something new.

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Song
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Album
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Artist
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Released
2014

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Cover for Prospect Hill

Dom Flemons, 'Prospect Hill'

On his first solo set since leaving Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons crafts a historically important yet thoroughly fun album in Prospect Hill. The work looks back a time that was both simpler and more complicated, depending on your vantage point. From the ragtime of "But They Got It Fixed Right On" and the folk of "Too Long I've Been Gone" to the rocking blues of "I Can't Do It Anymore," Flemons covers significant ground as he cruises through Prospect Hill. He does so with both substance and plenty of style.

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Song
Prospect Hill
Album
Prospect Hill
Artist
Dom Flemons
Label
Fat Possum
Released
2014

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Cover for Beyond The Blue

The Duhks, 'Beyond The Blue'

After a hiatus, The Duhks returned in 2014 with a new lineup and a new album. Mainstays Leonard Podolak and Jessee Havey are now joined by Rosie Newton, Kevin Garcia and Colin Savoie-Levac; even "non-touring founding members" Tania Elizabeth and Jordan McConnell get in on the Beyond The Blue action. Longtime fans delighted in the return to form after a number of tumultuous years. As ever, it's impossible to place The Duhks in a narrow genre box, as influences include everything from Celtic tradition to a French-Canadian influence.

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Song
Beyond The Blue
Album
Beyond The Blue
Artist
The Duhks
Label
Compass Records
Released
2014

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Cover for Stay Gold

First Aid Kit, 'Stay Gold'

The Swedish indie-folk duo First Aid Kit made a grand and earnest second album with Stay Gold, on which Klara and Johanna Söderberg deliver on the promise of The Lion's Roar and then some. That album's producer, Mike Mogis, returns for Stay Gold — and brings a 13-piece orchestra to fittingly and flawlessly support the sisters' soaring, airy vocals. The result is a world-weary but hopeful collection.

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Song
Stay Gold
Album
Stay Gold
Artist
First Aid Kit
Label
Columbia
Released
2014

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Cover for Small Town Heroes

Hurray For The Riff Raff, 'Small Town Heroes'

There's a lot of dust on the metaphorical boots of Hurray For The Riff Raff's Alynda Lee Segarra. There's also a fairly sizable chip on her shoulder, especially when she takes on folk music's murder-ballad tradition: With one simple line in "The Body Electric" ("Delia's gone, but I'm settling the score"), Segarra claims her place in history, both looking back and moving forward. Small Town Heroes teems with tradition, yet remains peppered with dissidence.

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Song
Small Town Heroes
Album
Small Town Heroes
Artist
Hurray For The Riff Raff
Label
ATO
Released
2014

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Cover for A Dotted Line

Nickel Creek, 'Destination'

Nickel Creek fans had to sit idle for eight years as Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile devoted time to other projects. Back together on A Dotted Line, the trio keeps coming further into its own, individually and collectively. The balance Nickel Creek strikes here is both surprising and, honestly, expected. It's a balance that can only be found when each player is fully comfortable and confident in his or her talent. Nickel Creek, as a whole, has always been greater than the sum of its parts — which is saying something here — and A Dotted Line demonstrates that more starkly than ever.

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Song
A Dotted Line
Album
A Dotted Line
Artist
Nickel Creek
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2014

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Cover for Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap, 'Parker Millsap'

Singing with a wisdom and a wail that belies his young age, Parker Millsap fills his eponymous debut with clearly drawn characters and settings. While the album's punchier numbers ("Old Time Religion," "Truck Stop Gospel") get the bulk of the attention, it's one of the quietest moments ("The Villain") that showcases Millsap as a devotee of and an heir to the Tom Waits legacy. That song comes off as an echo answering the call of Waits' "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You" some four decades later.

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Song
Parker Millsap
Album
Parker Millsap
Artist
Parker Millsap
Label
Okrahoma
Released
2014

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Cover for The River & The Thread

Rosanne Cash, 'The River & The Thread'

Rosanne Cash took an eight-year break between albums of original material, but the wait was worth it when The River & The Thread dropped. The introspective, retrospective song cycle traces the geographical, historical, cultural and familial heritages to which Cash finds her own life tied, even as she's labored to make her own way through the world.

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Song
The River & The Thread
Album
The River & The Thread
Artist
Rosanne Cash
Label
Blue Note
Released
2014

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Cover for Rattlesnake Cage

Steve Dawson, 'Rattlesnake Cage'

It isn't easy to make a one-man instrumental record as simple and elegant as Rattlesnake Cage. In fact, it requires incredible talent. Like John Fahey and Leo Kottke before him, Steve Dawson has exactly that — enough to earn him seven Juno Awards and counting. With one mic and no overdubs, Dawson lays down 40 minutes of circular riffs and superlative runs that sound both intricate and intimate thanks to a dynamic blend of genres, tempos and approaches.

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Song
Rattlesnake Cage
Album
Rattlesnake Cage
Artist
Steve Dawson
Label
Black Hen Music
Released
2014

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