Best Music Of 2012

Lists

Top 10 Folk & Americana Albums Of 2012

Partner content from Folk Alley

The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year. i i

The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year.

The Stray Birds released one of the finest debuts of the year.

Courtesy of the artist

More than any year in recent memory, the folk and roots music of 2012 was focused on collective roots, elements of ancestry, the stories and events which unite us. The finest traditional albums released paid homage to Nova Scotia and Appalachia. The strongest singer-songwriter records told of the hard struggles of working class people — stories which haven't changed drastically from generation to generation, but continue to be provide hope and promise. And our favorite albums from new artists (The Stray Birds, The Lumineers) were full of universal coming-of-age themes: facing reality with determination, learning how to proceed with courage. This was not a year of navel-gazing, confessional songwriting. Folksingers in 2012, more often than not, were making music to highlight communities. Given that, if another wave of the folk revival has been swelling in recent years, 2012 may be remembered as a year when it crested.

Top 10 Folk & Americana Albums Of 2012

cover for Young Man In America

cover for Young Man In America / hide caption

itoggle caption /

Anaïs Mitchell, 'Young Man In America'

The economy was on everyone's mind this year, Anais Mitchell's ode to the working class hit the zeitgeist. The story she tells across these eleven songs is about ordinary people struggling through uncertainty and love toward basic pleasures. They face the possibility their lives will never be as great as they dreamed, and seek to make peace with what they have. She sings about hard work ("Dying Day") and the tough choices whose ramifications will inform the rest of our lives ("Shepherd"). She sets the stage on the title track – a song of ambition and promise, the hopes of a generation crash head first into economic woes and the loneliness of reality. Yet, the disc never falls into the trap of feeling sorry for itself. From start to finish, it's an album about the strength of human dignity and its place in the oft-elusive American dream.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Young Man in America
Album
Young Man in America
Artist
Anaïs Mitchell
Label
Universal
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for A Tear In The Eye Is A Wound In The Heart

Black Prairie, 'A Tear In The Eye Is A Wound In The Heart'

When Black Prairie burst on the scene with their debut in 2012, folks were pleasantly surprised that members of the Decemberists could really, legitimately, pick the heck out of traditional-style bluegrass. This year, they stretched their wings a little further to embrace all manner of the folk music which has influenced them for years. There are traces of everything from Simon &Garfunkel-style singer-songwriter tunes to accordion-thick Vaudeville instrumentals, folk-goth heartbreak songs and, sure, even some bluegrass...all exquisitely delivered.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Nowhere, Massachusetts
Album
A Tear In The Eye Is A Wound In The Heart
Artist
Black Prairie
Label
Sugar Hill Records
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for Leaving Eden

cover for Leaving Eden hide caption

itoggle caption

Carolina Chocolate Drops, 'Leaving Eden'

There are plenty of folk troubadours tackling old-school music in an attempt at nostalgia. They step into a character to keep a certain style alive. But, while they play-act their songs, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are embodying traditional music in a way that is remarkably current and relevant. There's nothing false or put-on about the way they deliver a song like "Read 'Em John." They would bring the same energy to a fully plugged-in pop version of the same; they simply recognized they were capable of delivering it compellingly using nothing more than their voices and clapping hands. This is folk music at its truest, most artful and unadulterated.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Read 'Em John
Album
Leaving Eden
Artist
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Label
Nonesuch
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for Sing The Delta

cover for Sing The Delta hide caption

itoggle caption

Iris DeMent, 'Sing The Delta'

Iris DeMent has made a career of writing and singing songs about faith and pain and perspective. But, on Sing the Delta, she has once and for all climbed into the skin of her songs. These are not songsabout life in the Delta or stories about the sorts of people you might find in the Delta. This is the closest approximation to how the Delta itself might sing, if it had a human voice. It's intensely personal, real, and raw; at once profane and profound. Where a lesser artist might have felt inclined to make a musical study of Delta life, DeMent cuts to the chase and embodies the spirit of the Delta.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
The Night I Learned How Not to Pray
Album
Sing the Delta
Artist
Iris DeMent
Label
FlariElla Records
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for Kin

cover for Kin hide caption

itoggle caption

Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell, 'Kin'

Modern music is hardly wanting for collaborations, but the meeting of talents between Americana darling Rodney Crowell and memoirist Mary Karr raised some eyebrows this year. After discovering they had grown up around the same time and place, Karr and Crowell decided to tackle their roots. Families are an endless source of strengths, flaws, baggage, hope, and support, and this disc portrays each with artful aplomb. Besides, they gathered some of the most gifted artists in the roots music world to lend their voices – Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, Norah Jones, and more.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Anything But Tame
Album
Kin: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
Artist
Rodney Crowell / Mary Karr
Label
Welk
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for Seinn

cover for Seinn hide caption

itoggle caption

Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac, 'Seinn'

Similarly to the way the Carolina Chocolate Drops embody Appalachian traditional music, so do Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac tackle the traditional Gaelic music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Their guitar-and-fiddle matchup is beautifully balanced, behind butter-smooth vocals and timeless melodies. The songs are evenly balanced between traditional folk songs and newly penned originals, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell which is which. Lamond and MacIsaac's fluid, sea-like delivery captures the spirit of the island through stories only music can tell.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
If You Were Mine: If You Were Mine/Drunken Landlady
Album
Seinn
Artist
Mary Jane Lamond/Wendy MacIsaac
Label
Turtlemusik
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for The Lumineers

cover for The Lumineers hide caption

itoggle caption

The Lumineers, 'The Lumineers'

It seems, over the past several years, the Pacific Northwest has been churning out a solid scene-shaking band at a rate of one or two per year. But in 2012, the shiniest new star came from Denver in the form of The Lumineers. Carried on the strength of three voices and a collection of acoustic instruments, The Lumineers' music straddles the lines between folk and pop; modern rock and indie roots. Their sound isn't just a stylized portrayal of rainy city hipsters in suspenders, though. Sure, there's a beat to dance to, but there's also a raw authenticity in the lyrics which gives audiences something more substantial to hold tight.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Ho Hey
Album
Lumineers
Artist
The Lumineers
Label
Dualtone Music
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for We Have Made A Spark

cover for We Have Made A Spark hide caption

itoggle caption

Rose Cousins, 'We Have Made A Spark'

Rose Cousins has won handfuls of Canadian Folk Music awards and other honors, and with good reason. She has a knack for singing the saddest song she can muster with the greatest hope. Her richly personal songs have been enthralling festival crowds for years, but she remains somewhat obscure in the States. Nonetheless, We Have Made a Spark is easily one of the finest records of the year. Thematically, it's about how much we need each other and how – from love to utter lonesomeness – we are embraced by our communities. Here she called on her community of Boston musicians (Mark Erelli, Rose Polenzani, Kris Delmhorst, others) to fill in behind her with lush emotion.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
The Shell
Album
We Have Made a Spark
Artist
Rose Cousins
Label
Rosebud Records
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

cover for The Stray Birds

cover for The Stray Birds hide caption

itoggle caption

The Stray Birds, 'The Stray Birds'

New bands seeking to make a lasting impression on a nationwide audience are often inclined to lay it all on the line from the get-go. Unleash the full throttle of your instrumental gifts through intense solos and voice-stretching vocal performances, and perhaps folks will have no option but to listen. There's more grace and artfulness, though, in exercising restraint, as The Stray Birds do beautifully on their self-titled debut. Clearly these are players with chops, songwriters with a fierce command of their craft. But they also seem to have a grip on when to lend a hand, and when to let the songs fly on their own. This record was certainly one of the finest debuts of the year from a band to watch.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
No Part of Nothin'
Album
Stray Birds
Artist
Stray Birds
Label
CD Baby
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Cover for There's No Leaving Now

The Tallest Man On Earth, 'There's No Leaving Now'

This was a great year for duos and full bands – music with thick and imaginative arrangements was pouring out of every nook and cranny. But, when it comes to straight-up singer-songwriter albums, Tallest Man on Earth delivered the finest in the field this year. His poetic, passionate lyrics stand beautifully on their own, backed by the sparsest accompaniment – here a flute, there a pedal steel, elsewhere a piano. Sometimes whispering a true tale is all it takes to cut through the din. Indeed, There's No Leaving Now, with all its silence and restraint, managed to resonate with audiences across the board.

Purchase Featured Music

Song
Revelation Blues
Album
There's No Leaving Now
Artist
The Tallest Man on Earth
Label
Dead Oceans Records
Released
2012

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Best Music Of 2012