FolkAlley.com, an Internet folk-music service produced by NPR station WKSU in Kent, Ohio, specializes in a blend of contemporary and traditional singer/songwriters, Americana, roots, Celtic, bluegrass, world music and more. Here's a look at Folk Alley's picks for the best albums of 2006, as chosen by program director Linda Fahey, production director Chris Boros and hosts Elena See, Jim Blum, Barb Heller and Jeff St. Clair.
Wailin' Jennys' award-winning Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Annabelle Chvostek combine their individual songwriting talents, spine-tingling harmonies and rootsy folk-pop arrangements for a stunning follow-up to their 2004 debut.
The Brooklyn band Hem has had a productive year, releasing an odds-and-ends collection (No Word from Tom) in February before putting out its third full-length studio album (Funnel Cloud) in the fall. The latter is filled with what Hem does best: gentle vocals and beautiful melodies, driven by the soft sounds of alternative folk and country swing.
3. Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch & Fats Kaplin: Lost John Dean
Longtime friends and musical collaborators Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch are joined once again by multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin for their second release as a trio. Recorded live with no overdubs, Lost John Dean includes sparsely arranged tales of lost love, life, good and evil, and spirituality, layered over swampy, bluesy grooves.
4. Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy ~ The Zozo Sisters: Adieu False Heart
Pop icon Linda Ronstadt teams up with traditional Cajun artist Ann Savoy as The Zozo Sisters. The album features stunning lead vocals, gorgeous harmonies, and a cohesive mix of wide-ranging material with "love experiences" as the centerpiece. The material covers everything from traditional Cajun sounds to songs by Bill Monroe, Julie Miller and Richard Thompson. It doesnt hurt that the pair is backed by an all-star line-up including Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, David Schnaufer and Byron House.
5. Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris: All the Roadrunning
The pairing of Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris makes so much sense, it's hard not to wonder why they didn't do it earlier. And it's not something they just decided to do, either: It took seven years to make. A collection of duets Knopfler and Harris recorded whenever they could grab the spare time, the disc sounds as if they took a long talk, sat down with a trusted engineer and producer, and recorded the whole thing in a day.
This high-energy group from Canada tackles everything from modern songs to old time fiddle tunes and Celtic sets with ease on Migrations. Co-produced by Tim O'Brien, the disc radiates youth and originality on every song.
German-born Antje Duvekot is being hailed as the next great American folk singer-songwriter by her peers, and after listening to her first major studio recording, there's no mystery as to why. Produced by Solas' Seamus Egan, Big Dream Boulevard is filled with contemporary folk-pop songs that sound both melodic and richly poetic, touching on the light and the dark.
Solas celebrates its 10th anniversary with this live "reunion" recording, featuring all original and present members of the band. The disc highlights music from the group's heyday, as well as recent compositions. Included with the CD is a DVD of the reunion concert, with John Doyle, Karan Casey and John Williams together with the present-day incarnation for a magical evening.
Life Short, Call Now is Bruce Cockburn's 29th recording in a rich career spanning four decades. With this disc, the Canadian singer/songwriter showcases his ongoing personal and musical evolution, as he explores familiar subjects such as life, love, spirituality, politics and the environment.