Folk Alley's Favorite CDs Of 2008

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This year proved once again that folk music is alive and thriving in all its forms: contemporary, traditional, Americana, bluegrass, Celtic, country, blues, world and so on. Our top picks for 2008 not only illustrate the rich mix of folk music heard every day at FolkAlley.com, but also showcase the genre's ongoing diversity and vitality.

Click here for more entries in the Best CDs of 2008 series.

Folk Alley's Favorite CDs Of 2008

Rattlin' Bones

1. Kasey Chambers/Shane Nicholson

  • Artist: Kasey Chambers/Shane Nicholson
  • Album: Rattlin' Bones
  • Song: Rattlin' Bones

Australian Kasey Chambers has fluctuated among rock, pop, folk and bluegrass music. In spite of her unpredictability, she's managed to draw a different audience each time, while remarkably maintaining a fan base which favors everything she does. With Rattlin' Bones, she's at it again. Now teamed with partner (and husband) Shane Nicholson, she crafts an album of winning, original, powerful Americana duets.

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Song
Rattlin' Bones
Album
Rattlin' Bones
Artist
Kasey Chambers/Shane Nicholson
Label
Wel
Released
2008

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2. Harry Manx

  • Artist: Harry Manx
  • Album: Live at the Glenn Gould Studio
  • Song: Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Harry Manx's trademark sound is best described as "Mystic-sippi" blues: He combines traditional American country-blues with a heavy dose of Eastern Indian ragas for a unique, grooving collision of East and West. For this outstanding live recording from the Glenn Gould Studios in Toronto, Ont., Manx is joined on stage by friends who help fuse his musical influences, including Indian vocalist Samidha Joglekar and Ravi Naimpally on tabla.

For more information on this album, visit Harry Manx's Web site.

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Song
Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Album
Live at the Glenn Gould Studio
Artist
Harry Manx
Label
Dog My Cat
Released
2007

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Captured In Still Life

3. Kensington Prairie

  • Artist: Kensington Prairie
  • Album: Captured in Still Life
  • Song: Million Skies

The overall mood of Captured in Still Life is dreamlike yet thoughtful, with an unusual instrumental mix: guitar, cello, vibraphone, harmonica, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel and an unconventional, understated banjo. The many combinations support singer-songwriter Rebecca Rowan, who serves as Kensington Prairie's primary focus. The sweet, sunny result brings to mind the consistently lovely work of Hem.

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Song
Million Skies
Album
Captured in Still Life
Artist
Kensington Prairie
Label
Anniedale

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To The Ground

4. Kerfuffle

  • Artist: Kerfuffle
  • Album: To The Ground
  • Song: Down by the Greenwood Side

When they got together six years ago, Kerfuffle's members were only 14. But the group carries on England's formidable folk tradition with a powerful album of Playford dance tunes, child ballads and other traditional classics. Kerfuffle hearkens back to the days of Pentangle and Fairport Convention with youthful energy.

For more information on this band, visit the Kerfuffle Web site.

5. Tim O'Brien

  • Artist: Tim O'Brien
  • Album: Chameleon
  • Song: Hoss Race

Tim O'Brien's Chameleon is a simple, straightforward traditional folk CD, and one of the year's finest. This collection's all-original tunes range from country-folk to bluegrass to Scots-Irish ballads, addressing love, family and politics with simple and stripped-down presentation. All of these songs are performed solo on guitar, bouzouki, banjo, mandolin or fiddle.

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Song
Hoss Race
Album
Chameleon
Artist
Tim O'Brien
Label
Proper American
Released
2008

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6. Crooked Still

  • Artist: Crooked Still
  • Album: Still Crooked
  • Song: Undone in Sorrow

Crooked Still performs traditional ballads with an impressive cast and an unusual mix: cello, five-string violin, bass, banjo and a breathy-voiced singer. The result occasionally borders on jazz improvisation, but the musicians seldom delve into the abstract, which is smart. Crooked Still is already so different that it would risk becoming inaccessible if it played too "free." Instead, the sound is engaging, powerful, daring and fun. You may know some of these songs -- and you're familiar with all the instruments -- but no one combines them quite the way Crooked Still does.

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Song
Undone in Sorrow
Album
Still Crooked
Artist
Crooked Still
Label
Signature Sound
Released
2008

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7. Caroline Herring

  • Artist: Caroline Herring
  • Album: Lantana
  • Song: Paper Gown

Caroline Herring interrupted her music career for a few years to raise a family. With Lantana, she arrives as a fully formed songwriter. Herring's stories draw from her native Mississippi and her years in Texas, but she tells her stories with observant, sophisticated, city-smart dialogue. Herring doesn't hesitate to uncover any story, even the ones most of us avoid. She'd make a good reporter, but she has too much music in her.

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Song
Paper Gown
Album
Lantana
Artist
Caroline Herring
Label
Signature Sound
Released
2008

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Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet

8. Abigail Washburn

  • Artist: Abigail Washburn
  • Album: Abigail Washburn
  • Song: A Fuller Wine

Featuring the powerhouse trio of Béla Fleck, Ben Sollee and Casey Driessen, along with Abigail Washburn's old-time banjo playing and singing in Chinese, this is an album marked by unique arrangements and unmistakable intensity. It's hard to compare this to anything else.

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Song
A Fuller Wine
Album
Abigail Washburn
Artist
Abigail Washburn
Label
RCA
Released
2008

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9. Justin Townes Earle

  • Artist: Justin Townes Earle
  • Album: Good Life
  • Song: Good Life

As the son of legendary singer-songwriter Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle transforms his family’s musical heritage an independent-minded sensibility. He's named for Townes Van Zandt, but he knows the truth, once telling an interviewer, "Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool." Nevertheless, Earle does a pretty good job of it on The Good Life.

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Song
Good Life
Album
Good Life
Artist
Justin Townes Earle
Label
Bloodshot
Released
2008

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Through the Window of a Train

10. Blue Highway

  • Artist: Blue Highway
  • Album: Through the Window of a Train
  • Song: Where Did the Morning Go?

Blue Highway has always been a slick and powerful contemporary bluegrass band, and it's just getting better. Through the Window of a Train covers such topics as war, the homeless and mortality -- not typical fodder for bluegrass bands. Familiar topics also surface (trains, lost love, wanderlust), but they're presented with new perspectives. The best one may be "Where Did the Morning Go," as a man suddenly realizes that most of his life is behind him.

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Song
Where Did the Morning Go?
Album
Through the Window of a Train
Artist
Blue Highway
Label
Rounder
Released
2008

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