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Best of 2017

Another year full of fine music, but once again mostly supplied by familiar and dependable names. There are few new discoveries to report in what follows.

It may be that my aging ears are less inclined to novelty, or perhaps it's that the young pretenders can't quite match their predecessors. I suspect it may be a bit of both - answers on a postcard, please.

Some great live sessions, topped by Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite Of Everything playing at my daughter's wedding in Canada, with some gorgeous instrumentals followed by a stomping barndance set. On the same trip we also caught fiddle maestro Richard Wood in a PEI pub. UK gigs included the astonishing Eivor at Secret Sessions Live, a resurgent Shirley Collins and the ageless Jackson Browne.

A special mention for Hamilton. We were lucky enough to see a preview last weekend and, yes, it is extraordinary. Much hyped, of course, but deservedly so: I'm no fan of musicals generally, but I was hooked by the pace, wit and energy with which it tells a fascinating and resonant story.

On to the records. Looking at the list, I guess folk music and/or female voices are the dominant strands. I've listened to a fair amount of both, but hardly exclusively: jazz and improv from Avishai Cohen and The Necks come just outside the top ten, and well played archive releases this year have included Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Bob Dylan (his Gospel years). Anyway, (drum roll please...)

10. Shirley Collins - Lodestar

A remarkable story of how she was persuaded back into performing, more than thirty years after her last album. Her older voice might not have the full range and power that it used to, but she remains a captivating storyteller.

The musical settings are spot on - sympathetic and unshowy.

9. Braden Gates -
Much Rather Be Sleeping

The latest from the Bard of Whyte Avenue and well worth a listen, particularly for the fiddle-n-foot-stomping title track. Probably stillnot as consistently strong a set of songs as his first album, but he's ahead of the competition. I'm particularly fond of 'My Sister Fell In Love" - here's a live version.

8. David Rawlings - Poor David's Almanack

The latest from the ever-dependable David & Gillian. No surprises, but consummate playing and singing from a duo who fit each other's contours like a hand in a glove.

It could have been recorded yeaterday or a hundred years ago.

7. The Weather Station - The Weather Station

Tamara Lindeman in excellent voice, with a rockier backing than hitherto. 'Thirty' is a tremendous song, leaving the rest of the set slightly in its shadow, but I can't hold that against her. She plays in Brighton on 1 February...

6. Laura Marling - Semper Femina 

...and with a pleasing symmetry Laura played a fine show at the Dome this year. Strong and confident writing and performing.

5. Kronos Quartet - Folk Songs

Now, this could have been embarrassing, classically trained players trying their hand at folk. In fact, it's a triumph. Kronos are consummate genre-hoppers and have chosen their vocal collaborators very well - Rhiannon Giddens, Natalie Merchant, Olivia Chaney & Sam Amidon.

4. Lisa Knapp - Till April Is Dead

New to me this year - I was intrigued by a review in the Guardian, and here we are. A wonderful blend of straight folk, taped spoken word and electronica in celebration of May. Here's a taste.

3. Hiss Golden Messenger - Hallelujah Anyhow

Another year, another album... once more, no real surprises here but entirely dependable writing and playing from MC Taylor and his collaborators. Allusive and poetic southern rock proved to be no contradiction in terms.

2. Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts

An unequivocal delight. The Decemberists decide to make a seventies-style folk rock record, and sign up the wonderful Olivia Chaney (yes, her again) to sing along.

1. Bill McKay & Ryley Walker - SpiderBeetleBee

Ryley Walker has yet to associate himself with a duff record and this second album of instrumental duets with Bill McKay is a beaut. Here's a taste.


Happy Christmas and all the best for 2018.

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