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Nick's Top 15-plus Albums of the Year

From Nick Noble
Host of Folk Revival, 7-11pm, Thursday

Mostly (but not all) local New England artists, here are the 2016 CD Releases that I consider to be the best of the year. It is a varied collection, featuring a wide range of styles and song subjects, but as you probably can tell from most (but not all) of them, I am a sucker for harmony.

So here they are in alphabetical order (I enjoy them so much in very different ways that I haven’t the heart to prioritize one over the other):

The Belle Hollows - MILLER'S CREEK - 2016 Elm Hill Records –Beyond newgrass, more than modern folk, great songs and perfect harmonies! Every track is worth a listen.

Mark Brine – OLD TIMEY TUNES Volume 22016 kjk records – This new release is a collection of award-winning Folk/Country performer Mark Brine’s earlier tracks, recorded from 1977 to 1982. His distinctive voice lends a refreshing air of authenticity to his traditional-style music.

Carrigan & Blair – O CHROI2016 Mill Pond Music – A terrific album by a first-class Irish duo. Steve Carrigan and Michael Blair, best known as members of the Portsmouth, NH maritime band Great Bay Sailor, do a marvelous job interpreting both traditional and contemporary Irish songs. With outstanding instrumental work by their Great Bay Sailor colleague Jim Prendergast.

Colette O’Connor – I THINK I AM2016 Colette O’Connor – A delightfully radiant acoustic album. Colette O’Connor’s voice is lovely and her appealing personality refreshing. The album features a wide range of original songs, from the philosophical title track to the energetic and energetic story of “People on the Porch” and so many more. A wonderful experience: you’ll listen to it over and over.

Crowes Pasture – CROWES PASTURE and Crowes Pasture – RAMBLIN’ ROUNDboth 2016 Crowes Pasture –  These two CDs can be taken singly or together as outstanding exemplars of this fine N.E. folk duo’s work. With voices blended in lovely harmonies and a passionate approach to musical performance, Monique Byrne and Andy Rogovin evoke memories of classic folk duos like Ian & Sylvia, while simultaneously staking out creative new ground as part of the 21st century folk scene in New England. Their eponymously titled album features twelve songs: six originals (I particularly like “Madison” and “As I Do”), a contemporary and melodic take on the 80's song, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" by David Byrne of the Talking Heads, and covers of five Woody Guthrie song. The latter make up the bulk of Crowes Pasture’s other 2016 release: Ramblin’ Round—their Woody Guthrie tribute EP. Along with six Guthrie covers—all beautifully arranged and performed—they present their take on Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody.” I know this was a long commentary, but it covers two albums and they’re both worth it.

Beth DeSombre  - I WAS HERE - 2016 Beth DeSombre music– a terrific collection of original songs from one of New England’s most talented singer-songwriters. On this her third album, Beth DeSombre’s songs reflect history, humor, and the human condition, beautifully written and sung. Enough said: just check it out. You won’t be disappointed. (And I would love a taste of “Shackleton’s Whiskey” – you’ll have to listen to the album to understand – go for it).

James Keyes - TO THE EARTH2016 James Keyes music – The new album from Worcester-area singer-songwriter James Keyes is full of excellent tracks impressively performed. It is being released gradually, digitally only, four songs at a time - first four released September 2016. Check it out at www.jameskeyes.com/music.

Mark Mandeville & Raianne RichardsGRAIN BY GRAIN 2016 Nobody’s Favorite Records – Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards are clearly inheritors of a timeless legacy, creating music that is both original and evocative of a rich tradition. Blending distinctive voices and a wide range of accompaniment (guitar, harmonica, ukulele, clarinet, penny whistle, electric bass), their songs have been well-received by audiences around the eastern United States since 2010. Transcending the genre of folk Americana, their music echoes inspiration from traditional folk duos and singer/songwriters like Ian & Sylvia, Kate Wolf and Neil Young – combining beautiful harmonies and a lyrical intensity, while establishing a unique sound of their own. Their new CD, Grain by Grain, demonstrates an ever progressive richness in songwriting and performance. From the opening title song through its closing track—“Across the Morning”—it is an exemplar of what modern Americana can and should be. I maintain that Mark and Raianne’s previous CD—Hard Times & Woes—is one of those rare singularly perfect albums, but with Grain by Grain this talented duo takes it all to a new level, rivaling their earlier effort with terrific original songs beautifully presented.

John McAuliffe – OLD SCHOOL MODERNE 2016 Americana – A truly eclectic album, folk yes, folk-rock certainly, but also blues, jazz, roots, and so much more packed into fourteen songs. Jon McAuliffe is an excellent singer-songwriter and performer, and here—in collaboration with talented multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeff Root and featuring some rich harmony vocals from Patti McAuliffe and some fine fiddling from George Pratt—he has created a very special CD. Jon’s passion and energy come through in every song.

Howie Newman – WHEN YOU’RE HAPPY (I’m Happy Too) 2016 Major League Records – Howie Newman is “not quite sure how to describe this collection of songs.” Americana? Roots, folk, folk-rock, singer-songwriter? Who knows? Who cares? It’s just fun, whimsical, and beautifully produced (check out the work by a team of wonderful featured musicians—especially Jackie Damsky on fiddle). It is true, Howie has updated some of his earlier creations, but “My Baby Can’t Parallel Park,” “Our Kids Aren’t Kids Anymore,” and “My Last Cup of Coffee” are all worth hearing again. But there are a number of new songs as well, including the sweet title tracks, a live recording of “Where is Everybody?” and Howie’s most recent baseball song: “The Ballad of Mike Hessman (Minor League Home Run King)”. Everything on this CD is enjoyable indeed.

Dan & Faith – SEEKING2016 Dan and Faith – Local duo Dan and Faith Senie’s latest CD, Seeking, demonstrates the rich maturity of their progress as singer-songwriters. It contains thirteen original songs, all written around the theme of “the road less traveled.” From the evocative “Looking for the Road Less Traveled” to the trad-styled “Deep Cold Sea,” to the gospel-tinged “On My Way,” to the delightful familiarly referential “Driving With Friends” — it is a treat worth listening to and sharing with others.

Six String Soldiers – I’VE BEEN THERE2016 U.S. Army Field Band – Part of The United States Army Field Band, Six-String Soldiers is a four-member acoustic group performing Americana, folk, bluegrass, and Irish music. Sergeants John Lamirande, Thomas Lindsey, John Brandon Boran, and Glenn Robertson between them have four voices, four instruments, and more than 50 years of service in the military. Their first album is impressive indeed, as honor veterans, they tell the stories of American soldiers, and entertain a variety of audiences with their signature sound and friendly, intimate style. I am wowed by their talent and their dedication.

Two Old Friends - MARITIME - 2016 twooldfriends.com - The talented Portsmouth, NH duo of Emery Hutchins and Jim Prendergast have released their second CD, delivering an entertaining and most definitely singalongable package of maritime songs. Fine musicianship and a feel for folk music make this CD special.

Chris Vaughan – 1974 AMERICANA 2016 Mill Pond Music – Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s “favorite Scot” is back with his second solo CD, and it’s a winner. His first album, Freedom, had some escdellent songs, including the title track and “Many Miles from Home.” 2016’s 1974 Americana has an even richer selection of songs—ten Vaughan originals and one cover—including the powerfull “1974,” the evocative “Can I Live by the Sea,” and the beautiful “Where the Ocean Meets the Highway,” among many others. “Isle of Skye” is a nod to Vaughan’s Scottish roots, and the entire experience is blessed with the artist’s perfectly rich and gravely baritone and enhanced by the instrumental efforts of producer Jim Prendergast. Well done!

Bob Weir – BLUE MOUNTAIN2016 Legacy/Columbia – Reflecting on the time he spent working as a ranch hand in Wyoming when he was 15 years old, the Grateful Dead guitarist has created something special for his 2016 solo release. I first listened to the CD while driving in my car, and I kept playing it over and over. It is both soft and powerful, wondrous and wise, wry and soulful, and Weir’s voice works well with a brilliant group of fellow musicians who back him on the album, including Josh Ritter.

BONUS:

Rick McCarthy – MESSAGE OF THE MUSE 2016 Wachusett – The station library lists it as Jazz, but it is far more than that. Worcester local Rick McCarthy is a gem of a songwriter, and this release is at once a blend of Jazz, folk-rock, rock, pop, bluesy, and singer-songwriter-ish sounds. Rick is a fellow WICN radio host, and I might only play two or three of his tracks on my show, but I love the album and, after all, according to both Big Bill Broonzy and Louis Armstrong, “all music is folk music, ‘cause I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
and, finally. . .

Charlie Ipcar – NEVER TURN A BLIND EYE TO THE STORM 2015 Ipcar Productions – Okay, it was released late in 2015, but it didn’t come to my attention until early this year, and it is a hidden gem. His sixth album features songs of the sea, most of them either original compositions or Ipcar’s own musical adaptations/arrangements of vintage poems. Cicely Fox Smith, Rudyard Kipling, and Hiram Cody are among the poets. Included also are songs of disaster, survival, and adventure, particularly the powerfully effective title track, about the 2012 sinking of the Bounty II.  There are songs about seamen and ships, river songs, and more. Some tracks are performed acapella, while others are accompanied with 5-string banjo, Anglo concertina, fiddle and guitar, demonstrating Charlie Ipcar’s versatility and talent. His voice lends an authentic ring to the recordings, while harmony is often provided by some of his friends from along the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire. One of my favorite songs is “The Chanteyman,” the final cut on the CD, which sums up everything beautifully.

A note of interest: four of these albums feature artists from the Portsmouth, NH area, while three of them feature the instrumental brilliance of Jim Prendergast. Great year, Jim!

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