In any given year I listen to a vast range and volume of music, and as is traditional at year-end I set about trying to see the wood for the trees in selecting my favourite releases from the many genres that interest me. 2016 has been a very strong year in respect of my tastes, so while in truth I could likely present a Top 50 pertinent to FRUK’s general remit, after much agonising I have chosen ten titles from the roots arena that overall brought me the most joy. As great as this denary selection is, narrowing my choices down presented a dilemma comparable to deciding which piece of chocolate to eat next.
AERIALISTS – Aerialists (Independent)
This debut EP presents dazzling musicianship and ‘prog-trad’ folk from a Canadian-American-Scottish quintet that, to those previously aware of their individual achievements to date, would have elicited gasps upon the announcement of their collaboration. Indeed, Aerialists is a veritable (prog-trad) folk super-group whose next moves promise to be extraordinary.
THE BURNING HELL – Public Library (BB*Island)
One of the truly joyous highlights of my 2016 was finally catching The Burning Hell live. The memorable folk-pop melodies and witty, literate, oft-poignant lyrics of the inimitable Mathias Kom translate brilliantly to performance, and capping a sunny afternoon festival set with a riotous rendition of La Bamba is a sure-fire way to win previously uninitiated hearts.
DAVID FRANCEY – Empty Train (Laker Music)
The Scottish-born Francey is the ultimate everyman of Canadian folk music, as charming and warm a live performer as can be imagined and, for this wonderful 11th album, the deserved winner of both Solo Artist of the Year and Contemporary Album of the Year at the 2016 Canadian Folk Music Awards. As a songwriter, Francey simply never drops the ball.
THE FRETLESS – Bird’s Nest (Independent)
With an open-minded, creative approach to their music mirroring such as the Turtle Island String Quartet, The Fretless perform excellent original material alongside traditional folk tunes from around the world with just fiddles, violas and a cello. On paper, it appears a restrictive formula of limited shelf life, but three brilliant, award-winning albums say different.
EMILY MILLARD – By Heron & By Season (Independent)
A truly gorgeous album from the artist formerly known as Miss Emily Brown that sees her already haunting material receive a subtle reboot, placing greater emphasis on her poetic lyrics, in tandem with an equally measured sonic makeover. The result is a delicate and ethereal collection of art-folk gems that stealthily work their way into one’s subconscious. Stunning.
MY LOVELY SON – Hell is Other People (Independent)
Albeit in an entirely different way, My Lovely Son’s sophomore effort arrived as unexpectedly as Shirley Collins’ remarkable 2016 comeback. Beset with all manner of creative, financial and logistical headaches, Satnam Minhas’ follow-up to 2010’s beautiful lost classic debut, The Hunt is On, presents a slight shift in sound, but was very much worth the wait.
ROBERTS HALL – I’ll Send a Friend (NoiseAgonyMayhem)
The fascinating Nanaimo, BC, off-kilter folk-rock duo Roberts Hall are certainly going for it. In 2016 they have completed two shoestring coast-to-coast Canadian tours, released this great debut album, and recorded their sophomore offering, due for release next spring. With such a work ethic and talent to match, 2017 could be a big year for this very promising act.
JUSTIN RUTLEDGE – EAST (Outside Music)
Having lived and worked in Toronto his whole life, Canadian singer-songwriter Rutledge left the big city for the relative serenity of Prince Edward County, Ontario, an emotional move captured in the mood and lyrical content of his lovely seventh album, succinctly described elsewhere as ‘unabashedly pretty.’ EAST is the sound of a man having found his happy place.
JOHN K. SAMSON – Winter Wheat (Anti/Epitaph)
If there is one concert in early 2017 I am already drooling for, it is Winnipeg’s songwriting genius John K. Samson at an intimate club in Victoria, BC. As my review of this late Album of the Year contender for FRUK states, this new release – his second solo album outside the currently on-hold Weakerthans – checks every necessary box for me. A Canadian classic.
JESSE THOM – Ayrdri: snowdragons (Independent)
I first encountered Jesse Thom as a member of the soulful, sassy, and achingly beautiful alternative folk outfit, Dirty Grace. All three core members are involved in extra-curricular (musical and otherwise) solo ventures, two of which – including this gentle, spiritual EP from Thom – were released days apart this year. ‘Tis a lovely, lovely thing to behold.
More coming soon.