Across all of the musical genres I enjoy 2017 was a huge year for me, so pulling together a concise Top 10 for FRUK has been a task comparable to mastering (or even learning to say) Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji’s Opus clavicembalisticum in a day. After considerable deliberation here are my (alphabetically presented) ten choices, but I should point out that any one of the honourable mentions below should be regarded as interchangeable with any title that made the final cut.
A great many folk musicians have dabbled with jazz flavours down the decades, but with varying degrees of success. The excellent Canadian-American-Scottish quintet Aerialists are certainly pulling off this genre-melding balancing act with aplomb, delivering scintillating original material and applying their approach to traditional tunes with equal cohesion and virtuosic brilliance.
Vancouver is a hotbed of musicians in thrall to roots music of bygone eras, and they don’t get much better than The Burying Ground. Taking vintage blues and jazz, swing, old-timey country and folk as their templates, this super-cool trio pens authentic sounding material that appears as if plucked from the Alan Lomax archives, but also bears the gritty qualities of their punk rock background.
One of the first 2017 releases I bought this year, Julie Byrne’s ethereal folk masterpiece remains close to my CD player and has rightly featured heavily on many year-end charts. A day shy of exactly twelve months since this pristine, shimmering bliss-fest entered my life I will be hearing its material performed live at a mouth-watering double bill with the mighty Steve Gunn in Vancouver in mid-January. Gulp…
It seems inexplicable now, but positively drowning in new music as I perpetually am I arrived quite late to the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the true wonder of the great Rhiannon Giddens. While the historical themes of her material documenting the African-American experience are understandably heavy, the unbridled joy and power with which she delivers the songs ensure that people listen – and learn.
One of my live highlights of 2017 was witnessing Toronto’s Abigail Lapell perform a slightly nervy, but greatly endearing solo set at an intimate venue in my hometown of Nanaimo, BC. “I haven’t been here before, and really hope you like me,” she said, her quirky personality utterly charming all present. A lovely album, the award-winning Hide Nor Hair is contemporary Canadian folk music at its best.
Greeted by many as a curious release for 4AD, while not shifting millions Tulsa singer-songwriter John Moreland’s stunning fourth album was certainly a deserved commercial breakthrough. Comparisons with Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, John Hiatt et al are unavoidable but, as Greta Van Fleet would likely attest, stylistic comparability with the greats is more likely to attract attention than cause harm.
Speaking of echoing the greats, Vancouver’s marvellous Real Ponchos are Deadheads to the core, and elements of their epic roots-rock certainly illustrate their devotion. With two greatly contrasting vocalists and the most fluid imaginable guitar-slinging, this great live band has now delivered a brilliant introductory EP and two killer full-length albums since 2013. Their future seems very bright indeed.
Kate Sables’ ongoing association with The National’s Aaron Dessner has undoubtedly helped raise her profile, but make no mistake that this extraordinary artist’s affecting alt. folk would still attract the plaudits it does without his involvement. Moonshine Freeze is just about perfect, and This Is The Kit’s half-hour set opening for Dessner’s band in Vancouver on December 2nd had me in absolute raptures.
Possessing personalities seemingly as different as chalk and cheese offstage, although they are not related Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott’s onstage personal dynamic and uncanny harmonizing is indeed that of inseparable siblings. I drift off to somewhere else, somewhere safe and cosy, when listening to this Vancouver folk duo’s dreamy material, and in this crazy, hectic world it is a place I welcome.
What The Unthanks do, I feel, is high art, and I barely have words to express how, album after album, their unique, impossibly beautiful music moves me. With this Molly Drake project the Diversions series continues to deliver their magnificent versions of material by artists that inspire them, and I dream that one day they may consider the work of Nic Jones or Connie Converse. Wouldn’t that be something?
Honourable mentions must be made for the 2017 releases from Alasdair Roberts, Citizen Jane, Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chaimbeul, Sarah Jane Scouten, The Burning Hell, John Thumb, The Mountain Goats, The Deep Dark Woods and Richard Dawson.
We have more ‘Best of 2017’ lists coming soon from the team and Editor.