Here's a look at the best folk music CDs of 2008, from folk-rock to bluegrass, alt.country to singer-songwriters.
© Columbia Records
Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs
provides, if anyone still needs it, proof of why he still matters to modern music. Sure, the studio albums he's put out over the past decade have been timely, impressive, relevant, and stirring in their own right. But, there's something about Dylan's unreleased recordings, mess-ups, live tracks, and outtakes that's far more compelling than the more polished efforts that make it into our collections.
© Rounder Records
Delta Spirit is the kind of band that pulls you in, makes you part of the music until you have no excuse but to march around the room clapping and stomping along. There are so many elements of musical genres at work on Ode to Sunshine
that it's impossible to separate them into any category. The only adequate descriptor is "celebration."
© Blue Note Records
There's no question about it: Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis are two of the best, most well-respected artists in their respective genres. Nelson's voice lends itself exquisitely to the country blues, and Marsalis' trumpet is a smooth, fine instrument. Together, the duo made an excellent go of Two Men With the Blues
© Righteous Babe Records
On Red Letter Year
, Ani DiFranco delivers some good old fashioned catharsis. After several years of albums full of introspective, navel-gazing heartbreak songs ("Second Intermission") and tunes that rip the government ("Millenium Theater"), Red Letter Year
delivers a collection of songs that recognizes the beauty in the world, celebrates love, and admits the rare peace that comes with vulnerability.
© Nonesuch Records
When you have a voice like Emmylou Harris
, you may as well sing the saddest songs you can find. Even the title of this record, All I Intended to Be
, is drenched with sadness and regret. Joined here by some of Nashville's finest musicians—Vince Gill
, Dolly Parton
, Stuart Duncan, and others—Harris delivers just what you'd expect from her at this point: a heart-wrenching album full of sad, lonely songs with lines that tug hard and cry harder.
© Rounder Records
There's a reason the Grascals have received honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) for being the Entertainer of the Year. The energy they produce through their music could likely power a small city. Their third studio album, Keep on Walkin
, keeps the good energy flowing with more of those fast, sincere bluegrass songs.
© Downtown Records
Brett Dennen is one of the most exciting, well-rounded up-and-coming singer-songwriters on the scene these days. His songs are earnest beyond earnest, like little sonic pockets of hope. So it's only fitting that his latest disc is titled Hope for the Hopeless
. On it, he grooves his way through danceable slow jams that comment on everything from love to heaven and the endless quest for peace.
© Bloodshot Records
Justin Townes Earle
—son of Steve Earle—is one of the most exciting new artists on the national folk music scene this year. Live in concert, his energy is undeniable. On record, his songs are a throwback to the classic days of classy country. From start to finish, The Good Life
is just flat-out full of great songs.
© Signature Sounds
On her last album, Kris Delmhorst took some of the most beautiful poems and some of the most gifted poets, and turned their inspiration into a collection of Americana tunes. Now, two years later, she's back to her own entirely original work, with Shotgun Singer—a collection of songs that straddles a line between low-fi indie rock and contemporary roots. In terms of comparisons, it's a little bit Iron & Wine, a little bit Ani DiFranco
© Razor & Tie
Joan Baez isn't one of the most prized American folksingers for nothing. Her voice is powerful, and her presence within the songs is remarkable. When she sings a song, it sounds more like the song is singing her. That was as true when she started her career a half-century ago as it is now, on her latest album Day After Tomorrow