Here are 19 favourite things I heard this year (in alphabetical order):
Aldous Harding Designer
Third album from the New Zealand singer-songwriter hits the mark with engaging, quirky and original folk music for the 21st century.
Angelique Kidjo Celia
The African pop queen pays tribute to Cuban musical goddess Celia Cruz, with the same rich results she had with Talking Heads’ Remain in Light.
Bruce Cockburn Crowing Ignites
With his stunning, all instrumental album, the Canadian folk legend proves his exceptional guitar playing deserves as much acclaim as his songwriting.
Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
The 19th album by the New Jersey superstar finds him conjuring up the country-tinged California sound of the 1960s and ’70s with some of his best songs in years.
Corin Raymond Dirty Mansions
The singer-songwriter from Hamilton, Ont. is the best kind of troubadour—one whose songs feel real enough to get under your skin and stay with you long afterwards.
Doug Paisley Starter Home
Paisley takes a low-key, stripped down approach on this fine album and delivers timeless country-folk gems like “Drinking With a Friend.”
Ian & Sylvia The Lost Tapes
Classic songs from the legendary duo’s folk period, with backing from their exceptional country-rock band Great Speckled Bird.
Jenny Lewis On the Line
With guests Beck, Ringo Starr, Don Was and Ryan Adams, the former Rilo Kiley leader serves up saucy and incisive confessionals.
Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka
On his third album, the soulful British singer continues to mine Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” high standards while adding his own contemplative acoustic balladry.
Orville Peck Pony
Full disclosure: this reviewer’s guitarist son is on here, but the beguiling songs and rumbling-across-the-plains baritone of country’s new mystery man make this impossible to avoid.
QuiQue Escamilla Encomienda
From the Manu Chao-like reggae vibe of the title track to the soaring ranchera “Tú Sólo Tú” (“You Only You”), the Mexican-Canadian star’s latest is packed with infectious global sounds.
Rhiannon Giddens There Is No Other
Together with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, the gifted Giddens takes her classically trained voice and minstrel banjo into chilling, otherworldly folk terrain.
Santana Africa Speaks
The Latin rock pioneer of “Oye Como Va” fame finds inspiration in the “cradle of civilization” for his 25th album, summoning a sizzling Afro-Latin fusion with help from singer Buika.
Our Native Daughters Songs of Our Native Daughters
Singers and banjoists Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell put a fresh spin on slave narratives and early minstrelsy.
Sudan Archives Athena
The Cincinnati-born, LA-based singer-violinist (born Brittney Parks) blends neo-soul, trip-hop and dreampop into an intoxicating brew on her gorgeous debut.
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Anyone who loved “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” will feast on the latest from Ezra Koenig and his bandmates, especially the joyous, S.E. Rogie-sampled “Rich Man.”
Various artists – Bulawayo Blue Yodel
The Nashville influence of Jimmie Rodgers and Jim Reeves can be heard in these high lonesome sounds from Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa in the 1950s.
Weyes Blood Titanic Rising
It’s easy to get lost in the heavily orchestrated dreampop of the California artist (born Natalie Mering), whose fourth album shimmers sonically while serving up underlying dread.
Yola – Walk Through Fire
Hailing from the English seaside village of Portishead, this country-soul sensation delivers such sunny gems as “Shady Grove” and the Dusty Springfield-like “Faraway Look.”