10. Cath and Phil Tyler – Some Heavy Hand
A set of unreleased recordings and compilation tracks from the Newcastle-based couple glowing with the spirit of the best Anglo-Americana (Cath is originally from New Jersey). The arrangements on Sunshine and Warfare are supple and direct, as if they’re fixing your gaze, with her voice adding beautiful, arresting rallying cries.
9. Various – In the Echo: Field Recordings from Earlsfort Terrace
Recorded in disused stairwells, corridors and a former morgue in Dublin’s National Hall, this project by Irish musician Ross Turner plumbs the atmospheric possibilities of traditional music. From the extraordinary raw vocals of Lisa O’Neill on opening ballad, Peggy Gordon, it takes in Irish-Peruvian singers, country songs about Andalucía and breakthrough Irish artists such as Villagers. Read the full review.
8. James Yorkston and the Second Hand Orchestra – The Wide, Wide River
A gorgeous album of instrumentals recorded over three days by the Scottish singer-songwriter, acting as musical director with the Swedish collective. Yorkston brought largely unknown pieces to the group, ruminating on the past and ageing, embroidered inventively by cello, violin and nyckelharpa.
7. Patterson Dipper – Unearthing
An enchanting set of English classical songs arranged in the folk revival style, anchored by James Patterson’s handsome vocals and John Dipper’s resonant viola d’amore. Its influences include Thomas Hardy poems, Janet Baker renditions of Ivor Gurney arrangements, and Playford country dance tunes, with tamboura, cello and harmonium giving the songs agile spines.
6. Yasmin Williams – Urban Driftwood
A meditative instrumental narrative of the US in 2020, written and performed by one of the country’s most talented young guitarists. Folk, pop and west African influences pulse and ripple through the mix, with Taryn Wood’s cello and Amadou Kouyate’s kora adding texture and weather.
5. Various – Future Folk: Friendly Faces; Different Spaces
The ambient fringes of folk flower on this small-label anthology, bringing together online lockdown collaborations and home studio recordings. Breakthrough artists of recent years like Bróna McVittie and Andrew Tuttle offer, sun-struck instrumentals, while new talents like Me Lost Me and Scott William Urquhart impress in company. Read the full review.
4. Doran – Doran
Influenced by Appalachian ballads, eastern European chants and pagan rituals, this American collective’s debut release is an intimate set recorded in an attic, voices and instruments mingling in the darkness. A capellas and banjo-driven miniatures (led by Elizabeth LaPrelle from Anna & Elizabeth) delicately pin down the mood, while wayward birds and deer people populate its peculiar landscapes. Read the full review.
3. Khasi-Cymru Collective – Sai-thaiñ Ki Sur (The Weaving of Voices )
Also recording as the Gentle Good, the talented, curious Gareth Bonello travelled to the Khasi hills of north-east India for this collaborative project, exploring the conflicted legacy of 19th-century Welsh missionaries in wonderful music. Traditional Indian instruments transform Welsh hymns, improvisations reveal the intricate connections between both cultures and political subjugation is tackled in unsparing lyrics. Read the full review.
2. Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi – They’re Calling Me Home
An album of beautiful, punchy lockdown laments, delivered by an American and an Italian from their adopted country of Ireland, both pining for home. Giddens’ star power is undeniable, her vocals twisting from gospel blues on Appalachian ballad O Death to delicate opera, somehow without ego. Her banjo playing both chastises and charms. Read the full review.
1. John Francis Flynn – I Would Not Live Always
Released in high summer, this brilliant debut has got even better as the year has rolled on, its songs’ heavy atmospheres feeling increasingly meaningful, ancient and eerie. Flynn’s voice will not be for all comers – it’s no-nonsense, without fanciful embroidery – but it delivers traditionals such as Lovely Joan and Shallow Brown with tenderness. Tin whistles, fiddles and tape loops create a fascinating new landscape of folk-horror vibrations. Read the full review.
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