It’s that time of year again when, as an editor, I have the joy of selecting my favorite Top 100 Folk Music Albums of 2020 which have been covered on Folk Radio UK by our team over the past year. Of course, as all of the albums featured on Folk Radio UK in 2020 only play here in the first place because we enjoyed them, so it wasn’t easy to narrow that number down to just 100. Like some of the 10 personal reviews lists which will soon follow, all are selected from the over 400 reviews we have featured on Folk Radio UK over the past year.
Inevitably, there are a number of releases I’ve covered in the news and in my mixes that I would have liked to see in this list but since they haven’t been reviewed, aren’t included…hence the one of the reasons we are always looking for more great writers to join our team. The list does not include EPs, compilations, reissues or live albums.
If 2020 will be remembered as an exceptional year with our daily lives transformed by the pandemic, it has on the other hand been a strong year for music despite the challenges posed by social distancing – recording and production complications, as well as loss of revenue as the gigging economy came to a halt.
Below are excerpts from reviews as well as music links (mainly Bandcamp). So please also consider buying albums and supporting featured artists. Click on an album title to read the full review, it will open in a new window to make it easy to return to the list. As in previous years, the albums are listed in alphabetical order and not in order of merit.
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Best Folk Music Albums of 2020
Alasdair Roberts: Songs from my Childhood
The Songs Of My Boyhood won’t be the only album of reworked material recorded in 2020: the nature of isolation will likely cause a whole host of musical artists to re-examine their formative years. But the strength of Alasdair Roberts’ songwriting, and the fact that even his early songs have a melodic and lyrical maturity that most musicians will never achieve, means this is sure to be one of the best.
Alex Rex: Andromeda
At some point in the future, it will become possible, if not necessary, to define Alex Neilson’s place among the finest songwriters of this still-young century…Andromeda, like its predecessor, is a challenging, brilliant and gratifying snapshot of human restlessness. . This is the last song, pass the maskends with the paradoxical refrain “nothing can heal or destroy you better than time”, and while it is not for us to speculate how time will treat Neilson, it seems certain that the stature of this formidable album will continue to grow even as the scars it describes begin to heal.
Allysen Callery: Ghost Show
ghost people casts a bewitching spell, impossible to resist, and yet evokes subtleties and substance that demand your further investigation (you have to give it more than its purely linear time to make its mark). Because, despite all the changing nature of music, there is an understated and consistent quality to the sonic world that Allysen inhabits.
Amy LaVere: Blue Paint
In fifteen years and four albums, not to mention other long performers in collaboration with others, she has proven herself to be a top-notch songwriter with a personal punch and a disarming lightness. Playing his double bass and singing with that sweet honeycomb but lived and streetwise voice, his albums are carefully selected, mixing original songs with eclectic but always complementary covers. Once again Amy LaVere has delivered a record that’s more than just a selection of songs, it’s a work of art in its own right…an album that will enrich any music collection, go for it now people.
Painting a portrait of his hometown, Andrew Tuttle illustrates his own ability to imbue these places with a sense of wonder and worldliness. What emerges is not just a vision of Alexandra, but a watercolor full of the wonder of what comes from the hands of a top notch acoustic artist.
Aoife Nessa Frances – Land Without Junction
Aoife Nessa Frances tapped into a natural source of expression and made the strongest debut.
This music is meant to alert your inner senses, the silent self that occupies a less defined dreamscape and it works spectacularly well if you’re in the mood for that journey. The album’s finale is also the title track, over six minutes of breathless conclusion. The opening lines are sort of perfect. “You were with me in my dreams last night, you stayed a while”.
Ariel Sharratt & Mathias Kom: never work
Never Work is an album about how employment and production change as capitalism destroys itself. Given how quickly this change is happening, there’s always the danger that a project like this will seem stale before it hits the shelves, especially in light of recent uncertainties. But Kom and Sharratt get around that by creating an imaginary future, and imagination is key here: it’s a future populated by utterly believable characters in oddly recognizable storylines, but the wealth of artistic and personal detail means these songs are more than just speculative microfiction. . Never Work is by far Kom’s most passionate and political lyrical statement to date. Augmented by Sharratt’s superb and understated singing and musicianship, it shows just how relevant protest music is and how much fun it can be.
Bill Callahan: Gold Record
Where last year was outstanding and sprawling Shepherd in a sheepskin vest was a seemingly close and personal set of songs built around significant shifts in Bill Callahanhis own life, gold record sees the master composer look up to create a set of ten short stories or vignettes. Patient, pensive and meditative, as well as witty, ironic and razor sharp, these fully realized sketches are Callahan at the top of his game. Oh, how I love this album.
Blue Rose Code: With Deepest Healings
With the minimum of fuss, Blue Rose Code has assembled a rich collection of studio recordings that demonstrate a talent for old-school songwriting, where craftsmanship is combined with life experience. real, so that each listener can identify in the songs a little piece of themselves, and thus better understand the writer thanks to this. Each new album has been a progression from the last, and ‘With Healings…’ is no different. He should be on everyone’s year-end list without fail.
Bob Dylan: rough and rowdy manners
Nearing 80, Bob Dylan remains a marvel, able to paint sonic images that excite the senses, continuing to bring to life a medium that doesn’t tend to value longevity. Yet it continues, remaining relevant and true to its vision. Rough And Rowdy Ways can’t just be categorized as an end-of-period hit, it’s much more than that. It defies age, suggesting that we look beyond the easy answers and keep trying to figure out how we relate to an ever-changing world.