Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 10 for 2010

Here are my picks for the Top 10 folk-rooted or folk-branched albums of 2010. I started with the list of 408 albums that landed on my desk and over the past year and narrowed it down to a short list of about 35 worthy contenders. I’ve been over the list four times over the past week and have come up with four similar, but not identical, Top 10 lists. I decided today’s list will be the final one. The order might have been different, and there are half a dozen or so other albums that may have been included had one of the other days’ lists had been the final choice.

1. Natalie Merchant- Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch). A stunning two-CD set of 26 songs that Merchant set to music using the words of various 19thth and 20th century poets. The settings, using a large cast of revolving back-up musicians, variously range from Celtic to Klezmer, from Appalachian folk to blues and rock. Click here for my full-length review.

2. Tom Russell- Cowboy’d All to Hell (Frontera). The first eight songs on this under-the-radar release are re-mastered versions of Tom’s original songs from Cowboy Real (including duets with Ian Tyson on “Navajo Rug” and “Gallo del Cielo”), the first of his great cowboy song collections. The other nine songs are newly-recorded duo versions – with guitarist Thad Beckman – of eight cowboy songs originally recorded on other albums and one new song. These are vivid, cinematic portraits of the old and new west by a master singer-songwriter.

3. Bob Dylan- The Witmark Demos 1962-1964: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9 (Columbia/Legacy). These publishing demos, all solo performances recorded when Dylan was in his early-20s, and including Dylan’s versions of 15 songs he’s never officially released before, are well- worth listening to for clues to the development of the most essential of all 20th century songwriters.Click here for my full-length review.

4. Ron Hynes- Stealing Genius (Borealis). Ron calls the album Stealing Genius because most of the songs are inspired by specific works written by poets and novelists, mostly from Newfoundland along with one American. Stealing Genius represents the finest set of original songwriting to be released in Canada this year. Click here for my full-length review.

5. Mary Chapin Carpenter- The Age of Miracles (Zoë/Rounder). Most of these songs form an intimate conversation between Carpenter and the listener. It is, perhaps, her finest albums ever. Click here for my full-length review.

6. Eric Bibb- Booker’s Guitar (Telarc). Eric’s magnificent singing, his deft guitar work (along with Grant Dermody's equally great harmonica playing) and Eric's original songs can’t help but make anyone feel better about life. Click here for my full-length review.

7. The Once- The Once (Borealis). The Once, a trio from Newfoundland that plays a mixture of traditional material and first-rate contemporary songs is my choice for new discovery of the year. Their debut album includes some spine-tingling a cappella arrangements as well as some superb instrumental work. Click here for my full-length review.

8. Johnny Cash- American VI: Ain’t No Grave (American/Lost Highway). Recorded during the year before his 2003 passing, the final set in Cash’s series of essential “American” albums, these songs are an intimate, poignant farewell from a great artist. Click here for my full-length review.

9. Catherine Russell- Inside This Heart of Mine (World Village). On her third album, Catherine Russell’s relaxed and confident alto pulls listeners right into the mostly classic jazz and blues tunes anchored by inventive arrangements steeped in various shades and styles of blues, jazz, swing and folk music. Click here for my full-length review.

10. Various artists- Jug Band Extravaganza (Folk Era). An infectious live concert recording that features various combinations of Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur, John Sebastian, David Grisman, Maria Muldaur and the Barbecue Orchestra on terrific solo, duo, trio and full group performances of jug band, blues, jazz and old-time country classics. See the new issue of Sing Out! magazine for my full-length review.

---Mike Regenstreif


  1. Great to see Mary Chapin Carpenter's album on this list. She's still making great music and it's good to see it recognized.

  2. Don't hesitate to treat yourself to Eric Bibb's Booker's Guitar. I saw Eric, live, last Saturday Night at The Fly by Night Musicians Club in Fremantle, Western Australia. Great gig, had to buy the albumn. You won't be disappointed.