Here are my picks for the Top 12 folk-rooted or folk-branched albums of 2012 (including reissues). I started with the list of more than 400 albums that landed on my desk over the past year and narrowed it down to a short list of about 30. I’ve been over the short list a bunch of times and came up with several similar – not identical – Top 12 lists. Today’s list is the final one. The order might have been slightly different, and there are several other worthy albums that might have been included, had one of the other lists represented the final choice. I also took a bit of liberty by listing four reissues by one artist as a single choice.
1. Woody Guthrie, Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection (Smithsonian Folkways). The book and the third CD, which contains much previously unreleased material, make this 3-CD boxed set essential for Woody collectors. The entire set also makes for a great introduction for Woody novices to the great folksinger and songwriter in this year marking the 100th anniversary of his birth.
2. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (Columbia). Like so much of Leonard Cohen’s best work, there are layers and layers of meaning and understanding in these songs that I think will continue to reveal themselves over a period of years of repeated listening.
3. Bob Dylan – Tempest (Columbia). This is the work of a master songwriter – the master songwriter of our time – informed by half a century of his own work and by the music of what Greil Marcus called “old weird America,” the folk music and folk-rooted blues and country music which developed in various regions before spreading everywhere via recordings and migratory performers.
4. Stan Rogers – Turnaround/Between the Breaks … Live!/Northwest Passage/From Fresh Water (Borealis). Remastered and reissued versions of the final four of the five original albums Stan Rogers – in my opinion, Canada’s greatest folksinger and songwriter – recorded for his family owned record label (the first in the series was reissued in 2011).
5. Tom Russell – Heart on a Sleeve (Frontera). A remastered and reissued version of the great solo debut album – with six bonus tracks – by the artist who I’ve come to think of as the greatest songwriter of my generation.
6. Eric Bibb – Deeper in the Well (Stony Plain). Mostly recorded in Louisiana with musicians who add some Cajun and Creole influences, this is yet another inspired and inspiring set by the great acoustic blues and folk artist.
7. Maria Dunn – Piece By Piece (Distant Whisper). This suite of eight songs inspired by the waves of women immigrants who worked at the GWG clothing factory in Edmonton between 1911 and 2004 – and which is sung from some of their perspectives – is one of this year’s folk music masterpieces.
8. Anne Hills – The Things I Notice Now: Anne Hills Sings the Songs of Tom Paxton (Appleseed). This is an excellent set of some of the finest songs written by one of our finest songwriters – sung by one of our finest interpretive singers. Tom Paxton joins Anne for three duets.
Click here for my full-length review of The Things I Notice Now: Anne Hills Sings the Songs of Tom Paxton.
9. Lucy Kaplansky – Reunion (Red House). Many of these songs movingly and poignantly reflect on family relationships and the continuity of generations.
10. Kim & Reggie Harris – Resurrection Day (Appleseed). Filled with glorious harmonies, this album inspires with a message that we are all important and vital parts of a world that is so much bigger than any of us.
11. Kathy Mattea – Calling Me Home (Sugar Hill). A moving folk music album by a one-time country music hit-maker which explores her deep roots in the Appalachian Mountains.
12. Hans Theessink & Terry Evans – Delta Time (Blue Groove). A second superb collaboration by the always excellent Hans Theessink, a Dutch blues singer based in Austria, and Terry Evans, a fine blues and gospel singer originally from Mississippi.