WALKING IN THE RAIN (Mixtape)

Enjoy this mixtape with some of the best and most melancholic folk songs released so far in 2019. I tried to compose the ideal soundtrack for a walk in the rain, at sunset. Eight songs, thirty minutes of musical beauty and delicacy.




If you liked this mixtape, I recommend to have a look to THE BEST FOLK OF 2019 and to follow the playlist THE INDIE FOLK RADAR.


THE BEST FOLK OF 2019 (Episode 1)

Since the beginning of 2019, we could enjoy a good number of valid and interesting folk music albums and we are already able to point out which are the best records of the year (up to now). The first episode of this chart refers to the first quarter of 2019 and it features five different albums spanning from indie to traditional Scottish folk. Enjoy this article and stay tuned for future updates!



#5) “Tomb”, by Angelo De Augustine

Indie Folk

Sometimes you meet with artists, or records, that manage to transmit you strong emotions independently from the specific music they play. Tomb, which is the latest LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, represents one of these cases. The LP is third of a discography which includes his self-released debut album, 2011’s Spirals of Silence, and his previous 2017’s LP named Swim Inside the Moon.

Tomb develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. There are two ways to cope whit that: we give up or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before.

Listening to the music of Angelo De Augustine is like enjoying the recitation of a poem, and in this sense his work is actually in between these two different forms of art.

The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with additional details on the record and also a few videos to see.



#4) “Those Who Roam”, by Claire Hastings

Traditional Scottish Folk

The biography of young Scottish folksinger and songwriter Claire Hastings says that despite already at primary school her teachers noticed how good was her voice, she didn’t pursue music until she arrived at the University. In a few years, however, she managed to compensate for all the time lost and, impressively, she was named “BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year” even before releasing her debut album (Between River and Railway). This year Hastings has released her second LP, named Those Who Roam, and we may enjoy once again the talent of one of the most promising figures of contemporary folk.

The element that stands out the most in this record is for sure the beautiful voice of the singer, while the musical part is not always at the same level. Those Who Roam is like a nice walk in a flowery park, under the sun. A sun that, however, still can’t make you feel warm, it’s only a slight sensation that you have on the skin.

Those Who Roam is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and a couple of songs to enjoy.



#3) “Ode to a Friend” by Old Sea Brigade

INDIE FOLK


After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-length record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.

Ode to a Friend is an album that’s absolutely poetic and fascinating, something which has the capacity to take us away from the chaos, but which also requires extremely quiet environments in order to be fully appreciated. And if most of the tracks of the LP are still built on Cramer’s finger-picked guitar and echo effects, for the first time we enjoy in his songs also a wider palette of sounds which includes notes from a distant piano or gentle layers of synths.

Ode to a Friend is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with videos and other information.



#2) “Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome

DARK FOLK

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is the latest release from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, who operates under the name of Rome. This is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is an album that manages to be at the same time profound, conceptual but still absolutely enjoyable to listen to. From a musical point of view, the album doesn’t deviate substantially from the dark folk that has been offered in all the previous releases from Reuter, with the exception of an increased presence – in the new album – of “martial” elements. The LP starts with a sequence of impressive and absolutely brilliant songs, gifted by some of the most beautiful melodies we heard in recent times.

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with videos and other details.



Best Folk Album of 2019 (so far)

“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin

INDIE FOLK / INDIE POP

Julia Jacklin is an Australian singer and songwriter based in Sydney, and she has released in late February 2019 her second LP, Crushing, which follows her 2016’s impressive debut studio album, Don’t Let the Kids Win. Similarly to what happened on the occasion of her first record, the first thing which impresses of Crushing is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.

From a musical point of view, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums. Rarely we hear a piano. The simplicity of the arrangement, however, is compensated by warm and beautiful sounds of all the instruments, which in the end enhance the sense of intimacy of the tracks.

Crushing is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album was included in this blog’s Best New Music category and here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and also a couple of singles to enjoy.



All the best indie folk songs that were released since the beginning of the year are collected in the Playlist called The INDIE FOLK Radar, which features all the artists included in this chart bat also other remarkable songs from artists like Sun Kil Moon, Meat Puppets, Mandoline Orange, and many others. Listen to it and follow it: the playlist is periodically updated with new tracks.


The INDIE FOLK Radar (Episode #2/2019)

One month has passed since the first episode of the The INDIE FOLK Radar and we have another group of interesting albums to review in this periodic digest with the most relevant Indie Folk releases. In the first episode I introduced the albums released by Old Sea Brigade, Angelo De Augustine, Better Oblivion Community Center, William Tyler and Mandolin Orange. For this second episode I’ve selected other five LPs, most of themreleased during the month of February 2019. Adding these five new records to the ones reviewed in the previous episode, it’s possible to say that the beginning of the year was absolutely positive for what concerns folk music.

As far as geography is concerned, we have one artist from Australia (Julia Jacklin), one from Luxembourg (Jérôme Reuter‘s Rome), one from England (Rosie Carney), and two from the U.S.A. (Jessica Pratt and Mark Kozelek‘s Sun Kil Moon).

Enjoy this new episode of the indie folk music radar and stay tuned for future updates!



“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin


I want to start this digest with one of the best albums that were released since the beginning of the year: it’s Crushing, the second LP by Australian singer and songwriter Julia Jacklin.

When you start listening to this record, the first thing which will impress you is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.

Musically speaking, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk, and in fact the LP has been featured in both the two categories of this blog. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums.

The album was included in the exclusive SBG’s category of the Best New Music, and you can read from here the full review that I wrote about the LP.



“Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome


Among the most interesting folk releases of this period we had the new album from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, the artist who operates under the name of Rome. Le Ceneri di Heliodoro (“The ashes of Heliodoro”) is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.

From a musical point of view, Reuter’s production can be generally classified as dark folk, but beyond tags and definitions, what’s really impressive in the LP is the sequence of emotional and brilliant songs which open the album. For the lovers of folk music who are not familiar with the music of Rome, this is definitely a good opportunity to hear something different from what we’re used to listening, and to enjoy some of the most beautiful melodies that were written in recent times.

There is a dedicated article for this album, you can access it from here.



“Bare”, by Rosie Carney


I approached with great curiosity the debut album by Rosie Carney, a young singer-songwriter that is getting great attention as one of the most promising talents of the British folk scene. And effectively the songs of her first LP, named Bare, highlight a musical sensibility and also a maturity of style that have very little to do with an artist that has just left her teenage phase.

Almost all of the eleven songs of Bare have an extremely essential arrangement: acoustic guitar, vocals, a very light and almost imperceptible layer of keyboards and some rare appearance of delicate instruments such as the xylophone. Only in a few cases, we hear drums and electric guitar. Such kind of instrumentation has the effect to highlight the beauty of the artist’s voice, which is perhaps the central point of the whole album. More than the melodies, in fact, which are very simple and linear, it is the combination of Carney’s angelic voice and her intimate lyrics that capture the listener’s attention.

The tones are quiet and meditative, the rhythms slow. This guarantees a stylistic coherence for the whole record, but at the same time makes the listening experience a little flat, even because there are only a few melodies that emerge from the memory after the album ends. Remembering that Bare is a debut album, however, the final judgment is definitely positive and Rosie Carney remains one of those artists who are worthy of our attention.



“Quiet Signs”, by Jessica Pratt


Jessica Pratt is a singer-songwriter who has never chosen to chase success and fame through the simplest ways. Instead, she has developed through the years a very personal and delicate style of music that requires a special dedication, but which can provide the listener makes the experience of listening to her songs something really special and absolutely fascinating.

Quiet Signs, her third and most recent album, is a collection of pieces that are so fragile and intimate that they really need the right conditions to be appreciated in full, and to protect the beauty of the small details from the disorder and the background noise of our routines.

The style of Pratt’s songs is characterized by a strong retro feeling and also by the adoption of instrumentation and an arrangement that are really simple and minimal. This allows her particular and angelic voice to illuminate the scene, although the record, as a whole, may result excessively linear and at times flat.



“I Also Want to Die in New Orleans”, by Sun Kil Moon


Album after album, year after year, what’s offered within every new record released by Sun Kil Moon is gradually moving out from the domain of “music” and entering into that of prose. A song like I’m not laughing at you, which is one of the tracks of the band’s new LP I Also Want to Die in New Orleans, can be a good example of what I’m saying. The song begins with four initial chords on an out-of-tune guitar, and from that moment, if we exclude a few sparse moments of “music”, what we hear is just a single guitar string that’s picked with a syncopated rhythm, on top of which Mark Kozelek whispers and tells one his many stories. That’s all: one note, a few dissonant chords, and Kozelek’s voice. For almost 12 minutes.

Musically speaking, the new album by Sun Kil Moon is one of the most minimal and essential in the band’s discography. The attention is almost totally on the lyrics, with the sounds playing an absolutely secondary role. This style certainly has something fascinating, and there are also moments in which the faint and almost imperceptible musical lines manage to generate particular and relatively intriguing atmospheres. But for my personal tastes, we’ve gone a little too far.

And frankly speaking it’s a pity, because there was a moment, between 2012’s Among the Leaves 2017’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, in which I was really impressed by the charm and uniqueness of Sun Kil Moon’s style of folk.

I felt obliged to mention I Also Want to Die in New Orleans in this review of the most important releases of the last months. But in all honesty, this is not something that I think I’ll listen many more times in the future.



If you liked this article, you will love the folk music playlists that I’m curating on Spotify. One is MODERN SONGWRITERS, the playlist which features the most interesting releases from contemporary singer-songwriters. The second is named THE INDIE FOLK RADAR and it’s the one dedicated exclusively to the best songs of 2019. Enjoy!


Best New Music: “Crushing” by Julia Jacklin

Sometimes I find myself thinking about how many groups or artists try to reach the hearts of their fans with compulsively conceptual songs, or stylistic choices that want to be innovative, but that ultimately do nothing else than putting an unnecessary distance between the music and the listener. Then, all of a sudden, a young musician arrives, with just her voice and a guitar, and she sweeps away all these overcomplicated artefacts with the simplicity of beautiful songs that speaks directly to the heart.

Julia Jacklin is an Australian singer and songwriter based in Sydney, and she has released in late February 2019 her second LP, Crushing, which follows her 2016’s impressive debut studio album, Don’t Let the Kids Win. Similarly to what happened on the occasion of her first record, the first thing which impresses of Crushing is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.

“Crushing” is the second LP by the Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin. The album was released on February 22nd, 2019, by Liberation Records.

When you listen Julia Jacklin’s new record, it really seems to be alongside an old friend of ours who decided, on a rainy day, to tell us about some of the strongest emotions she has experienced in the last few years, and she does it with passion, transport, and using a musical language that’s simple, as it is effective and confidential.

This album came from spending two years touring and being in a relationship, and feeling like I never had any space of my own. For a long time I felt like my head was full of fear and my body was just this functional thing that carried me from point A to B, and writing these songs was like rejoining the two.

Julia Jacklin, from her Facebook page
Julia Jacklin

From a musical point of view, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums. Rarely we hear a piano. The simplicity of the arrangement, however, is compensated by warm and beautiful sounds of all the instruments, which in the end enhance the sense of intimacy of the tracks.

As far as the style of the songs is concerned, Crushing alternates between poetical moments with meditative and confidential tones, and others where the rhythms rise (relatively) and the songs embrace a rock and roll feeling. The first category of songs is that one that impressed me the most, and which in my opinion makes this LP so beautiful and gorgeous. The opening song of the LP, Body, is perhaps one of the most expressive and engaging tracks I’ve heard in recent times. The song tells of the end of a relationhsip, and of how the destiny can have an impact on our lifes in the most unpredictable ways.

On the album-opening lead single “Body,” Jacklin proves the power of that approach, turning out a mesmerizing vocal performance even as she slips into the slightest murmur. A starkly composed portrait of a breakup, the song bears an often-bracing intimacy, a sense that you’re right in the room with Jacklin as she lays her heart out. And as Body wanders and drifts, Jacklin establishes Crushing as an album that exists entirely on its own time, a work that’s willfully unhurried.

Excerpt from Julia Jacklin’s Facebook page

Crushing is an album filled with emotions and played with passion and elegance. Julia Jacklin is improving her style and storytelling skills year after year. We can really expect the best from her future career.

I’m giving the LP an overall rating of 8/10. As I said, I was particularly impressed by the most intimate and delicate songs of the LP, which include the already mentioned Body, Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You, Convention, Turn Me Down, and Comfort.


Crushing is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.



Songs from Crushing are now featured in a number of different playlists among those I curate on Spotify, namely: CRESTS OF WAVES (the softer side of music), THE INDIE FOLK RADAR (the best of Indie Folk since the beginning of 2019), THE INDIE POP RADAR (the best of Indie Pop since the beginning of 2019), and MODERN SONGWRITERS. Check these out and follow the playlists, these are updated frequently with new songs.



ANGELS OF FOLK (a Mixtape with the most beautiful voices of Contemporary Folk)

Enjoy this precious selection of the best folk songs released in the last couple of years, featuring the most beautiful voices we could enjoy in recent times. Eleven songs, for 40 minutes of uninterrupted musical poetry.



The tracklist includes songs from Adrianne Lenker, Claire Hastings, Emilie Mover, Heater Taylor, Joan Baez, Karine Polwart, Marissa Nadler, Michelle Mandico, Olivia Chaney, Rosie Carney, and Sarah McQuaid.



If you liked the mixtape, you could also enjoy the playlist Modern Songwriters, which collects the latest and best songs from contemporary songwriters.


Quick Review: “Le Ceneri di Heliodoro” by Rome

There is a great album among those released in this first part of the year that I was in danger of missing: sometimes the most precious LPs are covered by the mass of mediocre publications.

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is the latest release from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, who operates under the name of Rome. This is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times. Le Ceneri di Heliodoro (“The ashes of Heliodoro”), in particular, addressed the concept of a city under siege and it uses this dramatic scenario to speak about the uproar and the confusion which reigns in contemporary politics, with clear references to Europe’s dissolving unity, its relations to the US, and the fragile fraternity of its nations. Other secondary themes that emerge from the songs are those related to nationalism and utopia.


From a musical point of view, Rome’s new album doesn’t deviate substantially from the dark folk that has been offered in all the previous releases from Reuter, with the exception of an increased presence – in the new album – of “martial” elements. The LP starts with a sequence of impressive and absolutely brilliant songs, gifted by some of the most beautiful melodies we heard in recent times. As the LP proceeds towards its central and final parts, the overall tension begins to fade, and in the end what it’s kept in our memory is the majestic incipit of the album.

This city shall bring a purifying fire
For the world entire
And of all of our sin
Of its beauty and splendor
Now and forever
So now watch us try and reconcile salt and mind

(from “A New Unfolding”)

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is an album that manages to be at the same time profound, conceptual but still absolutely enjoyable to listen to. In addition to that, for those who’re not familiar with this folk project, the LP may be a good opportunity to hear something different from what we’re used to playing in our stereos. For who’s already a fans of Jérôme Reuter, Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is another valuable entry in an already remarkable discography.

My overall rating for the LP is 7.5/10. Highlights: A New Unfolding and Who Only Europe Know.

Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.


The INDIE FOLK Radar (Episode #1/2019)

Indie folk is an extremely heterogeneous genre of music that embraces many different styles and arrangements, but which in general gives a lot of satisfactions. And if we look at the number of good records that have been published only in the first weeks of the year, we can really have great expectations for 2019.

I’m presenting in this article a selection of five albums that were published in the period which spans from the beginning of the year and the first week of February. This is not of course an exhaustive list of everything taht was released so far; the albums that I’m introducing in the following, however, may be easily considered the most relevant of the period of interest.

Let’s start with the first record, and remember to visit the blog periodically for the future updates of the folk music radar.



“Ode to a Friend”, by Old Sea Brigade


After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-lenght record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.

The music in Ode to a Friend is extremely delicate and introspective, and there is a persistent note of sadness that impregnates most of the songs (the record tells of a friend of the artist who committed suicide). The result is a collection of pieces that maybe don’t have the brilliance and fluidity to become memorable songs, but still have the capacity to make us think, and dream.

My review of the LP is available here.



“Tomb”, by Angelo De Augustine


Tomb is the new LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, the third of his career, and it’s value goes beyond the mere analysis of the musical aspect. The album, in fact, develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. When this happens, there are two ways to reacto: we give up, or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before. This message is carried out through simple sketches of melodies, which make Tomb a delicate but also fragile work.

You can read here my review of the album.



“Better Oblivion Community Center”, by Better Oblivion Community Center


In recent years we have witnessed many interesting cases of couples of artists who decided to join artistically and produce folk music, one of the most recent and succesful cases was that of Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, but there are many other examples. Among the newest duos that have been formed we have the one composed by American indie rocker Phoebe Bridgers and American singer-songwriter Conor Oberst. The two have started a collaboration under the name of Better Oblivion Community Center, and released a self-titled album in late January 2019.

The album is quite interesting especially for the fact that the style of music varies a lot from song to song: there are melodic acoustic ballads, reaatively experimental pieces with electronic inserts, intimate songs alongside rock-oriented tunes. The same characteristic, from another point of view, may be seen also as one of the limits of this work, which in the end doesn’t show a well-established and recognizable style. It’s as if the two artists haven’t yet got that musical alchemy for which the blending of the individual styles and backgrounds produces something new, and different from the simple sum of the two parts.

For sure there is so much potential in this duo. Ideally in their future works the music will be more homogeneous and original than today.



“Goes West”, by William Tyler


Among the less acclaimed but still interesting publications of the last few weeks I can certainly includethe new solo album by William Tyler, a talented guitarist who’s playing indie folk since he was very young. In 2010 he stared a solo career and since then he’s publishing LPs with impressive regularity: one new album every three years. The last one, named Goes West, offers a collection of gentle and easy listening instrumental tunes.

William Tyler’s style of music has definitely become softer when compared to his early albums, and the acoustic guitar today has almost completely replaced the electric one. Tyler’s melodies are extremely light and simple, and they somehow struggle to sustain 40 minutes of completely instrumental music. However, some of the songs of the LP are still catchy and enjoyable to listen to. The first track of the album, Alpine Star, is definitely one of the best of the record.



“Tides of a Teardrop”, by Mandolin Orange


Many times we get excited for complex, deep and articulated records, but there are moments when we need something simpler and more direct. These are the cases where albums like Tides of a Teardrop seem to be made on purpose.

The new album by American folk duo Mandolin Orange shines for the magical kind of beauty that’s generated by the combination of guitar with mandolin, which are the two main components of the band’s sound, on top of which the gentle voices of Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin tell of simple but intimate stories.

From a musical point of view, the songs of the LP move with ease among the typical styles of American traditional music, from appalachian folk to country, but always maintaning an appreciable delicacy of sound and an enjoyable lightness of the arrangements. In all the songs you can also feel how strong is the harmony reached by Marlin and Frantz, something which tells us of years and years of playing together, and sharing the same passion for folk music. The two artists play and sing as they were one, and this is the secret which allows the songs of Tides of a Teardrop to stay simple, but beautiful.



Enjoy the best indie folk songs that were released since the beginning of 2019 in the playlist The INDIE FOLK Radar:


Quick Review: “Those Who Roam”, by Claire Hastings

The biography of young Scottish folksinger and songwriter Claire Hastings says that despite already at primary school her teachers noticed how good was her voice, she didn’t pursue music until she arrived at the University. In a few years, however, she managed to compensate for all the time lost and, impressively, she was named “BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year” even before releasing her debut album (Between River and Railway)

This year Claire Hastings has released her second LP, named Those Who Roam, and we may enjoy once again the talent of one of the most promising figures of contemporary folk.


The music of Those Who Roam represents a gentle and serene version of folk, as evidenced by the fact that most of the songs bring with them a cheerful and positive spirit, while only a couple of songs are touched by shadows and melancholy. The LP is nice to hear and it higlights the good work that was done by all the musicians that were called to support: Jenn Butterworth on guitar, Laura Wilkie on fiddle, Thomas Gibbs on piano and Andrew Waite on accordion.

The element that stands out the most in this record, however, remains the beautiful voice of the singer, and this is perhaps also the limit of the album. Basically all the songs of Those Who Roam are nice and graceful, but some of them, in the end, don’t manage to really touch the depths of your soul.

My overall rating for the album is 6/10. Those Who Roam is like a nice walk in a flowery park, under the sun. A sun that, however, still can’t make you feel warm, it’s only a slight sensation that you have on the skin.

My favorite songs are the opening track The Lothian Hairst, King of California and Seven Gypsies.


Claire Hastings’s new album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.


The Lothian Hairst, from Claire Hastings’ new LP, is now featured in MELANCHOLIC FOLK. Check it out.


Quick Review: “Tomb” by Angelo De Augustine

Sometimes you meet with artists, or records, that manage to transmit you strong emotions independently from the specific music they play. Tomb, which is the latest LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, represents one of these cases. The LP is third of a discography which includes his self-released debut album, 2011’s Spirals of Silence, and his previous 2017’s LP named Swim Inside the Moon.

Tomb develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. There are two ways to cope whit that: we give up or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before.

Throughout our lives we bury many dead things in our hearts and minds. There they go to rest and hopefully are reborn as something beautiful for the world to behold.

A. De Augustine, from his webpage

This album is, at its core, a prayer for hope and clarity, and a prayer for love

A. De Augustine, from Tomb’s Bandcamp page

It’s easy to guess that this subject is deeply related to the artist’s personal life. As he explains in his website, as a teenager De Augustine dreamed of being a professional soccer player and even reached the international circuit before being derailed by an injury that left him unable to play. Soon after, a friend of the family gifted him a guitar and his dedication to soccer was replaced with singing and songwriting.


Tomb reflects a beginning for Angelo — both emotionally and in his career. It’s a motion towards positivity, addressing lost love, the worthwhile cost of honesty, and the ramifications of regret. In the end, Tomb isn’t about burying or hiding something away, it’s about opening the seal and letting something new emerge. It’s about telling people how you feel when you feel it, instead of burying everything over the span of years. Like the best heartbreak albums, Tomb transforms inward pain into universal beauty. The songs have helped him to heal and now they can help those who hear them.

An excerpt from the album’s Bandcamp page

The songs of the album are built on simple, I would say “basic”, sketches of melodies, played by Augustine on the guitar or the piano, on top of which we have gentle layers of synths and his ethereal voice. Rarely, we hear some simple beats in the background. Such an essential arrangement certainly gives intimacy and lightness to the songs, but at the same time makes the music of the album extremely fragile. We really need to be in a condition of absolute tranquility, and silence, to enjoy the songs of Tomb. Otherwise, all the delicacy and the intimacy of this music are destined to succumb under the chaos that surrounds us.


Listening to the music of Angelo De Augustine is like enjoying the recitation of a poem, and in this sense his work is actually in between these two different forms of art. However, I’ve personally experienced how these lyrics tend to slip away into the background noise as I gave up some of my attention from the music.

Musically speaking, my overall rating for the LP is 6/10. But as I said at the beginning of the review, there are things that cannot be measured with numbers. And the universal message that’s carried by this work goes beyond a simple collection of short songs.

The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify.

My favorite songs are You Needed Love, I Needed You and the title track Tomb.

An alternate version of “You Needed Love, I Needed You”, played with Sufjan Stevens on the piano


Angelo De Augustine is featured in MODERN SONGWRITERS, the playlist I’m curating on Spotify with all the best and latest songs from contemporary songwriters.


Quick Review: “Ode to a Friend” by Old Sea Brigade

After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-lenght record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.

The music in Ode to a Friend is extremely delicate and introspective, and there is a persistent note of sadness that impregnates most of the songs (the record tells of a friend of the artist who committed suicide). The result is a collection of pieces that maybe don’t have the brilliance and fluidity to become memorable songs, but still have the capacity to make us think, and dream.

“Hope” is the lead single of Old Sea Brigade’s new LP.

From a musical point of view, Old Sea Brigade’s new album is characterized by a clear expansion of the sonic palette that has been used by Cramer to craft his songs. Many of the pieces are still built on Cramer’s finger-picked guitar and echo effects, but there are also a few other songs where we can enjoy notes from a distant piano or gentle layers of synths. Everything, however, is contained into a bubble of sound that never explodes. The music of this LP seems always controlled, at times ethereal or whispered. This makes Ode to a Friend an album that’s absolutely poetic and fascinating, something which has the capacity to take us away from the chaos, but which also requires extremely quiet environments in order to be fully appreciated.

A relative defect that I can express about this LP is related to the melodic aspect of the songs. The delicacy of the sounds and the dreamy atmospheres make the music of Ode to a Friend absolutely elegant and enjoyable to hear. In some of the songs, however, we miss a good and “catchy” melody to accompany the suggestive lyrics that are sung by Cramer, and the result is that at times the form seems to take over the substance. Fortunately this occurs only sporadically and there are many good songs that keep high the emotional impact of the record.

Ode to a Friend may be streamed from Spotify.

Highlights: Seen a Ghost, Cigarette and the lead single Hope.



Songs from Ode to a Friend are now featured in CRESTS OF WAVES and MODERN SONGWRITERS, which are two of the playlists that I’m curating on Spotufy. Enjoy!


Quick Review: “Turn to Fray” by Hickory Signals

It may seem a bit strange to review a debut album from a new folk collective and then, after just a few months, finding two of the full-time members of the same project releasing another debut LP under a different name. But that’s exactly what happened. Laura Ward and Adam Ronchetti are two talented English folk musicians that founded in 2014 the band named Hickory Signals.  The duo has released so far a couple of interesting EPs and they eventually released in November 2018 their first LP, named Turn to Fray. Earlier this year, however, Ward and Ronchetti contributed to the publication of The Crowing, the debut LP from Bird in the Belly, which was reviewed and also included in one of the recent charts of this blog.

It’s a strange circumstance, as I said, but at the same time it gives us the possibility to verify how the same artists can offer, even if in very similar contexts, different interpretations of the same genre of music. More precisely, after that we appreciated the formal and accurate process through which Bird and the Belly have transposed into music ancient and forgotten legends of the British tradition, in the case of Hickory Signals we can enjoy a defintely more relaxed approach to folk: less constrained by the formal rigor of the ancient traditions and more open to influences of other kinds of music. In this sense, the debut LP from Hickory Signals is absolutely surprising. Alongside a good number of songs that are deeply rooted in the Celtic tradition, the album features other tracks that are strongly reminiscent of the American art rock scene (I can quote Patti Smith and Kate Bush) or rather inspired by that version of pop-folk that was brought to success by bands like The Cranberries.


“Two Girls”, from the debut album by Hickory Signals, is one of the songs that’s most representative of the style of the duo but which also presents nice influences from the music of other bands such as The Cranberries

“Zelda”, from the debut album by Hickory Signals, is one of the songs which brings evident references from the American art rock tradition.

As a result, if Turn to Fray may appear on one side a little less compact and fascinating than Bird in the Belly’s The Crowing, on the other side Hickory Signal’s debut LP features a wider range of styles and, to some extent, this is reflected in the fact that the record is more dynamic and enjoyable to listen from the beginnng to the end. I feel that these two approaches to folk music are quite complementary, but although in the case of Bird in The Belly the road seems clearer and more linear, as far as Hickory Signals are concerned I perceive that the effective potential of the band has yet to explode: the gift that these two artists have already manifested in their capacity to soften up the canons of traditional folk in a more universal and “progressive” style of music must still reach a more solid center of gravity. But if we consider that even in this phase of consolidation we can already enjoy songs so beautiful as those we have in Turn to Fray, it means that it will be absolutely a pleasure to stay here and follow the development of their promising career.

Hickory Signals’ debut LP can be streamed from Spotify.

Standout tracks: Rosemary, Who Put the Blood and Two Girls.


“Rosemary” is the opening track of “Turn to Fray”, the debut LP by Hickory Signals

“Who Put the Blood”, originally published in the band’s first EP, has been re-edited and it is now featured in Hickory Signals’ debut LP “Turn to Fray”

MODERN POETS: The Best SONGWRITERS of 2018

I was not sure, at first, wheter to present an update of my selection of the best songwriters of 2018, or rather to wait until next month and publish the final “End of the Year List”. In the end I decided to go for the update, mainly because in the recent months there were a few very important releases, including Kurt Vile, Thomas Dybdahl and Michelle Mandico, and I thought it might be nice to see them together with the other artists that made this year so exciting.

You’ll find below an update of my personal selection of the best records by contemporary singer-songwriters. Compared to the previous episode, which appeared on last September, there are new entries and also some repositioning between some of the artists who were already included.

Enjoy this list and also the music that has been selected for each one of the selected artist. And stay tuned in view of the final chart, which will arrive approximately in one month from now.



#1) King Dude, “Music To Make War To”

King Dude is the stage name of composer, singer, musician and producer Thomas Jefferson Cowgill.

American songwriter Thomas Jefferson Cowgill is one of those artists who likes to move between extremely different forms of expression. In his brilliant musical career he now operates under the pseudonym of King Dude and with such new artistic identity he has already released a good number of excellent pubications. As a matter of fact, listening to King Dude’s discography one may think that’s it is practically impossible for him to publish low quality works and his latest record, Music to Make War To totally confirms this trajectory.

King Dude’s new album looks like as a perfect blend between The National and Nick Cave, in which however the melodic elements of the songs always prevail over the more introspective aspect of the music. As expected the album is deeply rooted on that melancholic tone which has become one of the most recognizable elements of King Dude’s music (what’s sometimes referred to as “dark folk” or “goth folk”), nevertheless melancholy is partially alleviated in Dude’s new album through a lightness of approach and also a research for musical simplicity which are at times totally disarming.

Arrived to the seventh record of his great discography, King Dude has succeded in the apparent impossible operation to make catchy and somehow “radio friendly” songs which still convey the emotional intensity and the darkness that we appreciated in his previous works.

“Velvet Rope”, taken from”Music to make war to” by King Dude
“Good and Bad”, featuring Josephine Olivia, taken from”Music to make war to” by King Dude


#2) Sarah McQuaid, “If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous”

Born in Madrid (to a Spanish father and an American mother), raised in Chicago and now living in rural England, Sarah McQuaid released in 1997 her debut solo album (“When Two Lovers Met”) and she has published in 2018 the fifth LP in her career of singer-songwriter, “If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous”.

Madrid-born, Chicago-raised and UK-based singer and songwriter Sarah McQuaid has explored in her valuable career many shades of folk and alt rock, and listening to her most recent works we can realize how profound and rich this journey has been. Sarah’s last and fifht release, If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous, is her more mature album so far, and the songs of the LP capture the artist in a phase of full confidence in her capacities.

In McQuaid’s new album, the artist meditates over challenging themes and evokes intimate and sometimes desolate atmospheres. Most of the songs of are characterized by dark tones and rarefied melodies, so don’t expect to find crystal-clear melodies and danceable but, rather, get ready for a melancholic journey where the happy ending is not always guaranteed.

The main feeling that emerges from If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous seems to be the serene acceptance of human nature and the fact that sometimes we have only a minor role before the regular and imperturbable cycle of life. This cosmic message is partly evoked by the artist’s voice and lyrics, and partly by the haunting, minimal and evocative music, which is the real added value of the album. We have a few ballads in the classic style of folk, with violins and acoustic guitars, but the peak of the emotions, in my opinion, is reached when the Sarah McQuaid sings accompanied by only the reverberation of her electric guitar, which arrives to you hears as an echo from distant worlds, like memories from your past that suddenly appear in a corner of your thoughts, leaving a feeling of conscious abandonment.

“The Tug Of The Moon”, the first single from Sarah McQuaid’s fifth solo album “If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous”
The title-track of Sarah McQuaid’s new album


#3) Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood, “With Animals”

Over the last years, American songwriter Mark Lanegan and English multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood have worked torgether on their previous joint LP “Black Pudding” as well as on Lanegan’s solo records “Blues Funeral” and “Gargoyle”.

The discography of American iconic singer-songritwer Mark Lanegan has become so full of different and heterogenous entries that there is a specific page on Wikipedia that is dedicated to report all of his releases and appearances, which include many solo albums, a bunch of EPs and a vastity of collaborations with other bands and musicians. As part of this large number of collaborations, in 2013 Lanegan released an interesting record with English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. The album, called Black Pudding, received however mixed reactions from the public and the critics, partly due to the absolutely secondary role that was given to Gardwood, but also because Black Pudding, in the end, resulted as an extremely monochromatic and predictable album, with Lanegan anchored to his consolidated formula of dark and bluesy folk.

Five years after Black Pudding, Lanegan and Darkwood have released a second collaborative effort, named With Animals, and since the first couple of songs it’s clear that the harmony and the spiritual connection between the two has largely improved. For the casual listener this album could appear quite similar to the last few works by Lanegan, but this is not true if you go beyond the surface.

With Animals is a solid and inspired album, where all the songs are linked and correlated by a sort of spiritual connection, something which makes you feel like venturing into the darkest and most disturbing areas of your inner self. Darkness, restlessness, impotence. These are the feelings that emerge when you listen to With Animals, which don’t come only from the raspy voice of Lanegan, but this time also from a stronger contribution by Garwood and his hypnotic guitar loops. Garwood’s, in many moments of the album, reaches peaks of absolute beauty and in a few cases it even takes the lead over Lanegan’s voice.

If you’re not discouraged by the minimal arrangements, the slow rhythms and the dark and oppressive atmospheres, With Animals can become a valuable companion to your moments of reflection and relax.

The title-track from Lanegan and Garwood’s second LP “With Animals”
“Scarlett”, taken from Lanegan and Garwood’s second LP “With Animals”


#4) Michelle Mandico, “Ptarmigan”

Colorado native singer-songwriter Michelle Mandico released this year her debut full-length album, “Ptarmigan”, which is a colorful tribute to her crossing from the Rocky Mountains to Denver’s live music scene.

Michelle Mandico is a young singer-songwriter from Colorado, in the U.S., who released this year an impressive debut album, Ptarmingan, which not only showcases her remarkable musical sensitivity and expressive voice, but that enters immediately among the best indie folk releases of the year.

The release notes of Ptarmigan say that Michelle spent 2 years writing and recording her album, and from what we hear the result of such effort is evident. Without knowing the details of Mandico’s writing process, I presume that most of the work consisted in “lightening” the music by removing all the superfluous components and putting the melodies and her sublime voice at the centre of each song. Ptarmingan is in fact extremely delicate and soft, and the arrangements are made so as to leave in each song an area of apparent emptiness to be filled by the listener’s imagination. This is music that has the ability to relieve you from the thoughts and concerns of your day, whilst Mandico’s voice captures your heart.

Yes, the voice. I believe that there are skills and abilities that can be learned and improved with hard work. However, there are also innate talents that every person possesses as a gift. That of Michelle Mandico, in my opinion, is to enchant the listeners with her beautiful voice.

From a musical point of view, Ptarmingan follows a style of American folk that’s quite close to the classics of the genre. This is probably one aspect on which Michelle Mandico can now concentrate her efforts, trying to develop a more characteristic and unique sound. The musical performance is however flawless and it also benefits from the value of the musicians who collaborated to this project.

There is a new talent in the music scene, she is a songwriter gifted by an extraordinary and fascinating voice that we will follow con interest and curiosity in her next steps.

“1000 Feet”, taken from Michelle Mandico’s debut LP “Ptarmigan”
The title track of Michelle Mandico’s debut LP “Ptarmigan”


#5) First Aid Kit, “Ruins”

Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg play under the name of First Aid Kit. They have released so far four albums, the last one, “Ruins”, published in the early months of 2018.

First Aid Kit, the Swedish folk duo consisting of the two Söderberg sisters, released in January 2018 a new album, Ruins, which enriches an already interesting and valid discography.  In ten years of career, the duo has in fact released to date four EPs and just as many LPs, reaching the very first positions of the Swedish charts and collecteing also many important awards at international level.

Ruins is particularly interesting record because it shows a clear desire of the two sisters to experiment with new styles and directions for their music, in particular as regards the increased presence of elements of country music. Even if they’re still relatively young (the older of the two, Johanna, hasn’t reached yet her thirty years) the two Söderber sisters have already demonstrated a remarkable musical maturity, and in this respect the songs of their latest album show a further improvement in terms of musical sensibility and songwriting skills.

“Rebel Heart”, taken from First Aid Kit’s new LP “Ruins”
“Fireworks”, taken from First Aid Kit’s new LP “Ruins”


#6) Thomas Dybdahl, “All These Things”

Thomas Dybdahl is a Norwegian singer-songwriter whose career started as the guitarist in the band Quadraphonics, but who eventually started a solo-career releasing to date 8 LPs

One year after the release of his appreciated album The Great Plains, Thomas Dybdahl is back with a new work called All These Things, which indicates that the artist must be experiencing a period of particular creativity.

An element that amazed me last year on the occasion of Dybdahl’s previous record, and which still surprises me as I listen to All These Things, is how Dybdahl’s music is so warm and soft, which is basically the opposite of what you would expect when thinking of the cold lands of Norway. The atmospheres that emanate from the songs of his new album are extremely relaxed and intimate, and the effect is further amplified by the absolute elegance of the arrangements. The persistent tranquility and warmth of the music allow the album to flow placidly and smoothly from the beginning to the end, but at the same time – at least for a distracted listener – it might also appear that All These Things doesn’t offer any burst of emotions, or any moment where the shallow calm is broken by a sudden wave of energy. In reality what happens is that most of the beauty of Dybdhal’s new work is hidden in the details of each song, as well as in the overall balance that has been achieved among the various components of the music. Therefore, it’s really difficult to appreciate the real value of the album with only a superficial listening.

In the best tradition of Dybdahl’s productions there are always a couple of songs in every album which stand out from the others, and this is confirmed also in his latest LP. However, both the style and the dominating atmospheres that we find in the songs of the album are extremely similar and, in the end, All These Things, taken as a whole, is definitely more uniform and homogeneous than Dybdahl’s previous records. This is partly due to the fact that the album was recorded in the course of only 3 days. As the author explained, it was a sort of reaction to the fact that his previous album was much more focused on the production and on the sonic aspect of the songs.

Another element of interest of the album is given by the fact that Dybdahl collaborated with a cast of talented artists, including American songwriter and producer Larry Klein, American composer and pianist Patrick Warren and American guitarist Dean Parks. And when you launch the album it really seems to be surrounded by an ensemble of excellent musicians, playing just for you, in a relaxed environment, creating precious and fragile fragments of melodies over delicate sequence of chords.

“What You Came For”, taken from Thomas Dybdahl’s new LP “All These Things”
The title-track of Thomas Dybdahl’s new LP “All These Things”


#7) Holly Miranda, “Mutual Horse”

Holly Miranda is an American singer-songwriter and musician. She has released to date five solo albums, and two LPs with The Jealous Girlfriends, a four-piece band based in Brooklyn.

There are only few things in music that are more beautiful than the magic that’s reached when creativity and authenticity are combined with the beauty of the melodies and the depth of the songs. This special combination of factors may be found in the songs of Holly Miranda‘s latest album, Mutual Horse.

Arrived at her fourth solo LP, the American singer-songwriter has definitely mastered the expressive abilities of her peculiar style and of her intriguing voice. The songs of her new record, in fact, range between different and sometimes contrasting atmospheres but all of them share the same fluency and enjoyability, two characteristics which make the experience of listening like an emotional journey along delicate, quiet and sometimes poignant atmospheres.

Maybe there isn’t any track with the credentials to become an “hit” but taken in its entirety this is probably one of the best LPs composed and recorded by Holly Miranda up to this point.

“Exquisite”, featuring Kyp Malone, a song taken from Holly Miranda’s new LP “Mutual Horse”
The song “All of the Way” from Holly Miranda’s new LP “Mutial Horse”, recorded live at Gibson Room.


#8) Kurt Vile, “Bottle It In”

Kurt Vile is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. He is known for his solo work and as the former lead guitarist of rock band The War on Drugs

If someone should ask me whose artist I would be able to recognize after listening only to a few guitar chords, I would definitely say Kurt Vile. Few songwriters have in fact developed a style so easily identifiable as the American musician did in the ten years of his career. This characteristic certainly represents a positive aspect from the point of view of musical identity, but it also means that Kurt Wile’s records, at least at first impact, seem to be all the same. Clearly this is not the case, even because all the longterm fans of Kurt Wile (as I am) can easily appreciate that across his eight studio albums there are physiological highs and lows. In such a range of values, Bottle It In, which is Kurt Vile’s most recent effort, places approximately in the middle.

In one hand, in fact, the album indulges in melodies and harmonies that are at times so simple and essential to seem almost improvised, but on the other hand the songs played by Kurt Vile continue to provide us with little sketches of contemporary poetry, always nice and fascinating to hear.

And even if some of the songs may give us the idea that the album came out sooner than the right time, it remains always a pleasure to have something new from a talented and unique singer-songwriter like Kurt Vile.

“One Trick Ponies”, taken from Kurt Vile’s new LP “Bottle It In” 
“Bassackwards”, taken from Kurt Vile’s new LP “Bottle It In”


#9) L.A. Salami, “The City of Bootmakers”

English singer and songwriter Lookman Adekunle Salami, known professionally as L.A. Salami, has released so far three EPs and two albums.

I want to be honest: if L.A. Salami entered the list of the best songwriters of the year it’s mainly because of one specific song of his 2018’s LP The City of Bootmakers, a tune that’s stuck in my mind since the beginning of the year and which doesn’t want to go away. I’m talking of the song I Need Answers, which is probably one of the most beautiful modern ballads that I’ve heard this year and that highlights the multifaceted style of this young artist.

London singer and songwriter Lookman Adekunle Salami, best known as L.A. Salami, is one of those artists who manages to escape from easy labels. On the contrary, he’s one that demands to his listeners dedication and attention because of the complexity and charm of his music. Hovering constantly over the thin boundary which separates pop from folk, the tracks of his records seem to be written for a niche of listeners, and only sporadically the musical language of this artist manages to find a more immediate and easily understandable expression for the casual listener.

On L.A. Salami’s second album, The City of Bootmakers, the artist showcases a very unique blend of styles and inspirations, but he also addresses deep and challenging subjects, which are treated however with an uncommon class and profoundity. The musical part isn’t always up to the author’s ambitions, but in the most successful songs we may enjoy one of the most charming and stylish songwriters of his generation.

“I Need Answers”, taken from L.A. Salami’s new LP “The Cityof Bootmakers”
“The City Nowadays”, taken from L.A. Salami’s LP “The City of Bootmakers”


#10) Ellens Starski, “The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants”

American songwriter Ellen Starski began playing guitar at 19 years old. In 2008 she moved to Nashville, where she started her solo career with support of producer Anne McCue and a handful of the town’s top musicians.

Tennessee-based singer-songwriter Ellen Starski released in 2018 her solo debut album, The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants, which collects the folk songs that she wrote over the course of the last 12 years. The album highlights the many influences that contributed to define her style of music: stripped-down and melodic folk ballads that are reminiscent of the the early works from Bob Dylan, Tori Amos, Patti Smith and to some extent also Paul Cohen.

A special mention is necessary for Ellens’ emotional voice, which is often the real added value of the album. Throughout the songs of the LP the artist sings of her homeland, she tells personal anedoctes or reflects upon the beauty of nature, with a style that is both an homage to the masters of the past and also a celebration of the magic of folk.

Taken as a whole, The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants features a very valuable and enjoyable collection of indie-folk songs, some of them particularly exciting, and we expect good things for her future, ideally with a style that will become, with the years, even more unique and particular.

“Daughter of the Sea”, taken from Ellen Starski’s debut LP “The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants”
“Missing you”, taken from Ellen Starski’s debut LP “The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants”



All the artists that were included in this chart, together with others that didn’t appear, are featured in the playlist MODERN SONGWRITERS. Listen to it and follow it, because it’s updated periodically with new songs.



An Explosive Expression of Humanity: The Best TRADITIONAL FOLK MUSIC of 2018

This article is an update of a previous post that appeared in this blog on July 2018, when I introduced the best four traditional folk albums that were released in the first half of the year. The original selection has expanded and the list now includes a few additional masterpieces that were published in the last couple of months.

In the few weeks that remain before the end of the year we may expect some last minute entry, anyway the music presented in this page starts to be representative of the status of traditional folk in 2018. Which is definitely healthy and lively, as testified by the fact that there are two debut albums within the seven that are part of the selection.

Enjoy this list, and also the songs that have been selected for each record. Traditional folk, as I already wrote, is a genre of music where you can really feel the internal battle between tradition and innovation. And when this inner tension meets the skill and talent of a great artist, here we have those masterpieces that we love so much.


#1) Kyle Carey, “The Art of Forgetting”

Celtic Americana artist Kyle Carey created a synthesis of music called ‘Gaelic Americana’, which mixes Celtic and Appalachian folk with literary elements. She has released so far 3 LPs and on EP. Carey’s new album, “The Art of Forgetting”, unites an all-star international cast of musicians such Sam Broussard on guitar, John McCusker on fiddle, Ron Janssen on octave mandolin, Kai Welch on trumpet and Mike McGoldrick on Flute.

Despite being a relatively young contributor to the folk world, American songwriter Kyle Carey has already taken a prominent role among the representatives of American Celtic music, which is that special style of folk that mixes together western European sounds with American (in this case Appalachian) elements.

On early 2018 Kyle Carey released the third full-lenght album of her discography, named The Art of Forgetting, and all the good things that have been said and written so far were totally confirmed by her new record. The beauty of Carey’s last album is further enhanced by the quality of the musicians who have been called to contribute to the recording of the songs. The release notes of the LP show that Carey has called together a super team of artists. Just to mention a few ones, we have singer, violinist and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), American guitarist Sam Broussard (from the Cajun band Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys), and Scottish folk musician and composer John McCusker.

One of the most interesting aspects of Carey’s music is the absolute ability that she manifests in exploring different musical influences without ever altering and distorting the essential element of his style. And whatever is the inspiration of her songs, it may be an Irish ballad or an American poem, everything is shaped and incorporated into the music in an extremely natural way, creating a collection of songs that whilst showing an impressive stylistic coherence, at the same time are gifted by a variety of nuances that make the listening experience extremely pleasant.


The official audio for the song “The Art of Forgetting”, from the new album by Kyle Carey.
A live performance of Kyle Carey’s original song ‘”Evelyna”‘ from her album ‘The Art of Forgetting’

#2) Bird in the Belly, “The Crowing”

Bird in the Belly is a Brighton based folk collective, consisting of alt-folk musician Jinnwoo, folk duo Hickory Signals , producer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor, and visual artist and musician Epha Roe.

Nowadays the UK folk scene seems particolary active, as witnessed by the fact that there is a new generation of artists that are gaining increased attention and consensus. Within the family of the younger folk bands, Bird in the Belly was formed a few years ago by a collective of artists and musicians with the stated objective to rediscover old and lesser known stories from the ancient British folk tradition, and present them to the public in the form of contemporary folk songs.

The Crowing is the debut LP from the band, and this record somehow shows all the merits, but also the defects, which we can expect from this type of operation. On the one hand we perceive all the charm of ancient and gothic folklore, here offered to the public by means of old-style melodies and enchanting atmospheres. The musical performance is unexceptionable and we can really feel the accurate work that was done by all the members of the collective to transpose into songs – and valorize – the original lyrical material. On the other hand, however, there is at times a certain “coldness”, or better “seriousness”, of the overall performance. We miss in a few songs that special feeling of urgency and transport which can only emerge when music become the way through wich an author expresses his inner feelings.

Taken as a whole, however, the record is enjoyable as well as interesting and quite original and this justifies its position among the bery best folk releases of the year. A special note of merit goes to Ben Webb (who plays under the stage name of Jinnwoo), a young and promising British artist who showcases here an impressive and special talent to give life to every song where he sings.

“Give Me Back My Heart Again”, the first single extracted from “The Crowing” 
“Shoreham River” is one of the most fascinating songs of Bird in the Belly’s debut LP.

#3) Blowzabella, “Two Score”

Blowzabella is a genuinely unique band that makes an inimitable, driving, drone-based wall-of-sound played with a fabulous sense of melody, rhythmic expertise and sheer feeling They compose their own music which is influenced by English and European traditional folk music and song – a shared culture with ancient roots. (from the band’s webpage)

Blowzabella aren’t absolutely newcomers in the folk world. This unique and characteristic English formation celebrates in 2018 their 40th year of activity (“two-scores”) and of course there are many records and publications released by them to date. In case there is someone approaching the band for the first time, what’s necessary to know is that Blowzabella distinguished themselves for their particular and truly unique style of music where traditional folk is merged with drone music. A vast array of acoustic instruments are in fact played and manipulated in order to obtain sounds and rhythms that are typical of the dance world (a “wall of sound” as they like to say), but always played with a traditional spirit. One could really say that the music of Blowzabella is one of those happy cases where the union between two distant worlds, in this case the legacy of the folk tradition and the spirit of innovation, has produced something that’s much larger than the sum of the original elements.

The last album by Blowzabella, Two Score, shows the band in a state of absolute grace: the maturity acquired by these musicians over the years is still supported by the desire to experiment new sounds and rhythms, so that their songs are never the mere repetition of schemes and tricks from the past repertoire. The LP offers also a relative variety among its tracks, and in the end the only thing these musicians ask to the listener is to free the spirit, start dancing and be carried away by the frenetic, hypnotic and magical music they’re creating for us.

“Adam was a Poacher”, an old song from Dartmoor, England, from the album “Two Score”
“The Uttoxeter Souling Song / Turner’s” from the album “Two Score”

#4) Kittel & Co, “Whorls”

Jeremy Kittel is a contemporary American musician and composer. Fluent in multiple musical genres, his original music draws from traditional roots, jazz, Celtic, Classical, electronic, and more. Kittel performs with his own band or trio, as a duo, and as a soloist with orchestras.

American fiddler and violinist Jeremy Kittel has gained quite a relevant reputation as one of the most talented performer and composers of celtic folk and bluegrass, with a style which emphasizes both his technical skills and a special taste for timeless melodies. He’s been involved in many projects, both as a soloist and with supporting partners. In his most recent release, Whorls, he offers a new exciting collection of folk songs that are enriched by many different influences, including traditional celtic music, baroque classical melodies, American bluegrass and a few hints of jazz.

A number of skilled musicians contributed to Whorls, including mandolin phenom Josh Pinkham, guitarist Quinn Bachand, cellist Nathiel Smith, Simon Chrisman on dulcimer and also vocalist Sarah Jarosz. The quality of the performances is extraordinary, and the songs offer a good level of variety and surprises to keep the attention high along the entire record.

Beyond the value of the line-up, however, what I really appreciated in this LP is how the technical ability of Jeremy Kittel and his companions has been put at the service of a profound musicality. Rather than appearing as a mere demonstration of the skills of the performers, Whorls is ultimately a beautiful collection of engaging and enjoyable folk songs. There are some passages which make me stay open-mouthed for the expertise of the musicians in playing their instruments and also for the complex and articulate harmonies that they create, but what remains in my mind at the end of the record is the sweet and touching music I heard.

“Waltz”, from the album “Whorls”
“Chrysalis”, from the album “Whorls”

#5) The Furrow Collective, “Fathoms”

The Furrow Collective is an award-winning and critically acclaimed English/Scottish band consisting of four distinctive and talented performers: Lucy Farrell (viola, voice & saw), Rachel Newton (harp, fiddle, voice), Emily Portman (banjo, concertina, voice) and Alasdair Roberts (guitars, voice).

When a group of talented musicians who have already gained fame and appreciation as soloists decide to come together and form a new group, it’s not for granted that the final result will be up to the expectations. In the case of The Furrow Collective, however, the artists have reached a level of cohesion and unity so high that the goal is absolutely achieved. One of the reasons that made it possible is the fact that the music played by The Furrow Collective is composed by subtractions rather than overlaps, and each one of the participants has shown great wisdom and talen in dosing his own contribution without ever trying to stand out among the others.

The Furrow Collective is an English/Scottish traditional folk band, formed by artists of the caliber of Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell (from the Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell duo), Rachel Newton and Emily Portman. In the timespan of 5 years the band has released 3 full-lenght studio albums, and has already won the attention of both fans and critics. Fathoms is their most recent record and it confirms all the qualities that these musicians had already shown in their previous releases.

From a musical point Fathoms offers a particular and intriguing version of traditional folk which is enriched with many atmospheric and ambient-like elements. The tones are extremely delicate and, as I alerady mentioned, the overall lightness of the songs is mostly due to the impressive work that was done by each member of the band to keep his contribution extremely minimal, at times almost imperceptible. Many of the melodies in Fathoms are only alluded, outlined, rather than completely defined by the instruments, and this helps the music to be always ethereal and suspended. 
Musically speaking, this is and extremely precious and delicate version of traditional folk that grows from the silence and which, because of that, risks to be dampened by the background noise. This music is not meant for being played from the speakers of the car or listened when you travel in the subway, it would be crashed from the external chaos. The songs of Fathoms, on the other hand, have the power to make you fly over distant and magic worlds, you have only to find the right moment to do it.

“Write Me Down”, taken from “Fathoms” by The Furrow Collective
“The Cruel Grave”, taken from “Fathoms” by The Furrow Collective 

#6) Solasta, “A Cure for the Curious”

Solasta are a relatively young folk ensemble from UK consisting of fiddler Elisabeth Flett, cellist Hannah Thomas and guitarist Jamie Leeming.

Despite their young age and their relatively recent appearance in the UK folk scene, Solasta are gaining increasing notoriety because of their peculiar style of celtic folk, wich incorporates many elements from classical and jazz, and also for their lively exhibitions. Solasta is composed by three young but already acclaimed instrumentalists: award-winning fiddler Elisabeth Flett, cellist Hannah Thomas and guitarist Jamie Leeming. But well beyond the talent of the individual musicians, it’s the emotional cohesion that they have achieved which makes thier music so effective and, at times, magical.

Solasta debuted in 2016 with a self-titled EP, and they released this year their debut LP, named A Cure for the Curious. The songs recorded by the trio don’t correspond to that idea of “popular” celtic folk (I would say “commercial”) that too often has been released for the masses of casual listeners. The music of Solasta is in fact deep and articulated, full of references and elements from ancient music, and it requires a certain patience and dedication to be appreciated in its entirety. The musical lines that are played by the three instruments intertwine in fact one with the other, generating articulated harmonies and atmospheres that are sometimes dreamy and joyful, sometimes darker and more reflective.

The songs that I like the most in A Cure for the Curious are the most melancholic, and in this respect one can see how these three musicians have been working hard for enhancing the emotional aspect of their music, rather than just focusing on the the uniqueness of their performance.

“Bedlam Boys”, taken from the LP “A Cure for the Curious” by Solasta
“Lost and Found”, taken from “A Cure for the Curious” by Solasta

#7) Stick In The Wheel, “Follow Them True”

Stick in the Wheel is an English folk band which consists of Nicola Kearey (lead vocalist), Ian Carter (Dobro guitar), Fran Foote (harmonies), Si Foote (percussions) and Ellie Wilson (fiddle)

English folk band Stick in the Wheel, from East London, is bring a contemporary approach to celtic folk with theor style characterized by raw minimalism, setting vocals, simple accompaniments and handclaps. Follow Them True is their second album and it arrives two years and half after their 2015’s debut work, From Here.

Since the beginning of their career this quintet of folk enthusiasts has adopted an austere and formal approach to folk music, which is characterized also by the choice to use only acoustic instrumentation. As a result, their songs have always an ancient and suggestive charm which further exalts the fantastic voice of the singer Nicola Kearey. In their new album you won’t find danceable songs or pop-folk motifs, but rather a very good collection of ancient ballads and melodies of the past, all revisited with an aggressive spirit.

Only in some moments the tension and the austherity seem to leave the field for slightly more relaxed and poetic tones, and perhaps these are the most accessible and enjoyable parts of the disc, at least for the casual listener.

“Over Again”, taken from “Follow Them True” by Stick in the Wheel
The title-track of the album “Follow Them True” by Stick in the Wheel


Many of the songs that were included in this post are featured on MELANCHOLIC FOLK, the playlist I’m curating on Spotify with the most moving and emotional folk songs.



And if you liked the music selected in this page, you will love my mixtape FOREVER AUTUMN.  37 minutes of pure poetry.

Quick Review: “Fathoms” by The Furrow Collective

When a group of talented musicians who have already gained fame and appreciation as soloists decide to come together and form a new group, it’s not for granted that the final result will be up to the expectations. In the case of The Furrow Collective, however, the artists have reached a level of cohesion and unity so high that the goal is absolutely achieved. One of the reasons that made it possible is the fact that the music played by The Furrow Collective is composed by subtractions rather than overlaps, and each one of the participants has shown great wisdom and talen in dosing his own contribution without ever trying to stand out among the others. The video the band made for Polly Vaughn, a song of their 2017’s EP The Tamosher, explains this particular approach much better than what I can do with my words.

 

 

The Furrow Collective is an English/Scottish traditional folk band, formed by artists of the caliber of Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell (from the Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell duo), Rachel Newton and Emily Portman. In the timespan of 5 years the band has released 3 full-lenght studio albums, and has already won the attention of both fans and critics. Fathoms is their most recent record, published in November 2018, and it confirms all the qualities that these musicians had already shown in their previous releases.

From a musical point Fathoms offers a particular and intriguing version of traditional folk which is enriched with many atmospheric and ambient-like elements. The tones are extremely delicate and, as I alerady mentioned, the overall lightness of the songs is mostly due to the impressive work that was done by each member of the band to keep his contribution extremely minimal, at times almost imperceptible. Many of the melodies in Fathoms are only alluded, outlined, rather than completely defined by the instruments, and this helps the music to be always ethereal and suspended. All of this doesn’t apply to the lyrics, which are absolutely clear and moving, as per the folk tradition.

 

 

With Fathoms The Furrow Collective has given a further confirmation of the talent of the musicians involved, and also the perfect cohesion that they have reached as a group. Musically speaking, this is and extremely precious and delicate version of traditional folk that grows from the silence and which, because of that, risks to be dampened by the background noise. This music is not meant for being played from the speakers of the car or listened when you travel in the subway, it would be crashed from the external chaos. The songs of Fathoms, on the other hand, have the power to make you fly over distant and magic worlds, you have only to find the right moment to do it.

The album can be streamed from Spotify.

Standout tracks: The Cruel Grave, Write Me Down and The Cabin Boy.

 


 

If you liked the music from The Furow Collective, you will love my playlist MELANCHOLIC FOLK. More than 3 hours with the most moving and engaginf folk songs.


 

Quick Review: “Bottle It In” by Kurt Vile

If someone should ask me whose artist I would be able to recognize after listening only to a few guitar chords, I would definitely say Kurt Vile. Few songwriters have in fact developed a style so easily identifiable as the American musician did in the ten years of his career. This characteristic certainly represents a positive aspect from the point of view of musical identity, but it also means that Kurt Wile’s records, at least at first impact, seem to be all the same. Clearly this is not the case, even because all the longterm fans of Kurt Wile (as I am) can easily appreciate that across his eight studio albums there are physiological highs and lows. In such a range of values, Bottle It In, which is Kurt Vile’s most recent effort, places approximately in the middle.

In one hand, in fact, the album indulges in melodies and harmonies that are at times so simple and essential to seem almost improvised, but on the other hand the songs played by Kurt Vile continue to provide us with little sketches of contemporary poetry, always nice and fascinating to hear.

 

 

It looks as Bottle It In came out sooner than the right time, and effectively some of the songs seem like flower buds which weren’t given the possibility to blossom and mature into the intimate and moving songs that we were used to enjoy. As a matter of fact, only one year ago we expressed in this blog a great appreciation for the collaborative album that Kurt Vile wrote and released together with Courtney Barnett. That record, when compared to Bottle It In , looks definitely richer in inspiration and more dynamic in terms of musicality.

Anyway, it remains always a pleasure to have something new from a talented and unique singer-songwriter like Kurt Vile. However, I would have preferred to wait a little longer if this could have allowed the songs to gain more substance and, for Kurt Vile, to expand further the borders of his well-established style of music.

Bottle It In can be streamed from Spotify.

Standout tracks: Bassackwards and Loading Zones.

 


 

Kurt Vile is contributing to Modern Songwriters, the playlist which collects the best contemporary songwriters and indie folk artists. Check it out!