Not so much of Best Of list, but simply some of the editor's and writers' recommendations for listening to the world in 2023. In random order, here are notes from RW editor Cliff Furnald, and writers Michael Stone, Chris Nickson, Andrew Cronshaw, Martha Willette Lewis, Lee Blackstone, Marty Lipp, Mike Adcock, and Carolina Amoruso.
The artists we picked for 2023 are (in mostly random order):
The Hack-Poets Guild - Blackletter Garland (One Little Independent)
This is RootsWorld editor Cliff Furnald's unequivocal pick for favorite album and song of 2023. Chris Nickson wholeheartedly seconds that. Blackletter Garland is an exploration of the broadside ballads by a trio bursting with imagination. Hemp thrasher percussion, autotuned folk, a delver into something like hip-hop. Wickedly original and inventive.
Read Chris' full review.
Laura Itandehui - Laura Itandehui (Artist release)
Another one with the editor's endorsement, and he is joined by Andrew Cronshaw in praising this pandemic era album that got lost at the time, but deserves to be heard now. Mexican singer and guitarist Laura Itandehui's debut album is a perfectly formed work, an exquisite, luminous, melodious gem full of charm, personality and variety, richly imbued with traditional styles, that deserves to be a classic. Read Andrew's full review.
Shirley Collins - Archangel Hill (Domino)
I am sure I join any number of publications in hailing the latest of the 'return' recordings by one of the most influencial folks singers of my lifetime. Archangel Hill shows that no matter how long you have been around, there are new ideas to share, and new ways to look at the old ways. - Cliff Furnald
Read Chris Nickson's full review.
Hiram Salsano - Bucolica (artist release)
Andrew also picked this one. (Another fave for the editor and one of our choices for Music of the Month in 2023) It's a fresh, bold, gutsy debut album from singer and tamburo player from Italy’s Campania region. Salsano's singing is wonderful; liberatingly gutsy and uninhibited while perfectly in control, with arrangements that use traditional instruments in innovative ways. Read Andrew's full review.
Engramma - Beau Brûlis (Univergram)
RootsWorld did a lot of genre hopping this year, and one of the more interesting leaps was this marvelous French rock trio who refuse to be put in a box. Read editor Cliff Furnald's full review.
Too Sad For The Public - Vol. 2 – Yet and Still (StorySound)
Cliff Furnald and Marty Lipp both put this on the list. This project, brought together occasionally by songwriter and producer Dick Connette, conjures a landscape that refines rootsy American music, deftly making it both sophisticated and soulful. Connette's mix of wry humor and folk wisdom make his singular music resonant and deserving of a larger audience. Read Marty's full review.
Camilla Hole Trio - Eventyrferd (Taragot Sounds)
Mike Adcock included this in his recommendations for the year. Saxophonist Camilla Hole's new trio album contains imaginative interpretations of Norwegian vocal and fiddle music as well as original material. There's a touch of Scandi-jazz about some of it, but the breadth of music on offer, including a certain sci-fi quirkiness, ultimately makes this refreshingly impossible to define. Read Mike Adcock's full review.
Blind Boys of Alabama - Echoes of the South (Single Lock Records)
Michael Stone suggests you lend an ear to the latest from one of the most enduring gospel groups of the century. The Blind Boys of Alabama, a gospel sextet formed in 1939, celebrate an 85–year run. “Keep on Pushin’”—the Curtis Mayfield Civil Rights anthem—expresses BBA’s mission to “keep spreading the message, keep sharing the music, and just keep going.” Say amen, sisters and brothers. They can still get a witness. Read Michael's full review.
Jake Blount - The New Faith (Smithsonian Folkways)
This is Michael's second Americana choice. Blount brings into focus voices rooted in Black Americana and Civil Rights history, envisioning another country nascent within a decaying “America ‘tis of Thee” whose shared anguish, loss, and destitution may yet build, if not the prophesied City Upon a Hill, a way of life rooted in human kindness and ecological wisdom. Read his full review.
Seckou Keita - African Rhapsodies (Claves)
Andrew Cronshaw found this to be a mighty impressive uniting of UK-resident Keita's Senegalese kora with splendid orchestral arrangements - not mere accompaniment but full, concerto integrations - by long-time colleague Davide Mantovani, and including a major guest appearance by great cellist-singer Abel Selaocoe. Read Andrew's full review.
Sarah-Jane Summers - Echo Stane (Another Timbre)
Another pick from Mike Adcock was this gem. Scottish fiddler Sarah-Jane Summers explores the tonal possibilities of the Hardanger fiddle, drawing on aspects of traditional fiddle music but also revealing discoveries made through the process of improvisation. There is a prevailing stillness here but also a richness of sound, many moments of beauty and at times real drama. Read Mike's full review.
Lankum - False Lankum (Rough Trade)
Both Cliff and Lee Blackstone picked False Lankum as one of the best of the year. Lee writes that is full of dirgy, doomy, death-defying feats of extended experimentation that will have you hugging your Clancy Brothers records for comfort. Brilliant. Read Chris Nickson's full review.
Eliza Carthy Trio - Conversations We’ve Had Before (artist release)
Eliza Carthy is joined by Saul Rose (accordion) and Dave Delarre (guitar) on a very strong outing. Carthy’s singing is in top form…When an album starts with “Knife In The Window,” you know you’re in for a treat overall. - Lee Blackstone
- Eiké: Entrar en el alma (Mestiza Música)
Michael Stone chose one of our picks from South America this year. Possessed, entranced, entrancing—accordionist Spasiuk invokes an atmospheric music of profound serenity, beauty, and feeling. Articulating a dark melancholy, so much a part of Argentine history, his work sustains a tragic sense of hope and longing before the impermanence of all human endeavors.
Read his full review.
Abel Selaocoe - Where Is Home (Hae Ke Kae) (Warner Classics)
When Andrew Cronshaw introduced me to this album, I was so thoroughly entranced that it was probably the album I played the most on my radio shows throughout 2023. Selaocoe's tribute to the great Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose is one of the most brilliant pieces to cross classical and traditional sounds that I know of. - Cliff Furnald
Read Andrew's full review.
Snowapple - wrong feet (Zip)
Cliff and Martha Willette Lewis both have been in love with this collective of women all year. Martha says, Need a catchy fun song about not leaning in to the patriarchy? Do you like close harmonies? Snowapple offers this and more. Read Martha's full review.
Hazmat Modine - Bonfire (Geckophonic / Jaro)
Cliff and Marty share a second pick. Amalgamating American roots with elements of other traditions, this New York-based group is serious fun. Excellent musicianship carries the day, but its alternatingly witty and heartfelt lyrics make this album a party worth attending. Read Marty's full review.
Brighde Chaimbeul - Carry Them With Us (Tak:til)
The Scottish smallpipe tradition through a fresh prism, the masterful imagination of a woman who plays with passion and brilliance, melding her instrument with the deep tones of Colin Steston’s sax. Hypnotic drones, layers that enmesh the listener. One for the ages. - Chris Nickson See some of their videos.
La Bottine Souriante - Domino! (artist release)
Lee Blackstone also chose this superb return to big band form on the legendary La Bottine Souriante's first new album in twelve years. The entire disc sounds like a celebration.
Erol Josué - Pèlerinaj (Village Hut)
Pèlerinaj is Erol Josué's cry for his Haitian people's release from oppression, delivered by Josué's musical wizardry. Daring even to underlay a lining of the classics and contemporary rock beneath the intense vodou rhythms, chanting and oratory of his song, Josué's pilgrimage impels us all to the cause. Read Carolina Amoruso's full review.
Baaba Maal - Being (Atelier Live)
Carolina also brought one to our attention that we missed. After a number of years of what seemed like seeking yet not finding, Baaba Maal's got his groove back. This is a joyful return to the roots-riding and rousing tunes marked by his native Senegal and by his clear-eyed commitment to humanity. Being vaunts evolved, Africa-compatible electronica in a tasteful invite to an intrinsically African sound.
Mar Grimalt - Espurnes I Coralls (Sparks and Corals) (Segell Microscopi)
Yet another concensus choice, with Martha and Cliff both in agreement. Haunting vocals and an interesting, spare soundscape from this artist from Iberia. Read Martha's full review.
Maria Ka - Der Hemshekh (artist release)
Another one both Cliff and Lee agree on is this stunning work by an artist who crosses many borders. Lee writes, This is feminist political Yiddish music the likes of which you have never heard before. Ka travels the spaceways, updating tradition and raising a fist that dares you to dance. Read Lee's full review.
Jody Stecher & Mile Twelve - Mile 77 (artist release)
Martha's final pick for the year, by a veteran old time singer and dedicated musical experimenter at his very best. This album is a lot of fun and this song is poignant, catchy and beautifully sung and produced.
Carminho - Portuguesa (Nonesuch/Parlophone)
Marty Lipp writes, This rising star in fado keeps her music spare, but fills the room with her intense singing and well-crafted arrangements. While not a strict traditionalist, Carminho aligns with the genre's poetic expression of deep emotions through lovely, evocative melodies. Her life-embracing spirit keeps the blue-hued music bracing and not depressing.