Boy were the banjos and fiddles ablaze this year.
The age-old American tradition of string music is alive and well, and 2022 saw a tidal wave of notable releases. From established artists to more under-the-radar artists (I need a new phrase for this), it was hard to keep up with the flood of quality new music.
And here at Music Mecca, we get a ton of these releases at our digital doorstep: from the guy recording in his living room, to the girl recording at Blackbird Studio in Nashville, and everything in between. We’re in a fortunate if not overwhelming position to be on the front-end of receiving new music that comes rolling in, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
While it’s never easy, we whittled down our list of 15 more “under-the-radar” folk and roots-oriented releases we thought you should lend your ears to.
15. All New – Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink, & Marcy Marxer
While a little on the simple and quirky side, we’ve got to have at least one pioneer of the 60s folk generation on the list. Yes Tom Paxton, Cathy Fink, and Marcy Marxer dropped a mammoth two-disc 28-track album, All New, this July. Just the fact he is still putting out new music makes me sentimental for a time I never knew but feel I did. “Bottle of Wine” from his 1964 Newport Folk Festival performance is a track I’ve long enjoyed. About 60 years later, he’s still doing the thing.
14. Lady Mondegreen – Fellow Pynins
This Oregon roots duo – pioneered by Dani Aubert and Ian George – harness a delightfully traditional approach to their folk music, even conjuring a spiritual meditative-like quality to their songs, notably in “Bonny At Morn” and “She’s Like The Swallow.” From “Silver Dagger” to “The Galway Shawl,” Lady Mondegreen offers a deep introspective look into the unique folk-rooted sonic minds of Fellow Pynins.
13. Southern Intentions – Wood Willow
From the first mandolin notes of this album, Southern Intentions offers solid rock, country shuffle, and R&B rhythms behind their roots sound. This Oklahoma partnership spearheaded by Rebecca Herrod and Joel Parks delivered one of raddest roots bangers of the year in “So Much Runnin,” which coincidentally is the opening track. We got to chat with them back in March leading up to the release, where they told us, “Our acoustic instrumentation makes the Gillian Welch comparison easier for people to understand, but we like to add a bit of angst and attitude into songs that call for it, so we felt like we were channeling a more raw and raucous filled duo like the White Stripes.” A unique combination if you ask me.
12. The Burnt Pines – The Burnt Pines
This folk pop trio offers almost a modern Simon & Garfunkel meets Elliott Smith meets The Postal Service amalgam of sound, and we’re here for it. Melodic, heartfelt, melancholic- their spectrum is wide and always honest. We premiered their fall single, “Don’t Look Down,” from their upcoming 2023 album, which drew us into their unique world. This includes band members living in both Portugal and the U.S.- seems tough, but they make it work.
11. Lulu – Good Morning Bedlam
Despite their opening track being titled, “I Am Sad,” it sure offers a deeply contrasting juxtaposition in its frenetic sound. We got to chat with this Midwest troupe earlier this year, who had at the time just dropped their album, Lulu. Their catchy folk-pop songs brim with magnetic melodies, heavenly harmonies, and grooves fit for any folk fest. They manage to blend tradition with innovation, creating a unique easy-on-the-ears sound. The Minneapolis band consists of Isaak Elker (guitar/vocals), Victoria Elker (upright bass, vocals), and Isaak’s childhood friend, Sophie Mae (violin/vocals).
10. Sleeping Dogs – Damn Tall Buildings
If you judge this band strictly on their press photos, you will likely want to be their friend. They emanate a sense of fun and authenticity in their image and rootsy down-home music, and their September release displays their unique approach to the stringed genre. From “Dark Window Panes” to “Cold Rain” to the title/closing track, Max Capistrano (guitar and banjo), Sasha Dubyk (bass) and Avery Ballotta (fiddle) lay down a fulfilling record that can not easily be pigeonholed. The trio’s chemistry is built on their kinship from their Berklee College of Music days.
9. River Wild – Jeremy Garrett
Back in March, Grammy-winning fiddle player from The Infamous Stringdusters Jeremy Garrett, aka G-Grass, told us he tried to “make a great bluegrass record that both traditionalists and progressive music listeners could hopefully enjoy.” The 12-track album harnesses that natural and earth-tinged bluegrass feel with lyrics to match, and has all the fiery picking one comes to expect out of such an album. The production values, themes of the free and natural world, and the overall tenacity takes center stage on River Wild, and would think traditional and progressive bluegrass fans will gladly put this on repeat.
8. Stolen Time – Abigail Lapell
“A lot of walking around, humming to myself, singing under my breath while avoiding eye contact with people on the street.” This was Lapell talking to us in February about her songwriting process, which is the beating heart of her music. Stolen Time is another beautiful, natural-feeling folk album with nerve-calming acoustic picking and floating vocals from this Canadian songstress. Standout tracks include the uber-mellow opening track, “Land of Plenty,” her January single “Pines,” and “All Dressed Up.” “The whole process could take anywhere from half an hour to, like, several years, for any given song. Then rinse and repeat.”
7. The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea – Amanda Ann Platt & The Honeycutters
Any time an artist releases a double album, especially something of a concept album, the time and effort that goes into such a project alone usually warrants special acknowledgment. Such is the case with this two-sided album released earlier this year from Asheville folk and Americana band Amanda Ann Platt & The Honeycutters. Lyrically driven, the band’s sound often inspires introspection, whether it be about life on the road, heartache, or hope. Their range of folk, Americana, indie pop, folk rock, and more are most impressive throughout all 20 tracks.
6. Garden Songs – Lydia Luce
When it comes to gentle lullaby-like folk songs that deliver a sense of serenity and tranquility, look no further than Nashville songwriter Lydia Luce. Organic of-the-earth releases seem to be a theme here, and Luce follows suit. This fresh air 5-song EP released on Tone Tree Records this past June showcases her delicate vulnerability and organic sound. The dramatic violins and atmospheric vibe throughout feels most therapeutic, and her soothing vocals lull and hypnotize throughout. Notable tracks include the theatric “Vow” and the mellow bloom of “Yellow Dawn.”
5. Across The Divide – Fireside Collective
“We’re always bridging a gap, trying to meld influences. Lyrically, there’s some divides being crossed throughout the album as well.” This is guitarist Joe Cicero of Fireside Collective talking to us about this August release. The nominees for the IBMA New Artist of the Year have been dedicated to making honest, spirited music, and they have delivered once again with this album. The ebbs and flows through this 11-track album exhibits stellar range from this Asheville, North Carolina, troupe. They are definitely one of the premiere progressive bluegrass acts hitting the bricks today, and Across The Divide shows why.
4. Highways – Denitia
This artist came rolling up to our digital doorstep one fine day and we were sure glad she did. With a wistful and driving Americana sound, Denitia delivered this dynamite record this past October. It was the title track that first reeled us in back in spring, with it’s familiar road-worn charm in a pristine sonic package that sticks with you. Denitia’s voice is something special, and she has the songwriting chops to match. Keep an eye on this Hudson Valley-based artist, as she could blow up any time.
3. Donde Los Terremotos – Matt Costa
Donde Los Terremotos made a particular impression on me for a few reasons. A) it’s a cultured and cinematic collection of songs B) it was used as the soundtrack for a badass short film of the same name featuring skateboarding legend Jamie Thomas, whom I’ve been a lifelong fan of. The film – also directed by Costa – follows the Roark crew “on a psychedelic odyssey of self-discovery” through Oaxaca, Mexico. As someone cut from the cloth of music, skating, and adventure, it resonated, and the Latin-inspired percussive acoustic songs hit that sweet spot from “Holy Mountain” through “Jardin De Tulipanes.”
2. The Local Honeys – The Local Honeys
There’s an awful lot of good music coming from the hills of Kentucky, and chalk up The Local Honeys as yet another. This folk n’ roots duo comprised of Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs dropped their self-titled album via La Honda Records this summer. Their down-home style of music speaks to a more simple yet simultaneously complex life, largely including depictions of their beloved home state of Kentucky. With the help of renowned producer Jesse Wells, the twangy twosome creates a space to illustrate the highs and lows of life in the country, using poignant rural imagery and honest storytelling skills. The 10-track album is one that’s easy to leave on repeat.
1. Peculiar, Missouri – Willi Carlisle
Willi Carlisle appears to be one of the hardest traveling and authentic folk minstrels in the game. His Western AF performance of his song “Tulsa’s Last Magician” is what caught my attention this spring. The raw emotion and passion exhibited in this performance alone is palpable, as demonstrated by the tear that comes to his eye towards the end. After that it was “Life on the Fence,” then “Vanlife,” and the rest is history. Carlisle is no secret, but if you want some top of the line storytelling songwriting with a tried and true roots feel, dive head first into Peculiar, Missouri.
Satellite – Geneviève Racette
Beyond The Reservoir – Julian Taylor
Sure – Ash & Eric
Same Song – Ben Gage
Borders – Honey Cellar