Coming Home Ranks in Best Albums of 2015
1. Jon Brooks – The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside (2015, Borealis Records)
Jon Brook’s 2012 album ”Delicate Cages” focused on themes of love and fear; and freedom and imprisonment. For the follow up, “The Smiling and Beautiful Countryside”, Jon turned his cynical eye on contemporary North American society in a world gone mad to produce an album of murder ballads the like of which you may never hear again – and one that gives up more and more with each listen. It was easy to make this my favourite album of the year. I should add that Jon is absolutely fabulous live – I saw him three times this year, playing solo – just songs and anecdotes accompanied by his beatbox looping acoustic guitar, and he’s brilliant! It should be on everyone’s wish list to attend a Jon Brooks show. And yes, all the songs on this album are even better live.
2. Catherine MacLellan – The Raven’s Son (2014, Self)
This choice created a bit of a dilemma for me. “The Raven’s Son” was actually an August 2014 release but as I didn’t receive it until later in the year I could not consider it in my Best of 2014 list. Recorded in the woods outside of Woodstock, NY by GRAMMY Award–winning Danny Blume, and produced by longtime musical partner Chris Gauthier, with some fabulous fiddle from Andy Leftwich, the album features gorgeous songs exploring themes of life, death and transformation that showcase the phenomenal songwriting talent that is Catherine MacLellan. That the album took home the Juno for Roots and Traditional album of the year was a given.
3. Ange Hardy – Esteesee (2015, Story Records)
I was introduced to Somerset, England based Ange Hardy’s music through her critically acclaimed 2014 album “The Lament of the Black Sheep” and I heard about the intriguing “Esteesee” project while still in the development phase. An album of songs inspired by the life and work of English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) – the S.T.C. in the title (pronounced Ess-Tee-See), it could have fallen a little flat, but it delivered everything I’d hoped for – a stellar set of wonderfully arranged songs on a fabulous album that really brings Coleridge to life. And, an unexpected pleasure for a science-orientated child who really disliked English Literature while at school. I should add that I’m a bit of a late bloomer – and this album also made me feel more than a little homesick.
4. Moors and McCumber – Pandemonium (2014, Self)
A rootsy poppy confection stuffed with uplifting songs, great musicianship and fine harmonies… and another one of those pleasant surprises… an album that I knew nothing about before I received it – that became an instant favourite. That the album was produced by Gary Louris – of the Jayhawks – should be enough to encourage you to take the risk and dive in. A fabulous album. You’ll not be disappointed.
5. Jayme Stone – Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (2015, Borealis Records)
For his latest musical adventure, two-time Juno winning banjo player Jayme Stone brought together some of the most-talented folk and roots musicians in North America to re-imagine and re-interpret songs collected by noted folklorist Alan Lomax. Joining Jayme on this exquisitely recorded and packaged album are Grammy-winning singer Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Margaret Glaspy, Moira Smiley, Brittany Haas, Julian Lage, Eli West, and many more. Catching Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project several times was one of the highlights of my festival summer. The good news is that there will be a second volume. I can’t wait.
6. Pharis & Jason Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay (2015, Borealis Records)
“A Wanderer I’ll Stay” is the latest critically acclaimed album from Pharis & Jason Romero. Featuring some achingly beautiful harmonies, it’s a fabulous collection of songs written a long time ago mixed with others written around the kitchen table in the last year or so. Beautifully recorded and produced by David Travers-Smith in Jason Romero’s banjo workshop in Horsefly BC, you feel like you’re stepping back in time to hear them. A joy from beginning to end.
7. Joy Of Living: A Tribute To Ewan MacColl (2015, Cooking Vinyl / Compass Records)
“Joy of Living” is a new tribute album to the Godfather of the British folk revival – Ewan McColl, a songwriter whose influence extended far beyond the folk world. Featuring a who’s-who of contemporary British and Irish pop, rock and folk, this double album put together by sons Calum and Neil is the perfect primer for those who need to learn more about a great songwriter. Featuring new versions of classics such as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Dirty Old Town,” “The Shoals of Herring” and “The Joy of Living”, there really are too many highlights to mention – but with a contributor list that includes Paul Brady, Billy Bragg, Dick Gaughan, and Rufus & Martha Wainwright with sleeve notes that provide a bit of background on each song, it is deservedly one of the best albums of the year.
8. Glen MacNeil – Where The Heart Remains (2015, Self)
South-Western Ontario singer-songwriter Glen MacNeil released a great debut album, “Where The Heart Remains” this year. Very much a personal testament to love and life, it features ten fine songs, written or co-written by Glen, that focus on life, love and personal relationships, and his Cape Breton roots. Featuring some fabulous musicianship, and beautifully understated production from John Law (of The Laws), it was an instant favourite, and an album that once you start listening to, you need to stay to the end.
9. Guy Davis – Kokomo Kid (2015, M.C. Records)
Kokomo Kidd is the self-produced follow-up to Guy Davis’ hugely successful “Juba Dance” from 2013. The album features some beautifully-crafted and mostly original songs and a few interesting covers including Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”. Guy’s fabulous acoustic guitar playing and soulful voice are as engaging as ever with support from Charlie Musselwhite, Fabrizio Poggi and Ben Jaffe – it’s truly a joy for the ears.
10. David Storey – Coming Home (2015, Self)
Singer-songwriter David Storey spent 25 years working as a video director and TV director/producer (including co-developing and directing the hit comedy series “Corner Gas”) before returning to his first love – music. If ever there was an album that grew on me during the year, this was the one. I loved it. Nine semi-biographical songs about small town life, relationships, and the life challenges we all face – all delivered with empathy and a wry humour. You may also want to check out the interview and session David recorded with me at the end of the summer.