Where do you start with a “Best of” 2019 list?
There have been so many brilliant albums released in 2019, but my personal favourites are (in no particular order) Mikey Kenney and The Reverie Road, Ian Prowse with Here I Lie, Luke Combs and WYSIWYG, Hafdis Huld and Variations, Holly Nicole Combs album Narcissist with a cause and Eliza Carthy’s Restitute. I’ll look at them all individually, but for me, these stand out as musically varied and maybe not groundbreaking, then certainly cementing the artists as worth your time to listen to.
First up, Mikey Kenney.
The Reverie road is more than just another album of fiddle music, it reaches to something much deeper. Tracks like Montagna Di Menta almost transcend and defy pigeonholing, as Mikey stretches his music way beyond his Liverpool roots (What is it about that City and music? There are two on this list who hail from there) and this album scorches across folk and Anglicana and takes you soaring across continents. He is multi-talented as well. If he’s not on the fiddle, he can be found with banjo, mandolin or concertina and he knows a thing or two about percussion as well.
fRoots magazine said:
“Reverie Road’ is one of the best things we’ve heard so far this year. Get out and see him while you can. A truly outstanding talent.“
David Kidman in his review on folk radio said:
The Reverie Road is possibly a more musically unified collection than its predecessor, almost certainly due to its very strongly fiddle-centric identity.
When not on his own, he’s a member of Band Of Burns celebration and works regularly with Italian singer-songwriter Vinicio Capossela. he can also be seen supporting other acts around the UK on a regular basis, but however you get to see him, please do. You won’t regret it.
It’s unusual to see an album of cover versions make a “Best of” list, usually because they are little more than that, covers. Variations is more than a covers album though. It’s a thought out collection of songs that this Icelandic songstress envelops in her unique vocal style and really turns them into a mighty collection of wonder. If all you knew about Icelandic music was Bjork, then think again. This lady manages to take The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright III and make it seem somehow intimate. I love the original with its jingle jangle, but this version just seems to envelop you. The whole album is chock full of surprises. Her breathless take on the Queen classic “I want to break free” is worth the album price alone.
Her cover of the Berlin hit prompted Cold War Nightlife to write;
In Huld’s hands, “Take My Breath Away” acquires a folk-like patina that is warm and inviting.
As an album of cover versions, Variations is one that stands head and shoulders above others that have surfaced recently.
Here I Lie is a solo album that was 18 months in the making. It is such an unashamedly brilliant piece of solo work that TheSkinny said that;
heartbreaking title track sound like long-lost takes from R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, and it’s that classic album’s themes and atmospheres that Here I Lie shares a space with.
It’s been compared favourably to some of the E-Street band’s work, and Ian is a huge Springsteen fan, but this is his strongest collection of songs for some time. He bounces around themes of Americana, ties them up with a Celtic lilt and yet still manages to shoehorn in a track like “All the Royal houses” without it jarring against the melancholy of the closing track “Ned Maddrell”.
It’s a really fully rounded and grown-up record that deserves its place in ANY list of the best of 2019.
The first of the two Combs on the list is certainly the one who shifted the most units in 2019. For only his second full album, Luke certainly managed to break out of Nashville with the opening track “Beer never broke my heart”. It made the US Country charts No.2, and the main chart, just outside the Top 20.
Esteemed country journalist Marissa R. Moss accompanied him on a turkey-hunting trip, dubbing him
“a country Ed Sheeran.”
It’s almost impossible not to like the bloke, and this album is just what you expect from a modern country album. It’s got toe-tappers and it’s about as blue-collar as you can get.
Probably, but with a bit more North Carolina attitude.
This was more than an album, it was a debt to be repaid by an artist to her band who had been ripped off. Please don’t think that this album makes this list on sentiment alone, far from it. Eliza has worked her magic into her first real “traditional” folk album in 14 years and recorded it mostly at the Family home in Robin Hoods Bay.
The album has that “homely” feel about it, with Eliza in fine voice on tracks like “The Man Who Puffs The Big Cigar, and again on “Lady All Skin and Bone”.
She is joined by such luminaries as Jon Boden as well as her Father in an album that is obviously very personal. The initial run of 1500 copies sold out in record time and was followed by a full release on Topic Records as part of their 80th birthday celebrations.
Holly Nicole Combs
Last, but by no means least is an album that came to me thanks to Linkedin of all places! With a very unique voice and writing style, this album all at once contained almost everything that was good about independent recording.
The title track “Narcissist with a cause” is a duet with Lance Turner, and holds a mirror up and asks you to reexamine the meaning of charity, and the single #Hastag deals with our need for other people to validate our every moment on social media.
What do I want from 2020?
In a perfect world, I’d love to see a new album from the collective known as The Imagined Village. It would take some doing to get them back together, but if they can replicate the previous output, then it’ll have been worth the wait.
I’ll happily accept solo works from Chris Wood in its place. At the time of writing, Sheema Mukherjee has just released a new album, Karma, with Simon Richmond, and I’ll be ordering it in the new year as a treat for myself.
I would love to see folk and Anglicana move out of the shadows and get a few more mainstream hits, and If someone could get Kacey Musgraves to tour the UK, I’d really appreciate it.