Published Dec 14, 2010It was a tough battle this year for the top spot on the Wood, Wires & Whiskey list, but experience won out in the end, as the Sadies narrowly got the nod over Basia Bulat for our best folk & country album of 2010. However, there is little doubt that the venerable Toronto quartet's Darker Circles -- streaming in its entirety here at Exclaim.ca this week -- deserved the honour, as it is easily their most well-rounded album to date.
With the patented Sadies instrumental prowess now finely honed after years of constant touring, co-frontmen Dallas and Travis Good concentrated on songwriting this time out, revealing storytelling depth that was hinted at on previous albums, but never delivered with such consistency as on Darker Circles.
Similarly, from the ever-charming Bulat's sophomore release Heart of My Own on down, the common thread with the rest of the list is an emphasis on haunting, acoustic-based songwriting. The East coast was particularly well represented in this regard, with Nova Scotia banjo maestro Old Man Leudecke, Newfoundland folk auteur Mountains and the Trees, and (two-thirds) New Brunswick songwriter supergroup Daniel, Fred & Julie all turning in fine efforts.
Meanwhile, Alberta's Ghostkeeper offered a completely different take on traditional sounds, bravely turning the blues inside out on their eponymous album as a way to reflect life in their home province's remote north.
Established artists also kept embracing their rootsy side, such as the Constantines' Steve Lambke, whose Baby Eagle project now seems more than ever a full-time concern. His album Dog Weather sat well alongside the expected high-quality work of Jason Collett and the long-overdue collaboration between Jim Bryson and the Weakerthans.
And likewise, it was no surprise was that the only non-Canadian on the list was Sweden's the Tallest Man on Earth, who, armed with only an acoustic guitar, made one of the most compelling albums of the year in The Wild Hunt. It set a high standard, one that singer-songwriters will undoubtedly continue to pursue in 2011.
The Sadies' Darker Circles will be streaming on Exclaim.ca until December 20.
Stay tuned for these future full-album streams on Exclaim.ca:
Torche Songs for Singles December 21 to December 27
Laurie Anderson Homeland December 28 to January 3
Shad T.S.O.L. January 4 to January 10
White Lung It's the Evil January 11 to January 17
Caribou Swim January 18 to January 24