Exclaim!'s Top 10 Folk and Country Albums Best of 2017
Published Dec 04, 2017Last week, we began the annual rollout of our genre-specific album lists for the Best of 2017, including the Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, our Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums and the Top 10 Metal and Hardcore Albums of the Year. Today, we start another week of lists detailing the best records of 2017, by genre. Below, we begin by counting down the best folk, blues and country albums of 2017.
Top 10 Folk and Country Albums of 2017:
10. Julie Byrne
Not Even Happiness
(Ba Da Bing!)
American singer-songwriter Julie Byrne more than delivers on the promise of her raw, charming debut with the stunning Not Even Happiness. Her nimble, highly melodic finger picking is refined, the husky caress of her beautiful voice smoothly assured and the production clean and deliberate, with tastefully sparse supportive arrangements. Rooted in ruminations on humanity's connection to nature and deep, meditative self-reflection, Byrne's songs radiate a wistful sadness tempered by softly soaring beauty, giving voice to the lonely splendour of existence.
Byrne is a rare talent that should grow to stand alongside the lauded likes of Joni Mitchell and Laura Marling. Not Even Happiness marks the emergence of one of the great folk artists of our time, or perhaps any time.
Scott A. Gray
9. Margo Price
All American Made
All American Made, the sophomore album by alt-country rising star Margo Price, conveys the struggles and disposition of Middle America with clarity, elegance, grit and grooves.
On the solemn, heart-wrenching title track, Price effortlessly weaves social commentary about the military-industrial complex and laments to bygone heroes like Tom Petty into an anthem for the disenfranchised and disillusioned. Powerful as that macro view is, she captures those themes all the more effectively through intimate metaphors and microcosms — from "Pay Gap," a waltzing first person account of a woman working her "fingers to the bone" to the triumphantly dogged, punchy "A Little Pain."
Americana fans can find solace in Price's fearlessly vulnerable masterpiece.
8. Richard Dawson
Richard Dawson has cobbled together a freak folk masterpiece for his sixth LP, on which he gives the subject of peasantry a romanticized treatment as a historical and cultural moment rather than a mere category of class. His first-person lyrical caricatures and baroque melodies come across as immersive without being quaint or patronizing, and he captures the ethos of a far bygone time period with a skill rivalled only by Joanna Newsom's most realized work.
The adventurous songwriting and intimate recording quality of Peasant thrust the listener through the fourth wall and into the fray, where frets buzz and boots stomp. It's nearly impossible to resist chiming in with Dawson and company's gang vocals when they reach their joyous apexes.
7. The Barr Brothers
Queens of the Breakers
Following the success of their eponymous debut album and 2014's Sleeping Operator, the Barr Brothers' had an easy opportunity to settle into a comfortable roots music pigeonhole and rest forevermore on their laurels. Luckily for us, the Montreal-based band pursued much more on third LP Queens of the Breakers.
By far the band's most ambitious album to date, Breakers' songs boast a superior quality in production. "Hideous Glorious" and the title track both emit a heartland rock vibrancy that elicits a nostalgic response from first-time listeners. The work feels warmly familiar in tone and stimulating in execution, with the band taking advantage of every cut, offering all things Americana — from swamp blues on "Kompromat" to homesick folk on "Song That I Heard."
6. The Sadies
It remains a mystery of Roswellian proportions that the Sadies have not broken out to a bigger audience, but for those in the know, they're one of the best and most original bands around. Undaunted, they continue to release albums of a consistently high quality, and Northern Passages is one of their very best.
The tender balladry of opener "Riverview Fog," addressed to Rick White, gives way to the full-blooded romps and psychedelic country tunes at which they are true masters. The collaboration with Kurt Vile is a gem, and the album is dud-free. It's true that no recording can quite capture their dynamic energy live, but this one remains a winner.