The #FolkForChristmas hashtag came about last year as a means of supporting artists whose income had been hit by the impact of the pandemic, with people being encouraged to support independent artists and, in particular, order directly from them this Christmas rather than head off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve again used the not exactly scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.
No. 1: Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns
With a mix of original song-writing, covers, traditional numbers and musical adaptations of classic poetry, the duo apply their trademark harmonies to produce eleven tracks of exquisite contemporary folk. Highlights include the haunting but utterly beautiful ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ a song about migration inspired by the scenes of destitution at the Calais refugee camp.
No. 2: Steve Tyler -The Enduring and the Ephemeral
Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.
No. 3: John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies – Divine Life of Punarvasu
Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.
No. 4: Màiri MacMillan – Gu Deas
The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version. A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.
No. 5: Milton Hide – Temperature’s Rising
I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.
No. 6: Seth Lakeman – Make Your Mark
The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.
No. 7: Sons of the Never Wrong – Undertaker’s Songbook
Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around of thoughtful, witty song-writing. Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as the band approach their 30th anniversary.
No. 8: Fine Lines – Deadbeat Lullabies
Put together by singer-songwriter David Boardman back in 2016 there’s harmony vocals, exquisite pedal steel, infectious fiddle, great melodies and heartfelt lyrics. The song-writing is a joint endeavour between Boardman, who cooked up the tunes and the band’s drummer, BBC presenter and all-round music maestro, Mark Radcliffe, who came up with the lyrics. Radcliffe proves himself to be a talented lyricist. His observational storytelling perfectly captures the overall mood that the album evokes.
No. 9: Ronan Gallagher – Time Waits For No One
Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.
No. 10: Honey and The Bear – Journey Through The Roke
Honey and The Bear are folk duo and singer-songwriters Lucy and Jon Hart. The Suffolk-based couple originally met at a song-writing event, began writing and performing together and spent several years touring the folk circuit before releasing their debut album Made in Aker, back in 2019. Journey Though the Roke is the follow-up, ‘Roke being an old East Anglian word for the evening mist that rises from the region’s marshes and water meadows.