The Harrow and the Harvest pushes Gillian Welch's winning formula further. On Mockingbird Time, the Jayhawks' sweet harmonies and gritty edges are finally back. There's a hefty dose of early Paul Simon on Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues. "Soul" is as good a word as any for Liz Janes's groovy little record Say Goodbye. Tom Waits's Bad As Me is accessible enough to convert some skeptics. And The Head and the Heart's self-titled debutis the feel-good record of the year.
The McGarrigle sisters (Kate died of sarcoma last year) were more successful in their native Canada than in the States, but they were deeply admired by those who covered their songs: Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur, Kate's son Rufus Wainwright.
While it's hard to imagine many pop artists signing up to
write a song cycle based on the history of classical music, for
Amos—whom Deutsche Grammophon approached with this idea—the project
seems almost inevitable.
The usually pejorative term slowcore was coined to describe Low's general minimalism and especially the glacial pace at which the Duluth, Minnesota, trio's songs develop. But patient listeners have always been rewarded with warm guitar sounds, memorable tunes and sweet harmony.
Why don't more people listen to Ron Sexsmith? The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter crafts masterful pop songs, records them with topflight producers and sings them in an understated croon. Unless you hate music that makes you smile, what's not to like?
Wanda Jackson may be the queen of rockabilly, but Jack White is king of this collaboration. The roots-obsessed producer takes charge, offering a high-octane reimagination of various '50s styles. But where White's work on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose (2004) came off as reverent and almost subtle, here 73-year-old Jackson's presence seems like an afterthought.
Vic Chesnutt, who died of an overdose in 2009, was one of the best and most unusual songwriters of his generation. Country-rock veterans Cowboy Junkies are far more conventional. So Chesnutt diehards might not find much to like in this collection of his songs, but the album may provide newcomers a bridge to his work.