Determining the “best” album of a single year is hard enough, let alone a whole decade. Though I have amassed a great collection of musical experiences over the past 10 years, it’s only fair that I relegate these posts as “favorites” in lists that follow my own arbitrary rules.
“I see the green grass belowPunch Brothers, “My Oh My”
I feel the warmth of the screen
Is it beautiful (maybe not, maybe not)
But maybe so
Whatever keeps us singing “
10. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Year: 2016 (The Roundtable’s No. 4 album of 2016)
I’ve said this to anyone who would listen, but the man transmogrified country music. I did not think it could be done.
In an album dedicated to teaching his son rather profound life lessons, listeners have plenty to take away as well.
Defining Moment: The spiritual power of “All Around You” is more potent than most Sunday sermons.
9. Mumford and Sons – Babel
Truth be told, this album is specifically listed on here because Sigh No More missed the decade cutoff by a year. Still, Mumford’s sophomore effort took all their best qualities (banjos!) and coated them in a palatable substance that even top-40 fans loved.
I still do not understand the mass appeal of this band, as deserving as they are. The songwriting transcends the heavens and 3/4 of their albums are better than many of us even realize.
Defining Moment: That music video above. It’s an all-timer, but still doesn’t give enough credit to the beauty of the song. “I will learn to love the skies I’m under!” Gorgeous.
8. Chris Cornell – Higher Truth
I was in an Arizona hotel room when I found out Chris Cornell took his own life. The lights were dim, the morning was calm, the music world was shook. From that moment on, every song he ever wrote blossomed into new meaning.
Though this album is his first foray into the folk genre, Higher Truth shines with an elegance of a man who knew what to write and how to deliver it. Rest in piece, old friend.
Defining Moment: I listen to “Let Your Eyes Wander” and think of the children he left behind. As if this were not a love song, but a message.
7. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
I do not know nearly enough about Jason Isbell’s career to speak on him, but this album is booby-trapped with lasting messages that stick with you beyond the album.
Defining Moment: The end of “White Man’s World,” where he puts all his faith of a prosperous future on his daughter’s tiny shoulders. I have never heard another song like it – it is a force to be reckoned with.
6. Brandi Carlisle – Bear Creek
*Has obligatory need to place Brandi Carlile on this list.
*Sees four albums to choose from.
*Starts reviewing each one chronologically.
*Sees “Hard Way Home,” “Raise Hell,” “That Wasn’t Me” and “Rise Again” right off the bat.
Defining Moment: “Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet?”
5. KT Tunstall – Tiger Suit
Year: 2010 (The Roundtable’s No. 5(!) album of 2010)
This was the perfect gateway to get my younger self dabbling in the folk. Calling these explosive gems “nature techno,” KT Tunstall happened upon a sleek form of dancy folk-pop that found me at just the right time.
The bad news is that the novel sound did not extend past this one album. As open as I was, the world was not ready for this style of music.
Defining Moment: “Difficulty” is the strangest song of any album to show up on this list, musically speaking. The tone is hollow and odd, and probably belongs in the alternative category. But at the same time, it is indicative of this list – these musicians are more progressive than the genre lets on.
Also this line: “How can I tell you the truth/When I don’t want to.”
4. John Mayer – Born and Raised
Year: 2012 (The Roundtable’s No. 2 Album of 2012)
Oof, I just watched that video and forgot about John’s hipster-cowboy phase.
Controversial as this album may be, I stand by it. It’s important to remember that the man had vocal surgery and was unable to even speak for an extended period of time leading up to the recording of this album. In doing so, he had time to reflect and embark upon a purer, less egotistical phase while battling the worst parts of himself.
As a John Mayer ALL-KNOWER, the results are some of the best of his career.
Defining Moment: “You know my paper heart/The one I filled with pencil marks?/I think I might have gone and inked you in.”
The first dance at my wedding.
3. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble
With countless songwriters better than I will ever be, few make me stew in the muck of “I wish I would have written that” more than this man. His songs bludgeon you with an admirable display of purpose and prose.
Foreshadowing: This will not be the last time I mention this man this year…
Defining Moment: “My Little Ruin,” about the lovable f*ck up we all have in our lives, hits you with a tsunami of a bridge:
“Because you’re better than they are
You’re better than they are…
And I can’t say it enough”
2. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues
Year: 2015 (The Roundtable’s No. 6 Album of 2015)
Chris Thile is the most talented musician I have seen on Earth with my own eyes. I could not make that sentence into a hyperbole if I wanted to. For the smallest of tastes, go to 2:22 in the video above.
From the first track, this album blossoms into a technical masterpiece, full of complex movements, a Debussy cover, and the purest forms of love and grace a song can convey.
My wife would say something if I did not give her credit for immersing me into this band (and this genre as a whole), so there I go.
Defining Moment: The storytelling in “Julep” somehow encompasses an entire lifelong relationship in less than six minutes, wrapping up the story as beautifully as one can:
“A beautiful daughter
Lifetimes of summer
And love ever after
I died happy in my sleep”
1. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
Without needing to do a backlog of this decade’s significant band breakups, The Roundtable will miss The Civil Wars most of all.
The haunting harmonies and the perilous vocal dance these two performed for two stunning studio albums were among the great gifts of the decade. This self-titled album documents the duo at its best, amplified by the art of living out their namesake.
Defining Moment: I have heard that “Dust to Dust” is the closest song that documents the duo’s internal collapse. I have to believe this is true, as it boosts the song’s weight considerably.
2 thoughts on “The Roundtable’s Favorite Folk and Bluegrass Albums (2010-19)”
As for Brandi, I understand the panic. By the Way, I forgive You may even be an alltimer for me… just beautiful.
I was thinking the other day about Cornell, and how I heard the news. My wife had left for work early, so I was getting ready for work myself, and turned on the radio. Typically, my morning show eases us into the morning, and I was a little surprised to hear Soundgarden playing so early. I grew more curious when they followed it with another Soundgarden song, then the DJ came on the mic to say what they had learned minutes earlier… There I was packing my lunch and sipping my morning coffee, and I actually dropped to my knees. It was one of those surreal moments.
That’s powerful – we all have musicians that affect us, but his was the first death that truly floored me – Chester Bennington being the second. No doubt because we’re getting to that age when artists we’ve grown up with our entire lives are the next ones to go. But the way that it happened was even more tragic.