And it has become a cliché now – this has been a weird year. But if you say that at the end of every year for five or six years in a row then has it really been a weird year? Maybe we are just a country that changes their Prime Minister every few months and where Chancellor of the Exchequer is just a Summer fill-in role for a random temporary hire. And where the ruling party can channel millions to their friends to deliver useless PPE and no-one even bothers to hide the fact anymore. And where most of the press try to demonise public sector workers for having had enough of a decade of zero or below inflation pay rises. Perhaps, and this is frightening, perhaps this is the new normal. Some consolation from that train of thought can be found in music – and 2022 can claim to have been as rich in musical gems as any year one might wish to point at. That’s a trend that can only be applauded. And 2022 was also the year when – at last – the conditions became a bit better for the live music scene – although it’d be wrong to ignore the remaining ongoing difficulties with serious Covid and Flu cases. But looking back at the year there’s a lot to celebrate.
So let’s take a Deputy Editor’s stroll through the year – and this is as always a personal view not an official Americana UK statement. In the early part of the year online gigs were still the predominant live experience, and the showcases at the Folk Alliance International Conference were a real highlight in that area. Tiring, of course, with the difficult time shift, but a lot of fun as well. The real live gig going had to wait for the late Summer, and a first post-pandemic gig was Allison Russell at Omeara. It had been a long wait, but what a way to start up again – a truly remarkable performance from a truly remarkable person. There was a first visit to Lafayette for The Dream Syndicate including a performance in strict running order of ‘The Days of Wine and Roses‘ – epic in its rocking magnificence. Totally different in feel but very much an Earth shattering experience was Angeline Morrison at Cecil Sharp House, unveiling one of the most significant folk releases of the year. And more highlights were to come. Andy Irvine was reliably great in Cambridge, and Beth Nielsen Chapman wowed at The Stables.
For albums – well, riches doesn’t really touch on it. Stalwarts of the various scenes that collectively make up our version of Americana released career significant albums – Judy Collins being noteworthy amongst those. There was a poignant release by The Sadies – one of their best albums, touched by sadness with the passing of Dallas Good. And there was a lot of Laurel Canyon influence in the air, with the charge led by Bonny Light Horseman but they were far from alone.
Got to Get Down To It – should have been done long ago
Which is by way of saying enough with the chitter-chatter – were we not promised lists? Is there anything more satisfying than the end of year list and its ability to provoke a rolling of the eyes as some terrible selection is made whilst the real greatest album of the year is just plain ignored? It’s a tradition, and we’re happy to stick to it. So here come some lists with songs, albums and gigs (just a handful of those) of my year.
10 Great Songs of the Year
1. Amsterdam – Mary Gauthier. In which the doom-laden Mary Gauthier sings convincingly of the joys of being in love. Love sounds great. We should all try it.
2. The Havoc Wreaker – VanWyck. You’ve unleashed the furies – what do you think you can do about it? No, that won’t work…
3. Drowning in Plain Sight – The Delines. Captures frustration, despair and thwarted hopes and doesn’t make it romantically attractive. Despair, it seems, is not much fun.
4. Coyotes – Bill Callahan. Simply dreamy meditation on life and family and love and death and all in between.
5. Chevrolet – Neil Young with Crazy Horse. Thoughts about cars, the end of the world, mistakes of the youth and the future to come as the horse just plough on relentlessly.
6. Sleeping Dogs Best Left Alone – Dr John. A prime slice of classic Dr John, groovy and funky and…so cool.
7. Old Kind of Magic – Native Harrow. Title track of the excellent new album – it’s a light psychedelic folk song – half California and half South Downs.
8. Duel – Marry Waterson. Taking the Propaganda hit and making a perfect English folk-rock song of it.
9. Sunny Day – Seth Swirsky. None more Power Pop.
10. The Witch Bitch – Storm the Palace. Crosby, it turjs out, is not the only one who “writes the weird shit“. Cosplay Cabaret Psychfolk – if that’s such a thing.
10 Great Albums of the Year
1. The Sea Drift – The Delines. The Delines are a great band, and with a great storyteller as their songwriter and a voice that embodies world weary to sing those stories they can’t fail to impress.
2. The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man – VanWyck. Deep and complex songs touched by myth and with a mystery running through this continually intriguing concept album.
3. Dark Enough to See the Stars – Mary Gauthier. An album truly about love throughout, even when the songs are about those lost forever it is still love that makes them so affecting. Genius.
4. Rolling Golden Holy – Bonny Light Horseman. Moving beyond folk-rock reinvention to a warm West Coast Laurel Canyon feel on songs that just melt your heart.
5. Spellbound – Judy Collins. At last, and after let’s be fair a lot of years, the album we’ve all hankered after – all Judy all the way through and no cover songs. Turns out she is a great songwriter – we knew, Judy, we knew.
6. Colder Streams – The Sadies. An album that rocks as only The Sadies can – intelligent and completely instinctive at the same time.
7. The Sorrow Songs – Angeline Morrison. Telling untold tales of British history, through folk-song reimagined and new tunes that feel centuries old.
8. Old Kind of Magic – Native Harrow. Manages to give that Laurel Canyon feel (again!) to songs with an English folk twist. We don’t mention Sandy Denny lightly, but this is an album that deserves that kind of comparison.
9. Tell ‘Em You Were Gold – Pharis and Jason Romero. A deservedly assured album from musicians completely in control and what they do on guitar and banjo and with songs that are miles above others playing in the same sphere.
10. Lighten Up – Erin Rae. A fully satisfying album as Erin Rae keeps everything she is good at and broadens her palette at the same time. Exquisite.
5 Great Gigs of the Year
1. Mary Gauthier, Union Chapel, London: the new album would feature heavily and although it is as noted above a bitter-sweet affair it is also life affirming and that warmth of emotion came across perfectly in this hallowed venue.
2. The Delines, Alexandra Palace Theatre, London: knocked about by life, patched up and somehow still standing – rarely does a venue so complement a band. A band, let it be said, that were having a lot of fun even when the songs tell of lives going so awry.
3. Allison Russell, Omeara, London: Outside Child has marked Allison Russell out as a major talent (we all knew that already, right?) and her performance was assured and powerful.
4. The Dream Syndicate, LaFayette London: when asked how they managed to rock so hard Steve Wynn just commented “we hit a groove and we just keep going.” That’s what he said, and that’s what they did.
5. Angeline Morrison, Cecil Sharp House, London: it’s not just that The Sorrow Songs is an excellent album – although it obviously is – but it’s also that Angeline Morrison is such an engaging singer and a wonderful songwriter. A major talent.