Rhiannon Giddens performs "I'm On My Way" from her album "There is No Other"
1. Rhiannon Giddens, There is No Other (Nonesuch): It really was Rhiannon Giddens’ year, what with this haunting Joe Henry-produced album collaboration with Italian jazz musician Francesco Turrisi and an equally enthralling collaboration, Songs of Our Native Daughters (Smithsonian Folkways), with fellow North American female singer-songwriters (under the group name Our Native Daughters) Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell.
2. Samantha Fish, Kill or Be Kind (Rounder): Then again, down and dirty blues-rock guitarist Samantha Fish had another big year, what with an album on which she poured it out on songs like the wonderfully-titled titletrack and the killer “Bulletproof,” not to mention her ace production of Nicholas David’s excellent blue-eyed New Orleans-styled piano soul album Yesterday’s Gone on her Wild Heart Records label.
3. Kinky Friedman, Resurrection (Echo Hill Records): Now 75, Texas Jewboy Friedman has suddenly, after a 40-plus-year hiatus from releasing albums of original new material, put out back-to-back sets the last two years, this one marked by renowned multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell’s perfect production and Friedman’s resurrected sensitivity and depth.
4. Yola, Walk Through Fire (Easy Eye Sound): Stunning album debut evoking classic English pop, lusciously produced by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at his Nashville Easy Eye Sound studio for his like-named label.
5. Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Summer of Sorcery (Wicked Cool): A timely reminder that Steven Van Zandt, in addition to his Bruce Springsteen sideman and acting roles, is a terrific R&B-drenched songwriter, producer, bandleader and singer.
6. Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Contemporary (Alligator): Well-titled installment from Estrin, proving once again that he’s the king of contemporary blues songwriting, also a second-to-none musician/singer/bandleader and the ultimate entertainer.
7. Handsome Dick Manitoba, Born in the Bronx (Liberation Hall): Debut solo album from legendary Dictators frontman is aptly titled after its closing track, but could just as well be titled after preceding cut “Soul Punk King of NYC” as with it he hereby claims the crown.
8. Various artists, The Carter Family—Across Generations (Reviver Legacy): Intriguing and rewarding and seamless techno-created blend of original Carter Family singing with four successive Carter generations.
9. Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Stubborn Heart (Lucky Number Music): Best known as journalist/biographer (Howard Stern, Mike Tyson) and all-around colorful character, Larry “Ratso” Sloman surprised everyone with a first album of mostly excellent original material boasting atmospheric production, help from friends like Nick Cave, and well-incorporated influences from heavyweight friends Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
10. The Hu, The Gereg (Eleven Seven Music) Novel heavy Mongol metal employed centuries-old traditional instruments like the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and Mongolian throat singing and offered a uniquely fresh perspective on the hard rock genre.