1. “Hollow” – Musketeer. Control of line length is a very fine skill that is deeply under-appreaciated when thinking about what makes a song good. But Musketeer’s careful control of where words start and end, how many syllables get in a line, and how long each syllable should be held give this a very distinct air. His lovely vocal tone and deft, airy arrangement help as well, but it’s those vocal lines that make this the excellent track it is.
2. “Blue” – Ziegler Co. The glockenspiel (kalimba? so hard to tell sometimes) that opens this track sets the stage for a beautiful back-porch rumination that I could listen to on loop for a very long time.
3. “Marjorie” – Reddening West. The almost-reverent, elegaic arrangement to this folk tune creates a gorgeous frame for mournful vocals. Fans of Blind Pilot and The Low Anthem should latch on.
4. “Beggar Woman” – Eden Hana. Hana makes dusky, soulful magic here with nothing but two female vocalists and a banjo.
5. “Tall Towers” – Wolfcryer. Matt Baumann’s baritone and incredible way with melodies make him one of my favorite troubadour-style folk singers. Wolfcryer will donate all the proceeds from this particular political tune to the ACLU.
6. “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” – Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra. This is a moving, arresting version of the traditional spiritual. The non-traditional part: Hayde Bluegrass Orchestra is from Norway.
7. “Waltz” – Andrea Silva. The vocal tone and performance here grab me and don’t let go for the duration of the four-minute singer/songwriter tune.
8. “Dalliance” – Ziegler Co. Impressive three-part harmonies give this good-natured acoustic track a sunshiny cast.
9. “Dance Dance” – No Ninja Am I. Somewhere between the forlorn serenity of Sufjan’s Michigan, the mystical side of Simon and Garfunkel, and the William Fitzsimmons’ subtle depths of emotion lies this beautiful track.
10. “New York” – Passing Pines. I love a good brushed snare, and that particular percussion style underpins a rolling, expansive, pastoral folk track. It sounds like a peaceful walk through a breezy, bright forest. (Not the dark, thick ones of Fleet Foxes tracks.)
11. “Alice” – Timid, the Brave. Some songwriters know how to combine a vocal melody, an arrangement, and production job to create maximum gravitas. This mature, fully-realized folk mosey makes me feel like Timid, the Brave could be a great opener on a The Barr Brothers, Josh Ritter, and Alexi Murdoch super-tour. Check the lovely, distant trumpet.