Instead of writing new blurbs for each of these albums, I’m going to let the reviews stand as my comments about each of them except the album of the year. Since I had so many EPs on my EPs of the year list, there are less than my standard 20 albums of the year this year.
Album of the Year: Worn Out Skin – Annabelle’s Curse. (Review) This album came out of nowhere and established itself as a standard component of my listening life. It fits on the shelf right next to Josh Ritter and The Barr Brothers in terms of maturity of songwriting, lyrical depth, beauty, and overall engagement. Each of the songs here have their own charms, which is rare for an album: this one will keep you interested the whole way through. It’s a complete album in every sense of the word, and so it was the easy choice for album of the year.
The songs on Dana Sipos‘ Roll Up the Night Sky fit the album title well. Almost to a tune, these folk compositions feel like an apt accompaniment to staring up into a clear night sky, feeling the gentle sense of awe that comes from looking at great beauty. Sipos’ ability to set a mood without losing track of the song allows her to create striking individual tunes within an excellent whole.
The impact of Sipos’ sound is not that far from the mystic, hazy folk of Gregory Alan Isakov; however, where Isakov uses gentle distortion and reverb to create his sound, Sipos plays with empty space in her clear-eyed arrangements to invoke an ethereal sense. “Old Sins,” “Morningside,” “Full Moon Sinners” and more imbue stark arrangements with a sense of romance and mystery via Sipos’ engaging, controlled voice. Sipos is the opposite of a belter: she commands attention through tiny inflections here and there, specific phrase lengths, and delicate melodies. There’s drama all throughout Roll Up the Night Sky, but it’s not theatrical in the ostentatious sense of the word. The album is a thoughtful art house film, not a Michael Bay joint.
But let us not lose sight of her instrumentation amid her vocals and careful use of space. She knows how to intricately work an arrangement so that nothing feels cluttered or crowded: “Night Sky” includes fingerpicked mandolin, stand-up bass, percussion, and a horn. Instead of being a jubilant, full-throated blaster, it’s a regal, dignified, calm tune. It reminds me of the sorts of beautiful work that Damien Jurado and Matt the Electrician can put together in their starkest moments. It exemplifies the sorts of arrangements that exist all throughout the album; due to this consistency, Roll will reward you if you listen to it all at once.
Every song on Roll Up the Night Sky is commendable. “Road to Michigan” shows her vocals and guitar at their most Isakov-ian, while “My Beloved” is a poignant, traditional-sounding gentle bluegrass/country ballad. “Holy People” opens with a string section that counts as some of the heaviest work on the album (which points firmly to how quiet this whole work is). Further bonus: these songs are all long. Only two of 12 fall under four minutes, and five are over five minutes. And I haven’t even had time to mention the lyrics, which are shot through with astronomy and loveliness.
Roll Up the Night Sky is a powerful statement made through restraint. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, delicate folk album that shows off Dana Sipos’ formidable talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Fans of serious music, female vocalists, or romantic-leaning folk will find themselves with a brilliant talent to enjoy and watch in the future.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.