The 50 Best
Acoustic CDs From 1990-2000: CD Reviews
1. Nields Gotta Get Over
Greta 1996 Razor and Tie. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric
guitar, electric bass, harmonica, drums. Gotta Get Over Greta by the
Nields is the best hard-driving alt rock release of the decade. With
intelligent, quirky lyrics, powerful vocals, a high-energy
presentation, and melodies that are contagious and consistently
innovative, this disk rocks. Among the best of the bunch are: the title
cut (a song about the influence of a childhood friend), Black Dress (a
poignant piece about a young woman dating an older married man), the
dreamlike All My Pretty Horses, and the folk-pop Bulletproof. Also
highly recommended is Play.
2. Rhino 2 Rhino Rhino 2 Rhino 1996 Buyour.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass, drums.
Among the most interesting rock I've ever heard, Rhino 2 Rhino plays
original music that covers a huge swath of stylistic territory from
jazz-funk (Beaurigard the Troll) to neo-heavy metal (The Futon Song and
The Gospel Truth) to countryish folk rock (Colorado) to reggae-rock
(Jeep's Chair) to sea chantey pirate songs (Cap'n Kylbm). This doesn't
even count tunes which defy categorization like the truly bizarre
Prairie Dog Messiah. In spite of the wide variety of stylistic
influences, the CD is nonetheless musically coherent and full of novel
themes, unusual arrangements, and catchy tunes. Also recommended is
3. Jason and Alison Woodshed 1994
Whitehouse. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, cello,
percussion, drums. Woodshed captures some of the best elements of the
Seattle grunge sound--quirky angst-ridden lyrics, catchy pop melodies
sung over driving rock rhythms, and unconventional arrangements-while
at the same time, developing an extremely appealing sound of its own.
The production is simple, generally consisting of Jason Narducy's
strong, evocative vocals and acoustic guitar, complimented by cellist
Alison Chesley's mysterious, brooding melody lines. Also highly
recommended is Whiteout by Jason and Alison's new band Verbow
4. Aunt Pat Patoo 1999 IOU.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, keyboards,
bagpipes, electric bass, drums. Patoo is an intriguing assortment of
songs that are instantly engaging and unforgettable. The group employs
a sound that is often reminiscent of Buckingham-Nicks, although each
cut is quite different from one another in terms of style and musical
texture. For example, Little Brother is a gentle laid-back folk-pop
piece, followed by Hard Inside, a piece that has a strong traditional
Appalachian feel. Following that is Oscar, an angry, hard-edged
electrified rock denunciation of violence in popular culture. In
addition to their fine rock tunes, the band's stellar vocal harmonies
come shining through on beautiful, hard to categorize pieces like 13th
Sign and Gemini. The CD is outstanding, capturing the high-energy
performances of the band and its terrific songs.
5. Equation The Lucky Few 2000 Putumayo.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass, fiddle,
mandolin, keyboards, drums. From start to finish The Lucky Few has a
potent driving rock force that, along with Kathryn Roberts' powerful
vocals, perfectly underscores the exceptional songs by Sean and Seth
Lakeman. Blending together traditional folk instruments (fiddle,
mandolin, acoustic guitar) with electric guitar, bass, drums, and
keyboards, the band has created its own captivating alt-rock-folk-pop
sound. The songs are memorable, the performances strong, and the disk
is outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable.
1. Capercaillie Delirium 1991 Green Linnet.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, keyboards, bagpipes,
fiddle, percussion, accordion, drums. Masterful musicianship,
incredibly beautiful melodies, and the soaring vocals of lead singer
Karen Matheson make Delirium the best Celtic CD of the 90s. Whether
inspired reworkings of traditional Celtic pieces such as Coisich, a
Ruin and Cape Breton Song, or unforgettable originals composition like
Servant to the Slave and Rann Na Mona,each song is an outstanding
example of Celtic-pop-rock fusion at its best. Also highly recommended
are Secret People, Beautiful Wasteland, and Nadurra
2. Wolfstone The Half Tail 1996 Green
Linnet. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
bagpipes, fiddle, keyboards, accordion, bouzouki, flute,percussion,
whistles, drums. The Half Tail is a fusion of traditional Celtic with
modern rock music, combining Celtic melodic sensibilities and
instrumentation (bagpipes, penny whistles, fiddle) with a strong rock
backbeat. For example, Zeto captures the mournful, mystical feel of the
Scottish highlands, then metamorphoses into a thundering minor-key rock
piece. From there, it transforms seamlessly into an almost joyful
major-key number. On this CD, the changes in mood are as dramatic as a
Tarantino flick. For fans of Celtic and rock, this CD puts the best of
both worlds onto one disk.
3. Maddy Prior Year 1993 Park.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, Uillean pipes,
keyboards, whistles, drums. This release by Steeleye Span member Maddy
Prior combines the rhythm and feel of the traditional Celtic with some
well thought-out modern innovations. From the lilting a cappella
Snowdrops to Twa Corbies, a dark, almost Gothic song performed in the
style of Renaissance (the 70s art-rock group, not the era), the music
is varied and interesting throughout. Oddly enough, one of the best
songs is Deep In The Darkest Night, a beautiful non-Celtic love song
written by Rick Kemp, and the only one which doesn't seem to be part of
the changing seasons theme of this "concept" CD. While some might be
taken aback by the bloody themes of a few of the songs, the disk is
nonetheless accessible and engaging. Also recommended is Ravenchild
4. Runrig Live at the Celtic Connections 2000
Ridge. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
keyboards, bagpipes, percussion, accordion, violin,drums. With its
reliance on electric guitar, electronic keyboards, and drum kit, it's
not surprising that Runrig sounds a lot more like a stadium rock band
than a Celtic group. However, Runrig uses its high-energy rock rhythms
to good effect, converting the band's original Celtic-influenced
melodies into full-blown rock anthems. Protect and Survive, one of the
group's more popular pieces, is a powerful number that is at once
catchy and hard driving. Live at the Celtic Connections 2000 captures
the electricity of band's live performances, highlighting some of their
5. David Wilkie Cowboy Celtic 1996
Redhouse. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric bass,
mandolin, keyboards, fiddle, whistles, Uilleann pipes. Cowboy Celtic is
an excellent example of the transformation of an interesting
intellectual exercise into an artistic success. In this case, what
David Wilkie has done is to underscore the musical similarities between
North American cowboy music and the traditional Celtic melodies from
which cowboy music derived. The result is a highly intriguing and
musically appealing blend. The songs flow seamlessly from Scotland to
the old West and back again. The Trail to Mexico morphs into In the Tap
Room which slides into The Banshee--all sounding as if the songs had
been intended as seperate movements in a traditional symphony.
1. Suzi Katz Suzi Katz 1991 ESD.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass, mandolin,
Dobro, percussion, drums. Strong lyrics, interesting arrangements, and
powerful, unforgettable songs make Suzi Katz the best female singer-
songwriter of the 90s. The songs on her self-titled CD include several
moving pieces that recall ways of life lost to nature, war, and the
passage of time (Assay Town and The People); bittersweet reminiscences
of love (Ile Aye and Just Like Today); and insightful observations of
people living at the fringes of society (Michael and Numbers). Also
highly recommended is her 1994 release, Three Day Rain.
2. Lynn Patrick Natural Voice Inside 1994
Dakota Ridge. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, bass. Singer-songwriter
Lynn Patrick's debut release, Natural Voice Inside, showcases her
wistful vocals, catchy songs, and interesting guitar style that often
has an instrumental melody line countering the vocal melody. The
arrangements are simple but effective, featuring bass and the
occasional lead guitar and harmony vocal as the only accompaniment to
her fine singing and acoustic guitar work. Her guileless, genuine
lyrics, and appealing melodies help to make this a thoroughly engaging
release. Also highly recommended is Patrick's 1998 release, Winnie's
Guitar, an excellent all-instrumental CD.
3. Gayla Drake Paul Gayla Drake Paul 1995
Ivanhoe Rd. Music. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar,
electric bass, drums. Guitarist, singer-songwriter Gayla Drake Paul has
added to the ranks of top-flight independent music with the release of
her debut self-titled CD. Combining a nicely varied finger-style guitar
approach (mainly in DADGAD tuning) and deep, evocative vocals with
interesting and memorable songs, she has produced a fine, cohesive
recording. Interestingly, two very noticeable influences that show up
throughout the recording are Celtic and Brazilian jazz, which
compliment each other perfectly.
4. Kate Campbell Songs From the Levee 1995
Compass. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, mandolin,
percussion, keyboards, slide guitar, Dobro, viola, accordion, drums.
Aside from being one of the best releases by a female
singer-songwriter, Songs From The Levee, is also one of the best
examples of modern country music in the 90s. With moving impressionist
lyrics about life in the South, melancholy melodies, a powerful voice
and production that's solid without being overpowering, Campbell and
producer Johnny Pierce have put together a disk that captures the
rootsy heart of country music. Better yet, it's also thoughtful and
intelligent, which is something that can be said about few if any
modern Nashville top-40 country recordings.
5. Melissa Ferrick Freedom 2000 What Are
Records. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Melissa Ferrick and collaborator/bassist
Marika Tjelios have managed to put together an excellent CD that, while
featuring just the two of them (plus drum tracks on a few of the cuts),
has the musical intensity of a full-blown rock band. Even though all of
the intensely personal songs on the disk are about love, longing for
love, and love turned to anger and resentment, they have a strong
melodic appeal owing to the strength of Ferrick's high-energy guitar
playing, emotional vocal delivery, and solid songwriting.
1. Keola Beamer Wooden Boat
1994 Dancing Cat. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar,
electric bass, keyboards, flute, drums. Weaving together smooth
baritone vocals, masterful traditional guitar performances, and finely
crafted original songs, Keola Beamer has created the best CD of the
decade by a male singer-songwriter. The disk flows from the upbeat,
calypso rhythms of Hemo Da Kope Bean, to the haunting vocals of Where I
Hold You, to the eerie Hawaiian flute in Dancers in the Land of Po, all
intertwined with Beamer's excellent Hawaiian slack-key guitar
performances. Wooden Boat is a highly successful synthesis of
traditional and contemporary styles that accentuates the best qualities
2. Iain Matthews The Dark Ride 1994
Watermelon. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric
bass, percussion, mandolin, Dobro, drums. The strength of this CD is
Iain Matthews' songwriting: Ballad of Gruene Hall--an excellent example
of Texas folk-rock that's catchy and nostalgic without being sappy, and
For Better or Worse--the compelling story of a woman (Matthews' wife)
who overcame an abusive relationship, are just two of the outstanding
cuts on the disk. Guest Artist Contact Sara Hickman, Kris McKay and
daughter Darcy Matthews each provide fine vocal harmonies, reminiscent
of the old Gram Parsons/ Emmylou Harris collaborations.
3. Electric Bonsai Band I Am Joe's Eyes
1990 Yellowtail. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, steel
guitar, clarinet, drums. It's not electric, it's not a band, and
there's no Bonsai. The Electric Bonsai Band is actually Andrew Ratshin,
founder and songwriter of the legendary folk-rock group, Uncle Bonsai.
Clever, ironic lyrics that show a keen perception of the human
condition, along with interesting arrangements of well-crafted songs
highlight this CD. Wheel of Death, a cynical look at the effects of
television on American culture, contrasts nicely with the
soul-searching introspection of the title cut. Fans of Uncle Bonsai
will not be disappointed.
4. Greg Brown The Poet Game 1994 Red House.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, steel guitar,
percussion, keyboards, drums. Best known as the longtime
songwriter-in-residence for the oppressively cheerful Prairie Home
Companion radio show, Greg Brown has produced a CD that contains
surprising doses of angst, cynicism, and even bitterness. Nostalgia
does manage to find its way into many of the songs--Brand New '64 Dodge
for example, but it's tinged with ironic sadness. The Poet Game is
crammed with incisive observations, powerful, sometimes disturbing
imagery and some of the decade's best lyrics.
5. Eric Bibb Good Stuff 1998 Earthbeat.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric bass, bouzouki,
mandolin, slide guitar, harmonica, keyboards, banjo, drums. Bibb has
the touch--writing simple but magnetic songs, backed by his band's
solid, straightforward arrangements and sung in a voice that is as
smooth as any this side of Robert Cray. Quite a few blues stylings are
captured nicely here: Saucer And Cup showcases Bibb's great
delta-bluesy guitar picking, All of My Love has a touch of Zydeco, and
A Simple Song is a beautiful pop-folky number. From the Chicago blues
sound of Nothin Like You Used To, to the Hawaiian-tinged instrumental,
Blacksmith Island, the disk is strong from start to finish, and
constitutes some of the best blues of the decade. Also highly
recommended is Home to Me.
1. Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies Parish Notices
1998 Green Linnet. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, acoustic and
electric bass, mandolin, bouzouki, hurdy gurdy, accordion, fiddle,
saxophone, percussion, whistles, banjo, dulcimer, harmonica, drums.
Combining British pub-pop melodies, Celtic folk sensibilities,
powerful, biting lyrics, and top-flight musicianship, Jez Lowe has
created the decade's best CD of socially conscious music. The first
three songs on the disk, Glad Rags Again, Tom-Tom, and Propping
illustrate Lowe's ability to incorporate potent social ommentary into
beautiful, unrepentantly nostalgic tunes. While Lowe's songs cover a
wide range of textures, styles and emotions, they are thoroughly
consistent in their high quality. Venerable folk-rocker Richard
Thompson calls Lowe "the best songwriter to come out of England in a
long time." I agree. Also highly recommended are Jez Lowe's Tenterhooks
and Live at the Davey Lamp
2. Joel Mabus Promised Land 1994 Fossil.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, fiddle. I'm stepping
on the throttle, but I'm still losing power My paychecks come and go
just like the chassis on the line The hookers on the street sell their
bodies by the hour And I know they like their job about as much as I
like mine. --From the song Rivethead Promised Land is an excellent
example of progressive populist songwriting that would do Woody Guthrie
proud. The songs are simple, heartfelt, and very catchy tributes to
ordinary folks, featuring Mabus' vocals accompanied only by his
excellent bluesy fingerstyle guitar. Promised Land is a thoughtful
portrayal of people's lives in the heartland. Also recommended are
Rhyme Schemes and Western Passage
3. Leslie Smith These Things Wrapped 1995
Waterbug. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, violin,
steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, cello, keyboards, percussion, drums. The
songs are profound, the lyrics alternately scathing and compassionate,
and the music is exquisite. Smith's soaring vocals forcefully convey
the powerful images expressed in the songs. From the potent social
commentary of China Cups and Wednesdays Child to the touching Prayers
Of Genevieve and Midnight Pirouette to the finely crafted allegory of
Boat In A Bottle the lyrics, the melodies, and the music are nothing
less than terrific from beginning to end.
4. Annie Humphrey The Heron Smiled 2000
Makoche. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
percussion, keyboards, fiddle, flute, drums. With a vocal delivery
reminiscent of Suzanne Vega and songs that alternate between melancholy
longing for love and angry denunciations of the treatment and living
conditions of Native Americans, Annie Humphrey presents a powerful yet
highly appealing CD. The songs, crafted with help from lyricists Carson
Gardner, Adrian Liberty, and Anne Dunn, paint vivid portraits of life
on the reservation, and the anger, frustration, longing, and sometimes
hope felt by people living there.
5. Austin Lounge Lizards Never an Adult Moment
2000 Sugar Hill. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
mandolin, banjo, steel guitar, fiddle, keyboards, accordion, drums.
What can you say about a CD containing titles like Forty Years Old and
I'm Living in My Mom's Garage, The Illusion Travels by Stock Car (a
bizarre take on stock car racing as a deeply intellectual pursuit), and
a sarcastic skewering of the American health care system, Rasputin's
HMO? Hilarious, insightful (not to mention inciteful), and right on
target. Even though the Lizard's main focus is on raucously funny
social and political commentary, their musicianship is excellent, most
notably on Big Rio Grande River, a perfectly executed parody of
traditional cowboy ballads. Also recommended are Small Minds, Highway
Cafe of the Damned, Creatures from the Black Saloon, and Employee of
1. Alison Brown Quartet 1996
Vanguard/Compass. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
banjo, piano, drums. Jazz banjoist Brown has created the best
instrumental CD of the nineties by making classical, blues, and jazz
passages sound as if the styles were developed specifically for the
banjo and masterfully balancing technical prowess with melodic
sensitivity. And yes, she even throws in a bit of bluegrass. The disk
is nothing short of terrific, blending the various genres into a rich
musical tapestry that captures the essence of each while at the same
time cultivating entirely new sounds. Quartet has helped to put the
much-maligned banjo in danger of gaining acceptance as a "serious"
2. Emory Lester Set Emory Lester Set 1994
Northumberland. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
mandolin, fiddle, keyboards, banjo, drums. The Emory Lester Set is
mandolinist Emory Lester's terrific Ontario-based jazz/bluegrass
quartet. The group has created a style that blends jazz and bluegrass
into an intricate yet completely accessible sound, capturing the best
of each while staying true to both. The Set creates innovative and
interesting music that takes musical genres to the edges of their
frontiers (with some incredible picking thrown in to boot). This CD
represents an outstanding example of musical craftsmanship and
versatility. Also highly recommended is Pale Rider by Emory Lester.
3. Peppino D'Agostino Venus Over Venice
1995 Mesa/Bluemoon. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
piano, percussion, wood flute, violin, mandolin, drums. While the
majority of the Venus Over Venice is focused on guitarist/composer
D'Agostino's virtuoso guitar renderings of his melodically appealing
compositions, a nice balance is achieved with the inclusion of several
pieces that effectively showcase his studio outstanding ensemble
(piano, bass, percussion, wood flute, violin and an appearance by
mandolinist Mike Marshall). Also included on the disk are a memorable
reworking of the 60's classic Walk Away Renee with David Wilcox and
Nancy Pettit on vocals, and Ancora un Instante (co-written with Alfredo
Morabito), a solo guitar and vocal piece beautifully sung in Italian.
4. Peter Ostroushko Heart of the Heartland
1995 Red House. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
mandolin, fiddle, keyboards, percussion, harmonica, cello. With Heart
of the Heartland, composer and Prairie Home refugee Peter Ostroushko
has produced an excellent body of music that blends traditional
American and European folk styles with classical elements. Though the
CD highlights Ostroushko's fiddle and mandolin performances, it is very
much a group collaboration, featuring outstanding performances by the
band. cellists Sarah Lewis and Cecilia Rossiter. From the Celtic tinged
Seattle to the Latin flavored Nicaragua to melancholy pieces such as
Dakota Themes and Twilight On The Sangre de Cristos, the tunes are
appealing, and although they exhibit a nice variety, form a highly
5. Carolyn Cruso & Robert Almblade Great Blue
1995 Blue Heron. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
hammered dulcimer, flutes, violin, keyboards, harp, percussion. All of
the tunes on Great Blue have a strong, brooding Celtic flavor, and
showcase the duo's fine understated instrumental work. Cruso's flute
and whistle solos perfectly compliment Almblade's hammered dulcimer and
guitar rhythms, and do musical justice to the duo's original numbers as
well as an excellent interpretation of Doug Berch's Ocean Of Wisdom.
Guest musicians Kevin Burke (and others) also turn in some great
performances. Also recommended are Transformation, and As Clear a Hue
by Carolyn Cruso.
1. Habib Koite Maya 1999 Putumayo.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, percussion, keyboards,
violin, marimba, harmonica, drums. On Maya, Koite's exquisite melodies
are sung over signature guitar riffs that are in turn played over a
variety of different rhythms and polyrhythms. The result is music that
is mysterious, moving, and immediately appealing. The songs are sung
primarily in Malian dialect with occasional French and English--and
feature layer upon layer of melodies and rhythms (from guitar,
keyboards, marimba, bass, violin, and percussion) which combine to form
a richly textured mosaic of sound. Each time you listen to this music,
you can hear something new. Habib Koite's Maya represents not only the
best world beat CD of the decade, but also some of the most interesting
music of any type.
2. Tarika D 1999 Green Linnet.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
keyboards, traditional instruments, saxophone, drums. D is a joyful
compilation of popular folk-based dance tunes from the group's native
Madagascar. The songs, which had originally been released in the 70s
and 80s by various musical groups, each represent one of Madagascar's
eighteen different ethnic traditions, and often deal with social or
political issues. The melodies are very appealing and are nicely
accentuated by the group's soaring vocal harmonies. The highly
danceable arrangements are also quite intriguing, featuring a very
effective combination of western rock instrumentation (guitars, bass,
and drums) along with more exotic instruments (tama, marovany, valiha,
3. Lara & Reyes Guitarras Hermanas 1994
S&J/Higher Octave. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
mandolin, ocarina, oud, percussion. Guitarras Hermanas contains a
terrific assortment modern guitar music heavily flavored with flamenco
and lightly seasoned with Latin jazz. Composers Sergio Lara and Joe
Reyes provide not only the hot flamenco guitar licks but also play
between them: mandolin, ocarina, oud, and assorted percussion. Although
nicely backed by Eric Casillas on timbales and percussion and Greg
Norris on bass, the fireworks come from the strong compositions and
blazing guitar solos of Lara and Reyes themselves. Also recommended is
Two Guitars, One Passion
4. Quetzalcoatl Quetzalcoatl 1995 Luna
Blanca. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, fiddle, harp,
cuatro, claves, percussion, traditional instruments. This self-titled
CD features a wide scope of masterfully performed, brilliantly reworked
traditional music from Venezuela, Cuba and Mexico. From the melancholy
Amorosa Guajira and La Vaca Mariposa to the raucous El Gusto Federal,
the divergent musical textures and ambience of the different traditions
come shining through. The beautiful vocal harmonies are complimented by
fiddle, harp, cuatro, guitar, bass, and claves, as well as the more
exotic quinta huapanguera, jarana, and zapateado (heel percussion).
5. Oscar Lopez Dancing on the Moon Contigo
1994 Redwood Records. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
mandolin, fiddle, percussion, drums. Chilean-born Canadian flamenco
guitarist/composer Oscar Lopez traverses the diverse landscape of Latin
musical genres and incorporates the melodic essence of each into this
impressive musical mosaic. The neo-classical Simple Moments and
Guitarras From Heaven contrast nicely with the bossanova touch of
Bolero Amor, the haunting Andean sounds of Roots, and the (believe it
or not) ragtime feel of Nobody's Perfect. Where the disk really stands
out, however, is on the fiery flamenco pieces: Bailando Rumba, Mr.
Melody, and Lucia. Lopez' great understated guitar work, substantive
melodies and novel rhythmic flourishes help to make this a highly
appealing disk for music connoisseurs as well as aspiring guitarists.
1. Judith Edelman Only Sun 1998 Compass.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, mandolin, fiddle,
Dobro, drums. With Only Sun, Judith Edelman has established herself as
one of American finest songwriters. These are songs that really sneak
up on you--beautiful melodies that serve to reinforce the powerful,
bitter truths of the masterfully written lyrics. Every cut is moving,
and executed with finesse by Edelman's top-flight band. This disk
combines bluegrass instrumentation (guitar, fiddle, dobro, mandolin,
bass) with intelligent, memorable songs to create a highly appealing
pop- bluegrass hybrid which helps to make Only Sun the best Americana
CD of the decade. Also highly recommended are Perfect World and Drama
2. Paul Kamm & Eleanore MacDonald Game of
Dances 1994 Freewheel. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric
bass. Kamm and MacDonald are among the least-known folkies on the
scene, and most undeservedly so. Relying almost entirely on a single
guitar, soaring vocal harmonies, and the considerable strength of
Paul's exquisite melodies, Game of Dances is a work of music that is
unforgettable and elegant in its simplicity. The tunes are all truly
beautiful and tend to have a lilting, Celtic quality that compliments
the mystical imagery of the lyrics. Also highly recommended are
Unbroken Chain, Into the Clouds, and Fields of Elysian.
3. Three Twins Trinkets 2000 Sleeping
Elephant. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, accordion,
keyboards, percussion, drums. Three Twins is the latest name for former
Subdudes member John Magnie's excellent new band. Their sound is
difficult to pin down--it has the feel of a cross between 50s R&B,
60s soul, and 70s country--spiced up with a touch of New Orleans jazz
thrown in for good measure. The songs have a strong pop feel, with the
trio singing terrific three part harmonies over the simple but
effective backing of guitar, bass, drums, and accordion on these
incredibly catchy pieces. In another era, Trinkets would have been
played on radio stations coast to coast. Now, the only way to hear
these great tunes is either to go to Colorado and catch Three Twins
live, or track down the CD on the net.
4. Toni Price Hey 1995 Antone's/Discovery.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
keyboards, mandolin, slide guitar, fiddle, drums. Toni Price's Hey is a
terrific combination of Texas country, blues and roots rock, sung with
passion and finesse by Price. Most of the tunes were written by
Nashville songwriter Gwil Owen, and have a welcome variety of styles
and textures. From the outstanding country-ish melodies of Misty
Moonlight and Tumbleweed (the best tunes on the disk), to the bluesy
title cut, to the down home New York City 23rd Of July, the music is
catchy, the performances are strong, and the disk is a great overall
work of country-flavored folk rock
5. Robert Earl Keen Gringo Honeymoon 1994
Sugar Hill. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, acoustic and
electric bass, percussion, fiddle, steel and slide guitar, keyboards,
drums. Robert Earl Keen's Gringo Honeymoon is what country music ought
to sound like--moody and sometimes melancholy, with heartfelt lyrics.
Songs like The Raven and the Coyote and Tom Ames' Prayer evoke images
of the Southwest as it once might have been. Others portray much less
romantic and more familiar images of Texas: pawning your shotgun to buy
an old PA for the big gig, trying to remember how you're related to
various kin folk, Mom and Dad drunk at the family Christmas party. The
arrangements are tight, the backup musicians (all 17 or so of them)
work well together, and the musical styles are varied but cohesive.
Also recommended is No Kinda Dancer.
1. Donna the Buffalo Positive Friction 2000
Sugar Hill. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric
bass, fiddle, keyboards, mandolin, drums. Powerful, infectious tunes
with insightful socially conscious lyrics, an innovative blend of
country, rock, folk, and reggae; plus a solid driving backbeat all
conspire to make Positive Friction the best folk-rock CD of the decade.
The band's musical diversity works well: although they have achieved
their own sound, every song is distinctive and strong in its own right.
For example, fiddler Tara Nevins' Yonder, an outstanding country-rocker
that puts a new spin on European settlement of North America, contrasts
nicely with the reggae-flavored title cut written by guitarist Jeb
Puryear, which in turn compliments the Nanci Griffith-esque No Place
Like the Right Time. This disk is folk-rock at its best. Also highly
recommended is Rockin in the Weary Land
2. Druha Trava Starodavny Svet 1994
Venkow/Sugar Hill. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar,
mandolin, fiddle, Dobro, saxophone, banjo, acoustic and electric bass,
drums. Incorporating just about every conceivable style even remotely
related to country roots music, Druha Trava has created an incredibly
innovative work that combines virtuoso musicianship with unusual and
widely varied arrangements. Some of the songs are bluesy rock ballads,
some are bluegrass, some are hybrids--all are outstanding. In addition
to standard bluegrass instruments, the group seamlessly blends electric
guitar, keyboards, drums and sax into a country-bluegrass-rock amalgam
that is as technically adventurous as it is melodically memorable
3. Sally Taylor Apt. # 6s 2000 Blue
Elbow/What Are Records. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar,
keyboards, horns, electric bass, drums. Sally Taylor's Apt. # 6s is a
folk-rock-pop triumph that stands on equal musical footing with the
best music produced by her legendary folk-pop folks, James Taylor and
Carly Simon. The disk starts out with a couple of extremely catchy
tunes--the enigmatic All This Time and relationship angst-themed Split
Decisions--and continues until the end of the disk with one after
another of Taylor's accessible, outstanding folk-pop pieces. Backed by
a solid rock ensemble (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, harmony vocals,
and the occasional horns), the arrangements are simple but effective,
highlighting Taylor's great songwriting.
4. Mojo Nixon Sock Ray Blue 1999 Shanachie.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
keyboards, drums. Alt-rock bad boy Mojo Nixon rocks and rants his way
through Sock Ray Blue with caustic social commentary and raucous
rockabilly rhythms, making this CD at once danceable and outrageously
funny. To get an idea of what he's up to, consider the titles of the
songs: Disney Is the Enemy, I Don't Want No Cybersex, and Drunk
Divorced Floozy (a tribute to Princess Diana). Then consider his
lyrics: "If it was a real Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame they'd have a drug
ATM," [about cybersex] "Baby forget the internet--let's just go to the
park and pet," and from Redneck Rampage "My family tree is a
stump...huntin down sheep to molest." Except for the surprisingly
sensitive When Did I Become My Dad, Mojo and his band The Toadliquors
rock out and rage against conformity and hypocrisy with boundless
energy and an outrageous sense of humor.
5. Free Hot Lunch Eat This 1990 Flying
Fish. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, mandolin,
fiddle, drums. Eat This is a live recording that effectively captures
the rowdy, fun-loving music of the great folk-rock trio Free Hot Lunch.
Relying on superb three-part harmonies, FHL plays engaging songs that
range from the beautiful and touching Home of the Whales to the surreal
Sidewalks on Parade to the hilarious Sex in a Volcano. Eat This is a
great collection of diverse music that's memorable and lots of fun.
Also recommended are Wa Ha Music, Free Hot Lunch, (on New Sound Planet
records) and Penguin Love.
1. Curandero Curandero
1995 Silver Wave. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass,
tablas, percussion. Curandero, the debut CD by flamenco guitarist
Miguel Espinoza in collaboration with tabla player Ty Burhoe, is
nothing short of spectacular, successfully fusing fiery, passionate
Spanish rhythms with the exotic voicings of the Indian tabla. From the
somewhat traditional flamenco approaches of La Tormenta to more risky
improv pieces like Intuitive Plane, the disk is accessible but never
predictable. The virtuoso performances by Espinoza, Burhoe, and bassist
Kirwan Brown are exceptional, and help to make Curandero the decade's
best multi-genre CD. Also highly recommended is Aras.
2. Rosina de Pereira Anueit (release date
not available) Revolum. INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric
bass, traditional instruments, percussion, keyboards, accordion, drums.
Anueit is a fascinating mixture of Breton-Celtic and Southern European
traditional influences combined with modern pop and folk-rock, all sung
entirely in Provencal (a dialect of Southern France). The
instrumentation is equally diverse, ranging from the expected (acoustic
guitar, bass and accordion), to the unexpected (tablas, lute, kalimba
and Tibetan bells). From there, it's on to the REALLY unexpected:
rebec, vielle, rebab, cornemuse, balafon, tama, udu m'bwata, wood box,
"water instruments," and my personal favorite, the zarb. (You just
don't hear a lot of good zarb solos these days.) Replete with many
exotic instrumental interludes, Anueit ranges from the brooding
Celtic-rock L'ernha, to the exquisitely anthemic Se Canta, to Som
Som-La Nena, a beautiful and eccentric lullaby. The result is an
outstanding CD featuring a terrific amalgam of styles and textures.
3. Mugar Kabily-Touseg 1998 Tempo Maker.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, electric bass, flutes, keyboards,
traditional instruments, percussion, bagpipes, drums. Kabily-Touseg is
a novel and thoroughly successful cross-pollination of traditional and
original Celtic-rock with traditional and original North African Berber
music. Haunting North African flute pieces blend seamlessly into Celtic
flute tunes, Berber drumming transforms into Celtic rhythms,
traditional Celtic tunes are played with Berber flutes, reed
instruments, chanting, and drums; traditional Berber pieces are played
with tin whistle, fiddle, and bodhran; bagpipes play over Berber
chants; and eerie North African trilling accompanies Celtic pieces.
Eventually, all converge into an inspiring new hybrid featuring
enchanting melodies and superb musicianship that bring out the best of
4. Joe Craven Camptown 1996 Acorn Music.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric bass, mandolin,
fiddle, banjo, keyboards, whistles, percussion, harp, hammered
dulcimer, accordion, drums. This CD has resurrected traditional Celtic
and North American standards and transformed them into new and almost
unrecognizable tunes by means of some wildly creative restylings. For
example, the traditional Soldier's Joy becomes a danceable Afro-pop
piece, Turkey In The Straw becomes a gypsy swing number a la Django
Reinhardt, and the Irish fiddle classic Little Beggar Man (renamed The
Fez Of Abu) is transformed into an inspired and convincing
Middle-Eastern work. Several other traditional melodies end up with new
Japanese, Cuban, Jamaican, Indian, Brazilian, and Australian aboriginal
passports. Craven and his terrific, versatile group of musicians help
to make this disk an acoustic classic.
5. Charming Hostess Eat 1998 Vaccination.
INSTRUMENTATION: Acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass,
saxophone, flute, fiddle, drums. Charming Hostess has the oddest
combination of sounds I've ever heard on a recording. Imagine a
pared-down version of the Bulgarian Women's Chorus backed by a punk
band and you'll be in the neighborhood. The songs are an amazingly
diverse assortment of originals, along with rocked-up versions of
traditional Bulgarian, Jewish, Gospel, Hungarian, African-American, and
Turkish folk songs. One song is a beautiful and intricately arranged
chorale, the next a thrash guitar, discordant vocal assault. Yet others
are combinations of the two. What makes this CD work so well is the
combination of the band's precision high-energy performances,
aesthetically appealing songs, and the adventurous intricacy of the
group's unconventional arrangements.
OTHER GREAT MUSIC
Jenny Allen Something
to Say 1991 Strange Pagan. Beautiful vocals, good original
Terry Allen Lubbock on Everything
1995 Sugar Hill. Interesting songs, some very funny, some truly bizarre.
Anam Riptide 1998 Green Linnet.
First-rate Celtic pop rock.
The Barftones Meet the Barftones
1997 Farm Mechanic Music. Twisted, distorted, anti music. Very weird,
Bigfoot & the Prehistoric Dogs Shake
Hands With Gonga 1997 El Cat. Great retro 70s style rock and folk
Celtic Elvis The Rise and Fall of Practically Everything 1989 Heavy
Mental Terrific social commentary, catchy songs, soaring harmonies.
Steve Clark Big Banned Music
1985 (self produced) Steve Clark. This Offer Void 1991 (self produced)
Both of these recordings by Steve Clark feature outstanding social and
Ronnie Dawson More Bad Habits
1999 Yep Roc. Great retro rockabilly.
Fairport Convention Jewel in the Crown
1995 Green Linnet. Good Celtic rock.
Great Big Sea Rant & Roar
1998 Sire. The music of Newfoundland done as pop rock. Very tight, very
Paul Griffin Diamond Heart 1997
(self produced). Some very catchy and memorable original songs.
Guardabarranco Si Buscabas 1985
Redwood. Beautiful Latin original folk-pop pieces.
Hedningarna The Heathen's Fire
1996 Silence/ Sony. Wild, energetic, exotic Swedish Celtic music.
John McVey Jigsaw 2000 Native
Language. Excellent original songs.
Ellen Klaver Daughter of the Earth
1986 (self produced). Pretty Appalachian and Latin-based original
music, strong social commentary.
Cor Mutsers & Patrick Van Gerven If
Only We Could Sing 1998 Strictly Country. Great guitar and Dobro
Kelly Joe Phelps Shine Eyed Mister Zen
1999 Rykodisk. Excellent original bluesy folk.
Jon Sirkis Songs for Kelly 1994
Boulder Folk. Folk rock and social commentary. No comment from me as
I'm biased, but the critics seemed to like it.
Spirit of the West Labour Day
1988 Flying Fish/ Rounder. Outstanding, energetic original Celtic rock.
Peter Stokes Songs from the Pit
1997 Farm Mechanic Music. Strong, moving, highly personal original
The Tahitian Choir Rapa Iti 1992
Triloka. Exotic, extremely interesting traditional songs from the South
Noe Venable No Curses Here 1998
Intuition, Songline/tonefield. Very catchy, brooding originals.
Verbow White Out 2000 Sony.
Great hard-edged, folk-based rock.
Yolocamba I Ta Cara o Cruz 1988
Flying Fish/ Rounder. Also, Yolocamba I Ta's Songs for the
Revolutionary Homeland 1981 Flying Fish/ Rounder. Both CDs by
Yolocamba I Ta feature powerful Latin folk rock, beautiful melodies,
and interesting arrangements.
Also highly recommended:
Dissidenten Sahara Electric 1988
Druha Trava Czechmate 1999
Honeydogs Here's Luck 1999 Palm
Jez Lowe Live at the Davey Lamp
Maddy Prior Ravenchild 1998 Park