Steve Kindig, Atlantic Weekly I (Saturday, 8-10 am est)
In no particular order (Artist/Album/Label) with thoughts and top pick off each album
Pharis & Jason Romero/A Wanderer I’ll Stay/Lula
This duo was one of 2015’s happiest discoveries. On track after track there’s a purity to their singing and playing that’s striking. Gorgeous harmonies. Fans of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings should love this.
Top picks: “A Wanderer I’ll Stay,” and “Ballad of Old Bill.”
Flatt Lonesome/Runaway Train/Mountain Home
Probably my favorite straight-up bluegrass album of the year. This 6-piece band won me over with its clean picking, tight sibling harmonies, and youthful energy (the oldest member is only 25).
Top picks: “Still Feeling Blue,” and the instrumental “Road to Nottingham.”
Rhiannon Giddens/Tomorrow Is My Turn/Nonesuch
The co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops fills her first solo disc with an atmospheric mix of gospel, jazz, blues, and country influences. The album is a showcase for her amazing voice — the only thing missing is some of her fine fiddling and banjo playing.
Top picks: “Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind,” and “Round About the Mountain.”
Milk Carton Kids/Monterey/Anti/Epitaph
Comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel are inevitable, but this music — beautifully sung, played, and recorded — stands on its own. The duo’s voices and acoustic guitars blend seamlessly.
Top picks: “Asheville Skies,” and “The City of Our Lady.”
Sufjan Stevens/Carrie & Lowell/Asthmatic Kitty
I’ve been a big fan of Sufjan Stevens for years, but I wasn’t prepared for the devastating beauty of this song cycle about loss and grief. It’s a quiet album that rewards careful listening.
Top pick: “Should Have Known Better,” but really, drop the needle anywhere.
Red Moon Road/Sorrows and Glories/Red Moon Road
This Winnipeg-based trio delivers a strong set of folk/blues that sounds both polished and raw. Sheena Rattai’s powerful voice is the star, but the songwriting impresses too, full of rich details and imagery.
Top picks: “Beauty In These Broken Bones,” and “Crashing Down.”
Anna & Elizabeth/Anna & Elizabeth/Free Dirt
I was already familiar with some of Elizabeth Laprelle’s solo a cappella singing, but this is the first time I’ve heard her with multi-instrumentalist Anna Roberts-Gevalt. Does old-time music get any more authentic?
Top picks: “Little Black Train,” and “Long Time Travellin’.”
Mandolin Orange/Such Jubilee/Yep Roc
This duo’s catchy melodies, thoughtful lyrics, and laid-back harmonies seem to have found a sweet spot. I saw them at Red Wing 2014 with a crowd of under 100. This year that crowd had swelled to over 500.
Top picks: “Old Ties and Companions,” and “Settled Down.”
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys/Ionia/Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys
This Michigan-based four-piece plays irresistible rootsy alt-bluegrass. The band backs Lindsay Lou’s powerful but pretty voice with lots of tasty banjo, mandolin, dobro and more. And they’re terrific live!
Top picks: “Hot Hands,” and “The River Jordan.”
Jason Isbell/Something More Than Free/Southeastern
A thoughtful collection of clear-eyed character sketches set to catchy tunes, from a master songwriter and storyteller. The arrangements are mostly acoustic with just the right touches of electric twang or slide.
Top picks: “24 Frames,” and “The Life You Chose.”