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Album Of The Year

The Silver Poll

Yes, it’s our 25th annual fRoots Critics Poll, the definitive look at the best albums of the year in world folk & roots musics. This year our assembly of experts gave their collective upward thumbs to Bellowhead’s Hedonism and the 18-CD Africa 50. box

The fRoots Critics Poll hits its silver jubilee! It seems like only yesterday, but quite a few of you weren’t even born when we began this annual craziness in 1986. In an effort to provide a useful service back then, we asked people who were likely to hear a wider cross section of music than our readers, for their favourite albums of the past year in folk, roots and world music – and the latter wasn’t even an established term at that time when the very first year was won by Paul Simon’s South African exploration Graceland.

Over the years the fRoots Critics Poll has grown in stature and winning it has become a treasured accolade for artists and their record labels. Indeed, from 2001 to 2007 it was incorporated into the BBC Radio 3 Awards For World Music, providing the Album Of The Year nominations all the while they ran.

These days we go the route of other schemes like the Folk Awards and the Mercury Music Prize by announcing our front runners as nominees. The top 10 new albums and top 5 reissue, compilation or historic CDs were announced in alphabetical order only on 22nd November.

Happily, BBC Radio 3 continue to support the fRoots Critics Poll Albums Of The Year, and the winners were finally revealed by Mary Ann Kennedy and fRoots Editor Ian Anderson on World On 3 on 3rd December. Here, you can see all the year’s releases which gained significant votes from our international panel – we invite over 300 people to nominate, including journalists, radio presenters, activists, event organisers and musicians, and always get a very decent turnout.

The way it works is that they nominate up to six new albums of 2010 (newly recorded single artist or band CDs) which produces the fRoots Critics Award For Album Of The Year. They also pick up to four CDs in our Reissues/ Compilations/ Historic section – collections of old or new material (anything that would be listed as ‘Various Artists’), reissues of older recordings and that newer animal, the remix album. And they can also nominate two beautiful artefacts in our Best Packaged Album category. Everything nominated gets one point – we don’t ask our panel to order their preferences – and on the odd occasion where they misinterpreted guidance and voted in the wrong category, we simply accumulate all the votes in the correct one.

The main provisos were that the albums should have been first released from November 2009 to the end of October 2010, though we do allow a bit of slack provided they weren’t listed last year too. And of course we require that albums fall into the areas of music we cover in fRoots and that people don’t vote for their own products. At some point in the New Year we’ll make the list of how everybody voted available on the fRoots website as usual.

A passing note: we had some votes for Universal’s massively luxurious 19 CD Sandy Denny box, but as it wasn’t to be released until late November and nobody who voted for it had actually seen anything more than photographs of the package, we felt it ought to be carried forward to the next year.

So, can we spot any trends? Well, if there’s one, it’s the continual rise in stature of English (language) folk among our panel. Without any significant changes in who we asked to vote, this year there were four English albums, one Scottish and one American in the top 10, alongside four that would be classified as ‘world’ (all African apart from the Cuban contributors to AfroCubism, and three of those on World Circuit Records – to whom congratulations). On the reissues and compilations side, though, world music continues to dominate, leading to the possible conclusion that world music fanciers prefer older models among the things they have on offer at the moment – and with two retro twangy surfadelic chicha/ cumbia compilations in the top 5, that’s surely a mini-trend in its own right.

And so, our winners. It’s third time lucky for English folk big band Bellowhead as they take this year’s trophy with Hedonism, famously produced at the iconic Abbey Road Studio. It’s a clean sweep in the reissues for Sterns in the top two slots, proving that even a box with a prominently misplaced apostrophe can’t be stopped. And the ‘deluxe’ double CD version of Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep in its sumptuous hard-backed book of a digipak cover deservedly wins the ‘best packaged’ section by a good margin: the music only narrowly missed the top ten new album nominations as well. Congratulations to all.

Download a PDF of how the individual panellists voted.

Once again this year, the fRoots Critics Poll is presented in association with Amazon UK.

Click on the individual albums to go direct to their page at Amazon UK
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.

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Album Winner 2010

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New Albums Of 2010 winners

1. Bellowhead Hedonism (Navigator)
2. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate Ali And Toumani (World Circuit)
3. AfroCubism AfroCubism (World Circuit)
4. Eliza Carthy & Norma Waterson Gift (Topic)
5. Chris Wood Handmade Life (R.U.F.)
6. Cheikh Lô Jamm (World Circuit)
7= Emily Portman The Glamoury (Furrow)
      Alasdair Roberts Too Long In This Condition (Navigator)
9. Carolina Chocolate Drops Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch)
10.Konono No 1 Assume Crash Position (Crammed)

The Next 10:
11= Andy Cutting Andy Cutting (Lane)
       Natalie Merchant Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch)
13= Jim Moray In Modern History (NIAG)
       Syriana The Road To Damascus (Real World)
15= Asmara All Stars Eritrea’s Got Soul (Outhere)
       The Imagined Village Empire And Love (Emerson Corncrake Constantine)
       Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal Chamber Music (No Format)
18. Hindi Zahra Handmade (Blue Note)
19= Ian King Panic Grass And Feverfew (Fledg’ling)
       Ruth Theodore White Holes Of Mole Hills (River Rat)

Runners Up (alphabetically): Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara The Trance Sessions (Real World); Mulatu Astatke New York – Addis – London (Strut); The Burns Unit Sideshow (own label); Duck Soup Open On Sundays (Hebe Music); Fay Hield The Looking Glass (Topic); Lokua Kanza Nkolo (World Village); Kronos Quartet with Alim & Fargana Qasimov & Homayun Sakhi Music Of Central Asia Vol. 8 – Rainbow (Smithsonian Folkways); Megson The Longshot (EDJ); Anaïs Mitchell Hadestown (Righteous Babe); Ana Moura Leva – Me Aos Fados (World Village); Robert Plant Band Of Joy (Es Paranza / Rounder); Rango Bride Of The Zar (30 IPS); Razia Said Zebu Nation (Cumbancha); Amparo Sanchez Tucson-Habana (Wrasse); Omar Souleyman Jazeera Nights (Sublime Frequencies); Tamikrest Adagh (Glitterhouse Records); Richard Thompson Dream Attic (Proper); Cath & Phil Tyler The Hind Wheels Of Bad Luck (NO-FI Recordings); Danyel Waro Aou Amwin (Cobalt); Alex Wilson Mali Latino (Mali Latino).

Reissue/Compilation Of The Year
To keep the main attention on new recordings but at the same time recognise the increasing excellence of reissues, compilations and historic projects, we have a second section for those. Technological advances and the break away from the now very boring standard jewel box – the hallmark of a lack of attention to packaging art detail these days – mean that some extraordinary, exhilarating and influential sets have been released in recent years, containing all the documentation and background information that reissues need in particular. This past year was no exception – though we do suspect that certain labels are not doing themselves any favours by their misguidedly cheapskate habit of only sending preview CDs without the packaging to reviewers.

So in this section it’s any form of compilation by genre or artist, any reissues or first-time issues of older recordings (even when including some new material), local licences of albums which have appeared elsewhere in previous years, any remix albums, and all ‘Various Artist’ compilations (whether new or reissue).

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Reissue/Compilation Of The Year 2010

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1. Various Africa – 50 Years Of Music (Discograph/Sterns)
2. Étoile de Dakar feat. Youssou N’Dour Once Upon A Time In Senegal (Sterns)
3. Various Palenque Palenque (Soundway)
4. Various The Roots Of Chicha Vol 2 (Crammed)
5. Shirley Collins Sweet England (Fled’gling)

The Next 12:
6. Various Ghosts From The Basement (Weekend Beatnik)
7. Various Next Stop Soweto Vol. 2 (Strut)
8= A.L. Lloyd An Evening With A.L. Lloyd (Fellside)
       Various Folk Against Fascism Vol.1 (Folk Against Fascism)
       Various More Miles Than Money (Ace)
11. Various The Sound Of Siam (Soundway)
12= Bob Dylan The Witmark Demos 1962 – 1964 (Sony)
       Incredible String Band The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Fledg’ling)
       Issa Juma & Super Wanyika Stars The World Defeats The Grandfathers (Sterns)
       Various Afrobeat Airways: West African Shock Waves (Analog Africa)
       Various Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound Of Luanda (Analog Africa)
       Various Sound Of The World Presents Anywhere On This Road (Warner Classics & Jazz)

Runners Up (alphabetically): Afro Celt Sound System Capture 1995 – 2010 (Real World); Sandy Denny & The Strawbs All Our Own Work (Witchwood Media); Incredible String Band The 5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion (Fledg’ling); Fela Kuti Anthology 2 (Wrasse); Fela Kuti The Complete Recordings [Box Set] (Wrasse); John Martyn Live At Leeds (Universal / Island); Ola Belle Reed Rising Sun Melodies (Smithsonian Folkways); Various Echoes From The Mountain (Rif Mountain); Various Egypt Noir (Piranha); Various Listen To The Banned (Freemuse/ Grappa); Various Looking For A New England 2 – The Other Traditions (fRoots); Various Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira! (Mais Um Discos); Various Theme Time Radio Hour Season 3 (Ace); Various The World Ends – Afro Rock & Psychedelia In 1970s Nigeria (Soundway); Various Yes We Can – Songs About Leaving Africa (Outhere); Anibal Velasquez Y Su Conjunto Mambo Loco (Analog Africa).

Best Packaged Album of the Year
In these days of downloads, it’s quality packaging that can make a big difference to whether you buy the CDs or the files. Artistic skill can produce a must-have artefact of beauty, along with enhancing the listening pleasure by providing ambience and information.

Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep is a classic example of how to do things well: an outer slip-case holds a CD-sized 76-page hardback book also containing the two CDs. Merchant’s stories of the lives of all the poets whose work she’s set to music are accompanied by archive photos and full lyrics, all beautifully printed on art quality paper. It’s hard to imagine why anybody would settle for the basic single CD sampler version.

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Best Packages Album 2010

1. Natalie Merchant Leave Your Sleep (Nonesuch)
2. Various Africa – 50 Years Of Music (Discograph/Sterns)
3. Bellowhead Hedonism (Navigator)
4. The Chieftains with Ry Cooder San Patricio (Concord)
5. AfroCubism (World Circuit)
6. Bob Dylan The Witmark Demos 1962 – 1964 (Sony)

Runners Up (alphabetically): Batuko Tabanka Djunta Mõ (PAI); Kronos Quartet with Alim & Fargana Qasimov & Homayun Sakhi Music Of Central Asia Vol. 8 – Rainbow (Smithsonian Folkways); Müller & Makaroff El Gaucho (Mañana Music); Ravi Shankar & George Harrison Collaborations (Dark Horse); Various Afrobeat Airways – West African Shock Waves (Analog Africa); Various Angola Soundtrack – The Unique Sound Of Luanda (Analog Africa); Various Cantigas Do Camiño (Do Fol Musica/ Boa); Various Congotronics Box Set (Crammed); Various Ghosts From The Basement (Weekend Beatnik); Various Mañana, El Tango – Perlas Del Label (Mañana Music); Various Palenque Palenque – Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots In Colombia (Soundways); Various The Roots Of Chicha 2 (Crammed/ Barbès); Various To Scratch Your Heart – Early Recordings From Istanbul (Honest Jon’s); Hank Williams The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings… Plus! (Time Life).

Click on the individual albums to go direct to their page at Amazon UK
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.


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