The Best Of 2018

With no BBC Folk Awards in sight until the end of 2019, our 33rd annual fRoots Critics Poll is the main recognition that 2018’s releases will get. And as Ian Anderson says, it has been a great year.

Yes, it has been another year in folk and roots music which defies the trends of the mainstream. Apart from the fact that the physical CD – and in particular the well-packaged CD – shows no sign of diminishing in popularity, just take a look at the top 10 in our Critics Poll New Albums Of 2018 overleaf and what do you see? Eight of them are by women and the other two are mixed gender: it gets down to lucky 13 before a solo bloke strikes lucky. Mainstream take note!

Our large international panel are split in their musical tendencies into three groups: those who veer towards what gets defined as ‘folk’, those who concentrate more on ‘world music’ (which is largely folk, but not from here), and those with broad horizons who straddle both of those fields. This year it was very notable that the ‘folk’ voters had a pretty good consensus on who to nominate, but the ‘world’ votes were very scattergun – more albums picked, but fewer votes for each individually, so the folk-from-here dominates the 2018 list. But the winner was one which found favour from all quarters – gaining Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita a double for their follow-up to their debut album Clychau Dibon which topped the poll in 2013.

Over in the Compilations, Reissues & Historical section, the reverse is true, with the top places dominated by vintage African collections and East Africa coming to the fore after many years in which the West has held sway. Analog Africa’s Somalian Dur-Dur Band set was a worthy winner, and special mention ought to go to restoration engineer Mike Graves, who not only worked his magic on that one but the 2nd- and 5th-placed sets as well. This of course is the area where beautiful packaging – which Catrin & Seckou’s album shares – really comes into its own. Gorgeous hardback digipaks or slipcased sets with copious notes rule the day, few more so than Dust To Digital’s releases, which continue to be the state of the art, the extra mile.

And so to my Editor’s Choice, which I inaugurated seven years ago, specifically for releases on micro-independent, usually artist-run labels which by their very nature tend not to reach so many of our big panel. But being small and only selling online (often via Bandcamp) or at gigs doesn’t mean the music or packaging is any less impressive. It was such a difficult choice this year, but I eventually plumped for You Are Wolf’s Keld as it’s so impressive (and Kerry Andrew – for it is she – also published a great novel, Swansong, too). I’ve listed just a few runners-up, but this is the corner where interesting stuff really happens. Check ’em out: you won’t be disappointed.

You can see all the winners down the years at

New Albums 0f 2018

1. CATRIN FINCH & SECKOU KEITA : Soar (Bendigedig)

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2. ANNA + ELIZABETH : The Invisible Comes To Us (Smithsonian Folkways)

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3. FATOUMATA DIAWARA : Fenfo: Something To Say (Montuno)

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4. THE RHEINGANS SISTERS : Bright Field (RootBeat)

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5. LISA O’NEIL : Heard A Long Gone Song (River Lea)

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7. OLIVIA CHANEY : Shelter (Nonesuch)

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8. JACKIE OATES : The Joy Of Living (ECC)

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9. KITTY MACFARLANE : Namer Of Clouds (Navigator Records)

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10. SANS : Kulku (Cloud Valley)

Buy from Bandcamp

11. Gaye Su Akyol Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir (Glitterbeat)

12. The Furrow Collective Fathoms (Hudson)

13.= Ry Cooder The Prodigal Son (Fantasy)

13.= Sam Sweeney The Unfinished Violin (Island)

15. Richard Thompson 13 Rivers (Proper)

16. Karine Polwart Laws Of Motion (Hudson)

17.= Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith Many A Thousand (Ear Trumpet)

17.= Blowzabella Two Score (Blowzabella)

17.= Grace Petrie Queer As Folk (Grace Petrie)

20 = Ammar 808 Maghreb United (Glitterbeat)

20 = Monsieur Doumani Angathin (Monsieur Doumani)

Runners up (alphabetically): Alden, Patterson & Dashwood By Night (AP&D); Moonlight Benjamin Siltane (Ma Case); Anandi Bhattacharya Joys Abound (Riverboat); False Lights Harmonograph (Wreckord); Dom Flemons Black Cowboys (Smithsonian Folkways); Bryony Griffith Hover Selwyn Music); Toby Hay The Longest Day (State51 Conspiracy); Mari Kalkun Ilmamotsan (Eesti Kultuurkapital); Melissa Laveaux Radyo Siwel (No Format); Rachel McShane & The Cartographers When All Is Still (Topic); Tom Moore & Archie Churchill-Moss Laguna (Hotel); Anne O’aro Anne O’aro (Cobalt/ Buda); Will Pound Through The Seasons (Lulubug); Gwenifer Raymond You Never Were Much Of A Dancer (Tompkins Square); Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse & David McGuinness What News (Drag City); Stick In The Wheel Follow Them True (From Here); Samba Touré Wande (Glitterbeat); The Turbans The Turbans (Six Degrees); Cath & Phil Tyler The Ox & The Ax (Thread Recordings).

Reissue/ Compilation Albums Of 2018

1. DUR-DUR BAND : Dur-Dur Of Somalia Volume 1 & 2 (Analog Africa)

Buy from Amazon UK

2. VARIOUS ARTISTS : Listen All Around: 1950s Popular Music From The Congo, Tanganyika, Zanzibar And Kenya  (Dust-To-Digital)

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3. BOB DYLAN : More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14  (Sony Music)

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4. VARIOUS ARTISTS : African Scream Contest 2  (Analog Africa)

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5 = VARIOUS ARTISTS : Two Niles To Sing A Melody: The Violins & Synths Of Sudan (Ostinato)

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5 = HEDY WEST : From Grandmaw And Me (Fledg’ling)

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7. Hugh Masekela Masekela 66-76 (Wrasse)
8.= Cheikh Lô I (World Circuit)
8= Various Artists Voices Of Mississippi (Dust To Digital)
10= Bert Jansch Just A Simple Soul (BMG)
10= Various Artists Yiddish Glory (Six Degrees)
12. Stella Chiweshe Kasahwa: The Early Singles (Glitterbeat)
13. Kitsos Harisiadis Lament In A Deep Style 1921-1931 (Third Man)
14.= Barbara Dane Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways)
14.= Mickey Doherty Garvan Hill (Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann)
14.= Various Artists Destination (Fellside)
14.= Various Artists Disques Debs International: An Island Story. Biguine Afro Latin & Musique Antillaise 1960-1972 (Strut)
18. Orlando Cachaito Lopez Cachaito (World Circuit)
19.= Dave Evans The Words In Between (Earth)
19.= Joe Strummer Joe Strummer 001 (Ignition)

Runners up (alphabetically): Gaiteros De Lisboa A Historia (Uguru); Bob Pegg The Last Wolf (Talking Elephant); June Tabor An Introduction To… (Topic); Ali Farka Touré The Source (World Circuit); Transglobal Underground Destination Overground (Mule Satellite); Various Artists The Ballad Of Shirley Collins (Earth); Various Artists Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition (Great Smoky Mountains Assoc); Various Artists Fiddle Noir: African American Fiddlers On Early Phonograph Records 1925-1949 (Old Hat); Various Artists Folk From Estonia Vol 5 (Nordic Notes); Various Artists I’m Not Here To Hunt Rabbits (Piranha); Various Artists Music Is The Most Beautiful Language In the World: Yiddisher Jazz In London’s East End 1920s – 1950s (JWM); Various Artists Nostalgique Armenie (Buda); Various Artists Resound: A Musical Tribute To Alan Surtees (Shrewsbury Folk Festival).

Editor’s Choice Album Of 2018

(Firecrest Records)

Runners up: Hickory Signals Turn To Fray (GF*M); Ma Polaine’s Great Decline The Outsider (OMH); Owl Light Trio Owl Light (Owl Light Trio)

All the nominated CDs can be purchased from Click through from the links provided. Anything you buy while connected from these links will cost you nothing extra but earn a small commission for fRoots, contributing towards the costs of maintaining the resources we provide and of conducting the annual Critics Poll.