In 2015 I had a really hard time coming up with even 5 records I loved through and through, a year where it seemed most every big release I looked forward to let me down a whole bunch. 2016, however, was the exact opposite. Every release I had been looking forward to seemed to impress, to the point that it felt like every few weeks I had a new favorite album of the year. I wrote a lot of words about 20 of my favorite releases that one could loosely say were ‘folk’ records for my friends over at Vinyl Me, Please, but a) not everything I love is ‘folk,’ and b) I had a tough time even getting that list down to 20. So, below are my 10 favorite records of 2016 (think of all those on the Vinyl Me, Please list that aren’t here as part of an Honorable Mention section that I didn’t have the time to write out here), and then below all that is a playlist of every album I loved this year. This was a weird, bad and/or demoralizing year on a whole lot of fronts, but it was also a wonderfully vibrant, tremendous, altogether good year for music of all shapes and sizes.
10. Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony – Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony
This was the most overwhelming beautiful album I heard this, or maybe any, year.
9. Lucy Dacus – No Burden
One of the most impressive debut albums of 2016, all wordy wisdom, earworm hooks and that voice.
8. Beyoncé – Lemonade
I won’t I have any business talking about this record or what it means (I don’t), but let me just say this: Lemonade reminded us how how important, exciting and vital pop music can be, even in 2016.
7. Donovan Woods – Hard Settled, Ain’t Troubled
Donovan Woods is one of my favorite songwriters, and the album he put out earlier this year contains a little bit of everything I love about him and the songs he crafts and I think it’s the finest collection of stuff he’s ever put together.
6. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
An album about love, screwing up, making up, becoming a dad, trying to become a good dad, and good husband, who helps raise a good kid. These songs are beautiful and unexpected, constantly shape-shifting and becoming overwhelming at a moments notice.
5. The Hotelier – Goodness
This is an album of anthems, full of loud choruses and soft moments, the kind that begs for windows down drives and demands you learn all the words so you can yell along. This is 48 or so minutes of youthful energy and earned wisdom.
4. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
I’m surprised each time I listen to 22, A Million. Surprised by how much I remember, surprised how much I somehow forgot, and surprised by how fresh and exciting this sounds even if it’s my 3rd time through in a row. This sounds like everything and nothing else right now, and that’s what keeps me coming back.
3. Pinegrove – Cardinal
I’ve written a lot of words about Pinegrove this year, and most of them come down to this: this album tackles the anxiety, guilt and tension of growing up and into a new, adult life with new friends while trying so hard to stay close to your family and old friends better than most.
2. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Again, I’m not at all the right person to talk about this album. All I’ll say is it’s electric, soulful and infectious through and through, and I listened to it more than any record this year.
- Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee
Much like the Sturgill Simpson record, Heart Like A Levee is a record about what happens after you’ve grown up, about the questions that come up when you start thinking about your partner and your family and providing for them and about how self-doubt, worry and searching for truth is ageless. I’m starting to confront a lot of these things myself, and so it should be no surprise that this record speaks to me more than any other that came out this year.
Alright, those were my 10 favorites. Here’s a playlist with every record I loved that came out since January (follow/listen on Spotify by clicking here, if you wish). Again, this was a deeply good year. Hope you find something new to enjoy, either above or in the playlist below. Enjoy!