In Brief: This one’s got some ramshackle romps, some haunting ballads that plumb the depths of the soul, and some laid-back country numbers. Yep, it’s a Josh Ritter album, alright – though I wouldn’t say it’s a career landmark this time around.
Artist: Jennifer Knapp Album: Love Comes Back Around Year: 2017 Grade: C+
In Brief: While it’s a thematically warmer record that opens up a little more about the long-term relationship that Jennifer has been in, I’m not finding a whole lot here that keeps me engaged on a musical level. She’s played it safe with her mid-tempo heartland rock/adult contemporary style for two albums in a row now, and that’s a bit frustrating given the unique perspective that she has to offer.
Artist: John Mayer Album: The Search for Everything Year: 2017 Grade: C
In Brief: This album seems like an amalgamation of all of Mayer’s previous sounds and styles. It’s a smidge more interesting to listen to than the pair of folk albums he released during his “rural isolation” period, and far less infuriating than Battle Studies, but I gotta be honest, I still prefer his first three albums, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.
Artist: Fleet Foxes Album: Crack-Up Year: 2017 Grade: B
In Brief: A strangely fractured, and yet strangely beautiful, third album from a band that was clearly restless to expand upon their old sound without completely abandoning it. My opinion of it seems to change with every listen, but it’s slowly inching in a more positive direction. I think this band is challenging its fanbase in mostly good ways.
Artist: KT Tunstall Album: KIN Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: It’s not as bold and inventive in the production and songwriting department as Tiger Suit, but KT wanted to make another pop album after the stark, downbeat Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon, and I’ve got to admit that this side of her is more my speed.
Artist: Crowder Album: American Prodigal Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: The genre mash-up works a lot better here than it did on Neon Steeple, feeling more like a statement of identity than a mere gimmick. What Crowder may lack in lyrical specificity, he more than makes up for by bringing urban and rural sounds together in intriguing ways.
Artist: Mumford & Sons Album: Johannesburg EP Year: 2016 Grade: B+
In Brief: Surprisingly strong, given the unlikely collaboration between an English “folk” band and three stylistically divergent African artists. I still think Mumford & Sons are poseurs of a sort, wandering the world in search of a sound they can actually master, but this EP at least proves that they’re excellent collaborators.