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.
Artist: Parker Millsap Album: The Very Last Day Year: 2016 Grade: B
In Brief: This alt-country record starts off incredibly strong, showing off the young songwriter’s incredible chops with a lot more instrumental bite than his last record had. (Especially “Heaven Sent”. If nothing else, please go listen to that one for me.) Unfortunately, the record’s uneven second half never quite reaches its initial level of greatness again.
Artist: Josh Ritter Album: Sermon on the Rocks Year: 2015 Grade: B
In Brief: A much more diverse, playful, foreboding, swaggery, fantastical, pretty much everything (except boring and mopey!) album than The Beast in Its Tracks. I’m unsure how much of this record is fact and how much is fiction, and since Ritter is so good at the fiction, that’s just the way I like it.