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.
Artist: Jon Foreman Album: The Wonderlands: Sunlight & Shadows Year: 2015 Grade: B+
In Brief: The first 2 discs in this 4-disc collection showcase a variety of instrumentation and production styles that easily match the high bar set by Foreman’s seasonal EPs back in 2008. It might be a little mellow for Switchfoot fans, but it’s easily twice as deep as most of Switchfoot’s recent material.
Artist: Calexico Album: Edge of the Sun Year: 2015 Grade: B
In Brief: As always, I enjoy the Latin music influence and the “desert noir” style. The numerous guest appearances make this one feel like a real community effort. But there’s still the pesky problem of too many “just OK” songs in the track listing, compounded by the presence of easily superior material among the bonus tracks.
Artist: Burlap to Cashmere Album: Freedom Souls Year: 2015 Grade: B
In Brief: The Brooklyn collective’s third album is all over the place, which is a blessing and a curse. At times it’s their “Greek-est” album yet. At others, it reminds us they’ve got more up their sleeve than just being “that Greek folk band” as they delve into rock, country, and a teensy bit of jazz. But it’s also a bit of a disjointed hodge-podge that can feel like more of a clearing of the vaults from all those years the band lay dormant than a truly unified new album.