I’ve finally got around to writing up my notes of my Spotify mix for 2018. I hope you enjoy it!
Here’s a mix of my favourite pieces of music, new or old, that I discovered in 2018. Eight different countries are covered this time, but bar a couple of African and a couple of Indian numbers it’s fairly Western-centric.
As ever, remember Spotify pays bugger all, so please check out the artists, follow them, buy their music, go to gigs etc.
Here it is: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7mssuvgesf2F6xhuQjJFVi
1. Anna & Elizabeth – Mother in the Graveyard
It’s traditional that I start with my favourite discovery of the year, which I concluded was this one, by the same American singers that closed last year’s mix.
From ‘The invisible comes to us’ (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2018)
2. Kylie Minogue – Golden
I adore Kylie and she’s back with a great new album, complete with a country tinge.
From ‘Golden’ (BMG, 2018)
3. Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy with the Gift Band – Strange Weather
This mother and daughter are stalwarts of the English folk tradition, but Norma’s wonderful voice works just as well (or possibly, whisper it, better) on jazzy versions of original songs like this Tom Waits cover.
From ‘Anchor’ (Topic Records, 2018)
4. alt-J – Hares on the Mountain
An English folk song done by one of England’s most interesting and successful indie bands. If Bush Gothic ever release their cover of alt-J’s ‘Adeline’ it would make a good companion piece.
From ‘Bright: The Soundtrack’ (Netflix / WEA, 2017)
5. Anayampatti S. Dhandapani – Vathapi: Hamsadhwani – Aadi – Dikshitar
I spent a lot of time researching the carnatic music of south India in preparation for 2019’s trip to Kerala. I loved the music made by Mr Dhandapani on his rare jalatharangam (a set of tuned bowls from China).
From ‘Jalatharangum’ (Sony, 1994)
6. The Weeknd with Kendrick Lamar – Pray for me
From ‘Black Panther: The Album’ (Aftermath, 2018)
7. Zoe Mulford – The President sang ‘Amazing Grace’
Here’s a lovely tale. A few years ago the wonderful Kirsty McGee came to my family’s holiday home (www.winterslodge.co.uk) for an intimate house concert. She brought a friend with her: Zoe Mulford. Now I confess that Zoe wasn’t on my radar before. I’d not seen her written about in the folk press. For all her talent, she’d yet to make a breakthrough, at least in the media I follow.
But one of her songs got played on an American radio station. And who should be listening but Joan Baez. Joan Baez loved the song. It was called ‘The President Sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and was about Obama’s eulogy after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Baez recorded it on her new album and it has become the keystone song of the set. There’s an animated video doing the rounds, the press are writing about it and Baez is singing it around the world on her farewell tour. And now people know who Zoe Mulford is!
From ‘Small Brown Birds’ (2017)
8. Joan Baez – Another World
And here’s another song Baez covered on her album. It was written by Antony (now ANOHNI) of Anthony and the Johnsons.
From ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ (Proper Records, 2018)
9. Buffy Sainte-Marie with Tanya Tagaq – You’ve got to run (Spirit of the Wind)
Another vintage north American singer still making vital new work, this time in collaboration with Inuit throat singer Tagaq.
From ‘Medicine Songs’ (Gypsy Boy Music, 2017)
10. Lonnie Holley – I woke up in a fucked up America
Fucked up America part 1. Shame things are getting just as bad here. Holley is better known as a scultor, and didn’t begin releasing music until he was in his 60s.
From ‘MITH’ (Jagjaguwar, 2018)
11. Childish Gambino – This is America
Fucked up America part 2. You’ll know this one.
Released as a single (mcDJ / RCA, 2018)
12. Phillip Henry – Reverence Revisited
One of my favourite musicians active on the UK folk scene, Phil is best known as half of Edgelarks with Hannah Martin. This is a rewrite of an older composition, based on the Indian Raga Yaman.
From ‘True North’ (2018)
13. James Blake – If the Car Beside You Moves Ahead
This is just great.
Released as a single (Polydor, 2018)
14. Gretchen Peters – Say Grace
Forgetting I’m not actually a Christian, part 1.
From ‘Dancing with the Beast’ (Scarlet Letter Records / Proper Records, 2018)
15. Johnny Cash with the Carter Sisters – Were you there (when they crucified my Lord)
Forgetting I’m not actually a Christian, part 2.
Available on ‘The Essential Johnny Cash’ (Sony, 2002)
16. Mirian Makeba – West Wind
An English language song from the late, great South African singer.
From ‘Zaire 74: The African Artists’ (Wrasse Records, 2017)
17. The Band with the Staple Singers – The Weight
I thought this song couldn’t get any better than I found this version with added Staple Singers!
From ‘The Last Waltz’ (Warner, 1978)
18. Rachel Newton – The Maid of Neidpath
From Rachel’s stripped-down album of harp and voice, recorded at her grandparents croft in the Highlands of Scotland. She was good enough to record a different number from the album outside my flat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN8nzDqDe3w
From ‘West’ (Shadowside Records, 2018)
19. Ralph McTell with Annie Lennox and the Crisis Choir – Streets of London
Is this too cheesy? I love this song, which I used to sing in Primary School, and I was pleased to do my little bit to support this version, which was released for Christmas 2017 by the homelessness charity Crisis. As well as the choir and Lennox, Richard Thompson provides a guitar solo. Talking of whom…
Released as a single (Crisis, 2017)
20. Richard Thompson – The Rattle Within
It’s been a tough few years for me and Richard. He’s up there with Peter Gabriel as my all time favourite artist. I own and love almost everything he’s done. But the last few years, his albums just haven’t done it for me. My gosh has he come back with a corker in ’13 Rivers’. It unflinchingly chronicles his marriage breakdown and new relationship, and it seems that this time the old cliche about personal drama feeding the muse is very true. I read this song to be about the his own nagging restlessness.
From ’13 Rivers’ (Proper, 2018)
21. Gasper Nali – Abale Ndikuwuzeni
I saw Nali pictured in a Songlines magazine and went to tell my friend Fiona, who is living in Malawi, about him. It turns out she’d already met him at a party and his CD was in the post to me. This has been a bit of YouTube sensation and is insanely catchy.
From ‘Abale Ndikuwuzeni’ (Spare Dog Records, 2015)
22. Sanjay Subrahmanyan – Shobillu Sapthaswara – Jaganmohoni – Roopakam
2018 was the year that I discovered the Bhavan, a converted church in West Kensington that is now an Indian cultural centre. I watched a number of Carnatic performers there in preparation for my 2019 trip to Kerala. Subrahmanyan was one of the highlights.
From ‘Gems of Carnatic Music (Live in Concert 2005)’ (Swaralaya, 2016)
23. Stick in the Wheel with Jack Sharp, Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp – Watercress-o
I confess to being mildly underwhelmed by English folk band Stick in the Wheel’s second album, but this recent, quietly released mixtape is up there with their brilliant debut.
From ‘This and the Memory of This’ (From Here Records, 2018)
24. Tenebrae Choir – Seek Him that maketh the seven stars
I went to the Easter Service at St James’s Church, Sussex Gardens, and the service ended with the
organist and choir performing this wonderful, spacey piece of music by Jonathan Dove.
From ‘Mother and Child’ (Signum Records, 2003)
25. Karine Polwart with Pippa Murphy – The moor speaks
Evolving from a theatre piece, Scottish singer Polwart’s collaboration with sound artist
Murphy is a thing of beauty.
From ‘A Pocket of Wind Resistance’ (Hudson Records, 2017)
26. Willie Nelson – Last Man Standing
“I don’t want to be the last man standing / Wait a minute, maybe I do!” I’m kicking myself for taking so long to realise how brilliant Willie Nelson (age 85 as 2018 came to a close) is. The whole album is full of wry, witty original songs about getting old.
From ‘Last Man Standing’ (Sony, 2018)