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The Folk Tree's Favorite Releases Of 2020 (So Far)

Michael Doucet playing at the 2008 Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week at Chicot State Park in Louisiana.

We are about halfway through 2020, as remarkable as that might seem. Here are some of Karen Impola's favorite new folk releases so far this year. 

Michael Doucet - Lâcher Prise

“Lâcherprise” means “let go” in French and is both the name of this side-project band and album by Michael Doucet. Doucet is best known as the leader of the great cajun band Beausoleil. Here he takes on a wider range of music, like this song “Chere Emelie," which combines a modal melody with Carribean rhythms. 

Laurie Lewis - And Laurie Lewis

Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Laurie Lewis has been a mainstay of the California bluegrass scene for decades. Her latest album “And Laurie Lewis” is a series of duets with longtime friends. She and her musical partner Tom Rozum learned this variant version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” from a 1930s recording by Bill and Charlie Monroe.

The Mammals - Nonet

Ruth Ungar and Michael Merenda are founding members and creative core of upstate New York band The Mammals. For this album, they’ve expanded to a nine-piece ensemble. “If You Could Hear Me Now” is the most understated but powerful song on the album. Merenda channels 1960s Bob Dylan in his songwriting, and Ungar’s plaintive voice laments the state of the modern world.

Jake Blount - Spider Tales

We tend to think of old-time Appalachian string band music as a white phenomenon. There were many Black players in the genre as well, though their history is less well-documented. Like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Jake Blount is a young Black performer exploring this music’s roots. His banjo playing is accompanied by Tatiana Hargreaves’ fiddle on this song, from the repertoire of Dink Roberts, born in 1894 in Chatham County, North Carolina.

John Doyle - The Path of Stones

Irishman John Doyle has been a member of the bands Solas and Usher’s Island, among others. His latest album includes several self-penned songs and instrumentals, as well as this traditional one. Doyle plays guitar, mandolin, mandola, bodhran, and fiddle on “The Rambler from Clare.”

Vance Gilbert - Good, Good Man

I don’t think I can top Richmond Magazine’s description of this Philadelphia born, Boston based singer-songwriter:  “If Joni Mitchell and Richie Havens had a love child, with Rodney Dangerfield as the midwife, the results might have been something close to the great Vance Gilbert.” This wryly optimistic song is backed up by Herb Gardner on trombone, with guitarist Chris Smither’s feet making their first appearance on another musician’s recording.