FolkWorld #71 03/2020
© Devon Léger (Hearth Music/HearthPR) / Bert Pijpers (Continental Record Services)

Across the Western Ocean

The Best of Today's Roots and Americana Music

From fearless protest to deep Appalachia, cowboys to actors, punk to folk and back again!


It's that time of year! The Best of Year End Favorites lists for 2019. I personally LOVE these. I'm working on my own list right now for MAGNET Magazine, and it's great to get a chance to revisit the albums that inspired me this year and to have an excuse to look for new discoveries. Here's a rundown of all the albums I sent your way this year. -- Devon Léger (HearthPR)

Dori Freeman

Artist Video Dori Freeman @ FROG

DORI FREEMAN - Every Single Star

Artist Video

Breakout Americana voice Dori Freeman first made her name with her bitter songs of love gone wrong, torn from the voice of modern Appalachia. Her new album, Every Single Star, prod by Teddy Thompson again, is a bit more positive with her newfound love, but still speaks to the reality of love in the mountains. Billboard called it "stunning", and Rolling Stone said it "blends the plaintive simplicity of her deep Appalachian roots with the bright, bubbly strains of Sixties pop."

SUNNY WAR - Shell of a Girl

Artist Video

Her newest album, Shell of a Girl, finds Sunny War grappling with the ghosts of her past. She's settled in LA now, but thinks back to her life on the rails, or living homeless and finds herself missing the exhilaration of those days. Afropunk said that "Sunny War’s music is the ultimate soundtrack to healing." Sunny's Tiny Desk Concert will drop this month!

CHE APALACHE - Rearrange Your Heart

Artist Video

Hailing from the US and Argentina, Che Apalache do more than fuse Latin and bluegrass roots, they infuse the music with a courageous spirit of protest, speaking out against American immigration policies. They're fearless, performing along the US-Mexico border and touring border installations and getting run off the stage at Southern fiddle festivals. Check out their new video, which NPR said was "a powerful combination that must be shared."

JAKE LA BOTZ - They're Coming for Me

Sunny War

Artist Video Sunny War @ FROG

Che Apalache

Artist Video Che Apalache @ FROG

Artist Video

A Hollywood film actor, a lost Chicago child learning blues on the street from the elders, an addict racing through a drug haze across the US, and a meditation teacher relaxing now in Nashville. Jake La Botz has done it all. His new album, They're Coming for Me, was produced by Jimmy Sutton of JD McPherson's band. Oh yeah, also Keanu Reeves came out to Jake's show with Sunny War in LA, so that's pretty cool. American Songwriter called the album "not only his finest, but most focused set yet."

DANNY BURNS - North Country

Artist Video

Irish bluegrass songwriter Danny Burns came out the gate with a staggering guest list on his new album: Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Tift Merritt, Dan Tyminski, Mindy Smith, Holly Williams, Tim O'Brien, ChessBoxer, Old Crow Medicine Show's Critter Fuqua, and more. With North Country, sets a bold path for what modern bluegrass should sound like and what it owes to its Irish roots.

SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS - we were honored to promote two major box sets from Smithsonian Folkways this year. The Social Power of Music and JazzFest, a 50 year retrospective of the famed New Orleans festival.

The Social Power of Music


Artist Video

Culled from the vast archives of Smithsonian Folkways, this box set is staggering in scope, breaking down the human experience in music into four categories: Songs of Struggle, Sacred Sounds, Social Songs & Gatherings, and Global Movements. In this feature article, Pitchfork says "at a moment when American culture feels splintered, these songs may remind you of the resistance and healing that music has brought to other periods of distress and uncertainty throughout history, whether at home or abroad."

JAZZFEST: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Artist Video

For 50 years, this storied festival has been telling the story of New Orleans music from the ground up. Sure, major headliners are featured each year, but everyone comes away with a new knowledge of the power of New Orleans' musical heritage and even the big stars feel this power when they play JazzFest. The FADER called this box set "gargantuan", and "massive" hahaha.

ALLISON DE GROOT & TATIANA HARGREAVES - Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves

Artist Video

Two brilliant stringband musicians cut loose on an album that finds them reaching deep into tje Appalachian tradition looking for inspiration from the many marginalized artists who've come before. Paste Magazine listed them as one of the 10 Folk Artists You Need to Know in 2019 and Jambase said that they "channel old-time Americana to perfection." |

WILLARD GAYHEART - At Home in the Blue Ridge

Artist Video

Dori Freeman's grandfather, Willard Gayheart, released his first solo album at the venerable afe of 87 years in 2019! Filled with songs that harken back to an earlier time in Appalachia, Gayheart's also a famed pencil artist from the region. Dori and her whole family feature on At Home In the Blue Ridge and Willard's songwriting paints some glorious pictures of the region.

Hackensaw Boys

Artist Video Hackensaw Boys @ FROG

Rosier (Les Poules à Colin)

Artist Video Rosier @ FROG

AN AMERICAN FORREST - O Bronder, Donder Yonder?

Artist Video

Actual cowboy Forrest VanTuyl is part of an amazing cultural renaissance happening in the tiny town of Enterprise, Oregon. An uncommonly original songwriter, An American Forrest's new album bubbles with creativity, tapping into old and new sounds at will. NPR featured his video as part of their Tiny Desk Contest! This is true Western Music.

HACKENSAW BOYS - A Fireproof House of Sunshine

Artist Video

Road dogs for the past twenty years, Hackensaw Boys bring a ferocious punk energy to their roots in Virginia. The new EP, A Fireproof House of Sunshine, showcases a new lineup with founding member David Sickmen, and a powerful new sense of songwriting. Relix says the new album "brings together two eras of the group’s songwriting."

TUI - Pretty Little Mister


Artist Video Tui @ FROG

Artist Video

Like Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, Tui (Jake Blount and Libby Weitnauer) are determined to showcase the lost stringband music of artists pushed aside because of their race, sexual identity, or economic background. No Depression, who featured Tui as Artist of the Month in June said that Tui "play songs that capture the rich diversity of old-time music and that tell stories of real people and real struggles."

BEN WINSHIP - Acorns / Toolshed

Artist Video

Idaho musician, songwriter, and recording engineer Ben Winship released two albums on the same day this year! Acorns is his more roots-oriented album featuring Pharis Romero, Chris Coole, Rayna Gellert, and Eli West. Toolshed taps into his New Orleans and jamband influences, featuring the great Ivan Neville, plus Brittany Haas, Joe Newberry, and Travis Book of The Infamous Stringdusters. His songwriting and musicianship are top flight, emblematic of his understanding of deep tones from his studio work.

THE REVELERS - At the End of the River

Artist Video

Louisiana dance floor kingpins The Revelers are one of the only bands who can really pull off their signature blend of Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop sounds. They've learned at the feet of the masters and they're committed to pushing the music forward. Their new album, At the End of the River, features original songs in French and English and powerhouse arrangements.

ROSIER - Rosier

Artist Video

Québécois indie roots band Rosier have an uncanny knack for finding old, ancient French ballads and making them sounds sparkling new. Their new EP came out in September and features their take on some beautiful songs. Children of the tradition, they've got new music coming hopefully in 2020!

HearthPR 2019 Artists Playlist:

Continental Record Services

Meena Cryle

Artist Video Meena Cryle @ FROG

Jeremy Nail

Artist Video Jeremy Nail @ FROG

I would not really say they are new releases, but we thought we would update you with our 2019 output. It was a very exciting year for us with many great releases. Blues, Americana, other roots: all 100% quality approved and guaranteed by our crew. Make sure to visit on a regular basis to keep yourself up to speed. Enjoy. -- Bert Pijpers (Continental Record Services)

AD VANDERVEEN - Final Refuge

Artist Video

Lonesome Highway: Another delightful chapter of stories, impressively put to music.


Artist Video

One of the most exciting blues acts on stages across Europe, Meena Cryle and Chris Fillmore deliver a rootsrocking follow up to their best selling Live in Concert album.

CARY MORIN - When I Rise

Artist Video

Indigenous artist of 2017 and 2018, fingerpicking good listen if you like Chris Smither or Kelly Joe Phelps.

JEREMY NAIL - Ghost of Love

Artist Video

Lonesome Highway: GHOST OF LOVE is another standout offering to add to your collection of 'under the radar' treasures, from an artist that you really need to get to know. Late night listening with dimmed lights and a night cap in hand.

Cary Morin

Artist Video Cary Morin @ FROG

PARK88 - The Fearlessness

Artist Video

Blue eyed soul/funk/rock. Rich Wyman and Lisa Needham now as PARK 88. Onrecord just as exciting as they are live.


Artist Video

Genuine country with great licks by some of the finest country guitar men (digital only).

OH SUSANNA - Johnstown

Artist Video

No Depression: Oh Susanna has become a musician to be reckoned with.... The strength and intensity of her voice has an edge that conveys the evil of country blues.

TIP JAR - Onward

Artist Video

Tip Jar's Onward was named best Dutch Americana album of 2019: great songs, great harmonies, great musicianship. Worth making a discovery.

Photo Credits: (1) HearthPR, (2) Dori Freeman, (3) Sunny War, (4) 'The Social Power of Music', (5) Che Apalache, (6) Hackensaw Boys, (7) Rosier, (8) Tui, (9) Ad Vanderveen, (10) Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, (11) Oh Susanna, (12) Continental Record Services, (13) Meena Cryle, (14) Jeremy Nail, (15) Cary Morin (unknown/website).

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