Most of the music I encountered for the first time in 2018 wasn’t actually new. But here are a few new releases I did fancy this year, in no particular order.
Winterland by The Okee Dokee Brothers
One of my favorite bands released a full album about my favorite season, so yeah, it’s gonna make this list. Choice song: “Blankets of Snow”
Songs for the Season by Ingrid Michaelson
This album has been on heavy rotation this Christmastime. Choice song: “Looks Like A Cold, Cold Winter”
Magic Ship by Mountain Man
Here’s a digital browsing success story: I was on Hoopla (free with your library card) trolling through the new music releases and selected an album from an artist I knew and liked. Don’t even remember which it was, but I saw that the Similar Artists under the album showed a band called Mountain Man. Had never heard of them, but I figured a group with a name like that couldn’t be bad. Turned out I was correct. It’s a trio of women doing mostly a cappella folk serenades, and I can’t wait to play them as lullabies to my incipient child. Choice song: “Agt”
See You Around by I’m With Her
I’m with I’m With Her. Choice song: “Overland”
Wide Awake by Rayland Baxter
Recently heard a song from this album at the dentist office, which I guess means Baxter has officially arrived. Choice song: “Strange American Dream”
Between Two Shores by Glen Hansard
What I call “Sad Bastard” music at its finest. Hansard is on my bucket list to see live. Choice song: “Why Woman”
Songs from the Valley by Sandra McCracken
I’ve seen Sandra live many times and would gladly keep seeing her. Choice song: “Lover of My Soul”
Ruins by First Aid Kit
I’m starting to realize I have a thing for female harmonies. Choice song: “My Wild Sweet Love”
Had the pleasure of seeing The Okee Dokee Brothers in concert at Lincoln Hall. My little niece is a superfan of the folk duo, which is how I got turned onto them. And since they are a kid-centric act, I got to experience the glories of an 11 a.m. concert start time. I’d go to so many more concerts if they happened in the morning.
Though my exposure to children’s music is limited, none of what I have heard is as broadly appealing as The Okee Dokee Brothers. It’s just straight-up good roots, bluegrass, and folk music. Can You Canoe?, Saddle Up, and Through the Woods are all excellent albums for all ages. (They said their next album, out in October, will be all about winter—as if I needed another reason to love them!)
They also solved a problem I’d stumbled into ever since picking up the banjo and exploring bluegrass music. It’s going to sound like a backhanded compliment but I promise it’s just a plain compliment: the Okee Dokee Brothers don’t seem focused on being impressive.
They very well could be savants on the guitar and banjo, but unlike some artists they don’t waste time trying to prove how amazing instrumentalists they are through a fusillade of notes. A round of applause for those virtuosos—but I’m much more interested in being taken on a good musical storytelling journey.
The Okee Dokee Brothers demonstrated this (inadvertently) during their show, playfully hyping up their soloing abilities only to reveal some fairly pedestrian two-bar or one-note licks. Meanwhile, songs like “Through the Woods” and “Hillbilly Willy” and “Walking With Spring”, seemingly straightforward folk songs “for kids”, boast strong narrative arcs, clever lyrics, and beautiful musical craftsmanship. And all without punching listeners in the ear with a barrage of frailin’ and fingerpickin’.
In other words: Songs over notes. I know what you can do with all those notes, but what about what you can do with only some of them?