Electric Ghosts: June's Best Folk Music, Reviewed

On June 27, 2016

by Adam Sharp


Just about officially in the back half of the year, which means it’s a good time to think about how this year is shaping up and what’s been the best stuff that’s come out as we begin our two or three month-long campout in front of the AC. Hopefully the second half of the year is as good as the first half, as I think every month has give us at least one outstanding release (and most of the time far more). My favorites so far, quickly (folk/sad bastard division only): Pinegrove, Lucy Dacus, Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony (covered below), Fruit Bats, Fort Frances, Donovan Woods, Mothers, Mutual Benefit, Aidan Knight, Laura Gibson and Kevin Morby. Good year so far, I’d say. Alright, about June’s releases. 


Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado SymphonyGregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony
I lied to you last month about Mutual Benefit’s gorgeous new album being the prettiest thing you’ll hear all year. That record is tremendously pretty, no doubt, but this collaborative effort from Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony is on some kind of next level. A collection of ten of his best songs and one new one they’ve been playing on the road the last few years ("Liars"), it’s overwhelmingly and immensely beautiful, Isakov’s soft, sparse songs about love, passing time and traveling and his terrifically warm voice are both complemented and elevated at every turn by the sweeping strings, woodwinds and horns and rumbling percussion. Recorded in Denver’s Boettcher Hall last summer without an audience present, it might not just be the prettiest album I’ve heard this year, it might be the prettiest record I’ve heard period, and comes as close to properly capturing the sheer magnitude of Gregory’s songs in the live setting as any recording could. Do yourself a favor and spend some quality time with this one- I think you’ll come to the same conclusion. 


The Lights Just BuzzBirger Olsen
The voice and songs of Birger Olsen hang thick like the air on summer nights in the Midwest, the kind of songs you’re happy to find stuff inside that barely-working jukebox in the dive bar down the street you go drink crappy beer at from time to time. The Lights Just Buzz is a 6-song debut full of warm, dusty songs about love and hard times, Olsen’s rich, comforting baritone and slow drawl weaving his familiar-on-first-listen tales over buzzing guitars, quietly wailing keys and a harmonica here and there. There’s a whole mess of summer nights that are too hot to sleep coming up- this should be your soundtrack as you wait out the heat. 


Light Upon the LakeWhitney
First, a confession: I didn’t like Whitney, a group formed from the ashes of Smith Westerns, at all when I first heard "No Woman," despite everything being right there for me to love with all my heart. "Golden Days" grew on me a bit, but I was still sort of on the fence. And then the album came out and a funny thing happened: I couldn’t stop playing it and raving about it and thinking it’s one of the finer collections of songs I’d heard this year. Ten perfect songs, ten perfect faded snapshots of hazy days, hazy love and hazy regrets, never outstaying their welcome but always feeling longer than their run times (which is impressive given that 80% of the tunes on the record check in at under three and a half minutes).  

Being that we have reached the midpoint of the year, thought it might be good to talk real quick about a few albums that I missed featuring the month they came out but that you most certainly need to be aware of. I’m not cool/pretentious/dumb enough to pretend I’m not frequently late to the party on music I end up loving.  

When You Walk A Long Distance You Are TiredMothers
There’s something so quietly urgent and engrossing about this record, an intoxicating mixture of Kristine Leschper’s striking vocals and vulnerable words and instrumentation that seems to crash and swirl around in the most impactful way whenever the chance presents itself. This is the album I feel most badly about not featuring previously.  

The PartyAndy Shauf
Speaking of parties, a concept album about a party written from the viewpoint of various people at the party is a tricky thing to navigate and pull of, but man did Andy Shauf manage to craft something wholly interesting, engaging and unique. 

Each OtherAidan Knight
I mentioned this real briefly in my first column of the year, but I should have called it out in bold and all caps: this album is an 8-song test to see Aidan Knight can find that soft spot in your emotions and press it hard enough for you to crack. There’s a good chance he can. 

In the Magic HourAoife O’Donovan
An album that’s brilliantly unassuming, one that’s so easy to lose a golden hour to, O’Donovan’s sweet, welcoming voice and those gorgeous arrangements engulfing you and whisking you away before you know what’s happened. 

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