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Album Of The Year

Critics Poll 2011

We asked, they voted, we counted. You won’t find a more exhaustively researched and authoritative run down of the best folk, roots and world music albums of the year than that nominated by the fRoots mega-panel!

It’s a funny old business. Having been doing this Critics’ Poll for 26 years, we’re no better at second guessing what our panel of over 300 experts (in one way or another) will pick as the Album Of The Year than we were when we started back in 1986. And then usually, when it’s all over, the top handful seem glaringly and deservedly obvious… And so it was again this year.

Not so long ago it was a foregone conclusion that a West African artist would walk away with the top prize by a wide margin, as happened for nine straight years from 1999 to 2007. But things have changed a bit since Jim Moray caused widespread apoplexy amongst world music diehards by pipping Toumani Diabate and Rokia Traore to the post in 2008. Bellowhead repeated the same feat last year, and this time round the teaming of June Tabor & Oysterband for a second album caught the maximum imagination, narrowly winning out over a superb debut by Fatoumata Diawara. You heard both on our fRoots 36 compilation back in August.

So is there a trend? Well, although we’ve made very few changes in the composition of our panel, there has either been a steady increase in favour of (largely English) folk or a slow decline in interest in world music – or more likely a combination of the two. The fuss that Moray’s 2008 win generated – albeit mostly from an internet message board that’s no longer very active – seems quite extraordinary with hindsight. None of us has the stamina or anorak to go and produce hard and fast statistics, but gut feeling says that world music releases in general have decreased in quantity – whether you believe the same is reflected in quality can only be down to personal tastes. And then maybe changing fashion has a role to play: are they not there or just square?

But certainly the less canny parts of the world music record ‘industry’ shot themselves in the feet in the immediate post-Buena Vista days by deciding to ape and ally themselves more with the mainstream record industry, just as, unfortunately, the latter was about to drive off a cliff. You don’t have to be a Sherlock among fRoots readers to notice that already decreasing world music record advertising dried up almost entirely in our pages after the recession hit in 2008, whereas English folk, with its greater grasp of grass roots work and community, has fared a lot better. But it’s an impossible conundrum to figure. Does less promotion mean less records are being released, or just that they are no longer being brought to people’s attention, disappearing off the proverbial radar? Your starter for ten…

What has always been true is still the case though: to top the Critics’ Poll any year you have to draw support from across the genre taste barriers in order to get those crucial extra votes, and the top pair this year did just that. Well done to both.

So to remind you of the mechanics of it… We have an unfeasibly large international panel of people who, in the course of things – usually their work – are likely to have heard and be interested in a wider range of releases than the person in the street. We ask them to nominate six new single artist albums, four re-issues or compilations and three albums that they consider to be the best packaged of the year. They don’t have to place them – every nomination gets one vote. We give guidance as to what’s eligible – basically, any music that falls into fRoots’ remit of “anything from anywhere with roots in a tradition” that has been released since November the previous year. Then we have to do an awfully big job of number crunching…

Occasionally people get a bit confused as to what section to put certain new albums in: for example this year’s Cecil Sharp Project clearly falls into the same category as Buena Vista Social Club or the first Imagined Village – a project where the same pool of ‘various artists’ work across all the tracks – so we treat it as a new artist album, and where people got it wrong we shifted the votes to accumulate them in one place.

But apart from that it’s good old fashioned democracy, which produces a shortlist of “nominees” we announced in mid-November. Now here in detail are the placed results – the nearest thing to a definitive guide to the best folk, roots and world music releases of 2011 that there is.

Download a PDF of how the individual panellists voted.

Amazon

Click on the individual albums to go direct to their page at Amazon UK
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.


New Albums Of 2011 winners

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Album Winner 2011

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1. June Tabor & Oysterband Ragged Kingdom (Topic)
2. Fatoumata Diawara Fatou (World Circuit)
3. Ry Cooder Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down (Nonesuch)
4. Juju (Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara) In Trance (Real World)
5. Gillian Welch The Harrow And The Harvest (Acony/Warner Bros)
6. Jackie Oates Saturnine (ECC)
7= Aurelio Laru Beya (Real World)
     Mary Hampton Folly (Teaspoon)
     Aziz Sahmaoui University Of Gnawa (General Pattern)
10= Tinariwen Tassili (V2/Anti)
       Abigail Washburn City Of Refuge (Rounder)
12= Snakefarm My Halo At Half-Light (Fledg’ling)
       Boubacar Traore Mali Denhou (Lusafrica)
14= Dub Colossus Addis Through The Looking Glass (Real World)
       Seun Anikulapo Kuti & Egypt 80 From Africa With Fury: Rise (Because)
       Rapunzel & Sedayne Songs From The Barley Temple (Folk Police)
       Martin Simpson Purpose + Grace (Topic)
18= Amira Amulette (World Village)
       Andrew Cronshaw The Unbroken Surface Of Snow (Cloud Valley)
       Naomi Bedford Tales From The Weeping Willow (Dusty Willow)

Runners Up (alphabetically): Baloji Kinshasa Surcusale (Crammed Discs); Bombino Agadez (Cumbancha); Eliza Carthy Neptune (Hem Hem); Cecil Sharp Project Cecil Sharp Project (Shrewsbury Folk Festival); Fanfare Ciocarlia vs Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra Balkan Brass Battle (Asphalt Tango); Bella Hardy Songs Lost And Stolen (Navigator); Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill); Dawda Jobarteh Northern Light Gambian Night (Stern’s); Jonny Kearney & Lucy Farrell Kite (Rabble Rouser); Le Trio Joubran AsFar (World Village); Nidi d’Arac Taranta Container (Tarantulae); Iarla Ó Lionáird Foxlight (Real World); Lucas Santtana Sem Nostalgia (Mais Um Discos); Omar Souleyman Haflat Gharbia – The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies); Spiers & Boden The Works (Navigator); June Tabor Ashore (Topic); Steve Tilston The Reckoning (Hubris); The Unthanks Last (Rabble Rouser); Lucy Ward Adelphi Has To Fly (Navigator); Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight The Days That Shaped Me (One Little Indian).



Reissue/Compilation Of The Year
To keep the main attention on new recordings but at the same time recognise the excellence of the many reissues, compilations and historic projects, we have a second, separate section for those. Technological advances and the break away from the now very boring standard jewel box – the hallmark of a lack of attention to packaging art detail these days – mean that some extraordinary, exhilarating and influential sets have been released in recent years, putting into the public domain recordings that were long lost in the archives, never releasable until digital technology allowed the quality to be brought up to scratch (or without scratch in some cases!), or increasingly from cultures whose music never found its way to western ears at the time of original release.

And who would have imagined that three LPs by an American traditional singer who was hardly a major name in the 1960s and who had, seemingly, completely vanished from the consciousness of all but a few fans, could be combined as a CD set and capture so many people’s imagination? But Paul Adams of Fellside had the faith and it has been handsomely repaid by Hedy West’s Ballads & Songs FromThe Appalachians walking away with the Reissues & Compilations gong by quite a wide margin. Read all about Hedy in fRoots 343/344, and hear her on fRoots 38.

In second place, the passing of Kate McGarrigle was marked by a handsome anthology of the McGarrigle Sisters’ early work, putting together remastered versions of their classic first two albums with a third CD of demos and unreleased recordings from the same early 1970s era. It was all produced and annotated by Joe Boyd and Anna McGarrigle, with fine sound quality and attention to detail in the package.

Half of the top dozen were historic world music recordings, reflecting the fact that world music fans are increasingly looking backwards rather than engaging with what’s being made now, and again that labels like Analog Africa and Soundway care a great deal about the information and memorabilia making up the whole package.

Indeed, as we mentioned last year, certain labels are not doing themselves any favours by their misguidedly cheapskate habit of only sending preview CDs without the packaging to reviewers, or even worse in the case of one US re-issue label who could have done much better otherwise, expecting reviews from mp3 downloads. Er, no…

So to recap, in this section it’s any form of compilation by genre or artist, any reissues or first-time issues of older recordings (even when including some new material), local licences of albums which have appeared elsewhere in previous years, any remix albums, and all ‘Various Artist’ compilations (whether new or reissue).

Reissues & Compilations Of 2011 winners

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Reissue/Compilation Winner 2011

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1. Hedy West Ballads & Songs From The Appalachians (Fellside)
2. Kate & Anna McGarrigle Tell My Sister (Nonesuch)
3. Various Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound Of Burkina Faso 1974-79 (Analog Africa)
4. Various ‘80s World Music Classics: When The World Was Young (Nascente)
5. Home Service Live 1986 (Fledg’ling)
6= Martin Carthy The Essential (Topic)
      Various Cartagena! Cumbia & Descarga Sound Of Colombia 1962-72 (Soundway)
7= Peter Bellamy Merlin’s Isle Of Gramarye (Talking Elephant)
      A.L. Lloyd Bramble Briars And Beams Of The Sun (Fellside)
9= Sorry Bamba Vol. 1 (Thrill Jockey)
      Various Oak, Ash And Thorn (Folk Police)
      Various Opika Pende: Africa At 78 rpm (Dust-To-Digital)
      Western Jazz Band Songs Of Happiness, Poison & Ululation (Stern’s)

Runners Up (alphabetically): Peter Bellamy Oak Ash And Thorn (Talking Elephant); Tim Buckley Tim Buckley (Rhino); Sandy Denny Sandy Denny (Universal Box Set); Dr Strangely Strange Heavy Petting (Hux); Fania All Stars Our Latin Thing (Strut); Woody Guthrie Live Wire (Rounder); Muzsikás Fly Bird Fly (Nascente); Tabu Ley Rochereau The Voice Of Lightness Vol. 2 (Stern’s); Leon Rosselson The World Turned Upside Down (Fuse); Ebo Taylor Life Stories (Strut); Richard & Linda Thompson Live At The BBC (Universal); Various Afrolatin (Via Kinshasa) (Syllart); Various Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound Of Luanda 1968-1976 (Analog Africa); Various Bahamas – Goombay 1951-1959 (Frémeaux & Associés); Various Beginner’s Guide To Scandinavia (Nascente); Various Golden Beirut – New Sounds From Lebanon (Out Here); Various Hear Me Howling! (Arhoolie); Various The Inner Octave (Rif Mountain); Various The Karindula Sessions (Crammed); Various Kosher Nostra – Jewish Gangsters Greatest Hits (Essay); Various Something Is Wrong: Vintage Recordings From East Africa (Honest Jon’s); Various To What Strange Place: The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora 1916-1929 (Tompkins Square); Various World Routes: On The Road (Nascente); Nimrod Workman Mother Jones’ Will (Musical Traditions).


Best Packaged Albums Of 2011

In these days of downloads, it’s quality packaging that can make a big difference to whether you buy the CDs or the files. Artistic skill can produce a must-have artefact of beauty, along with enhancing the listening pleasure by providing ambience and information.

And there are few better exponents of the art of making must-have artefacts than the Dust-To-Digital label. There’s a full review of their fabulous winner in fRoots 343/344. Let’s just say it deserved it!

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Best Packaged Album 2011

1. Various Opika Pende: Africa At 78 rpm (Dust-To-Digital)
2= June Tabor & Oysterband Ragged Kingdom (Topic)
     Kate & Anna McGarrigle Tell My Sister (Nonesuch)
4. Jackie Oates Saturnine (ECC)
5. Leon Rosselson The World Turned Upside Down (Fuse)
6. Various Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound Of Burkina Faso 1974-79 (Analog Africa)

Runners up (alphabetically): Cecil Sharp Project Cecil Sharp Project (Shrewsbury Folk Festival); Ry Cooder Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down (Nonesuch); Andrew Cronshaw The Unbroken Surface Of Snow (Cloud Valley); Dub Colossus Dub Me Tender (Yeka Sub City); John Fahey Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You (Dust-To-Digital); Richard & Linda Thompson Live At The BBC (Universal); Various Hear Me Howling! (Arhoolie); Various …I Listen To The Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music In Vernacular Photographs 1880-1955 (Dust-To-Digital); Various Kosher Nostra: Jewish Gangsters Greatest Hits (Essay); Various Something Is Wrong: Vintage Recordings From East Africa (Honest Jon’s); Various World Routes: On The Road (Nascente).

Amazon

Click on the individual albums to go direct to their page at Amazon UK
If you follow the click through to Amazon from the links here and buy anything at their usual excellent prices, fRoots will receive a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and helps to support the resources on this web site.


 

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