Folk and Americana shine in these 2019 standouts
With the release of her debut album, “When You’re Ready,” Molly Tuttle confirms her membership in an elite group of women who are revolutionizing bluegrass music. Known for her adaptation of banjo picking techniques for guitar, she was the first woman to be nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year, an award she won twice, in 2017 and 2018. Her voice, however, is what shines on this album, which sees Tuttle at her most vulnerable.
In his 10th album, “Fever Breaks,” veteran folk singer Josh Ritter doesn’t deviate much from his tried-and-true sound. His meditative songwriting and earnest delivery shine through as he wrestles with, among other topics, the passage of time and the state of the nation. He also gets some help from Americana royalty in the form of Jason Isbell, who produces the album, and Isbell’s band, The 400 Unit.
Rhiannon Giddens, a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, partners with jazz musician Francesco Turrisi in a fascinating celebration of pluralism and common humanity in “There Is No Other.” The pair explore how musical traditions have traveled from Africa and the Arab world to influence music in Europe and the Americas. Spanning the gamut from the American bluegrass standard “Wayfaring Stranger” to the Italian traditional ballad “Pizzica di San Vito,” the album delivers a strong statement against the practice of “othering,” or ostracizing those perceived as outsiders.