We're heading toward a new year, so I've been cleaning every corner of my desk -- out with the old, in with the new. Most of the albums have since been sent to the files, never to be heard again, but here are 10 independent releases that are staying in my top drawer.
Antje Duvekot, The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer (Black Wolf)
This folkie from Massachusetts has a unique, compelling voice that complements her heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting. Yet she doesn't come off as a complainer, partly due to the lush arrangements (thanks to producer Richard Shindell) and her likeable persona.
Choice tracks: "Long Way," "Dublin Boys," "Vertigo"
Great Lake Swimmers, Lost Channels (Nettwerk)
With its mesmerizing melodies, this is an ideal album for quiet evenings, chilling out. Someday, I'll decipher what Tony Decker is singing and writing about, but for now I'll just close my eyes and play this when I have a desire to hear beautiful, mysterious music.
Choice tracks: "Pulling on a Line," "Still," "Everything Is Moving So Fast"
Hot Club of Cowtown, Wishful Thinking (Proper)
This complex album boasts a wide variety of moods and styles, yet the instrumental virtuosity of this Austin, Texas-based band ties it all together. With a jazz and swing bent, it's pleasant enough for brunch, but I'd prefer to see them at the Continental Club in Austin.
Choice tracks: "Can't Go On This Way," "Cabiria," "Someone to Watch Over Me"
Gregory Alan Isakov, This Empty Northern Hemisphere (self-released)
This record soothes me. I've heard this Colorado-based singer-songwriter just once, when he opened for Brandi Carlile, but I've played the album countless times before bedtime. It's a very atmospheric album, and when Carlile lends her harmony, it's exquisite.
Choice tracks: "That Moon Song," "Virginia May," "Evelyn"
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers (self-released)
She focuses on the tried-and-true topics: disappointment, getting dumped, trying to make enough money to live on, etc. Plus, the twangy instruments are crisp and easy to hear. If your own favorite country singers came from the vinyl era, don't let this one pass you by.
Choice tracks: "Hey Little Darlin'," "The Running Kind," "Not You"
The Pines, Tremolo (Red House)
A hypnotic groove permeates this soft-spoken album which blends this duo's folk songs with slow-simmering arrangements. Recorded in Minnesota with producer Bo Ramsey, the album barely rises above a whisper, which only makes me listen more intently.
Choice tracks: "Pray Tell," "Shiny Shoes," "Lonesome Tremolo Blues"
Sam & Ruby, The Here and the Now (Ryko)
Coming up in the Nashville club scene, these singer-songwriters complement each other beautifully on their easygoing debut album. Sam Brooker and Ruby Amanfu both possess sultry voices yet it's their skillful writing that stands out in a city famous for song craft.
Choice tracks: "Ain't Love Somethin'," "Need Me Less," "The Suitcase Song"
Bryan Sutton and Friends, Almost Live (Sugar Hill)
One of Nashville's most in-demand guitarists, he gathers his pals in an effort to catch the impromptu vibe of a hot jam session. He also wrote many of the songs, yet his fast and clear picking remains his calling card. For instrumental bluegrass, this is tough to beat.
Choice tracks: "Rye Straw Street," "Church Street Blues," "Le Pont de la Moustache"
Allen Thompson, 26 Years (Roofbeam)
I liked this album from its opening line: "Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned/Over and over and over again." Thompson says the collection marks the start of his adult years. With this batch of ragged-but-right country originals, he's clearly ahead of the curve.
Choice tracks: "Forgive Me," "26:1," "All These Years"
Seth Walker, Leap of Faith (Hyena)
This blues man based in Austin, Texas, chose to record in Nashville to give his latest album a polish that might lead to a wider audience. It worked for me. He's an inventive songwriter and a strong vocalist, but I also dig his unexpected, sly sense of humor.
Choice tracks: "Rewind," "Lately I've Let Things Slide," "I Don't Dance"
Check out 10 more indie releases from earlier this year that are worth considering as well.