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The Best Folk Albums of the Year, 2022

The Best Folk Albums of the Year, 2022

The deliberations have been made and the tally totted up. Here, then, is this year's BIG list.

Welcome to our inaugural Best Folk Albums of the Year round-up. When we launched Tradfolk just over a year ago, we did it because we were intrigued by the growing interest in folk culture we were seeing amongst our friends and peers. Within the UK folk scene, we knew there was wonderful music being made, but we had no way of knowing that the year ahead would be so good for folk music. We’ve heard some incredible albums, some superb singles, and a few hints of what to look forward to in 2023.

In this article, you’ll find…

While Tradfolk was set up to look specifically at traditional folk music, dance, art, etc, it has been quite difficult to stay rigidly within those lines. The folk process is, after all, in a state of constant evolution, so – when it came to album reviews – it began to feel rather stubborn and stagnant to focus only on the purist of the pure. The criteria we arrived upon was that we wanted to write about people that continued to engage in traditional folk culture (first), or (second) were clearly influenced by it. Hopefully, we’ve found a balance that you, the readers, agree with, and we express our apologies to artists that we may have been too strict with early on in our development.

When it came to choosing which albums to review, we were also limited by our resources. We are a tiny team and we have been inundated with review requests from all over the world. We try to listen to a little of everything, but the policy ultimately became, very simply, that the album had to move a writer enough for them to want to review it. Therefore, we’ve missed a few obvious bangers over the last 12 months, but hopefully we’ve managed to cover most of the major tradfolk (or tradfolk-inspired) releases either through reviews, interviews, or mini-dives into specific songs. Take a look at our folk music section to see what we took an interest in.

The judging process

While the Tradfolk Morris and Folk Dance Performance of the Year Award was a public vote, we chose to make our Best Folk Albums of the Year list more of a panel-based thing. We asked our regular Tradfolk music writers, along with Ian A. Anderson (folk broadcaster, founder and former editor of fRoots, and current Podwireless presenter) and Jim Moray (folk musician and producer extraordinaire) to cast their ears back over the last 12 months and see what stood out.

Each judge was given three votes – their first choice got three points, their second got two points, and their third got one point – and they chose exclusively from the list of albums we had already reviewed on this website. EPs and singles were obviously excluded.

The judges were also asked to include a few extra comments on how the albums affected them in the long run. After all, a listener’s relationship with an album can change as the year progresses. We were interested in their thoughts, so we’ve included some of their comments in the following list.

And so, without further ado, and in reverse order, here’s Tradfolk’s inaugural roundup…

The Best Folk Albums of the Year, 2022

10. REVEL, Tarren

The CD art for the debut album, REVEL, by Tarren. Featuring childlike, slightly druggy images of people undertaking English traditions in a technicolor landscape.

“Everything on this album feels delightfully precise and I really admire the detailed and immersive arrangement style, played with the true care and attention tunes deserve but aren’t always given.” – Abbey Thomas

9. FREY, Tamsin Elliott

The cover art for Tamsin Elliott's FREY features a beautiful painting by the artist herself.

“The tunes are in constant conversation with each other. Sometimes, listening to FREY feels like eavesdropping on a conversation whispered across borders.” – Jon Wilks

8. Both in a Tune, Knight & Spiers

The album cover for Both in a Tune by Peter Knight & John Spiers

“An extraordinary collaboration between two musicians at the absolute top of their game. This is an adventure that takes in musical detours you’d be mad to ignore.” – Jon Wilks

7. Where Old Ghosts Meet, The Haar

“The arrangements are riveting, hugely atmospheric, and almost sinister at points. This album drew the stories from the songs in a way I’ve never heard before.” – Abbey Thomas

6. Time Was Away, Emily Portman & Rob Harbron

The cover image for 'Time Was Away' by Emily Portman and Rob Harbron, featuring the two of them standing in front of white clouds.

“Folk music’s best harmoniser collaborating with English folk music’s purest voice.” – Jim Moray

“This album is beautiful. Every song is a feat of storytelling.” – Rachel Wilkinson

5. The Mary Wallopers, The Mary Wallopers

The Mary Wallopers debut album cover features a black and white photo of the band at a party, with pink scribbling and writing scrawled across it.

“The Mary Wallopers have introduced an excitement back to ballad singing that I haven’t heard for some time. This album makes me excited about ballads. I wanted to sing and cry, all in one album.” – Alex Hurr

4. The Water is the Shovel of the Shore, Shovel Dance Collective

The Water is the Shovel of the Shore feels like a turning point - an album that marks the arrival of a new generation of politically conscious traditional folk singers.

“This is an album that deserves an hour of your uninterrupted attention. It’s not like any traditional folk album I can remember listening to before. It’s like walking with ghosts.” – Jon Wilks

3. Escape That, Sam Sweeney

Sam Sweeney's Escape That album cover

“A brilliant album to dance around your living room to, or indeed anywhere, with intricate details from the guitars and double bass building a soundbed for hugely-catchy melody lines to sit over.” – Abbey Thomas

2. The Sorrow Songs, Angeline Morrison*

The album cover for The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs of Black British Experience by Angeline Morrison, released on Topic Records. The image is a tribute to old Topic Records sleeves, and features a pastoral English scene with a black girl sitting in May garlands in the foreground.

The Sorrow Songs is, quite simply, a triumph.” – Jon Wilks

The Sorrow Songs broke down perceptions about what folk song is.” – Rachel Wilkinson

1. Nick Hart Sings Ten English Folk Songs, Nick Hart

Album Cover for Nick Hart Sings Ten English Folk Songs, featuring a broken door with flowers decorating the hole.

“Only one more song than the last album, but a lot more expansive in sound. From the moment I met him, I had Nick marked as someone in the elite level of understanding of how music works, but this album solidifies it. As he carries on making them I think he’ll be regarded as one of the key interpreters of traditional music of this era.” – Jim Moray

“The answer to what one man with a lot of spare time and a bunch of innate talent can achieve. Nick gets straight to the nub of a song.” – Rachel Wilkinson

The Best Folk Songs Playlist, 2022

We’ve compiled this playlist from some of the most memorable folk recordings released in 2022, regardless of whether they appeared on an album, an EP or a single. In an ideal world, we’d be able to compile such a playlist on Bandcamp, our preferred listening destination, where you would also find the likes of Sally in the Woods, whose EP released in October was excellent. Until Bandcamp makes that possible, however, Spotify will have to do. Click here to find this playlist on your Spotify player – give it a follow and give it a whirl. We can’t wait to hear what 2023 has in store.

* Angeline Morrison released two albums this year, both of which polled very highly. A special mention, therefore, goes to The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs.