Josh Rouse The Happiness Waltz/Yep Roc Records
The Happiness Waltz is filled with singer- songwriter Josh Rouse’s patented folk-pop charm that hearkens back to the warm, ’70s- era recordings. It finds Rouse singing with an ease and subtle richness reminiscent of Paul Simon. The album plumbs the depths of love and life with surprising insight and delicacy. The languid “It’s Good to Have You” features Rouse crooning about how good it is to have someone special in his life, the down-tempo shuffler “Our Love” examines a love that has aged well, and the idealism in the acoustic ditty “Start a Family” is undeniable. Even the wistful closing title track is beautiful because it centers on happy memories, rather than times of regret.
Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer Child Ballads/Wilderland Records
This seven song collection of traditional ballads from England and Scotland is a fantastic experience. Anais Mitchell’s clear, spritely voice is the perfect complement to Jefferson Hamer’s thick, rich vocals, and the overall effect on these folk songs is mesmerizing. Whether singing about a man who begs his queen to lift her curse on his barren wife (“Willie’s Lady”) or waxing philosophically about life’s mysteries (“Riddles Wisely Expounded”), Mitchell and Hamer infuse these centuries-old tunes with vitality. The duo performs the songs as though they are original storytellers, and their abilty to connect with the content makes it all the more stunning. Child Ballads takes you on a medieval journey filled with knights, bards and castles on the wings of deeply satisfying, gorgeous duets.
The Milk Carton Kids The Ash & Clay/ANTI Records
The Ash & Clay is wondrous folk music. Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale use only acoustic guitars and complementary vocals to sing about emotionally deep subjects in a surprisingly subtle way. The album is marked by disappointments and suffering, yet it’s oddly beautiful. “Snake Eyes” makes an abbreviated, mournful nod to the lyrics of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and despite the lively sound of “Heaven,” when the duo sings “They promised me heaven / I was hoping for something more,” it’s hard not to feel their disappointment too. The closer, “Memphis,” talks about the emptiness of Graceland despite the joy it was intended to bring. The album uses serious material to inspire contemplation, and makes simple powerful music.