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The Old Fashioned Dozen: Our Favorites From 2022

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I always get a particular thrill when I see old-time and bluegrass artists connect with modern audiences. It’s one thing to get a rise with a big rhythm section and blazing electric guitars. When it’s coming from instruments that were around before the 20th century it seems like something extra deep is happening, something true to the idea of Americana.

For that reason, I asked late last year if WMOT was ready for a program dedicated to the fiddle and banjo side of our music, and our leaders said they’d already been thinking about it. So we launched The Old Fashioned in March, and it’s been a joy to work with Amy Alvey creating a weekly mix of the old and the new, the trad and the rad.

Folk and deep roots music is in an exciting place. Bluegrass has built an ecosystem all its own with venues, labels, festivals and radio broadcasters keeping the artists fed. Old-time is enjoying a long wave of enthusiasm among younger folks, and some of America’s oldest music festivals and conventions have thrived. And while a lot of that energy comes from people gathering to play the music themselves as a community, we are blessed with a lot of exceptional artists driving creativity and innovation within the recognizable fabric of tradition. I included several folk or bluegrass projects in my annual Outstanding and Essential Americana Albums list for the year, including records by Molly Tuttle, Billy Strings, and Willi Carlisle. Here, in alphabetical order, are 12 more albums that made the biggest impact on us in 2022.

We'll present songs from these and other great new albums in a special edition of The Old Fashioned on New Year's Eve.

Allison DeGroot and Tatiana Hargreaves - Hurricane Clarice

Fiddle, banjo and two haunting voices propel this deceptively simple recording into sublime territory. On their second album, the duo modernizes old-time traditions while weaving together expertly chosen found songs with originals that tell a complex story about a troubled planet.

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Appalachian Road Show – Jubilation

A Dolly Parton narration invokes the resilience and optimism of Appalachian people at the beginning of this hard-driving bluegrass collection. It follows up on the supergroup’s 2020 debut Tribulation with all the pieces clicking in harmony – the banjo of Barry Abernathy, the fiddle of Jim VanCleve, the mandolin of Darrell Webb, the guitar of Zeb Snyder and moving singing all around.

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Chatham Rabbits - If You See Me Riding By

It was a big year for the married couple of Austin and Sarah McCombie as they landed a public TV show and released this collection of loving looks at life from their North Carolina farm. Sarah’s clawhammer banjo and sweet voice anchors the duo.

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The Del McCoury Band - Almost Proud

The indominable grandmaster Del McCoury keeps making great bluegrass well into his 80s. The night life and honky tonk songs, including one with guest artist Vince Gill, harken back to the days that Del was running around as a young man.

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Jake Xerxes Fussell - Good And Green Again

Durham, NC folk artist Jake Fussell scours history for little known gems and placed them in bracingly original, not always acoustic, settings. On his fourth album, original songs make an appearance, and this project has a trance-like energy all its own. The mesmerizing “Breast of Glass” and the flowing nine-minute sea song “The Golden Willow Tree” are highlights.

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Jason Carter - Lowdown Hoedown

Jason Carter trained for and landed the job he dreamed of – playing fiddle with the Del McCoury Band, and now for just the second time in his career he’s stepped forward as an artist and leader. With choice guest musicians and fantastic singing from the baritone-voiced Carter, it’s a bluegrass tour de force.

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Mama's Broke - Narrow Line

The Canadian duo of Lisa Maria and Amy Lou Keeler draws on many indigenous sounds from the world to make music that rewards patience and a taste for the gothic. Darkly gorgeous and provocative, this all-original set of songs offers a landscape of emotion and impression from two sensitive minds.

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Nora Brown - Long Time To Be Gone

Brooklyn-based banjo player Nora Brown has been hailed if not pressured as the future of old-time music, because she’s truly advanced and aware in her mid teens. This is her most refined vision so far, a collection of instrumental and vocal solos recorded in a church with profound attention to detail and emotional touch.

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Peter Rowan - Calling You From My Mountain

The great Peter Rowan was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2022 about the time he released this joyful and worldly album. His unique and majestic voice is the highlight of these varied, bluesy songs from many different eras. Younger stars like Molly Tuttle and Shawn Camp join in the cross-generational good time.

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Pharis and Jason Romero - Tell Em You Were Gold

Another Canadian old-time duo, but not one you’ll confuse with anyone else. They’re married and committed to expanding on a rich tradition, with multiple Juno Awards to show for it. This is indeed a glowing and enriching set of original and traditional tunes.

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The Po' Ramblin' Boys - Never Slow Down

This East Tennessee band developed quickly from a local house band to a nationally touring nominee as IBMA’s Entertainers of the Year. They hew to the hard-edged old school sound of the 50s and 60s, but do so with youthful confidence that asserts just how hip real deal bluegrass can be. This is the PRB’s debut for Smithsonian Folkways Records.

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The Slocan Ramblers - Up The Hill and Through The Fog

All this year’s albums were touched by the pandemic’s emotional toll, but maybe none sound less like it than this swift and smart collection of contemporary bluegrass. The Canadian band was a 2020 IBMA Momentum Award winner and is poised to be US favorites.

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Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org