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Top 10 CDs of 2004

Scott Alarik's picks

1. Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Lonely Runs Both Ways” (Rounder)
Just another day at the office for the best band in bluegrass, and probably the best ballad ensemble in the genre’s history. Krauss’s hushed, exquisitely controlled vocals are revolutionizing the way bluegrass is sung.

2. Ollabelle “Ollabelle” (Columbia/ DMZ)
This may be looked back on as one of the most important recordings in the burgeoning neo-primitive folk revival. The Manhattan sextet brings a captivating urban hipness to American traditional music.

3. Joe Derrane, Seamus Connolly and John McGann, “The Boston Edge” (Mapleshade)
Classic, four-to-the-floor, oldschool Irish sessiun music from two renowned masters, button accordionist Derrane and fiddler Connolly, anchored by McGann’s wonderfully sympathetic guitar. Their unison playing is searingly close and winking with wit, their slower pieces nostalgic and warmly expressive.

4. Vance Gilbert, “Unfamiliar Moon” (Disismye)
The folk-pop songwriter’s most melodically compelling work; literate, heartfelt, rippling with shades of light jazz and dark blues. He is becoming as fine a musician as he is an entertainer - and that’s really saying something.

5. Aoife O’Donovan and Crooked Still, “Hop High” (Footprint)
Rambunctious and city-smart, yet brimming with fondness for traditional music’s wild, idiomatic graces.

6. Eliza Gilkyson, “Land of Milk and Honey” (Red House)
This New Mexico songwriter is constantly dubbed “New-Agey,” so it’s intriguing that her most topical album is also her best.

7. Heidi Talbot, “Distant Future” (Compass)
On this solo disc, the honey-husk voice of Talbot, a member of Cherish the Ladies, delivers everything from modern torch songs to ancient ballads, as if she were whispering just to us.

8. Eddi Reader, “Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns” (Compass)
The Scottish folk-rocker is not afraid to have some modern fun with the old bard, or to sing with wrenching purity.

9. Rosalie Sorrels and Friends, ‘‘My Last Go Round’’ (Red House)
Recorded at a Cambridge tribute for the Idaho folk heroine. Sorrels is in glorious, silken voice, and her banter is sage, tart, and tender.

10. Robin and Linda Williams, ‘‘Deeper Waters’’ (Red House)
No disc better captures the unbridled melodic joy, smart country-folk groove, and lush mountain harmonies this Virginia couple deliver whenever they step on a stage.

Scott Alarik is a Globe correspondent and frequent contributor on folk music.

realaudio clips
Alison Kraus & Union Station 'Lonely Runs Both Ways'
Alison Krauss and Union Station / "Lonely runs both ways"
"Doesn't have to be this way"
"Wouldn't be so bad"
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