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Top CDs of 2005

Scott Alarik

1. Uncle Earl, "She Waits for Night" Rounder. The hottest new ensemble in the burgeoning neotraditional revival, the female band's sound is at once ancient and hip, achingly melodic and properly playful.

2. Utah Phillips, "Starlight on the Rails: A Songbook" Daemon. Arguably the most important folk star to emerge after the '60s revival, Phillips creates a 4-CD epic of music and story, recounting his life through his best songs. Intimate, droll, and fiercely felt, it is equal parts cultural history and musical memoir.

3. Kate Rusby, "The Girl Who Couldn't Fly" Compass. England's reigning traditional diva is emerging as its finest folk songwriter since Richard Thompson.

4. Anthology, "La Guitara" Vanguard. Brilliant guitarist-songwriter Patty Larkin assembles a captivating, globe-hopping array of female pickers, from blues pioneer Memphis Minnie to Chinese pipa master Wu Man; finger-picking legend Elizabeth Cotton to contemporary jazz great Mimi Fox.

5. Alison Brown, "Stolen Moments" Compass. Brown brings an alluringly feminine sound to the banjo, rescuing it from its jackhammer cliches. Just as Jerry Douglas did with the dobro, she is teaching the banjo how to sing.

6. Arlo Guthrie, "Live in Sydney" Rising Son. Folk's favorite son has never sounded better. He rambles through his life in song as only a Guthrie can ramble, melding past and present into one warm, hilariously observed, and musically splendid moment.

7. Cheryl Wheeler, "Defying Gravity" Philo. Utterly unafraid to sing about the simplest pleasures or the most conflicting passions, the artfully plainspun songwriter delivers a mature masterpiece.

8. Thea Gilmore, "Loft Music" Compass. The British folk-rocker sings songs that influenced her, by Van Morrison, the Buzzcocks, Phil Ochs, the Ramones, and others. This is adolescence darkly remembered: the harrowing isolation, the need to hide from a peering, unkind world, and the magical solace of finding songs that know just how you feel.

9. Old School Freight Train, "Run" Acoustic Disc. The young bluegrassers' jazzy jams could make Nickel Creek feel like old fogies, but the real surprise is the graceful, incisive songwriting.

10. Aine Minogue, "Celtic Lamentations" Sounds True. The Irish harpist-singer explores how ancient people used music to grieve. Not simply dirges, this gorgeous odyssey visits all the complex moods of mourning.

Top CDs of 2005
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Read more CD reviews: Scott Alarik  |  Joan Anderman  |  Bill Beuttler  |  Richard Dyer  |  Renee Graham  |  Siddhartha Mitter  |  Steve Morse  |  Christopher Muther  |  James Reed  |  Top CDs of 2005
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