“Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!”
They aren’t fooling around with that exclamation point. The picking alone on this sophomore album from this quintet of multi-instrumentalists — Jake and Taylor Armerding, Mark Erelli, Zachariah Hickman, and Charlie Rose — is downright dizzying. Throw in great vocal harmonies from the entire crew and transformative versions of tunes by everyone from Patty Griffin to the Hold Steady and the Faces, and you’ve got one of the loveliest and simultaneously most galvanizing roots/folk/country/Americana/bluegrass-ish records of the year.
“The Muscle Shoals Sessions”
Just before she packed up for Tennessee, this longtime Somerville resident released her defining statement as a refined Americana singer-songwriter. “The Muscle Shoals Sessions,” recorded in that fabled Alabama town, drew out a more soulful side of Black, who came to music late in life but has finally arrived.
One of the real perks of living here is knowing you can probably see Brewer play live somewhere every week. His “Dadrock” Sunday series was a mainstay at Atwood’s Tavern this year (and continues into 2016). He released not just one but two new albums that showcased the cool sophistication of his guitar playing, not to mention his evolution as a songwriter.
BRIAN CARPENTER & THE CONFESSIONS
“The Far End of the World”
New England weather is probably easier to predict than the direction Carpenter will dart in with his various projects. After helming Beat Circus and Ghost Train Orchestra, the Arlington-based composer and singer-songwriter led a band through the desert noir of the Southwest on this collection of parched but evocative tunes.
TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON
“The Mosaic Project: Love and Soul”
This stellar sequel to the drummer-percussionist’s Grammy-winning 2011 album features an all-star cast of female vocalists and instrumentalists, including Chaka Khan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Oleta Adams, Paula Cole, Regina Carter, Lalah Hathaway, and Natalie Cole, paying tribute to the Medford native’s male influences, in sumptuous, funky, soulful, and deeply felt performances that range from smooth soul serenades to inventive jazz grooves.
This was the first new CD in seven years by this quartet of veteran Boston players: guitarist Steve Fell (who also wrote most of the tunes), saxophonist Andy Voelker, bassist Jef Charland, and drummer Luther Gray. They match the verities of jazz swing and assuring song forms with a taste for formal and sonic experiments. At their best, Fell and Voelker phrase with precise abandon as they ride Charland and Gray’s deathless grooves.
Connolly’s 10th album is a fraternal undertaking with a twist: Connolly wrote the songs, then he and his West-Coast brother Jim traded files back and forth, with Jim adding bass, banjo, and other instruments to Kevin’s guitar and vocals. The asynchronous outcome: a marvelous collection of muscular, electric folk that, fittingly, includes the autobiography of “My Brother and Me.”
You may know the place, but you’ve never seen Suffolk County through Cousin Stizz’s eyes. The Dorchester rapper’s solo debut is an intoxicating journey into his world, using hazy beats and his languid, catchy flow to deliver the underlying menace and pathos of his content in a captivating package. “Shoutout” and “No Bells” are instantly memorable street anthems, but tracks like “Jordan Fade” and the stark Jefe Replay-assisted “Talk” hint at exciting reserves of creativity that Stizz still has to plumb.
Eminent already among stoner-metal circles, the trio of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nicholas DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan, and drummer Matthew Couto took their collective game to the next level on their third full-length LP. Mind you, Elder can still noodle a colossal riff into mass hypnosis. But here, the group leavened its Sleep-ier tendencies with pinwheeling guitar slaloms, arresting dynamic shifts, shimmering krautrock grooves, and other proggy flourishes.
Following up on its brutal, brilliant 2014 debut LP, “The Departure of Consciousness,” sludge-metal quintet Fórn greeted the end of 2015 with an EP well suited to the end of days. The band’s penchant for pitch-black, downtuned anthems of obsessive dread remains intact with “Dolor” and “Saudade” — each around 11 minutes and split into two parts — but equally evident is a surprising knack for anguished beauty, which makes these haunted ruminations feel oddly humane.
“Edge of the World”
She exuded an ethereal beauty on previous work, but on her self-released EP, Halstead added some muscle and tang to her fiery take on Americana. “I won’t put the shovel down/ Till you’re 6 feet under/ The cold, hard ground,” she sings on “Shovel.” And you believe her.
Her songs rarely stay in one place, shifting with wild abandon and circuitous wordplay that collectively build a web of intrigue on her debut album. A harpist, composer, and songwriter based in Jamaica Plain, Harrer pitches her work somewhere between classical composition and the experimental pop of Kate Bush and Björk.
“The Good Fight,” “To the Wolves,” “To the Fire”
The Americana rock sextet released a trio of EPs this year that add up to one kick-ass 13-track collection: each a gem, but together a force. From the urgent boogie of “All Night Dynamite” to the slinky charms of “All in All” and the winsome fiddles and harmonies of “Good Old Wind,” this was a welcome wave indeed.
Repeat after me: “Molly” is the tastiest bit of guitar pop to come out of Boston in 2015. On her debut full-length as Palehound, Allston’s Ellen Kempner reeled off jagged songs soaked in ’90s rock radio but with the lo-fi intimacy of bedroom recordings. It’s no wonder she won the Boston Music Award for new artist earlier this month.
“You’re Better Than This”
The constantly gigging quartet Pile is often name-checked as Boston bands’ favorite Boston band, and its third full-length is a blistering testament as to why. “You’re Better Than This” showcases a band taking the idea of “rock music” and turning it inside-out, then examining the results with a high-powered microscope; the slow burn of “Hot Breath” culminates with guitar-bass-drums agitation that resembles a mosh pit’s churn, while the breakneck “#2 Hit Single” is anchored by frontman and chief songwriter Rick Maguire’s cavernous wail.
At four tracks it may be short, but this electropop collective’s beguiling EP packs an emotional wallop and the songs stick with you. Desolation and solace come in equal measure in cool mechanized tones, Marco Lawrence’s moody vocals, and the willowy strings that weave warmth around them both. An excellent appetizer for the main course yet to come.
“Pack Up the Circus”
Celebrating more than a decade as this town’s most spirited supergroup, whose shows are essentially a crash course in roots music, Session Americana upped the ante with its latest release. With Anaïs Mitchell producing, the ensemble focused on original songs and revealed a group of musicians hungry to push their limits.
The Northampton-spawned group outdid itself on its third album, amping up the angular guitars, dynamic shifts, and wild wordplay, melding sweet pop sounds with acidic guitar rock, and bounding from the instantly accessible to abstract expressions, resulting in a sound that should appeal to fans of everyone from the Pixies and Liz Phair to Courtney Barnett.
“All the Boys Love You”
Thompson-King is something of a best-kept secret in Boston, but once you hear her roar, you’re a convert. Known for her work with Banditas and Major Stars, she stripped her performances down to visceral raw power on this EP of country-tinged songs best heard at last call at the bar.
TONI LYNN WASHINGTON
“I Wanna Dance”
Boston’s “First Lady of the Blues” earns her title again with this classy set of sophisticated but streetwise tracks. She mixes a couple of her own originals — notably the love-beaming “I Feel Like a Million” — with sharp covers of Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Tracy Chapman (whose hit “Give Me One Reason” is given a smoldering blues treatment). Now 78 years young, Washington is still a vital presence in local clubs — and for good reason.
DAVID WAX MUSEUM
The fifth album from this Massachusetts-bred band is so subtle and supple, you don’t even pick up on half its charms until repeated listens. David Wax and Suz Slezak streamlined the Mexican and Americana influences of their earlier releases and added washes of spectral ambience. (For the wee ones, check out Slezak’s collection of lustrous lullabies, “Watching the Nighttime Come,” also released this year.)
BARRENCE WHITFIELD & THE SAVAGES
“Under the Savage Sky”
Watching Whitfield and his fuzzed-out bandmates open for the Sonics at Brighton Music Hall in April was merely a teaser for this slice of snarling soul, funk, and garage rock. At 60, this veteran of the local scene is sounding filthier and more invested than ever.