Of the five works that were nominated for Grammys this year in the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, category, three could be filed under “Americana,” one is an alt-pop release with Americana leanings (it has a banjo, anyway), and one is a traditional pop/big band extravaganza. All are from-the-heart recordings, captured by some of the best in the business.
Sarah Jarosz: Follow Me Down (Sugar Hill)
Engineers: Brandon Bell and Gary Paczosa. Mastering: Sangwook “Sunny” Nam and Doug Sax.
On her second album, young singer/songwriter Sarah Jarosz sets her personal roots music, and a couple of covers, a bit more on edge than on her debut, incorporating modern/jazz influences in her singing style and in the superb playing by Stuart Duncan, Viktor Krauss, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, the Punch Brothers and others. This is a remarkably mature album boasting a wealth of versatile musicianship, all guided by the 20-year-old Jarosz and her co-producer Gary Paczosa.
Gillian Welch: The Harrow & The Harvest (Acony)
Engineer: Matt Andrews. Mastering: Stephen Marcussen.
Fans of the dark and beautiful old-time Appalachian-style music made by Gillian Welch and her partner, David Rawlings, waited eight years for an album of new material, and Harrow & the Harvest is a great reward. Rawlings produced this achingly gorgeous record on which he and Welch played every note, and wrote and sang every word. Also nominated for a Best Folk Album Grammy, Harrow has a truly timeless quality that very few roots artists can even claim.
Seth Glier: The Next Right Thing (Mpress)
Engineers: Seth Glier, Kevin Killen, Brendan Muldowney and John Shyloski. Mastering: John Shyloski.
Singing came first for artist/composer Glier, who recorded all the vocals on these original songs in his own home studio before expanding on them at Carriage House Studio (Stamford, Conn.) with some great engineers and musicians, including co-producer/multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hommel. Together, they created a compelling fusion of folk, pop and rock to showcase the artist’s well-crafted songs. The spare arrangement of the bluesy, vocally processed title track is particularly strong.
Alison Krauss & Union Station: Paper Airplane (Rounder)
Engineer: Mike Shipley. Mastering: Brad Blackwood.
With their first album together since Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004), Alison Krauss & Union Station again show their impeccable taste in material and their genius at making bluegrass music that’s as fresh and relevant as it is lovely. Krauss’ sweet, vulnerable voice is, almost always, at the center of all the virtuosic musicianship from cohorts Barry Bales, Jerry Douglas, Ron Block and the wonderful Dan Tyminski, who sings the lead on Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children.”
Seth MacFarlane: Music Is Better Than Words (Universal Republic)
Engineers: Rich Breen, Frank Filipetti. Mastering: Bob Ludwig.
Best known for his work on TV’s Family Guy, actor/writer/producer/singer Seth MacFarlane and arranger Joel McNeely have made a ‘50s-style big band pop album of the highest order: lush strings; swinging, sentimental crooning; punchy horns; and all the respect these charming songs deserve. The album was recorded at Capitol in Hollywood, where MacFarlane reportedly sang into a mic that Sinatra actually used, and if you have a soft spot for Frank or Bing, this might be the cream in your coffee.