Feather & Flint

Revealed: My Top 50 Must-Listen Albums

December 7, 2016 34 Comments

Remember when in order to hear a particular song, you had to buy the entire album? Doesn’t it feel like the distant past—flipping through CDs at the store; examining the album artwork and not knowing what the music would sound like until you brought it home; studying the lyrics and liner notes; memorizing the track numbers of your favorite songs…

In the era of streaming songs on-demand rather than owning them, and listening to music in playlists and on shuffle, it’s rare that we listen to an entire album in a single sitting. We forget that with the very best albums, each track can stand alone; but you get a more cohesive, enhanced experience when you consume it all at once.

I wanted to share with you the albums that have made me feel this way—both new discoveries and old favorites, from folk to indie rock to pop and everything in between. They’re in alphabetical order, from Aoife O’Donovan to You + Me.

You can listen to my favorite songs from each album on this Spotify playlist. Happy listening—let me know what you think!

My Top 50 Must-Listen Albums | Feather & Flint

My Top 50 Must-Listen Albums

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #1

Fossils: Aoife O’Donovan

Favorite track: Red & White & Blue & Gold
Fun fact: She writes & performs with other bluegrass legends Sarah Jarosz & Sara Watkins as “I’m With Her” (before it was a campaign slogan). Also, she grew up in Newton, MA.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #2

Twelve Mondays: Ari Hest

Favorite track: The Weight
Fun fact: In 2008, Ari wrote, recorded & released 1 song each week for a year—these are his 12 favorite picks.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #3

The Longest Day: Barnaby Bright

Favorite track: Old Coats
Fun fact: They’re married! They’re also good friends with Liz Longley, another amazing artist on this list.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #4

Mutual Friends: BOY

Favorite track: Drive Darling
Fun fact: The duo sings exclusively in English, while living & touring almost exclusively in Germany. Every couple of years, they’ll play a single secret show in the U.S. I’m determined to see them someday!

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #5

We Were Here: BOY

Favorite track: No Sleep for the Dreamer
Fun fact: BOY played a set at SXSW where their instruments & amps failed disastrously. They embraced the moment by stepping off the stage and playing an incredible acoustic set on a street corner.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #6

Brandi Carlile: Brandi Carlile

Favorite track: Follow
Fun fact: Since her earliest days, she’s performed exclusively with two twin brothers, who she affectionately refers to as “the twins.”

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #7

The Story: Brandi Carlile

Favorite track: Turpentine
Fun fact: This album was instrumental in shaping my sound as a songwriter when I was at Berklee.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #8

Barton Hollow: The Civil Wars

Favorite track: My Father’s Father
Fun fact: This album forever set the standard for singer/songwriter duos. Every artist in this niche names The Civil Wars as a primary inspiration.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #9

The Civil Wars: The Civil Wars

Favorite track: The One That Got Away
Fun fact: The duo haven’t spoken to one another since the album was recorded in 2012. It’s a dramatic story.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #10

Parachutes: Coldplay

Favorite track: Sparks
Fun fact: Back in the days of physical CDs, Coldplay had a habit of quietly including little-known tracks when they released singles—and sometimes only in particular countries. My favorite Coldplay song, “Careful Where You Stand,” was only released as a hidden track on the Japanese edition of “Shiver.” Thanks to Spotify, we now have access to all of them!

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #11

Plans: Death Cab for Cutie

Favorite track: Marching Bands of Manhattan
Fun fact: The album’s name is a reference to the dark joke, “How do you make God laugh? You make a plan.”

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #12

This is Somewhere: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

Favorite track: Apologies
Fun fact: This has been my all-time favorite song since 2008. I’ve seen her perform it live several times and it truly never gets old.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #13

This Empty Northern Hemisphere: Gregory Alan Isakov

Favorite track: Big Black Car
Fun fact: Brandi Carlisle (also on this list) sings background vocals on many of this album’s tracks.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #14

Hozier: Hozier

Favorite track: In a Week
Fun fact: The woman he duets with on this track is Karen Cowley, who also attended a program at Berklee. (It’s a small world there, truly.)

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #15

Everybody: Ingrid Michaelson

Favorite track: The Chain
Fun fact: Ingrid is currently kicking off a 34-date tour at a single venue in Cincinnati, complete with “a full band, full lights & stage design” (in her own words). Count me in.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #16

The War Inside: Jill Andrews

Favorite track: I’m Not OK
Fun fact: Jill was a member of the 2000s folk duo The Everybodyfields.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #17

Born & Raised: John Mayer

Favorite track: Born & Raised
Fun fact: David Crosby & Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) sing background vocals on the title track. Also, be sure to check out this jaw-dropping video, which shows exactly how the album artwork was created.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #18

Continuum: John Mayer

Favorite track: Stop This Train
Fun fact: He wrote this song while stuck in bed with 2 kidney stones, a story that he recounted during a clinic at Berklee (where I was fortunate enough to be in the second row!).

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #19

Heavier Things: John Mayer

Favorite track: Wheel
Fun fact: There’s a live version of this song where, partway through, John says: “I have a feeling that it all evens out. At the very end of your life, you’re going to sit down at the table; you’re going to shuffle up the good and the bad, and it’s all going to make perfect sense to you when you figure out that in the accounting books, it comes up completely even. And then you’re going to ask, ‘Well, what was it all for?’ and they’re going to say, ‘Well, you did it, didn’t you?’” This explanation was the missing piece in my theory of how I like to believe the universe works, which I discuss in this post.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #20

Paradise Valley: John Mayer

Favorite tracks: Wildfire
Fun fact: The album is named after the river valley in Montana where he retreated from the public eye in 2012.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #21

Room for Squares: John Mayer

Favorite track: 3×5
Fun fact: Several of the songs on this album were written while John was at Berklee, which were first released on the EP Inside Out (which I found at a garage sale when I was in high school and freaked out.)

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #22

Great Lakes: John Smith

Favorite track: Town to Town
Fun fact: John has released 4 albums as a 100% independent, unsigned artist by choice.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #23

In Deepest Blue: Joshua Hyslop

Favorite track: Living & Dying
Fun fact: He just finished touring North America, exclusively playing & staying in people’s homes. He wrote about each host family on his blog, which I find endlessly charming. I volunteer!

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #24

Pageant Material: Kacey Musgraves

Favorite track: Dime Store Cowgirl
Fun fact: “Dime store cowgirl” was an insult thrown at Kacey during a childhood talent show. She turns it into a positive in this cheerful song.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #25

Same Trailer, Different Park: Kacey Musgraves

Favorite track: Keep It To Yourself
Fun fact: Kacey got her start on the TV show Nashville Star. Also, she wrote her first song for her elementary school graduation; it was called “Notice Me.” (Adorable.)

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #26

Bad Self-Portraits: Lake Street Dive

Favorite track: You Go Down Smooth
Fun fact: This band first gained popularity after their cover of a Jackson 5 song on a Brighton, MA street corner went viral. It now has over 4 million views.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #27

July Flame: Laura Veirs

Favorite track: July Flame
Fun fact: Laura is currently touring with k.d. lang and Neko Case as Case/Lang/Veirs. Laura was the lead songwriter, and the album is an alt-country dream.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #28

Year of Meteors: Laura Veirs

Favorite track: Magnetized
Fun fact: Before she was a full-time musician, Laura majored in Geology & Mandarin in college.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #29

Hot Loose Wire: Liz Longley

Favorite track: When You’ve Got Trouble
Fun fact: Liz & I grew up in the same area and overlapped for a second time at Berklee.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #30

Plastic Moon: Madi Diaz

Favorite track: Love You Now
Fun fact: Madi & I also both attended Berklee, although we missed each other by a year.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #31

Vignette: Maggie Chapman

Favorite track: Wannabe Rebel
All of her music recently disappeared… I’ll keep trying to find you guys a link!

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #32

Hotel Paper: Michelle Branch

Favorite track: Tuesday Morning
Fun fact: This album was among the most influential for me as a budding singer, songwriter & guitarist in the 2000s. I played these songs over and over and over as a teenager, both in my room & at shows.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #33

Babel: Mumford & Sons

Favorite track: Holland Road
Fun fact: Mumford & Songs played on Laura Marling‘s album I Speak Because I Can (which almost made this list) as well as on her tour. Marcus Mumford & Laura also dated.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #34

Sigh No More: Mumford & Sons

Favorite track: White Blank Page
Fun fact: This album includes references to Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, The Odyssey, Of Mice & Men, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath & more famous works.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #35

Why Should the Fire Die?: Nickel Creek

Favorite track: Can’t Complain
Fun fact: The band formed when its members (Sara Watkins, Sean Watkins & Chris Thile) were children taking mandolin lessons from the same teacher.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #36

The Fall: Norah Jones

Favorite track: Even Though
Fun fact: Norah is sitar master Ravi Shankar‘s daughter.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #37

Traces: Peter Bradley Adams

Favorite track: Trace of You
Fun fact: Peter got his start in the folk duo eastmountainsouth. You might know them from the Elizabethtown soundtrack.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #38

Crazy Ever After: The Rescues

Favorite track: My Heart With You
Fun fact: The Rescues are a supergroup of 4 independent singer/songwriters: Kyler EnglandAdrianne GonzalezGabriel Mann & (from their 2nd release on) Rob Giles.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #39

Lead Balloon: Rosi Golan

Favorite track: Seeing Ghosts
Fun fact: Rosi’s songs frequently appear on TV, both in commercials and on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Jane the Virgin & Nashville.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #40

Kaleidoscope Heart: Sara Bareilles

Favorite track: Basket Case
Fun fact: Sara explains the title of the album this way: “A kaleidoscope is the tool that helps make sense of the mess. Or at least makes it nice to look at.”

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #41

Build Me Up From Bones: Sarah Jarosz

Favorite track: Build Me Up From Bones
Fun fact: Sarah played her first bluegrass festival when she was 11. She’s now 25.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #42

Undercurrent: Sarah Jarosz

Favorite track: House of Mercy
Fun fact: The title track gets its name from a church in Los Angeles. Also, this album just won multiple Grammys!

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #43

Say It Louder: Sarah Siskind

Favorite track: Dress Me Up
Fun fact: Sarah writes many of the songs featured on the TV show Nashville.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #44

Rise & Fall: The Sweeplings

Favorite track: On & On
Fun fact: This duo formed because songwriter Whitney Dean’s wife saw singer Cami Bradley on America’s Got Talent & put them in touch with each other.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #45

1989: Taylor Swift

Favorite track: Style (followed closely by Wildest Dreams)
Fun fact: An 8-second track purely consisting of white noise was accidentally released from the album… and it topped the Canadian iTunes chart. Also, alt-country legend Ryan Adams recorded his own version of 1989, covering every song on the album in his own style.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #46

Red: Taylor Swift

Favorite track: Red (All Too Well is a close second)
Fun fact: My favorite version of this song was performed live by Taylor, Alison Krauss & Vince Gill.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #47

Speak Now: Taylor Swift

Favorite track: If This Was a Movie
Fun fact: Every song on this album was written 100% by Taylor, without a single cowriter.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #48

Bringing Down the Horse: The Wallflowers

Favorite track: One Headlight
Fun fact: This is one of a handful of non-embarrassing albums that I loved as a 12-year-old.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #49

Stand Still, Look Pretty: The Wreckers

Favorite track: The Good Kind
Fun fact: The (Cass County Home-)Wreckers was a too-short-lived band made up of Michelle Branch and country artist Jessica Harp. Their voices are often indistinguishable from one another on this album.

Top 50 Must-Listen Albums: #50

Rose Ave.: You + Me

Favorite track: You and Me
Fun fact: You + Me is made up of solo artists P!nk and City & Colour.

Bonus: My Favorite EPs

Live at the Quick Center: Ari Hest

Favorite track: Hallelujah
Fun fact: “Hallelujah,” originally written by Leonard Cohen, has been covered by hundreds of artists. The first ground-breaking cover was by Jeff Buckley; and in my opinion, it’s rivaled only by Ari Hest’s live cover of the song on this EP. If you love “Hallelujah” but are growing tired of hearing it again and again, this version will renew your love for the song.

Down Like Silver: Down Like Silver

Favorite track: Wolves
Fun fact: This duo is made up of Peter Bradley Adams (who also made my list) & singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty.

Hourglass: Jane Ellen Bryant

Favorite track: Make Believe
Fun fact: I happened across a YouTube video of Jane leading her college acapella group in a performance of Priscilla Ahn‘s “Dream,” one of my favorite songs. (It played at my wedding as I walked down the aisle!)

Inside This Song: Liz Longley

Favorite track: I’ll Show You How
Fun fact: My favorite show of Liz’s was when she performed with Ari Hest (another artist on this list). Their voices together—two of the very best out there right now—were sublime.

Cold Answer: Matthew Perryman Jones

Favorite track: Cold Answer
Fun fact: He wrote his first song, “Sunshine Heart,” at age 15. The lyrics included, “There is sunshine on a rainy day, even if the sun doesn’t show/There is peace in a hateful heart, that’s what we all need to know.”

Everything Comes and Goes: Michelle Branch

Favorite track: I Want Tears
Fun fact: This EP was her last official release; it was supposed to be a full-length album, but this and her next pending release (West Coast Time) were never put out by Sony, the reason for which she was never told. She finally switched labels in 2015 and is recording a new album!

Woodland: The Paper Kites

Favorite track: Bloom
Fun fact: I made an entire Spotify playlist inspired by how much I love this album’s sound!

Fortuna: Rosi Golan

Favorite track: Got What We Wanted
Fun fact: Rosi was born in Israel and speaks 5 languages (English, French, Hebrew, German & Hungarian). She’s also a frequent collaborator with artists like William Fitzsimmons and Ari Hest (another songwriter on this list, with whom she released an album as The Open Sea).

Open Water: The Saint Johns

Favorite track: Your Head and Your Heart
Fun fact: When The Civil Wars broke up, this song was one of a handful that could temporarily ease my nostalgia!

Must-Listen Albums

What are your must-listen albums? Did any of your favorites make the list? Let me know in the comments!

Listen to my favorites from every album in this Spotify playlist.

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  1. Reply


    December 7, 2016

    Well, once again you’ve surpassed expectations with a knowledgeable and well-researched list. I’m betting that a spreadsheet was actively involved.

    Being a “jazzer” I’m familiar with only a handful of the artists mentioned and so am lamenting the fact that you didn’t include any of MY favorites like Bill Evans, Eliane Elias, Frank Rosolino, and, oh yes, John Coltrane. You certainly heard them numerous times in your youth.

    But let me get back to YOUR list:

    1. No mention of Alison Krauss, her great 1999 album “Forget About It” and the gorgeous song “Maybe” that – thanks to you – introduced me to her. I remember our drives to Boston when I’d always ask you to play that for me.
    2. You RAVED about Sarah Bareilles’ play “Waitress” yet didn’t include any of her music from there in your list.
    3. Anyone listening to John Mayer’s “Born and Raised” owes it to themself to watch the YouTube video about the album cover artist, David Smith, and “The Making of Born and Raised”. Simply amazing.

    • Reply


      December 7, 2016

      1. The lack of Alison Krauss on this list is because I don’t have a favorite album of hers–just about 20 favorite songs! When I make a list that’s not album-focused, she’ll absolutely be on it 🙂
      2. GOOD POINT! The reason is because the only album that had been released when I started collecting this list (in a spreadsheet, obviously) was a selection of songs recorded by Sara Bareilles. What I was waiting for was the cast album–which you just reminded me to look up, and it’s available on Spotify!! Talk to you when I’ve listened to it 100 times…
      3. Adding a link to the video to the list!!

  2. Reply


    December 7, 2016

    Almost forgot – I DO intend to listen to your Spotify playlist in its’ entirety at my next opportunity.

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      Yay! Let me know which songs you like!

  3. Reply

    Amy Terry

    December 7, 2016

    I love how you organized this post! My favorite of the ones you listed is Norah Jones. She’s amazing!

    • Reply


      December 7, 2016

      Thank you, Amy!! YES, I wanted to put so many of her albums on this list but ended up choosing this particular one because it’s such a cohesive set of songs that I tend to listen to all at once. I have so many favorite songs of hers scattered across her other albums that it was difficult to choose!

  4. Reply


    December 7, 2016

    Oh, I still really love Stand Still, Look Pretty.

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      I’m listening to it right now! SUCH a great album–the songwriting is incredible. I only wish they’d stayed together long enough to put out more music!

  5. Reply

    Katrina Jean Carter

    December 7, 2016

    Wow! This post in unbelievable. I am in awe by how much effort you put in it. Out of all the artists you listed out, I only know of 9 of them. Michelle Branch is certainly a classic for me. Something about her music is just comforting no matter how old (and sad) some of the songs maybe. I can say the same with John Mayer as well 🙂 At the top of my head, one of the must-listen albums will have to be Man on the moon by Kid Cudi. My recent favorite is also from a lesser known music artist but well known actress in the Philippines. It’s called “de-re-al-I-za-tion” by Alessandra De Rossi.

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      Hi Katrina! So true about Michelle Branch & John Mayer–their music truly never gets old; it just takes on a different meaning as you get older. There were parts of their songs that I couldn’t relate to yet the first time that I heard them, and now my feelings about each song are so much more complex & profound. You might like a cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” by an artist I love named Lissie, she does a great job–I saw her perform it live!

  6. Reply


    December 8, 2016

    Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros-Home. This is hands down my favorite song of all time (because it’s catchy and for times that it’s been played in my life). You’ve got a good list there! It definitely shows you know your music:)

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      Thank you, Sam!! That’s a great song–such a unique sound, and it’s surprisingly catchy!

  7. Reply

    Gennifer Rose

    December 8, 2016

    Hi Robin!

    I just recently discovered Kacey Musgraves and I’ve had her on repeat ever since. My favorite song is “Follow Your Arrow” 🙂

    xo Gennifer

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      Thank you, Gennifer! I’m so glad you’ve heard of Kacey–she’s incredible. I saw her in concert earlier this year and it was an amazing show. She was doing a solo performance of Merry-Go-‘Round and she invited a little girl up on stage to sing with her. The girl knew all of the words and got a standing ovation after she sang, “Jack & Jill went up the hill, Jack burned out on booze & pills, Mary had a little lamb, Mary just don’t give a damn no more.” It was equal parts hilarious & heartwarming, I had tears in my eyes!

  8. Reply


    December 8, 2016

    Marching Bands of Manhattan holds a very special place in my heart! Listening to it never fails to bring me back to my college roadtrips!

    • Reply


      December 9, 2016

      Yesss, that song is brilliant!! I still remember the first that I heard it–the single piano note at the end when you’re expecting them to sing the last line one more time literally took my breath away. <3

  9. Reply


    December 10, 2016

    I’m always looking for new music, so I’m definitely going to check some of these out!! 🙂

    • Reply


      December 10, 2016

      Awesome!! Let me know if you find anything you love 🙂

  10. Reply


    December 10, 2016

    Great versatile playlist !!! Can’t wait to check it out on Spotify ! Music is so motivating !!!

    • Reply


      December 10, 2016

      Thank you!! I totally agree, I have a playlist for every possible mood because it makes life that much better 😉

  11. Reply


    December 10, 2016

    I’m obsessed with Norah Jones! She’s my go to for a good study session. I’ve never heard of so many of these artists! They’ll be added to my list for sure!

    • Reply


      December 10, 2016

      Yesss, me too! Her music is unique in how relaxing & interesting it is at the same time, perfect for studying or dinner parties 🙂

  12. Reply


    December 10, 2016

    I love John Mayer and Norah Jones, but have not heard of many of the others on your list! Thanks for broadening my horizons! I will be sure to check out your Spotify list!

    • Reply


      December 10, 2016

      Awesome!! Definitely check it out, if you love them then you’ll absolutely find some great new music you’ll like 🙂

  13. Reply


    December 10, 2016

    Great list! Brandi Carlile and The Wreckers are 2 of my favorites!!

    • Reply


      December 10, 2016

      NICE, you have excellent taste 😉 Definitely check out the playlist, you’ll find many other things you like!

  14. Reply


    December 11, 2016

    Such a great post! So many new music for me. I love listening to others playlists and being introduced to so many great songs. And I love how organised this list it! A girl of my own heart.

    Rebecca x


    • Reply


      December 11, 2016

      Thank you, Rebecca! So glad you like it, I hope you discover some awesome new music 🙂 And YES I love organizing just about everything, especially if it involves spreadsheets!!

  15. Reply


    December 11, 2016

    This is an exhaustive list, got many great artists we like in common. Thanks for compiling these.

    • Reply


      December 11, 2016

      Thanks so much, Deena! 🙂

  16. Reply


    December 11, 2016

    Such a great music list full of wonderful artists, you have a good taste! Norah Jones and Coldplay are my favorites, but I would add to this list U2! Their music brings me peace, harmony, happiness and joy!

    • Reply


      December 11, 2016

      Thank you so much, Eugenia! 🙂

  17. Reply


    December 11, 2016

    So many great choices! I will definitely have a look on your Spotify list! I don’t hear so much music lately or if i do i always listen my favorite songs so it’s a good chance to try something new. Great job! Helene/ http://www.beautifulismyattire.com

    • Reply


      December 11, 2016

      I know what you mean–sometimes I get stuck listening to the same playlists over and over, and I have to remind myself to open my ears to something new. I’m always glad I did! Hope you find something you love 🙂