Wilco's 'Wilco (The Album)' CD
Wilco's 'Wilco (The Album)' CD

There is no way around the fact that things are tough, business-wise.  Billboard magazine reports that through the week ending November 29, U.S. CD sales plummeted nearly 20percent, and digital track sales rose at a much slower pace than last year, up less than 10 percent as compared to last year's 28 percent jump.

Music-wise, however, things weren't so gloomy.  It was a very good year for fans of Americana music, with the roots-based style getting its own Grammy category in time for the annual awards in January.  Among the five nominees is Wilco, who's CD, Wilco (The Album) is showing up on many critics "Best of 2009" lists.

Dylan, Cash release new albums

Leonard Cohen's 'The Essential' Limited Edition CD
Leonard Cohen's 'The Essential' Limited Edition CD

Bob Dylan released two very different-sounding albums this year.  His Christmas album left critics and fans scratching their heads, trying to figure out if the singer-songwriter was serious.  But Dylan's other release, "Together Through Life" was well-received.   The album has a very "live" sound to it, and despite the bluesy sound, it's lighter in tone than its predecessor, Modern Times.  There's even more than a bit of humor in the songs, especially "My Wife's Hometown."

2009 also saw the return of Rosanne Cash. Her CD, The List, has a very interesting history.  When Cash turned 18 and started writing songs, her father, Johnny Cash, was concerned that she only knew the songs that were being played on the radio, and nothing else.  He handed her a list of what he considered the 100 essential American songs.  They include:  "Girl from the North Country"; "Sea of Heartbreak"; and "500 Miles."

Mary Travers Dies

"500 Miles" was also recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary on their 1962 debut.  Mary Travers, the trio's glamorous blond who sang into the middle microphone, died in September after a long battle with leukemia.  She was 72.

Singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters took up the guitar at age seven, and Peter, Paul and Mary songs like "Where Have All The Flowers Gone, were the first she learned to play.   But it wasn't just Mary Traver's voice that attracted Gretchen.  The harmony singing was equally important. 

"That was a great education, just picking apart who sang what on the albums," Peters said.  "Because sometimes, she actually sang lower than one of the guys.  She would sometimes sing lower than Peter.  And you'd have to kind of weed out [determine] who's singing what in the harmonies.  It was not simple, simple stuff, but it was beautiful."

But not all the news was bleak in the folk music world in 2009.  Lyle Lovett, Chris Smither, and Caroline Herring were among the many better-known artists who released new CDs.  The year also saw notable music released by many lesser known artists, among them Lucy Wainwright Roche, Sometymes Why, and Amy Speace. 

Cohen Earns Rave Reviews

Folk fans around the world had another chance to see 75-year-old Leonard Cohen, as the legendary and formerly reclusive singer-songwriter criss-crossed the globe.  In 2008, Cohen sold more than 700,000 tickets across 84 shows worldwide, and earning rave reviews from critics around the world.  By the end of this year, the tour had stretched to 190 shows.  And there is no end in sight.  Tickets are now on sale for a series of March 2010 dates in France and Croatia, with more shows likely to be announced.  2010 will also see Leonard Cohen receiving a special lifetime achievement Grammy Award.

Cohen received more good news this year. His 2009 release, Live in London, which documents the tour in a double-CD set and a DVD concert video, is sitting atop many critics "Best of the Year" lists.