Kurated readers share favourites listens heard in 2019 including Billie Eilish, FKA Twigs, Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard and Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Readers’ Choice 2019
  • Barbara Klunder chooses two of 2019’s hot acts – Billie Eilish and FKA Twigs – plus the unique Fiona Apple
  • Jan Vochten puts Alabama Shakes and Brittany Howard at the top of his list and introduces Belgian virtuoso classical guitarist Raphaella Smits, French dj Worakls and a handful of others.
  • Joe Tannenbaum spotlights the first iteration of the eccentric and brilliant Penguin Cafe Orchestra (1972–1997)
  • Kurated No. 57 Playlist on Spotify and YouTube.
    Songs are added to the list each week during January
Readerschoice Graphic


If you’re just joining in, welcome to Part 3 (of 8) in Kurated’s Readers’ Choice selections.
24 contributors (thanks to all of you!) have chosen their favourite musical sounds from the past year. New, old or rediscovered.

Kurated is a music sharing project.
Stay tuned,
Kris Sig Plastic V3

11 January 2019

Recording since 2012, Britain’s FKA Twigs’ music has been compared to that of Tricky, Kate Bush, Janet Jackson, The xx, and Massive Attack. Her tour supporting the 2019 CD, Magdalene, is getting raves. (Photo by Ronan Mckenzie)

Barbara Klunder
Toronto, Ontario

  • Billie Eilish
  • FKA Twigs
  • Fiona Apple

About Barbara: Barbara is a Toronto-based artist. Visit her at barbaraklunder.com

Alabama Shakes’ lead singer Britanny Howard released her first solo album in 2019.

Jan Vochten
Mortsel, Belgium

A truly eclectic listener, I continue to switch between all sorts of music. New music is easily found and rediscovered  (thanks to Kurated and numerous other sources.)
I started using Spotify this year: easy to check out new music with just one click. (New speakers for my computer proved a good investment too.) But I also check out YouTube, especially the live shows on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and Seattle’s KEXP (excellent sound quality).

Top of the listening list

Brittany Howard – Alabama Shakes:  The discovery of the year for me. I also really liked Howard’s 2019 solo album Jaime.

Rhiannon Giddens: I have been listening to her last CD, There Is No Other. Fantastic. Here’s her performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert this year.

Tash Sultana: her dynamic  Tiny Desk concert features dexterous use of loops. Well played!

Worakls: Live at Château La Coste for Cercle. My 22 year-old nephew introduced me to this live concert. Interesting use of many instruments, blended with loops and drum patterns.

John Prine: Summer’s End Prine’s scheduled concert in Antwerp this summer was cancelled due to illness. I remember (and like) his LP Diamonds in the Rough. I discovered this new song on Austin City Limits and was surprised that he is still making excellent music. The half-forgotten artist of the year.

Sarband, with Fadia el-Hage, Erbarme dich, mein Gott: not new, but a powerful middle eastern version of an aria from the Mattheus Passion by Bach. Good music is stronger than religion.

Valerie June: A newly discovered artist for me. Beautiful songs; intriguing voice.

Raphaella Smits is a Belgian classical guitar player. This is a live recording from 2015. She plays an eight-stringed guitar. I’ve never seen or heard anything like that. (note this in the YouTube listener comments: “Has anyone noticed she never glanced at the fretboard? That she seldom opened her eyes?”)

 I often listen to World music (Sona Jobarteh, Hariprasad Chaurasia and many others) but Anoushka Shankar stands out. My current favourite is Prayer in Passing. The live version takes a totally different approach. 

So much great music. Here’s a few more:

  • Weyes Blood (Titanic Rising): newly discovered.
  • Big Thief, I saw them in 2017, opening for Conor Oberst and M Ward. I liked their sound and found them again this year. Here’s a live performance in Seattle’s KEXP studios this past October.
  • Nick Cave: Ghosteen, a very beautiful CD about mourning for his son. I have tickets for his April 30 concert in Antwerp this year. 

About Jan: Recently turned 70, Jan Vochten started listening to Rock and Roll in the late 50s starting with Wolfman Jack on American Forces Network Europe! Moving on, always searching… Now he’s looking forward to sharing music with his 15-year-old daughter.

The co-founder of Britain’s Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Simon Jeffes, described the group’s music as “modern semi-acoustic chamber music”. 

Joe Tannenbaum
Vancouver, British Columbia

Eclectic, playful, quirky, precocious, whimsical and capricious are a few of the adjectives I would use to describe Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

Co-founded in England in 1973 by Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebman, the group was invited by Brian Eno to record for his Obscure Records. Given some of the titles of their compositions, the group also falls into the obscure category.

While it’s difficult to label their sound, it contains elements of folk and ethnic music which often merge into a hybrid with more contemporary Western sounds. Simon Jeffes described the group’s music as “modern semi-acoustic chamber music”.

Although they only recorded five studio and two live albums, an EP and a smattering of compilations, each was truly a labour of love. Their music was used in a number of film soundtracks and advertisements of their era.

After his father died of brain cancer in 1997,  Jeffes’ son, Arthur (who had played with PCO) took over and transformed the group both musically and organizationally. As a result of this new direction he soon shortened the group’s name to Penguin Café with none of the original members.

While the Penguin Café played some earlier PCO music, the group also wrote new, original pieces. A few former members of PCO occasionally performed as an ensemble calling themselves The Anteaters, but eventually changed the group’s name to the Orchestra that Fell to Earth.

While I’ve listened to much of their music over the years, the following tracks are particularly noteworthy:

Penguin Cafealbumcoverkurated57

About Joe: My interest in what we now call World music was sparked during the mid-70’s when I became involved in solidarity work in Vancouver. With various popular revolutions and coup d’etats occurring in Africa and Latin America between 1973 and into this century, I began to understand the politics of oppression as well as sense the pain and trauma of peoples’ struggles through their music, writing and other forms of creative cultural expression. I was also excited to celebrate and support their victories.

I assisted several musical and theatrical groups (from Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, South Africa and Mozambique) that toured BC and played at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. I also served as a VFMF board member for several years.

I continue to be a big fan of World music, celebrating its evolution.