Underrated music artists of 2015

In the heart of these winter months, nothing can warm walks across campus, or jazz up late-night study sessions like listening to great music. Here are some perhaps off the radar, but must-hear artists to discover this year.

Lauryn Hill has been quiet for a decade, but in August, the R&B/hip-hop artist released a new version of her “Black Rage” as a reaction to the recent events in Ferguson. To the tune of “My Favorite Things,” the song is passionate, contains smart, pull-no-punches lyrics, and reiterates her relevance. Hip-hop artist J. Cole, whose music is honest, political, and raw, also released a song, “Be Free” in protest.

An opera singer who sings pop, folk and rock music? OK, hear me out. British singer Alfie Boe is the epitome of a crossover artist.

He has a gorgeous tenor voice, and though his newest album, Serenata features several operatic arias, he’s refused to be pigeonholed. His past albums have featured Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel, Tim Buckley, John Prine, and musical theater selections, all with a unique twist.

The terrific band, The Swell Season of “Once” fame, is on hiatus, but Marketa Irglova, who typically wrote the duo’s gentler and often heartbroken songs, is touring with a new solo album, Muna.

The album is influenced by the depth and poetry of Middle Eastern music, while maintaining Irglova’s unique singer-songwriter sound. I saw her in concert recently and was enthralled by her unassuming presence and joy onstage, beautifully calm voice and nuanced piano. Her album makes tangible the qualities of her live show, even while listening with headphones.

Vienna Teng deserves a listen despite no new releases this year. Her songs are rhythmically compelling and melodically rich, every word a statement, no note out of place.

Her warm, clear voice is refreshingly natural and unaffected, and her piano playing is flashy, yet totally appropriate. Since she’s living in Detroit, keep an eye out for local shows.

Though Rhiannon Giddens is classically trained and uses vibrato like an opera singer, her music also has bluegrass twang, New Orleans blues and soul groove, and folk simplicity.

She’s been mining these traditions with her band, the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, and now on her debut solo album, “Tomorrow is My Turn,” out in February.

He’s considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time, but many people have never heard his name. Yet British folk-rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Richard Thompson has enjoyed a vibrant 50-plus year career.

With three albums out this year, his passionate, raw voice, dark, witty songs showcasing complex structures, and technically unparalleled guitar playing are just some of the things that make Thompson worth hearing.

For many of us who love music older than we are, Joni Mitchell is probably one of our favorite artists. Her classic songs are collected on a new box set called “Love Has Many Faces” released in November, which spans her nearly 50-year career.

To hear samples of these music artists visit the iTunes music store or YouTube.com

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