Quite an amazing amount of great music came through our earphones in 2014 and it’s tough to cover it all. Instead of leaving a bunch totally uncovered, here’s a list of some phenomenal folk music to check out, download, and ultimately support by attending shows in 2015. Please share the list, tweet the artists and let them know you love their music, and by all means support this fantastic art! (BTW – If you’re a student or someone who listens while working, consider streaming these fabulous albums while you work and if (when!) you like them, make the call to buy the music instead of just spotify/songza/pandora-ing all the time.)
Ari Hest – Shouts and Whispers
-Honestly, Ari Hest is not really “emerging” for most long time fans of indie folk music, but the fact that his album is just sitting out there on bandcamp for anyone with a crisp Hamilton to purchase… well he deserves to be on this list. He’s the quintessential folk singer songwriter. You won’t be disappointed by his Dave Matthews-esque ethos and acoustic guitar-heavy songs.
The Host Country – Walk Away
-Another album that deserves its own full review (hey, wanna guest review it for us? Contact us!), the hand-clapping and killer harmonies are really delightful. It’s the kind of poppy folk music that’s really popular right now and these talented musicians deserve your ear. After the infectiously-upbeat opening track, check out the title track’s endearing country charm. Clever writing and solid harmonies are sure to make a lot of fans from the readers on this site.
The Tree Ring – Ten Rivers
-So “chamber folk” was a new thing for me. It’s folk music that we all like – you know strings and harmonies and generally upbeat music about life’s complexities – but with violins and cellos and other things that sound like heaven on earth. Seriously this is the kind of sophisticated folk music that no one else at the coffeeshop is listening to right now. So go ahead and order that expensive cup of whatever-you-can’t pronounce and enjoy this refined, engaging, soul-moving music. (Seriously I wrote this with a satirical tone, but it’s an amazing album and probably should have its own review. I am, frankly, not versed enough in what the strings are doing to really do it justice.)
Wild Skies – Self-titled EP
-Back to the hand-clapping awesomeness, Wild Skies are THE folk band you were looking for. Seriously they are great. The harmonies are by far the best part, but the lyrics are pretty snazzy too. They have a jubilant, youthful flavor and a lyrical complexity that smacks of greater maturity. The attitude in “Letters” is something we can all connect with and the opening harmonies on “Carry On” are pretty much amazing. I’d love to hear these cats live!
The Hill and Wood – Self-titled
-Another fantastic album that deserves its own full post, The Hill and Wood embody the ideal for male-female harmonies for folk music. Filling in the shoes of bands like The Oh Hellos and The Native Sibling, these two have a great thing going. The music preserves a genuine “roots” ethos that seems to blend traditional country and the 60s folk rock movement. It’s great stuff and totally worth spending some quality time with this album.
Jam Jars – Grey Skies, Green Grass
-This is earthy, unwashed folk. I say that with the most sincere respect possible. With a minimalist vibe and some kind of lofi recording, this album is about as intimate as “folk” music can get. There are not studio production elements here manufacturing harmonies. It’s two people expressing their hearts in song in the most poetic, beautiful way possible. This is how I imagine much of this genre of music is best delivered. There’s not rush to the delivery. It’s real and genuine – ostensibly straight from the front porch steps.
Hunter’s Map – Scrawl
-Just… be patient with that there first track. Be prepared to hear some pretty killer guitar work and then some Simon and Garfunkel harmonies – but with some new, fresh writing. These two male vocalists are terrifyingly talented. You can almost hear the raw creativity dripping from their compositions. There’s a clear influence of the sort of classic 60s folk music flavor, but these gentlemen most likely spent some serious time with bands like Dashboard Confessional as well. It’s an intriguing blend that may not satisfy the pallets of everyone here, but some folks will really, really love this band.
Porch Lights – Caverns
-The first time I heard this band they only let me have one song and I went crazy. I couldn’t wait to hear more. Now that I have heard more, I find myself still pretty insatiable. Imagine if Bon Iver got together with a few other people just like him… and the Bon Ivers just did their falsetto-whispery thing with all sorts of funky background vocals in a sort of gang-whisper. That’s what Porch Lights sound like. And it’s to die for.
The Feel-Good Revolution – Home
-With an album titled “home” and a name with “revolution” in the title I was prepared to be under-whelmed by this album, but it is fantastic. It’s got delightful instrumentation and melodies that really work well with the overall vibe of the music. The harmonies are solid, the lyrics often interesting, and the overall feel is, well, quite good. The fact that they’re from Pittsburgh is also a plus. So FGR if you’re reading this, email us so we can cover you live (pretty please?).
The Maelstrom Cabinet – An Unstable Sun Goddess
-Veering a bit from the cheery form of other albums on this list, this duo is a bit less conventional. Fitting more in the vein of “experimental folk” music, the album covers a variety of styles and variations of those styles. Hearing everything from acapella singing to piano-driven folk and acoustic guitar jams, it’s an intriguing album that won’t appeal to all, but many will like. Give the title track a spin to get a good feeling for what they’re up to.