Six Awesome Acts Keeping Folk Alive
These little lists are a lot of fun. Not only do they give us an opportunity to highlight great music, but they also lend themselves to some pretty unique themes. For the artists represented here, please consider their music seriously. The folk tradition finds itself blowin’ in the wind (you might say), but as it changes and evolves over generations, despite these evolutions it keeps some tried and true characteristics. Meet some of 2015’s best folk artists keeping the tradition alive.
The Belle Regards – Nothing to Lose
-The Belle Regards have a versatile folk sound. At times sounding like a bluegrass group and other times a bit more stripped down as an acoustic act, they can do it all. The folk elements – acoustic instrumentation, vocal harmony, and narrative songwriting – are always evident. The lead singer’s voice has just the right amount of weather on it, making each song feel a bit like the calloused hands of a hard worker. As the female harmonies join that rich lead vocal, the sounds layer nicely over a nice bed of strings. There’s a lot to like on the whole album, but the simplicity of “Holding On” is my favorite.
The Speedbumps – Soil to the Seed
-If we’re about full disclosure, I should say that the Speedbumps are from about 7 miles from my house. That said, I’ve never met them (that I know of). At first blush their sound is not really “folk,” with more of a chill rock vibe to them. But they have folk instrumentation and a real chill style that fits here. Maybe – just maybe – we could compromise and call them Americana. But anyways, this is a golden album with rich tones throughout. The songwriting has a timeless, intimate feeling to it. There are ocean waves, crisp cool air, and even a little bit of grit sprinkled throughout the album. The eloquent balance between bass and vocals on “Flower Among the Weeds” really does it for me.
Thad Kopec – The Ridge
-Call it cinematic folk or pastoral folk, either way Thad Kopec is developing a unique type of folk music that is sure to find a lot of fans among the readers of this site. There are elements of the great 60s folk revival, but then again their are experimental, multi-instrumental, nearly-cacophonous sections, too. Kopec’s unconventional writing is something akin to Salvador Dali’s version of painting a clock. We all know what it is; we can appreciate the surrealism. The title track “The Ridge” is the best on the album for exactly this reason – it draws the listener into the existence of the song’s subject. It’s totalizing and brutally gripping.
Drew Kohl – Sweetheart
-The opening track of this album has an absolutely SMOKING banjo. It really gets your attention. Then if you look on the bandcamp page there’s a picture of Drew in some wicked sunglasses. Clearly this is one of those Nashville bumpkins taking his work seriously (I thought to myself). And then he sings and you’re like WHOA he’s good! “Drops of Ink” sounds like a Tom T. Hall song. Seriously. Kohl’s vocals even have an old country imprecision to them. This is a clever, understated album that’s worth a serious listen (despite the sunglasses).
Behon – Head and Heart EP
-One of the things you immediately hear on Behon’s album is a blending of different styles. There are definitive folk stylings, but a good bit of pop as well. Even the lead vocal reminds me more of something from the alt rock world than typical folk music. But it really seems to work because of the dark themes of the songs and the subtle delivery of the lyrics. The melody on “When You Came Home” is one of my favorites I’ve heard from anyone all year. It’s just a great melancholic anthem.
Conor Mulroy – The Last Circus Act
-Conor Mulroy’s vocal sounds extraordinarily familiar. I think he reminds me of my uncle. That might seem like it’s not germane, but I bet he reminds you of your uncle too. And isn’t that something kind of amazing? That this familiar singer songwriter can make these songs come alive in a way that makes you feel like you’re with your actual family. Anyways, the album is a true Americana sound, including folk, bluegrass, and roots country sounds. Despite my playful commentary about this album the guitar playing is exceptional. If you’re interested in hearing some fantastic acoustic guitar ability with relaxing Americana vocals, definitely give Mulroy a shot. It’s a tough album to pick a favorite, but “Winter’s Wind” reminds me the most of traditional folk, so I’ll go with that one as a great starting point for Mulroy’s style.