If you’re a fan of folk music, you’re familiar with legends like Bonnie Raitt or Joni Mitchell, but you may not know the names of the women carrying on that torch today. There are some incredible artists making music in this genre in the 21st century, so we want to highlight a few for you here today.
Dori Freeman – Letters Never Read
-If you haven’t heard Dori Freeman’s vocals yet, you need to take some time to appreciate her. The songwriting is out of this world and her ability to sing with a heartfelt element is really exceptional. The opening title track is about devotion and desire to be with someone. It embodies that good, wholesome devotion of “country” life without, you know, the autotune and hip hop beats. Instead it’s full of strings and life, like country was meant to be. “Lovers on the Run” feels like it could have come from a Stevie Nicks record and that’s what makes Freeman’s versatility so desirable. There’s no singular sound, but they’re all so good in their own ways. To give you an indication how I feel about “Ern and Zorry’s Sneakin Bitin Dog,” I Googled it to see who “originally did it” because I was convinced it was a cover; it feels like it came right out of the hills with the Carter Sisters or something. It’s a beautiful, superb track. “Over There” actually is a really old standard that you’ve heard before, but Freeman’s vocal breathes new life into it. The throwback sound on “Turtle Dove” feels like it could have been performed by a pop artist in the 50s. The softness and gentleness sends chills right up your spine. Maybe this album is better called Americana than folk because it covers so many different styles. No matter what you call it, this is a can’t-miss album for lovers of classic American music styles.
Anna Tivel – Small Believer
-Frankly, Anna Tivel’s work deserves a review of its own. She’s an incredibly talented folk singer. Her songs are firmly in the folk tradition. If you’ve heard her good friend Jeffrey Martin (who she has toured and recorded with), you will hear that they share a musical style. The phrasing and pacing of the music is quite similar. The record begins with the captivating, “Illinois.” The imagery of the song is about travelling and understanding the world. The song allows Tivel’s vocal to take over the space with confidence that is authentic more than powerful, more Joni Mitchell than Beyonce. It’s incredible. “Dark Chandelier” is an unbelievable working class song. It’s about a man at the end of what he can take in life; the song tells a story that can be a bit of all of us, I think. “Riverside Hotel” is a wonderfully thoughtful song about finding peace beside the water. It’s a beautiful melody that fits perfectly with Tivel’s unique phrasing. She writes with a familiar poetic that makes you feel like you’ve heard it all before but it’s true and new. It’s really hard not to just love all of these songs. The final song is the title track “Small Believer,” a genuinely satisfying experience that uses natural imagery to shed light on inner human struggles. This is not just yee haw folk music for the sake of singing; the raw and genuine emotions here are fine art. I invite you to listen to this all the way through and just connect with the personality that drips from each carefully crafted line.
Sera Cahoone – From Where I Stand
-The album opens with a moving song “Always Turn Around” that has a tangible sense of motion to it. It’s not quite the train rhythm of old time folk music, but it’s along those lines. The repetitive melody line is set off perfectly with an expressive and emotional chorus. The instrumentation and style from Cahoone is folk, with carefully chosen lyrics about life and interpersonal relationships. The finger picking on “Up to Me” immediately got my attention and shows what a talented artist Cahoone really is. The vocal tone on it is a little different than some of the others on the album, but it is one that feels truly timeless. The lyrics admit to just how little control we have in our own lives and encourages listeners to just sort of “go with the flow.” The optimistic “Only One” has some really delightful harmonies and a lightness about a significant other. It’s one of those songs that has just enough country to it to make you think of a square dance, but almost transcends genre when it comes to message. “Not Like I” feels like a song to close down the honkytonk, nice and slow with the lights down low. It’s a certain style – the old slow two step – that should be more popular in music today. It ain’t in no hurry and it’ll make you want to nuzzle on into your dance partner. The final track “House Our Own” has a different vibe to it and I totally dig the style. The vocal is layered, giving it an additional texture we’re not used to hearing on the record. The overall vibe is hopeful and for anyone who has ever dreamt with a partner about where you might live or the life you might build, it connects in a deep and satisfying way. The whole album is enjoyable, so skip past our highlights here and give it a spin.