Wednesday December 11, 2013
As I've already mentioned, when it comes down to year-end list time, some kind of theme typically emerges that you may not have noticed as the year was panning out. In past years, we've seen a crop of bands resting heavily on almost choral harmonies, or, for example, there were a lot of great up-and-coming folk music duos in 2012. In 2013, the newer artists of the year were folks who have been simmering just below the surface for a little while. There was a lot of breaking out in 2013 - artists and bands dropping an album that was either their solo debut, or a new direction for their songwriting.
In the case of my pick for the number one best new folk artist of 2013, they didn't even release an album this year. It was their live performances that sealed the deal, the way I started to hear adoration for them pouring from everyone from fellow critics to more well-established artists. If 2012 was the year the Stray Birds released their debut album, 2013 was the year they truly made their mark.
Check out this list of the five best up-and-coming folk artists and see what you think? Who do you think deserves to be mentioned in this group?
photo © Jake Jacobson
Monday December 9, 2013
The mid-20th Century folk revival began well before 1952 and went on long after 1965, but in the dozen years between those two dates, the mainstream music market went from embracing often obscure indigenous ballads and regional musical styles to finding ways to blend them with rock and pop music.
The year of 1952 saw the release of the Anthology of American Folk Music - a collection of field recordings and other rarities, featuring everyone from the Carter Family to Leadbelly and Doc Watson, and pulled together by filmmaker Harry Smith, who had an exhaustive record collection. That anthology, more than any other release in the early 1950s, helped to draw attention to the fruits of various musicologists, who had been collecting indigenous music from across the US for years. Suddenly, musicians in New York and other cities could listen to the music being made in the hills of Lower Appalachia, the Delta states, and across the Western plains. Artists in Greenwich Village started figuring out how to play those songs, augmenting a traditional music revival that was concurrent to a jazz revival in the City.
For the next dozen years or so, folk music revivalists fanned out from topical music to blues, gospel, country, English balladry, and beyond. By many measurements, the central forces of the folk revival started to disperse in the mid-1960s, as folk and rock naturally began to blend, as the Beatles rose in popularity and the nation reeled through an era of uncertainty that included a number of assassinations, wars, and civil unrest. Though folk music persisted well into the 1970s and beyond (and persists in great strength now), these ten albums released between 1952-1965 continue to influence the path of American folk music. Check out these important albums of the folk revival and let me know what I left out.
image © Folkways Records
Saturday December 7, 2013
The Grammy committees almost never get it right when it comes to the folk and Americana nominees. I'm not sure whether that's because folk and Americana are such odd, evolving areas of music that are difficult for mainstream ears to truly understand and appreciate, or if it's because folk and Americana artists so infrequently become known beyond certain circles, it can be difficult to truly appreciate the bulk of what's out there. Regardless, there's almost no excuse for snubbing Jason Isbell's extraordinary Southeastern album, which topped this site's Best Albums of 2013 list and is sure to top the lists of critics, bloggers, and fans everywhere this year. It was an outstanding effort and, easily, Isbell's finest work to date.
But, with that glaring omission aside, there was some truly remarkable music actually acknowledged by the Academy this year. Check out this list of nominees in folk and Americana categories, which includes a list of folk and Americana artists nominated in other categories (best music film, best packaging, best rock song, and so on). What do you think of this year's nominees?
photo © Dylan Langille - ontheDL Photography
Friday December 6, 2013
With the month of December officially in full swing, there is no denying the onslaugh of the winter holidays. From Hanukkah (which just passed) to the Solstice, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year's and so forth, the month ahead has a whole lot of celebrating in store. Generally, the first thing we all do with that increasing awareness, is to go down in the basement (or whatever closet is packed away) and pull out all the holiday decorations we've been accumulating through the years.
So, in the interest of decking the halls, it seemed like an optimum time to consider that old Welsh winter ballad whose lyrics were completely reimagined by a Scottish folk songwriter back in the nineteenth century. "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly" has an interesting and somewhat convoluted history that ranges from Welsh secular winter celebration to Wolfgang Mozart and various touches by folksingers along the way... right up to your typical American front stoop, where carolers show up and spread the cheer. Learn more about "Deck the Halls" with this folk song history.
photo: Getty Images