Iron and Wine's first few solo recordings were full of such hushed lovely lullabies, marking a serious departure from the distorted guitar-driven indie music of the '90s. His 2004 release Our Endless Numbered Days included outstanding, understated tunes like "Sodom, South Georgia" and "Sunset Soon Forgotten."
Unquestionably, the Avett Brothers have been one of the most notable breakout acts of the first decade of the 2000s, and much of this is due in no small part to Emotionalism. While their 2009 release I and Love and You has probably been their most commercially successful disc, Emotionalism helped turn a new audience on to this emergent style of indie roots music and solidify the brothers' place in contemporary folk music.
Nickel Creek were one of the best bands to hit the contemporary bluegrass scene. Throughout their 20-year collaboration, their incredible instrumental prowess just got better and better. They kicked off the decade with this remarkable self-titled album produced by Alison Krauss and featuring some of their best songs.
One of the biggest events in the folk music world this decade was the celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. It was marked by concerts all over the world, including a major star-studded concert at Madison Square Garden. But, before that was the release of Seeger's At 89 album, which featured 32 tracks running the gamut of Seeger's incredible command and breadth of appreciation for American folk music.
Ani DiFranco has long been one of the most talented singer-songwriters and direction-forgers on the contemporary folk circuit. She kicked off this decade with a double-disc release which came across like the album she'd been aiming for her whole career to that point. Personal, political, intimate, and poetic, Reveling/Reckoning also showcased her solid command of her impressive backing band.
Laura Veirs dropped quite a few notable albums this decade, but Saltbreakers was one of the most imaginative, intricate, creative discs among them. First, there was her hugely intuitive band whose hand claps and other idiosyncrasies peppered the disc at the most perfect moments. Then there was Veirs' intriguing songwriting and poetics, pulling largely from traditional folk and alt-country.
Next to the Avett Brothers, Justin Townes Earle was one of the most formidable new singer-songwriters on the contemporary folk and Americana scenes this decade. Starting with his self-released EP Yuma and following through with his two ful-lengths, Earle channeled the ghosts of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams Sr. to bring popular folk and country music back to its roots.
Fleet Foxes were another huge breakout act of the decade, pulling the Northwest's harmony-driven folk-infused music ever further into the mainstream consciousness. This self-titled disc was widely considered the best release in any genre for 2008 and definitely took strides toward popularizing folk music once again.