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Top 10 Great New Folk Songs

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Some people are of the mind that a folk song isn't a folk song until it's been around for a long time. I tend to disagree, for the most part, and I happen to think the last couple of years have produced some excellent new folk songs. Here's a look at ten of the great new folk songs that have come out in the past year.

1. "Up to the Mountain" - Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin is one of the greatest songwriters of our time, and this is one of her best compositions. Written in honor of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Solomon Burke recorded it for his Nashville CD (2006), which was followed by Griffin's own recording on her Children Running Through record (ATO, 2007). Pop singer Kelly Clarkson also gave a memorable performance of the song on the Idol Gives Back charity show.

Sometimes I feel like I've never been nothing but tired / And I'll be walking til the day I expire / Sometimes I lay down no more can I do / But then I go on again because you ask me to.

2. "After the Garden" - Neil Young

Neil Young - Living With War CD Cover © Sony
Neil Young's 2006 protest record release Living With War was a very controversial release, but was full of absolutely wonderful new protest songs. "After the Garden" was the first song on the record. Leave it to Neil Young to cut to the chase in a song that is 100% sing-along-able. Backed up by a 100 voice choir, Neil didn't bother messing around with this one.

Don't need no shadow man running the government / don't need no stinking war.

3. "World Spins Madly On" - The Weepies

The Weepies' 2006 sophomore album, Say I Am You was one of the best breakthrough's of the year. Their plight to write and record "songwriterly radio music" was realized when this song was picked up by a film starring Jennifer Aniston. It's a great folk-pop tune with an easy, natural-feeling melody, and heartbreak lyrics:

Woke up and wished that I was dead with an aching in my head / I lay motionless in bed / I thought of you and where you'd gone / and let the world spin madly on.

4. "Trouble" - Ray LaMontagne

Ray LaMontagne is one of the greatest under-discussed artists of the last few years. It seems like everyone knows who he is, and has become entranced by his songs, but nobody in the press spends much time on him. He's an incredible songwriter, and "Trouble" was the tune that started it all.

Trouble been doggin' my soul since the day I was born...

5. "She's Mine" - Brett Dennan

Brett Dennan is another of those artists like Ray LaMontagne who seems to be everywhere and nowhere all at once. "She's Mine" is a great reggae-inspired tune that, in Dennan's carefree-approach-to-Dylanesque way seems to talk about just about everything, tying it all together with a chorus that points out why it all matters, and why none of it matters:

...and she's mine

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6. "In the Margins" - Ani Difranco

Ani Difranco's most recent release, Reprieve was a sharp collection of poetic narrative tunes directed at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Bush Administration. While the record was full of great, biting political tunes and soft, thoughtful love songs, "In the Margins" stood out as a moment where the songwriter writes an aside about her own life and her place in nature.

I know that now is all there is / And love'll just make you cry / So I live for the sight of a rare bird suddenly flying by.

7. "Ashes" - KT Tunstall

KT Tunstall was one of the most exciting new folk-pop artists to emerge last year. A consummate fantastic live performer, Tunstall followed up her debut Eye to the Telescope with the more introspective and decidedly more folk-inspired Acoustic Extravaganza. This fabulous love song opens the disc with the chorus:

When you burn out, the twisted irony is your ashes come home to me.

8. "The Story" - Brandi Carlile

This great new song was penned by Brandi Carlile bassist Phil Hanseroth, and is possibly one of the best heartbreak tunes to come out of the folk-pop genre in some time. Toss in Carlile's own incredible voice, and you've got one heck of a song.

I crossed all the lines and I broke all the rules / And baby, I broke them all for you

9. "Treat Each Other Right" - Greg Brown

Greg Brown is one of the few folk songwriters these days who really has the art of simplifcation down pat. From his cool, calm folk-blues tunes to his songs of social protest, love songs, and tunes about watermelons whipporwills, Brown is a talented and prolific folk poet. From his most recent release, The Evening Call, "Treat Each Other Right" is a song about basic human justice:

We got so evil, I feel troubled tonight / This old world brought us all here, so why can't we treat each other right?

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10. "Why Is Your Heaven So Small?" - Susan Werner

Chicago-based folksinger Susan Werner released one of the most well-considered, thoughtful recordings this year, when she decided to approach gospel music from the standpoint of an agnostic. The album, which is both sonically wonderful and ideologically eye-opening, opens with this tune and the chorus:

If God is great and God is good, why is your heaven so small?

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