Utah Phillips was an amazing advocate for workers' rights, and he made it his life's mission to keep alive the songs of the working class. Here, in his 1993 recording, he collected the songs of Joe Hill and others as preserved through the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Songbook. Folks interested in learning more about the plight of the labor movement, and the history of the songs that have accompanied it, would appreciate this well-performed collection.
Neil Young's second solo album, released in 1969, was one of the most definitive albums of his career until that point. Many of the songs on Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, including the title track, have held up as the decades have passed. This was also his first album with his band Crazy Horse which, in itself, is notable. Folks interested in learning more about the great voices of the folk-rock movement would appreciate this disc.
Uncle Tupelo's debut album in 1990, No Depression not only resurrected an old Carter Family song, repurposing it for a new generation, but also gave inspiration to the founders of the magazine by the same name. Other things it inspired include the whole of the alt-country movement since then. Although alt-country artists had been experimenting with the genre for decades, Uncle Tupelo's entrance onto the national scene solidified the genre's staying power; and the band itself eventually spun off into some other remarkable groups (Son Volt, The Gourds, and others).
Alison Krauss and Union Station are, inarguably, one of the best bands in contemporary music. Their instrumentation is award winning and impeccable. They are one of those magical groups of star players, and the songs they play together are some of the best in contemporary bluegrass. If there's any doubt that the group can deliver, their double-disc live recording (titled, aptly, Live) surely provides plenty of proof.
This 2005 collection of Cat Stevens classics includes songs written from 1966-2005, and features many of Stevens' most influential compositions ("Morning Has Broken," "Peace Train," "Wild World," and others). Folks interested in learning more about the golden age of the singer-songwriter that took place in the late '60s and '70s would appreciate the breadth of influence Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) had on the folk-pop movement.
This 1992 release from the Indigo Girls is arguably one of their most notable releases, and includes some of their greatest hits ("Chickenman," "Galileo"). As contemporary folk-pop goes, the Indigo Girls are masters of contrapuntal harmonies and songs that range from alt-country to folk-rock, always inspired by traditional songwriting methods and social issues.
This early live performance was recorded in 1976, before Townes Van Zandt's work had been discovered and lauded by just about every working songwriter. His performance is telling and honest, bringing out some of his best songs ever, including the unmatchable "Pancho and Lefty" and "For the Sake of the Song." It's an excellent peek into why Van Zandt is such a lauded songwriter.
Ani DiFranco has explored all kinds of avenues before and since this record, but Not a Pretty Girl could be considered the one record that decisively made her famous. Besides, "The Million You Never Made" is a classic and coy middle finger to the music industry that so often eschews folk artists. Add to that the fact that Ani and her one bandmate at the time managed to come off sounding like a big, thick band. Lyrically and sonically, it's a must-have.
Paul Simon is one of the best American Folk singer/songwriters, and Graceland is one of his greatest records. It won a whole lot of Grammy awards when it was released in 1986, and it holds classics like the title track, "You Can Call Me Al," and "I Know What I Know." It was also the introduction of Paul's world music influences and his melding of American Folk with South African rhythms.