Folk music is a unique genre in that it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint. Having been passed down through oral tradition, folk is usually characterized by its vibrant vocals, familiar lyrics and “old world” feel. This definition is fluid, however, with many disagreeing about what exactly classifies something as “folk music.” Perhaps Louis Armstrong said it best when he declared, “All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.”
Still, folk music has a certain down-to-earth, down-home, family vibe that can at least be recognized by the feeling the sounds elicit. The following is a list of some suggested folk albums to offer such moods, best enjoyed while relaxing with some earthy, perhaps home-grown grass.
Dead & Born & Grown – The Staves
The Staves are an English folk rock band comprised of sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor. If there were ever such a thing as the mythological creatures known as sirens, you can be sure their voices would sound like this. The Staveley sisters’ bright, elegant vocals intertwine seamlessly, transporting the listener instantly into a world of their own creation. The songs on their album, Dead & Born & Grown, move together like a river, evoking a timeless sound that is at once both hypnotically peaceful and excitingly lively.
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Super Silver Haze
Pushin’ Against a Stone – Valerie June
Valerie June’s unique and crystal clear vocals rise in this album like a sun breaking over the sea. The sound that cradles her ethereal voice is at once both folk, soul, blues, and Appalachian, but that down-home vibe shines through as the prominent feel of the album. Pushin’ Against a Stone is June’s breakthrough album, catapulting her from Tennessee to a worldwide stage, and it’s easy to understand why. June’s soulful and vibrant voice is as much a powerful instrument as any played by the musicians who join her project.
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Cherry Pie
Electric Dirt – Levon Helm
Electric Dirt is drummer and singer-songwriter Levon Helm’s final studio album, produced in 2009. The album is a collection of covers and two original songs, including “Growing Trade,” an original song about a poor farmer who turns to growing cannabis to make ends meet despite it being illegal. The album is eclectic, powerful, joyful, sorrowful, and raw. Helm’s post-recovery vocals are gruff yet flawless, evoking a truly southern, folky feel. He is joined by a full band and his daughter, harmony vocalist Amy Helm. Listening to this album feels like a perfect summer day in the deep south, sitting on an old weathered porch with a good dog snoozing at your feet.
Strain Pairing Recommendation: S.A.G.E
Semper Femina – Laura Marling
British singer-songwriter Laura Marling has been producing albums since 2008. Her latest work, released this past March and titled Semper Femina, delivers a raw and haunting sound that evokes femininity, grace, and purpose. Marling’s vocals are precise, deep, and melodious, a perfect complement to the graceful instrumentals of her music. There is a hint of traditional English classical in her style, and suggestions of jazz that add subtle textures to this otherwise lovingly folk music. Semper Femina, which translates to “always woman,” feels more personal than her previous albums, inviting the listener into the heart of her home to explore the sounds of her being.
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Plushberry
Ways Not to Lose – The Wood Brothers
Ways Not to Lose features brothers Oliver and Chris Wood. The acoustic album contains twelve songs and offers a fresh take on traditional folk with a hint of rock tucked under the down-to-earth folk vibe. Chris Wood’s deep, prominent standup bass complements Oliver’s twangy and bright guitar. When Oliver’s rustic voice and poignant lyrics combine with Chris’ backing vocals, the duo comprise an album that feels as though the pair slipped back in time to add a modern taste to traditional old world music.
Strain Pairing Recommendation: Blue Moonshine
The world of folk music is as vast and diverse as the people of this world. The above is, truthfully, merely a taste of the endless possibilities of folk music. One thing is to be sure, though: folk is a music meant to be enjoyed and passed down from person to person, family to family. One may even say it is a genre that seeks to preserve how it feels to have a human experience in a particular moment of time, and to share that feeling for generations to come.