Among all music genres, traditional folk is the one where the tension between the authentic and the commercial is more evident. But it is from the perennial battle between these two extremes that usually the most interesting records are generated, as is certainly the case of the four albums that are presented in this article. As a matter of fact, the albums you’ll see mentioned in this chart are not only the best traditional folk records that have been published so far in 2018, they all contain embryos of innovation and modernity that make their music more enjoyable and somehow accessible for the new generations of listeners.
#1) “THE ART OF FORGETTING” by KYLE CAREY
Despite being a relatively young contributor to the folk world, American songwriter Kyle Carey has already taken a prominent role among the representatives of American Celtic music, which is that special style of folk that mixes together western European sounds with American (in this case Appalachian) elements. On early 2018 she released the third full-lenght album of her discography, The Art of Forgetting, and all the good things that have been said and written of her so far are absolutely confirmed by this new record. The beauty of Carey’s last album is further enhanced by the quality of the musicians who have been called to contribute to the recording of the songs. The release notes of the LP show that Carey has called together a super team of artists. Just to mention a few ones, we have singer, violinist and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), American guitarist Sam Broussard (from the Cajun band Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys), and Scottish folk musician and composer John McCusker.
The Art of Forgetting was also reviewed in a dedicated page of this blog. Check it out.
The album may be streamed on line on Spotify.
#2) “TWO SCORES” by BLOWZABELLA
Blowzabella aren’t absolutely newcomers in the flok world. This unique and characteristic English formation celebrates in 2018 its 40th year of activity (“two-scores”) and of course there are many records and publications released by them to date. In case there is someone approaching the band for the first time, what’s necessary to know is that Blowzabella distinguished themselves for their particular and truly unique style of music where traditional folk is with drone music. A vast array of acoustic instruments are in fact played and manipulated in order to obtain sounds and rhythms that are typical of the dance world (a “wall of sound” as they like to say), but always played with a traditional spirit. One could really say that the music of Blowzabella is one of those happy cases where the union between two distant worlds, in this case the legacy of the folk tradition and the spirit of innovation, has produced something that’s much larger than the sum of the original elements. The last album by Blowzabella, Two Scores, shows the band in a state of absolute grace: the maturity acquired by these musicians over the years is still supported by the desire to experiment new sounds and rhythms, so that their songs are never the mere repetition of schemes and tricks from the past repertoire. The LP offers also a relative variety among its tracks, and in the end the only thing these musicians ask you to do is to free your spirit, start dancing and be carried away by the frenetic, hypnotic and magical music they created for us.
Two Scores is available for streaming on Spotify.
#3) “WHORLS” by KITTEL & CO.
American violinist Jeremy Kittel has gained quite a relevant reputation as one of the most talented performer and composers of celctic folk and bluegrass, with a style which emphasizes both his technical skills and a special taste for timeless melodies. He’s been involved in many projects, both as a soloist and with supporting partners. In his most recent release, Whorls, he offers a new exciting collection of folk songs that are tinged by many different influences from traditional celtic music, baroque classical melodies, American bluegrass and a few hints of jazz. A number of skilled musicians have been involved in the project including mandolin phenom Josh Pinkham, guitarist Quinn Bachand, cellist Nathiel Smith, Simon Chrisman on dulcimer and also vocalist Sarah Jarosz. The quality of the performances is extraordinary, and the songs offer a good level of variety and surprises to keep the attention high along all the record.
Whorls may be streamed from Spotify.
#4) FOLLOW THEM TRUE by STICK IN THE WHEEL
Follow Them True is the second album from the English folk band Stick in the Wheel, and it arrives two years and half after their 2015’s debut work, From Here. Since the beginning of their career this quintet of folk enthusiasts has adopted an austere and formal approach to folk music, which is characterized also by the choice to use only acoustic instrumentation. As a result, their songs have always an ancient and suggestive charm which further exalts the fantastic voice of the singer Nicola Kearey. In the new album you won’t find danceable songs or pop-folk motifs, but rather a very good collection of ancient ballads and melodies of the past, all revisited with an aggressive spirit. Only in some moments the tension and the austherity seem to leave the field for slightly more relaxed and poetic tones, and perhaps these are the most accessible and enjoyable parts of the disc, at least for the casual listener.
Follow Them True is available for streaming on Spotify.