Enjoy this mixtape with some of the best and most melancholic folk songs released so far in 2019. I tried to compose the ideal soundtrack for a walk in the rain, at sunset. Eight songs, thirty minutes of musical beauty and delicacy.
Since the beginning of 2019, we could enjoy a good number of valid and interesting folk music albums and we are already able to point out which are the best records of the year (up to now). The first episode of this chart refers to the first quarter of 2019 and it features five different albums spanning from indie to traditional Scottish folk. Enjoy this article and stay tuned for future updates!
#5) “Tomb”, by Angelo De Augustine
Sometimes you meet with artists, or records, that manage to transmit you strong emotions independently from the specific music they play. Tomb, which is the latest LP released by American singer-songwriter Angelo De Augustine, represents one of these cases. The LP is third of a discography which includes his self-released debut album, 2011’s Spirals of Silence, and his previous 2017’s LP named Swim Inside the Moon.
Tomb develops over a profound and universal statement: we grow up following some dreams that, at same point in our life, may be erased because of external factors. There are two ways to cope whit that: we give up or we try to emerge from the darkness of our disillusions, elaborating the loss and trying to come out stronger than before.
Listening to the music of Angelo De Augustine is like enjoying the recitation of a poem, and in this sense his work is actually in between these two different forms of art.
The album is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with additional details on the record and also a few videos to see.
#4) “Those Who Roam”, by Claire Hastings
Traditional Scottish Folk
The biography of young Scottish folksinger and songwriter Claire Hastings says that despite already at primary school her teachers noticed how good was her voice, she didn’t pursue music until she arrived at the University. In a few years, however, she managed to compensate for all the time lost and, impressively, she was named “BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year” even before releasing her debut album (Between River and Railway). This year Hastings has released her second LP, named Those Who Roam, and we may enjoy once again the talent of one of the most promising figures of contemporary folk.
The element that stands out the most in this record is for sure the beautiful voice of the singer, while the musical part is not always at the same level. Those Who Roam is like a nice walk in a flowery park, under the sun. A sun that, however, still can’t make you feel warm, it’s only a slight sensation that you have on the skin.
Those Who Roam is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. Here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and a couple of songs to enjoy.
#3) “Ode to a Friend” by Old Sea Brigade
After releasing a number of intriguing and appreciated short publications, American singer-songwriter Ben Cramer, who plays under the moniker of Old Sea Brigade, eventually released his debut full-length record, named Ode to a Friend. Despite arriving after four previous EPs, the songs of the new album are all unpublished and the new material shows the capacity that has been developed by Cramer – in just a few years – in defining a style that is quite unique and personal, moving with ease among folk, Americana and ambient soundscapes.
Ode to a Friend is an album that’s absolutely poetic and fascinating, something which has the capacity to take us away from the chaos, but which also requires extremely quiet environments in order to be fully appreciated. And if most of the tracks of the LP are still built on Cramer’s finger-picked guitar and echo effects, for the first time we enjoy in his songs also a wider palette of sounds which includes notes from a distant piano or gentle layers of synths.
#2) “Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is the latest release from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, who operates under the name of Rome. This is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is an album that manages to be at the same time profound, conceptual but still absolutely enjoyable to listen to. From a musical point of view, the album doesn’t deviate substantially from the dark folk that has been offered in all the previous releases from Reuter, with the exception of an increased presence – in the new album – of “martial” elements. The LP starts with a sequence of impressive and absolutely brilliant songs, gifted by some of the most beautiful melodies we heard in recent times.
Best Folk Album of 2019 (so far)
“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin
INDIE FOLK / INDIE POP
Julia Jacklin is an Australian singer and songwriter based in Sydney, and she has released in late February 2019 her second LP, Crushing, which follows her 2016’s impressive debut studio album, Don’t Let the Kids Win. Similarly to what happened on the occasion of her first record, the first thing which impresses of Crushing is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.
From a musical point of view, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums. Rarely we hear a piano. The simplicity of the arrangement, however, is compensated by warm and beautiful sounds of all the instruments, which in the end enhance the sense of intimacy of the tracks.
Crushing is available on Bandcamp and it can be streamed also from Spotify. The album was included in this blog’s Best New Music category and here you can read the review of the LP that I wrote for the blog, with more information and also a couple of singles to enjoy.
All the best indie folk songs that were released since the beginning of the year are collected in the Playlist called The INDIE FOLK Radar, which features all the artists included in this chart bat also other remarkable songs from artists like Sun Kil Moon, Meat Puppets, Mandoline Orange, and many others. Listen to it and follow it: the playlist is periodically updated with new tracks.
One month has passed since the first episode of the The INDIE FOLK Radar and we have another group of interesting albums to review in this periodic digest with the most relevant Indie Folk releases. In the first episode I introduced the albums released by Old Sea Brigade, Angelo De Augustine, Better Oblivion Community Center, William Tyler and Mandolin Orange. For this second episode I’ve selected other five LPs, most of themreleased during the month of February 2019. Adding these five new records to the ones reviewed in the previous episode, it’s possible to say that the beginning of the year was absolutely positive for what concerns folk music.
As far as geography is concerned, we have one artist from Australia (Julia Jacklin), one from Luxembourg (Jérôme Reuter‘s Rome), one from England (Rosie Carney), and two from the U.S.A. (Jessica Pratt and Mark Kozelek‘s Sun Kil Moon).
Enjoy this new episode of the indie folk music radar and stay tuned for future updates!
“Crushing”, by Julia Jacklin
I want to start this digest with one of the best albums that were released since the beginning of the year: it’s Crushing, the second LP by Australian singer and songwriter Julia Jacklin.
When you start listening to this record, the first thing which will impress you is the remarkable emotional intensity of the songs. These are reflections and flashes made by the artist on her life and her past experiences, translated into music with a naturalness and a sense of urgency and immediacy that cannot leave us indifferent.
Musically speaking, the songs of Crushing stay right on the border that separates indie pop from folk, and in fact the LP has been featured in both the two categories of this blog. The instrumentation, in particular, is that typical of folk music: the tracks develop mainly on Julia’s voice and guitar, with a simple rhythmic session made by repeated notes of bass and slow beats on the drums.
“Le Ceneri di Heliodoro”, by Rome
Among the most interesting folk releases of this period we had the new album from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, the artist who operates under the name of Rome. Le Ceneri di Heliodoro (“The ashes of Heliodoro”) is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times.
From a musical point of view, Reuter’s production can be generally classified as dark folk, but beyond tags and definitions, what’s really impressive in the LP is the sequence of emotional and brilliant songs which open the album. For the lovers of folk music who are not familiar with the music of Rome, this is definitely a good opportunity to hear something different from what we’re used to listening, and to enjoy some of the most beautiful melodies that were written in recent times.
There is a dedicated article for this album, you can access it from here.
“Bare”, by Rosie Carney
I approached with great curiosity the debut album by Rosie Carney, a young singer-songwriter that is getting great attention as one of the most promising talents of the British folk scene. And effectively the songs of her first LP, named Bare, highlight a musical sensibility and also a maturity of style that have very little to do with an artist that has just left her teenage phase.
Almost all of the eleven songs of Bare have an extremely essential arrangement: acoustic guitar, vocals, a very light and almost imperceptible layer of keyboards and some rare appearance of delicate instruments such as the xylophone. Only in a few cases, we hear drums and electric guitar. Such kind of instrumentation has the effect to highlight the beauty of the artist’s voice, which is perhaps the central point of the whole album. More than the melodies, in fact, which are very simple and linear, it is the combination of Carney’s angelic voice and her intimate lyrics that capture the listener’s attention.
The tones are quiet and meditative, the rhythms slow. This guarantees a stylistic coherence for the whole record, but at the same time makes the listening experience a little flat, even because there are only a few melodies that emerge from the memory after the album ends. Remembering that Bare is a debut album, however, the final judgment is definitely positive and Rosie Carney remains one of those artists who are worthy of our attention.
“Quiet Signs”, by Jessica Pratt
Jessica Pratt is a singer-songwriter who has never chosen to chase success and fame through the simplest ways. Instead, she has developed through the years a very personal and delicate style of music that requires a special dedication, but which can provide the listener makes the experience of listening to her songs something really special and absolutely fascinating.
Quiet Signs, her third and most recent album, is a collection of pieces that are so fragile and intimate that they really need the right conditions to be appreciated in full, and to protect the beauty of the small details from the disorder and the background noise of our routines.
The style of Pratt’s songs is characterized by a strong retro feeling and also by the adoption of instrumentation and an arrangement that are really simple and minimal. This allows her particular and angelic voice to illuminate the scene, although the record, as a whole, may result excessively linear and at times flat.
“I Also Want to Die in New Orleans”, by Sun Kil Moon
Album after album, year after year, what’s offered within every new record released by Sun Kil Moon is gradually moving out from the domain of “music” and entering into that of prose. A song like I’m not laughing at you, which is one of the tracks of the band’s new LP I Also Want to Die in New Orleans, can be a good example of what I’m saying. The song begins with four initial chords on an out-of-tune guitar, and from that moment, if we exclude a few sparse moments of “music”, what we hear is just a single guitar string that’s picked with a syncopated rhythm, on top of which Mark Kozelek whispers and tells one his many stories. That’s all: one note, a few dissonant chords, and Kozelek’s voice. For almost 12 minutes.
Musically speaking, the new album by Sun Kil Moon is one of the most minimal and essential in the band’s discography. The attention is almost totally on the lyrics, with the sounds playing an absolutely secondary role. This style certainly has something fascinating, and there are also moments in which the faint and almost imperceptible musical lines manage to generate particular and relatively intriguing atmospheres. But for my personal tastes, we’ve gone a little too far.
And frankly speaking it’s a pity, because there was a moment, between 2012’s Among the Leaves 2017’s Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, in which I was really impressed by the charm and uniqueness of Sun Kil Moon’s style of folk.
I felt obliged to mention I Also Want to Die in New Orleans in this review of the most important releases of the last months. But in all honesty, this is not something that I think I’ll listen many more times in the future.
If you liked this article, you will love the folk music playlists that I’m curating on Spotify. One is MODERN SONGWRITERS, the playlist which features the most interesting releases from contemporary singer-songwriters. The second is named THE INDIE FOLK RADAR and it’s the one dedicated exclusively to the best songs of 2019. Enjoy!
There is a great album among those released in this first part of the year that I was in danger of missing: sometimes the most precious LPs are covered by the mass of mediocre publications.
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is the latest release from Luxembourg’s folk master Jérôme Reuter, who operates under the name of Rome. This is the most recent entry in a very large discography which features more than 10 LPs and many other EPs, all of them devoted to telling fascinating stories which interconnect ancient wars with the struggles of modern times. Le Ceneri di Heliodoro (“The ashes of Heliodoro”), in particular, addressed the concept of a city under siege and it uses this dramatic scenario to speak about the uproar and the confusion which reigns in contemporary politics, with clear references to Europe’s dissolving unity, its relations to the US, and the fragile fraternity of its nations. Other secondary themes that emerge from the songs are those related to nationalism and utopia.
From a musical point of view, Rome’s new album doesn’t deviate substantially from the dark folk that has been offered in all the previous releases from Reuter, with the exception of an increased presence – in the new album – of “martial” elements. The LP starts with a sequence of impressive and absolutely brilliant songs, gifted by some of the most beautiful melodies we heard in recent times. As the LP proceeds towards its central and final parts, the overall tension begins to fade, and in the end what it’s kept in our memory is the majestic incipit of the album.
This city shall bring a purifying fire(from “A New Unfolding”)
For the world entire
And of all of our sin
Of its beauty and splendor
Now and forever
So now watch us try and reconcile salt and mind
Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is an album that manages to be at the same time profound, conceptual but still absolutely enjoyable to listen to. In addition to that, for those who’re not familiar with this folk project, the LP may be a good opportunity to hear something different from what we’re used to playing in our stereos. For who’s already a fans of Jérôme Reuter, Le Ceneri di Heliodoro is another valuable entry in an already remarkable discography.
My overall rating for the LP is 7.5/10. Highlights: A New Unfolding and Who Only Europe Know.
The summer sun is fading as the year grows old, and darker days are drawing near,
The winter winds will be much colder, Now you’re not here.
I watch the birds fly south across the autumn sky and one by one they disappear,
I wish that I was flying with them, Now you’re not here.
Like the sun through the trees you came to love me,
Like a leaf on a breeze you blew away…
Through autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way, You always loved this time of year
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now, ‘Cause you’re not here
(“Forever Autumn“, originally composed by Jeff Wayne in 1969, subsequently recorded by Gary Osborne and Paul Vigrass, and recently covered by Sarah McQuaid)
We have again entered that season of the year when the days become inexorably shorter, the warm air of the summer slowly turns into the colder winds of winter, and our spirit inevitably lingers in a sweet and bitter melancholy. Driven by these feelings I collected and mixed together the most beautiful folk songs of the recent months, along with some other piece from the recent past, and made this compilation named “Forever Autumn“, which in my idea could be perfectly suited to accompany us in this beginning of the autumn season.
You’ll find here the most melancholic and emotional songs composed and recorded by artists like Sarah McQuaid, Blowzabella and Mark Lanegan.
The complete tracklist of the mixtape is the following:
- Shoreham River by Bird In The Belly
- Waltz by Kittel & Co
- Bedlam Boys by Solasta
- Bushes and Briars by Blowzabella
- Forever Autumn by Sarah McQuaid
- Tree in the Valley by Jack Rose
- Off To See The Hangman, Pt. II by Gwenifer Raymond
- Desert Song by Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood
As you can see, the compilation features mostly traditional folk songs and a few pieces of american primitivism (by Jack Rose and Gwenifer Raymond).
Enjoy the mixtape, and share it with your loved ones.
The discography of American iconic singer-songritwer Mark Lanegan has become so full of different and heterogenous entries that there is a specific page on Wikipedia that is dedicated to report all of his releases and appearances, which include many solo albums, a bunch of EPs and a vastity of collaborations with other bands and musicians. As part of this large number of collaborations, in 2013 Lanegan released an interesting record with the English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood. The album, called Black Pudding, received however mixed reactions from the public and the critics, partly due to the absolutely secondary role that was given to Gardwood (unlike the most successful and definitely more “balanced” collaboration with Isobel Campbell) , but also because Black Pudding, in the end, resulted as an extremely monochromatic and predictable album, with Lanegan anchored to his consolidated formula of dark and bluesy folk.
Five years after Black Pudding, Lanegan and Darkwood have released a second collaborative effort, named With Animals, and it’s clear from the very first songs of the new album that the harmony and the spiritual connection between the two has largely improved. For the casual listener this album could appear quite similar to the last few works by Lanegan, but this is not true if you go beyond the surface.
With Animals is a solid and inspired album, where all the songs are linked and correlated by a sort of spiritual connection, something which makes you feel like venturing into the darkest and most disturbing areas of your inner self. Darkness, restlessness, impotence. These are the feelings that emerge when you listen to the songs of With Animals, and in this case we can finally say that such stong emotional charge doesn’t come only from the raspy and baritone voice of Lanegan, but it derives also from a stronger contribution by Darkwood and his hypnotic guitar loops. The music, in many moments of the album, reaches peaks of absolute beauty and in a few rare cases it takes also the lead.
Of course, I also would have liked a little more courage to explore new directions and to experiment with new musical languages, but we’re definitely on the right track. And if you’re not discouraged by the minimal arrangements, the slow rhythms and the dark and oppressive atmospheres, this album can be definitely a valuable companion to your moments of reflection and relax.
With Animals is available for streaming on Spotify.
My favorite songs from the album are L.A. Blue, My Shadow Life, Desert Song and the title-track With Animals.
American songwriter Thomas Jefferson Cowgill is one of those artists who likes to range between extremely different forms of expression. In his brilliant musical career he now operates under the pseudonym of King Dude and with such new artistic identity he has already released a good number of excellent pubications. As a matter of fact, listening to King Dude’s discography one may think that’s it is practically impossible for him to publish low quality works and his latest record, Music to Make War To totally confirms this trajectory.
Having changed over the years many elements of his style, the description of King Dude’s music can only be made derivatively. The last album, in this sense, could be described as a nice mixture of The National and Nick Cave, in which however the melodic elements of the songs always prevail over the more introspective aspect of the music. The result is a truly exciting collection of haunting but still extremely enjoyable songs. The album is plenty of that melancholy tone which has become one of the most recognizable elements of King Dude’s music (what’s sometimes referred to as “dark folk” or “goth folk”) but melancholy is partially alleviated through a lightness of approach and a musical simplicity which become sometimes totally disarming.
Many could argue that it’s just an attempt to conquer a wider audience with a simpler and lighter music. Whatever the reason behind Cowgill’s last evolution of his style, I find this operation absolutely successful. Undoubtedly King Dude’s figure seems today less “Luciferian” than in previous years, but every now and then it’s healthy and beneficial to refresh your own style rather than insist on an image of yourself that, in the long run, could dry away all the brilliance and inspiration that’s in your music.
Music To Make War To alternates relatively fast paced songs (Velvet Rope, I Don’t Write Love Songs Anymore, and Dead on the Chorus) and other tracks that result much slower and atmospheric, such as the beautiful and haunting Twin Brother of Jesus, which sees our artist reaching extremely high peaks of expressive intensity.
The singing performance is really amazing. We move from moments where Cowgill looks as the reincarnation of Type of Negative’s Peter Steel, with his dark and full timbre, to other sections of the album where his style is more reminiscent of other legends of folk and American tradition as Nick Cave and Johhny Cash. In both cases, however, King Dude showcases a capacity for interpretation that is equal only to his skills as composer and songwriter. The instrumentation and the arrangements also range fluidly from acoustic and minimal moments to others sections where the music is enriched with electronic and synthetic inserts.
In summary: arrived to the seventh record of his great discography, King Dude has succeded in the apparent impossible operation to make catchy and somehow “radio friendly” songs which still convey the emotional intensity and – to same extent – the darkness that we appreciated in his previous and less accessible works. Will this be the point of arrival of King Dude’s stylistic evolution? I believe not. Presumably, as soon as we’ll hear his future songs, we will discover that Music to Make War To has represented only one of the many chapters of a musical journey that has still a lot to say.