I get so focused on my own version of folk music (fiddles, banjos, and songs written centuries ago by nameless poets), that I tend to forget that folk music for most people actually refers to a more modern vision of acoustic troubadours. So in honor of this world of folk, here are three artists that have been catching our ears recently.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
2011 re-release. Neverfoehl Records.
Despite being released in 2009 originally, Colorado singer-songwriter Reed Foehl's album, Once an Ocean, sounds as fresh as if it had been released yesterday. Foehl's an obviously gifted songwriter, with a quick ear for the humbly inspiring stories of everyday folks. The album's being re-released in anticipation of Foehl's upcoming full-length, and it's an indicator that Foehl will be a powerful force in the roots music world. The title track is stunningly beautiful and has been on constant repeat at HearthHQ. It weaves an innovative finger-picked guitar melody line with Reed's crystal-clear vocals. I'm a sucker for gently finger-picked guitar songs, but this song takes that archetype a step further with its intricately crafted guitar melody. Nicely done, sir!! Though Reed leads the album, he does bring some friends along to add beautiful touches to the music. Be Good Tanyas members Trish Klein and Frazey Ford are especially welcome, adding delicious harmony vocals and picking. Young indie folk artist Jefferson Hamer co-produces the album, brings a gorgeous song of his own ("Wolves"), and adds some beautiful guitar work to the mix. He's a talent to watch out for too! I'm not familiar with the other guests, but the album feels more like an ensemble album than a solo singer-songwriter leading a band, a welcome change from many of the albums I hear these days. I can't wait for Foehl's upcoming full-length! PS: You can check out an interview with Reed Foehl on No Depression from 2009 here.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
David Newberry: No One Will Remember You
2012. Northern Electric Records.
While other singer-songwriters talk about their storytelling skills and their ability to draw you into a song, Canadian singer David Newberry DELIVERS! His new album, No One Will Remember You, is packed with beautifully crafted songs, the kind of music that has to be made by hand with great care. Coupled with his beautiful voice, and you have quite the package! On the other hand, the songs are frequently overpowered by excessive, and at times needless, production (90s-era drums, screaming guitars, walls of sound), but he's so good that his songwriting and vocals cut through everything. His songs are gently sad, almost wistful, possibly exhausted, really the only emotions we have anymore in a world on the brink. On the title track, he sings "We cut the trees to make the paper / Turn the world inside out, and put it through a press / To teach ourselves that telling stories / Is just the same as getting out there and doing it yourself." Most singer-songwriters would like to shout their views from the mountaintop, but Newberry seems content just to talk about his life and his perspective. It's a refreshingly ego-less perspective that's unfortunately very rare. For the next album, let's just give him an acoustic guitar and set him loose on the road so real people can find his music. David Newberry deserves to be heard!
David Newberry: All of the Apples in the Basket
Anna Coogan: The Wasted Ocean
Seattle singer-songwriter Anna Coogan has a chameleon-like knack for molding her music to a specific genre's sound, and then for transcending that sound. She did this with her earlier album, Glory, in which she blew open the roots-based world of Americana with a sound that felt entirely new. Partly it's her vocals, which have such a sweet ache to them that they fit into most genres easily. But she's also an excellent song crafter, able to build compelling melodies and arrangements that draw you in. For her newest album, The Wasted Ocean, she looks to her East Coast upbringing and the maritime sea shanties she used to hear growing up. Her songs this time around are rife with imagery of the sea, sailors, and the "whalefish." It's not corny at all, and Coogan infuses these old themes with a new life. My only complaint is that her voice is mixed strangely on the album, somehow sounding a bit garbled or muffled. Other than that, this album is a great example of a multi-faceted singer-songwriter able to plumb her own depths to come up with new sounds.
Anna Coogan: Blood on the Sails