A lot of people said that folk music died when Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. These people were wrong. In recent years a new crop of folk-friendly artists have cropped up and proved that there’s still plenty of room to take off where pioneers like Dylan and Woody Guthrie left off. Here are five of our favorite modern day folkies.
Human Highway: Human Highway is collaboration between Islands frontman Nick Thorburn and Canadian songwriter Jim Guthrie that also happens to be one of the most dynamic folk-infused acts around. Their debut Moody Motorcycle may not make you rethink the way you hear music, but stripped-down songs like “All Day” feature gorgeous harmonies, infectious melodies and a lo-fi aesthetic that’s a refreshing foil to the band’s Pro Tools-obsessed electrified peers. The band is currently streaming six songs on its MySpace page; head over there now to hear what you’ve missing.
Lewis & Clarke: Over the past five years, Pennsylvania-based songwriter Lou Rogai and his cast of collaborators ? known collectively as Lewis & Clarke ? have been quietly crafting some of the most haunting and beautiful folk music in existence. Although their latest album Blasts Of The Holy Birth has been described as “post-folk, neo-baroque,” to us the album — which includes collaborations from members of the Rachels and Man Man — largely defies categorization as it seamlessly merges acoustic instrumentation with orchestral flourishes and Rogai’s wonderfully wavering tenor. Oh, and if you think folk acts are dull live, this is one act you won’t want to miss.
Conor Oberst: Enough publications have already heralded Omaha’s own Conor Oberst as “the next Bob Dylan,” so we’re not going to mention that. Ironically, Oberst’s first album under his own name in 12 years, which came out earlier this year, may be the most folk-steeped album of his career. Reminiscent of artists like the Band and Gram Parsons, Oberst has proved that he’s capable of crafting lyrics that are far beyond most twenty-something songwriters — and he’s also kept folk’s spirit of political dissent active in classic catalog songs like “When The President Talks To God.”
Fleet Foxes: Although Seattle’s Fleet Foxes haven’t been around long, the band has literally exploded onto the neo folk scene, garnering rave reviews everywhere they go. Listening to the band’s debut album Fleet Foxes, it’s not difficult to see why, considering the way the album ebbs and flows through gypsy-inflected acoustic folk tracks that sound like a slightly more psychedelic version of Neil Young. Hell, even the notoriously snarky Web site Pitchfork Media gave the album nine stars and called the band’s debut “surprisingly full and wide ranging, almost as much as the Bruegel painting that graces the album’s cover.”
Bon Iver: The story is simple: After the break-up of his longtime band, Justin Edmond retreated to a secluded cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin for the long winter months. In between cutting firewood, Edmond started spending 12 hours a day recording a series of cathartic songs that would end up being Bon Iver’s debut For Emma, Forever Ago. The result is a timeless collection of songs that evoke songwriters like Will Oldham and sounds strangely familiar yet difficult to place. In other words, if you don’t get goose bumps during somber acoustic numbers like “Skinny Love,” well, you just might not be human.