Some of you may remember a few months ago when we dipped our toes into the endless sea of post-punk sonic tsunamis. Now we’re back again with another starter pack, back with another beginner’s kit. This time it’s folk music. In the next few paragraphs is a plate of delicious canapes to give you a taster of all the heartiness folk music has to offer.
It’s hard to know where to begin. In a world where there is constant bombardment from everywhere and anywhere, trying to find the right place to start something can be as hard as finding your dignity after a hard and heavy night out. So if you want to pick up a new hobby - say for example crocheting, how might you go about starting? Might you watch hours of Youtube videos, might you buy an entire small shop's worth of crocheting equipment or might you even increase your screen time by a few hundred percent by scavenging the Amazon forest of Instagram posts for inspiration. It feels like picking up a new hobby when you’re first exposing yourself to a whole new genre or a whole new avenue of music. But where to begin in that exposure is a difficult question.
This article is an answer to that question. Like a beginners kit that you might buy when you’re starting to crochet, this piece is meant to do just that. We’re going to look at different artists, their different songs and different styles of folk music as well as trying to define what really makes folk music what it is.
Blues Run the Game
Jackson C. Frank
We can’t really begin a discussion about folk music without discussing the melancholy beauty of Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game’. This earnest 60’s folk classic is possibly one of the most covered songs there is in the genre. Everyone wants to try their hand at it. To add something different. Something people haven’t heard before. To breathe new life into something beloved.
If folk musicians had a book of folk standards the same way that jazz musicians have their genre’s greatest hits compiled into the infamous ‘Real Book’, then this song would be in that book.
Big names in folk, from the present and the past have a version of this song somewhere. Laura Marling, Simon & Garfunkel, Eddi Reader, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch… the list goes on and on. But this song spans more than one genre. John Mayer, Counting Crows and Bombay Bicycle Club too have covered this song at some point in their careers.
There is something quite special about this song. Its simplicity, with its gentle guitar plucking and calm voice, is what gives me goosebumps listening to it. This is the essence of folk, at least it is in my opinion. The simplicity and the power in just that. Taking something small, like a guitar and a voice, making a two track tape and then making something that seems to say ‘hey you’re not so bad, it's all not so bad’. There’s nothing more and nothing less. Folk music is emotionally profound without ever really trying to be. Its musical understanding of the human condition, without the drama of passion, but instead the guttural full-body experience of passion that feels most authentic. So if we choose to define folk music in this way, it's pretty obvious after listening to ‘Blues Run the Game’, to understand why this song is such a defining song of the genre and others too.
Walkin’ down the line
Bob Dylan (cover by Odetta)
This next song is something of a ruffling, ruffling the feathers of the well-known folk sound. Odetta adds her own twist on this Bob Dylan classic. The same delicacy of the guitar that we heard in ‘Blues Run the Game’ prevails through. And right in the centers, Odetta’s voice powers through. This version is unique for its blues sound and rock n’ roll attitude. Definitely worth a listen. Especially its funky ending! From one folk legend to another; ‘Walkin’ down the line’, has never been in safer hands.
I don’t know why
This last one is more modern. This folk - pop duo from Leeds, really takes the chill in folk music and dials it up to another level. This song in particular is courageously soothing and relaxing, like a big hug that both comforts and carries you. Their beautiful voices soar through the delicate instrumental mix with confidence that makes you want to take deep breaths in and out, filling your lungs with strength and calm. Again, definitely worth a listen if you want some auditory therapy.
Closing up the crochet shop
And like the last time, we’re closing up the crochet shop and coming to the end of our little journey through folk music. But if you want to hear even more amazing folk songs, I strongly suggest having a look at the playlist linked to this page. There are some really beautiful pieces of music in that little musical space. Well at least I think they are beautiful. I sincerely hope you do too.