While Folk music in 2021 kicked off the endearing #ShantyTok trend on TikTok, we even saw the success of those sea shanties spill over to the folk music charts. Here are three folk artists to watch in 2022.
August Gilde’s Instagram biography says “Musician, cabin dweller” – and that tells you two of the most important facts about him. He’s a maker of songs that focus on the yearning to connect with nature, and he’s living in a way that makes it possible – in a log cabin at the top of a hill in West Yorkshire. The cabin, surrounded by two acres of woodland and built from trees on the property, is where he wrote his debut album, “A Different Kind”. Delicate but sumptuous, with an autumnal-folk bent, it’s redolent of the place where it was conceived, but is also part of the wider English singer-songwriter tradition (and could comfortably be filed near Paul Simon’s folk output, too). It was produced by John Wood, whose CV includes two of August Gilde’s favorite artists, Nick Drake and Fionn Regan, now, suffice to say that Gilde and Wood have made a cracker.
Music, though, is only half the story – and the other half sets him apart from most of 21st century Britain. When not writing, he lives off the land, and after six years in the cabin, he reckons he’s around 30% self-sufficient (he’s aiming for 100%). He grows his own food, raises chickens, alpacas and sheep, lays his own water pipes, builds fruit cages, and posts pictures of his progress on Instagram. You could say that Gilde is a Thoreau for our century, and his smallholding is his Walden. “I was drawn to where I live and working the land because it’s how I grew up, in the open,” he says. “I love the silence, the life, the wildlife…plants, trees, and the seasons. I have always been in the mind frame that really living a life means not having to rely on others.” This isn’t some middle-class idyll; it’s his real life. “My goal is to be self-reliant, and I promote that in my everyday life,” he says. “I love the countryside and simplicity. I want to connect that to a way of thinking, and that connection is there in my music.
It’s very simple, the music.” By “simple,” he means sonically unfussy – songs just unfold as they will, unhurriedly. Backed by bassist Tali Trow and drummer/pianist Pat Kenneally, Gilde opens his world to listeners. It’s a tranquil place, but also, in the countryside way of things, muddy under the fingernails. The title track, for instance, references the “holy ground” he lives on – ground he knows intimately. Then there’s “What the World is Waiting For,” a warm shuffle that evokes an older, earthier England by incorporating traditional nursery rhymes like “Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses.” “I like the idea of the old-school nursery rhymes, where there are deeper meanings hidden behind the words,” Gilde explains. The deeper meaning here is his disgust with a government “that says one thing and does another,” and it’s not the only politically-charged song on the record. Gilde’s favourite track, “Hey Little Island,” was born during the Brexit transition; it suggests that little islands – whether the United Kingdom as a whole or his own Yorkshire Dales “island” – can’t thrive outside the wider community of nations. “I got everything I need right here in my home,” he sings. “Talk to the world, never felt so alone.” Others are about devotion to another person, though he notes cryptically, “We’ve all experienced heartache but the love songs “The Greatest Tragedy” and “My Darkest Night,” for example aren’t about my own life.” Going by that metric, we can take it as read that “A Different Kind” is very good. Have a listen, and get to know its unique creator.
There is something special about folk artist Fionn Regan. Perhaps it’s the way he writes songs that are both personal and timeless at the same time. Or perhaps it’s his voice- a delicate, ethereal instrument that effortlessly conveys emotion over his gorgeous folk instrumentation. There are many folk artists out there, but few of them have the talent, charisma, or mystique of Fionn Regan. This Irish singer-songwriter has been making music for decades, and his discography is nothing short of impressive. Adding to his charm, Regan has often been described as a bit of an ‘enigma,’ constantly responding to questions in poetic metaphors and tangents. However, his unpredictable nature makes him such a magnetic force in music. You never know what you’re going to get with his music, but you know that it will be absolutely fantastic. Regan’s music is a blend of traditional folk-rock and modern inflections. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Woody Guthrie, and other artists have been cited as influences. He has even been called “this generation’s answer to Bob Dylan” by Lucinda Williams. He’s even been compared to The Shins, Damien Rice, and Nick Drake. Fionn Regan’s music is likely to be enjoyed by fans of these artists.
Regan has released many great songs. We were also stunned by the similar tones of Fionn Regan’s song “Dogwood Blossom” and August Gilde’s single “What The World Is Waiting For.” It’s obvious that Gilde is drawing some influence from the likes of Regan.
For nearly two decades, Willie Watson has made modern folk music rooted in older traditions. He’s a folksinger in the classic sense: a singer, storyteller, and traveller, with a catalog of songs that bridge the gap between the past and present. On Folksinger Vol. 2, he acts as a modern interpreter of older songs, passing along his own version of the music that came long before him.
Southern gospel. Railroad songs. Delta blues. Irish fiddle tunes. Appalachian music. Folksinger Vol. 2 makes room for it all. Produced by David Rawlings, the album carries on a rich tradition in folk music: the sharing and swapping of old songs. Long ago, the 11 compositions that appear on Folksinger Vol. 2 were popularized by artists like Leadbelly, Reverend Gary Davis, Furry Lewis, and Bascom Lamar Lunsford. The songs don’t actually belong to those artists, though. They don’t belong to anyone. Instead, they’re part of the folk canon, passed from generation to generation by singers like Watson.
And what a singer he is. With a quick vibrato and rich range, he breathes new life into classic songs like “Samson and Delilah,” one of several songs featuring harmonies from gospel quartet the Fairfield Four. He’s a balladeer on “Gallows Pole,” whose melancholy melodies are echoed by the slow swells of a four-piece woodwind ensemble, and a bluesman on “When My Baby Left Me,” accompanying himself with sparse bursts of slide guitar. “Dry Bones” finds him crooning and hollering over a bouncing banjo, while “Take This Hammer” closes the album on a penitent note, with Watson singing to the heavens alongside a congregation of Sunday morning soul singers.
Arriving three years after Folksinger Vol. 1 — his first release since parting ways with the Old Crow Medicine Show, whose platinum-selling music helped jumpstart the 21st century folk revival — Vol. 2 expands Watson’s sound while consolidating his strengths. Several singers and sidemen make appearances here, including Gillian Welch, the Punch Brothers’ Paul Kowert, and Old Crow bandmate Morgan Jahnig. Even so, Watson has never sounded more commanding, more confident, more connected to the music that inspires him.
“I’m not trying to prove any point here,” he insists, “and I’m not trying to be a purist. There’s so much beauty in this old music, and it affects me on a deep level. It moves me and inspires me. I heard Leadbelly singing with the Golden Gate Quartet and it sounded fantastic, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ I heard the Grateful Dead doing their version of ‘On the Road Again,’ and it sounded like a dance party in 1926, and I wanted to do that, too. That’s the whole reason I ever played music in the first place — because it looked and sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun.”
Nodding to the past without resurrecting it, Willie Watson turns Folksinger Vol. 2 into something much more than an interpretation of older songs. The album carries on the spirit of a time nearly forgotten. It taps into the rich core of roots music. It furthers the legacy of American folk. And perhaps most importantly, it shows the full range of Willie Watson’s artistry, matching his instrumental and vocal chops with a strong appreciation for the songs that have shaped not only a genre, but an entire country.
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