July 21, 2019
If you’ve read our series on nine of the greatest folk songs of all time, you may be forgiven for thinking that we here at Knitted Character Folk Festival never listen to anything recorded after 1971. That, however, is not true. Folk music is a diverse sound that can be adapted for contemporary audiences easily – and even when it’s not, there’s still an audience for traditional folk style songs in the modern day.
In our technologically dominated world, there’s something to be said for getting back to the roots of what makes folk music special. Forging intimate connections between music, people and nature has never been more prescient and important, as we move into a planetary age dominated by humans and the impact our activities are having on a changing world. These three artists either highlight traditional styles, fuse them with contemporary genres or just create timeless music that – sigh- could have been recorded in 1968.
The Tallest Man on Earth
Key Tracks: Love Is All, The Dreamer
Although he may have a Google baiting pseudonym, Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Mattson is one of the world’s foremost exponents of contemporary folk music. Starting in 2006, his first four albums were all recorded in his home studio with no other instrumentation than him and his guitar. His style has been critically compared to Bob Dylan on many occasions – although to say The Tallest Man on Earth’s uniquely powerful vocals are a rip off of any one great folk singer would be a disservice.
His expressive and deeply poetic lyrics are even more impressive when you consider English isn’t even Mattson’s first language. His latest album, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream, was released in early 2019 and includes more experimental instrumentation and arrangements.
Key Tracks: What He Wrote, Blackberry Stone
The darling of the English folk scene for the past decade or so, all of Laura Marling’s solo albums have been critically acclaimed – bringing the obvious comparisons to a young Joni Mitchell along with them. Marling has been nominated for dozens of Brit Awards, Mercury Prizes and Grammys since her first album in 2008, also winning the Best Female Solo Artist at the 20011 Brits. She was heavily involved in the ‘folk revival’ scene of the late 2000s in the UK, collaborating with Mumford & Sons, Noah and the Whale and The Mystery Jets before launching her solo career.
Mumford & Sons
Key Tracks: Little Lion Man, Dust Bowl Dance, I Will Wait
Probably the most (in)famous band of the folk revival, Mumford & Sons brought the style to mainstream attention with their huge hit album and singles in 2012. Fusing a pop rock sound with traditional folk stylings, the anthemic I Will Wait, from that year’s Grammy award winning album Babel, spawned countless memes and think-pieces about folk music fans and was a top ten hit in over 20 countries. That included hitting number one on the US Billboard Rock and Alternative charts. For a few years in the early 2010s you would be hard pressed not to hear Mumford & Sons music everywhere you went. Whatever you think of them, they certainly helped bring folk-inspired sounds back to mainstream attention at least.