The 20 Best Folk Albums of 2018
Folk music in 2018 has kept the poignant storytelling elements so intimately knit into its fabric while introducing layers of new sonic and global influences.
15. Greg Laswell — Next Time (Leg Graswell)
Next Time is Greg Laswell's most accomplished album to date. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist released the eighth studio album in September. Much as his previous recordings, Next Time was written, performed, and produced entirely by Laswell. Indeed, the album expands Laswell's musical acumen as the inclusion of electric guitars and synths adjoin with his standard acoustic guitar and piano combination. The seemingly contrasting instrumental doublet serves as a symbol across Next Time. A study of duality, Laswell positions a flawed reality adjacent to hope and despondency.
Next Time is a portrait of human resilience ultimately moving the listener through periods of turmoil to indefatigably. In doing so, Laswell utilizes robust imagery to render a visual understanding of his music. He uses the symbol of a Royal Empress tree to demarcate contrast enlivened by addiction and sobriety. Later on the album, he depicts a super moon to signal the value of introspection. Laswell contemplates progression as circulatory especially how momentum is not always permanent and often includes regression. From the instrumentation to the lyrics then to Laswell's own standpoint, Next Time finds the artist contemplating the past as an informant to the present. — Elisabeth Woronzoff
14. Geoff Gibbons - Shadow of a Stone: Songs of Remembrance (Bluecafe Music)
Giving us just four tracks to prove a point, Geoff Gibbons has his work cut out for him with the release of his newest EP. Aptly titled, following just five days past Remembrance Day, the singer-songwriter makes great use of the 20 some-odd minutes he gives us to tell the story of those who have lost their lives to war. While much of the album is spent with delicate tributes to fallen soldiers, "Soldier Soldier" takes a separate route in calling the world's governments out for their hypocrisy. While all too eager to draft men and women to their deaths under the guise of false patriotism, Gibbons bluntly calls out those in power for their abuse of it; for those who don't die overseas fighting for the special interests of a few, those few then get to turn around and wave them away once they return home. With veteran healthcare and homelessness being ongoing major issues, "Soldier Soldier" is a poignant protest amidst the subtle beauties of "Shadow of a Stone" and sardonic hopefulness found in "Please Remember Me". It might just be a four-song effort, but it's an effort well-made. — Jonathan Frahm
13. Amy Helm - This Too Shall Light (Yep Roc)
While furthering dabbling in the influences of gospel and soul, Amy Helm separates herself from the Americana leanings of Ollabelle with her most recent solo endeavor. The organic vibe emanating from This Too Shall Light might have to do with its fast-paced recording process, Helm and her team made the record with only a few takes and zero overdubs over the course of four days. That speaks more to her consummate musicianship than a rush job, culminating in a captivating set of covers and original songs alike. More or less a different path for the seasoned singer-songwriter to take, Helm traverses through a realm of introspection and self-reflection at the heart of the album, shining a light on her past and present alongside ours. It has what's perhaps its greatest moment when Helm takes the lead on Allen Toussaint's "Freedom For the Stallion", offering a contemporary, searing soul to a track just as sadly relevant today as it was when it was written nearly five decades ago. It's the pinnacle of the fire she gradually builds up throughout the album. Although it offers its crescendo early, all of what Helm has to give on This Too Shall Light is a passionate reflection worth delving into. — Jonathan Frahm
12. The Jellyman's Daughter - Dead Reckoning (Boat Duck)
Having navigated their way into a strong sophomore release, Dead Reckoning takes the actual meaning of the term and puts it to an effective use as juxtaposed against the Jellyman's Daughter's actual history. Here, the duo pulls out all the stops, enhancing their sound with a rich production consisting of banjo, guitar, mandolin, double bass, fiddle, cello, and a full string section. It's no wonder, then, that they've made as much of a splash in the UK when fulfilling the promise bursting at the seams of their initial debut. Somewhere between the realms of folk, bluegrass, pop, rock, and chamber music, Emily Kelly and Graham Coe let go of any sense of trepidation and go on to develop a deeply soulful, breakneck amalgam of old-time and new age roots influences alike. Their harmonic and instrumental performance throughout pushes the envelope as much as it is exemplary, making for a laudable, respectable exercise in dynamics. — Jonathan Frahm
11. Dhruv Visvanath - The Lost Cause (Self-released)
Dhruv Visvanath might be the perfect example of a modern-day troubadour, having honed his skills behind the piano and guitar alike amidst moves to Hong Kong, England, and Zambia throughout childhood. After losing his father at 16, a young Visvanath returned to India in hopes of selling his very much non-traditional sound. Eventually, the artist won over what was initially seen as a traditionalist crowd with his widely innovating, internationally-influenced music. Standing at the crossroads of folk, rock, and pop alike, Visvanath's avant-garde compositions ride the line between genres as much as they do his geographic influences. Inspired as much by New Delhi as his world travels, The Lost Cause lives and breathes a particular sense of vibrancy and verve oft considered consistently lost amidst most adult audiences. His inspiriting works almost childlike influences in its sense of wonder come full-circle with "Wild" at its center - a sweet, harmonic search for freedom. The album is an intensely varied experience that all culminates in love for life and the world around Visvanath, bringing a swath of worldly, innovative rhythms and melodies with him along the way. — Jonathan Frahm