Ah, the folk song. A genre that’s been veritably transformed in the past ten years, and one that’s completely at home in North Carolina, where I grew up. All the way from the itty bitty Ocrafolk Festival in the shade of the trees of Ocracoke Island to stargazing in the Appalachian Mountains, music…and folk music, especially…is deeply rooted in the North Carolina experience.
I don’t get to return for another month, but nothing makes me homesick (and feel better about being homesick) like a good folky, Americana guitar melody that touches on the things that really make us feel, paired with ample biblical references, build-ups that are near religious experiences in and of themselves, and the sort of lilting guitar melodies that hearken to days spent underneath the sun and nights dancing under the stars. It’s been hard to get these songs out of my head this week, and hopefully you will enjoy them too. They come to us from all over the world, but still somehow manage to remind me of home.
1. “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” – The Avett Brothers
I first saw the Avett Brothers at a podunk music festival in North Carolina years and years ago, fell in love, and then forgot about them until one of my best friends threw them on a mix CD for me. When I and Love and You hit shelves it felt like the perfect companion to their other albums, but one song stood out for me above all the others…and has made it on to every road trip compilation I have made ever since.
2. “We Don’t Eat” – James Vincent McMorrow
James, James, James. I love this guy, I love his music, and he once told me that his shows were “like an emotional beach for the soul” and made me highly regret my vacation choices. While Early In the Morning is a perfect album by many stretches of the world, “We Don’t Eat” always stood out to me as hitting all the right notes between being optimistic and woefully depressing. Like, you know, high tide at the emotional beach.
3. “Iscariot” – Walk the Moon
Okay, remember when I said a lot of these end up with biblical themes? By now I think every radio station has played out Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” to the point where even I am not sure I want to ever hear it again, but did you know that a) Walk the Moon had an INCREDIBLE debut album and b) they had this beautiful, slow, folky song jammed at the end of it? Because they totally did, and totally managed to transform one of my favorite bible tales into a haunting cadence that is a long way from the 90’s pop fiesta of their latest album, and it is fantastic. It might not quite be folk, but the sentiment is certainly there.
4. “Great Lakes” – John Smith
The sort of artist that I’ve seen calm an entire rowdy venue into silence just with the first few notes of his opening song, John Smith is one of those that never ceases to surprise me and make me feel like I’m coming home every time I listen to one of his songs. While his entire Great Lakes album is an absolute work of art, the title track really embraces the entire album and really does bring to mind images of great lakes, both real and of fiction, and the way they draw us in.
5. “Sons and Daughters” – Allman Brown & Liz Lawrence
I have nothing to say about this song except that it is beautiful and heartbreaking and strangely optimistic at the same time. It’s a song that both fills you with dread and hope that’s perfect for the days you want to embrace whatever feelings you have, whether they are good or bad. The imagery in it is flawless, the music is beautiful, and the lyrics tell a story that almost makes you feel like an outsider looking in on someone else’s life…while still managing to relate it to your own.