Tag Archives: folk music

An Undefinable Genre – A Primer on Folk Music

“If it was never new, and never gets old, then it’s a folk

Nothing describes the folk genre as well as this line,
uttered by Oscar Isaac’s character in the movie Inside
Llewyn Davis
. If you want to start listening to the genre and need a few
recommendations to get you started, you’ve come to the right place. Keep in
mind that this is specifically contemporary folk, which is typically synonymous with
the term folk nowadays. That being said, the genre doesn’t really have a hard and fast definition. In the wise words of the great Louis Armstrong, “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” So bearing in mind that these aren’t horses singing, here are a few of my
personal picks for contemporary folk songs that I feel best represent the genre in
different ways:

1) Big Bill Broonzy – Black, Brown, and White

The beauty of a folk song is that it often paints
a picture of the time period in which it was written. Many folk songs are about
the problems the songwriter faced or the tensions plaguing society at the time,
creating a feeling of honesty and truth to the songs. They tend to be simple
songs that can be easily passed down, making them timeless. This song, while also along the lines of blues, is a great example of this. It’s a history lesson in song form. The song was written
and performed by Big Bill Broonzy, a pre-World War II Chicago blues singer. His
song “Black, Brown and White” (sometimes called “Get Back”) is about the experiences and hardships of war vets, who were treated preferentially in relation to their skin color. An honest song for an honest problem.

2) Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’

Another example of the times influencing
the music, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” was written in 1964 as
an anthem for societal change. As relevant now as ever, the song exemplifies
the timeless of a genre. While understanding the context of the time helps to
better understand the motivation for writing, you can play this song behind any
advertisement for social movement and it will never sound out of place. 

should also be noted that Bob Dylan was largely responsible for the peak of the
American folk revival in the 1960s, forming the genre we (or at least I) know
and love today. Some other artists to listen to from the revival time period
are Dave Van Ronk, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. There are more, but these are my favorites, and the ones that you’ll hear more often that not.

3) Joe Pug – Hymn #101

This song is an example of the flipside of songwriting
in the folk genre. A modern song, Joe Pug’s “Hymn #101” is written in a way that leaves it open to interpretation. Joe Pug may have written the song with a personal meaning
behind the lyrics, but they’re just that: personal. The lyrics cause you to relate them to your own experiences, making it a unique song for
everyone. In the simplest sense, it’s about the struggles of a human living
life, and we can all relate to that. 

4) The Barr Brothers – Beggar In The Morning

If the singer-songwriter, one-man-and-a-guitar
style of the other songs isn’t for you, The Barr Brothers’ “Beggar In The
Morning” is a great example of more modern-sounding folk music that uses more
than just a guitar. The tone is both haunting and relaxing, with the lyrics
giving insight into the inner demons of the musician. “She said ‘hello, I’m a
monster, too/What poisons me is what poisons you’” is one of my favorite lyrics
from any song. While a short and simple line, it expresses the joy of finding a
companion that can relate to your inner demons, and therefore, you as a whole. Whether
you interpret the woman in the song to be a real woman or music is up to you. The
song is full of such beautifully-written lyrics, and the rest of The Barr Brothers’ music is
much the same way.

5) Corey Chisel and the Wandering Sons – Home In The

Did I mention that folk singers like to sing
about the peaceful life of the woods? Because they do. The theme permeates
throughout the genre, especially in Americana and Appalachian folk. It brings
you back to the settlement days when the only thing you had to worry about was
keeping your banjo in-tune and defending your loved ones from bears. Corey
Chisel and the Wandering Sons
’ “Home In The Woods” takes inspiration from this
theme, and is about the yearning one has when disconnected from nature. The
“home in the woods in the back of my mind”, if you will. This is a
fantastically catchy song, and a great introduction to the more banjo-y folk
that you’ll hear more often these days.

Niles Kyholm

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Seaweed, Flannel, and Coffee Beans – A Blitzen Trapper Artist Spotlight

Imagine you’re making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Only, instead of jelly, you’re putting alternative country music on it. And
instead of peanut butter, you’re smearing some groove rock. And instead of
bread, you’re building your sandwich upon the very essence of Portland.

Such is the recipe for making Blitzen Trapper, one of
Portland’s finest musical offerings and Rainn Wilson’s favorite band. Originally called
Garmonbozia, this agglomeration of musical geniuses utilizes a range of genres
to create a sound like no other. Every album offers something a little
different, with the older albums experimenting more than the newer albums.
Their sound seems to have settled on a country groove rock that is just wonderful.

If you want to start listening to Blitzen Trapper, and you
should, I suggest you listen to several of their songs. Because their sound can
vary quite a bit between songs, going from standard folk on one track to groovy country
rock on another, one song just won’t do. I’ll give you a few songs that are good examples of their music, but there are many more that you should check out. 

The song “Black River Killer”, off their album, Furr, is one of their most popular songs. This is the song that got me
hooked on phonics Blitzen Trapper. The folky guitar combined with the
chill drum beat caught my ear faster than a barefoot jackrabbit on a hot greasy
griddle in the middle of August. If a cowboys inner demons had a sound, this would be it. 

Gold for Bread”, also off Furr, is a great introduction into their more experimental sounds,
as well their rock influences that are prevalent throughout their work. A fun
drinking game with Blitzen Trapper is to take a drink every time they sing a
lyric that you don’t understand. I’m not responsible for any liver damage that may occur. If anyone can explain the lyrics to this one to me, please do. 

Wild Mountain Nation” is the title track to the album that
first really hit it big for them. This song has a Grateful Dead vibe, and was
ranked the 98th best track of 2007 by Rolling Stone. Why it wasn’t
number one is a mystery to me. “Roc Boys” by Jay-Z was ranked number one; an
inferior track, in my mind.

If you liked this music, Blitzen Trapper has a show coming up at The Neptune on November 19 that you should definitely go to. If you see me there, be sure to ask for my

Niles Kyholm

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!