Jasper Jams: Today’s Folk Music

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The arrival of fall brings with it crisp temperatures that quickly remove any remaining traces of those beloved sunny summer months. Plus, by the time October rolls around, school is unequivocally back in session. In the northeast, there is also the usual autumnal revival of foliage, farmers markets and, of course, flannel. It only seems fitting that Jasper Jams continues the alliteration with a look this week at contemporary folk music.

The word “folk” is a loaded term in the music world. Some might argue that it refers to 60s-era rock songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, often heavy with social commentary and words of protest. Others could claim folk means music traditional to specific ethnicities and national heritages.

In recent years, folk has loosely been used to describe a certain strain of indie bands whose styles blur the lines of conventional genres. You know the sound when you hear it: heavy acoustic instrumentation featuring banjos and fiddles, toe-tapping melodies and lyrics fit for hearty group sing-alongs. The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons have easily been two of the most visible artists that meet this description. Here are some other musicians that also blend elements of country, blues, rock and bluegrass to create a sound suitable for the fall months.

1) Boy Named Banjo

I first discovered Boy Named Banjo several years ago when I found their noteworthy cover of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” on a music blog. The group began while three of the original members were still friends in high school down in Tennessee. Their first album “The Tanglewood Sessions” was actually recorded before they even graduated. Now in college and five men strong, the band brings with them a mellow backwoods sound centered on the twangy pickings of their namesake instrument.

Check Out: “Bound for Leavin’” and “19”

2) Vance Joy

You might recognize Vance Joy’s hit song, “Riptide.” A native of Australia, the singer mixes up the conventional singer-songwriter style with folk instruments and even the occasional ukulele. He recently released his second album “Dream Your Life Away” a few weeks ago. While of course musically strong, Vance Joy’s strength lies in his powerful vocals and poetic lyrics. They wind up lingering in your head after just one listen.

Check Out: “From Afar” and “Mess is Mine”

3) Shovels & Rope

A duo out of South Carolina, Shovels & Rope consists of married couple Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. More on the blues and rock side of folk music, the pair’s work sometimes has a heavier, darker, more electric sound than some of the other artists featured on this list. Hearst’s rich voice usually dominates most tracks, but the two complement each other well.

Check Out: “Birmingham” and “Save the World” 

4) Jamestown Revival

Another duo, Jamestown Revival is made up of childhood friends Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance. The twosome’s music is thick with Americana and hearty folk-rock melodies. Their latest album “Utah” was allegedly recorded in a cabin in the Wasatch Mountains of that very state. The tracks from that album run the full spectrum of blues, roots rock and Western country. It serves as a fitting example of just how broad the folk genre is today.

Check Out: “California (Cast Iron Soul)” and “Wandering Man”