dTunes editor’s week, day 9: Joseph Leray

[dTunes is a community-organized blog showcasing the musical tastes of Destructoid’s users. For two weeks, the editorial team is commandeering the series because, hey, we like music too. To further expand your horizons, make sure to check out the dTunes blog.]

If you were to ask people about folk music, they’d probably look at you funny. This is the 21st century, right? A few people might drop some names like Gillian Welch, Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake, Steve Earle, or Emmylou Harris, and maybe even Old Crow Medicine Show or Nickel Creek or the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. And that’s totally cool, but there’s a whole new current in music that’s using a lot of the traditional instrumentation and structure of folk and bluegrass music, and, even better, most of it is pretty good.

The new wave of folk music didn’t really grab my attention until I got to college at the University of the South. Nestled on top of the Cumberland Plateau, traditional music kind of hangs in the air up here, and I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to a tiny bit of it’s more recent offerings.

So, hit the jump for a TON of my favorite bluegrass-tinged music. As a Southerner, I kind of feel obliged to let everyone know that banjos are cool again, and that there’s more going on in the Dirty South than Deliverance.

To kick things off on a rather fun note, “Hell” by Blind Melon, from their tribute album, Nico. Singer Shannon Hoon was actually from Indiana but the band spent a lot of time practicing at the Old Waverly Golf Course in West Point, Mississippi. As a northeast Mississippian, I have to represent. This is a fun little song about mental (in)stability with a really cool harmonica riff. Another favorite is the first song Hoon ever wrote, called “Change.” Or, y’know, everything they ever wrote except “No Rain.” I like the song, but it’s not exactly indicative of the type of mournful Southern rock that they played most of the time.

Thao Nguyen is an obvious choice for this dTunes entry—she’s badass, her backing band (called the Get Down Stay Down) are banjo virtuosos, and she’s a got a quirky Southern pedigree: she met guitarist Willis Thompson in a re-enactment of Colonial Williamsburg. The song embedded above, “Swimming Pools” from We Brave Bee Stings and All, is a really good example of some of the Get Down Stay Down’s folky roots, even though “Beat (Health, Life, and Fire) ” is my favorite song from the album. Another good one is called “Bag of Hammers.”

One of my favorite bands from the past few years, Band of Horses is from Seattle and, as far as I can tell, go out of their way to avoid touring below the Mason-Dixon line. They get a lot of comparisons to My Morning Jacket, except that they’re good. The video above is for “The General Specific,” from Cease to Begin, which makes for a great soundtrack to the Fourth of July. “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” is another great song, but perhaps the folkiest one, along with “Weed Party,” is called “Marry Song.” And, finally, “The Funeral” and “Our Swords” are two great songs from Everything All the Time.

The Avett Brothers are probably single-handedly responsible for getting me interested in new folk and bluegrass music. The amount of music they produce, and the skill with which it is presented, is incredible. I’m blown away consistently. I went to see them at the Tivoli Theater in Chattanooga a few months ago, where I was brought to tears twice: once during “Murder in the City,” (above) and once during “The Ballad of Love and Hate.” I’ll be seeing them again at the end of the week at the Ryman in Nashville. They are simply incredible: I’ve never seen anyone beat the hell out of a stand up bass the way they do. Other highlights include “Living of Love,” and “If It’s the Beaches.” 

I’ve only recently become acquainted with The Punch Brothers, thanks to a free concert they played at school.  Their singer, Chris Thile, is also in Nickel Creek, but the group’s aim is very different: Thile’s trying to mix bluegrass and classical. The video above is for a song called “Good Luck,” about the recession, but their opus is really “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” a forty-minute piece in four parts. I guess it’s kind of like if there were banjos and mandolins in Godspeed, You Black Emperor!. Another of their songs that I like is called “Rye Whiskey,” and, for fun, here are covers of The Strokes’ “Reptilia” and Radiohead’s “Packt like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box.”

Johnny and the Moon are a Canadian band fronted by Dante DeCaro, who also moonlights as the guitarist for Wolf Parade (who I absolutely adore, but they don’t exactly qualify as anything remotely related to folk). A lot of the songs on Johnny and the Moon’s first (and, so far, only) album are really old songs that have been re-recorded (like “Green Rocky Road”), but some of them are new. Other favorites include “Oleanna,” “Little Red Cat,” and “When You’re All Alone.” Why this band doesn’t have more of its music on YouTube or MySpace, I have no idea.

There are few reasons to like Bombadil, the principal being that they seem to be named after Tom Bombadil, of Lord of the Rings fame. Another is that some of their songs include pan pipe and trumpet solos. The song embedded above is called “Three Saddest Words,” if only because most of their stuff on YouTube is from live concerts and feature atrocious audio quality. That isn’t to say that “Three Saddest Words” isn’t a good song (it reminds me of Bob Dylan, who, ironically, I don’t care much for), but it’s just not as good as “Cavaliers (Har Hum)” which you can find on their MySpace page. But seriously, Tom Bombadil is the fucking boss.

And pan pipes.

Rounding out the bottom of my list is Joanna Newsom. If you’ve never heard her voice before, it kind of sounds like a cat whose tail has just been stepped on. Oddly enough, I don’t find it to be a bad thing, although she’s definitely a “love it or hate it” kind of artist. She’s only released one full-length album, but it’s filled to the gills with amazing songs. “Peach, Plum, Pear” is embedded above, but do yourself a favor and check out “Bridges and Balloons” and “Inflammatory Writ.” Fun fact: “Peach, Plum, Pear” and “Bridges and Balloons” have been covered by Owen Pallett and Colin Meloy, respectively.

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Unfortunately, friends, I’m running out of steam. If I had several more days to share my love of indie folk with you guys, I’d include such artists as Horse Feathers, Deertick, Blitzen Trapper, The Drive-By Truckers, Bowerbirds, Bon Iver, José Gonzalez, Calexico, Iron and Wine, or The Microphones. If I’ve struck a chord with you guys (get it?) and want to check out more music in the same vein, that’d be a good place to start.

In any case, I hope that the next time someone says “folk,” you don’t immediately think of slackjaw’d moonshiners. Besides the obvious influence of so called “new folk” or “freak folk” featured above, much of the regular ol’ rock and roll so many of us love have a debt to pay to traditional folk music.

Joseph Leray