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Folk - Released March 24, 2014 | R17

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Folk - Released January 10, 2014 | Arista - Legacy

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Folk - Released January 1, 2013 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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After two albums of tastefully orchestrated folk-pop, albeit some of the least demonstrative and most affecting around, Drake chose a radical change for what turned out to be his final album. Not even half-an-hour long, with 11 short songs and no more -- he famously remarked at the time that he simply had no more to record -- Pink Moon more than anything else is the record that made Drake the cult figure he remains. Specifically, Pink Moon is the bleakest of them all; that the likes of Belle and Sebastian are fans of Drake may be clear enough, but it's doubtful they could ever achieve the calm, focused anguish of this album, as harrowing as it is attractive. No side musicians or outside performers help this time around -- it's simply Drake and Drake alone on vocals, acoustic guitar, and a bit of piano, recorded by regular producer Joe Boyd but otherwise untouched by anyone else. The lead-off title track was eventually used in a Volkswagen commercial nearly 30 years later, giving him another renewed burst of appreciation -- one of life's many ironies, in that such an affecting song, Drake's softly keened singing and gentle strumming, could turn up in such a strange context. The remainder of the album follows the same general path, with Drake's elegant melancholia avoiding sounding pretentious in the least thanks to his continued embrace of simple, tender vocalizing. Meanwhile, the sheer majesty of his guitar playing -- consider the opening notes of "Road" or "Parasite" -- makes for a breathless wonder to behold. ~ Ned Raggett
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Folk - Released January 1, 2013 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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With even more of the Fairport Convention crew helping him out -- including bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Dave Mattacks along with, again, a bit of help from Richard Thompson -- as well as John Cale and a variety of others, Drake tackled another excellent selection of songs on his second album. Demonstrating the abilities shown on Five Leaves Left didn't consist of a fluke, Bryter Layter featured another set of exquisitely arranged and performed tunes, with producer Joe Boyd and orchestrator Robert Kirby reprising their roles from the earlier release. Starting with the elegant instrumental "Introduction," as lovely a mood-setting piece as one would want, Bryter Layter indulges in a more playful sound at many points, showing that Drake was far from being a constant king of depression. While his performances remain generally low-key and his voice quietly passionate, the arrangements and surrounding musicians add a considerable amount of pep, as on the jazzy groove of the lengthy "Poor Boy." The argument could be made that this contravenes the spirit of Drake's work, but it feels more like a calmer equivalent to the genre-sliding experiments of Van Morrison at around the same time. Numbers that retain a softer approach, like "At the Chime of a City Clock," still possess a gentle drive to them. Cale's additions unsurprisingly favor the classically trained side of his personality, with particularly brilliant results on "Northern Sky." As his performances on keyboards and celeste help set the atmosphere, Drake reaches for a perfectly artful reflection on loss and loneliness and succeeds wonderfully. ~ Ned Raggett
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Folk - Released January 1, 2013 | UMC (Universal Music Catalogue)

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It's little wonder why Drake felt frustrated at the lack of commercial success his music initially gathered, considering the help he had on his debut record. Besides fine production from Joe Boyd and assistance from folks like Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and his unrelated bass counterpart from Pentangle, Danny Thompson, Drake also recruited school friend Robert Kirby to create most of the just-right string and wind arrangements. His own performance itself steered a careful balance between too-easy accessibility and maudlin self-reflection, combining the best of both worlds while avoiding the pitfalls on either side. The result was a fantastic debut appearance, and if the cult of Drake consistently reads more into his work than is perhaps deserved, Five Leaves Left is still a most successful effort. Having grown out of the amiable but derivative styles captured on the long-circulating series of bootleg home recordings, Drake imbues his tunes with just enough drama -- world-weariness in the vocals, carefully paced playing, and more -- to make it all work. His lyrics capture a subtle poetry of emotion, as on the pastoral semi-fantasia of "The Thoughts of Mary Jane," which his soft, articulate singing brings even more to the full. Sometimes he projects a little more clearly, as on the astonishing voice-and-strings combination "Way to Blue," while elsewhere he's not so clear, suggesting rather than outlining the mood. Understatement is the key to his songs and performances' general success, which makes the combination of his vocals and Rocky Dzidzornu's congas on "Three Hours" and the lovely "'Cello Song," to name two instances, so effective. Danny Thompson is the most regular side performer on the album, his bass work providing subtle heft while never standing in the way of the song -- kudos well deserved for Boyd's production as well. ~ Ned Raggett
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Folk - Released November 1, 2013 | Nonesuch

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Folk - Released January 23, 2007 | Rhino - Warner Bros.

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Folk - Released March 22, 2013 | Anti - Epitaph

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Folk - Released February 23, 2013 | R17

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Folk - Released November 8, 2010 | Talitres Records

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West coast balladeer Emily Jane White's third album, Ode to Sentience, makes its home in the place where an irresistible force meets an immovable object, and the two create a deceptive state of seeming stasis. In fact, White's songs take a microscope to the meeting point between the two, documenting the quiet but intense pressure that's being applied there. With her cool, breathy voice, White could easily just coast her way through less weighty concerns and achieve a pleasingly breezy feel, but that's not what she's after. The songs on Ode to Sentience simmer with dark feelings just barely held in check, occasionally bubbling up to the surface just long enough to make moody insinuations on the proceedings. White's measured vocal delivery betrays just the slightest tinge of melancholy, but for the most part she maintains enough distance from the subjects of her songs to get them all the way across the plate without ever descending into pathos or melodrama. That's not to say these songs lack drama, though. Co-produced by White with Ross Harris, Ode to Sentience sports elegant, graceful chamber-folk arrangements that make the most of the space between the instruments. Simple acoustic guitar and piano lines, effective in their angularity, take center stage, with subtle touches providing succinct sonic shading around the edges. Of course, it's all in the service of the songs, and of White's vocals, which waft over the top of the tracks with a minimum of fuss but an undeniable sense of purpose. It's the kind of record that could provide an excellent soundtrack for the first half of a horror movie, when intimations of unsettling phenomena are subtly suggested before all hell breaks loose. ~ J. Allen

Genre

Folk in the magazine
  • Lone wolf
    Lone wolf Full moon and fog, a frozen world that reassures and unnerves in equal measure.
  • A folk journey
    A folk journey After Didn’t It Rain, the beautiful American blue-eyed blonde releases her second solo album on the label Yep Roc. This Too Shall Light is a sublime spiritual journey produced by the indispensable ...
  • We say Yes to Michael Nau !
    We say Yes to Michael Nau ! Michael Nau has well and truly taken off since his departure from Page France and Cotton Jones.
  • Olivia Chaney, folk pop full of grace
    Olivia Chaney, folk pop full of grace A graduate from England’s Royal Academy of Music and a seasoned singer, pianist Olivia Chaney had already received rave reviews with her 2015 first album The Longest River.
  • First Aid Kit, once upon a time in America...
    First Aid Kit, once upon a time in America... When they released The Big Black And The Blue in 2010, Johanna and Klara Söderberg were 20 and 23 years old respectively. The two Swedish sisters quickly made a name for themselves at the top of the charts thanks to their covers of songs by Fleet Foxes, Lorde, Jack White and even Black Sabbath… T...