I’ve been listening to a lot of folk music this autumn. I borrowed the McGarrigle Sisters’ early album, Kate and Anna McGarrigle (1975) from the library. Although they’re very different artists, something about the sound and the song structures reminds me of Leonard Cohen, who also hails from French Canada. Also in 1970s female folk singers I’ve been listening to Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust (1975) a lot. It’s just a really bittersweet album and the title song about her relationship with Bob Dylan is so brilliantly cutting – surely one of the best break-up songs of all time.
I’ve never been much into Dar Williams, but my partner is and I liked Cry Cry Cry. Williams is extremely earnest, but Promised Land (2008) has grown on me since I decided just to go with it, accept the earnestness for what it is, and enjoy the tunes. Thea Gilmore, meanwhile, is a British pop/folk singer who specialises in two kinds of songs: upbeat/catchy and reflective/melodic. Her album Liejacker (2008) mainly consists of the latter and is in some ways her most serious and mature album (if not her most enjoyable), addressing themes such as depression and becoming a parent.
I also dug out The Blue Trees (2000) by Wesh folk rock band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The Gorkys quietly produced excellent albums for about 14 years without getting much attention for it. I always forget how much I like them until I listen to them again.
In Americana, I’ve been listening to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Wolfroy Goes to Town (2011), which like all his albums I find to be a grower. It’s very quiet and delicate, but also unsettling. Giant Sand’s Chore of Enchantment (2000) is one of the albums that expanded my musical horizons. It wasn’t like anything that I’d heard before – eccentric, fragmented music that gets under your skin. The autumn is always an opportunity to listen to one of my favourite Americana albums, Steve Earle’s Townes (2009), which is a collection of covers of Townes Van Zandt songs. I love Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt and this album is so respectful to the music. I especially love the versions of lesser known songs like ‘Rake’ and ‘Lungs’. I simply can’t listen to this in the spring and summer.
Rarely does a month go by without something from Kristin Hersh. This September and October, it’s been the solo album Sky Motel (1999) and Throwing Muses Red Heaven (1992) which contains one of my favourite Muses songs, ‘The Visit’.
- Sandy Denny, Fotheringay. This is just beautiful.
- Kate and McGarrigle, Heart like a Wheel
- Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust (live in 1976)
- Roberta Flack, Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye. I just stumbled across this cover of Leonard Cohen’s song.
- The man himself – Leonard Cohen, Who by Fire (live in London 2008). ‘Who by Fire’ is one of the songs that always grounds me and I think this is my favourite version.
- Dar Williams, Book of Love
- Thea Gilmore, Old Soul
- Steve Earle, Rake
- Giant Sand (Feat. Julianna Hatfield) Temptation of Egg
- Mary Gauthier, Falling out of Love. Mary Gauthier is sort of lesbian Johnny Cash.
- Kristin Hersh, Your Ghost. I was listening while walking home in the rain the other night and just thought “yeah”.
- Aimee Mann, Pavlov’s Bell.
- The Pixies, I’ve been waiting for you. The Pixies B-sides collection is awesome, especially the ones with Kim Deal on vocals.
- Throwing Muses, The Visit. Always lifts me up when I’m down.