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Shane Gilchrist rummages through his album collection and ponders the bright spots of 2012. Today he journeys through some folky yet widely varied terrain.
On the evidence of the debut album by this outfit from Denver, Colorado, the current roots-folk revival (buoyed by a diverse range of acts, from Paolo Nutini to the Felice Brothers) is in good hands. Nodding to tradition is all well and good, but forward momentum is also required.
And this where is the Lumineers revel. Led by former New Jersey songsmith Wesley Schultz, whose lyrical grasp reflects past trials as well as youthful optimism, they clap hands, stomp feet, bang drums and holler to melodies that beg to be repeated, time and again. Catchy, clever and honest. For those who like: Mumford & Sons, Violent Femmes.
John Paul White and Joy Williams' Grammy Award-winning release (best folk album, best country duo/group) deserves all its acclaim. In parts gentle, elsewhere brooding, Barton Hollow exemplifies both fine songwriting and strong performance.
There are no flash production touches here. Instead, finger-picked acoustic guitar (occasionally augmented by slide guitar and/or sparse piano) serves as a base from which the voices of White and Williams coil, dance and rise through various love ballads (I've Got This Friend, 20 Years), while also touching on more ragged, blues-infused material (as in the title track). Simply put, they lift the spirit. For those who like: Alison Krauss and Robert Plant.
Given pretty much anything involving rudimentary harmonic theory is currently enjoying a revival as ''folk'' or ''roots'', former United States soldier Wilis Earl Beal offers a poetic, sometimes shambolic twist on the marketeers' pigeonholes.
Just when you think you have him pinned down as dust-bowl blues shaman (Take Me Away), the chameleon-like Beal paints himself as a black Nick Drake (Sambo Jo From The Rainbow) or evokes Tom Waits' comments on (un)neighbourly paranoia (Ghost Robot). With his stream-of-consciousness lyricism set to lo-fi percussion and clanky strings, Beal offers either an authentic new musical voice or a perfectly contrived rustic facade. Let's just hope Moby doesn't sample him. For those who like: John Cale meets Son House.
Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg have teamed up with Omaha-based producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes) to produce an album that holds many moods. The washes of echo on the duo's hauntingly sweet vocals provide a cool, almost distracted spin on folky, rustic songs in which they sing of death, unrequited love (or love gone cold) and loneliness.
Yet despite conjuring such still reflections, they manage to dance down warmer roads, too, largely because of the delicate beauty they bring to their performances. They may name-check Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons and Johnny Cash within the same song (Emmylou), but First Aid Kit offer more than mere imitation. For those who like: Fleet Foxes meet Dusty Springfield.