Released in 1971 on Elektra Records Format: LPx2
Released in 2003 on Asthmatic Kitty Records Format: LPx2
Exuma’s first album is a powerful and ritualistic masterpiece of spiritual folk from the Bahamas. Exuma, the Obeah Man, is a master storyteller and preacher, sharing visions, myths, and prayers. His expressive, soulful voice takes on many tones as he delivers his musical sermons, from smooth to raspy, soft to confident. A group of singers, percussionists, whistlers, and toads join him and his acoustic guitar, making me imagine them all circled around a large fire in communal worship and grateful that they let us listeners in on it.
Released in 1967 on Columbia Records Format: LP
Released in 1970 on Harvest Records 2014 Pressing Format: LP
On experimental musician/author/professor David Grubb’s first album as singer-songwriter, he synthesizes technical bluegrass banjo and fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing with imaginative arrangements, abrupt stylistic shifts, philosophical questioning lyrics, improvisation, drones, and an eclectic cast of musicians, including drummer John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake), bassist Josh Abrams (Natural Information Society), and drone violinist Tony Conrad.
Released in 1968 on Warner Bros.
A far cry from the sparse folk usually recorded by Will Oldham, “Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties” finds his intimate voice and warbly acoustic guitar enveloped by the cosmic drones, blooming synths, airy flutes, and hypnotic tape loops of Chicago new age trio, Bitchin Bajas. The lyrics are essentially fortune cookie mantras and, while there’s a chance they’re tongue-in-cheek, it’s difficult not to smile and feel a brightening of the spirit when hearing uplifting phrases like “Your hard work is about to pay off, keep on keepin’ on” or “you and your whole family are well” get repeated over and over. This collaboration is a soothing, heartwarming listen and a refreshing change-of-pace from Oldham’s tendency towards melancholy and solemn lyrical content.
After 20+ years of using his introspective songwriting as a playground for psychedelic lo-fi experimentation, underdog hero Emil Amos hands the production reins to John Angello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.) for his most polished album yet, capturing the best aspects of 70’s rock classics without ever feeling cliché. The hi-fi analogue production brings a newfound clarity and depth that allows Amos’ songwriting and instrumental performances to bloom; the choruses are anthemic, the atmospheres are darkly psychedelic, and his lyrics are just as philosophical and contemplative as ever.
Released in 1969 on Elektra Records
No Other is a masterpiece of Cosmic Americana from Gene Clark (Ex-Byrds). Here his amazing songwriting is complemented by lush instrumentation, psychedelic production, and grandiose choir arrangements.
Released in 2015 on Drag City Composed using Ben Chasny’s Hexadic System
Originally released in 1974 2018 Earth Records Pressing Digitally Remastered Format: LP
Released in 2018 on Domino Records Format: LPx2 Includes 12″x12″ glossy lyric and photo booklet
Released in 2018 on P.W. Elverum & Sun Records Format: LP
Released in 2018 on Columbia Records Recorded September and December, 1974
Released in 2015 on Partisan Records Recorded 2003-2005
Eric Chenaux’s gentle falsetto is the most constant, tangible element on an album characterized by a permanent state of flux. The guitars are warbly and unsteady with their fluctuating tones, volume, and pitch. Yet, despite their experimental nature, they never sound abrasive and, together with some mellow Wurlitzer, create a soft, pillowy environment for Chenaux’s romantic crooning about the nature of love, the moon, and warm nights.
Released in 1974 on Virgin Records Original U.S. Pressing, Promo Copy
Originally released in 2002 on Secretly Canadian 2014 deluxe reissue Format: LPx2 (full album on first LP and demos on … More
Released in 2014 on RCA Records Format: LPx2 Includes 12″x12″ lyric booklet
On this mournful offering, Cave’s poetic reflections on loss, longing, and loneliness slowly float down a river of gloomy synth drones, somber strings, and sparse piano. While not exactly uplifting, the album has a sense of peace and beauty that continues up through the repeating final refrain, “and it’s alright now”.
Originally released in 1995 on Mute Records 2015 Pressing
Lushly cinematic folk-rock draped in sweeping string arrangements and spacey synth atmospheres. Damien’s reverbed falsetto recalls Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Bon Iver as he softly sings of God, “spaceships”, and other imagery blending Christian themes with science-fiction.
For fans of My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and Beck’s Sea Change
Released in 2006 on Drag City Records Format: LPx2
Armed with only an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and her sultry, resonant vocals, the trans-femme folk-punk songstress tells raw, direct stories recalling raunchy escapades with ex-lovers, nostalgic adventures of hitchhiking and robbery, and not-so-fond memories of gambling-addicted boyfriends and escaping hometown judgement.
“What I’m asking you to do is take some risks. Stop paying war taxes, refuse the armed forces, organize against the air war, support the strikes and boycotts of farmers, workers and poor people, analyze the flag salute, give up the nation state, share your money, refuse to hate, be willing to work…in short, sisters and brothers, arm up with love and come from the shadows”
Information: Originally released in 1963 on Columbia This pressing was released in 2001 on Sundazed records Format: LP, 180g, Mono
British singer-songwriter John Martyn fuses folk, jazz, and psychedelic experimentation to create an album that is both eclectic and cohesive, tied together by his flowing voice and virtuosic acoustic guitar fingerpicking.
FFO Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Ryley Walker
Album Information: Released in 2003 on Saddle Creek Format: LPx7, box set Includes 5 Bright Eyes releases between 1997 and … More
Lush, beautiful psych-folk with a spiritual jazz fluidity that comes from Larkin inviting her close musician friends to improvise over her passionate songs with harp, trumpet, strings, woodwinds, etc. Think Tim Buckley meets Alice Coltrane
Julie Byrne’s gentle new-age folk is so light and airy it’s easy to miss its depth, but repeated listening shows that it’s strength lies in its weightlessness. Her soothing voice and delicate fingerpicking are enveloped in warm string arrangements, all tied together by soft reverb and pristine production that makes for an inviting, peaceful listen every time.
The singer makes an album dealing with the grief and eventual acceptance that followed her sister’s suicide. The style is reminiscent of the spacey lounge-pop of her previous band, Stereolab, although much lighter and dreamier.
After a prolific career as a noise/improvisational/experimental guitarist and a few forays into folk and chamber pop, Jim O’Rourke surprised his audience with an album closer to straightforward rock than his audience could have ever expected of him. Yet underneath it’s catchy, cheery, and polished exterior, his lyrics are full of humorously bitter resentment. Like his debut singer/songwriter album Eureka, Insignificance is full of the meticulous and lush arrangements that Jim would become known for.
Album Information: Released in 1972 on Reprise Records 2009 reissue, mastered from original analog tapes
Pastoral psychfolk from guitar master Ben Chasney. Here his serene acoustic fingerpicking is occasionally accompanied by harmonium drones and trippy guitar overdubs, but overall the album is extremely sparse and meditative.
Acoustic-shredder/singer-songwriter ventures out of the jazz-inflected folk-rock territory explored by his last few albums to create something that feels fully himself. Deafman Glance is full of angular left turns, complex structures, airy flutes, jazz detours, and psychedelic atmospheres. A balance of great songwriting, jazz musicianship, and experimental/art-rock tendencies. Recommended to fans of Tortoise’s Standards, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor, and King Crimson’s Red. (Click for full review).
Album Information: Released in 2010 on Drag City Records Produced by Joanna Newsom Arranged & Conducted by Ryan Francesconi Recorded … More
Album Information: Released in 2017 on Sub Pop Records Format: 2xLP on gold and silver vinyl, Deluxe Edition with 4 … More
Album Information: Released in 1996 on Matador Records
The first side features Dylan going electric for the first time, including classics such as She Belongs to Me and Maggie’s Farm. Side 2 features the acoustic storytelling and surrealist lyrics Dylan had been perfecting up to that point.
Taking a detour from his usual loner-droner psych folk style, Ben Chasney enlists former Comets on Fire bandmates to jam some heavy rock burners with a a cosmic amount of electric guitar shredding, evoking Neil Young & Crazy Horse blasting off on a rocket. The new electric energy brought to this album is balanced out by an equal amount of the fingerpicking prog-folk and meditative acoustic ballads that have been developing in his music since the 90’s. While I will always love his more melancholy, nocturnal records that sound like he’s lost in a forest somewhere, I welcome the fiery energy of Ascent.
Album Information: Released in 2017 on RCA Records
Album Information: Released in 2011 on Partisan Records Produced by Emil Amos Jeff Stuart Saltzman recorded tracks B1, B3, B5 … More
Country-tinged love songs that feel like a continuation of Harvest
Guitar-genius Mdou Moctar visits Portland, Oregon from his home country of Niger to record a hypnotic solo album of desert folk sung in Tamasheq. Most songs consist of intricate fingerstyle acoustic guitar with occasional electric guitar overdubs to accent the melodies.
Album Information: Released on Palace Records in 1999
Charming 70’s AM Pop vibes with elaborate string and horn arrangements and a jazzy rhythm section, including the legendary Brian Blade on drums. Great songwriting from Sam Beam, as usual.
Blue Afternoon continues the flowing jazz-folk of Tim’s previous release (Happy Sad) while starting to detour into the avant-garde atmospheres that would manifest more fully on his next two albums, Lorca and Starsailor. The songs and lyrics refuse to be boxed into one category as “joyful” or “lonely” or “sad” and instead reflect the intangible multi-dimensionality of feeling.
Jazz Fusion-inflected Folk Rock with poetic lyricism, ethereal atmospheres, spacey synths, and a lot of fretless bass.
“Sometimes it’s hard doing anything”. Somehow Jason Molina knows how to perfectly express what depression feels like without ever succumbing to hopelessness. His music has been a friend and a voice of encouragement when I need it most, reminding me to persist and not beat myself up when I feel unproductive or lazy or unmotivated. “The real truth about it is no one gets it right. The real truth about it is we’re all supposed to try”
A cohesive, intimate collection of chamber pop songs, ornate with colorful arrangements, lush production, and some bluesy guitar licks.
Album Information: Released in 1969 by Island Records Recorded between June 1968 and June 1969 at Sound Techniques in London, … More
Album Information: Released in 1999 by Columbia Records Recorded at Royal Albert Hall in 1966 Format: 2xLP Box Set, 200g, … More
A collection of quality songwriting and unpretentious, rootsy arrangements, featuring the beautiful, heavenly, dreamy “Magnolia”.
A sparse, weary solo album from a songwriter that’s meant a lot to me the last couple years. Unlike his work with Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co, this record is void of guest musicians or overdubs, leaving his words truly alone, with nothing but a damp bed of reverbed guitar or mournful, sustained piano chords supporting them.
Jazzy Folk-Rock with dynamic songwriting, passionate vocals, and acoustic shredding accompanied by fluid drums, watery vibraphones, distorted keys and groovy upright bass. FFO Astral Weeks, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, and Tim Buckley
I highly recommend this album to any nocturnal recluses looking for a shadowy singer-songwriter to listen to during their next existential crisis. Emil’s experimental blend of hi- and lo-fi recording methods and tasteful use of psychedelic atmospheres allow his strong songwriting to take precedent, while simultaneously offering plenty of new textures to discover with each subsequent listen. Diverse range of influences include Indian classical, psychedelic rock, drone, folk, dub…the list goes on.