This is my first post in more than a month. I took a break mostly because I had to – the day job has been a days, nights and weekends job lately.
But while I haven’t been writing and haven’t seen much live music, I’ve still been listening a lot. And in my busy work and city life, I’ve really taken to a few folk albums to simmer down the last few weeks. If you can’t escape, you can listen to songs that feel like you have for a few moments of balance.
With the Newport Folk Festival just a little more than a month away, I’ve been zeroing in on the more somber acts on this year’s lineup. Among my most played are Luluc, the Aussie folk duo named after a café in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and indie folk god Iron & Wine. Luluc’s critically acclaimed 2014 debut, Passerby, and Iron & Wine’s latest return-to-lo-fi-release, Archive Series Vol 1, are each stripped down musically and have the kind of lyrics that are hard to shake off in the best possible way. While there are a number of my favorite Americana acts on the Festival bill this year, these are the acts I’m craving the most these days.
And then there are two albums that take you on a journey regardless of where you are. “Asheville Skies,” the gorgeous opening song off of Monterey, the latest release from polished folk duo The Milk Carton Kids, leads a run of songs that easily make one of the most gorgeous albums of the year so far. Initially recorded on the band’s laptop while touring and then again at church in Nashville, it’s one that I’ve been playing over and over again and only like more each time I listen.
Similarly road-trip-worthy, The Mike + Ruthy Band’s new album, Bright As You Can, is one that I’ve been waiting on for more than a year now. During a Catskills escape last summer, I stopped for lunch with Mike & Ruthy at their house near the Ashokan Reservoir. They had just finished recording the album, which was released earlier this month to gushing reviews from critics. After lunch, they let me to hear a few of the tracks in their studio next to the house (pictured above). While I’ve long been a fan of this duo for their music and their raw authenticity (I once saw Ruthy perform onstage with her daughter, Opal, strapped onto her back who she later breastfed while greeting fans at the merch table), I could quickly tell that this was going to be their best release yet. Featuring a solid backing band, the album mixes upbeat tunes like the album’s title track with perfectly simple numbers like “Freckled Ocean” and “Simple & Sober” – beautifully written and beaming with Ruthy’s unmatched flawless folk voice.
I’ve also been listening to 3, the creatively named third album from LA’s HoneyHoney. A softer and more polished collection of songs than the band’s 2011 release, Billy Jack, you can feel this album move through the many genres of new and old Nashville where the band wrote and recorded the album on a multi-year stint (before moving back out). For reasons aforementioned above, I’m especially liking “Whatchya Gonna Do Now” and the stripped down version of “Father’s Daughter” below.
These are my folk songs of summer. You can see Luluc and Iron & Wine at Newport next month. Catch The Milk Carton Kids at Town Hall in September and The Mike and Ruthy Band at an anti-fracking show at Brooklyn Bowl on Tuesday. If you missed HoneyHoney in New York this week, you can catch them at the World Cafe in Philly on Tuesday.