We’re finally ready to look ahead to 2016, with backburner entries bubbling in the works featuring single-artist songbooks through acoustic and folk coverage and a resurrection of some wonderful songs to celebrate next Saturday’s Unity House Concert with intimate, graceful singer-songwriter Antje Duvekot.
Today, then, let’s begin our forward-looking exploration by ringing in the new with news of the now – a broad celebration of folk and roots artists with careers on the rise, from the dark and gothic to the delicate and sweet. Read on to learn more about Elouise, The Oshima Brothers, Mia Rose Lynne, The Oh Hellos, The Orphan Brigade, The Button Collective, Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear, the folkier side of Elle King, and more!
Formed complete with a soundtrack-composers-turned-album-makers mythos, new “blackgrass” collective Elouise plays a primitive, angsty, menacing form of folk that uses vintage Appalachian string instruments and gear to squeeze the raw pain out of the psyche through song.
And yes, it’s as good as that makes it sound.
Tipped off by a tense, scratchy Christmas cover of Silent Night that was anything but calm and bright, we had to go looking for more. Their forthcoming debut, the aptly-named Deep Water, drops early in 2016, and we’re eager for it: check out this beautiful whole-cloth deconstruction of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, and a pair of traditionals reborn as stunning gothic hymns, to hear why, and then click through for originals of equal delight on their website.
- Elouise: I’ll Fly Away (trad.)
- Elouise: Amazing Grace (trad.)
- Elouise: Superstition (orig. Stevie Wonder) 
Speaking of taking on the tradition, here’s two vastly different versions of Paddy’s Lamentation, a Canadian tune from the 1870s that made its way to Ireland and has since been recorded by Mary Black and Sinead O’Connor, that together provide a study in range and reach in the world of up-and-comers.
The first, released in November on debut full-length Soundtrack To A Ghost Story, comes from indie folk band The Orphan Brigade, who bring us exactly the simple tour de force of haunting melody and atmosphere that history buffs could have anticipated: the band, named after a group of Confederates from Kentucky who suffered heavy losses during the war, recorded the album in an infamous house deep in Kentucky well-stocked with the ghosts of the Civil War, and it sounds like it.
Meanwhile, Australian folksters The Button Collective, who together live their sound by helping crew a 107 foot, two-mast schooner every few months, and whose new four-song EP The Lonesome Sea shows a same smashing, rollicking, heavy-on-the-downbeat sea-folk influence, take a substantively different turn on the same tune, with fiddle and flute and squeezebox and drum and a tip of the hat to the same side of the tradition that drove the sea shanty into the world of punk rock. Thanks to Timber and Steel, as always, for helping us stay on top of the Aussie folkworld, this time with a track-by-track read on the EP from frontman Brodie Buttons.
There’s only one cover on Dear Wormwood, the October release from Texas-based brother-and-sister duo The Oh Hellos, and it’s a bit of an anomaly, a classical instrumental piece from the public domain turned into a gypsy barnraiser on the lathe of modern folk rock. But the album it contains is delightful: a catchy, sweet-to-resolute journey through a psyche tracing the dissolution of a relationship, framed as a series of letters and couched in a comprehensive soundscape that will linger in your ears for days. Regular readers may recognize the band from a few Christmases ago, when we featured their wonderful holiday EP; their debut dates back to 2012, and just over 50 thousand likes on their Facebook page make “new artist” labels a stretch, but we’re still watching the meteor rise, and so should you.
Bonus points for Johnnycake Street, a fledgling all-female four-piece string band, who covers The Oh Hellos like a shy southern cul-de-sac on this brand new video-sourced take on Hello My Old Heart, just the first of several covers on a YouTube page that is still just starting out. Discovered via the team at Billsville House Concerts, who feature amazing national touring acts in their Manchester, VT living room; even if you don’t live near enough to make it to a show, their schedule alone provides a potent who’s who of other voices to watch carefully.
Jamie Oshima‘s roughcut cover of Ed Sheeran’s Tenerife Sea came to our attention – and ultimately found its way onto our Best Singles of 2015 mixtape – thanks to a mention from fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger, whose year-end emails are always chock full of wonderful things. But where Tenerife Sea suffered from amateur recording quality, and this gleefully looped slowpop take on Happy from Jamie and his brother Sean leaned more on youthful, amateur exuberance, this new Passenger cover represents a huge jump forward for the sibling pair: pure as silk, and just as dear, with gentle harmonies and guitars and a perfect tonality for a song which celebrates the mystery of youthful encounters with the heart.
We started feeling the buzz for Missouri-based mother-son duo Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear midway through last year, thanks to a wonderful mid-summer debut that led to prime coverage on both local and international public radio – and rightfully so: though sibling harmonies are common enough in the folk marketplace, parent-child harmonies are much less so; even then, they typically form as one-shot or occasional matches featuring second-gen artists from Sam Grisman to Lucy Wainwright Roche backing up more famous parentage, not emerging artist pairings in which the son is the songwriter, though he learned his stagecraft from watching mom perform covers in local coffeehouses.
But the joy here is in the song, not the situation. Once the novelty of the generational pairing wears off, we’re left with a strong impression of tenderness and talent, with warm, soulful vocals and skillful hands on the guitar from Madisen and Mama Ruth, whose closeness shines through the music and its intimate one-take production. Even if all we could find by way of recorded coverage from the soul-folk duo was a February 2015 take on Fleetwood Mac from a SiriusXM session, this is their year, I think.
Elle King is on the rise, for sure, with two Grammy Nominations for Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song after last year’s excellent (and platinum-selling) Ex’s and Oh’s. But those familiar with her produced alternative sound, as in her rockin’ take on Tom Petty’s American Girl, may not have realized that she is at heart a student of the folkways, using banjo as a compositional tool, and producing bluesy stripped down covers like this one, from SiriusXM’s Alt Nation.
Finally, simple, sincere California-grown and Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mia Rose Lynne hasn’t done much in the way of coverage in the studio, but a holy host of sweet, ringing, hopeful bedroom covers on her YouTube page make for a depth of canon and influence sure to delight and lead us to sophomore album Follow Me Moon, which drops this Friday and is already being touted as a tour de force by UK Folk Radio. The singer-songwriter is often compared to Allison Krauss and Joni Mitchell, but the nuances here are lustier, and more her own, as heard and seen in last year’s cover of I Will – which Krauss has covered with much more fanfare and much less delicacy – and further takes on Fionn Regan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, and other bittersweet balladeers of modernity.
- Mia Rose Lynne: Be Good Or Be Gone (orig. Fionn Regan) 
- Mia Rose Lynne: I Will (orig. The Beatles) 
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