Archive for the ‘Good Folk’Category

Thirty Dollars Pays Your Rent

I’m writing this 30,000 feet up, somewhere over the American Southwest. I could speak with a little more confidence about the exact coordinates of my location if my entertainment system was working (for now I can just peer at the flight map on the screen belonging to the gentleman all the way down there in 13D) but all you really need to know is that I’m a little bit to the left of New York and a little bit to the right of San Diego.

Now that I’m 75% done with my science classes, it’s time to start thinking about where I’ll be when I drop that prefix in pre-med. After my finals it was a long drive South with Holly’s cat, who, weirdly, drooled the whole way home until I let her out of the box to be my co-pilot. Within a mile of my house it was me drooling, imagining the pies and cakes and curries and taco nights and hamburgers and other various Mama Burns delicacies that are slowly increasing my BMI (spoiler alert: Mama Burns did not disappoint). After reacquainting myself with the snooze button on my alarm for several weeks, it was time to scope out some medical schools in New York.

Fortunately, my brother moved there nine months ago, and even more fortunately, he ended up with a beautiful flat in Greenwich Village. He’s actually on Bleecker Street, which meant I was singing this song every time I came off the subway. Greenwich Village was basically the maternity ward of one major era of folk music, and when Papa Burns visited a few weeks ago it must have been a little like walking through his old 1966 record collection.

Though I wish I could have steeped myself in the history of my surroundings a bit more, I had done most of the touristy stuff on my last visit to New York a couple years ago (when I stayed with my brother’s best friend Rich and was introduced to some American pals who had met my brother a few weeks before; during my whole stay they solemnly and quietly referred to him as ‘The Loose Cannon’, a title whose origins I hesitate to delve into any further) and this time it was purely (well, mostly) business.

New York is just amazing, isn’t it? Okay, I know there are some of you reading this who have their own reasons for hating it, but you can’t deny the fact that New York is never disappointing. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Every street you walk down is like a postcard, every subway and taxi and skyscraper identical to the ones in the movies. Of course, as a just-what-you’d-expect caricature of itself, New York does also come with the stereotypically exorbitant prices, the occasional disgruntled New Yorker and a weird abundance of cockroaches. Still, I’d take it warts and all. After 8 years in the safe but sterile petri dish of Singapore, it’s a welcome change.

Brother Tommy and I also had a chance to see a gig while I was there. While English readers might scoff at my tardiness to the party, I’m only just now hearing about the folk wonder that is Jake Bugg. Citing references like Donovan, Cash but, strangely, not Dylan, you wouldn’t be surprised to find Bugg lean pretty heavy on the old Trad. folk stick with some of his songwriting. But it doesn’t end there, and we spectators were pretty blown away when, mid-set, the solemn little 18 year-old whipped out a Telecaster and start melting faces with some crazy solos. Somehow he manages to keep it all flowing smoothly, from slow acoustic ballads to kickdrum-thumping screamers. He really lays on the folk-hero moodiness between sets (making the occasional smile that much more heart-wrenching for the gaggle of wilting teenage girls standing beside us) but it’s tempered by the honesty and emotion of his lyrics.


“Country Song” in particular stood out for me (though apparently not to Bugg; he prefaced it with a description of nothing more than “So, this is an old one”) and I have pasted below. Let me know in the comments what you think, and if you get a chance, catch Jake Bugg (excellent free MP3 “Saffron” also available on his site) while he’s touring his new self-titled album.

In the meantime, I’ve got a bag of peanuts that needs to be opened and seat begging to be returned to its upright position. Have a fantastic 2013, and safe travels.

Listen to  Country Song by Jake Bugg


01 2013

You’re So Attractive!

There’s a lyric in a Johnny Flynn song that struck me the very first time I heard it, swaying awkwardly in a sweaty crowd of people at a gig in some Bristol pub a few years ago:

Time rolls the back wheels of my mind/
You helped me put the brakes on because you’re kind

I don’t know why, but it gets me every time.

Lyrics are the key to the contemporary folk song. Sure, any guy with a decent voice can pick up an acoustic guitar, make a record and call it folk, but unless the words coming out of his mouth are saturated with poetry, he runs the risk of becoming just another douchebag with a guitar.

This is why I have such trouble with Mumford & Sons. They’re certainly talented guys, and they make catchy, complex melodies that are appealing to just about everybody. But seriously, their lyrics? It’s like they stole them from the album leaf of a Finnish death metal band. From their song The Cave,

The harvest left no food for you to eat/
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see/
But I have seen the same/
I know the shame in your defeat/

But I will hold on hope/
And I won’t let you choke/
On the noose around your neck

Okay, I know, it’s unfair to judge a band’s lyric-writing capabilities on one single song. But an overarching sense of melodrama pervades all of their music, so much so that I have trouble not wanting to give Marcus Mumford a huge reassuring hug every time I hear him sing about ‘weeping’ and ‘trembling’.

No, no, I’d much rather listen to the beautiful wordcraft of Mumford’s ex-lover, Laura Marling. (Um, did you know there is a tumblr devoted solely to this short-lived relationship? Unfortunately, the site’s owner seems unwilling to acknowledge the fact that many months ago this relationship came to an end, despite tip-offs from various visitors) From Ghosts:

He says “I’m so lost,/
Not at all well”/
Do as though there is nothing left to be/
Turned out I’d been following him and he’d been following me/
Do as though after it was over/
We were just two lovers crying on each others shoulders

I can never read and listen to music at the same time. Songs are stories, and having something playing in the background is like trying to follow two books at once. In particular, Josh Ritter is especially adept at telling tales with his songs, drawing you into magical worlds where mummies fall in love with (and later cast curses on) the unfortunate palaeontologists who discover them, and scientists conduct illicit affairs in nuclear missile silos, threatening to destroy the world in the name of love. Not only does he tell well-crafted stories in his songs, but he knows how to put emphasis in the right places, so here and there you catch whiffs of certain lyrics that draw you away from whatever book you are unsuccessfully trying to concentrate on.

When it comes down to it, everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good lyric and I’ll not act like we’ll always agree. Many of you out there will have a song that’s close to your heart because a certain line spoke to you, or because it told a story that was immediately relevant to you the moment you heard it.

So what do you think? Is there a song that you think has the best lyrics in the world? Well, you’re not doing anybody any favors keeping it to yourself. Share your favorite lyricists below, and let the world know the bands they should be listening more carefully to.


Now that my first year of studies is over, I’ve been desperately trying to replenish my diminished supplies of folk. This was how I found my newest addition, The Lumineers. With gravelly lead vocals, a moody cello and, a reliable, old-fashioned traditional folky sound, they caught my attention quickly. Then I listened to the lyrics and I realized I had little choice but to share this beautiful band, whose eponymous first album was released just last month.

It was hard to choose a favorite stanza from ‘Flowers in Your Hair’ (which you can download for free from Amazon), but I still can’t help but smile when lead singer Wesley Schultz croons:

So now I think that I could love you back/
And I hope its not too late/
‘Cause you’re so attractive

I only wish they played it a little slower. It seems to end way too quickly.

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05 2012