The folk thread

Sloop_John_B had suggested Peggy’s Dream in the ‘What are you listening to in 2023’ thread 15 days ago. There’s quite a bit of folk and folk influenced music there, though I don’t always keep up with the recommendations. Martin Hayes and the musicians he plays with are superb.

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Apologies to anyone who thinks that Natalie Merchant does not qualify as ‘folk’; my excuse is that I file her solo work under folk, and her voice suits a folk idiom. This article caught my eye, and I’m listening to her new album now.


Probably not ‘folk’ to most people’s eyes/ears, but, regardless, my favourite female vocalist and the new album is excellent. Looking forward to her forthcoming UK tour dates in early November.

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A Roon recommendation following on from Show of Hands.


I’m not a fan of live albums but I stumbled across these extra tracks recorded at the Troubadour on the Old Brompton Road. No Richard Thompson as far as I can tell but Sandy is in fine form.


There have been discussions before about what constitutes folk music, but I have consistently failed to understand where anyone is drawing lines and why.

Is Bluegrass folk? Some were happy with the idea that it is ‘other people’s folk music’ , while others objected strongly to that. Some include traditional acoustic music from Ireland but not from Iceland, while others disagree. Should we count Bert Jansch but not Richard Thompson or John Gomm?

Given all that, if you think the excellent Ms. Merchant is folk, at least when solo, who can overrule you?


I have a problem with the whole concept of genres. The boundaries are so impossible to define. I understand the desire to categorise music styles and types, and in a broad-brush approach it can be somewhat useful. You mention Bert Jansch - what about The Pentangle? Folk - probably. Jazz - sometimes, somewhat. Traditional - oh, now there is a genre that means - what? World music - isn’t all music world music?


I am strongly with you.

Bert didn’t seem to think of himself as a folk musician - his guitar hero was Brownie McGee, just as John Renbourn’s was Big Bill Broonzy.

A conducting friend argued 40 years ago that 2 useful boxes were labelled ‘great’ and ‘duff’. He also reckoned that most or all music could sensibly be viewed as Classical or Folk. Jazz was a potential third category, but he reckoned we’d all be long dead before anyone could decide about that, or whether the Beatles would eventually be labelled as Classical or Folk.

Zappa argued that music could usefully be divided into good music (some but not all of which ‘spoke to’ him) and bad music, with further divisions being largely unhelpful. Mind you, iirc, he also compared writing about music (which is after all what we are all doing here) to ‘dancing about architecture’.


For me a label, such as folk, helps narrow down what I want to listen to of an evening. Sadly, I can’t always remember an artist’s name; in my pre Roon days I had folders for different genres that meant something to me, but not necessarily anyone else. Roon’s discovery feature makes music selection easier now my memory is fading.


All the music on my NAS is arranged by group/artist, apart from one folder which is a mix of whatever music I have recently come across - once I have more than 2 or 3 of any one artist I move those tracks into a folder with that artist’s name. I don’t use genre at all. It seems easier.

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Coming up on BBC4 on Friday next - The Folk Revival, the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
Only last week on radio Paul McCartney referred to as as classic/classical composer.
Yet yesterday, trying to find a copy of Here It Is: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen in HMV, I had to ask for help. It was filed in Jazz Collections!
Sometimes, giving labels seems to be used to make something exclusive, then serves to put others off.
As @Camphuw says, itv also helps as an aid to memory.


In the papers today, ‘Mad and offensive’ texts shed light on role played by minstrels in medieval society’ There’s no musical notation, but Middle English texts. The excellent National Library of Scotland have a public domain facsimile on line. The handwritten manuscript takes some deciphering but is in the same tone of Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’s tale.’ It contains apparently the first discovered use of ‘red herring’ in the sense of a misleading clue.