Contemporary progressive folk is known as a genre of music to reject and de-emphasise all the conventions of traditional folk music and inspires stylistic innovation. It gave precedence to the psychedelic folk genre and had a huge influence on the progression of progressive rock.
In this article, we take a look at what we believe to be the 10 best folk music albums around so far.
Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down by Rycooder
This album was actually released during two election cycles nationally, hence it's the most blatantly political album released by Ry Cooder; it's also one of his ,ost compelling and funniest. Cooder goes deeply into his musical past utilising his whole American musical arsenal: folk, ragtime, blues, rock, country and norteno here. His opening album, 'no Banker Left Behind' renews marching music during civil war times with a punch of mandola and banjo riffs whilst Cooder's own electronic guitar sound frames it all.
Cooder's depth of political rage softens somewhat although it's still incredibly direct as the album reaches the end. Long standing followers of Cooder will enjoy 'Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down'; its deep and hard hitting. For those unfamiliar with his music, but searching for a comrade, will certainly find one in this album. Overall, it's a revolutionary piece worth dancing the night away to, learning something from and also singing along with. Topical music isn't the least bit boring in this piece!
Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' came after their revolutionary album Dark Side Of The Moon', was released. It has some of the same qualities as their former album, although it has a much more recognisable jazzy tone and feeling. The jazziest song is 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', it's actually divided into 2 tracks and bookend the entire album. We believe this was a brilliant idea and seems to work incredibly well.
The initial laid back track opens the album, lasting around 12 minutes. It delves into different types of musical ideologies prior to Gilmour's vocals entering into the mix. The song lyrics composed with Syd Barret in the forefront of the band's mind are outstanding. The excellent opener moves into the real core of the full album with 'Welcome To The Machine', where you hear a more outraged side to the band. This song has trickling effects and it's where the band uses a substantial amount of synthesizers. There are some essential acoustic guitar rhythms underneath all the synthesizers which helps to maintain a sense of musicality to an otherwise critical track.
The next track, 'Have A Cigar' has some of the cynicism that 'Welcome To The Machine' has, but it has a lot more funk and sashay in the bass. It's the only track where the lyrics are sung by an outsider called Roy Harper, who's music is heavily influenced by other famous artists like Led Zeppelin. It's a hip and emotional song, giving you everything you really want to hear.
The next in-line is Pink Floyd's most famous - the title track. It's their best classic acoustic guitar sound that continues to work well to this day. The track lyrics and vocals are of incredibly high quality and keep you immersed at all times.
The last track is the second part of their 'Shine On...' song. It begins precisely at the point it was left off and gets quite heroic. Gilmour's guitar brilliance follows, we think it has to be the grandest solo of all times. He is an exceptional guitarist deserved of BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. You then get a bit of a repeat verse coming from the initial part of the song which is followed by a surprisingly whole new section. This part of the track just grooves!
There isn't a bad moment in this entire album.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis
Genesis' 'The Lamb Lies Down Broadway' is a complex album and has been interpreted differently for many years. The storyline makes reference to a mixed-race Puerto Rican guy called Rael who lives in New York. Rael is described as a troubled 'punk' boy at the start, he comes into contact with and fights fantasy creatures that you would find in a novel.
The album progresses from a conventional concept into something mythological and a fascinating story. Gabriel's fixation with radicalism becomes apparent and is not only emphasised throughout Rael's journey, but is evident in the music, too. The ambiguousness and phenomenon nature of this album 'The Lamb Lies Down Broadway' offers Genesis with remarkable accuracy; it is peculiar, bizarre, charming, and terrorising at many different parts, with the lyrics and music both being a true indicator to all this.
In the opening, Rael commits all sorts of mischievous acts to keep his reputation at bay with the Puerto Rican gang, painting his name on subway walls with spray. He walks passed the police all innocently to try and circumvent the problem. This is the point where the 'lamb' appears onto the Broadway. Gabriel doesn't clarify exactly what the lamb is or does within his lyrics, hence it's open to individual interpretation, much like the rest of his album.
The aim of the introductory track is to introduce Rael and to highlight his serious wrong doings. His trivial vandalism is only the beginning of other major problems. The most horrendous action is not revealed but tiny hints are dropped all throughout the entire record. The 'wall of death' is presented to Rael and assaults him in the concluding title track. Naturally horrified and bewildered, Rael tries to escape but he can't and fights the wall along with his own interpretation of reality. This signifies a death of his reality and he is thrown into limbo where he has to better himself as a person in order to escape.
In the Land of Grey
In the Land of Grey is Caravan's second album; it made the band quite famous in the Progressive rock music scene. It wasn't a huge hit but it has continued to stay in the catalogue and still sells today. The album has sold more than 100,000 copies after being released around 30 years ago and still has a very loyal fan basis. Fans call 'In the Land of Grey' the greatest of the entire Canterbury music scene.
Music wise, the focus remains on Sinclair's organs and keyboard, this isn't too astonishing as technically he is the best from all the band musicians. Coughlan's drum rhythms combined with Sinclair's bass provides some solid music, and even though the band aren't exceptional, their tight rhythmic schemes make all their songs work properly in the first place. Band member, Hastings, concentrates his energies on the singing - this makes sense because as he has wonderful vocals, improving their music overall. Hastings also uses other musical instruments including the flute, saxophone and horn, played with the help of his brother, Jimmy Hastings. All of these various parts are complementary and create a world where listeners can lose themselves entirely and allow the music to sail along without having to pay too much attention to it.
In the Land of Grey is certainly a progressive rock album! It may not satisfy people who aren't that keen on this genre, passing it off as dreary or pompous. Nonetheless, it is likely to gain some favours from non-rock music likers, particularly those who dislike the types of ELP or Yes. This album has a much more light-hearted approach compared to the majority of progressive rock groups/bands, and whilst it is so much more complicated than the average rock album, it's no way near as complex as most other 70's progressive bands but it did make Rolling Stone's Top 50 Progressive Rock Albums list at 34th.
Larks' Tongues in Aspic by King Crimson
Larks' Tongues in Aspic album established King Crimson as one of the quirkiest rock developments ever, neglecting the commercialised platinum goldmine all their other peers stuck to for their artistic loyalty as well as persistently experimenting which eventually protected them from turning into a leftover like plenty of other old-school progressive rock bands.
The album is not so accessible and you are made aware of this fact right from the beginning. The instrumental opening track is played solely by Jamie Muir, the Percussionist. He lulls the listener with his African thumb piano and sheet metal and then suddenly comes along a spine-chilling violin and bass moment prior to Robert Fripp kicking in with his viciously loud guitar assisted by Bill Bruford's (the ex-drummer from 'Yes') flamboyant, rhythmic bass as well as Muir's banging on everything around him, not to forget a violin single and outlandish, incomprehensible voices. It sounds a bit like a musical edition of a warped, distressing dream sound. Or, it's simply a group of lads playing whatever they actually feel like playing at the time. Alternatively, you could say it's a mixture of both. It's completely audacious and blatantly marvellous (apart from the solo with the violin, of course).
Sadly, the next 3 vocals aren't as brilliant, we would say 'Book of Saturday' is the better one from all three. A brief pop song follows, it's about a disloyal lover you're unable to forget, which is driven by Cross's gorgeous violin and completed with 2 rather backwards singles plus Wetton's pleasing voice. Despite it sounding unlikely, it actually works! 'Exiles', nevertheless, is a bit of a stinker, a lessened sugary edition of King Crimson's 'Court Of The Crimson King' era mellotron balladry. Wetton makes an attempt to sound drastic but fails badly and has some problems trying to achieve some of the higher tones. The rescuing characteristics are the bizarre, disorganised instrumental intervals. 'Easy Money' is a groovy rocker written by Richard Palmer-James. A ridiculously botched up attempt towards a 'satire' of contemporary commercialism together with sound effects that make things sound even more humiliating - for instance - 'You could never tell a winner from a snake'. Having said that, the mid-section is fairly long and sweet, therefore, it's not all that contemptuous. All-in-all, the album has a suitable ending for a peculiar, bewildering, captivating and positively fabulous album.
The Yes Album
Straggly, magical epics from 'Yes' capture you and carry you on a ship that sails to a mystical location. The question is, what would you witness? A classical guitar soloist or a jazzy drummer? Or would it be some delightful harmonies or melodies? Or perhaps keyboard sounds revelling from someone who has just sold his/her soul to the devil? You just don't know what to anticipate with Yes. Because of their genius technical ability, strong emotions and exclusivity alongside a full catalogue of top songs, Yes became a superior progressive rock group in the 20th century continuing to hold a good reputation in the new century.
Squire's bass is clearly obvious from the beginning of the album, this is definitely a huge plus for the group. His supreme talent gleams through in each one of his heavy bass tracks that wouldn't feel complete without his ultimate grooves. For example, in 'Starship Trooper', Squire begins the song and manages to keep it elevated in every direction with all his deep echoing bass. There are other highlights to this combination, too. After 'Lie Seeker' comes 'Disillusion', a rapidly light acoustic part that's almost bordering bluegrass. It's probably the final section, 'Wurm' that is likely to interest people the most. Howe noticeably plays his guitar well compared to the previous Guitarist, Peter Banks. It's a significant part of the entire album being at the forefront all the time. 'Wurm' is the theatrical single that tops off this well regarded classic, Yes
A Trick of the Trail by Genesis
After Peter Gabriel left Genesis to pursue his own solo career, it took a long time for the members to find a suitable replacement. When Collins entered Genesis, nonetheless, the band made a decision not to follow the polished, jaggy post modernistic style of 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway', and returned to the unconventionality of Selling England by the Pound for its future efforts.
In virtually every aspect, this seems like a more sincere sequel to 'Selling England by the Pound' compared to 'Lamb', which was a lot more infatuated with modernism and terror, whilst this album takes the group back to its curious and fairy tale character of its previous records. Plus, Genesis were moving back towards some of their elasticated numbers that revealed their influential bravery, and they ended up sounding much more powerful and united as a band compared to how they came after the release of 'Foxtrot'. Not instantaneous or impressive, excluding 'Dance on a Volcano', which is all about the sounds and not about each individual song. It flourished on that particular level pretty wildly, to the level where it proved to all Genesis' long term fans that the band can prosper without their previous leader.
The album starts off with 'Dance on a Volcano' which has a bit of a disjointed feel to it, although the song further indicating how keen he was to help the band progress.
It's evident that 'A Trick of the Tail' is profoundly different from 'The Lamb Lies down on Broadway', its predecessor. The next track, 'Entangled', is a calmer one with some wonderful dynamics and tunes. The song ends with a striking piano solo which acts as an ideal lead for the hard hitting track, 'Squonk'. This track is packed with wonderful melodies and dramatical instruments. Collins goes on to explore a lot of territory just vocally on this song alone proving he is stronger (vocally) than Gabriel.
'Trick of the Tail' is a real treat of an album. It stands alone compared to all the other classics made with Gabriel.
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Aqualung is one of Jethro Tull's most diverse albums due to its consistent experimental nature. Hard-rocking, bold tunes like 'Locomotive Breath' can be found amongst songs like the playful, folky 'Mother Goose' and the affectionate 'Wond'ring Aloud', the latter being Tull's most exquisite composition. Martin Barre, the Guitarist, gives way to peaceful, acoustic harmonies or energetic, vibrant flute leads. Yet, in spite of the magnificent selection of genres and moods in this album, it doesn't feel incoherent or jumpy at any time.
The surprising thing about Aqualung is that the extensive compositions like 'Wind Up', the title track, isn't the most enchanting. The pivotal moments are, certainly, the short, calm pieces that have been filled in between the other complex tunes. 'My God' is remarkable, but it cannot hold down its ground opposed to miniature 'Cheap Day Return's', tempting sentimental melody or 'Slipstream's' contemplative, reminiscent tune, followed by the most nostalgic and moving lyrics by Anderson.
Jethro Tull eventually created a completely enjoyable album with Aqualung. It's varied, catchy and audacious; it's not surprising that it is the band's most successful piece
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is a huge double-record elucidation of shameless fantasy, wet dream, apologue and cornball acts. It's a bit of an overproduced collection of musical sketches along with hard rock that threatens to wallow, way too large to sail, creatively ruined by pretentiousness but commercially redeemed by a few splendid tracks.
The format of this album is straightforward super modern British harmony hall burlesque, several unrelated musical scenes together with many rock blended flashes, in addition to the assessment of the internal emotions of a few different varieties of Elton John's personality.
There is an instrumental introduction that features lavish and distasteful hurricane whooshing's, a roaring ecclesiastic organ, a few tingling guitar moments that have the potential to be epic if they were backlit correctly, although it doesn't appear to be within context against so much bleating.
On a positive note, we like the ending part of 'Bennie and the Jets', it's like a 'Sat. Pepperish' number, about a mystical rock and roll group. Elton John's vocals are drastic and witty at the same time. The track, 'Grey Seal', is a fast one, it's periodic and wonderfully produced, and it's one of a few that has managed to succeed from start to finish.
Another brilliant tract is 'I've Seen that Movie Too', it has a bitter tune with real meaning and depth. We feel this track and 'Candle in the Wind' are the two strongest ones in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.