Do you have any traditional folk music recommendations?
July 6, 2005 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Do you have any traditional folk music recommendations? I have some preferences.

I'd like to avoid vocal-dominated songs, but choral music is great. I can handle vocals if they don't dominate, but would prefer them in a non-English language . The older the music is the better. Traditional, local musical instruments would be great. I'm thinking mainly European (Scandinavian, or Eastern European might be interesting, but I don't really know), but I really like what I've heard of Blind Willie Johnson, so older American folk music might be good too (but I find the music that goes by the name of Country and Western these days a major turn off). Non-cheese is a must. Nothing sounding over-produced (Clannad and the like is right out) -- the simpler the better, in many ways. Contradictory recommendations are most welcome if you have a strong opinion on anything. Further, I haven't be amazed by music in a while, so any lesser-known gems you have come across that have truly truly blown you away are welcome too.
posted by nthdegx to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You might like Portuguese Fado. (Paging Miguel Cardoso...)
posted by Saucy Intruder at 2:41 PM on July 6, 2005

The Secret Museum of Mankind, created from Pat Conte's record collection, is a good place to start. If you don't want to get the whole set of CDs, you can also listen to the archives of his show, the excellent Secret Museum of the Air on WFMU, here.
posted by driveler at 2:41 PM on July 6, 2005

For American folk music, the Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings is great. For more depth, you can check out the CDs made from Alan Lomax's field recordings. I have Harry Smith's Smithsonian Anthology and think it's really overrated.
posted by driveler at 2:52 PM on July 6, 2005

Magnatune has a nice selection of very old European choral music, generally Eastern Orthodox chants, but also some traditional medieval and renaissance stuff. It's a great place to browse and listen to old music.

In their collection, I quite like Ancient Church Singing of Byzantine Georgia and Rus (I find the first track quite moving) as well as stuff like this traditional Kiev chant. Of course, those are more religious than folk..
posted by Ljubljana at 3:16 PM on July 6, 2005

(Self-link) If you have any interest in Scandinavian music, grab some free MP3s from NorthSide or pick up one of the three Nordic Roots cheap compilation CDs. Lots of different non-cheese approaches.

RootsWorld has an extensive library of articles, interviews, and downloadable samples.

For Eastern European, ever heard Le Mystere des voix Bulgares? Classic choral music from Bulgaria, released in the late 1980s on 4AD in the UK, in the US via Nonesuch. Guaranteed to make your hair stand on end.
posted by omnidrew at 3:34 PM on July 6, 2005

I really like Hungarian folk music. A good artist that you can find on Amazon is Marta Sebestyen -- she did music for The English Patient, but I like her better with her band, Muzsikas.
posted by librarina at 4:18 PM on July 6, 2005

I would second Fado. There is a lot of great music to hear, dating from 80 years ago right up to Mariza's new Cd, out a few months back. And it's all pretty good. When I wanted to investigate, this page - and the links at the bottom - were quite useful. You might find some other good stuff on that site too, I always meant to check it out more thoroughly.
posted by fire&wings at 4:20 PM on July 6, 2005

For some stylized yet authentic, non-cheesy and inventive music inspired by traditional Swedish music, I recommend Agram by Lena Willemark and Ale Möller -- a haunting, mysterious and minimalistic record with songs arranged for fiddle, guitar and voice.

The Scottish band Capercaillie is very good. They combine traditional songs with their own, and many of their songs are sung in Gaelic. They have a definitive air of authenticity; the singer is from the Hebrides. Some of their stuff is sadly overproduced and oversynthesized, though never very painfully so, but Beautiful Wasteland (yeah, please look beyond the horrific cover) is great, lush and tastefully arranged, recorded in Spain with a couple of wonderful female African singers; Nadurra is largely acoustic, as I recall. You may have seen them in the film Rob Roy, where they appeared as contemporary musicians, and contributed songs to the soundtrack.

There are plenty of "generic" records devoted to traditional music. As a Norwegian, I would recommend trad Norwegian music, which is predominantly fiddle-based; for example, recordings of the works of Norwegian virtuoso violinist Ole Bornemann Bull. Really, any collection of "traditional Norwegian music" by native performers is bound to be good.
posted by gentle at 4:36 PM on July 6, 2005

In Germany, there are a lot of groups that play secular [and sometimes religious] medieval music with traditional instruments, particularly drums and bagpipes. Often the instruments are even home-made. Check out Corvus Corax, Cornix Maledictum, Saltatio Mortis, Wolfenmond, Sarband, etc. They play a lot of traditional melodies gleaned from various manuscripts. [One common source is the Carmina Burana - they do it the original way, not the very orchestrated and operatic Carl Orff version everyone's heard.] Vocals are mostly in Latin, with various other European languages [sometimes in archaic forms]; many songs are instrumental.

Traditional Irish folk music: I'd avoid Capercaillie; they focus a lot on the ethereal female vocals, and some of their stuff gets rather new-agey. Same goes for a bunch of the better-known 'Celtic' bands. What you want is probably stuff revolving more around traditional fiddle, harp, tin-whistle, and bagpipes. Try Kevin Burke, the Bothy Band, Planxty, Tommy Peoples, Mac-Talla, early stuff by Eileen Ivers, some stuff by Altan, Solas and De Dannan, Eilidh Mackenzie, Eoin O'Riabhaigh, Sileas, etc. Vocals are mostly Gaelic or English [though the latter is sometimes accented enough that you may be able to ignore it]; again, there are many completely instrumental tracks. All of the artists above do many traditional tracks; some do only traditional songs.

[Sorry for the lack of links; my internet connection is full of hate today.]
posted by ubersturm at 5:00 PM on July 6, 2005

An obscure gem might be Washington Philips. He played gospel music on a strange zither instrument, fairly vocal heavy, but with a haunting quality similar to Skip James and Blind Willie. Blind Willie is from Texas, but I appreciate him along with Jack Owens, Skip James, and other "Bentonia" style musicians.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:13 PM on July 6, 2005

Second the Northside recommendation. In particular, it sounds like you'd enjoy Värttina. And Anders Norudde.

Second the Bulgarian Women's Choir rec too.

Beyond the pale rec: Baaba Maal (because you like Blind Willie).

Beyonder: Thomas Mapfumo. Just because it's great music.
posted by bricoleur at 5:17 PM on July 6, 2005

Jack! I kiss you!
posted by mwhybark at 5:45 PM on July 6, 2005

For fado go straight to the source..Amalia Rodriguez. Cristina Branco (Sensus, particularly) too.
Go south for some soulful Spanish folk music: Mercedes Sosa, Argentina or Victor Jara or Violeta Parra, Chile, all great protest musicians. More Argentina: Composer Astor Piazolla, Carlos Gardel, the original tango vocalist..
Heard Orchestra Baobab yet?
Thanks for all the is for sharing.
posted by lois1950 at 1:04 AM on July 7, 2005

More Fado.ish stuff: Madredeus. The website has a flash thingy where you can listen to some songs and see for yrself.
posted by dhruva at 1:50 AM on July 7, 2005

Response by poster: Late with the thanks, but here they are all the same. I've investigated some of your suggestions, and will be revisting this thread many times in the future. Thank you all very much.
posted by nthdegx at 4:21 AM on July 31, 2005

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