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Good Folk Music (1995-00): Inspirational Influences

Sunday Simmons ItcherAs the end of the nineties approached, folk music experienced a renewed interest in the genre, mainly due to the dilution of traditional songs with country and pop to produce a far more mainstream sound.

Today we salute the artists that took us merrily into the new millennium, with Malinky, Blackmore’s Night and more good folk music form the years 1995 to 2000. ~ Sunday Simmons

Fighting for Folk

With more folk music finding its way into country and folk/punk gathering momentum in the face of grunge and alternative rock, the late nineties was an exciting time for a long-loved genre. It may not have spawned a huge amount of artists, but quality over quantity is always a winner.

Not afraid to take on the hard hitters of mainstream music, artists such as Emmylou Harris, Michelle Shocked and Suzanne Vega fought the good fight for folk, with some incredible results.

Looking for some stunning nineties folk music? Then you’ve definitely come to the right place…


Sumptuous and Stunning Folk Music Recommendations

Angels of Light

Essential Track: ‘Forever Yours’ (1999)

“Rise up inside your rage // Release your hatred // And release your grief // Give them to me.”

Angels of Light was formed directly after the disbanding of Michael Gira’s 1980’s band Swans, and was a far more introspective project in terms of music and song writing. ‘Forever Yours’ from the band’s debut album ‘New Mother’ is a perfect showcase for the music mastery and unique sound of Angels of Light.

The entire album has a dark, brooding feel to it, but this track in particular shows how Michael created something entirely relevant and stunning from the efforts of the nineteen musicians involved in the making of the album.

An impressive and brave debut, there’s something discordant about the musical arrangement, something deeply moving about Michael’s vocals, and this only adds to the appeal of this neglected folk band. Check out ‘Forever Yours’ today and give this hidden gem some love.

Greg Brown

Essential Track: ‘China’ (1996)

“Baby still looks like you’re on your way to china // China, chi-nay, far away // Baby said how long you gonna stay in china // China, chi-nay, far away.”

With a vocal style along the lines of Leonard Cohen and a talent for introspective storytelling in his lyrics, US singer/songwriter Greg Brown had already left a glittering array of folk albums in his wake when he released ‘Further In’ in 1996.

Arguably one of Greg’s finest offerings, ‘Further In’ featured some stunning tracks from a vocal talent who, once heard, will leave you wanting more. My particular favourite from the album is ‘China’, not only for Greg’s rich, deep vocal performance, but also for the gentle delivery he gives the thoughtful lyrics.

‘China’ is a gem from the lilting acoustic intro to the last few bars, and it’s more than worthy of a place on your nineties folk playlist!

Blackmore’s Night

Essential Album: ‘Shadow of the Moon’ (1997)

“Ocean gypsy of the moon // The sun has made a thousand nights // For you to hold // Ocean gypsy where are you?”

Blackmore’s Night, comprising British rock guitar legend Richie Blackmore (Rainbow) and vocalist Candace Night released their debut album ‘Shadow of the Moon’ in 1997. There’s so much at play on this glorious folk/rock album, from Richie’s guitar, mandolin and hurdy-gurdy playing to Candace’s haunting vocal.

I do love this folk debut from Blackmore’s Night; the tracks are a heady mixture of self-penned, traditional, and neo-medieval songs, showcasing the phenomenal talent at hand. Despite having released over ten albums during their career, this debut remains my favourite and by far the most folk orientated for my taste.

I could have chosen any track from this album and it would’ve been sublime, but I’ve chosen the song I find the most outstanding from this debut offering – ‘Ocean Gypsy’. This sweet, lilting track is just beautiful mood music. Absolutely perfect.


Essential Track: ‘Alison Cross’ (2000)

“Awa, awa ye ugly witch // Haud far awa and let me be // Afore I’ll kiss yer ugly mou // I’d raither toddle aroond the tree.”

Featured on Scottish traditional folk band Malinky’s debut album, ‘Last Leaves’, ‘Alison Cross’ is a tale of witchcraft and a warning to those who would dare to cross a crone. Whilst this style of music may not be to everyone’s taste, there’s something so soothing about a Celtic ballad sung with such rich emotion.

Vocalist Karine Polwart’s voice on this track is lilting and pure, largely unaccompanied for the best part, and truly something sweet for the ears to behold. It’s one of the things I love about Malinky’s version of ‘Alison Cross’, and the reason I’ve chosen this track to share with you today.

Malinky has produced some outstanding music over the years, and even a personnel change hasn’t altered the band’s largely string-driven sound, and long may it continue. ‘Alison Cross’ is an absolute must-hear from one of Scotland’s finest folk exponents.

The Poozies

Essential Track: ‘Neptune’ (1998)

“Neptune, I think I’m in love with the sea // How do I woo you and make you love me?”

Formed in 1990, UK female folk band, The Poozies, released their debut album ‘Infinite Blue’ in 1998 to very little fanfare. ‘Neptune’ is by far one of my favourite tracks from this hugely underrated band. In fact, the entire ‘Infinite Blue’ album is my go-to album for traditional English and Celtic nineties folk!

I love the atmosphere of this track. There’s absolute beauty in the harmonies, giving the whole song an almost lullaby-like quality that just builds and builds. From the finger-picking acoustics to the lilting harp to the stunning vocal of Katy Rusby, ‘Neptune’ is absolutely magical from beginning to end.

Bringing the track to life with a lilting vocal and a haunting, string driven backing, The Poozies’ ‘Neptune’ is a step back to a simpler time.

Gillian Welch

Essential Album: ‘Revival’ (1996)

“I am an orphan on God’s highway // But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way.”

I’m rounding off with my absolute must-hear recommendation, the debut album from Gillian Welch and her husband David Rawlings, ‘Revival’. This is an absolute treasure trove of country tinged folk music, drawing on Appalachian styles with a sweet, acoustic driven backbone.

Nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album (but losing out to Bruce Springsteen), ‘Revival’ was released to mixed reviews by critics, but for this fan it remains one of her shining moments.

For my song choice, I’ve gone with the opening track, ‘Orphan Girl’. I love how this track harks back to the great folk artists of a bygone era, and yet has a contemporary feel to it. It’s a nod to the past with its feet firmly placed in the nineties, and I love it! An absolute must-hear.


Folky Favourites

It’s clear that despite the ever shifting sands of music styles over the years, folk has managed to keep its footing and remained popular in one incarnation or another. The late nineties weren’t as prolific in turning out folk artists as the sixties and seventies, agreed, but the ones that did appear were outstanding within the genre.

With such a wealth of artists coming from this genre in the last few decades, it’s hard to choose just a few. I’ve loved sharing a few of my favourite exponents of contemporary folk during a turbulent musical era.

But do you agree with my choices? And who would you add to this list?

Get commenting and let us know!

Oi Oi, I’m Sunday Simmons, professional freelance writer and indie author. Born into a family of entertainers, musicians and artists, I chose the pen as my instrument at a young age and I’ve been scribbling stuff ever since. Hopefully some of it makes sense! Writing is my passion, and with three kids and plenty of pets, life is chaos and I love it.
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