From classic UK folk music to bluegrass, we’ve found nine new folk artists to get excited about in 2021.
Folk music thrives from collaboration, which has been something of a logistical challenge over the past year; but it’s also a genre built upon storytelling, and stories are something that can be told and heard anywhere.
Music festivals are optimistically announcing their lineups and debut albums are still being released. These nine musicians, well-established but innovative folk musicians and new emerging artists, need to be kept a watchful eye on in 2021.
Acoustic guitar-led indie folk heavily influenced by Laura Marling. Mann lends her pretty, sweet voice to uplifting folk-pop tunes with passionate lyrics that let listeners know they’re not alone.
The brilliant singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, based in New Orleans, generated a hum of interest last year with the reissue of her 2014 debut album Vari-Colored Songs: a Tribute to Langston. The album mixes traditional Haitian folk songs with Hughes’ jazz poems, while exposing the relevance of Hughes’ work to today’s attitudes around Black culture. On the album McCalla seems to also reappraise her own career, looking back whilst heading in a fresh new direction. With a new project in the works, it’ll be a thrill to see what form that direction takes.
Alternative folk group Lyre are singer-songwriter Bryony Lewis and producer Joe Boon, who had known each other for six years before they joined forces. Debut EP I Wasn’t Scared, I Was Just Somebody Else came out in 2020, with another EP on the horizon. The duo specialise in intimate harmonies and contemplative melodies. It’s music to walk through misty fields to.
The US banjoist, singer and fiddle player centres the experiences of queer people and people of colour in his music. Taking sharp aim at the commercialisation of Black music by the American Roots music industry, Blount undertook massive research into African American and Indigenous mountain music, and the tracks that make up his debut album Spider Tales are the result. It’s a deep dive into the brushed-aside origins of Black and Indigenous folk songwriting and the hardship ingrained within, but offered in an open and accessible way – the remarkable music is often foot-stomping and always inspiring.
A Scottish trio who blend effortlessly together to make invigorating, exhilarating folk music. After spending 2020 performing virtually, this year will hopefully see their rightful return to the stage. Featuring Hayley Keenan’s fiddle playing, Graeme Armstrong on guitar, and concertina player Mohsen Amini who was the youngest ever winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the year award in 2019.
A young master of the Scottish smallpipes from the Isle of Skye, and one of the few women in the male-dominated world of piping. Her 2018 debut album The Reeling is full of enriching and haunting songs, and the native Gaelic speaker has kept playing through lockdown, releasing recordings and content via Patreon.
Emerging Dubin talent Reid shows shades of Laura Marling in her swooping melodies and guitar playing that is delicate one moment and lively the next. Newly signed to label Seven Four Seven Six, her debut EP ‘Cubicle’ arrives in February. But she’s offered a glimpse at her indie-folk sound already on Spotify with songs that range from the acoustic ‘Tribute’ and ‘Always Lovely’ to ‘Seamless’ and the newly released ‘Been Thinking About You’, which showcase a heavier, electric sound that’s no less beautiful.
Christian Lee Hutson
Hutson has lapped himself – starting out in a country duo, going solo, becoming known for collaborating with Phoebe Bridgers, and now releasing a neo-folk solo record. Where will he go next? Deft finger-picking and sensitive songwriting are showcased on the album, Beginners.
Galway-based effortlessly talented musician Regan’s long-awaited debut album was released in September last year, critically acclaimed and nominated for best folk album the RTE Radio Folk Awards. Hemet gets its name from the Californian town her husband hails from, a title that sets the personal tone for the collection of beautiful songs with revealing, honest lyrics. Its success should act as a springboard for future projects.