Best of Folk 2012: The Albums and Shows Worth Remembering

The four groups that impressed us this year—and the singles you have to download now.

Tallest Man on Earth
Tallest Man on Earth
 

We’ve survived the year—time to put on a good playlist and reminisce. There were some amazing new songs this year in the realm of folk, ever twisting and toying with the genre. So which ones stuck around? Out of all the varied folk acts that came through Chicago this year to show off their new material, here’s a rundown of the tracks we’ll still be enjoying well into 2013.
 

The Tallest Man on Earth

“Criminals” and “To Just Grow Away” on There’s No Leaving Now

After the brief apocalyptic storm during Lollapalooza, The Tallest Man on Earth came out onstage and strummed his heart out to repay his listeners for all the mud and mayhem. This Swedish singer-songwriter was clearly raised on American folk and happens to be one of its finest disciples. Luckily, he approaches the “Dylanesque” realm without getting cheesy or obvious about it. Good folk guitar picking doesn’t get much better than “Criminals”, and his honest, simple vocal phrasing rounds it out perfectly.
 

The Punch Brothers

“Movement and Location” on Who’s Feeling Young Now?

They played the Vic Theater this month with their traditional five-piece setup centered around Chris Eldridge (formerly of bluegrass darlings Nickel Creek) and his scorching mandolin work. Their newest album offers a stylistic range of picking and plucking, but none reach the level of ingenuity shown in “Movement and Location”. Any time a group can take five acoustic instruments with no effects and invent a hybrid genre, I’m sold. This one steals from folk, bluegrass, classical and prog-pop all at once.
 

First Aid Kit

“In the Hearts of Men” and title track on The Lion’s Roar

These two sisters played Lincoln Hall in April, and Chicago swooned. If Emmylou Harris was born in the 90’s, had a huskier voice, and there were two of her, boom, you’d have the voices of this duo. With warm saccharine sounds blended in Americana melodies, “The Hearts of Men” is a stirring song. It’s a slow stir, but the careless, drifting melodies are enough to get lost in.
 

The Oh Hello’s

“The Valley” on Through the Deep, Dark Valley

Here’s another act that came through during Lolla. These siblings from Texas answered the call of rookie status with a new concept album—something there really should be more of. They share thematic space with other indie groups like Bowerbirds and The Civil Wars, but with songs like this one, they’re carving out a space for themselves just fine.

 

Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

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