Folk (and a Bit of Americana) Primer
Folk is a catch-all genre. In my book, it shouldn't be used to contain the Lumineers or Mumford and Sons. I'm not dissing those bands (they're a gateway to better things!) but they're not quite folk.
It's easy to get caught up with the big names making pablum, the gaping mouths howling songs that they didn't write and don't connect with, easy to say the generation that made the best music wasn't this one. I hear you.
But I'm here to write about 5 artists/groups, hard-working, hard-touring folks, purveying a brand of genuinely heart-felt music I've been guilty of thinking no longer existed. If it lies within your power to see and hear these musicians, make it happen. If it doesn't, try legal downloads or physical-format purchases from their sites. They make more money that way than if you do it through iTunes. Spotify is alright for test-driving the tunes, but shouldn't be considered a substitute for purchasing.
David Ramirez (For fans of Gregory Alan Isakov and the Civil Wars)
This guy writes songs that rip your intestines out, if that's your kind of thing.
Download a number of songs for free on his site. I own a couple of his albums but am particularly fond of 'American Soil'.
Here's a live concert if you'd rather watch first.
Anais Mitchell (For fans of Jesca Hoop and Joanna Newsom)
A fey, even unsettling voice, but it works. Her albums have a strong seasonal feel. Hymns for the Exiled = winter, Child Ballads (with Jefferson Hamer) = spring, Young Man in America = summer, The Brightness = fall.
Here's a live show.
Joe Pug (For fans of Justin Townes Earle and Strand of Oaks)
Consistently thought-provoking, unpretentious lyrics. But they stick with you. He went to college for playwriting, and you can hear that in his work (Free downloads on his site).
Here's one song from a session on eTown - search their channel for the other videos.
Verging on Americana/roots rock:
Jason Isbell (For fans of Little Feat and My Morning Jacket)
Isbell is one of those people you expect not to make it, but he sobered up a couple years ago. I hope he's around forever. Older work is billed as Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, new album "Southeastern", all of it fantastic.
Here's a few songs done live with his touring band.
Quiet Life (For fans of Deer Tick and Dawes)
I heard their newest single "Housebroken Man" on the radio and was floored. There are so many people doing this type of music and it all tends to blur. They look like Portland but they sound like Texas and Louisiana, and it stands out.
You could call it roots rock - all I know is I like it. These guys were the last show I saw in 2014 and I'm calling it now: they're going to be big.