Lately, it seems that the folks have been getting excited about Folk. With bands like Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers storming the battlements of pop radio, no car stereo is safe from a banjo these days. Alas, when “I Will Wait” ends, you may wonder where a wannabe Hillbilly should turn for the next acoustic fix. Have no fear, ye great unwashed masses. I am here to guide you through the inevitable confusion that will accompany your initial foray into Acousticism. Behold five bands with acoustic roots that will make you think about more than “purdy mouths” when you hear a banjo.
Disclaimer: This is my completely subjective and biased list of awesome acoustic music. Now discuss amongst yourselves how I missed the best one.
These five guys know how to play. While they generally sound more slick and polished than some of the radio-friendly acoustic stuff on the radio these days, they have never lost their penchant for acoustic novelty that has propelled them thus far. This group can pull off anything from a U2 Cover of “In God’s Country” to their cover of The Police’s song, “Walking On the Moon.” One of my favorite songs is their Grammy nominated instrumental, “Magic No. 9.”
Acoustic Onslaught. That is the only way to describe this group from Duluth, Minn. Impossibly fast rhythms drive pop-rock style lyrics in the unbelievably entertaining sonic mess that they make onstage. Like punk rock with a banjo, they may hit a few wrong chords and you may not understand every word they sing. You might not even be certain that a wrong note or two wasn’t part of the song. Best of all, it won’t matter. After all, it is hard to contain pure adrenaline to the right frets. Some of my favorites are their melodic ode to pain meds, “Codeine,” the blistering, “Walt Whitman,” and their unrequited love song (at least I think that’s what it’s about), “Wait So Long.”
Hippies make me happy. Especially long-haired hippies who play the mandolin while barefoot on stage. It just so happens that this band is where I discovered my love for barefoot hippies. While these boys may not have the polish of The Infamous Stringdusters or the drive of Trampled by Turtles, they get by on a much simpler, more melodic brand of acousticism. When you are listening to one of their originals like, “Handguns” or “Demons,” you can hear shades of a rock band poking through the finger-picks and scrolled head stocks. By the way, I included “Worried About the Weather” just so everyone could see an amazing mustache at work.
Pop-laced folk rock works for these brothers from North Carolina. They may be a little too popular to include on this list. Regardless, they turn offbeat lyrics and simple chord progressions into emotionally driven anthems that have converted many, “I don’t like country music but ...” folks into fans. For great examples of corny sentiments turned beautiful, try, “Murder in the City,” or “Shame.” For something completely different, delve into their love affair with illicit alcohol in, “Down With The Shine.” It’s like a banjo with feelings.
This group from Asheville, N.C., is certainly the most traditionally bluegrass group on this list. Their singing might be a bit of a strong spice to some. Regardless, they put a unique spin on many acoustic conventions. These guys are as honest and unassuming as they can be. They do not need a strong riff or strong melodic harmonies to get their point across. They just snort and sweat and belt it out. For a good taste, check out, “Ruination Line” or their lament on the impact of development, “Digging on the Mountainside.” If you only listen to one song, go straight to their cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”