Grading the Top 10 in … FOLK MUSIC!

1. The Stray Birds, “Dream in Blue”


The Stray Birds are three collaborators from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who released their debut album earlier this year. All three band members — Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and bassist Charles Muench — grew up steeped in folk, country, and bluegrass traditions. They believe that performing live at diverse venues is the core of the folk music experience and tour as much as possible.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “obsessed” — NatalieSciadini

2. Lucy Kaplansky, “Scavenger”


Lucy Kaplansky is a New York–based folk musician with a PhD in clinical psychology from Yeshiva University. She is associated with the ’90s Greenwich Village scene that spawned Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin. She was part of folk supergroup Cry Cry Cry with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell. Her father was the mathematician Irving Kaplansky, a pianist who composed about mathematics. His song “A Song About Pi,” which assigns notes to the first 14 decimal places of pi, is in Lucy Kaplansky’s live repertoire.

Grade: B-

Best YouTube Comment: “I adore her, her voice, her songwriting. but she just talks too damn much at her concerts.” — cpolydoroff

3. Roy Schneider, “Long Time Gone”


There’s not a video of this song, but it’s singer-songwriter Roy Schneider’s cover of “Long Time Gone” by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Schneider (no relation to Roy Scheider or Rob Schneider) does a decent David Crosby, but nah, son.

Grade: C+

Best YouTube Comment: “Wonderful!”

4. Coty Hogue, “Going to the West”


Coty Hogue is a Montana banjo player who plays roots music including Appalachian songs, blues, country, swing, and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” “I’m Going to the West” is an American folk song that was supposedly written around 1880 when there was a migration from northeastern Alabama to Texas.

Grade: B

Best YouTube Comment: “come to Vermont!” — russrichter

5. Gathering Time, “Red Apples and Gold”


This is exactly the type of unbelievably square neo-trad folk music they make fun of in A Mighty Wind. Spoiler alert: The Gathering Time album has multiple songs about apple cider. There is no video of this song so you’ll have to take my word for it (or listen to the iTunes preview, like I did). Sample lyric: “Mother says would you marry this man, marry this man, marry this man? Oh if you choose to marry this man you can live at the cider mill.” This made me laugh so hard late at night and then have laugh flashbacks all day the next day.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “Beautiful harmonies. I love this group! Peter Paul and Mary reincarnated.” — ijgmdg

6. Robin & Linda Williams, “These Old Dark Hills”


No, not that Robin Williams. This is a husband-and-wife folk duo from Virginia that has been featured on A Prairie Home Companion. Unlike a lot of musical genres, folk is distinctly not youth-culture focused. You want to eventually look as grizzled as you sound.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “I sure wish I’d heard this duo a long time ago. I LOVE THEIR MUSIC!!! Thanks, Garrison Keillor, for making me aware of Robin & Linda. Great music!” — MaGillicutty

7. Jimmy LaFave Band, “Clear Blue Sky”


Jimmy LaFave is a singer in the Red Dirt Music genre, which is the Oklahoma analogue to the Texas Outlaw country scene. LaFave is influenced by Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and J.J. Cale. His songs are bittersweet Americana, in a vein similar to Dylan’s Time Out of Mind.

Grade: A-

Best YouTube Comment: “Grande jimmy” — MrLucacss

8. Caroline Herring, “Camilla”


Caroline Herring writes a beautiful song about Marion King, the pregnant woman who was beaten by the Camilla, Georgia, police and kicked in the stomach until she suffered a miscarriage during the 1962 Albany Movement protests.

Grade: A

Best YouTube Comment: “This is a great song. For documentary footage of an interview with King shortly after the beating look up Marion King in The Civil Rights Digital Library” — RichardFlynn

9. Geoff Bartley, “Long Way Down to Harlan”


I couldn’t find video of Geoff Bartley playing “Long Way Down to Harlan,” which could be about the Harlan in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, or Ohio. There is also no way for my ears to not mishear it as “Harlem.” Bartley is a Cambridge, Massachusetts–based singer/songwriter. According to his Wikipedia page, “He has placed second four times at the National Fingerpicking Championships.”

Grade: B+

Best YouTube Comment: “Not too many folks as authentic as Geoff.” — mxyplyzyk

10. Milkdrive, “Waves”


The lite folk tune brought to you by a tie-dye hacky sack mated with a violin and the ghost of Jason Mraz.

Grade: D

Best YouTube Comment: “Amazing song Guys!! Love it!! Can’t wait till y’all get back to Oklahoma!! Peace … ” — PsychoDeralikts

Filed Under: Billboard, Grading the Charts, Top Ten

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert