Folk music's never gone away. To wit:
Public Enemy -- None fought the power in Reagan Amerika like raptivist Chuck D and his hypeman Flava Flav. So it's no stretch to cite the 1980's preeminent rap duo as folk musicians -- their back catalog, as celebrated on Bring That Beat Back: The Public Enemy Remix Project (Slamjamz/Defbeat Posse/Koch), is certainly music for the people. Suitable score for your next movement meet-up: "Gotta Give the Peeps What They Need (Impossebull Soulpower Posse Mixx)" and "Public Enemy No.1 (Deelo 2G1 Remix)," invoking the soul-jazz heyday of the Last Poets and Eugene McDaniels.
The Kingston Trio never cold rocked nothin' nor rolled with any crew as militant as the S1Ws. Still, The Essential Kingston Trio (Shout! Factory) is an amusing double-disc travelogue through an alien landscape: the postwar folk boom. The once-thriving American folk movement tends to get remembered today as a restrictive precious hothouse shut down by electric Judas Bob Dylan. Indeed, the clean-cut, stripey Trio was ruthlessly skewered by Christopher Guest in the great folk satire, A Mighty Wind. Essential recalls some of the flick's gags, as the genre's fondness for Caribbean "authenticity" runs rife throughout Disc One (see "Sloop John B," made iconic by Brian Wilson). And songs range from execution ballad (and big KT hit) "Tom Dooley" to offensive border track "Coplas" and 1960s dirge "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."
Listening to Karen Dalton the source/precedent for freakfolk luminary Joanna Newsom's cackly singing voice immediately becomes apparent. Manchildren also dig the late Karen Dalton: Devendra Banhart owes his patented style to her. And, as the Idlewild soundtrack shows André 3000 firmly entrenched in his attenuated ride into the sunset, perhaps he'll perform a beyond the veil duet with Dalton next? (Just as Big Boi's discovered Kate Bush, Dre's recent Screamin' Jay/Sly/Marc Bolan/Prince morph makes Dalton the perfect muse -- in fact, Norah Jones seems to ghost for her on The Love Below's "Take Off Your Cool.") Light In The Attic Records has now re-released the prescient acid folk classic In My Own Time (1971) by Dalton, a part-Cherokee chanteuse with a deep throat and dark clouds. Great timing, since the current soul/folk/twang aesthetic trifecta would be nowhere without Dalton's bridge from Billie and Nina to Bearsville. Artist acclaim and fawning liner notes from such notables as Banhart, Nick Cave and Fred Neil accompanies the reissue; a sampling from Dylan: "... Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday's and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed." Dalton applies her bluesy wail to classic Motown less successfully, but the stark traditional folk of "Katie Cruel" and sultry blues-rocking "One Night of Love" shine. In My Own Time will be this season's late night/blue light long-player for sure. Dear to me: a cover of my beloved Richard Manuel's "In a Station" (apocrypha: The Band's "Katie's Been Gone" cites Dalton). Beautiful.
Carolina Chocolate Drops are bum-rushing the Piedmont trad scene too late. Gone are the days when the Kingston Trio was namechecked in song by Ella Fitzgerald and worthies like the Dillards could grace Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Without some attention from the vanguard Negro blogosphere, the Drops -- Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Justin Robinson -- will have a hard roe to how reaching out to younger, multicultural audiences (read: the black, urban audience). Dona Got A Ramblin' Mind (MusicMaker) shows this young trio at their finest, the presence of NC fiddle legend Joe Thompson making the disc essential. Burn, babies: "Dixie," "Starry Crown." And, guess who: "Tom Dula."
Bonus Track: Rogue's Gallery (Anti) is a collection of 43 sea chanteys and pirate tunes, exec produced by Johnny Depp and Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski. Pirate ballads are long out of vogue, but some artists fare well on this vanity project, including Mark Anthony Thompson (a superior version of "Haul Away Joe" to the Trio's) and Rufus Wainwright with his Mama ("Lowlands Away").