Quick Reviews: When Did American Folk Music Get So Spine-tinglingly Good?

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Cassandra Parkin takes her turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to

When you look at your “Most Played” list on your iPod and realise nineteen out of the twenty-five tracks are by the same artist, you know it’s time to expand your musical horizons. The Camel’s Hump kindly turned me loose on five new tracks from five artists I’ve never listened to before, and told me I was allowed to share my opinions with the world.

Jay James Picton – Heads vs Hearts [Part One – Battle Call]Jay James Picton

Put me in charge of the stereo, and I’ll generally pick something heavy, rocky and piano-y, with vinyl hissing and doomy lyrics. This puts “Heads vs Hearts” – a heartbroken lament on the pain of loving a bad girl – right in my sweet-spot. Picton also made the video – a noir confection of battered protagonists, bad relationships, brunettes and cigarette smoke. While I could lose the massive instructional signage at the start, song + video = glorious wallowy misery. I liked this, although shinier, happier people might find it easy to mock. A big, bad, ANGSTY track for days when you’re feeling big, bad and very, very ANGST-RIDDEN.

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow

I’m going to have to gush about this one just a little bit, because I absolutely adored it. It’s minimal, clean, pure and perfect, with spine-tingling harmonies and immaculate rhythms. Songs about sinners who can’t go home can be horribly maudlin, but Barton Hollow nails it – lyrical and heart-shaking, without tipping over into wallowy self-pity. If you feel you ought to take an interest in American Folk music, but can’t quite bring yourself to deal with the knee-slapping, jingly-jangly, Randy-the-cowpokeness of it all, buy the whole album and feel like a pioneer.

Ivan Campo – Diceman

This track feels like it might have fallen through a wormhole from the early nineteen-sixties. Specifically, it sounds like a lost Beatles song. The rhythm, the harmonies, the esoteric lyrics, and a singer who sounds almost ridiculously like Paul McCartney, all conspire to create this illusion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make it a lost masterpiece; it’s more like something the boys wrote, then discarded because it wasn’t quite good enough for Please Please Me. There’s nothing wrong with this song. I just can’t get past how much it sounds like a pastiche of a masterpiece, rather than something new in its own right.

The Lights, a band promoting their single "mostly water"The Lights – Mostly Water

Mostly Water is sung by a pretty girl with a passable voice, a photofit American accent and a competent backing band, and there’s some guitar and some rhythm and some words, and no – I simply have to say it – this song is the utter personification of boring, British niceness. If you’re looking for bland music for your Financial Services advert, this song is for you!

Damn it, now I feel mean. Look, I have the same problem with Katie Melua, okay? If you like Katie, you’ll like this. That’s a lot of people. Just – you know – not me.

Jake Morley – Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

I feel like the meanest person on earth for not liking Mostly Water, so I’m very pleased to be finishing with Morley’s lovely anthem Feet Don’t Fail Me Now. With its feel-good blend of cheerful chords, uplifting chorus, youthful charm and poor-but-hopeful sensibility, Morley may well benefit from the mad rush to find artists with a strong musical resemblance to Ed Sheeran. Quite right too. His song is sweet and cheering and likeable, and I wish him all the best. However, I bet his mum wishes he’d washed his feet before they filmed the video.


About Cassandra Parkin

I'm an up-and-coming writer, and a winner of Salt Publishing's 2011 Scott Prize. My short story collection, "New World Fairy Tales" is available now. I blog at


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