Sunday, 8 April 2012

Exploring the real reasons behind the recent singer-songwriter craze

This week I treated my ears to the mellow debuts of two beautiful folk artists. The first, with exquisite lo-fi artwork and videos accompanying, was Keaton Henson's breathtaking Dear... LP. A timid musician (yes, they do exist) too shy to even perform live, his insecurities are mirrored both lyrically as well as melodically. Then came Acousmatic Sorcery from Illinois' Willis Earl Beal, disaffiliating himself from the overused acoustic norm with an rugged soulful blues record of lusciousness. Pure class.

However what is it that makes both a homeless Chicagoan and Enter Shikari's heartbroken album cover artist choose to pick up the guitar and enter the vast singer-songwriter world? To begin to trace this folk boom we must return to a story you'll more than likely find yourself very familiar with...

Cast your minds back to 2008/09 and it wasn't too uncommon to see the likes of Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale and Fleet Foxes popping into the top ten, but folk was a long way off David Guetta's chart domination. Then, out of nowhere, Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More took the world by storm, earning the band a whopping six Grammy nominations, Brit Awards Album of the Year and multi-platinum certification in five different countries all over the globe. All of a sudden it became "cool" to own albums by Bombay Bicycle Club, Florence + The Machine and Bon Iver, and 2012 alone has already seen Django Django, Beth Jeans Houton and Grimes begin on their breakthrough to name only a handful.

But that's the overused tale regarding the popularity of folk as a genre. It doesn't explain why you can't turn the corner these days without a surge of guitar-equipped eccentrics threatening to engulf you. The singer-songwriter popularity can put its surge down to, well, ease.

Think about it, you can cover a Joan Baez classic, record it on your mobile and upload it to YouTube all in the space of a Downton Abbey ad break! Acoustic guitars take up next to no room in storage (and your voice is, erm, kind of attached to you), they can be carried on that three mile bus journey unlike a hefty amplifier or full four-piece drum kit to the next musical venue/busking spot/capitalist protest camp, you don't have to rely on bone idle band members to turn up to band practice and, most importantly, that deaf old 86-year-old neighbour isn't going to start banging on your walls to "turn that bleedin' racket down."

However if you do want to reach Keaton Henson or Willis Earl Beal standard it takes hard work, commitment and complete dedication. On the other hand, with so much exposure possible from the vast universe that is the interweb and thousands of open mics and live events being put on every day, if the blood, sweat and tears are shed, it is certainly possible to reach the top of that indie grapevine.

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