These 5 best folk albums have transcended time and influenced generations of artists. They are the most essential albums in a genre typified by talented singer-songwriters, airy ballads and expertly crafted lyrics. From the moving acoustic guitar riffs of British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, to the fast and uplifting rock-infused albums of Bob Dylan and Jim Croce, the best folk albums represent an inspiring and engaging genre of music that continues to stand the test of time.
- “Five Leaves Left” by Nick Drake The quintessential Nick Drake album and the undisputed favorite of fans, “Five Leaves Left” marked the debut of one of the most gifted folk artists of all time and is undoubtedly one of the best folk albums ever produced. The first of only three albums produced during Nick Drake’s short career, “Five Leaves Left” introduced Drake’s signature improvisational guitar style and featured hits like “River Man,” “Time Has Told Me,” and “Cello Song.” A lispy voice combined with Drake’s impressive command of the guitar are what make the album a haunting, passionate and emotional record. Though it received little notice when it was released in 1968, “Five Leaves Left” earned a cult following after Nick Drake’s untimely death in 1974 at the age of 26.
- “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel A signature album in the genre of folk and Americana, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was the last album to be released before Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel parted ways. Opening with Paul Simon’s soaring vocals in the title track of “Bride Over Troubled Water” and ending with the short, sweet “Song for the Asking,” the album is a veritable best-of, featuring well known hits like “The Boxer,” “El Condor Passa (If I Could)” and “Cecelia.” Lyrical and moving, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the embodiment of classic Simon & Garfunkel and saw the duo coming into their own and defining the genre of folk music, only to see them separate the same year as its release. Along with the Buddy Holly cover “Bye Bye Love,” the album features one of Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest songs– the poignant ballad, “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
- “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce The third album of folk icon Jim Croce, “Don’t Mess Around With Jim” marked the singer-songwriter’s first album as a solo artists and is not only considered the best album of Croce’s career, but one of the best folk albums in music history. Featuring Croce classics like “Operator,” “Time in a Bottle,” and the title track, “Don’t Mess Around With Jim,” the tracks on "Don't Mess Around With Jim" are full of blue-collar lyrics and upbeat arrangements, blending folk, rock and Americana to produce some of the most timeless and memorable folk songs in the genre; catchy songs that are as folksy as they are uplifting.
- “Heads & Tales” by Harry Chapin The debut album of Harry Chapin, 1972’s “Heads & Tales” is arguably one of the best folk albums of all time and quickly established Chapin as one of folk music’s undisputed legends. The album featured a number airy folk ballads like “Sometime, Somewhere Wife” and “Could You Put Your Light on Please?” that would come to define Chapin’s sound. Wry and wistful, sentimental and articulate, “Heads & Tales” is an artfully composed folk gem which included the single that would define Chapin’s career: “Taxi.” With a stay of sixteen weeks on the Billboard charts, “Taxi” would later be covered by everyone from Mandy Patinkin to William Shatner.
- “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bon Dylan Ranked number four on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time, “Highway 61 Revisited” is considered one of the best folk albums ever recorded and the most defining album of Bob Dylan’s career. Backed by an impressive studio band which included greats like Al Kooper and Michael Bloomfield, the album combined folk, blues and rock with Dylan’s surrealistic language to create iconic songs that have gone on to become Dylan staples like “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and one of the greatest folk rock songs ever written, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
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