Ah, folk songs.
Rooted deep in the world’s history as one of the first modern music genres to ever grace our ears, folk is a genre nearly wholly synonymous with music derived entirely from the heart. It’s almost needless to say with that in mind, then, that there have been thousands-if not millions-of folk songs released throughout the eons that have hit this idea squarely on the head.
There’s Bob Dylan’s “Wedding Song”, Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle”, and even The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” for a few good examples, but those are all clearly songs released before 2014.
Below are a list of 20 great folk love songs of 2014… so far! Who knows? You may find your own, literal “Wedding Song” in here!
Keep in mind that these tracks aren’t ranked. The numbers are used as organizational tools, and nothing more.
1. “Clouds (Acoustic Version)” – Zach Sobiech
Those who’ve not been living under a rock for the past couple of years will likely recognize Zach because of SoulPancake’s viral documentary of his life struggles with osteosarcoma and how he dealt with it. “Clouds” became a smash hit back in the days following his unfortunate death, but in that, it lit up a world full of hope for millions of others as they remembered through the song’s message to live each day like it was their last with no regrets. A song about loving oneself and making it through is just as important as a song about loving all others. Folk music is about telling a story, and Zach tells an emotive story perhaps even more tangible in the new acoustic version of “Clouds” than ever before.
2. “You Are Your Mother’s Child” – Conor Oberst
With a voice perfectly apt to telling a palpable story, Conor Oberst delivers yet another emotion-ridden tune in the form of “You Are Your Mother’s Child”. It’s a bit different than past works as it has to do with one of the simplest, purest forms of love: love for a child. Despite the potent message it can send to parents, the song also can leave a lasting impression on children to spend the moments that they can with their mothers and to never forget all that they’ve gone through to provide for them.
3. “Us” – The Accidentals
Though their sophomore album, Bittersweet, was technically released in late 2013, The Accidentals (Savannah Buist and Katie Larson) are way too good not to feature in this 2014 edition of folk love songs. Featuring a lush ensemble of strings right out of the gate, “Us” is a vibrant and hopeful track perfectly relatable to any budding couple’s innermost thoughts and feelings up until the very end. They’re essentially my favorite new-ish folk act, and this song (as well as all of theirs) proves why.
4. “Cemetery to Lie” – Poppy’s Field
Up-and-coming Brit folk act Poppy’s Field dares to bend convention by invoking deep urban influences into his music. Ever heard of a folk/hip-hop fusion? Well, you have now, and Poppy’s Field does it surprisingly well. My favorite song of his from off of the Doll Face EP, currently, is “Cemetery to Lie”, invokes a classical bluegrass melody that fuses with a hefty urban beat and pop-sensible hook alongside some vivid lyricism reflective of a deep and passionate love. As it’s related to all manner of cosmic and weather-related elements as well as a cemetery, of all things, you’ll be amazed by his clever songwriting skills.
5. “Write It In The Sky” – Kina Grannis
There’s plenty of cool, thoughtful tracks laid out in retrospect across Kina Grannis’ brand new album, Elements, but “Write It In The Sky” is my personal favorite at the time being. Why? Because it’s a love song both beautiful and pure that, from the opening moments featuring nothing but her and a low-key set of strings to the end, perfectly encapsulates the light, amazing feeling that the first moments of realizing who your love is. The instrumental build-up is something to behold, as well, making for a gorgeous bridge into a tender a cappella moment that has the potential to send shivers up some spines.
6. “Scarecrow” – Alex & Sierra
The final X Factor US winners prove that they have an auspicious future ahead of them in their lead single, “Scarecrow”. This folk/rock-flavored romper propels the duo forward in the industry through its cleverly sweet lyricism and sugary shared vocals that accentuate one staunch fact: not only is this song a neat declaration of love, it can also be seen as a declaration of love between these two real-life lovebirds. Everything that they do accentuates this idea through the relative ease within which they navigate intricate harmonies. It’s a very cool spectacle to behold-especially now that they’re doing their own original music.
7. “Scare Away The Dark” – Passenger
Even if making it into the mainstream was never Passenger’s most major goal, at the very least, plenty of people who’ve yearned for more heart on the radio waves are happy about it. The follow-up single to his smash trailblazer “Let Her Go” and scorching “Holes” is just as revelatory as the last few.
“Scare Away The Dark” accentuates that we need to learn to let go of our work for at least part of the day and realize how much more there is to the world than sitting in front of a desk on the computer. This is one in order to see what life is really all about. It’s not a straight-up love song, but instead one about learning to respect oneself and everyone else around you, as well as the world for what it is. Paying more attention would save lives-not just from actual disasters or criminal situations, but in a more figurative way of speaking, our own lives as well.
8. “Tenerife Sea” – Ed Sheeran
One of the more innocent songs on Ed Sheeran’s revelatory sophomore album, x, is “Tenerife Sea”. Unlike the shots and scandals scattered across much of the album’s (equally as brilliant) subject material, “Tenerife Sea” is an unadulterated love song stated much in the style of the acoustic folk balladry that had gotten Ed famous in the first place. If you’re wondering, the blue in the subject matter’s eyes is compared to the famous ocean. The song’s major hook, “I’m so in love”, pretty much drives it all home.
9. “You Can Rely On Me” – Jason Mraz
Being as multi-faceted as he is, Jason Mraz is a tour-de-force of the music industry as we know it, and it’s all done from the bottom of his heart and nothing else. Mraz represents musicianship at its most respectable in that regard and, in that sense, everything he performs can be viewed as a folk song from an allegorical perspective. “You Can Rely On Me” continues the trend of beautifully simplistic melodies of love and hope from the tracks thus-far released from his upcoming album with Raining Jane, Yes! Its subject matter? Read the title. The meaning is on the tin.
10. “Girl That I Love” – Falls
My personal favorite track from off of Falls’ resplendent debut EP, Into the Fire, is “Girl That I Love”. It’s gorgeously reflective of what pure folk music has always been about in terms of sound and lyrical delivery, with shared male and female vocals accentuating a story of both love and frustration. It peaks just at the right time, making for a driving bridge that exemplifies their vocal prowess and ability to craft a powerful story arc before fading off into the song’s final instrumental moments.
11. “I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose” – The Stray Birds
Featuring lush guitar, mandolin and stand-up bass-centric instrumentals paired with crazy accurate harmonies incredibly akin to the sound produced back during the true heydays of folk music, The Stray Birds do this Bob Willis classic justice. Not many cover songs can be done in such an authentic yet refreshingly unique way as compared to the original, but this band has managed to find the secret formula for doing so as exemplified on this sweet western swinger of a love song.
12. “Cedar Lane” – First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit’s latest album, Stay Gold, is full of Southern-flavored modern folk classics in the making, as headed by lauded producer and Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis. “Cedar Lane” is a favorite track of mine from off of the impeccable new album because of its ability to invoke nostalgia in the listener through its plain and simple yet lush and reflective melodic delivery. For anyone who has lost a love with whom they’ve made amazing memories with in the past, “Cedar Lane” will stick to ’em like glue.
13. “Skinny Love” – Jillian Jensen
Jillian Jensen’s biggest move for 2014 will be to create a full-length album of material to launch sometime late this year, but in the meantime, we still have plenty of great covers of hers to admire on her YouTube channel. Amongst them, “Skinny Love” is one of the most painfully heartfelt. In a way similar to Justin Vernon’s heartache yet entirely nondescript in Jillian’s artistic delivery itself, she manages to bring about a whole new flavor to this indie folk hit without taking away what made it such a lauded single in the first place.
14. “Looking Back At You” – Dave Menzo
Michigan singer-songwriter Dave Menzo earned high marks on my Yahoo! review of his debut solo album, Color Wheel, with its full-circle sonic experimentation remaining an impressive feat to my ears to this very day. “Looking Back At You” is Dave’s unequivocal folk-inspired track to an album full of differing musical influences. In it, he absolutely hits the nail on the head as far as understanding what makes a great folk song. Simplistic and full of love, he delivers one believably emotive lyric after another paired with some gorgeous self-made harmonies that are really a joy to behold.
15. “Fly On (Forever Is Better With You)” – Humming House
Though technically released during the 2013 holiday season, this one gets a pass since it was so darn close to 2014 already and the song itself is good enough to warrant the exception regardless. Want something undeniably akin to traditional folk music for the modern era? Look no further than one of Humming House’s latest singles, evoking a sense of enthusiastic love through its riveting instrumental ensemble and in the avid spirit in each individuals’ vocal delivery. “Fly On” is a real treat.
16. “Love We Are We Love” – The Sea, The Sea
Previously featured on 20 Indie Love Songs of 2014 (So Far), “Love We Are We Love” gets a re-inclusion on this list because I don’t feel as if I’d depicted it in as strong of a light as I could’ve. The song makes for an impressive debut for The Sea, The Sea. They are ace at depicting the monotonous series of potential relationship-plaguing worries in a way that’s totally different and utterly refreshing for the already vast indie folk scene. This is largely in thanks to a troubadour’s arrangement featuring a driving acoustic beat and exquisitely developed traded vocals between the male and female leads.
17. “Fell In Love With A Girl” – Olivia Mainville
A friend to The Accidentals, Olivia just recently hit the live music scene and is nearly ready to release her debut album! In the meantime, though, we can enjoy some sweet performances of her via her official YouTube page. The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl” admittedly isn’t the most inspiring love song in terms of lyrical content… After all, who wants to fall into a one-sided relationship with a young woman experienced in the art of leading people on? However, Olivia- along with fellow musicians Savannah Buist and Vince Russo -does such a neat job giving the song a fresh and infectious gypsy-folk infusion that its inclusion on the list is wholly warranted.
18. “Love of Mine” – Nickel Creek
While Nickel Creek’s illustriously-developed songs are often up for open interpretation, my personal take on “Love of Mine” is that it has to do with the feeling of love itself than a specific love for any singular individual. Only a group of people experienced in the art of love and music could ever craft something so utterly poetic and idiosyncratic even when set up against an entire classification of intrinsically deep music. In terms of a natural and roots-ridden acoustic sound, too, you can’t do much better than these seasoned veterans.
19. “Tell the World” – Eric Hutchinson
Eric Hutchinson is an incredibly adapt artist, even for the modern era of music. He’s as folk as he is pop and as pop as he is swingin’ rock, essentially proving that genre isn’t everything when defining an artist. That’s what he is, though: an artist, and he’s artistically crafted an almost ironically sweet folk/pop-flavored romp in the form of “Tell the World”. It’s as infectious and driving a song as it was when it wasn’t attached to a set of 10 other songs on Pure Fiction as it is today and-special applause for the horn section-it’s just as worthy of a listen as it was a few months back. Talk about a timeless pop classic.
20. “Clouds” – Emma Robinson
We’re closing this list much in the same way as we opened it: with an interpretation of Zach Sobiech’s “Clouds”. This one is delivered by YouTube artist Emma Robinson instead of Zach himself, but it’s in the buckets of pure inspiration that she’d received by watching SoulPancake’s documentary of Zach that really drives this cover home. Her side yodeling skillz already make it hard for any cover of hers to sound karaoke, but this emotion-ridden performance drives it one step further into genuine artistic territory for her. It’s well worth a listen if you’re in the mood for something as unique as it is emotion-invoking… which you should be, since it took you 19 other love songs to get here.
Musicians are more like you and me than you’d expect. We all have a passion that we chase, and music is theirs. Don’t discredit that by stealing their work. If you can, purchase their work in any format that you can in order to support them. If you can’t immediately, feel free to search up legal ways of streaming their album (e.g. Spotify). These folk artists have arguably got a lot of heart, and if you’d like to see that heart on full display with more songs released from them in the future, you’d look into the kindness of your heart to truly support them. They deserve that respect.
Also see: 20 Pop/Punk Love Songs of 2014 (So Far)
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