Camp is set up, the fire is glowing, and you’re staring into the flames contemplating the meaning of life. To further augment the experience, fire up this playlist on your portable bluetooth speaker, relax, and find your center as the wood slowly burns before you. It’s hard to shake the image of the acoustic guitar in front of a campfire, so this playlist is fueled by the folk world’s weapon of choice. And though the mix overflows with top-notch tracks, below are some choice highlights.
“Song in Stone” by Iron & Wine
Sam Beam — by means of his vehicle for putting music out into the world, Iron & Wine — is slowly becoming an American institution. Hailing from Chapin, South Carolina, Beam has a knack for tapping into the subconscious of pure unbridled (and unstylized) Americana. From his early, almost wholly acoustic ventures on The Creek Drank The Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days to his more eclectic recordings of late, Beam’s comforting voice and everyman lyrics capture the subtle details of life with grace and beauty. “Song In Stone” and “The Truest Stars We Know” on 2017’s Beast Epic, and “Everyone’s Summer of ’95” on Archive Series Volume No. 1 all meditatively further this notion while providing woven threads to the warm blanket of this mix.
“Follow My Voice” by Julia Byrne
Hailing from my hometown of Buffalo, New York, Julie Byrne sounds deeper and wiser than her 27 years might suggest. Byrne has one of those voices that evokes generations of wisdom, hardship, and growth. Lilting and breathy yet powerful and expansive, as this track suggests, it’s hard not to follow her. “Follow My Voice” comes off Byrne’s second full length album, Not Even Happiness. I’m excited to see where this unique singer/songwriter takes us as her age slowly catches up with her abundant talent.
“All My Trials” by Nick Drake and Gabrielle Drake
The tragic loss of Nick Drake in 1974 at age 26 rears its heartbreaking head every time his haunting voice and unique open tuning acoustic guitar style find your ears. The ethereal nature of his music coupled with his untimely demise make Drake an otherworldly force that swiftly cuts through whatever’s “hot” in popular music at any given time. Thank goodness for the recorded material released in his lifetime the others that have been unearthed by his family posthumously (despite the artist’s likely bristling at the notion of their seeing the light of day). “All My Trials” (a duet with his sister, Gabrielle) and “They’re Leaving Me Behind” (further down the playlist) make a grand argument for their release as they only serve to widen his lethal legacy.
“Open Book” by José González
Having seen José González live on multiple occasions, I can attest to the fact that his incredible voice is no studio trickery (excepting when he doubles it up). This Swedish musician (raised by Argentinian parents) is a bit of an anomaly; his voice is not a powerful, operatic force of nature, but rather just the opposite. It is in the subtle, quiet, under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight tones with which González achieves his profound greatness. In “Open Book,” González contemplates his life without an ex-lover beside him while perfectly finger-picking his acoustic guitar.
“Sand River” by Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man
Beth Gibbons was the ghostly, commanding voice behind trip-hop masters Portishead. On her first solo album, Out of Season, (with the help of Paul Webb/Rustin Man) her voice is showcased in a more traditional band-based manner, yet still manages to steal the show with its sheer gravitas and perpetual heartache shrouding us in melancholy vibrations all anew.
May this acoustic mix provide solace and comfort as you ponder our mortal coil while peering into the primordial embers of the campfire from which we sprang forth — or provide a good soundtrack for making s’mores!