Backtrackin'

Things you may have missed the first time

Initially, the only thing that separated folk music from rock was electricity, and Bob Dylan quickly (but certainly not quietly) did away with this quaint notion in 1966 when folk-rock was fitfully conceived. Folk music didn't end when Dylan plugged in, but the lines between folk and rock became forever blurred. Such genre intermingling has produced distinction in the likes of the Byrds, Tom Petty and R.E.M. as well as the following few who are still thriving in the margins of greatness.

Gene Clark was a founding member of the Byrds but only lasted two years due to personal issues (such as being deathly afraid of flying). Clark's erratic solo career ended tragically with his death in 1991, but Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers was a hell of a debut in 1967, and the reissue makes an even better case for Clark's status as a country/rock pioneer. Sure, the baroque psychedelia of "Echoes" and "Elevator Operator" are products of their time, but "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" (especially the bonus cut acoustic demo version) transcends eras and genres, proving Clark's ability to mix the somber and the sublime.

Eric Andersen was a contemporary of Dylan and Phil Ochs in the early '60s Greenwich Village folk scene. Andersen's acknowledged high-water mark was Blue River in 1972. A sensitive singer-songwriter in the same vein as James Taylor but with much more social awareness, Andersen's blend of rock, country and folk is best heard on the Australian compilation So Much on My Mind 1969-1980 and the recent live effort Blue Rain. The live disc includes several outstanding songs, including "You Can't Relive the Past," that are of a much more recent vintage, showing Andersen's prowess hasn't diminished.

June Tabor is an English folk singer who first gained renown with Silly Sisters, an album recorded with like-minded folkie Maddy Prior. Unafraid of experimenting with the sometimes steadfast conventions of folk, Tabor has recorded sturdy folk-rock with the Oyster band and continues to explore brave territory on the recently released Apples. Consisting almost entirely of traditional tunes sung in English and French, Apples is, ahem, ripe for play in cool coffee houses and on NPR stations everywhere.

One of the oddest entries in any discussion of folk or folk-rock would have to be Britannia by The Automatics. Formed by David Philip in 1978, the Automatics were a fairly significant punk/power pop quartet best known for "When the Tanks Roll Over Poland Again." Due to internal and external factors, the original band faded quickly, but Philip re-assembled the group in 2000 and Britannia is a heady, hearty and historical slab of power folk. Songs such as "Old River Thames" and "Royalty" leave little doubt of the record's direction, but that focus makes Philip's insights all the more essential.

 
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