My poles of folk are the raw troubadour folk of Bob Dylan’s The Freewheeling Bob Dylan and the contemporary songwriting of Josh Ritter’s Animal Years. Alan Barnosky‘s Old Freight combines the vocal style of Dylan with the bright, contemporary recording style of Ritter and a fresh take on troubadour traveling lyrics. It is a fantastic album, full of clever guitar work, excellent vocal performances, and punchy arrangements. It is so good that I have trouble writing about it–it is the sort of work that needs no explanation once you’ve heard it. If you’re into folk, it will slot in perfectly next to Justin Townes Earle, Langhorne Slim, and (yes) Bob Dylan. It is easily one of the best folk albums of the year.
That previous paragraph should be enough, but I’ll attempt to throw some other words at it too. The record opens with “Bowling Green,” which is a perfect synopsis of the record: it updates a trad-style folk songwriting and lyrical frame with contemporary touches and flourishes. They aren’t overt, but they’re there–the long held lines in the vocals, the rhythms, and the excellent production value. There’s a touch of Nickel Creek here in the fleet mandolin solo.
“Roanoke Angeline” has excellent verse and chorus vocal melodies, making every second of the song a blast. It’s the sort of song that you can’t help but hum along with. “I Heart Mountains” has a bit more urgency in the vocal presentation added to all the charm of the aforementioned songs. This, as with many of the songs, is about traveling (in the finest troubadour style), but none of the lyrics feel trite. Appropriating emoji culture for the titular chorus phrase is just one of the touches throughout the record that place the feet of this record firmly in the contemporary moment.
I could spend a long time singing the praises of this record (“No Place to Go”! “Old Freight”! “Childhood Ghosts”! It’s all so good!). But it’s more productive to be short and sweet, so that you can spend less time listening to me and more time listening to Alan Barnosky. If you’re into folk music, Barnosky is a rare, doesn’t-come-around-that-often talent. Highly recommended.