15 great folk albums from 2022
We've been following up our list of the 50 best albums of 2022 with more lists that dive deeper into specific genres, and here's our list of 15 (technically 16) great folk albums from 2022. The albums range from traditional or trad-style folk music to folk that flirts with baroque pop or dream pop, from warm, bright folk songs to cold, haunting ones. (And some of the albums on this list share musical DNA with the ones on our list of 15 great country albums from 2022.) One of these albums appeared on our year-end list, but the rest didn't, and it's not ranked or titled "15 best" because it's just 15 great albums we wanted to shine an extra light on.
Read on for our list, in alphabetical order, and let us know your favorite folk albums of 2022 in the comments...
Angeline Morrison - The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs of Black British Experience
British folk singer Angeline Morrison refers to her new album as "re-storying," explaining that while "the traditional songs of the UK are rich with storytelling, and you can find songs with examples of almost any kind of situation or person you can think of," people of the African diaspora don't tend to appear in these stories, despite having inhabited the United Kingdom for centuries. With this album, Angeline Morrison changes that, telling stories like "‘Unknown African Boy (D. 1830)," written from the perspective of a mother who lost her son to slave owners, or "Mad-Haired Moll O’Bedlam," about a young Black adult who was committed to a psychiatric hospital for "speaking the wrong way" to a police officer, all set to the timeless, centuries-old style of British folk music. The stories are devastating, even on the most lovely sounding songs, and the tracks are interspersed with interludes containing racist soundbites, furthering Angeline's message.
Anna Tivel - Outsiders
Mama Bird Recording Co.
Portland-based folk singer Anna Tivel recorded her latest album almost entirely live to tape, with a band who hadn't heard the songs until they entered the studio. It gives the album a lively, freeing feel, which is balanced out by Anna's impactful storytelling, which is anything but off-the-cuff. The album ranges from full-band rock songs to moments that are more modern and electronic to traditional acoustic folk, and it's always Anna's stories that lead the way. Her songs are full of realistic, relatable characters, and Anna often gives center stage to the people who tend to go overlooked. Take standout track "Black Umbrella," a story of an innocent bystander, killed because they tried to do the right thing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not even mentioned in the news headlines the next day.
Aoife Nessa Frances - Protector
Aoife Nessa Frances may hail from Ireland, but her baroque folk sounds straight out of the Laurel Canyon, with gorgeous arrangements that recall anything from early '70s Judee Sill to recent Weyes Blood albums. This year she followed up her 2020 Ba Da Bing-released debut album Land of No Junction with her Partisan debut, Protector, and it picks right up where her great debut left off. Over a swirling blend of strings, horns, guitars, pianos, and more, Aoife leads the way with her truly remarkable, timeless-sounding voice. She sounds like someone you've known all your life, but also refreshingly new, and she's got the power to stop you in your tracks every time she opens her mouth to sing.
Arny Margret - they only talk about the weather
One Little Independent
They say you get your whole life to write your debut album, and for Icelandic folk singer Arny Margret, that seems very literal. The early-twentysomething began playing music in her teens, and her label One Little Independent (Björk, Ásgeir) describes they only talk about the weather as "Arny’s coming-of-age journey, from writing in school, staring out of dorm room windows, being on the road, to today." Arny cites Phoebe Bridgers as a core influence, and echoes of Phoebe's work can be heard in the personal, conversational lyricism and vivid imagery that make up Arny's songs, and sometimes the album has hints of artists like Regina Spektor and Feist, but Arny never sounds like one person in particular. She's got a great voice that she carries like a seasoned veteran, and the album's minimal, glistening folk guitar is the perfect backdrop.
Bonny Light Horseman - Rolling Golden Holy & Anaïs Mitchell - Anaïs Mitchell
37d03d & BMG
For the followup to their excellent 2020 debut LP, which was largely made up of reworked traditional folk songs, Bonny Light Horseman -- the trio of Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, and Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) -- chose instead to write original music. And even though the songwriting is much newer, the album's actually cut from a similar cloth. BLH's debut was such a triumph because the trio's unique arrangements and voices turned traditional songs into something that felt entirely new, and they bring that same now-trademark style to memorable originals like "Exile" and "California." Also this year, Anaïs released her first solo album in a decade, produced by Josh. (They also did a joint tour this year, playing material from both Bonny Light Horseman and Anaïs' solo work.) Also featuring Bonny Light Horseman contributors Michael Lewis, JT Bates, and Aaron Dessner, Anaïs' new solo album feels part of the same universe as BLH, and highlights like "Brooklyn Bridge," "Bright Star," and "The Words" are among the strongest tracks to come from Anaïs' latest creative chapter.
Courtney Marie Andrews - Loose Future
As the followup to 2020's melancholic Old Flowers, Loose Futures sounds like the sun finally coming up on a warm spring morning after a rainy night. "I kind of wanted Loose Future to be a pop record," Courtney Marie Andrews told The Line of Best Fit. It's still a folk record, but it's bright and catchy and warm and welcoming, like pop music is. It's got great arrangements, fleshed out by contributions from Bonny Light Horseman's Josh Kaufman, Grizzly Bear drummer Chris Bear, and co-producer Sam Evian, but even this bright new record isn't without its inner darkness. "Pain will always be there," she said in that same interview. "But the future isn’t certain; anything can happen."
Dana Gavanski - When It Comes
Like the aforementioned Aoife Nessa Frances album, Dana Gavanski's When It Comes feels rooted in early '70s folk and baroque pop, and at times she also sounds like Julia Holter or Beach House at their earthiest. Her use of harpsichords gives When It Comes an instantly-nostalgic feel, but the urgency in her songwriting always avoids pastiche. And like many great singer/songwriters in this realm, she's just got one of those magnetic voices that you can't stay away from once you've heard it.
Indigo Sparke - Hysteria
As promising as Indigo Sparke's 2021 debut album Echo was, it couldn't have prepared you for her truly stunning sophomore album Hysteria. The album would've landed a spot on this list from opener "Blue" alone; with just one guitar and vocals sung in close harmony, the song and its vivid poetry keeps you at the edge of your seat. But Hysteria keeps progressing from there, and Indigo continues to prove her knack for cozy, strummy guitars, haunting melodies, and lyricism that you feel in your bones.
Jana Horn - Optimism
Jana Horn (of the now-defunct Reservations) released her debut solo album this year, and fans of the stark, bare-bones folk of Sibylle Baier or the early Jessica Pratt and Angel Olsen albums should make sure they haven't missed this one. Its song "Tonight" is more or less a tribute to the Sibylle Baier song of the same name, and all of the tracks are written in that same appealing style, which Jana does so well. Like Sibylle, Optimism sounds so intimate and so raw, as if you're eavesdropping on someone playing these songs to themselves in the next room. It's a vibe that can be bone-chilling when it's captured perfectly, and Optimism is one of the best albums I've heard in this particular style in years.
Joan Shelley - The Spur
Over the years, Joan Shelley's honed a consistently-rewarding approach to folk music, taking cues from music that spans from the Laurel Canyon to her Kentucky home state to traditional British folk, and it always seems like her goal is just to write music that she loves, and that hopefully her fans might love too. That's exactly what she does on The Spur, the latest in a string of quietly brilliant albums. Her warm acoustic guitars are fleshed out by minor embellishments here and a Bill Callahan guest appearance there, but The Spur doesn't need many frills or selling points. Joan's soaring voice and intuitive songwriting never fail to draw you in on their own.
Naima Bock - Giant Palm
The former bassist for London's Goat Girl, Naima Bock made one of 2022's most assured debuts with the quietly dazzling Giant Palm. It almost didn't happen at all, as after leaving her band she went to school to study architecture and worked as a gardener. The songs kept coming, though, and working with Joel Burton of Viewfinder, they turned the spare songs she'd been playing live at solo gigs into grander, deeply beautiful creations. Giant Palm is still pretty understated, with gentle but gorgeous arrangements designed to perfectly compliment Bock's melancholic songs and breathy, often achingly beautiful, voice. Among the many wondrous, lovely moments on the record: the whistling outro of "Every Morning," when the rolling rhythm and sax kick in midway through,"Working," and the jazzy twilight beauty of the waltzing "Campervan," all woodwinds and strings. This is a deeply sad record -- you can feel it even without paying any attention to the lyrics -- documenting a permanently fractured relationship, but it is also one with hope on the horizon. "When the world crumbles at my feet," she sings on Giant Palm's title track, "I’ll pick it up and pull it tight against my cheek."
Shannen Moser - The Sun Still Seems to Move
A sudden loss led Shannen Moser to switch direction after two years of working on their third album. Its songs had begun as simple vocals-and-guitar pieces, and they enlisted their extended musical community to help transform them into gorgeous multi-layered works rich with banjo, woodwinds, lap steel, and more. They touch on grief and illness, love and loss with a gentle steadfastness that's brought out in the pastoral beauty of the arrangements. "At a certain point I was like, let’s just go for it. Let’s just really lean into the sadness of the world," Shannen says. "I really wanted to make a thing that I had never made before, because I was feeling a way that I had never felt before."
Skullcrusher - Quiet the Room
Helen Ballentine evokes childhood haunts and hurts in a cloud of ambient folk on her debut album as Skullcrusher. Her plaintive voice drew comparisons to Phoebe Bridgers on her earlier EPs, but Quiet the Room feels like an entirely personal album that only she could have made, an excavation of the past and the "darkness hovering just out of view" in old home movies. Nestled amid the spectral soundscapes, songs like "Window Somewhere," "Whatever Fits together," "It's Like a Secret," and "You are my House" shine with urgency despite their delicately strummed guitar.
Tomberlin - i don't know who needs to hear this...
Sarah Beth Tomberlin's music can be deceptively understated, and on her sophomore album as Tomberlin, she and an ace team of collaborators, including Stuart Bogie, Shahzad Ismaily, Cass McCombs, Gyða Valtýsdóttir, Felix Walworth, and Doug Wieselman, make every moment feel deliberate. There's a vulnerability to her minimalism that allows every word to shine through, but it's on "stoned," the most fleshed out and immediate track of the bunch, where the album hits its peak. It's her best song yet, and a clear marker of her progress since her 2018 debut At Weddings.
The Weather Station - How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars
After multiple albums of traditional-sounding, acoustic-guitar-based folk music, The Weather Station (Tamara Lindeman) switched things up for last year's sophisti-pop-leaning Ignorance. At the same time that she wrote that album, she also wrote the songs that make up How Is It That I Should Look At The Stars, which drew upon many of the same themes but are presented much differently. It's primarily a piano and voice album, but the songs feel earthy and intimate the way Tamara's earlier folk music did. The album also has some of her strongest songwriting yet, particularly on "Endless Time," one of the most show-stopping songs she's ever written.