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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Folk & Soul

by Mosi Reeves

Cheat Sheet: Folk & Soul


First, there is an admission to make. This collection of albums hardly fits the title of "folk & soul," or rather, some do, and others don't. Bill Withers' 1971 debut Just As I Am defines the term, but what about Tracy Chapman's 1988 debut, which owes more to '60s protest singers like Odetta and British folk troubadours like Joan Armatrading than any contemporary notions of soul music? (Chapman's 1995 comeback album New Beginning may be more appropriate for this list.) And Lianne La Havas, the sprightly British newcomer that's making inroads with her promising debut, Is Your Love Big Enough?, is as much a pop singer in the mold of KT Tunstall and Inara George as a soul chanteuse akin to Corinne Bailey Rae, the artist with whom she's most often compared.

However, there is a thread linking all of these artists. Yes, they are all black, and they all play acoustic guitar, but it's more than that. You can build branches from the elegant crooning of Terry Callier to the balladry of Anthony David; and from the lyrical honesty and presence of Chapman to the empowerment anthems of India.Arie. Each musician sounds remarkably different, but the inflections in their voices and their music can be unmistakably similar. You could segue from Ben Harper's "Steal My Kisses" to Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star" and not miss a beat.

So consider this list, which is inspired by Michael Kiwanuka's memorable debut Home Again, as a somewhat clumsy attempt to create a family tree linking these many talents. At the very least, it's a starting point for hours of discovery.