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9 Folk-Rock Albums That Will Rock You

Guitars and passion star in these albums by Dylan, Springsteen and other troubadours

Great Folk Rock Albums: Nick Drake

Nick Drake — Five Leaves Left (1969). Track that will improve your life: "Day Is Done"

English singer-songwriter Nick Drake's whispery voice and ornate fingerpicking is hypnotic. Add sensitive accompaniment by members of the British folk-rock supergroups Fairport Convention and Pentangle, and it's hard to figure out why this album isn't much better known — until you realize that music this starkly intimate is almost always something of a cult property. As for Drake's lovely, complex writing, there's nothing quite like it: He quietly grabs you from note 1, then injects his unique potion of melancholy straight to the heart.

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Great Folk Rock Albums: Fairport Convention

Fairport Convention — Liege & Lief (1969). Track that will improve your life: "Matty Groves"

Sandy Denny's crystalline vocals waft over you in a curiously dreamy yet demanding way — demanding that you take notice, that is. Meanwhile Richard Thompson applies his unsurpassed guitar playing to traditional English ballads, some of which (I'm thinking of "Tam Lin") date back four centuries. Fairport's original drummer, Martin Lamble, had died in a car accident on his way home from a gig just a few months before this album was recorded. The group therefore subbed in the powerful Dave Mattacks — and, while they were in change mode, shed the Dylan covers they had relied on until then. The result: A folk-rock milestone that may be England's finest.

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Great Folk Rock Albums: Traffic

Traffic — John Barleycorn Must Die (1970). Track that will improve your life: "John Barleycorn"

Steve Winwood was at loose ends. The former teen-sensation singer had found success with his later bands: first Traffic, with Dave Mason, then supergroup Blind Faith, with Eric Clapton. When the latter fell apart, Winwood tried to go solo, but the sessions stagnated. Realizing he worked best when playing off others, Windwood invited his former Traffic bandmates to the studio and — bing! — a classic was born. As usual for Traffic, the album had plenty of jazz and soul, but the folk-rock influence on "Freedom Rider" is unmistakable. It's the folk-rock of the title track — a song with antecedents in the 1500s — that lets Barleycorn hit its creative high points.

Next: Roy Harper, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M. »

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