Last week, Folk Alliance International held its annual conference and music festival in Montreal, Canada. Winding through the halls, that scene from Almost Famous comes to mind: there are musicians everywhere, playing music in hotel rooms and every hallway. Some people drop bags and take up instruments to have a jam session in the middle of the hotel lobby. There is a collective and collaborative energy about the place. Of all the music we heard, there are six artists who stand out from the crowd. If you caught any of their sets, you know. If not, we're sorry you missed them but thank God for us, because we're going to introduce you to them here.
David Keenan (Ireland)
I've written about this artist so much at length that it's difficult to say anything succinct about him, so please bear with me. There is a reason that fifty percent of this list belongs to Irish artists: there seems to be a never-ending stream of folk talent in the country. David Keenan's brand of folk is lyric-heavy, and he strives for nothing if not authenticity. If you talk through his set, you'll miss it—his poetry is rich and his vocal ability maddening. Just listen.
Saint Sister (Ireland)
Saint sister are a Northern Irish folk-pop duo who consistently blow our minds live. Morgan McIntyre and Gemma Doherty have only been playing together since 2014, which is remarkable considering their harmonic blend is so cohesive. They met in college after singing in a larger choir together, and began to create their own unique sound by fusing traditional Irish folk and elements of electronic music.
Lula Wiles (US)
This trio met at a summer camp in Maine. They went to college together, where they honed their sound as a band. In January, the trio released their sophomore album What Will We Do? to much critical acclaim, garnering attention from the likes of NPR, among other notable publications. The three women are multi-talented instrumentalists who all sing, and their neo-folk/bluegrass style balances on the fine line of delicate and gritty. It is beautifully earthy music.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire (Ireland)
I wept through the entirety of Colm's set when I saw him play for the first time. The fiddler is best known for being one part of Irish rock group The Frames, helmed by Glen Hansard. However, his career as a solo musician is equally rich and the music he produces just as beautiful. He is an extremely talented composer, and his experience spans decades. Colm's music is inherently rooted in Celtic tradition and Irish culture, and I dare you not to get emotional listening to his Other Voices performance from a few years ago.
Kaia Kater (Canada)
Kaia Kater is a folkie of Canadian import, currently signed to roots record giant Smithsonian Folkways. Kater blends the blues with her singer/songwriter sensibilities. She is part of a rising movement in Americana music which seeks to reclaim black women's place in the genre, which has, for a long time now, been dominated by white men. She wrote her first EP when she was just out of high school, and has since been on a speedy upward trajectory.
Good Lovelies (Canada)
Another Canadian name, it seems Good Lovelies have been on the scene forever. And perhaps they have. They have at least been performing together since 2006, and have dipped into almost every aspect of the roots scene on their four studio albums. Their harmonies are sublime, and the three women have honed their songwriting spectacularly over the years.
- Connect with David Keenan: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram
- Connect with Saint Sister: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram
- Connect with Lula Wiles: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram
- Connect with Colm Mac Con Iomaire: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram
- Connect with Kaia Kater: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram
- Connect with Good Lovelies: Spotify | Twitter | Instagram