Best folk albums of all time

December 26, 2016
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The 10 best folk albums of all time include recordings from the 1940s to the 1970s. From legendary musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Bill Monroe to the folk singers of America’s anti-war protest era, this list features some of the best offerings in American folk music history. Ordered chronologically by album release date, here are the ten best folk albums of all time.

  1. “Dust Bowl Ballads” “Dust Bowl Ballads” is a 1940 folk album by Woody Guthrie, an American singer, songwriter and folk musician. His legacy includes numerous political, traditional and children’s songs and classic folk ballads. The complete three-disc collection can be accessed digitally through the Smithsonian Institution's website.
  2. “Anthology of American Folk Music” The “Anthology of American Folk Music” is a compilation of folk songs, blues and country music. Compiled by American archivist Harry Smith and released in 1952, the original songs were recorded by various music artists from 1927 to 1932. This classic work also appears digitally in the Smithsonian Institution’s American Folkways collection.
  3. “American Ballads” Another Smithsonian Institute American Folkways album is “American Ballads, ” a 1957 album by the legendary Pete Seeger, an iconic figure in American folk music. The songs on this best-selling album tell the stories of ordinary American people, from “John Henry” to “Barbara Allen.”
  4. “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is a 1963 album by Bob Dylan, a major figure in American music for five decades. The album features the 1960s anthem, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan balances political songs of peace, war and freedom with folksy love songs for a collection of some of his best compositions.
  5. “In the Wind” “In the Wind” is a 1963 album by the American folk-singing trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The album features a collection of songs influenced by Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger and a folk music quartet called The Weavers. The popular folk album features Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
  6. “Joan Baez In Concert, Part 2” “Joan Baez In Concert, Part 2” is the second installment of live recordings from her early 1963 concert tours. It is also the first Baez album to feature a Bob Dylan cover, “With God on Our Side.” Baez recorded “We Shall Overcome” in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time of the mass arrest of civil rights demonstrators.
  7. “Bill Monroe’s Best” “Bill Monroe’s Best” is a 1964 album by Bill Monroe, an American musician known as the “Father of Bluegrass.” The compilation features a collection of the very best songs by Monroe and his band in their early days.
  8. “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears” is the 1966 debut album by The Mamas and the Papas, a popular American vocal group of the 1960s. Considered one of the greatest folk albums of all time, it features “All the Leaves are Brown” in its entirety.
  9. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is a 1970 album by the singer-songwriter duo, Simon and Garfunkle. The title track won two Grammy Awards in 1971 and the album is considered among the top 100 albums of all time.
  10. “Blue” “Blue” is a 1971 album by Joni Mitchell, a Canadian-born folk singer and songwriter. The songs on this album explore the various aspects of relationships in Mitchell’s honest and transparent way.
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