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MIXTAPE: Janiva Magness’s Folk Is a Four-Letter Word

Feb 19, 2018

I have long known that I am, at times, a highly emotional creature. I’m good with that and ever grateful I have the music to help sooth me through it. Folk music has always been a part of that balm and always had a quiet place in me. Although, over time, the definition of what folk music is has changed, depending in part on its popularity. For me, this is a beginning of some of my always and all-time favorite folk music. These tunes contain both comfort and melancholy — for me, two of the “absolute musts” to great folk songs by great artists. — Janiva Magness

Bob Dylan — “If You See Her, Say Hello”

How is it possible to not love this track? Besides, there is no one who can turn a phrase like Mr. Zimmerman. No one!

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings — “Brave”

Steven Fearing of B.A.R.K. has such a soulful voice and tone, then add Holly Cole’s vocal with him, and I find it a haunting tale of deep and abiding love born of infidelity. It is both comforting and stunning.

Joni Mitchell — “Both Sides Now”

An epic song written by a then very fresh Joni Mitchell with so much wisdom, it seemed impossible to come from such a young woman.

Joan Baez — “Diamonds and Rust”

This classic — and at the time controversial — track about Joan and one other very famous folk singer and their love affair remembered.

Gillian Welch — “Look at Miss Ohio”

Just love this song and, though it’s not one of Gillian’s most played tracks, I have worn this out at home, in the car, and everywhere. I love it because it’s about a beauty queen being herself behind the scenes, and doing wrong — grinnin’ all the while.

Taj Mahal — “Corinna”

I have loved this track since first laying my ears on it in the ’70s. Simple folk blues. It don’t get any better than Taj.

Ry Cooder — “That’s the Way Love Turned Out for Me”

A haunting song originally recorded by James Carr, I believe, and then adapted by Ry Cooder. I just love this version because of its fractured vulnerability.

Bonnie Raitt — “Love Has No Pride”

A song penned by Libby Titus and portrayed by Bonnie. Her early ’70s material is incomparable for me really. This tune is a heart broken in two and laying on the floor right in front of you.

Zachary Richard — “No French, No More”

A haunting and, as I understand it, true tale written by Zachary Richard about his upbringing as a young Acadian boy in the swamps and woods of Louisiana, where his native language was French but, once placed in public school, the children were forced to abandon their language and culture for English.

Bobbie Gentry — “Ode to Billie Joe”

A captivating tale of love gone wrong with two teenagers in the rural South. Bobbie Gentry’s painful and almost detached vocal track make it all the more mysterious

Jackson Browne — “My Opening Farewell”

One of the most beautiful and lonesome songs of all time to me. Love and grief. Nuff said.

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