4 of the Most Underrated Folk Singers of All Time

Stevie Nicks, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and John Denver are just a few genre-bending voices who were well-known in folk music. That being said, there are quite a few singers, both young and old, who deserve more credit for their unique sound in the folk genre. Let’s explore four of the most underrated folk singers of all time!

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1. Janis Ian

Although Janis Ian’s style won her a lot of praise early on in her career, her 1975 studio album Between The Lines was the release that brought her some real commercial success. The album’s success likely came from the album’s first single, At Seventeen. The song nabbed Ian a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and the album peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts soon after. 

2. Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk was dubbed “The Mayor” of McDougal Street, the famed Greenwich Village, New York hotspot that was home to a wide range of artists in the folk genre in the 1960s. 

Van Ronk’s highly experimental approach was beloved by fans and fellow artists alike. He would often fuse several musical genres into a distinctive sound with folk roots. The resulting sound made him stand out from similar artists of McDougal Street.

3. Laura Marling

Laura Marling is a newer name on this list, and she deserves a spot on it nonetheless. Heralding from Eversley, Hampshire, she has been performing and writing since she was only 16 years old. She was once even turned away from a venue where she had been booked for a performance because the bouncer thought she was too young. She famously set up on a nearby street corner to play instead.

Her guitar work is outstanding and her songwriting abilities have been praised for years. Her music is complex and melodic, yet not overly so. She has a voice that sounds far older and more experienced than you would expect from a thirty-something young woman.

4. Nick Drake

The tragically brief life of folk singer Nick Drake ended at the age of 26. Still, he recorded three albums in those brief years, all of which are regarded as some of the best folk albums ever produced. 

His debut two albums, which came out in 1969 and 1970, respectively, were not well received and made little money. But two years later he released Pink Moon, which is without a doubt his best work. He recorded the entire record by himself in only two days. 

Different from many other underrated folk singers, Drake upholds a legacy as a talented folk singer as well as a songwriter. He played and invented chords never heard before because he never stopped experimenting with different guitar tunings. Although his lyrics drew on classic literature, they also made sense to the listeners of the 1970s and the 2020s alike. Particularly in the way he connected his ideas to everyday sights and experiences.

Photo by Kai Shuman

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