There’s folk music, and then there’s folk music. The 60s saw an influx of more rock-inspired folk singers, along the lines of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. These singers were folk in that they had pretty vocals and one guitar as their musical accompaniment, but they had homogenized regional folk music, with its traditions and storytelling, and deeply personal lyrics. Consequently, folk music sounds very different nowadays than it did in the early part of the 20th century, having lost its regional roots and flavor, and seemingly always needing to be about politics and protest.
There seems to be a rebirth lately, however, of coming back to those traditions and finding a regional vein to folk music again. Some artists have re-branded it at “junkyard country” or “indie folk, “but make no mistake about it: this is what folk was originally about; guitar, a voice, and a style that was influenced by local sounds, culture and dialect. With her debut album Boy from the North, Monica Heldal has joined artists like Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes and the lesser known Ponyboy who have begun to take folk music back to its locally-flavored roots. The difference between her and these other artists, however, is that the incredible regional grassroots feel and timbre of Heldal’s music is not rooted in Americana in any traceable way: she’s from Norway.
Heldal’s country of origin shouldn’t be seen as a detractor from her authenticity in creating a truly real and honest folk album. Tracks like “Boy From the North” and “Fightin’ Son” have obvious hints of Adirondack folk and bluegrass, where a song like “I Don’t Mind” is almost pure Texas country. Still other songs will hold weight in the indie category, such as “In Flight, ” which borders on hard rock in places, and “Follow You Anywhere, ” in which Heldal could be channeling Mazzy Star. This variety, again, doesn’t smack at any point of the inauthentic, but rather makes for a very well-rounded and mature piece of work. The listener will get a sense that Monica Heldal truly identifies with American folk music, and is able to convey its soul while bringing her own talent and highly personal lyrics to the table.
Boy from the North is slated for release in the U.S. in September on ADA/Warner Music Norway, but is available streaming for those who have a Spotify account via Monica Heldal’s website. She will be touring Europe over the summer with dates expected in the fall stateside.
By Layla Marino