A List of the Best Folk Music Albums of the 2000s

Gillian Welch, Neil Young, Pete Seeger, and Fleet Foxes Among Others

Crowd Enjoying Illuminated Music Concert At Night
Alvaro D'apollonio / EyeEm / Getty Images

From Nickel Creek to Gillian Welch, the Fleet Foxes and Avett Brothers to Neil Young's big protest album, the 2000s were one heck of a decade for great new music. Here is an overview of some of the best artists, styles, and trends emerging from the traditional and contemporary folk, bluegrass, and Americana communities at the turn of the 21st Century.

of 20

Woody Guthrie: 'The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949'

Album cover: The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie in Performance 1949
Woody Guthrie Productions

Woody Guthrie was, inarguably, one of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever touch American folk music. His words and music have influenced and inspired artists across almost every genre, and his work continues to be unearthed and developed. The Live Wire was made as a bootleg recording of a performance Guthrie gave at a YMCA in New Jersey in 1949 and includes moderation and interviews with him and his wife Marjorie. It's not only a remarkable peek into Guthrie's life and work but also a terrific account of the history of American folk music.

of 20

Gillian Welch: 'Time (the Revelator)'

Album cover: Gillian Welch - Time (The Revelator)

Gillian Welch was one of the finest artists to emerge onto the folk and Americana scene during the aughts, beginning with her inclusion on the ​O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and following through to her involvement on longtime musical partner Dave Rawlings's solo debut at the end of the decade. Still, ​Time (the Revelator) is often considered her finest work, presenting some of the most heartbreaking and stirring, simple melodies of recent years. Welch's work has been so admired among fellow songwriters that she's helped to set a bar against which contemporary folk music is measured.

of 20

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss: 'Raising Sand'

Album cover: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - 'Raising Sand'
Rounder Records

On Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss delve into both artists' genres, while also experimenting with an entirely new ground. Really, what else could you expect from a collaboration between a bluegrass prodigy and a rock god, other than one of the best records of 2007? Both Plant and Krauss are known for being envelope-pushing innovators in their respective fields, so it's no wonder that they managed to develop a fairly new sound. The result was a virtual sweep of the 2009 Grammy Awards.

of 20

'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Soundtrack

Album cover: O Brother Where Art Thou?

The soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? was instrumental in bringing bluegrass and traditional American folk music back into the mainstream consciousness. Highly respected roots music producer T Bone Burnett had enjoyed considerable success before O Brother, but he has since become one of the folk world's most sought-after producers. This soundtrack has sold millions of copies and earned five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Album of the Year.

of 20

Neil Young: 'Living With War'

Album cover: Neil Young - Living With War

By 2006, the war in Iraq had become incredibly unpopular and yet the protest song movement was not reaching the mainstream, big-name acts. Neil Young's album Living With War was one adamant exception. Recorded in one fell swoop with a full choir, ​Living With War captures the urgency and energy of the peace movement and was definitely one of the finest, most daring politically charged albums of the decade.

of 20

Patty Griffin: 'Children Running Through'

Album cover: Patty Griffin - Children Running Through

Once again, Patty Griffin slayed her fans with her well-cooked blend of blues, R&B, and American folk melodies. Griffin's career has played out with one home run after another, and Children Running Through was no exception. After years of great albums, you have to wonder, how is it possible for one woman to keep knocking out more great music? Backing vocals by Emmylou Harris on the parable "Trapeze" didn't hurt, either.

of 20

Simon & Garfunkel: 'Live 1969'

Album cover: Simon and Garfunkel - Live 1969

In 1969, Simon & Garfunkel set out on what would be the final tour of their career. On Live 1969, we get a window into six performances along the string of that tour. The result is an impeccable peek into some of the greatest tunes the duo ever concocted during the height of their career together.

of 20

Steve Earle: 'Townes'

Album cover: Steve Earle - Townes
New West Records

Steve Earle's tribute to his songwriting hero Townes Van Zandt, appropriately titled Townes, seems to have been a very long time coming, even though it's only been talked about for a little while. Considering Earle's reverence for Van Zandt's extraordinary body of work, it's hardly surprising that this tribute disc is one of the best of 2009 and the decade, for that matter.

of 20

Sam Baker: 'Pretty World'

Album cover: Sam Baker - Pretty World
Sam Baker

Sam Baker's traumatic injury after a terrorist train bombing may have left him physically impaired, but it couldn't hamper his extraordinary songwriting talent. The trilogy of albums he's released on the theme of mercy have been some of the finest recordings added to the American songbook in recent years, and best among them was Pretty World. His name may not churn up much fanfare, but the music speaks for itself.

of 20

Bon Iver: 'For Emma, Forever Ago'

Album cover: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Not a few critics listed Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago as one of the best albums of 2008. While it's hardly traditionalist folk music, Bon Iver crafted a breakup album focused wholly on the great songs, which pulled from a number of roots-infused styles. The result is intuitive, heartbreaking and beautiful.

of 20

Iron and Wine: 'Our Endless Numbered Days'

Album cover: Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days

Iron and Wine's first few solo recordings were full of hushed lovely lullabies, marking a serious departure from the distorted guitar-driven indie music of the '90s. His 2004 release, ​Our Endless Numbered Days, includes outstanding, understated tunes like "Sodom, South Georgia" and "Sunset Soon Forgotten."

of 20

Neko Case: 'Middle Cyclone'

Album cover: Neko Case - Middle Cyclone


Neko Case's fourth full-length studio album has proven to be extremely popular and a big seller. Not only did Middle Cyclone reach Billboard's Top 20, it also earned its place among many critics' and fans' favorite albums of 2009.

of 20

Avett Brothers: 'Emotionalism'

Album cover: Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Ramseur Records

Unquestionably, the Avett Brothers were one of the most notable breakout acts of the first decade of the 2000s, and much of in no small part is because of Emotionalism. While their 2009 release was successful commercially, Emotionalism helped turn a new audience on to this emergent style of indie roots music and solidify the brothers' place in contemporary folk music.

of 20

Nickel Creek: 'Nickel Creek'

Album cover: Nickel Creek - Self-titled
Sugar Hill

Nickel Creek was one of the best bands to hit the contemporary bluegrass scene. Throughout the band members' decades-long collaboration, their incredible instrumental prowess just got better and better. They kicked off the decade with a remarkable self-titled album produced by Alison Krauss and featuring some of their best songs.

of 20

Pete Seeger: 'At 89'

Album cover: Pete Seeger - At 89
Appleseed Records

One of the biggest events in the folk music world during the 2000s was the celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday. It was marked by concerts all over the world, including a major star-studded concert at Madison Square Garden. But before that was the release of Seeger's album At 89, which features 32 tracks running the gamut of Seeger's incredible command and breadth of appreciation for American folk music.

of 20

Ani DiFranco: 'Revelling/Reckoning'

Album cover: Ani DiFranco - Reveling/Reckoning
Righteous Babe Records

Ani DiFranco has long been one of the most talented singer-songwriters and direction-forgers on the contemporary folk circuit. She kicked off the 2000s with a double-disc release that came across like the album she'd been aiming for her whole career to that point. Personal, political, intimate and poetic, Reveling/Reckoning also showcased her solid command of her impressive backing band.

of 20

Laura Veirs: 'Saltbreakers'

Album cover: Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers

Laura Veirs dropped quite a few notable albums during the aughts, but Saltbreakers was one of the most imaginative, intricate, creative discs among them. First, there is her hugely intuitive band whose hand claps and other idiosyncrasies pepper the disc at perfect moments. Then there is Veirs's intriguing songwriting and poetics, pulling largely from traditional folk and alt-country.

of 20

Justin Townes Earle: 'The Good Life'

Album cover: Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life
Bloodshot Records

Next to the Avett Brothers, Justin Townes Earle was one of the most formidable new singer-songwriters on the contemporary folk and Americana scenes during the 2000s. Starting with his self-released EP Yuma and following through with his two full-lengths, Earle channeled the ghosts of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams Sr. to bring popular folk and country music back to its roots.

of 20

Dave Bazan: 'Curse Your Branches'

Album cover: Dave Bazan - Curse Your Branches

Dave Bazan's first full-length solo album made quite a few waves. Not only is it actively and blatantly struggling with a number of personal demons, but its songwriting is incredibly -- almost uncomfortably at times -- intimate.

of 20

Fleet Foxes: 'Fleet Foxes'

Album cover: Fleet Foxes - Self-titled

Fleet Foxes were another huge breakout act of the decade, pulling the Northwest's harmony-driven folk-infused music ever further into the mainstream consciousness. This self-titled disc was widely considered the best release in any genre for 2008 and definitely took strides toward popularizing folk music once again.