On The Road: A Folk Playlist

At the beginning of the new year I drove to Melbourne for three days. There were no hot meals and we only stopped to sleep in the closest located motel off the Hume highway. If you’re road tripping this year to a festival, a new city or even just heading home; I recommend pillows, pit stops and a well-considered soundtrack for your journey. Behold – my tried and true top 10.

1. Noah and the Whale – “5 Years Time”

Way back before Laura Marling broke Charlie Fink’s heart, this is what their music sounded like. I can’t resist a song lead by jolly ukulele chords so “5 Years Time” just gives me the warm fuzzies. Put this on your road trip playlist if your destination includes a beach or quaint country town. Guaranteed to inject a sense of wonder and adventure into any long journey.

2. Frightened Rabbit – “Old Old Fashioned”

When was the last time you felt victorious? This feeling occurs so rarely in our day-to-day lives that we need to be adequately prepared when the moment strikes. “Old Old Fashioned” is my victory song. I have it ready and waiting on days when I’m pre-empting the completion of something – the last day of a job, post-gig celebration or even just a new haircut. I also love the opening lyric, “Oh, turn off the TV. It’s killing us we never speak,” proving it’s greatness as a soundtrack for those who want to get away.

3. Gorgol Bordello – “Through the Roof ‘n’ Underground”

Years ago, someone recommended I watch Wristcutters: A Love Story and I’m recommending it again to you now. During most of the film, the characters are driving around a desert wasteland listening to Ukrainian gypsy punk band, Gorgol Bordello. For me, this song will always be synonymous with travel. Seriously though, watch this movie. It’s got Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon and bloody Tom Waits.

4. Bright Eyes – “Road to Joy”

Let’s face it. Most people like this album. It’s just a great album. The way it builds and swells between the verses; the explosive horn section; Connor Oberst’s unsteady vocals and crackling screams as he commands, “Let’s fuck it up boys – MAKE SOME NOISE!” Oberst pokes fun at his country and himself in this song; so it becomes like an enraged escapist anthem for me when I’m on the road.

5. Andrew Bird – “Fiery Crash”

This is such a travelling song. The lyrics force us to consider our fate as mortal beings and seize the day; although sonically the music is perfect for a road trip soundtrack with its glorious violin and catchy down-stroked guitar chords. Enjoy this one. Armchair Apocrypha was a legendary album and I’m still racking my brain as to why Bird isn’t a household name.

6. Daniel Johnston – “Ain’t no woman gonna make a George Jones outta me”

As the title suggests, Johnston reflects on the life of country singer, George Jones, who eventually became more know for his messy divorces, drinking and violent attitude than his songs. But what this country and blues tune offers during a long drive is a sense of willpower and righteousness. Listen to this one especially if you’re driving through any small country towns. It’s a great feeling.

7. Mason Jennings – “Godless”

Perhaps your reason for a road trip is a little less virtuous. Robbed a bank? Killed a man? This song is designed for people on the run. An utter folk-rock legend, Mason Jennings’s first release is still one of my favourite albums. This song in particular is hilarious and intense.

8. The Mountain Goats – “Sax Rohmer #1”

Maybe you’re on a long trip back home. In this case, John Darnielle’s wailing confession, “I am coming home to you with my own blood in my mouth,” will suit you just fine. Sure, it’s about death and impending doom, but that should get your adrenaline pumping for the big drive ahead. Do it, it’s a winner.

9. Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945”

Jeff Mangum is another celebrated songwriter: “But now we must pick up every piece/Of the life we used to love/Just to keep ourselves/At least enough to carry on.” This song works really well on a road trip because of the upbeat tempo and distorted guitar (distorted everything, really). It’s addictive and fun. I recommend the entire album but you’d be stretched to find someone who doesn’t.

10. Violent Femmes – “Gimme The Car”

A picturesque snapshot of teen angst, this folk punk song got the lead singer expelled from school. Sure, you can listen to “Blister in the Sun,” but chuck this one on the playlist for good measure. This song was my introduction to The Violent Femmes and I’m never going back.

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