10 beautiful, beguiling and bold folk albums from 1969

1969 was an amazing year for music, particularly for the album format.
Ralph McTell
Ralph McTell / Michael Putland/GettyImages
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3. Liege & Lief – Fairport Convention

A strong argument could be made that Fairport’s final album of 1969 is the group’s finest ever, but to this writer, it doesn’t quite hold your attention quite as tightly as this album’s predecessor. That’s not to say this album is weak – in fact, it’s one of the most important U.K. folk albums ever released, as it combines elements of psychedelia with traditional English folk music and it makes great use of violin virtuoso Dave Swarbrick, who joined the group after guesting on prior album Unhalfbricking.

Featuring a bevy of standout tracks that are delivered with aplomb from the gifted group, notable highlights include the brilliant story song “Matty Groves,” and the medley of traditional instrumentals, which features propulsive playing from guitarist Richard Thompson and the entire instrumental segment of Fairport. Essential listening for any fan of folk music.

2. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake

With these 10 tracks from 1969, folk legend introduced his warm voice, supreme songwriting ability, and nimble-fingered guitar talent to the world… and the world mostly ignored him. Nick Drake was one of the shining lights of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s British folk scene, but his records sold poorly, and he was mostly unknown during his lifetime.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and now Drake is revered as the supremely talented singer/songwriter he always was, and his ethereal and unusual songs have become touchstones for any folk music fan. His debut album is headlined by the enchanting and somewhat menacing-sounding “River Man,” as well as the opening track “Time Has Told Me,” which is by far one of the best opening songs from a debut album from the 1960s.

Drake produced 10 brilliant vignettes on Five Leaves Left that are full of feathery finger-picked guitar parts, jazzy chord structures, and mysterious, beguiling melodies. If you haven’t listened to this, do yourself a favor and explore Drake’s magical music as soon as you can.