I love folk music. New folk, old folk, it doesn’t matter. But I will admit that there is good folk and great folk, the kind that steals the show at Newport and breaks into the mainstream. That kind of folk is rare, but when you find it, you want to shout about it.
Enter Oakes and Smith, a Berkshires-based duo based in folk but unafraid to incorporate any musical spice they feel would enrich their sound. Their new EP, Between the Earth and the Sky, is as much a tribute to old-time great as it is carving a new path for the next generation of folkies. Hearkening back to legends like Simon and Garfunkel (in more than just a name), Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell, their sound is as harmonic and gorgeous as anything on vintage vinyl.
So we just had to probe Robert and Katherine (Oakes and Smith, respectively) for five songs that influenced them. Okay, maybe we were fishing for song recommendations from the folk pros. Either way, they didn’t disappoint. Here’s what they said.
1. “Ladies of the Canyon,” Joni Mitchell
Katherine: Joni Mitchell has greatly influenced me as a singer, and I especially love her use of stacked vocal harmony here. I also love the pastoral quality and story-like imagery in her songwriting.
2. “New Horizons,” The Moody Blues
Robert: This song evokes visions of a pastoral English countryside, wistful reflection, and a sense of having passed through pain and difficulty, yet with an enduring sense of hope for the future. I love the sound of layered voices, the innocent purity of the emotion, and the quiet grandeur of the musical arrangement.
3. “Underneath the Stars,” Kate Rusby
Katherine: Kate Rusby’s voice and songwriting have a quivering, melancholic feeling. She evokes that sweet, satisfying sadness that we all need to experience sometimes in order to go deeper and feel more intensely.
4. “Wonderous Stories,” Yes
Robert: To me, this song sings of a spiritual journey, a sense of wonder, love, and imagination. I had this song in mind when writing “Closer to Home.” I thought, yes, it is a wonderful thing to be drawn away into dreamtime, to pursue a mystery and be lifted up beyond the bounds of everyday experience. I wanted to honor that sentiment, but I also wanted to write a kind of contrast, to express the desire to be at home again, living the simple life among the ones you know and love… after the adventure. It still amazes me that Jon Anderson contributed his incredible voice to this song of ours, especially given the fact that I was consciously responding to his song when writing it.
5. “Ghost in this House,” Alison Krause
Katherine: With close harmonies and simple acoustic accompaniment, Alison Krause’s “Ghost in this House” is a beautifully gentle and unrushed love-in-lament ballad. I had this song in mind when recording our song “Surrender.”
Check out Oakes and Smith’s single “Closer to Home” featuring Jon Anderson of Yes below: