Progressive Folk is a derivative of Folk music and world music among others. However, ultimately it rejects the standard forms of Folk music, and strives for innovations, within stylistic features and also with the concepts and themes it covers. It is comparable to Punk music in the sense that it can often be used as a form of political agenda, which is a clear stylistic difference between Prog Folk and typical Folk music. Progressive Folk is attributed to the conception of not only Progressive Rock, but also Psychedelic Folk, both of which used new techniques for recordings and productions and strove to create a more sophisticated sound than their influences.
Progressive Folk arose in the 1930’s in the US, partially in reaction to politics, but also down to the influence of certain figures, such as Charles Seeger who was a famous musicologist, who is associated with his creation of dissonant counterpoint. Counterpoint was originally a technique created by J.S. Bach, and was a cleverly crafted method of creating harmonies with differing note values and rhythms, and dissonant counterpoint is very similar, except for dissonance involves the clashing of notes to conceive a harsher and more interesting sound. Bob Dylan was also a key figure as he typically infused his folk melodies with lyrics of a political nature.
Instruments used were fairly limited, as the key focus of the music was on the lyrics rather than the creation of many melodies for example. Typically, acoustic instruments were the norm, such as acoustic guitar and vocals. Banjos were sometimes used, as were pianos and bass guitars and drums. With the influx in popularity of Skiffle in the late 1960’s, homemade instruments were also used, which added to the raw tone of the Progressive Folk sound, and gave the pieces a more poignant feel, which was certainly more than appropriate for the meaningful lyrics. Folk Baroque was a derivative subgenre occurring from Progressive Folk, and saw the introduction of a wider range of instruments, such as stringed instruments like violins, cellos and even harps, to produce a richer and also a more antiquated sound. With more instruments, more melodic layers were able to be created, and therefore richer harmonies and a different feel to the music. It continued with similar lyrical themes to the Progressive Folk, but some would argue it had a less emotive and provocative sound due to the richer instrumentation; was it better to stick with fewer instruments and more focus upon the lyrics?
Progressive Folk generally continued into the electric era, seeing the inclusion of electric guitars among other instruments within the genre, for example, the famous band T-Rex moved from acoustic to electric, and became notable figures within the world of Rock.
Progressive Folk is a very interesting Genre as in some ways, it is an odd fusion between the simplistic instruments and the harshly dynamic political lyrics. However, I think it is a very worthwhile genre due to the way it attempts to make important messages regarding politics, a tradition which should surely be reignited within today’s society.