The Kronos Quartet have famously refused to allow themselves to be hemmed in by the narrower parameters of the traditional classical repertoire, devoting themselves to contemporary classical works, experimental pieces, and other compositions outside the usual confines of art music. Folk Songs clearly falls into the third category, and lives up to the title; it features nine selections drawn from the American, British, and French traditional songbooks, and finds the ensemble performing with vocalists Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, and Natalie Merchant. With the exception of Giddens' sprightly take on "Lullaby," the tone of the vocal performances is somber, with these songs depicting tragic and unfortunate circumstances.
The world-renowned Kronos Quartet have soundtracked movies like Requiem for a Dream and Heat, developed the Under 30 Project to support young composers and worked in more genres and with more famous collaborators than most groups of any sort ever will. Their latest release contains a batch of traditional songs with label mates Sam Amidon, Olivia Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens and Natalie Merchant.
The Quartet's versatility can be seen in the contrast between the first two songs.