Best Folk Artist
John Mark Nelson
Don't let John Mark Nelson's age fool you. (He's old enough to grow a very fine beard, after all.) This kid has a precocious talent, and what's more, he already has an old soul's feel for folk music. Nelson, straight out of high school, gate-crashed the local music scene last summer with his crisp melodies on Waiting and Waiting (already his second album!), which vaulted straight into regular radio airplay and a series of highly impressive live shows with a sprawling but tight 10-piece ensemble. As a lyricist, Nelson has honed an eerie, ethereal sensibility, one that gets amply reinforced by his rough-hewn, smoky voice. But it might be the arrangements themselves that really set him apart as something special: lush and jam-packed with pianos, mandolins, and all manner of other embellishments. Nelson harnesses it all together expertly, while building in interludes and detours that only enhance the emotional effect. With that kind of ambition, it's easy to forget this kid is just getting started.