GO FOLK YOURSELF
As previously mentioned with my Vetiver post, there is good, interesting folk music being made nowadays for our generation. When you think of folk, you probably consider Woody Guthrie, Phil Ochs, early Bob Dylan, etc. But folk, like most genres has evolved into folk rock. And with it come artists like M. Ward, Mountain Goats, Eels, Palace Music, the Microphones, the Kings of Convenience, and (obviously) Sufjan Stevens (among many others).
Folk music is literally for and by "the common people," at least according to wikipedia. But I see it as an emotional escape through simplicity and passion. These are some of the most ambitious artists out there, and they don't confuse their ambition with overproduction or heavy instrumentation. The best folk artists are those who can express something deeply personal, significant or powerful without forcing it on you, or trying too hard.
Below are some links and samples to listen to. All of the myspace links play music (otherwise I wouldn't waste your time linking to them). Enjoy, and if you do, support.
M. Ward - "O'Brien/O'Brien's Nocturne" off of End of Amnesia released by Future Farmer (track available for 7 days max)
M. Ward offical site
M. Ward myspace
Mountain Goats - "Alibi" off the forthcoming EP Babylon Springs released by 4AD
Mountain Goats official site
Mountain Goats myspace
Eels - "Love of the Loveless" off Shootenanny! released by spinART
Eels official site