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'Tetu' (Determined) is Quebecois four-piece Le Vent du Nord's eight album, and one that sees the band play to, and develop, existing and new strengths. If you have heard the band, live or on record, you will know the sound, the instrumentation, and the often-astounding togetherness of the band. Indeed this is what they have built their legend on. If you are new to the band, as indeed I am, 'Tetu' is the type of record which will make you want to find out more about them, their other albums, and most importantly, the songs and traditions which they tap into to create works like this.
This time around, the Vent boys (Nicolas Boulerice - hurdy gurdy, accordion, Oliver Demers - fiddle, mandolin, Rejean Brunet - bass, Simon Beaudry - bouzouki, with each contributing to vocals and much more) have gone 'back to basics', recording the album in a backwoods studio not far from their Quebec base. On it, they explore their Quebecois roots, and some long forgotten traditions, both of song and dance. 'Tetu' blends self-written and traditional pieces, all bound together by the band's seamless energy and sense of innovation.
Catch a glimpse of opener "Noce tragique" and you will catch a feel of 'Tetu' straight away, complete with Jews harp and finely-tooled vocals. You'll get the swing of rising fiddles, and the album's perfect juxtaposition of an old, country, almost 'rustic' feel (that recording process again) and a youthful, thrusting musical attitude. Add in razor-sharp instrumentation and harmonies, and 'Tetu' can't have a better start.
"Loup-Garou" has a swinging bounce to it, from its hurdy gurdy, bass guitar and percussion-filled opening, to the clever swapping between lead and harmony vocals, and "Le rosier" shows how at ease LVDN are with their material. It sounds easy, it sounds fun, as they move between light and shade, happiness and blues.
Tune sets like "Cardeuse-Riopel" and "D'ouest en est" take traditional pieces, where they are from and what they represent, and thrust them far into the future. The band deliver them with foot-stomping fever, the end results being overwhelmingly uplifting and optimistic.
"Confederation" is a Boulerice song about "North American French-speakers who can often be forgetful". Make of that what you will, but it is clearly a comment on the relationship between language, culture (and indeed music), whilst "Chaise ardente" sees its hero descend to hell in the name of curiosity. "Forillon," meanwhile, is the story of Forillon Park, which was created in part by a forced re-settlement of several families in the area, by an allegedly bullying firm of private contractors.
By contrast, "Petit reve IX" is, while 'just' an interlude, a beautiful moment, with a piped hurdy line, subtle guitar, and sliding fiddle - like the dream that it is. As you would expect from a song called "Pauvre enfant," there are some affecting, emotional vocals on this one, which are complemented by soaring fiddle lines later on. And "L'echafaud" is darker still, with the resounding vocals full of sadness and bittersweet regret, as a man sentenced to death looks back on his life. This short track ably demonstrates the variety of 'Tetu'.
"Papineau" shows once again the strength and control of the interplay between lead and harmony vocals, whilst closer "Amant volage" swings and cuts with some deft fiddle and piano to finish things off.
'Tetu' is highlighted by some seeping, swooping, expert playing, and sympathetic singing - LVDN are a group who really work together on all fronts. A delight.
'Tetu' is out now on Borealis Records and is available - HERE.
Norah Rendell is the Canadian singer behind the beautiful new album, 'Spinning Yarns.' Blending a range of influences and inputs over twelve tracks, drawn from some interesting sources. Showcasing the power of both song and community, the album shows off the strength of Norah's singing, and the conviction she puts into her music. It also speaks of the immigrant experience, as many of the pieces have their roots in the British Isles and Ireland. We spoke to Norah about the album, her singing roots and the songs she has encountered that make up 'Spinning Yarns.'
Gideon Thomas: Norah, thank you for taking the time to talk to Folk Alley. I wanted to start off by asking about your own background, how you came to singing, and how you'd describe your personal singing practice.
Norah Rendell: Thanks for featuring the album on Folk Alley - it's great to chat with you. I came to singing through the Irish session scene in my home town of Vancouver, British Columbia, but I have always loved singing - in the car, in the shower, anywhere really. I was trained as a recorder player, and pursuing a career in early music performance when I discovered my passion for singing, in particular traditional songs. I sing all sorts of folk songs, but these days I'm mostly singing Irish songs with Canadian and American connections.
The new album is full of wonderful versions of some well-known, and lesser-known songs. Tell us about the research you undertook for the record - what started you off on the journey, and what were some of the sources you used?
I've been thumbing through books of Canadian folk songs for years seeking out rare versions. For this album, I turned to field recordings for raw material, more than I ever have before. The key source that inspired this recording was Angelo Dornan, an incredibly skilled singer with a gorgeous repertoire from Elgin, New Brunswick. About five years back, my husband Brian shared a collection of Dornan's field recordings with me. He had received them from Catherine Crowe, a singer and artist from Ontario. I was blown away by the songs themselves, and by Dornan's compelling delivery, much of which was characterized by an unmistakable Irish style.
Having recently spent two years studying music in Ireland (and missing Canada), these recordings provided a way for me to connect my passion for Irish trad with my own heritage. Looking back now, hearing Dornan's singing was a bit of an ah-ha moment.
Other sources were field recordings from MacEdward Leach and the Atlantic Songs of Canada and collections from Helen Creighton. My husband, Brian Miller, is the real researcher in the family and he has impeccable taste in songs. He led me toward some of the best singers in the MacEdward Leach collection, like Cyril O'Brien (St. Patrick's Day) and the Molloys (Forty Fishermen).
And the specifically Canadian versions talk of related ideas like immigration, community and continuity. Why did you want to pick up on these areas?
I suppose most of the songs are about unrequited love, betrayal, accidents, death and vengeance - all the good stuff! Communities across the globe have to find ways of dealing with these big issues all the time. I am intrigued by the timelessness of the old songs. Another connection to community is that these songs would have usually been shared in communal settings such as house parties or musical gatherings. They are far from Kumbaya campfire sing-a-longs, but their existence is proof that people have been singing for a long time, to pass the time or to document/process important (often emotional) events.
There's focus on music in the community, and music in many different communities - is this an important consideration for you?
I was drawn to traditional Irish music in my early twenties first and foremost because I loved the music itself, but there was much more to it than that - I loved the humility of the musicians I met, the parties, the constant searching for renewed material, the comradery. It was fun, and casual. Irish music instantly became a part of my everyday life. I had tunes and songs dancing around in my ears all day and night and I never felt alone. That sounds silly, but it is true.
Music, especially folk music, has the power to bring people together. I think that is an amazing thing, really. These days, I'm spending a lot of my time running an Irish music school in Saint Paul, Minnesota called the Center for Irish Music. I'm passionate about keeping the tradition alive, and I guess I'm walking the walk - teaching young kids the skill and joy of playing music while continuing to be a performing musician myself.
You've selected quite a band for the recording of 'Spinning Yarns', so give them a shout out.
Oh, I could go on and on...The accompanists on 'Spinning Yarns' are some of the best at accompanying trad Irish song in North America. Brian Miller (Bua) and Randy Gosa are my guitar-bouzouki dream-team. They both have drive, an ineffable drive in their playing, whether they are picking out a sensitive, unmeasured song, or accompanying "The Pinery Boy," a song from the album with a Wisconsin connection and a more Americana feel. I think rhythmic nuance differentiates a good arrangement of a traditional song from a "just ok" one, and that their genius is in their approach to rhythm and groove. Brian and Randy share a musical brain after working together for years on material with a similar theme to 'Spinning Yarns.' I am honoured to have them as the core collaborators on this album.
My old band mate from the Outside Track, Ailie Robertson, is an intuitive innovator on the harp and she loves songs. Back when we were touring together, she knew all the lyrics to my songs. I'm a hug fan of the harp, and I'm thrilled that she was able to make the trip to Minnesota to record the album. Dáithí Sproule, a good friend, and Altan's guitarist, is among the best. We have been working on other material together - maybe one day we'll I'll be lucky enough to do an album with him!
Tell us about your work with The Outside Track - are you recording or playing with them at present?
I left the Outside Track late in 2013 to launch a solo career and to be based closer to home. I have a two year-old son now and although I miss the European touring (ham, cheese, baguettes anyone?), I am perfectly content to be sleeping in the same bed most nights. My little sweetie is in a separate room across the hallway and I can eat whatever I want for breakfast!
I miss playing with the Outside Track. They are fantastic musicians and dear friends. They are releasing an album very soon, the first since I was in the band, and they're sound has made the transition seamlessly - your readers should check it out.
Finally, you've made reference to the special nature, and the 'truth' of traditional song. Why is singing and recording these songs so special and important for you?
Honestly, I have no idea - Maybe I was a traditional singer in a past life. My conscious mind finds traditional songs rather esoteric, but my heart and my musical brain loves them and won't allow me to stay away from them for long. I have talked to other traditional singers that have that same experience. There is both timelessness and a selflessness in a good traditional song. These days, I think those are two concepts that we could all spend more time reflecting upon. I have always been drawn to older things, reused items, colorful characters. There is wisdom to be gained from being attentive to the stories that such things carry along with. I love the idea that I am singing a song that some unknown person wrote, that others were moved to learn and adapt to their own lives, and that I enjoy in 2015. And then, there are those incredible Irish melodies, with melodic intricacies that may be unrivalled....
Norah Rendell's 'Spinning Yarns' is out now on Two Tap Music and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:24 AM
Album Review: Kristin Diable, 'Create Your Own Mythology'
Kristin Diable's 'Create Your Own Mythology' is an absolute gem of a record. Right out of the gate, the first track is equal parts Dusty Springfield, Lissie, and Neko Case, bringing the best from those renowned artists to bear in one crazy-great piece. Next up, "Hold Steady" deploys a slinky, shuffling groove and stretches out toward Amy Winehouse and Duffy territory, and darn if it doesn't pretty much get there. If the rest of the album cleared those two bars, 'Create Your Own Mythology' would be a real masterpiece. But the rest of the album falls just shy, leaving the set to settle for tags like 'admirable effort,' 'remarkable debut,' and, of course, 'absolute gem.'
Still, after the pair of openers brings you to the edge of your seat, buckle on up for the ride to come. From "Time Will Wait" through the closer, these are well-crafted, superbly rendered tunes that do, in fact, create a certain mythology of their own. Even surrounded by and immersed in a world of her own making, it's clear that Diable can sing. And she does so with not just her voice, but her heart and soul, as well -- a skill sorely lacking in many of today's more vigorous vocalists.
Producer Dave Cobb sure knows how to pick 'em. Cobb already has records by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, and Shooter Jennings in his portfolio, and Diable's makes a fine addition.
In concert, he's unassuming: wandering onto the stage as if he has all the time in the world, and usually in a pair of ripped and dirty jeans a size and a half or so too large for his lanky frame. When he leans into the microphone, hunched over one of his amazing instruments, he talks to the audience as if they're all in on it - there are no secrets between Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr and his fans...or maybe "friends" is a better word than fans - the intimacy Parr creates during a show is akin to friends getting together to make, and talk, about music. Once he pushes back from the mic, though, and starts to play, Charlie Parr is anything but unassuming.
Parr, a self-taught guitarist and banjo player, grew up surrounded by his music-loving father's vast collection of folk and blues records. He immersed himself in the sounds of Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, among others, and those influences are all very apparent in his newest recording, 'Stumpjumper.'
At the same time, however, 'Stumpjumper' is a bit of a departure for Charlie Parr. For one thing, it's the first album he'll release on his new label, Red House Records. For another, it's the first time Parr has recorded a solo album with a band and while at times his voice seems to be nearly overwhelmed by the additional instruments (perhaps a question of needing to be mic-ed a little closer?), the additional instrumentation ultimately serves as a nice foil to Parr's own unique guitar and banjo style. This is especially evident on the title track, which essentially serves as a sort of musical biography of Charlie Parr.
There's also a 7-plus minute retelling of the biblical story of Lazarus ("Resurrection"), a musical recreation of a conversation Parr overheard - a couple talking about what they didn't like about each other ("Evil Companion"), and some thoughts on getting older and watching how a family's dynamics shift ("Over the Red Cedar"). Charlie Parr, it seems, is inspired by anything and everything and, thankfully for the listener, he explains his inspirations in his liner notes.
Parr also shares the overarching theme of 'Stumpjumper,' which stems from a single song, the bluesy murder ballad "Delia." In preparation for the album, Parr spent hours listening to various versions of the song, letting the words and images roll around in his head until he came up with his own version of the story.
Charlie Parr fans needn't worry that his decision to sign with a label and his decision to record with a backing band will change him in any way. If nothing else, 'Stumpjumper' proves that Parr's a master musician, a craftsman utterly devoted to the task at hand, and adept at using his own unique style to create something that, although totally original, very clearly has its roots in the familiar.
'Stumpjumper' will be released via Red House Records on April 28 and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the Honeycutters live the roots life all the way through... even releasing their upcoming 'Me Oh My' LP on Organic Records. With singer/songwriter -- and, now, producer -- Amanda Platt at the helm, the group puts their own spin on an old form. Sure, there's a timeless quality to honest songs done up by a bunch of great players; but when Platt, Tal Taylor (mandolin), Rick Cooper (bass), Josh Milligan (drums), and Matt Smith (pedal steel, electric guitar, and dobro) come together, there's also a freshness to it.
KM: Along with folks like Claire Lynch, Nora Jane Struthers, and Lindsay Lou, you are the female leader of an otherwise all-male band. It wasn't that long ago that Hazel & Alice broke that particular glass ceiling. What's it take to wear that hat well?
AP: I'm definitely still learning! I'm not someone who particularly relishes the leadership position...it's been a good experience for me because I've had to get a lot more definitive about what I want. It's taken me a while to realize that the pure democracy model doesn't always work that well in a five-piece band.,, sometimes someone just needs to say what's happening and go ahead with it. Some days that's me.
You even stepped into the role of producer on this one. How'd that feel? And will you do it again in the future or for other artists?
I would really love to do it for other artists. I hadn't thought much about that. But I think it would be fun to play that role in a situation where it wasn't necessarily my voice and my music being produced. I did enjoy making this record. I was working with a group of people (Jon Ashley, our engineer, and the guys in the band) who I really trust and who are all supportive and uplifting. So it felt safe. Also, I just felt like I know these songs better than anyone else and that made me the best person to decide how they'd come to life.
You've said that you feel like you've found your voice with this record. Did you notice any specific breakthrough moment or internal shift that happened? Or was it a more natural, gradual arrival?
I'm not sure... I think it was pretty gradual. I'm not usually one to have big flash-of-light epiphanies. I don't love change, and it usually takes me a while to adjust and realize the good that's come out of it. The summer before we hit the studio was full of change and some pretty big emotional moves for me. I think that the air really started to clear when I was recording my vocals and I realized that I had survived all that turmoil and there was a new calmness in my voice. I just felt more in charge. Also, I think that this particular group of songs is more honest for me. I always blend truth and fiction when I'm writing, but I feel like I stayed more personal here.
Asheville seems to have a fairly flourishing music scene. Tell me a bit about that community and how you guys fit into it.
It does have a very flourishing music scene! So much variety. It's been that way a long time, and I think something that keeps it really community-oriented is that no one really moves here to "make it" like you might find in bigger cities. Plenty of folks, myself included, come here for the music and to pursue a career in it, but there's not really a strong sense of competition. Everyone in the Honeycutters plays in other bands, and it's not unusual to find two or three of us hanging out at a friend's open mic on a Monday. There's just a lot of great people and great music and great beer.
How much does geography factor into your music? Do you think you'd be the same artist if you lived in, say, Florida or North Dakota?
I'm really not sure. I think I'm definitely inspired by the traveling aspect of my job.. seeing the contrast around this country is pretty amazing, both geographically and culturally. I've never been to North Dakota. I think that and Alaska are the only two states I haven't visited, at this point.
'Me Oh My' will be released via Organic Records on April 21. You can pre-order HERE.
Somewhere between Texas, Virginia, Arizona, and Alaska -- that's where James McMurtry looked for himself and his voice as an aspiring young singer/songwriter. By the time his 1989 debut, 'Too Long in the Wasteland,' came to pass, he'd found both and was back in Texas where it all began. Since then, McMurtry has released another 10 records, with his 12th, 'Complicate Game,' dropping just recently. It's his first album in six years and it finds the oft-political writer turning his pen to the personal, instead.
KM: How are you adapting to the ever-shifting sands of the music business and the artists' economy?
JM: The business seems to have adapted to me. I never had much in the way of record sales. Now, nobody does, and acts like me, who already know how to tour on the cheap, are the ones still up running.
Most songwriters are either storytellers or autobiographers -- rarely are they both. Is that an instinctual or a learned divergence? Nature or nurture?
I don't know. I prefer to write fiction. I grew up in a house where fiction was written on a normal basis, so one could argue for nurture in my case. My father, by contrast, grew up in a house where no one read fiction, much less wrote it. His people read for information, 'Farmer's Almanac' and the like. He must have been born a fiction writer.
When you're writing a story, how do you choose which perspective to take? And have you ever gone back and written a companion piece from a different character's point of view?
I've never done the alternate pov companion piece. My songs start with two lines and a melody. When I hear the lines, I think, "Who said that?" If I'm lucky, I can conjure up a character who would have spoken the lines. Then I write the song either from the character's point of view or third person omniscient. Once in a while, I'll try second person.
Copyright infringement aside, do you ever worry that all the songs have been written? Or is there an infinite stream of inspiration to tap?
You can always use different words, different grooves, melodies . . .
On the new record, you focus on the personal more than the political. While those approaches can be equally powerful, do you think we'll ever get to a time when songs like "We Can't Make It Here" are no longer a necessary part of the equation?
There will be protest songs as long as people are pissed off. Let's hope they remain pissed off rather than apathetic.
James McMurtry's 'Complicated Game' is out now on Complicated Game Records and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:26 AM
Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150402
April 8, 2015
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150402. Aired between April 3 - 9, 2015. Hosted by Elena See
Artist - Title - Album - Label
Sam Bush - The Wizard of Oz - King of My World - Sugar Hill
Tom Paxton (live) - My Favorite Spring - Live for the Record - Sugar Hill
Chuck Brodsky - Bonehead Merkle - Last of the Old Time - Red House
The Steel Wheels - Find Your Mountain - Leave Some Things Behind - Big Ring Records
The Steel Wheels - Help Me - Leave Some Things Behind - Big Ring Records
Pentangle - Springtime Promises - Basket Of Light - Shanchie
The John Renbourn Group - John Barleycorn - A Maid in Bedlam - Shanachie
John Renbourn - The English Dance - The Black Balloon - Shanachie
Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan - Crossing Muddy Waters - Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan - Sugar Hill - Yep Roc
John Hiatt - God's Golden Eye - Crossing Muddy Waters - Vanguard
Sufjan Stevens - Should Have Known Better - Carrie & Lowell - Asthmatic Kitty Records
Norman Blake - Blake's Rag - Wood, Wire & Words - Plectrofone Records
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Everything Changed - Ionia - Lindsay Lou Music
Pokey LaFarge - Wanna Be Your Man - Something In the Water - Rounder
Steve Goodman (Jethro Burns) - Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Affordable Arts - Red Pajamas
Donovan - Give It All Up - Sutras - American
Pharis & Jason Romero - Backstep Indi - A Wanderer I'll Stay - Lula Records
Liz Longley - Peace of Mind - Liz Longley - Sugar Hill
Anna & Elizabeth - Little Black Train - Anna & Elizabeth - Free Dirt
Anna & Elizabeth - Very Day I'm Gone (Rambling Woman) - Anna & Elizabeth - Free Dirt
The Punch Brothers - Boll Weevil - The Phosphorescent Blues - Nonesuch
Lonnie Johnson - Playing With the Strings - Steppin' On the Blues - Columbia
Amos Lee - Mountains of Sorrow - Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song - Blue Note
The Honeycutters - Jukebox - Me Oh My - Organic Records
Ellis Paul - Jukebox On My Grave - American Jukebox Fables - Philo
Feufollet - Tired of Your Tears - Two Universes - Feufollet Records (Thirty
Sloan Wainwright - Tired of Wasting Time - Life Grows Back - Derby
Ryan Adams - Tired of Giving Up - Ryan Adams - PaxAm Records - Blue Note
The Mavericks - What Am I Supposed To Do - Mono - The Valory Music Co.
Caroline Spence - Hard Headed, Hard Hearted - Somehow - Caroline Spence
Folk Alley's weekly, syndicated radio show is produced by WKSU (NPR-affiliate in Kent, OH). The show is available for free to stations via PRX.org or via FTP for non-PRX members. Stations may air the show as either a one-, or two-hour program. The Folk Alley Radio Show is presently carried by over 36 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com
Following the trail blazed by guys from Leon Russell to Sturgill Simpson, Sam Lewis applies his soulful voice and poet's heart to a new batch of tunes on his upcoming sophomore effort, 'Waiting On You.' The album brings some of the best Nashville has to bear out to support the young singer/songwriter, including Will Kimbrough, Darrell Scott, Gabe Dixon, and the McCrary Sisters.
On the breezy lead track, "3/4 Time," Lewis lets his inner optimist out for a romp, though it took some coaxing to actually emerge. He started writing the song in Nashville, but didn't call it a wrap until he'd hopped the pond and was spending some time in rural England last summer. Eventually, what began as a simple exercise in tempo and mood turned into one of the set's most solid offerings.
"This song initially began as a response to the simple fact that my new batch of material lacked an upbeat, 'happy' song," Lewis explains. "The lyrics changed significantly from start to finish because I wasn't happy with the pessimistic tone that was taking shape. The glass is usually half-full to me and I felt inclined to convey more of that mindset than taking the song down some negative path which was where it was obviously headed in the beginning. Sometimes happy songs come from frustrating situations and may even inspire us or at least make us feel like we are not alone. I only hope this comes across when you listen to '3/4 Time' even though the song is actually in 4/4."
Sam Lewis' 'Waiting On You' will be released on April 21 on Brash Records and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Pokey LaFarge may have been a slow kid, but he sure is a quick study. Growing up in Normal, Illinois, he found inspiration in guys like John Steinbeck, Muddy Waters, Ernest Hemingway, Willie Dixon, Jack Kerouac , and Bill Monroe. After high school, the aspiring songwriter hitchhiked his way around the country. Add all that up, and it's no wonder that LaFarge has become a thoroughly literate, highly prolific, traveling roots musician releasing his seventh full studio album in less than 10 years, the much-anticipated Something in the Water.
KM: Let's start off with some life lessons... It seems like you listened well to your elders (your grandparents, specifically), but then you took a risk and spent some time hitchhiking around the country. Looking back from now, what advice would you pass on to the next generation of traveling troubadours?
PL: Don't take anything anyone says too literally, but keep it in mind. Don't settle for what others may say is pre-ordained. Get out of town and see the world. Juxtapose what you've been taught with what you learn. Don't disregard anything...
Your old-time sound gets recorded on vintage gear and tape, but then it's squished into mp3s. Is that somewhat disheartening to you or is it just the cost of doing business in the 21st century?
Nope, not disheartening at all. I actually use digital and analog recording technology. I think both a Victrola and a laptop have their purpose. It's whatever helps the song, the performance, and the recording.
It seems like old-time music is enjoying a renewed interest lately. Are more people playing it, are they playing it better, or are more people just paying attention?
I don't know if there are more people playing now or better than, say, 30 years ago when the folk revival sort of died out. I certainly think that are more people paying attention by the day. I think the Internet is a great tool for exposure to this music. It's accessible and it means that not everyone needs to go out digging for records to get their hands on to this music. I think, to the credit of some of my peers, they've done a bang up job of harnessing some of the early, early greats and brought it into the future.
Do you feel like you were born in the wrong decade or are you okay being a musical ambassador to another era?
Not so much. I'm much more excited about the opportunity the future brings and, thus, feel much more excited about the potential of being an ambassador to the coming times.
Having bounced around between different band configurations and label affiliations, how are you feeling about where you are now and where you're headed?
Well, I know two things to be true: First, I'm not in complete control of the future; but, second, I know that I've become successful doing one thing -- being myself. So I'll continue doing just that -- whatever that is...
Pokey LaFarge new album, 'Something In the Water' will be released on April 7 via Rounder Records and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Deb Talan and Steve Tannen (aka the Weepies) have had quite a go of it lately. Over the past five years, the husband-wife duo has stayed at home in Iowa raising three kids, beating breast cancer, and recording an album -- 'Sirens.' The name is a tip of the hat to both sweet-voiced muses and shrill-toned alarms because the Weepies aren't two to shy away from things. Rather, they take life head-on with clear eyes and full hearts. So, naturally, they can't lose.
KM: It's probably safe to say that you guys are one of very few contemporary folk acts to bundle together one million album sales. How does that feel for you, personally? But, also, what do you think it says about the audience and broader music world?
ST: A big number like that is softened because it happened so slowly, over years. We never had a "hit" or a moment, just a gradual ability to reach out a little further, which has been amazing.
Our level of recognition is really low, so it's still a surprise when things work or when my dad says he heard us while on hold with Delta, yet we get to write and put out records and tour and most of the things that come along with being a recognized musician -- it's the perfect mix for us. Maybe our own tastes overlap with a slightly wider audience, but we're just trying to make music we like. "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" remains the ultimate songwriting goal. Well, that and "Sex Machine."
How has it been to stay put for a while? And, now, to hit the road again?
Great to stay put (pregnancy and new baby), then frustrating to stay put (cancer), and now SUPER AMAZING AWESOME that we can go on the road. Been too long and we are looking forward to it the most you can look forward to anything.
Having people remotely record parts for the new album must have been both a creative dream and a logistical nightmare. Were you able to coax out your vision for the tunes or did you let the players run with whatever they felt would work?
Logistically, it was actually easier than usual -- to get any group of musicians together into a studio can be a challenge. To get these particular guys in a room at the same time would have been impossible, yet here they are on these tracks together! The generosity of each player made it happen -- their willingness to get in a local studio or Skype with us at 8 a.m. is what made this record.
When we approached the musicians, the songs were already there, and the heart of what Deb and I do was laid down. We know the previous work of each musician so well -- we'd been watching their dance moves for years, so to speak -- but they still exceeded our hopes. So it was mostly a creative dream. We literally picked these players from a dream list: "If we could work with ANYONE, who would we ask," and they all said yes. We wanted each player to do their thing, and tried to give as much or as little direction in order to tap in to their own magic. We wouldn't presume to tell Gerry Leonard what guitar tone to get, or instruct Pete Thomas on groove, but we would discuss taking the eighth note feel out of the bridge, and sing the horn parts we had in mind over the phone.
Making a record when, presumably, you both were in such a raw and vulnerable space... that's a brave thing to do. Do you think having that creative outlet and purpose actually aided the healing process?
I'm not sure that's right about the bravery. Deb approached treatment bravely, because that's scary and she had to walk through it. Making a record isn't scary, though, and we could see that was a helpful thing to do. It provided a focus beyond cancer. Family, friends, and then this project... so then cancer really had to take a backseat to all that, at least in our heads and in day-to-day conversation. Deb was pretty fierce and that attitude helped. And I had something to worry over that wasn't
Deb or the kids when I couldn't sleep.
In an age when so many artists are putting out EPs, you guys cobbled together 16 tracks. Is there one among the group that captures the essence of the record and experience? Or do they really need to be taken as a whole to understand?
We recorded many more than this, actually. This is the short version! But these 16 feel like snapshots from the year -- just like in a photo album. Each song is a record of a moment, and the whole album gives a clearer impression. "No Trouble" still seems resonant, but it certainly misses a lot about the year, as well. And we wanted to start with "River from the Sky" because it was very much about the year. Though if we had to put our finger on what started the record, it would be a really simple one at the end called "My Little Love." It's about our boys, and it was the two of us on a cold afternoon singing and playing in the studio. You can hear the kids outside at one point. It's a place of hope, and that recording inspired us to keep going back there.
The Weepies new album 'Sirens' will be released on April 28 via Nettwerk Records and is available for pre-order HERE.