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A Q & A with Caitlin Canty
PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150122
PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150115
Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King
PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150108
A Q & A with Pieta Brown
Folk Alley's Best of 2014 - Jon Nungesser's Top Picks of the Year
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A Q & A with Caitlin Canty

January 27, 2015

Canty-Guitar-Stairs-Jay-Sansone 400.jpgby Kelly McCartney for

Making her way from the clear and easy backroads of small-town Vermont to the rough and tumble streets of New York City, singer/songwriter Caitlin Canty took the long way around... through a job at the Artists' Den. Eventually, though, she started to explore the various rooms of her own artistry. Between side gigs with Down Like Silver and Darlingside, Canty carved out time for her own projects, including 2012's 'Golden Hour' and the recently released 'Reckless Skyline.' And, even though she still has many miles yet to travel in order to get where she's going, Canty is certainly headed in the right direction.

What's your first memory of writing a song that you knew was good?

I clearly remember writing "The Brightest Day" in one sitting in my New York City apartment. I used to be more of a librarian when it came to writing -- a good line or melody might hit me and I'd file it away for a better time when I could focus. When I felt this song coming on, I flew to the paper and my guitar, ignored all calls, forgot to eat, and finished it in the moment. Most of the songs for this record were written in that kind of heat. Later I can sculpt them and share them with my band and get feedback on arrangements or approaches, but writing in heat helps me follow where the song wants to go, and is honestly just more satisfying. It's harder to know in my bones if anything is good once I've left it on the shelf for too long -- finishing it becomes a chore, and it'll feel like some old song a younger version of myself wrote.

As a solo artist who collaborates an awful lot, what is it about working with other artists (including Jeffrey Foucault) that gets you going?

I learn so much from touring alongside or writing with other artists. When I'm cowriting a song, I'm learning my cowriter's tricks, how he thinks about songs, what tools he uses to make it work better. When I'm playing with a band backing me up, I'm hearing how the songs works, where its weak points are, where it moves beautifully. I can't do it all alone. And where's the fun in that?

This can be a pretty lonely life -- and there's so much to be learned and so much you have to do to keep it all afloat. So when there's a chance for a good symbiotic relationship, I'll jump at it. For instance, this year, I've opened a few tours for Jeffrey Foucault and Billy Conway. They back me up on my set, and I'll sing backing vocals on their set. It's been a really wonderful way to tour.

The guys who played on your record are some of the best New England has to offer. What does playing with such high caliber musicians bring out in you... confidence, insecurity, excitement, nervousness...?

Joy! It's a thrill to play good music with good people. The majority of my time is spent traveling to shows, working on the homely business side of this job (emails, logistics), and writing songs while imagining in my mind how the band will sound playing them. My perspective is probably a bit different than most touring musicians -- I spent five years of my life working in a beige cubicle chained to a computer. When I finally get to jump onstage with my friends or sit around the kitchen table with our guitars, it's pure joy. When talented musicians bring their goods to my songs, it feels like a party.

What's the artistic distance between 'Golden Hour' and 'Reckless Skyline?' And where are you setting your coordinates next?

When I made 'Golden Hour,' I had just started touring with my trio. I was only beginning to understand how the records I love are made. I had spent a lot of time in studios, but that was my first stab at producing my own full-length album in a pro studio. It was a cold January in icy Maine.

'Reckless Skyline' is more raw and alive. The sound is warmer, the images more elemental and fiery. Where 'Golden Hour' is full of sorrow, 'Reckless Skyline' feels more wild and defiant.

And the songwriting is better. I met my match in an old Recording King guitar a month or two before Jeffrey Foucault signed on to produce and he quickly lined up the band. I felt like I was cowriting with this old guitar, and writing songs for the band of my dreams. And the band tracked this record live, in one cavernous room. We could see each other, and were making music in real time together.

I met Jeffrey when I opened a show for him and he gave me a copy of his 'Horse Latitudes' which just about knocked me over. I asked a million questions about how he produced it (live over a few days in California with a lights-out band). Foucault's philosophy of recording live in a room with the right players made all the difference in the production of 'Reckless Skyline.'

What's next? Well, I need to give 'Reckless Skyline' its day in the sun and tour behind that record as hard as I can. I have shows with The Stray Birds, Pieta Brown, and Peter Bradley Adams on the horizon. I am getting to know my new electric guitar -- it's been exciting to start writing with it. Also, in our original session for 'Reckless Skyline,' we tracked 19 songs -- so I have an EP waiting in the wings that I'll release soon as I can.

You bounce between three very disparate landscapes -- Nashville, Idaho, and New England. How does geography inform or influence your writing?

The imagery and pulse of my songs are certainly influenced by the ground I'm standing on. I absorb experiences from all of the places I love and that seeps into my music. The tactile and elemental quality of the environment bleeds into my lyrics, for sure. And the pulse or the drift of my surroundings drives the feel of the songs.

And the practical side of how the writing gets done is dependent on where I am. I'm happy and have space in Idaho, so I do a lot of writing there. My people are condensed in the Northeast, so I tour and collaborate a lot there.

Idaho is golden and masculine and wide open, and I feel strong and healthy there. New York City / New England is the adrenaline-flooded homeland where my favorite people are gathered and where I get the good work done, but can't stay for too long. Nashville still feels new to me. It marries the best parts of the small town living that I love with the convenience of the city. I dig the relaxed but passionate attitudes of the makers and artists who live happily there. I'm moving myself and my guitars to Nashville next month and putting some roots in the ground. There's also a spontaneity to the music community there. Everyone I know lives roughly 20 minutes away -- when you feel a song coming on or need a backing vocal or want to grab a beer, it doesn't take weeks of coordinating schedules -- you just do it.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 5:39 PM | Comments (0)

PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150122

Folk-Alley-Logo_medium.jpgPLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150122. Aired between January 23 - 29, 2015. Hosted by Elena See

Artist - Title - Album - Label

Hour 1

Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch - Mellow Down Easy - Lost John Dean - Compass

Reeltime - Bulgarian Bash - Reeltime - Green Linnet

The Rails - Bonnie Portmore - Fair Warning - Island

Caitlin Canty - Get Up -
Reckless Skyline - Caitlin Canty

Dave Alvin - King Of California - King Of California - Hightone

The Stray Birds - San Antonio (live) - Folk Alley in-studio session recording (2014) - The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds - Best Medicine (live) - Folk Alley in-studio session recording (2014) - The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds - Black Hills (live) - Folk Alley in-studio session recording (2014) - The Stray Birds

Slaid Cleaves - Millionaire - Unsung - Rounder

Laura Cortese - Mulqueen's - Even The Lost Creek - Cortese

Kristin Andreassen - The New Ground - Gondolier - Yellowcar Music

New Grass Revival - When The Storm is Over - Fly Through the Country - New Grass Revival

Tom Waits - Take It With Me - Mule Variations - Epitaph

Hour 2

Steep Canyon Rangers - Lay Myself Down - Tell the Ones I Love - Rounder

The Honey Dewdrops - 1918 - If the Sun Will Shine - The Honey Dewdrops

The Once - The Town Where You Lived - Departures - Nettwerk Music Group

The Rails - William Taylor - Fair Warning - Island

Thompson - That's Enough - Family - Fantasy

Gretchen Peters - When All You Got Is A Hammer - Blackbirds - Scarlet Letter

Jackson Browne - Crow On the Cradle - The FolkScene Collection Volume III - Red House

Pete Seeger - Which Side Are You On? - Greatest Hits - CBS - Sony

Nanci Griffith - If I Had a Hammer - Other Voices Too - Elektra

John Gorka - The Water is Wide - The Songs of Pete Seeger - Appleseed

Grateful Dead - Monkey and the Engineer - Reckoning - Arista

Grateful Dead - Ripple - Reckoning - Arista

Dave Ray - Wild About Her - Legacy - Red House

Roni Stoneman - Lonesome Road Blues - Classic Banjo - Smithsonian Folkways

Bruce Springsteen - Oh Mary Don't You Weep - We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - Columbia

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 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, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077:

Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:47 PM | Comments (0)

PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150115

January 19, 2015

Folk-Alley-Logo_medium.jpgPLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150115. Aired between January 16 - 22, 2015. Hosted by Elena See

Artist - Title - Album - Label

Hour 1

Leftover Salmon - Get Up and Go - High Country - LoS Records

Tommy Emmanuel - Train to Dusseldorf (live) - Center Stage - Favored Nation

Bill Morrissey - Ice Fishing - North - Rounder

Pieta Brown - Letter In Hand (In-Studio) - Exclusive Folk Alley Recording - Folk Alley exclusive

Karan Casey - Freedom Song - Chasing The Sun - Shanachie

Pieta Brown - All My Rain (In-Studio) - Exclusive Folk Alley Recording - Folk Alley exclusive

Delbert McClinton - Watchin' The Rain - Nothing Personal - New West

Pete Seeger, The Vanever Kids Chorus - Take it From Dr. King - SEEDS: Songs of Pete Seeger Vol 3 - Appleseed

Eilen Jewell - How Long - Letters From Sinners & Strangers - Signature Sounds

Pieta Brown - Back to You (In-Studio) - Exclusive Folk Alley Recording - Folk Alley exclusive

Greg Brown - Good Morning Coffee - Newport Folk Festival - Red House

The Decemberists - The Wrong Year - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World - Capitol

Patty Griffin - Up to the Mountain (MLK Song) - Children Running Through - ATO

Hour 2

The Greencards - Weather And Water - Weather And Water - Dualtone

Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain & Edgar Meyer - Bubbles - The Melody of Rhythm - E1 Entertainment

Gretchen Peters - When You Comin' Home (feat. Jimmy Lafave) - Blackbirds - Scarlet Letter

Jimmy Lafave - Buffalo Return to the Plains - Favorites 1992-2001 - Music Road

The Holmes Brothers - Shine - Simple Truths - Alligator

Odetta (w/ Holmes Brothers) - Down By The Riverside - Gonna Let It Shine - M.C.

Rhiannon Giddens - Black Is the Color - Tomorrow is My Turn - Nonesuch

The New Basement Tapes - Florida Key - Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes - Electromagnetic

T Bone Burnett - It's Not Too Late - The Criminal Under My Own Hat - CBS - Sony

Blackie & the Rodeo Kings - Blow Me A Kiss - South - Blackie & the Rodeo Kings

Kristin Andreassen - Kiss Me Hello - Kiss Me Hello - Kristin Andreassen

Justin Townes Earle - My Baby Drives - Single Mothers - Vagrant

John Williams & Dean Magraw - Twin's Dance Party - Sylvia & Mikey's - Raven - Compass

Laurie Lewis - Black Waters - Laurie Lewis & Her Bluegrass Pals - Rounder

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 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, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077:

Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:37 PM | Comments (0)

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

January 18, 2015

dr-martin-luther-king-1 300.jpgBy Kelly McCartney

On January 15, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 86, if not for the bullet that cut short his life in 1968. Today, Folk Alley remembers his life, his legacy, and his lessons as documented in song by some of the great roots artists of our time, from Pete Seeger to Patty Griffin, from Bruce Springsteen to Ben Harper. Now, almost more than ever, our world is at a crossroads, with love and peace down one road, fear and hatred down the other. It's easy to wish we still had Dr. King around to show us which way to go, but he already did that. We just have yet to follow him.

Pete Seeger: "Take It from Dr. King"

Written in 2002, "Take It from Dr. King" was one of so many songs by Pete Seeger that called for peace. Here, in the wake of 9/11, he urges against a rush to war: "Don't say it can't be done. The battle's just begun. Take it from Dr. King. You, too, can learn to sing so drop the gun."

Otis Spann: "Blues for Martin Luther King"

On April 5, 1968, only a day after Dr. King's assassination as the city burned around him, the great blues pianist Otis Spann performed in a storefront church in Chicago, unveiling two MLK tributes -- "Blues for Martin Luther King" and "Hotel Lorraine": "Oh did you hear the news happened down in Memphis, Tennessee, yesterday? Yeah, fellas, I know you had to heard the news that happened down in Memphis, Tennessee, yesterday. There came a sniper, wiped Dr. Luther King's life away."

Old Crow Medicine Show: "Motel in Memphis"

Focusing on Dr. King's death, Old Crow Medicine Show lays it all out in "Motel in Memphis," even name-checking the CIA. "Were you there when the man from Atlanta was murdered in Memphis? Did you see him layin' at the Lorraine motel? Did you hear them say that the CIA is witness to the murder of a man at a motel in Memphis?"

Patty Griffin: "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)"

Inspired by Dr. King's "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, which he gave the day before his assassination, Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)" was first recorded by Solomon Burke in 2006. Other artists have also tackled it, but Griffin makes it ache: "The peaceful valley just over the mountain, the peaceful valley few come to know. I may never get there ever in this lifetime. But sooner or later, it's there I will go."

Daddy: "The Ballad of Martin Luther King"

Written by Mike Millius in 1968 and brought back around by Daddy, the band with Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack at its heart, in 2009, "The Ballad of Martin Luther King" serves as a clarion call to never forget: "Gather 'round me, friends, I have a song to sing about a hero of our time named Martin Luther King; Martin Luther King was born to a sharecropper's son and ev'ry racist feared him, and he never owned a gun. And I've been to the mountain top, and today I have a dream. Don't you ever forget the words of Martin Luther King."

Ben Harper: "Like A King"

Ben Harper, in response to the 1991 beating by police officers of Rodney King, drew a direct line between the two Kings in "Like a King" to highlight how far we had not come: "So if you catch yourself thinking it has changed for the best, you better second guess, 'cause Martin's dream has become Rodney's worst nightmare. Like a King, like a King, like a King."

Dion: "Abraham, Martin & John"

This 1968 composition by Dick Holler emerged from that year's deaths of both Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., but also incorporates two other fallen civil rights heroes, Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. Although Andy Williams, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and others recorded the ballad, Dion made it his own: "Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin? Can you tell me, where he's gone? He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good die young. I just looked around and he was gone."

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band: "We Shall Overcome"

First published in 1948, the gospel-inspired "We Shall Overcome" has served as a protest anthem for more than one generation standing up for more than one cause. A lot of folk singers have called out and on its message of hope: "We shall overcome, we shall overcome. We shall overcome someday; Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday."

Eileen Jewell: "How Long"

Also inspired by Dr. King's words, Eileen Jewell's "How Long" holds tight to a faith in the arc of the moral universe that, Dr. King says, bends toward justice: "The darkness is deep, but night will end 'cause truth crushed to earth will rise again. How long will it take, you want to know? How long, not long because you reap just what you sow."

Paul Simon: "So Beautiful or So What"

On his 2011 'So Beautiful or So What' album, Paul Simon used the title track to shine light where there is darkness, offer hope where this is none. Because he invoked Dr. King's message, he thought it also fitting to include his memory, as well: "Four men on the balcony overlooking the parking lot pointing at a figure in the distance. Dr. King has just been shot."

Music from the 1963 March on Washington

Including performances by Joan Baez, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Mahalia Jackson, Peter, Paul & Mary, and others, this compilation brings it all home.

1. Joan Baez: "We Shall Overcome"
2. Peter, Paul & Mary: "Blowin' in the Wind"
3. Peter, Paul & Mary: "If I Had a Hammer (Part)"
4. Odetta: "I'm on My Way"
5. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez: "When the Ship Comes In"
6. The Freedom Singers: "We Shall Not Be Moved" (Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Charles Neblett, and Rutha Mae Harris)
7. Peter, Paul, & Mary: "If I Had a Hammer"
8. Joan Baez: "All My Trials"
9. Bob Dylan: "Only a Pawn in Their Game"
10. Len Chandler, Joan Baez, Stuart Scharf, and Bob Dylan: "Rally Song"/"Keep Your Eyes On The Prize (Hold On)"
11. Marian Anderson: "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"
12. Eva Jessye Choir: "Freedom Is a Thing Worth Thinking About"
13. Mahalia Jackson: "How I Got Over"
14. Eva Jessye Choir: "We Shall Overcome"

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:32 AM | Comments (0)

PLAYLIST - Folk Alley nationally syndicated weekly radio show #150108

January 11, 2015

Folk-Alley-Logo_medium.jpgPLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150108. Aired between January 9 - 15, 2015. Hosted by Elena See

Artist - Title - Album - Label

Hour 1

The Decemberists - January Hymn - The King Is Dead - Capitol

John Whelan - Reels: January's Journey Medley - Flirting with the Edge - Narada

John Doyle - The Month of January - Wayward Son - Compass Records

Claire Lynch - How Many Moons - Dear Sister - Compass

Hal Ketchum - Devil Moon - I'm the Troubadour - Music Road Records

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez - Mama You've Been On My Mind - LIVE 1964 - Columbia

Joan Baez - Farewell, Angelina(Live) - Rare, Live, and Classic - Vanguard

The Punch Brothers - I Blew It Off - The Phosphorescent Blues - Nonesuch

Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Banjo Banjo - Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Rounder

Heather Styka - Birch Log - While This Planet Spins Beneath Our Feet - Kite Stripe

Mumford & Sons - Winter Winds - Sigh No More - Island

David Francey - A Winter Night - Skating Rink - Laker

Claudia Schmidt - Winter Love - It Looks Fine From Here - Red House

The Earls of Leicester - I'll Go Stepping Too - The Earls of Leicester - Rounder

Flatt & Scruggs - Old Leather Britches - Live at Vanderbilt University - Columbia

Earl Scruggs w - Family & Friends - Step It Up and Go - The Ultimate Collection (live) - Rounder

Hour 2

Lucinda Williams - Stowaway In Your Heart - Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone - Highway 20 Records (Thirty Tiger)

Cindy Cashdollar(Mike Auldridge) - Keep My Heart - Slide Show - Silvershot

Passenger - Heart's On Fire - Whispers - Nettwerk - Black Crow

Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley - Workin' Man Can't Get Nowhere Today - Before the Sun Goes Down - Compass

Blue Highway - Remind Me of You - The Game - Rounder

Ellis Paul - Drive In Movie - Chasing Beauty - Black Wolf

Ellis Paul (live) - The World Ain't Slowin' Down - Live - Philo

Christine Albert - Old New Mexico (feat. Eliza Gilkyson & Jerry Jeff Walker) - Everything's Beautiful Now - Moon House

Jerry Jeff Walker - Ramblin', Scramblin' - Driftin' Way of Life - Vanguard

Amelia Curran - The Reverie - They Promised You Mercy - Six Shooter

Wendy MacIsaac - Magnificent 7 - Off the Floor - Wendy MacIsaac

The Duhks - Rock Of Ages - Your Daughters & Your Sons - Sugar Hill

The New Basement Tapes - Diamond Ring - Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes - Electromagnetic

Bob Dylan - I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Original Mono Recordings (Best Of) - Columbia Legacy

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 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, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077:

Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:55 PM | Comments (0)

A Q & A with Pieta Brown

January 7, 2015

PietaBrown 400sq.jpgby Kelly McCartney for

Anyone writing about Pieta Brown would be remiss to not mention that her father is the incredibly prolific and thoroughly respected singer/songwriter Greg Brown. But for the writing to stop there, would be negligent because the younger Brown has certainly made a name for herself with five albums and three EPs. On her latest studio set, 'Paradise Outlaw,' she churns through 14 tunes that are more than just well-crafted and well-produced; they are also interesting -- captivating, even. For her Folk Alley Session, Pieta sets three of those gems in a spare, duo setting accompanied by guitarist Bo Ramsey. (Click HERE to watch videos from that session.) Her father's shadow may be long and wide, but Pieta Brown shines just fine.

Kelly McCartney: You grew up in Iowa and Alabama, the daughter of a noted singer/songwriter. How would you say both nurture and nature have influenced your work?

Pieta Brown: Hopefully the songs and the music speak to that directly. I had a lot of time around people playing music together, as a kid. I also spent a whole lot of time alone as a kid and a teenager, too. I felt the music and heard the internal voices early on. The way that all converged -- and continues to -- has led me this far.

KM: Even though you've been around music and musicians your whole life, what's it like to work with legends like John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, and Mark Knofler? Does it ever not feel surreal?

PB: The music doesn't feel surreal to me. And working with great musicians doesn't feel surreal to me. It feels very real and charged. It's fun and deeply inspiring, and always an honor to work with great musicians and great artists. The songs and music and writing have become my life's work and the artists/legends you mentioned have all become masters in some way. They have all remained dedicated and driven and vibrant. That is an endless inspiration.

KM: What led you to self-produce the new album? And what differences do you think that made?

PB: The vision I had for 'Paradise Outlaw' was very strong and, though it shifted a bit here and there, it really was a clear vision and was easy to follow. The songs and the music were driving me and I just went with it. Because I felt so close to the songs and what I was hearing inside, it made taking the reins as the main producer easy. I didn't have to think about it much. It just seemed natural. April Base (the studio) and the players I called on for the session all felt right. Besides just the obvious line of having some experience in the studio to lean on, the songs and vision gave me a lot of confidence which over-rode some of my natural shyness that has been a factor, at times, during other recordings. It was freeing. Hopefully that comes through in the music and the way the record sounds.

Pieta Brown Paradise Outlaw.jpegKM: As with a lot of projects over the years, 'Paradise Outlaw' found inspiration in the Beat Poets. What's different about your take on that genre?

PB: I don't feel like 'Paradise Outlaw' is a take on the Beat Poets or that genre. If anything, it's just a "hats off" or "three cheers" for all the sparks those writers and that movement created... in poetry, music, and beyond. I feel like the Beats were part of a continuous collective, you know? Go back to William Blake and others and you can feel that fervent quest! So, I'm just chiming in with my own variations and explorations of all of that here and now.

KM: You've said that this record is about "artistic activism" rather than "political activism." What's the distinction there?

PB: The lines are blurry for sure, but I think the "artistic activism" thing came out of someone's questions to me about some of the songs on 'Paradise Outlaw.' The interviewer described feeling/hearing political undercurrents in some of the messages of the songs. Now, I don't really understand politics, but "political activism" seems to me to be acted out in the political realm... through demonstrations, laws, meetings. It seems direct and specific and action-oriented. "Artistic activism" seems to me to be about calling names, about calling things into view, about making sure all the questions keep getting asked. I reckon maybe all art and music is artistic activism in one way or another.

For more from Pieta, see Folk Alley's in-studio video session and hear the interview - HERE

Posted by Linda Fahey at 5:14 PM | Comments (0)

Folk Alley's Best of 2014 - Jon Nungesser's Top Picks of the Year

December 29, 2014

Top Picks of 2014 by Jon Nungesser

2014, what a year! A vibrant and diverse year for music with releases from First Aid Kit, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Nickel Creek, Rodney Crowell and many more that I don't have time to list here. The list I chose below passed a crucial test for me - am I still playing them in my car's CD player? I got hooked on these albums this year and am finding it hard to give them up. Surely, they will be playing in my car well into 2015!

Passenger Whispers.jpgPassenger - 'Whispers'

Mike Rosenberg aka Passenger ditched the band and went solo for 2012's release 'All the Little Lights' which produced the memorable hit "Let Her Go." Now he is back with 'Whispers' which builds on the last album's momentum. It features strong writing that really comes out in tracks like "Scare Away the Dark", providing a blatantly true look on our modern society.

First Aid Kit Gold 100.jpgFirst Aid Kit - 'Stay Gold'
(Columbia Records)

This album is a bit more amped up sonically for the sisters than their last release, but the addition of an orchestra on tracks like "My Silver Lining" only adds to the haunting vocals and vivid imagery featured in this 10-song set. It's an album that's hard to put down for sure!

Rodrigo y Gabriela.jpegRodrigo y Gabriela - '9 Dead Alive'
(ATO Records)

Flamenco cranked up to 11! That is how I describe the release from this Mexican duo. Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero grew up on a mix of flamenco, jazz, and heavy metal with one of their biggest influences being Metallica. It really should be no wonder this record is pure energy and driving rhythms that would be at home in either a rock stadium or coffee shop.

Nickel Creek Dotted 100.jpgNickel Creek - 'A Dotted Line'

The trio (Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins) reunited for this much-anticipated 2014 release. I had the pleasure of seeing them live this past year on their tour through Cleveland, and I can tell you, they haven't lost a step! This album features tight harmonies that truly complement each other. Take a listen to the track "Destination" to see what I mean.

JTE SIngle Mothers.jpegJustin Townes Earle - 'Single Mothers'
(Vagrant Records)

Back for his fifth studio album, 'Single Mothers' features tracks with a mixture of country-tinged soul as present on the title track and emotional ballads like "Picture In a Drawer." He takes the concerns and problems of the millennial generation and puts them to song - much like his dad did in his.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

Folk Alley's Best of 2014 - Chris Dudley's Top Picks of the Year

Top Picks of 2014 by Chris Dudley

It's pretty easy to say that we've had some excellent albums 2014. While my tastes are constantly changing, I chose five (okay, six actually) that were my favorites, that I kept going back to more consistently. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of other albums that aren't on this list that could be on any other given day. I chose these albums not only because of how often I listen to them, but because of how they stretch the genre of what we consider folk. All of these albums have songs that we play on Folk Alley, but the albums themselves expand outward into other realms that challenge the listener and that challenge me. Whether it be through production, instrumentation, lyrically, or harmonically, these albums have something in them that have stood out.

Noah Gundersen.jpgNoah Gundersen - 'Ledges'

With its warm and earthy tones, 'Ledges' strips down the songwriting elements to its bare bones. The songs are spacious and allow the lyrics to shine. It seems like a very minimalist setup, but it allows for his words to remain dynamic and carry most of the weight. The lyrics are introspective and evoke those tugging internal conflicts that we experience daily-- the struggle of living without or having baggage that constantly weighs on us. With its tentative moments that slowly bloom and burst into public confessions, 'Ledges' deals a heartfelt punch for those who are living a struggle.

Nickel Creek Dotted 100.jpgNickel Creek - 'A Dotted Line'

What isn't there to be thrilled with in this album? With power that continuously drives, their harmonies and technical excellence is enough to make your ear swoon and beg for more. This album is chalked full of memorable melodies. It's an exceptionally well produced album with musicianship that is articulate and interesting. You can't help but love the fun way it catches you by surprise. I love occasions in the album where the chords are peculiar and the melodies are even a littler stranger. There is enough oddity to challenge you, but enough familiarity to keep grasp of what's going on.

Ryan Adams 100.jpegRyan Adams - 'Ryan Adams'
(PaxAm Records/Blue Note)

The gritty and raw sounds from 'Ryan Adams' are quick to shake you up. I adore the raspy guitar tone and the crunchy vocals. Every time I listen to this album, I get my "aww yeah" face on. While not quite folk in a traditional sense, the acoustic songs on this album still carry that folk vibe while still maintaining that raucous shadow that you continue to sense. This album makes great driving music. I had "My Wrecking Ball" and "Let Go" on repeat for a while.

First Aid Kit Gold 100.jpgFirst Aid Kit - 'Stay Gold'
(Columbia Records)

This album has a very ethereal sound to it. The drones and sustained sounds definitely have uniqueness to it. The album has largeness to it, and the harmonies are very lush. I enjoy how full and different this album sounds. The enormity of the sound is like an ocean wave. Lilting melodies keep you singing every time. You can get lost in this album, but it still has rhythm to it. I love the way the flutes, strings, organ, and other sustained instruments cradle you along as you move through the songs. A wonderful mix of indie/pop and folk.

Robert Plant.jpgRobert Plant - 'Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar'

The juxtaposition between natural and processed sound in this album is very alluring. I try not to limit my listening to any specific sounds, and albums like this are why I don't. There are so many colorful and contrasting sounds that can paint an enticing and vivid picture. Robert Plant mixes some heavily processed and overdriven drums and synths with the likes of acoustic guitars, banjos, and hurdy gurdy (at least I think it's a hurdy gurdy). It somehow manages to sounds mechanical and organic at the same time. Talk about some avant garde folk.

Honorable Mention:

Henry Girls Louder.jpgThe Henry Girls - 'Louder Than Words'
(Beste! Unterhaltung)

I just simply like this album and the songs. It's a very natural folk sound, and the songs are ones that I happen to press the play button on a lot. I like the feel of the songs on this album, and I just like the harmonized melodies. The songs, even the minor ones, seem bright and make me sway back and forth. At the end of the day, you don't need a complicated or particular reason to like something. Sometimes you just simply like it. I like the songs. It's as simple as that.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

Folk Alley's Best of 2014 - Barb Heller's Top Picks of the Year

Barb guitar.jpgTop Picks of 2014 by Barb Heller

Disclaimer: I'm a rabid bluegrass fan, so expect my picks to be heavily weight toward that genre. If you don't mind banjos and resophonic guitars, then read on and enjoy! These are in no particular order. Happy 2015!

Claire Lynch Holiday.jpgThe Claire Lynch Band - 'Holiday'
(Thrill Hill Records)

I know it's a bit late to suggest this for holiday listening, but put it on your list for next year! Claire Lynch's voice, and her band's virtuosity put every note in just the right place. They also include a dynamite arrangement of "We Three Kings" that'll put all others to shame.

Tim Stafford.jpegTim Stafford - 'Just To Hear the Whistle Blow'
(Hedge Drive Records)

Tim Stafford plays in the band, Blue Highway - already well known for their great songs, tight delivery and staying power as a working group of artists. Stafford is a poetic, sensitive writer who puts another best foot forward with this collection. My favorite track: "Dimes." It's about finding souvenirs from heaven. This album is a great escape, with fabulous musicianship and top notch songwriting. What more could you want?

Seldom Scene.jpgSeldom Scene - 'Long Time'
(Smithsonian Folkways)

I love the Seldom Scene - then, and now. This is the group's first studio album since 2007. If you've ever liked them, you'll love this latest release.

Special Consensus and Friends Denver.jpgSpecial Consensus & Friends - 'Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver'
(Compass Records)

Even if you were lukewarm about John Denver's music in the 1970s and '80s, you can't help but appreciate these great arrangements of his greatest hits. It's a bluegrass dream lineup: Michael Cleveland, John Cowan, Rob Ickes, Claire Lynch, and many other guests. Alison Brown on double production and banjo detail. Great job all around!

Nickel Creek Dotted 100.jpgNickel Creek - 'A Dotted Line'

Sometimes it's not the words or the music that catch me. It's the process of transforming great musings into musical art that really impresses me. Nickel Creek seems to have it all: they're great musicians, they know how to write a hit song, and they can also express old sentiments and sounds in new and different ways. This is a very impressive demonstration of what the next generation is growing into.

And here are a few more that shouldn't go unnoticed:

Bob Amos Sunrise.jpgBob Amos - 'Sunrise Blues'

Another great songwriter. Bob Amos has an old soul, and it shines through his songs. For years, Amos was the lead singer for the bluegrass band Front Range. Now he's back in Vermont, forging a new road.

Phil Ledbetter.jpegPhil Leadbetter - 'The Next Move'
(Pinecastle Records)

Leadbetter was voted IBMA's 'Dobro Player of the Year' this fall, and his latest album was released just before the awards were announced. His big heart and friendly nature is eclipsed only by his stellar playing.

Irene Kelley PA Coal.jpegIrene Kelley - 'Pennsylvania Coal'
(Patio Records)

Kelley is a veteran songwriter, and she's put a best foot forward on this collection of originals based on her ancestors' lives in the mines. Well written, beautifully sung, with tasteful production. It's a gem.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

Folk Alley's Best of 2014 - Matt Reilly's Top Picks of the Year

Reilly-WXPN-Headshot-150x150.jpgTop 10 Picks of 2014 by Matt Reilly

You'd think by now I wouldn't get freaked out by having to make end-of-year lists. How do I whittle it down? Am I sure I REALLY like this whole record? What will the neighbors say? So after much wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth (sort of), here is my list.

Beck Morning Phase 100.jpgBeck - 'Morning Phase'

Sad Beck works for me. Lots of space in these songs to zone out and great for long drives.

First Aid Kit Gold 100.jpgFirst Aid Kit - 'Stay Gold'

On first listen, seems pretty straightforward: Swedish sisters with great harmonies. On repeated listens, there's a whole Nordic underworld full of ice and mystery and refracted sunlight. Or am I just weird?

Israel Nash 100.jpgIsrael Nash - 'Rain Plans'
(Thirty Tigers)

If you're a fan of Neil Young and Crazy Horse you'll dig the new arrival to Central Texas. Sometimes you need a long jahm, mahn.

Ryan Adams 100.jpegRyan Adams - 'Ryan Adams'

Who writes better songs than Ryan Adams? No, Bryan Adams does not.

Shakey Graves 100.jpgShakey Graves - 'And The War Came'

This is a guy we've known about for a long time in Austin. It's great to see him finally breaking out nationally. Great songs and totally relatable.

Spoon.jpgSpoon - 'They Want My Soul'
(Loma Vista)

The best indie rock band going. They never lose that jittery, jagged pop sensibility.

St Vincent.jpegSt. Vincent - 'St. Vincent'

An acolyte of David Byrne, she's making accessible art rock for the 21st century. And she absolutely shreds on guitar.

Sturgill.jpegSturgill Simpson - 'Metamodern Sounds in Country Music'
(High Top Mountain/Loose Music)

He's like Waylon Jennings tripping out. A great melding of straight ahead country and psychedelia.

Tweedy.jpegTweedy - 'Sukierae'
(dBpm Records)

I've always liked Wilco, but they can get irritating. Jeff teaming up with his son Spencer makes for an infinitely listenable record that can be taken anywhere.

WarOnDrugs.jpegThe War on Drugs 'Lost In The Dream'
(Secretly Canadian)

Expansive psych rock from these Philly boys that - weirdly - reminds me of Jackson Browne sometimes.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

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