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Folk Alley Sessions: David Francey - "Cheap Motel" from the 2013 Folk Alliance International Conference.
A Conversation with Joy Kills Sorrow's Matt Arcara
May 20, 2013
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
Boston is a town where acoustic guitars - and their players - seem to collect on the street like so many snowflakes. Whether it's the number of schools and colleges, the diverse community, the weather, or simply something in the water, Boston has granted us folk fans songcrafters as variant as Mark Erelli, Crooked Still, and Lake Street Dive. Wherever its artists have fallen on the spectrum of traditional music, though, Boston has always instilled in them a certain contemporary zeal for creative imagination and aural experimentation.
Joy Kills Sorrow is no exception. Pulling together highly skilled instrumentalists with backgrounds in everything from jazz to classical and indie rock, the troupe started with a stringband lineup and seems to have made every effort to defy its own parameters. On their forthcoming EP Wide Awake, the quintet welcomes new bassist Zoe Guigueno by making space in their style for her influence as well. The result is even more indefinable than the Joy Kills Sorrow you thought you already knew. From the speed-train chugging mandolin of the opening track "Was It You" to their entirely non-gimmicky, reimagining of the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights," and beyond, Wide Awake is a wonderful little disc.
I was recently lucky enough to chat with guitarist Matthew Arcara about the origins of the recording and what has driven the band to where they are now:
Kim Ruehl: Let's start by talking about your new EP 'Wide Awake' - what is this album about for you and where did you start?
Matthew Arcara: For us, I think this record is really about getting a bigger, more powerful sound from the band. Trying to get more of a vocals-in-band sound rather than a vocals-in-front-of-band sound, and trying to make a really strong upbeat record. That informed the whole process from arranging to EQing instruments for the record, how the mix was done - trying to get a fuller sound that has more impact and holds a little bit more air in the band. It informed how we made arrangement choices and what we did with guitar and mandolin at different points of time, how we could fill it out a little bit more and get the power and impact a rock and roll band has with drums and stuff, while maintaining the stringband structure and texture.
KR: Sounds like, instead of just trying to share some new songs you wrote, you're really trying to get the recording experience down, to make the finished product as authentic as possible.
MA: Yeah, I think we really were focused on the acoustic quality of the record as well as making sure the guitar sounded as full as possible and building arrangements around an idea: How do we make this tune really interesting but still stay rocking the whole way through? We were trying to take advantage of being able to do that, overdubbing a baritone guitar to fill things out or taking the octave banjo for a double-banjo [sound], to fatten it up.
KR: Why did you stick to just seven tracks?
MA: We went into the studio with seven tunes prepared that we wanted to record, that we loved, and we felt great about all of them. We made it an EP because we have a new bass player, and we wanted to put out [something] that said we have a new lineup and this is what we're doing. This is a new turn we've taken, and if you know where we've come from, you're still going to like it, but this is a new sound. We wanted to be able to go into the studio, do the tunes, do the mixing and editing and have it come out on a convenient time frame, to make a statement about what the new lineup is doing... The EP format fit that equation and lessened the pressure on us to not have to come up with all the new material. We're planning to do a full-length in the next year, year-and-a-half. But we had some tunes we felt really strong about, so we decided to put them out now and then continue working on the full-length for the future.
Singer/songwriter David Francey has long been a Folk Alley favorite (heck, he even headlined our 5th anniversary party at Cain Park). His music is the best kind of contemporary folk - taking his own story of immigrating from Scotland to Canada and the many lives he lived before becoming a professional musician and turning them into personal songs. Francey's work connects with listeners on a variety of levels, all of them sincere and authentic. His newest CD is So Say We All.
When an American Idol contestant sang a Patty Griffin song last month, I was both excited and mortified. Griffin's music is so beautiful that she should get more national (and international) exposure. But NOBODY sings Patty better than the woman herself - a unique voice that rises above the masses. Griffin says that most of the songs on her new album, American Kid, are about her father, "a World War II veteran who returned home to live for a time in a Trappist monastery before becoming a high school teacher and raising seven children."
The Bills formed in 1996 as the Bill Hilly Band and have become extremely popular in their native Canada and beyond. Although the band is known for their energetic live shows and the humor they incorporate in The Bills' music, they are very serious about what they do - winning two JUNO Awards in the process for Best Roots & Traditional Music. Discover what the buzz is about and listen to the band's latest release, Yes Please.
The East Coast of Canada has such a strong music scene that the region has even produced its own much celebrated music awards. Rose Cousins won this year's Folk Award - which might be Amelia Curran's prize in 2014 for her 2012 release, Spectators. Both women are part of a community of artists in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that also includes Old Man Luedecke. All three were nominated for the JUNO - Canada's equivalent of the Grammy in the US. It must be something in that Atlantic Ocean water!
More new music added to Folk Alley:
Amy Speace - "How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat"
Dervish - "The Thrush in the Storm"
Go Jane Go - "Go Jane Go"
HEM - "Departure & Farewell"
John Reischman - "Walk Along John"
Kim Richey - "Thorn in My Heart"
Maya & the Ruins - "Take This Song with You"
Rita Hosking - "Little Boat"
Run Boy Run - "So Sang the Whippoorwill"
Run Boy Run - "Run Boy Run"
Ruth Moody - "These Wilder Things"
Stella! - "Sorry, Stella"
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - "Love Has Come For You"
The Lone Bellow - "The Lone Bellow"
The Steel Wheels - "No More Rain"
HEAR IT FIRST at Folk Alley: David Francey - 'So Say We All'
April 30, 2013
by Kim Ruehl, FolkAlley.com
On his tenth album in 14 years, So Say We All, David Francey delivers a rousing collection of traditional-sounding story-songs. From the ever-falling rain in the opening tune to the shooting stars in the title track (which closes the album), this disc spins a web of melodies that shows easy connections between hard work and rest, joy and sorrow, loss and ultimate hope.
As he has been doing for more than a decade, Francey captures all of life's nuances in a way which is both eloquent and accessible. "Long Long Road," for example, sounds like it could be a Scottish drinking song about keeping faith no matter what comes. It's hard to resist the urge to raise a glass and join in singing, "The waves of the water, they endlessly break on the long, long road."
Francey knows the long road well. He took it toward a songwriting career, not casting his line into those waters until he was 45 years old. Nonetheless, from his childhood in Scotland to his working days in Toronto, he has brought with him a keen ear for melody. His songs are so honest and real, you'd think folks had been singing them for generations. But, more likely, these tunes have been hanging in the air all this time, waiting for David Francey.
It's not just the impeccable songwriting which makes this disc an early favorite. Behind Francey comes an intuitive band of gifted pickers - Darren McMullen's mandolin, especially, brings light into even the toughest turns of these tales. As Francey sings, struggling out of a certain depression, in comes McMullen with a flutter of color, turning the songs into inklings of hope and promise.
Though it certainly delves into life's dark moments, So Say We All is ultimately a disc about finding something to hold onto. He sums this up well on "Weather Vane," where he sings, "Everybody leaves their mark, some profound and some profane...forget the wind that howls and turns the weather vane." Listen in and decide for yourself what kind of mark David Francey has left.
It's been about a century and a half since Francis James Child collected upwards of 300 English and Scottish folk ballads and compiled them into a book now known as, simply, the Child Ballads. Folksingers have been pulling from that collection ever since, most notably during the mid-20th Century folk revival, with forerunners of that movement - Fairport Convention, Joan Baez, Buffy Ste. Marie - making recordings which have cemented these songs in the hearts and minds of folkies for generations.
It's not easy to record a song which has been recorded so many times before, and to do so with the grace and creativity that makes the song worth listening to again, in its newly realized version. Especially when great artists like Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, and Baez have already touched the song(s) in question. Yet, a couple of young singer-songwriters from Brooklyn have nailed the spirit of the Child Ballads yet again with a seven-song EP out this month on Wilderland Records.
You probably know Anais Mitchell from her handful of solo albums (last year's Young Man in America topped the Folk Alley Best of 2012 countdown), if not from her folk-opera Hadestown, which she wrote by herself and then recorded with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco, and Greg Brown. Jefferson Hamer started his career playing bluegrass music and topical folk songs before joining Great American Taxi for a spell, moving to Brooklyn, and forming a trad Irish group called the Murphy Beds with Eamon O'Leary. All these things considered, it makes perfect sense that these two artists - with their frequent straddling of the old and the new - should be well-poised to deliver a remarkable set of interpretations from Child's collection.
In the interest of keeping the songs fresh, they changed some musical phrases, updated the language here and there, and evolved the songs so they could be palatable to a contemporary audience. Aware of 21st Century music fans' short attention spans, they massaged the storylines of these richly nuanced and intellectually complex fairytales and stories of seafaring escapades, until they became wholly digestible and unintimidating. The result is a collection of hundreds-of-years-old songs which sound like they were dreamed up by Mitchell and Hamer themselves.
When Americans talk about folk music with someone from the British Isles, they are very often talking about two very different animals. English, Scottish and Irish musicians regularly perform songs that can be traced back hundreds of years - while people in the US think that acoustic Dylan is old! Jefferson Hamer was inspired by traditional music from across the pond. With Anais Mitchell, he recorded a collection of child ballads (hear more about this adventure in a Folk Alley Sessions captured at Folk Alliance). With Eamon O'Leary, he formed The Murphy Beds and made another great album of songs with long roots.
Billy Bragg works the absolute other end of the British spectrum. On Tooth & Nail, his first studio release in five years, he offers the best folk take on contemporary life and everyday people just trying to get by (although he does stop to cover a Woody Guthrie tune). Bragg writes story songs in a language that is relatable to the world around us.
An amazing thing happened to Josh Ritter following his divorce. He birthed a top-notch collection of songs. Introspective and examining in a way that makes it engaging and not annoying, The Beast in Its Tracks is on its way to making many people happy - even if it was spawned from emotional break-up.
I <3 John Denver! It makes me sad to consider how much he could have accomplished in today's singer/songwriter-friendly climate. A group of artists - including My Morning Jacket, Dave Matthews, Kathleen Edwards, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and many other big names - are featured on The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver. Sixteen of Denver's biggest hits have been reinterpreted for a new audience with a portion of proceeds going to The Wilderness Society.
More music recently added to the Folk Alley playlist:
Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer - "Child Ballads"
Annie & The Beekeepers - "My Bonneville"
Laura Cortese - "Into the Dark"
Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line - "Carnival"
Brown Bird - "Fits of Reason"
BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet - "From Bamako to Carencro"
Congratulations to Jeffrey Siegel from Tokyo, Japan, who was the randomly selected winner from our most recent listener survey! Jeffery is a fan and a longtime member of Folk Alley and we will be sending him a fleece pullover and 10 folk CDs as a big thank you for taking his time to help us out.
The information that all of you provided will be very valuable to us as we determine what the tweaks we need to make in turning Folk Alley into an even better service for you. The good news is that overall our service received a high approval rating - and we now have your suggestions to help us formulate our short- and long-term strategy for Folk Alley.
The best observation we made after looking at the survey results is that for you, Folk Alley is truly about the music. There are a lot of amateur musicians in our audience who play guitar and maybe you sometimes find yourself strumming along while you listen to the music. It is also apparent that for those who say they support Folk Alley financially, they do so because they love the music and because folk music is getting harder to find on the radio. Our 24/7 folk music service just adds to our value to you.
Again, thanks for the time and effort so many of you took taking our survey. We are happy to have your support and we will continually strive to make Folk Alley a great experience for you.
Twenty-six years into a career that has spanned two dozen highly acclaimed albums (if you count her solo stuff and that with the Indigo Girls, holiday recordings, live albums), Amy Ray can still fly under the radar. Even many Indigo Girls fans don't realize she's had a robust - and decidedly not-Indigo-Girls-sounding - solo career for more than a decade. Much of her work outside of the duo has been heavily influenced by some combination of her punk and soul influences, though she'll be heading into a New York studio this May to start recording a classic-style country album.
In her spare time, whatever that is, she dedicates her energy and celebrity to a number of social issues, from eradicating poverty and racism across the South to LGBT rights and environmental justice. Recently, I spoke with Ray about her work with groups like the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Southerners on New Ground, and Project South (if you visit her website, you can order a live concert DVD she recorded as a fundraiser for Project South). Naturally, our conversation inevitably led to the music.
Here's an excerpt:
Kim Ruehl: Are you hearing an increase in socially-minded songwriters lately? For a little while there those folks were harder to find. It seems to be coming back into the foreground.
Amy Ray: Yeah, It seems like a lot of people around me are socially conscious. I don't know who gets attention and who doesn't. But...I think the environment [for music] right now is, to a certain extent, more progressive because Obama's in office...the gay rights movement and the immigration movement, the environmental movement. There's been so much...I don't want to say progress, but [there's been] movement. I think when that happens songwriters who are in that context get talked about more.
Let's just get the Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings comparison out of the way.
Good, now we can listen more deeply. After all, Pharis & Jason Romero are artists unto themselves - instrument makers, songwriters, pickers extraordinaire. These two clearly have as much adoration and natural talent for the traditions of American folk music as they do for the intrinsic musicality of their two voices.
Fresh from a win at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (they won New/Emerging Artist of the Year), they've got a sophomore album ready (Long Gone Out West Blues), which wanders deeper into their craft. Like a path through the woods, you think you know where you're headed until you to hear the running water. Then come the lonely songs.
There can be a desperation in singing lonely songs - something quiet, sad, and seething. But, when the Romeros sing, there's more of a letting go. You're not peering into the mind of a songwriter; you're witnessing the release of some long-clenched story or emotion. Though these are all beautifully composed, well-considered songs, there's a sense that the music is coming more from the spur of the moment - the newness of the emotion - than from the channeling spirit you might witness with Welch & Rawlings. For example, when Pharis comes in on "Wild Bill Jones," it's like she was listening to this confession then joined in out of urgent solidarity.
Besides, as the album progresses, the influence of Joni Mitchell surfaces on "The Little Things Are Hardest in the End" - possibly the album's hardest hitting tune - followed by hints of Dylan and Baez, and other more elusive influences. A spirit emerges, clearly plucked from deep within obscure field recordings. From Pharis' thoughtful, creative originals to classics like "Sally Goodin", you might be hard pressed to determine what's old and what's new.
This is music made on a timeless continuum, where yesterday's troubles contribute to today's lonesome songs. Listen in, and see where it takes you.
Early 2013 Adds to the Folk Alley Music Collection
February 4, 2013
New Music for 2013
One of the best live shows I ever saw was Cheryl Wheeler at the Kent State Folk Festival. Outside, there was a thunderstorm raging, but inside it was warm and cozy as Wheeler pulled together a set that included her funny songs (like "Potato" - honestly, the best!) and deeply touching personal songs, not to mention the wonderful on-stage banter. Now, you can experience Cheryl Wheeler in all of her glory with Greetings from Cheryl Wheeler Live (featuring piano great Kenny White).
Another artist I first saw at the KSFF (as we affectionately call it) was Seth Glier. He was just breaking out when he played the Kent Stage as an opening act. Since then, Glier has been earning more and more praise for his piano-based singer/songwriter style. Check him out on Things I Should Let You Know.
There has always been a strong connection between Ireland and American roots music. Philadelphia-based Solas has always been something of a Celtic bridge between the Old World and the New. In their latest album, Shamrock City, the story of immigration is told more directly. The songs track a young Irishman (in the form of Michael Conway, the great-great-uncle of Solas frontman Seamus Egan) in 1910 who moves hopefully to Montana, only to meet an unhappy end.
Pharis & Jason Romero are also inspired by days gone by, although less directly. The couple met at an old-time fiddle jam and it must have been true love because Jason (who also has a business making banjos) packed up and moved to a small town in British Columbia to be with Pharis. The pair now record heartfelt and honest songs that would sound at home in Dust Bowl-era Kansas. FolkAlley.com is pleased to offer Long Gone Out West Blues as a Hear It First streaming option on the website.
Folk Alley's Best of 2012 - Linda Fahey's Top Picks of the Year
December 21, 2012
Linda Fahey's 15 Folk Alley Faves of 2012
I'll admit a part of me absolutely dreads putting together my "best of" list every year. It's usually pretty easy to come up with 10 favorite albums of the year. But then I'll think of one more that I absolutely love that should be included, and then another, and another... this is pressure, people. So usually the way I end up narrowing down my final list is to ask myself, "What albums from this year will I be reaching for in another 5 years to take on one of those 9 hour road trips between NYS and Ohio? For 2012, it was impossible for me to keep it to 10....so I didn't. Here are 15 of my favorite albums of the year, and the ones I recommend to my friends (in alphabetical order):
Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America, "Dyin' Day"