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Song Premiere: Alice Gerrard, "Boll Weevil"
September 16, 2014
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
Alice Gerrard started her career as one-half of the groundbreaking, hugely influential duo Hazel & Alice (with the late Hazel Dickens) around a half-century ago. It was a time when musicians from all over the country were discovering the traditional songs of places they'd never even been to. Not only was the mid-20th century folk boom about turning on to different areas of American life, but it was sort of like learning the language of people you'd previously thought were so different from you.
"Boll Weevil" was one of those songs - popularized by the legendary Leadbelly, then picked up and performed by Brook Benton (who had a pop hit with it in the 1960s. On her new album, Follow the Music (due out September 30th on Tompkins Square Records), Gerrard performs "Boll Weevil" in true folk fashion, delivering it straight-forward, over the old-timey fiddle, backed by members of Hiss Golden Messenger and Megafun. The result is not so much the delving into a time capsule as it is a vivacious, modern performance to remind us of from whence American folk music came.
Pre-order a copy of 'Follow the Music' HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM
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Video Premiere: Eliza Gilkyson, "Fast Freight"
September 15, 2014
By Cindy Howes for FolkAlley.com
Eliza Gilkyson's new album, 'The Nocturne Diaries,' is "inspired by the sort of thoughts that keep us awake at night in this modern world, where the news always seems to be bad". This video for the record's lead track "Fast Freight" captures that feeling and combines two elements that the singer is strongly associated with: Austin, TX and her father, the late folk singer, Terry Gilkyson.
The video was directed by her son, Cisco Ryder and shot in her hometown of Austin. It shows Eliza wandering the train yards while she plays her fathers song - a folk standard since the 1950's and has been covered by artists like The Kingston Trio, Tim Hardin and Gordon Lightfoot.
There is a bonus element that may be new territory for Eliza: absolute creepiness, and that is meant in a good way. "Fast Freight" is a dark song about someone who is tempted by the sound of the trains and the railroad to go back their past life of being a bum. It could be compared to an addict being tempted by their vice. Gilkyson claims she included her version of "Fast Freight" on her latest album, The Nocturne Diaries, to represent "a page from my dad's nocturne diaries, a window into what he was thinking about late at night back then." Her mission is very much accomplished. Her version of the song makes you wonder and worry about what her dad was going through at the time.
The special appearance in the video of the self-proclaimed "Roaming Blues Musician and Poet" Ray Bonneville - playing harmonica as the "kind of alter-ego" - seals the deal for the chills that this video sends down your spine. Plus, it's hard to imagine the lovely Eliza Gilkyson as a bum who hops trains, so Bonneville fills that role quite nicely.
Highlight of the video: the pair playing music around a hobo campfire with a can of a certain Texas beer set upon a concrete block. The lonesome black and white images showing Gilkyson standing alone in a graffiti covered railway, match perfectly alongside the daunting melody of this creepy folk standard.
Catch Eliza live on tour now!!
Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:03 PM
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REVIEW: Rose Cousins, 'Stray Birds'
September 13, 2014
Rose Cousins - 'Stray Birds' (EP)
Old Farm Pony Records
By Cindy Howes, for FolkAlley.com
A new surprise EP from one of Canada's brightest singer-songwriters? Yes, please. Oh, she's covering some of her good friends and heroes? This includes Gordon Lightfoot? Well, don't mind if I just start weeping my face off.
Stray Birds, the new EP from Halifax's Rose Cousins is a small, quiet celebration in contrast to its predecessor. The beautiful We Have Made a Spark, was, indeed, a spark of a celebration for Cousins and her musician friends in Boston, where she made that album and which she calls her second home.
It's nice to hear Cousins pull back a bit on this release to show off some of her friends' songs and tell us about some of her heroes. The EP opens with Cousins slaying a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cover of Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind". No one else need cover this song again - the woman nailed it.
The two covers of her songwriter friends are "Tired Eyes" by Mark Erelli and "Shake" by Lori McKenna, both among Boston's finest. It's nice to see that Cousins is not done paying homage to the fantastic Boston/Cambridge music community.
Another surprised on Stray Birds, is her cover of "What's Love Got To Do With It", which is fun to play for someone who doesn't know it's Tina Turner's biggest hit until Cousins slides into the chorus.
The two original compositions on the EP include "The Farmer's Wife", perhaps referring to Cousins' time growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island, and the standout title track - a pretty country sounding song with great additions of banjo (Charlie Rose) and fiddle (Bronwyn Keith-Hynes).
Stray Birds was recorded over the course of two days at the Dimension Sound Studio in Boston. While it seems like the spotlight is more on Cousins this time around, she does have some of Boston's finest players on this release, including Zachariah Hickman, Kevin Barry, Duke Levine, and the aforementioned, Rose and Keith-Hynes. These gentleman and lady are careful to add subtle and sweet layers to the already well-crafted songs.
Cousins claims that her favorite part of the EP is the cover art, which is a self-developed black and white photo of her father's hands holding a new chick from their farm. Cousins broke her elbow over the winter, which gave her opportunity to learn how to develop black and white photos. The gentle image on the cover tends to reflect the songs on this lovely collection that leaves the listener satisfied, yet anticipating this brilliant performer's next move.
Order a copy of 'Stray Birds' HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:42 PM
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Hear It First at Folk Alley - Irish Power Trio, The Alt
September 12, 2014
*Irish traditional music power trio, The Alt are unveiling their new self-titled album this week, and you can listen to it in its entirety in the player below. *
By Gideon Thomas, for FolkAlley.com
The group, made up of ex-Solas member John Doyle, flautist, singer and songwriter Nuala Kennedy and Eamon O'Leary, are all world-class musicians in their own right, and have now come together to produce a sumptuous and beguiling album which fully represents all of the fire and skill of the group's constituent parts.
The songs, both Irish and British songs in English and one Irish song ("Cha Tig Mor Mo Bhean Dhachaigh") find Doyle and Kennedy's voices intertwining to fantastic effect. The album follows in the traditions of Irish song and singers, but very much with its own feel, and the band members have clearly put into it what is important to them, and the strengths, both of the songs and the performers, is clear. The playing is forthright and sympathetic, and the tunes exciting, dynamic, intricate and beautiful - especially "Geese In The Bog/Covering Ground."
The story of the album is equally fascinating. The three musicians gathered in the village of Coolaney to conceive the idea of the album, but it came into being in a cabin in the Appalachians. This is a conscious nod to the impact that Irish music has had, and continues to have on many different forms of American roots music.
The Alt have put together an album of beauty, care and precision, a distillation of the power of modern traditional Irish music, with a unique American angle.
Enjoy the album, and make sure to check out The Alt!
Click HERE to order the album!
Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:32 PM
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Dom Flemons On 'Prospect Hill'
September 5, 2014
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
Many people know Dom Flemons as one-third of the original membership of groundbreaking revivalist stringband Carolina Chocolate Drops. Indeed, with the CCDs, Flemons achieved international acclaim and earned award nominations from organizations like the Americana Music Association and the Grammys. But, before the Chocolate Drops made their debut, he was a performing songster and songwriter, covering the entire scope of what constitutes American folk and roots music - not just the stringband, Carolina-based stuff that would eventually make him folk-famous.
Now, Flemons has ventured out on his own again, with a "debut" solo album of sorts (he's released two recordings outside of the Chocolate Drops before, but seems to view this one as more of a definitive debut effort). 'Prospect Hill' is a collection of blues and ragtime, folk and bluegrass tunes. It's quick and simple, to-the-point, and wholly digestible. It's timely and timeless, and everything you might hope a good folk album would be.
I hopped on the phone recently with Flemons to talk about the genesis of this album, among other things:
Kim Ruehl: Let's start by talking about 'Prospect Hill' and where this album came from for you. You delve into a lot of different styles than you did with the Chocolate Drops. Where did this start? Was it with a song?
Dom Flemons: There's always a song, to start. When I started making this record, my full intention was to make a record that I felt would be good enough that I could make another record. I have a lot of ideas for songs and working with different material, whether it's original material or traditional material... This is my first solo record outside of the Carolina Chocolate Drops - I did two recordings before that were just me solo or a little bit of accompaniment with me. This one, I decided I wanted to have a small ensemble with me on each of the songs and I wanted to delve into the different [kinds of] songs I'm interested in, in one way or another, and kind of do some of the things I started doing with the CCDs.
The Chocolate Drops were very specific about the kind of material we wanted to put out there - North Carolina black stringband music or stringband music with our own sort of edge that we...researched specifically in that flavor. That was the goal. But all of us always studied different kinds of music. I'd been playing solo for five or six years before I started the Chocolate Drops with Rhiannon and Justin, so I wanted to re-introduce the other styles I've been into the last 15 years with this record, and just give a broad cannon of stuff so people could hear: Oh, he doesn't just do that one thing. He does a bunch of different things.
I tried to be specific in how I put the record together. I tried to make it a quick record that you could have a really good time listening to without having to invest too much time. It's a nice one to listen to in the car or blast out of the speakers, and it repeats really easily too. I tried to do a couple of things like that in my sequencing and how I recorded things.
KR: When you're coming from so many different traditions and styles, how do you choose what songs you're going to do?
DF: I recorded about 30 songs altogether. I whittled it down into a nice 14-song album. I made it about 39 minutes to the dot. That's how I chose the songs.
I wanted every song to be a song that really showcased what I do as a musician. I didn't stay emotionally invested with any of the songs that I picked. They were all songs I've been playing for 10 years so, so I invested in the way I enjoy the songs. Some of the songs I wrote on the album, I wrote in the last three or four years. I picked out the best of those songs and decided to put them out. I tried to work the best of both sides of what I've been doing the past 15 years as a musician.
As a member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, I got a great fan base through that. But there's a whole big world of people that are interested in a lot of different types of music. There's a new generation of younger people who are getting into the music in a big way. When I got into the music, there were still all the people who had established the music in the past 50 or 60 years, who were still very active members of the community. Now that they're not there, there's a whole generation of people that are my peers or a few years or older [than me] - I'm 32 years old - that are being pushed into a higher status spot. We have different ideas and different ways to define the music we're doing.
I notice that the demographic is growing of people who have no idea what the standards are. Just because, in general, with the post-digital revolution, anybody can learn anything they want to, but it's a matter of how much the things that need to be learned get exposed to these people. That's what I felt like on this record. When I was growing up, it was 1950s and 60s music all the time on the oldies station. That's not what's happening now. It's 1980s...the 80s has kind of even fallen off the mark to the 90s, 2000s, 2010. That's what kids can hear on the radio if they just turn the radio on. Also LPs. People are getting more interested in LPs. That's not going to grow too huge, but I think it's getting to be how it used to be, where if you really wanted an LP and the artwork and the product...people love stuff.
I thought of all these things when I made the record. The songs themselves were songs I thought pushed the concepts that I wanted to get out there, without me having to explain it. You just put the record on and you say, "Oh I like this record, I like how it sounds and I like the songs that are on it." I made sure it had songs I thought people might want to sing. I tried to make it very simple and short, so it was easy to listen to.
In the industry, I feel like there's a lot of music that's really long. We have a lot of emotional arcs in the music that comes out. I tried to cut that out. A lot of the old recordings I like are so straight to the point. I wanted to make a straight-to-the-point record. I'm so glad that people have been enjoying it so far. I wanted to have a particular sound and a certain urgency to it. I feel like I was able to make that come off.
KR: In the folk world, there's the singer-songwriters following the Woody and Bob tradition, then there are the stringbands like the CCDs, then there are guys like you who are very steeped in tradition but are doing it in an interesting, contemporary way without being gimmicky about it. I always wonder how you keep in mind honoring tradition and moving it forward without losing touch of the tradition?
DF: I don't even bother with what's popular. I mean, I keep an eye out for what's new. If I go to the airport, I'll buy a copy of Rolling Stone, or I'll buy something that shows popular music. I'll actually actively seek out stuff if it looks interesting to me. But I don't just go out of my way to buy stuff that's not in my realm. That, for me, helps me stay contemporary, to keep my mind in a contemporary setting, because I can't help but be living right now.
That's a thing that some people tend to get a little bit confused about. They present a certain image and they want to be that old thing and make references to that old thing. I used to do that myself. It's a strong way to develop, learning a style note for note. It's a very good way to become an excellent musician - to learn a style, learn something you want to and be that. Then, after a while - this is something Mike Seeger said in every video he ever made: "You can't help but be yourself in the end." So you know, all you have to do as a person is interpret the music and immerse yourself in it, and eventually your own style will come out. Even if you do something note for note, after a certain point, when you become a real musician who's mastered their craft, you're going to put your own stamp on it.
It's always going to be personal. That's the hangup I think that's been there for a long time, especially when it comes to original music and interpretations of songs - what people call covers. It sets things off-kilter in a way to where people have hangups about it. For me, I've been a fan of music for a long enough period, I've scrutinized albums professionally and even before I was professional in a way, that I've tried to not have that hang-up.
I'm ok with presenting what I'm good at, and not needing to present 100% of my being in an album. Some musicians get caught up in that. There are a lot of weird egos and rock star culture that feeds into that. I have no desire to do that. Even with writing songs, I've tried to downplay it. I don't want to be a songwriter full-time. I'd rather be a performer and, if I write songs, great. That's why I'm an "American songster" instead of "American singer-songwriter" or "folksinger," or something like that. Songster can cover both of those realms. That's something I've developed over 10 years of performing. It's nice to be able to get out there and honor the old people who've influenced me, but it's also nice to give a shout out for all those old people to the young folks who don't know [about them]. Say, "Come on you cats, get hip. Go to the library. Figure out what this stuff's all about."
I tried to do that with the music I put out there. That's always been a trajectory for me personally. This album, in my own mind, is kind of conservative in a way, because I try to reach out to the communities I've been to before, in the introduction, to say, "I'm out here and this is just the beginning."
Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:56 PM
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Hear It First at Folk Alley - Mark Erelli, 'Milltowns'
September 3, 2014
*Mark Erelli releases 'Milltowns,' his special tribute to his friend and mentor, singer/songwriter Bill Morrissey, on Tuesday, September 9. Until then, you can stream this album in its entirety in the player below.*
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
Just like you couldn't pry the Texas and Colorado out of Townes Van Zandt's songs, you'd be hard-pressed to separate New England from the simple, deceptively complex music of the late, great Bill Morrissey. His literary approach to songwriting not only meant his songs told beautiful stories in poetic verse, but they also followed along with the intrinsic melodies and rhythms inherent in the words themselves. Few songwriters encapsulate this kind of literary quality with the same consistency and aplomb as did Morrissey, except for, perhaps, Mark Erelli.
Erelli is widely known as one of the hardest working, most artful singer-songwriters on the New England folk circuit, and his original songs are as full of love and community as they are stories about triumph and heartache. So, it makes sense, somehow, that Erelli would dedicate his thirteenth recording to songs written by Bill Morrissey (plus a title track he composed himself).
'Milltowns' doesn't come off as a covers record or a tribute album, though, so much as it does a thank-you note for the songs Morrissey put out into the world. With each performance, Erelli gives himself over to the song and seems to be simply following along and learning from where the song takes him. Backed by Sam Kassirer on piano, Charlie Rose on pedal steel and banjo, and Zack Hickman on upright bass, Erelli also welcomes backing vocals from the area's finest singers: Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, Anais Mitchell, Peter Mulvey, and Rose Polenzani. It's hard to argue that these voices all together occupy the gaping hole that Bill Morrissey left behind, as all of their music speaks on behalf of the community and literary traditions of New England's musical past.
Needless to say, 'Milltowns' is an album that demands listening. Listen close; there's sure to be something in there to break your heart a split second before it leads you straight to grace.
CLICK HERE to order a copy of 'Milltowns.'
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:54 AM
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RUNA 'Current Affairs' - Review and Interview
August 27, 2014
RUNA - Current Affairs - Review and Interview
By Gideon Thomas, for FolkAlley.com
Runa is a band whose five members hail from three different countries - the US, Canada and Ireland. The band won Top Group and Top Traditional Group in the Irish Music Awards this year, and their love of the (often shared) traditions they find in music are ties that bind the members together, and their new album, Current Affairs draws from a range of musical forms and song types.
From the singing of Pete Seeger to Gaelic ballads to traditional British songs to modern singer-songwriter-penned pieces, the collection has an interesting mix and blend of pieces which have entered the bands' repertoire. I discuss this and more with Shannon Lambert-Ryan from the band below, but first, let's take a dip into the album and see how it feels.
Opener "The Banks Are Made Of Marble" reveals a musicianship that is immediately both Irish and American. Almost as a statement of intent, Maggie Estes White's fiddle reaches across the oceans. The sometimes-sombre "Wife Of Usher's Well" is then treated to quite a jaunty, accordion-led arrangement, and, as the tale spills out, you realise how fitting the vocal actually is. It is so great to see new blood taking on the various song and tune traditions as contained on the album, and treating them as well as RUNA do.
"The Hunter Set" shows clarity and drive, highlighting the adaptability of the musicians - and their ease with playing away from their 'home' styles. Estes White's fiddle leads things off, followed by an especially effective use of a bluesharp /banjo combination. Next up is an interesting take on "Henry Lee," with a pumping, driving feel, which it shares with a lot of its compatriots on Current Affairs. Again, Lambert-Ryan's voice fits the choice of songs well, backed with a chopping fiddle and well-placed percussion. Songs like this, indeed Current Affairs as a whole, take the traditions in different directions, with the band's selection of instruments adding to the story.
A gorgeous version of Amos Lee's "Black River" is fabulously sung, with some very neat harmonies bringing it up and down. The Gaelic song set, "Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir / A Chomaraigh Aoibhinn Ã“," is well tempered between voice and a simple but effective backing, where the beauty of the songs is to the fore, never encumbered - the band have that ineffable quality, understanding, which is not always obvious with other groups.
"The False Knight Upon The Road" is both bright and exuberant, with the band taking the decision to treat it thus. The tune really flows, bringing out different parts of the song in different ways. The harmonies have a rushing quality to them, with guitar and some deft mandolin underpinning everything. "Ain't No Grave" is the only moment where the album falls down slightly for me. The version is a little 'lacking', amid the desire for a little more grit. Still, there are effective, multi-layered harmonies, and an interesting, vibrant arrangement. The sliding fiddle and coda works very well.
Inclusions from the pens of Kate Rusby and Davy Steele show that the net which Runa cast spreads far and wide, and will no doubt bring more listeners to the original writers. "The Ruthless Wife" has a lovely bouncing banjo courtesy of Ron Block, and the song stands out as a fascinating story, continuing traditions in different ways, those of family stories and stories of families. The musical journey visits more new and different places on the "Land Of Sunshine" set, which proves that instrumental music can and does actually tell a story, on a piece which feels new and contemporary. Bright, breezy, elegant, and very well put together.
"Rarie's Hill" is a fitting summation of the project - full of personal input, and wanting to take the traditions forward by working out new ways for its songs.
Current Affairs will draw favourable comparison with bands like Bodega, and listening to it makes you glad that Runa exist and are making the music which they are. I hope that the album brings as much joy to as many other people as it has to me. It is a bold statement, one which blends Irish music (in the instrumentation, and especially in the tune sets), with an American sensibility in its influences and execution.
I was fortunate enough to be able to speak to Shannon Lambert-Ryan from RUNA about the band, the new record, and their choices of songs and tunes.
Continue reading "RUNA 'Current Affairs' - Review and Interview"
Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:58 PM
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Song Premiere: The Stray Birds, "Best Medicine"
August 22, 2014
by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com
The Stray Birds seemed to show up out of nowhere back in 2012, with a self-titled debut that stopped short the folk and Americana worlds. Driven by a contemporary grasp on traditional music that rivals that of giants like Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, the Stray Birds followed the debut up with 'Echo Sessions,' an EP of cover songs. But now, they're back with another full-length album titled for one of its most infectious tracks. When Maya de Vitry howls out the first "well, well, well" of the chorus on "Best Medicine," it's part proclamation, part revelation. There to catch her are the supportive harmonies of guitarist Oliver Craven and bassist Charles Muench. Together, the three carry the song through to its stirringly poetic catharsis: "If the body is a temple, the soul is a bell / That's why music is the best medicine I sell."
Best Medicine will be released on October 21st on Yep Roc Records.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:47 PM
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It's a Ticket Drawing for City Winery Chicago!
July 25, 2014
Our new friends at City Winery Chicago, a 300-seat concert hall and winery in the West Loop neighborhood, are offering three-pair of tickets each to Guy Forsyth's Hot Nut Riveters & the Appleseed Collective on 8/7, John McCutcheon on 8/8 and Carlene Carter with Jodee Lewis on 8/9. To enter the drawing, send an email to email@example.com by Sunday, Aug. 3. Names will be left at the door and this is probably better for people living in the Chicago area, because transportation is not included!
In your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, include your name, phone number and email address. Your phone number will only be used in case we need to contact you for this drawing. Please put Forsyth, McCutcheon or Carter in the subject line!
Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 5:27 PM
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The Family Roots of Conjunto: Flaco Jimenez & Max Baca
July 17, 2014
by Devon Leger, KITHFOLK
Flaco & Max. Legends & Legacies.
2014. Smithsonian Folkways.
Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca are two of the most famous artists in Texas Mexican (Tejano) conjunto music. But they're also both the sons of legends as well. Flaco's father, Don Santiago Jimenez, was a pioneering accordionist, singer, and songwriter in Tejano music, and Max's father, Max Baca, Sr, was also a great accordionist and bandleader, though based out of his native New Mexico, rather than Texas. Both Max and Flaco are actually third-generation accordionists, as their grandfathers played as well. For both artists, this is a family business, so it's a real pleasure to hear them both going back to their family repertoires on their new release on Smithsonian Folkways: Legends & Legacies. Together, Flaco and Max make up the classic duo that is at the heart of all conjunto music: the three-row button accordion and the bajo sexto (a large stringed instrument somewhat similar to the 12-string guitar). Both artists, Flaco on accordion and Max on bajo, are considered among the very best in the world and have become ambassadors both for their music and for the instruments. So what you hear on this album is the very best Tejano conjunto music there is. Here it's gloriously simple, but also devilishly complex, tied to the family roots that sustain it, and freed from the glitz and glamor of modern conjunto music (not that there's anything wrong with a little glam in your accordion music!). The songs are rustic and heartfelt, drawn from their fathers' songs, but also from classics of the genre. The songs, like most country music, are about lost loves, unrequited loves, and the love of drink.
The album is also an ode to fathers and to families, with great stories about how both Flaco and Max grew up in the dancehalls of the American Southwest, surrounded by seminal music making. Growing up in San Antonio, Flaco remembers his father playing Friday through Sunday night at the Gaucho Garden and working as a janitor during the day to support his kids. "He always wanted me around," says Flaco in the liner notes, "and I wanted to be around him, because I loved the accordion, I loved how he played. I used to check out everything. I took care of him in some ways, and I packed his accordion in his Model A car. Then afterward, I started growing up a little more, and he decided to take me to where he played because I think he knew that I was ready to perform. It was like him taking me to Disneyland or something, you know, for me to go with him to where we played! It was a spontaneous thing, because I was just sitting on the side of him because he was playing at the dances." Eventually, Flaco got invited up onstage and cause quite the fervor in the joint with his accordion playing, though he was too small to reach the mic (they had to put a case of Lone Star Beer under him to get him to reach). He was only seven years old.
Max grew up in New Mexico, and his father was responsible for pioneering much of the New Mexican Hispanic music that still exists today, though there clearly have always been ties with the Tejano community in Texas. I interviewed Max Baca over the phone at his house in San Antonio a little while back, and he talked about the fascinating story of his father's music and his father's influence on "chicken scratch" music (the music of Southwest Native Americans). Here's an excerpt from that interview with Max Baca:
"I remember as a kid growing up, playing at different festivals and events, especially the fiestas at the Indian reservations. My dad would play and I was just a kid, I was maybe 6, 7 years old. I was tagging along with my dad, he had me go with him to gigs and by the time that I was 8, I was already playing the bajo, I was already playing the bass. I was actually my dad's bass player, and that's how I got into the music. My dad would say, "Okay, here's the bass guitar and learn it! I need a bass player. We need you. We're not going to pay another musician, I'd rather pay you." We all contributed: me and my brother were part of my dad's band as well, plus my uncle. It was kind of a family band type thing. My uncle played the drums and my other uncle played the bajo. I was the bass player and my brother was the back-up accordion player for my dad. My brother would play accordion and my dad would grab the trumpet. It was pretty cool, a different sound, accordion and trumpet. They would sound beautiful together, harmonizing."
Living in such a multi-cultural society, there were many ties to Southwest Native American culture. In blood, but also in music. Here's Max on his father's influence on chicken scratch music:
"I remember going to festivals, or fiestas rather, when I was playing in the afternoon and then we'd always play the "baile" or the dance at night. I remember there was a couple of [Native] accordionists, and they would go to my dad and my dad would actually teach them a few pointers here or a few songs and that's how they got started in the "chicken scratch" scene. Now there's a lot of Native Indian chicken scratch. In Tucson, there's quite a bit. My dad was a big influence on that because he had his band. His band was really popular and he had a big band. He had 2 accordion players, he had 2 sax players, he would grab the trumpet and would play with the sax players and they would have a kind of orchestra with the conjunto, it's cool. Some of these Native Indians would pick up on it and before you know it, when I was maybe 12 years old, and we'd go back to play these festivals and they would be getting a band together and, of course they would never sing the songs because it's another language. So, I noticed they would just play instrumentals and they would play the same songs and they would play them but instrumentally without the words. It was interesting and it was really cool and I think that's pretty much how they do it nowadays too."
"My dad was New Mexican, Indian, he had a little bit of these different influences... My dad, for some reason, he was a polka freak. He came out with polkas that were off the wall. Flaco Jimenez loved my dad's polkas. They were just different. They had this really cool twist to them. They'd sound hard. hey were simple but they sounded kind of hard. It was a technique that he would use. Really catchy polkas and really, really catchy music. It's funny because the native Indians, when they would dance my dad's polkas, they would dance like the Germans. They would jump up and down, instead of like the Texans. The Texans would dance really slow, in a circular motion, clockwise and shuffling their feet but the native Indians would dance. They would actually jump; they would hop to my dad's polka music! It was different. I have seen some of the German polka dancers. They hop like that. They jump and have little hops with it."
Native Indian dancers, accordion riffs with no words, polkas you can't stop thinking about, songs you can't stop drinking to, and Germans lurking at the edges of the music, this was the roots of Tex-Mex accordion and bajo sexton, and these glory days live on in Flaco Jimenez and Max Baca. Long may they reign as the kings of conjunto!
This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of KITHFOLK, a digital roots music magazine based in the US. For more information and to read additional articles: www.kithfolk.com
Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:00 PM
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