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One of the best things about modern roots music is its conflation and innovation, of traditions and of visions. And many of the artists making the greatest strides in that regard are Black artists, including Alabama Shakes, Rhiannon Giddens, Son Little, and Valerie June. Each brings an inimitable style and an indelible spirit to their work, offering listeners a ticket to ride along on their artistic adventure. That's surely what June has done with her utterly captivating new release, 'The Order of Time.'
As the title suggests, there's a somewhat structured disposition to the set that comes courtesy of its blues and folk artistic ancestors. But there's also something otherworldly about it that is pure June. This study of contrasts is made evident in the push-pull of her phrasing, the lull of her lilt. It's also there in the way she uses the instruments, her voice included. She alternately bends them to her will and bows herself to theirs. On "If And," horns and harmonium patiently drone underneath her melodic exploration, while on "Man Done Wrong," she eagerly follows her banjo's mystical lead.
From the swagger and sway of "Shake Down" to the lush love of "With You," 'The Order of Time' proves that Valerie June is in command of her craft in a way very few artists are.
'The Order of Time' is out now on Concord Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey joined Cindy Howes on Folk Alley to talk about his new album 'Are You Listening?' on Righteous Babe Records and play guest DJ for the hour. Mulvey's new LP was produced in New Orleans by folk giant Ani DiFranco, of which he has been a fan for years. The two became friends after Mulvey opened some of her shows years back. They grew to become collaborators in 2015 when, in the wake of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, Ani covered and helped spread the word of Peter's protest song "Take Down Your Flag."
Mulvey spoke of his 25 years as a professional musician in addition to commenting on what it was like to make the new record with DiFranco.
Listen below for the entire hour of conversation and Peter Mulvey's guest DJ selections.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:02 PM
Folk Alley Sponsors 'September 12th' at CIFF 41
Folk Alley presents three screenings of September 12th at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Folk Alley listeners can use the code "FOLK" to receive a $2 ticket discount for screenings on April 1 and April 3 at Tower City Cinemas in Cleveland and on April 2 at the Beachland Ballroom (this is a small venue and this screening will quickly sell out).
September 12th will be screened at these times at Tower City in Cleveland:
Saturday, April 01, 2017 at 7:05 PM
Monday, April 03, 2017 at 8:30 PM
Neighborhood Screening at the Beachland Ballroom & Tavern:
Sunday, April 02, 2017 at 6:00 PM (includes a performance by Joe Purdy)
American folk singers Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth star as Elliott and Joni, two lost souls trying to make it across the country during one of our nation's most trying times. Filmed over 3,500 miles in 14 states, SEPTEMBER 12TH is an intimate look into our nation's heart. The story is told from the perspective of two people unknowingly holding the key to unlocking the love we needed after 9/11: the gift of music. Driving a beat-up touring van filled with instruments, Elliott and Joni--strangers who met on a plane diverted on its way to NYC--meet a cavalcade of Americans hurting, looking for answers, and wanting to help each other out. Bonding through their love of folk music, Elliott and Joni's road trip becomes a back roads tour of the U.S., visiting the small towns that dot our country from coast to coast. At times SEPTEMBER 12TH is a sobering look into dark times, while also serving as a reminder of the power of art and love to shine a light and unite us--it's a love story of music and compassion.
Regular ticket prices are $14 for CIFF members and $16 for non-members. By using the code "FOLK," you can receive a $2 discount on their CIFF tickets good for any Festival Film (unless otherwise specified). Members can purchase tickets online at www.clevelandfilm.org, through the Ulmer & Berne Film Festival Box Office in the lobby of Tower City Cinemas, or by phone at 877-304-FILM (3456).
Sometimes, a voice comes along at the exact moment in history that it very much needs to be heard. Though Rhiannon Giddens first stepped up to the mic as part of the Sankofa Strings and Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005, it's on her truly stunning new album, 'Freedom Highway,' that she truly finds her voice and offers it to the voiceless so that we may, perhaps, finally hear them.
Throughout the song cycle, Giddens inhabits and interpolates various characters from across Black history. There's the young slave girl in "At the Purchaser's Option" who clings to herself and the child born from, presumably, a master's rape. There are the four young victims immortalized in Richard Fariña's "Birmingham Sunday" about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan. There's the man who represents far too many shot by police for [insert action here] while Black in "Better Get It Right the First Time."
While many of the threads Giddens weaves together here represent victims, there is a palpable defiance in each strand. The fists of these characters aren't clinched for revenge; they are raised in power and in solidarity. Their gaze is focused not on their oppressors, but on the justice that looms out on the distant horizon, just barely in sight, but in sight, nonetheless. And, by keeping these stories alive, Giddens is doing her part to make sure that justice is not a mirage. In a year offering an embarrassment of roots music riches, Rhiannon Giddens' glorious 'Freedom Highway' is set to be one of the most important and, indeed, one of the most potent.
'Freedom Highway' is out now on Nonesuch Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
In Review: Guest DJ Kelly McCartney from The Bluegrass Situation
March 22, 2017
Kelly McCartney, Editorial Director at The Bluegrass Situation, joined Cindy Howes on Folk Alley for a new music preview for the month of March. McCartney shared new songs from familiar favorites like Hurray for The Riff Raff, Sera Cahoone and Aimee Mann and a lot of great newer acts like Juile Byrne and Mipso.
Listen below to the entire hour of selections from Kelly and hear what's been catching her ear lately.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 6:38 PM
Video Premiere: The Steel Wheels, "Scrape Me Off The Ceiling"
Can getting bad news be...a good thing? Well, no. Of course not. But it can help to shine the spotlight on the things in our lives that need work, that need to be changed. And shining the light on things that need to be changed is what The Steel Wheels' new song and video, "Scrape Me Off the Ceiling," is all about.
Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountains region in Virginia, the four band members first branded themselves as The Steel Wheels in 2010, though they've been making music since three of them first met at Eastern Mennonite University in 2004. In the seven years since they officially became The Steel Wheels, Trent Wagler, Eric Brubaker, Brian Dickel, and Jay Lapp have developed an easy, comfortable rapport that lends itself to the kind of intimate recording environment that worked so well for their new recording 'Wild As We Came Here.'
Working with an outside producer for the first time, the band recorded in Maine at producer Sam Kassirer's rural farmhouse/recording studio. Band member Trent Wagler (banjo, guitar) says making the album was, more than anything else, just "like a bunch of friends hanging out making some hits and having fun."
And, boy, do these musicians have fun. Whether they're mixing martinis, editing lyrics, or playing for a crowd of music lovers, the band talks, laughs and makes music with an intense kind of joy.
That intense joy comes to life in the video for "Scrape Me Off the Ceiling"- the bandmates and friends look like they're having a blast in between shots of chickens wandering around and the kind of technicolor leaves you only ever see in the Northeast. Trent Wagler, who wrote the song and presented it to the band, says it's "a celebration of bad news and how it clarifies what we need to work on...I'm a little suspicious of success and more able to get my bearings when there's a problem to work on."
"The video," Wagler continues, "is a mix of studio moments in Maine and a lot of candid shots on and off stage - a lot of which comes from our festival, Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Mt. Solon, Virginia. I think this video gives you a chance to see the real musician doing really real things with other very real people. It has an authentic feel."
'Wild As We Came Here' is due out May 5th and is available for pre-order, HERE.
If ever there were a "Hardest Working Band" award,Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors might well be nominated to take it home: in 2015, after more than a decade of making music together, this hard working, East Nashville based band released Medicine, an album that made several "best of the year" lists and an album that was, according to front man Drew Holcomb, their "arrival record."
And now that they've "arrived," Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors don't plan on leaving anytime soon, as they prove with their brand new release, out March 24, Souvenir. Produced by Joe Pisapia and Ian Fitchuk, the same team that helped bring Medicine to life, Souvenir is, Holcomb says, "probably my favorite album I've ever made."
And with a song like "Rowdy Heart, Broken Wing" it's not hard to understand why he feels that way.
It's a deceptively simple song, only about two and a half minutes long, with a single voice and a few nicely reverbed instruments (banjo, guitar, pedal steel) that gradually build up to a lush swell of sound.
There are no complicated harmonies here, no virtuosic guitar riffs. Instead, interspersed with short sentences about loss and desire, Holcomb's rough and rumbly voice repeats a single plaintive phrase over and over again: "Got a rowdy heart and a broken wing."
A catchy phrase, for sure. But think about it more closely: a rowdy heart and a broken wing. You want to do so much, to feel so much, to experience so much - that's your nature. And yet...you can't. You are unable to fulfill your own heart's desires and there's not a thing you can do about it.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, 'Souvenir' is out on March 24 on Magnolia Music and is available for pre-order at iTunes and Amazon.com
Admit it: when you're home alone and your favorite song comes on the radio (or pops up on your playlist), you start singing and dancing around the kitchen, maybe playing a little air guitar or drums, and just generally having a great time. Sometimes, when you hear the right song, you just have to move.
Well, you're in good company:Phoebe Hunt feels that way, too.
Fiddler, singer-songwriter, and Texas swing chanteuse Phoebe Hunt started making waves as a member of The Belleville Outfit about 7 years ago and has since gone on to pursue a solo career. (She also works with a band she calls The Gatherers.) She loves music with her whole body - you can see it for yourself when you watch the video for one of her new songs, "Lint Head Gal."
With a twang in her voice and some energetic air fiddling to accompany her, Hunt tells the story of a woman who is absolutely determined to make her own way in the world. Does she need education? Nope. How about a man? Nah, she had one and ran off because she got bored. Love isn't necessary to survival, either, and family members and friends are overrated.
Hunt says, "'Lint Head Gal' is the story of a revolutionary woman. During the time of industrialization in American history, many women moved from the country into the cities to create an independent life for themselves, free from the shackles of the patriarchal paradigm they had been raised within. Often times these women ended up in factory jobs, barely skimming by. This quest meant being rough and tough and ready to do almost anything for freedom. 'Lint Head Gal' embodies that woman and her quest for personal liberty."
Hunt punctuates these statements of power and determination with her hands and feet, spinning around the room with a feeling of wild abandon. At moments, there's such exuberance in her movements, she looks like she might actually take flight. Like the character she's singing about, Phoebe Hunt is clearly going to do things her own way - and she's clearly going to have a fabulous time while she does it.
You'll find "Lint Head Gal" on Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers' new recording, Shanti's Shadow, due out this spring. The single is available now at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Kim Ruehl, editor-in-chief for the roots music quarterly journal 'No Depression,' joined me for a guest DJ hour showcasing the music highlighted in the most recent "Heartland" edition. For Spring of 2017, 'No Depression' focuses on music from the middle of the country as opposed to New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and other stereotypical music towns. There are musicians from Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago and beyond featured in the issue, and Ruehl's selections reflect 'No Depression's theme with tunes from Lissie, Conor Oberst, Peter Mulvey, The Jayhawks and Over The Rhine, and more.
For her 14th album, 'While We're Here,' singer/songwriter Catie Curtis does a whole bunch of beautiful processing, tilling the soil of life into song. In the 25 years of doing just that, Curtis has planted her musical seeds across the land through fairly persistent touring. She'll do so again this year, but that may well be it for "Catie Curtis Coming Soon to a Town Near You." Post-2017, she has her sights set on staying put and pursuing other creative explorations. So, if you've never seen her live, get thee to a show this year! You won't regret it. (You also won't regret diving deep into her lovely new album.)
Kelly McCartney: What have you learned over the past 25 years? And what have you had to re-learn or re-commit to as things have shifted and evolved?
Catie Curtis: I've learned that songs always get written, if I show up with my instrument (I write on guitar and piano). I believe that what we call being "creative" is actually being receptive. And if I want to receive, I have to invite, and then sit there and welcome the muse. It takes time and patience, and a discerning ear.
I always have to remember (re-learn, perhaps) that, with every song, I'm a beginner with that song. While I have lots of tools to use, I have to let each song be what it will, and not impose my past writing experience on the new song.
A lot has even shifted since you made the record. How do the songs resonate for you now, post-election?
My song "Please Explain," about tumultuous changes, seems now related to things going on politically. But mostly this recording is personal/universal, not so much political.
What person, experience, or other something has been the greatest teacher for you as you learn to live in the present and not in fear, as these songs describe?
One person who has had a huge impact on me is Jimmy Ryan, the mandolin player I refer to in 'While We're Here.' (He plays on the track, as well.) We toured as a duo for seven years straight at the beginning of my career. His subversive humor and passionate playing style helped transform me from a shy girl to one taking up space without as much concern for how people react. In terms of experiences, I've known a few people who died before their time, unexpectedly. Getting a close-up view of mortality is always a wake-up call. We never know how much time we'll have here.
You're pairing this release with what you're calling your Final Outing tour, after which you won't be out on the road. How'd you make that decision? And what was your first emotional response after making it?
My first emotional response was relief. I've been orienting my life around travel, around touring for 25 years, and I'm really ready for another way to focus my priorities. I'll still be working as a musician, just not on the road. I'll probably be somewhat heart-achey and nostalgic after this bit of touring in 2017 is over.
That being said... How dug in are you on this no more touring stance? Because Barbra Streisand has had quite a few farewell performances.
Never say never... but my intention is to dive into other creative commitments that will take touring off the table for quite a while, if not for good!
While We're Here is out now and available at iTunes or HERE.