Artists often ask if Folk Alley plays music from "unknowns." The answer is yes, with an asterix. The songs must hold their own against the classics. When Jim heard Nora Jane Struthers, he thought just that - here was a young woman without a lot of history, but with a collection of fresh, original Americana songs. It doesn't hurt that on her self-titled debut she is working with a top Nashville producer and all-star musicians Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Bryan Sutton, Scott Vestal, Dennis Crouch and Tim O'Brien. Check her out and see what you think.
Speaking of Tim O'Brien, the Grammy Award-winner is back with Chicken & Egg. One of roots music's most successful songwriters, O'Brien fills his latest with an effortless mix of sweet songs, funny songs and songs that will stick with you long past the first listen. O'Brien spoke of his father (who passed away last year) when he opened for Steve Martin at the Newport Folk Festival. His dad makes an appearance in Not Afraid of Dyin' - facing his later years with humor and acceptance.
I also heard a lot of songs from Twistable Turnable Man at Newport. This new tribute to the late, great humorist Shel Silverstein includes contributions from multiple generations of musicians - from John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Kris Kristofferson to Andrew Bird, Sarah Jarosz and My Morning Jacket - all playing songs by the illustrator and author of such classics as "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and "A Light in the Attic."
When Jim started talking up All the Good Summers, a CD he'd discovered by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, it was a little like deja vu. That's because the VanNorstrands were one of Folk Alley's featured Open Mic artists. Each month the Folk Alley staff comb through submissions to highlight up and coming artists. Several (like Jim Pipkin, Chris Castle and Chad Elliott) have had their CDs added to the stream.
Here are more CDs for your musical discovery:
Red Horse (John Gorka, Eliza Gilkyson, Lucy Kaplansky) - "Red Horse"
Abalone Dots - "Traveler" and "From a Safe Distance"
Lonesome River Band - "Still Learning"
Angel Band - "Bless My Sole"
Justin Townes Earle - "Harlem River Blues"
Bill Kirchen (feat. Dan Hicks) - "Word to the Wise"
Cherryholmes - "Common Thread"
Sally Spring - "Made of Stars"
Asleep at the Wheel & Leon Rausch - "It's a Good Day"
Mollie O'Brien & Rich Moore - "Saints & Sinners"
Gregory Alan Isakov - "That Sea, The Gambler" and "This Empty Northern Hemisphere"
David Mallet- "Alright Now"
Jory Nash - "New Blue Day"
Mike & Ruthy- "Million to One"
Chatham County Line - "Wildwood"
Indigo Girls (live)- "Staring Down the Brilliant Dream"
Nate Grower - "Nate Grower"
Michael Martin Murphey- "Buckaroo Bluegrass II: Riding Song"
Michael McGoldrick - "Aurora"
Justin Rutledge- "The Early Widows"
Storyhill - "Shade of the Trees"
Forest Sun- "Harlequin Goodnight"
Steve Smith, Chris Sanders & Hard Road - "Signs Along the Road"
Folk Alley has added an Android app to its arsenal of ways that listeners can connect with streaming folk music 24 hours a day. The free app is available for download now from the Android Market. Folk Alley's iPhone app, which was launched in 2009, has already been downloaded by more than 6,300 users. The smartphone apps allow listeners instant access to folk music anywhere they can use their phones. Folk Alley brings the best of traditional folk, Americana, singer/songwriter, bluegrass, Celtic, world and acoustic instrumental music styles to an international audience. Listener-supported Folk Alley is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of music that is often overlooked by the commercial radio networks.
The Folk Alley Android app was developed in-house by the Folk Alley web development team under the lead of IT Director Chuck Poulton. The Android app was created by James Savage, a recent graduate of Hoban High School (Akron, Ohio) who will attend Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., in the fall. Savage also created the Folk Alley Player iPhone app.
Folk Alley Programming and Marketing Director Linda Fahey says, "We are so happy to have James develop an Android app for Folk Alley. Ever since we released our iPhone app, listeners have been clamoring for an Android app, too, so they can stream Folk Alley on the go. These apps are the perfect convergence of modern technology and music with long roots. Now, Folk Alley can be everywhere your phone goes."
Streaming non-stop hosted folk music around the globe since it went online in 2003, FolkAlley.com has expanded its reach both online and on radio. A two-hour radio program is now heard on public radio stations across the country, as well as Gene Shay's weekly show on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio's The Village.
Savage constructed the Folk Alley Android app in part using code from NPR's app. In the same atmosphere that prompted public media powerhouse NPR to share content on NPR.org through an open source API, the network invited input from the community in the development of the its Android app. Sharing this type of information reflects the spirit of the Android operating system and also NPR's mission of public service and cooperation between content providers and the listening audience.
The "coffee house that never closes," FolkAlley.com offers music fans songs from their favorite artists, an interactive discussion area, Open Mic (an area for new artists to upload songs), exclusive live concert downloads, interviews, videos and more around the clock. Folk Alley is heard online at FolkAlley.com, iTunes, Windows Media, RealAudio, Live 365, XPN.org and as one of the founding partners of NPR Music. FolkAlley.com is a non-profit Internet venture produced by WKSU-FM, an award-winning public radio station with nearly 60 years of broadcasting history. A service of Kent State University, the station also presents the Kent State Folk Festival and broadcasts 13 hours of original folk music programming throughout Northeast Ohio each week over WKSU 89.7, four repeater stations and two translator signals.
Thumbing through the bountiful supply of new releases, reviewers often look for clues which might promote a listen. On the back of Nora Jane's CD was a whole list of clues: Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Dennis Crouch, Tim O'Brien, Jeff Taylor, Scott Vestal, Rob Ickes, and producer Brent Truitt. When players of this caliber are involved, the CD is usually worthy of attention. As it turns out the singer and her songs are the main course, and the musicians are the gravy.
A former high school English teacher in Brooklyn, Struthers' appreciation of both history and fiction flows out of her own songwriting. In the song "Greenbriar County," a Telluride Troubadour finalist, she notices that the workers in the mines and the stone quarries both end up in the same pub after work. She paints for us a wonderful statement of harmony. In "He's A Free Man," she takes the voice of the oldest son who tries to make sense of why a father would leave his wife and family during hard times.
A love of nature reveals itself often. She sings of the chestnut blight during the early 20th century. This was the East's most prevalent tree and it was gone in just a few years. "Thistle" offers us an insight to why she feels protected by wildflowers and tall grass. Usually environmentalists coax us into protecting habitat, but Nora Jane makes the same point by reversing the argument.
This whole album is solid and Brent Truitt has assembled a top notch cast which embellishes, but does not overpower. Fiddler Stuart Duncan, in particular, is smooth and reflective, as always, and really shines backing up original material. Struthers doesn't wish to be categorized, so we won't try. Duke Ellington once said that there are only two types of music, good and bad. Nora Jane's debut is really, really good.