When I received a knock on the door in Studio B from our news director Schultze, I knew something was wrong. She asked me if I knew that Doc Watson had passed. I did not know and the news caused decades of memories to suddenly flow over me as I let the news sink in. I had heard of the recent fall and his surgery in the hospital in Winston Salem. I was aware he was fragile. But to me, Doc was larger than life and he seemed immortal. This couldn't be true.
I was at MerleFest at the end of April and I'm kicking myself now that I never actually saw Doc. I had seen him many times before and there were 15 stages to visit and usually there was a crowd around him. I did get to hear him during the local broadcast of the festival and he sounded weak. Fans told me that he got very emotional during the annual dedication to his son, Merle (the festival's namesake), and a big screen video allowed the whole audience to see Doc crying. The crowd began to understand that they were perhaps seeing him for the last time. Doc passed away Tuesday, May 28 at 89.
In the mid '70s, I attended my first ever bluegrass festival in Martinsville, Virginia. I remember the long drive and the anticipation of seeing Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson. When we arrived, we learned that all the headliners canceled because they were afraid they weren't going to be paid probably. There was one exception.
Doc Watson showed up and played extra sets. Just a few years earlier, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" had been released. This landmark double album featured the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, at the peak of their popularity, joined by traditional country music legends. My friends and I wandered into folk and bluegrass through the backdoor after playing rock and roll because of this album. From this landmark collection, we discovered Mother Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, Jimmy Martin and Earl Scruggs. However, the star of the album was clearly Doc Watson - and there he was right in front of me, when (for whatever reason) everybody else decided not to play. I will never ever forget that.
A few years later, I began hosting radio programs on WKSU in Northeast Ohio and I remember the thrill of playing Doc Watson records. It still thrills me. It probably always will. In 2004, Doc and his grandson, Richard, played a show with David Holt at The Kent State Folk Festival. There was a moment backstage when only two people were in the room. Those two people were Doc Watson and me. I was not about to let this moment slip by and I walked up to him and introduced myself. I remember saying, "Doc, I've been lucky to have hosted radio programs for 25 years and you have always been a big part of those broadcasts." He responded, "Thank you son. You should know that I appreciate what you do, too." I will have that memory forever.
Following the well-laid tracks of contemporary Appalachian revivalists like Carolina Chocolate Drops and the late, great everybodyfields, The Honey Dewdrops emerge June 1 with a gem of a record titled Silver Lining.
The disc perfectly captures the spirit of the Blue Ridge foothills, feeling like a collection of tunes delivered late at night on someones front porch. Through just two voices, a guitar, and a banjo, Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish let go some beautiful and heartsick harmonies as they sing about working people's problems on songs like "Hills of My Home" (with lines like, "How long can this crop sustain us? In the end, where will we have to turn?") and love songs like the title track.
For the past four years, while promoting their previous two albums These Old Roots and If the Sun Will Shine, the Dewdrops dedication to steady touring has placed them in the company of folk music staples like A Prairie Home Companion and beloved bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
No doubt inspired and influenced by all those experiences,Silver Lining explores life's little surprising complexities, nodding firmly now and then at folk music tradition (they, like the Wailin' Jennys and Abigail Washburn last year, cover "Bright Morning Stars" this time around). Nonetheless, aside from that one traditional diversion, Silver Lining is otherwise packed with their own originals, written to fit within a traditional culture and aesthetic.
In addition to the richly nuanced lyricism, the Dewdrops deliver two instrumentals ("Catawba" and "Somerset") one a jig, the other a slower ballad. Both dance on their own and feel like something you might overhear in the distance, across the hills. Both also showcase a pair of young pickers who appreciate the teasing musicality of restraint, but still know when to unleash their skills in a way which moves the song forward.
Fans of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings will certainly appreciate this album, while those who knew and loved the Dewdrops first offerings are likely to see this as a deepening and sharpening of their craft.
It's surprising how much music you can make, and how many styles can be explored, through just two voices. At a time when so many up-and-coming folk and roots bands are experimenting with larger, lusher arrangements, it's refreshing to come across a duo like Dala whose warm, emotive harmonies can take you to the same place as those much bigger bands.
Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine met during a high school music class in 2002. It took them three years to drop a debut album in 2005. But, since, the two friends have delivered a half-dozen albums and have earned a couple Juno and Canadian Music Award nominations. While they're widely beloved throughout Canada's enthusiastic acoustic music scene, they're poised to infect the States with that same kind of passion when their sixth album, Best Day, which hits stores May 29th in the U.S. and June 5th in Canada.
Built strongly on these women's intuitive harmonies, the songs fall aesthetically somewhere between Dar Williams's more recent albums and early offerings from the Waifs. Their lyrics are richly complex although initially simple; and the arrangements on this album are mostly quiet sparse - sticking to guitar and piano while letting their alternating lead-and-harmony voices rule the roost. There's a certain warmth and enveloping spirit to these songs, which feel like home.
Here, the women consider on all the varied confusions and epiphanies of love and life in general, opening with the line, "I've been trying to make a masterpiece but I've been coloring all the wrong things." It takes them eleven songs, but they finally reach a catharsis with "Still Life" - a song about resigning to, perhaps, the fact that there's no such thing as "wrong things" to color.
In between are simple explorations of love and family. Easy highlights include "Lennon & McCartney" and "Father," both with slightly creepy piano parts holding up deeply ruminative lyrics about what matters most. But, listen for yourself and you're sure to find plenty more to sink your teeth into.
Most family bands evolve from actual family members who happen to be musical, eventually moving from the living room to the road. The Carper "Family" is a bit of a misnomer, though there is a connection. The band is comprised of three Austin women who each previously led their own groups. Each of them also grew up with families who played music. So as you might guess, they feel like a family.
Melissa Carper plays doghouse bass, Beth Chrisman is on the fiddle, and Jenn Miori plays guitar. Each can sing lead and their three distinctively different voices offer variety for the listener. In fact, their voices are so different that their fabulous blended trio harmonies catch you off guard. It is hard to tell who is singing what part, but that's a good sign. Harmony is supposed to sound like matched parts and there voices move together as one. As an added treat, Cindy Cashdollar guests on the album on steel guitar and Brennen Leigh is featured on mandolin.
Now, to describe them. Think cowboy music meets old time country. Think the 1930's meeting 2012. Think western swing with a southern twang. They're a little like Rider's in the Sky, but a lot more like the Boswell Sisters, if the Boswells had come from Texas.
Toward the end of the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis in February, late on the last night on the 19th floor - the third floor of endless hotel room shows - I asked someone in the crowded hallway who was not to be missed. I was pointed toward the Carper's and a found a place to stand.
I heard "My Baby Don't Like Me" which opens as a trio, then Melissa sings the lead trying to rationalize why she has fallen out of favor with her lover. "I take out the doggies and my hair's still messy, so what happened?" Jenn was next and singing about the love of old swing music in the "Tennessee Jive." Then Beth stepped to the center to sing the album's head-scratcher, "Don't Treat Me too Nice." She calmly explains in verse that she can be satisfied, even delighted with less attention and never desired someone to be there EVERY night. After all, that might be a bit much. Then there's the one about falling in love by buying goats together. Who hasn't wished that dream to become a song?
You can't get too much of The Carper Family; their retro style of music may not be unusual, but they certainly are.
Here's the opportunity you've been waiting for to put your radio and video producer chops to work by joining forces with a leading public radio music service!
You will be producing live and taped video and audio pieces, including but not limited to: fundraising segments, in-studio artist performance sessions, live concerts at venues and festivals, promo pieces, special arts features, etc; plus, working with ENCO to build and schedule playlists for Folk Alley's 24/7 music service.
Qualifications: Bachelor's degree in communications or relevant field, or one year of additional experience may be substituted for each year of the education requirement; two or three year's radio or video broadcasting experience.
Knowledge of broadcast production techniques and FCC regulations; radio and video production styles and techniques and software packages related to production, (e.g. ENCO, Music Master, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Audition, Final Cut Pro X, and/or other studio audio and video hardware and software related to broadcast content production and content generation.)
Position is based in Kent, OH at WKSU 89.7 FM, a service of Kent State University