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Hear It First at Folk Alley ~ Mindy Smith: 'Mindy Smith'

June 19, 2012

mindy_smith_CD cover.jpg

by Kim Ruehl, for

It's been eight years since Mindy Smith dropped her intensely introspective debut - One Moment More - on Vanguard Records. Since then, she's become a staple in the realm of gloriously sad songs, an area championed by artists as variant as legends like Emmylou Harris and newer-comers like Rose Cousins. It's unquestionably good company to be in, but Smith's fifth album starts to veer out of that territory. With songs about rebirth, redemption, rediscovery, and revelation, she steers herself away from the sadness and instead toward hope. Here and there, when the songs allow themselves to relax, the self-titled disc is darn near upbeat.

On "Tin Can," we even see her carelessly caterwauling "I'm just a happy old fool set free."

But, it's track six - "Everything Here Will Be Fine" - which seems to be the root of this album. It's a hymn of sorts sung to a dying mother, to comfort her in her final moments. The song could nearly be misconstrued as a dirge, except it's clear she believes what she's singing about things turning out okay in the end.

mindy_smith new PR hi-rez.jpgBesides, that's a major key she's singing in, despite its occasionally minor chords. For all its sadness and resignation, there's a certain driving determination toward life in this song - perhaps the same determination which directs the rest of the album.

She sings:

Go ahead mother, he's calling you home.
You can't stay here forever; it's time you moved on.
Don't worry now, everything here will be fine.
Everything here is all right.
Your children are stronger than they may know;
Some will take longer letting you go.
Don't worry now, everything here will be fine...

It must be noted that, five albums into her career, it was this project which Smith decided to title as her most self-definitive. For all the ruminating in shadows and dark corners she's done, here's an artist declaring hope truest expression is one of resilience and hope for the future.

Granted, Smith still has a voice like crying. There's a certain emotionalism running rampant through everything she does - a singer at a fork in the road to revelation. One way is a road full of tears; the other is redemption. There are moments of relapse ("Sober"), granted, but in the end it's clear that this time, she opted for the latter.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:44 AM

CD Review: The Honeycutters ~ 'When Bitter Met Sweet'

June 18, 2012

The Honeycutters CD - When Bitter Met Sweet.jpg

by Jim Blum for

The Honeycutters
When Bitter Met Sweet

Random thoughts, hidden emotions rising to the surface, daring admissions of guilt or pleasure.....that's what you'll get from The Honeycutters. Their new album, When Bitter Met Sweet, is not a therapy session, but rather a joyful release, presented in a folk/honky tonk mix. Acoustic guitar and mandolin combine with pedal steel and drums to provide a pleasing backdrop for singer Amanda Anne Platt's original songs.

Co-leading the band is guitarist Peter James, who is full of a wonderful nervous energy, and you can tell he is listening carefully to Amanda's words before he creates his musical fills. They are based out of Asheville, North Carolina, and are beginning to tour throughout the country. Matt Smith plays the pedal steel, and Tal Taylor the mandolin.

When Bitter Met Sweet recalls old emotions and will easily pull yours out of the closet too. If you have ever written a "Dear John" letter, then you'll understand "90 Miles (The Tennessee Song)" which details specific reasons for leaving. Usually these feelings are felt but never shared, but songs can be the perfect vehicle. There are happy songs too.

"Getting Good at Waiting" is a misleading title, as it is an expression of gratitude for a place on earth. One day we all hope to have that cabin in the woods, and once it's there and you're there, you might feel just as satisfied, with no desires for more.

"For Eleanora" is a perhaps the album's best song - it's certainly catchy, and it tells a good story too. Eleanora is a New York singer falling from grace. Fame usually brings success, but too often temptations come along for the ride. It's not clear if this singer is real or imagined, but many singers from history easily come to mind.

"All I Got" is about a couple making an effort to compromise. The wonderful side effect of the conversation is that admissions of love come pouring out, trumping the reasons for the discussion in the first place. Hopefully you're enticed enough to listen for yourself.

Posted by Jim Blum at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)

Hear It First on Folk Alley ~ Chris Smither: 'Hundred Dollar Valentine'

June 12, 2012

Chris Smither cover (3).jpg **This 'Hear It First' album is no longer available for streaming.**

by Kim Ruehl, for

Two songs into his new album Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither sings, "I don't have to prove anything to anyone." Considering his entire career, that seems about right.

It's not so much an original sentiment for modern music, of course, but this is no expression of youthful angst and hubristic defiance. After all, this is Smither's 15th studio album since he threw his hat into the ring back in 1970. Since then, he's watched the landscape evolve and shift, bands come and go, moods change, and the wavelike interest of music fans in folk and the blues - his two remarkable specialties. Once again, he's responded to it all with a collection of songs which take on a life of their own - from resignation through the storm clouds of worry, and back to hope again.

Chris Smither edit for website blurb.jpgHundred Dollar Valentine is full of hopeful songs about having a grip and contemplative tunes, worrying that grip might slip. No better place do all these sentiments collide than on "What They Say" - perhaps Smither's finest moment on the disc. With an upbeat New Orleans-style energy and some rolling guitar grooves, he lights into the truth of it all. Considering the way motivation sometimes shifts, taking us toward some unexpected destination, he sings: "I didn't want to change but the road kept sliding in a funny way / I kept riding on it anyway / sometimes you do what you gotta."

He has a knack for tackling the hard in an easy way. He roots even his moodiest songs, like "Feeling By Degrees", in a low, strong rhythm. . .like a heartbeat. Here, you can almost feel the ghost of Townes Van Zandt lurking somewhere between the toe tap and the dreamy violins. Indeed, he and Van Zandt share a common influence in the glory of Lightnin' Hopkins, but Smithers has tended more toward the blues in previous efforts. Here, instead, he seems to lean more heavily in a story-song direction.

With four decades of great music under his belt, Smither certainly doesn't have to prove anything to anyone, but on Hundred Dollar Valentine, he proves something anyway: an old dog can not only learn new tricks, but he can master them too.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:33 PM

New Music Added to Folk Alley

June 11, 2012

Here's a list of some of our favorite new music that has come across our desk recently, that has found its way into the Folk Alley stream!

Anais Mitchell - 'Young Man in America'
Annalivia - 'Barrier Falls'
Bill Evans - 'In Good Company'
Clarence Bucaro - 'Time as We Know It: The Songs of Jerry Jeff Walker'
Dala - 'Best Day'
Coyote Grace - 'Now Take Flight'
Doug Paisley - 'Golden Embers'
George Harrison - 'Early Takes Volume 1'
John Fullbright - 'From the Ground Up'
Jon Brooks - 'Delicate Cages'
Kate Campbell - '1000 Pound Machine'
Leftover Salmon - 'Aquatic Hitchhiker'
Loudon Wainwright III - 'Older Than My Old Man Now'
Martyn Joseph - 'Live at the Brook'
Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell - 'KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell'
MAZ - 'Telescope'
Natasha Borzilova - 'Out of my Hands'
O'Brien Party of 7 - 'Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller'
Phoebe Hunt - 'Phoebe Hunt'
Punch Brothers - 'Who's Feeling Young Now?'
Rose Cousins - 'We Have Made a Spark'
Sara Watkins - 'Sun Midnight Sun'
Shawn Colvin - 'All Fall Down'
Stephane Wrembel - 'Origins'
Sultans of Swing - 'Move'
The Fretless - 'Waterbound'
The Honey Dewdrops - 'Silver Lining'
The Honeycutters - 'When Bitter Met Sweet'
The Tillers (with Uncle Mike Carr) - 'Wild Hog in the Woods'
The Wandering - 'Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here'
Willie Nelson - 'Heroes'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:32 AM

Review: Brown Bird @ Mechanic Street House Concerts, Cleveland, Ohio

June 4, 2012

Brown Bird official edit for Blog.jpgby Zach Bloom for (concert photos by Thomas Fox)

Folk music, in all traditions, spawns from communal activity bringing people together to share in a cultural fusion of life, love, hardships and happiness through the experience of live music. The popular folk-duo, Brown Bird exemplified this point in a rare intimate performance Sunday evening (6/3) at a Mechanic Street House Concert , a family-run house concert series in a fascinating 100-year-old house located in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. "This is a great way to end this tour and you've made our trip to Cleveland a really special experience," exclaimed guitarist David Lamb as he spoke to those who were lucky enough to secure their entry through the venue's private email RSVP process.

BrownBird_TF33.jpgAs their bio states, Brown Bird is "better listened to in a room made of wood," and indeed this was a fortunate affair to watch David Lamb and MorganEve Swain deliver their dark and catchy blend of blues, folk and rockabilly soul from an elegant living room adorned with wood-carved moldings and archways reflecting the decadence of a once prominent home in the heart of industrial Cleveland. Hailing from Warren, RI, which according to Lamb is "the smallest town in the smallest county of the smallest state in the country," Brown Bird's performance to an enthusiastic crowd in the smallest venue in Cleveland was a fitting finale as this band ventures home from a recent tour with the bluegrass juggernaut, Trampled by Turtles.

The show kicked off with a fiery pace featuring songs off the duo's latest album Salt for Salt, including "Fingers to the Bone," an up-tempo composition featuring David Lamb on banjo and vocals, as well as MorganEve Swain on double bass, and "Thunder & Lightning" with Lamb on guitar while pounding at foot percussions that project prominently throughout the bands' music. Soon thereafter, "Come My Way" featured MorganEve Swain on cello and supporting vocals where she demonstrated her virtuosity on the stringed instruments by displaying a range of pizzicato dynamics as she snapped and slapped at her untraditional color painted fret board in sequence with regular arco bowing.

BrownBird_TF15.jpgThroughout the performance Swain showed a breadth of technicality and talent as she gracefully transitioned from double bass to the cello and ultimately to the fiddle in a continuous cycle, which aided the flow of the show's delivery. A great example of her impressive playing came in the second set during the song "Nothing Left" where Swain bows a Slavic rhythmic melody on the cello and engages in dynamic interplay with Lamb's guitar through a series of upbeat verses and a signifying chorus. This fast-paced dynamism continued in the instrumental "Shilo," another song off Salt for Salt, where the cello and the guitar are engaged in a percussive battle that culminates in a fantastic melody with Lamb slapping his guitar and stomping on his downbeat foot shaker crafted with a screwdriver's handle for a mallet.

BrownBird_TF22 edit for Blog.jpg "We'll play one more for you, on the condition that some of you get up and dance," Lamb stated at the end of the second set with a serious gleam towards the crowd who had remained seated and respectful of the close environment in the venue throughout the evening. Several folks in the crowd took to their feet with agility to indulge the wishes of the guitarist as Brown Bird closed out the evening playing an encore with the beat-driven fiddle focused song "Cast No Shadow," again off of the new record Salt of Salt. The audience clapped loudly while a cohort of dancers let lose in the obstructed, and therefore previously unoccupied, front hall of the house to close out the evening in traditional folk fashion. The unique experience of this bi-monthly pop-up music venue and the energy of this road vindicated band is a memory that all in attendance got to take home with them to begin their first summery weeks of June. Adding to that, guests at the Mechanic Street House also received the unique thrill of getting to know wonderfully talented artists and enjoying the company of new and old friends from the vastly cultural Cleveland community.

You can catch Brown Bird again on dates in June at folk festivals throughout the Northeast, including the Newport Folk Festival, after which their next tour may pick up in late August out to the west coast of the country. Hopefully you can catch Brown Bird playing more in intimate wooden-made venues for you to truly experience the depths of their sound, but if that opportunity doesn't cross your path "you may be able to catch us with Yonder Mountain String Band again soon," Lamb said candidly. That would surely be a treat for all of us folk and bluegrass fans.

(More from Zach Bloom at

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:06 PM | Comments (5)

Hear It First ~ KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell

June 1, 2012

KIN - Rodney Crowell & Mary Karr 225.jpg
**This Hear It First album is no longer available for streaming.**

by Kim Ruehl, for

A memoir can be a shaky thing. The author has to balance two very delicate plates: her memory and the truth. The latter is held prisoner to the former; what constitutes a story often depends on how it's told.

If you're doing it right, the same can go for songwriting. Of course, in the field of music, the storyteller gets to lean against a precarious pole of nonverbal communication, building dramatic tension through harmony and rhythm, emphasizing certain parts of a story by relying on the subtleties of the singer. Et cetera.

It's not surprising, then, that an award-winning, best-selling author and a similarly beloved songwriter might get together and make the kind of music which pretty much nails the very best things a story and a song are capable of achieving together. Indeed, Mary Karr (of Cherry, The Liars Club, Lit) and Rodney Crowell (of Grammy Awards and the Songwriter Hall of Fame) have done just that with Kin.

Rodney and Karr 250.jpgIt doesn't hurt a bit that they've also gathered some of the finest song interpreters in the Americana field. Here's Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, and Lee Ann Womack - not to mention Crowell himself - delivering ten songs. Each is wrought with those things which haunt so many of our memories and truths: family, lovers, heartbreak, loneliness, feeling lost, feeling found, wondering, figuring it out, then back to family again.

As it turns out, Crowell and Karr grew up not too far from each other, in turbulent Texas homes drenched with booze and bitterness. Their childhoods had so many similarities, a certain kinship emerged (hence the title of the album). But, these aren't all songs about how messed-up family can be, how much it can hurt and confuse us; they're also songs about the ways in which it sustains and supports us as we reckon with our memories and the truth.

CLICK HERE to listen to KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell in its entirety through June 4th!

Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:45 PM

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