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Three Best Things About the Whole Weekend At Newport Folk Festival

July 30, 2013

by Kim Ruehl, for

Andrew Bird and Tift Merritt 600 newport blog copy.jpg1. Spontaneous collaboration - Whether it was Neil Gaiman hopping onstage with his wife Amanda Palmer, members of Black Prairie jumping up with Colin Meloy, or Spirit Family Reunion hopping on stage with Iris DeMent and Hurray for the Riff Raff, the long tradition of folk music collaboration was alive and well at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival. At times, it served as an opportunity to get a taste of a band you might not otherwise have sought out. Other times, it simply augmented the entire set, as when Dawes jumped up to be the backing band for Blake Mills. The 25-minute staring contest between Jim James and Chris Funk could also loosely be considered a bit of spontaneous collaboration, though it was more a break from the music than it was a musicsplosion.

2. The Museum Stage - Whether it was the rain or the sun beating down on the festival crowd, the Museum Stage offered a welcome, dry and cool, reprieve. There, Chris Funk hosted a number of artists, as did Joe Fletcher. The latter ran an hours-long revue titled Nashville to Newport, which showcased some of Nashville's finest, from Patrick Sweany to Amanda Shires and Bobby Bare, Jr. The Low Anthem hosted Newport Homegrown, and daily open mics shed light on great artists both new and old. While all the scheduled stuff took place on the stages, the impromptu, surprising moments mostly went down in the museum, where the audience was small and intimate, and "anything goes" seemed to be the motto.

Ramblin Jack 600 newport blog copy.jpg3. Ramblin' Jack Elliott - Newport is great about setting some of the best up-and-coming artists alongside legends in their own time. This year's token "legend" was Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who showed up on the final day for a sunny, hot afternoon set of straight-up old-school folk story-songs. There was nothing particularly theatrical or visually riveting about his set - no jumping around or banging on anything. Instead, he showed us all what greatness could come from one guy, sitting on a stool, telling old stories and singing old songs. Naturally, there were other great songwriter sets throughout the weekend - Milk Carton Kids, Iris DeMent, and Jason Isbell, particularly. But, you simply cannot deny the talent of old Ramblin' Jack.

(CLICK HERE to see and hear more Newport Folk Festival coverage by Folk Alley.)

Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:28 AM | Comments (1)

Three Best Things About Day Two at the Newport Folk Festival

July 28, 2013

Riff Raff Newport  blog.jpgby Kim Ruehl, for

1. Hurray for the Riff Raff - This New Orleans-based outfit delivered one of the finest sets of the day, hopping from soul to country, to swamp-folk that was heavy on the dancing fiddle. There are no fancy tricks from this band or any force at work other than purely genuine, excellent songwriting, and honest-to-goodness great instrumentals. They pulled Spirit Family Reunion onstage toward the end, just to make sure they had the largest sound possible. But the crowd of people onstage didn't cut one bit into the level of earnest authenticity pouring from the vocal mics.

2. Trombone Shorty doing "St. James Infirmary" - Speaking of New Orleans, Trombone Shorty took the mainstage in the middle of the afternoon and unleashed the funk. Their entire set was tight and heavy on the groove. Electric bass solos from Michael Ballard were on fire, and the entire band seemed to be flying on some incredible plane. But it was their delivery of the sweaty old number "St. James Infirmary" which brought out some of the most jaw-dropping horn work of the set, certainly the finest of the festival so far.

Avett Bros Newport - blog.jpg3. The Avett Brothers sing-along - Scott Avett seemed to be on a "singing high and quiet" kick this time around. He closed out a number of the Avett Brothers tunes by taking his voice higher and quieter, presumably aiming for the vocal fade-out. There's nothing more folky than an audience sing-along, but this one took that tradition in a whole new direction. About halfway through their set, he asked the crowd to come along with him on this odd vocal journey. In "repeat after me" fashion, he got the huge mainstage audience singing at the highest sighs of their voices. Everyone was game and followed right along, like thousands of hissing and sighing balloons.

CLICK HERE for more Newport Folk Festival coverage on

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:44 AM

Three Best Things About the First Day of Newport 2013

July 27, 2013

MCK Newport 2013 copy.jpgby Kim Ruehl, for

1. The Milk Carton Kids closing with "Memphis"

The Los Angeles-based duo opened the Quad Stage at Newport 2013 with one of the best and quietest sets of the day. Resting on tightly matched harmonies and the incredible dexterity of Kenneth Pattengale's guitar picking, they plowed through 50 minutes of beautiful love and heartbreak songs, songs about disillusionment, disappointment, and the hope inherent in imagining their future children. "Memphis" was the set-stealer, though, with its topical nature and beautifully spun lyricism. Pattengale gave all that credit to his partner Joey Ryan who, he says, showed up at his house one day with this perfectly finished song that was poised to just break your heart. Indeed it did.

2. Mountain Goats made me a fan in the pouring rain

I got lost for a little bit, wandering the festival grounds. First waiting for Amanda Palmer at the Senheuser/Paste Ruins, then searching out Phosphorescent and JD McPherson, finding myself too late for both. So, I took shelter under the Folk Alley awning and watched what remained of the Mountain Goats. Having never been much of a fan, I watched skeptically, through oodles of teeming raindrops, and found myself enthralled. There's nothing particularly special about the way John Darnielle and company perform their music. They're straight-shooters, who deliver the music precisely as it comes. But by the time they nailed "This Year" (the final song of the set), I was converted to a fan. What more can be said than that they're just a darn good band who knows well how to bring it live.

OCMS Newport 2013 copy-edit.jpg3. Old Crow Medicine Show covering Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee

It's called a "folk" festival after all. In a day that was, for me, filled with rock bands and larger, louder outfits, watching the Old Crow Medicine Show throw down on the main stage felt a little more like home. Ketch Sekor, it practically goes without saying, saws a fiddle like crazy. The band lit into several songs from their most recent release 'Carry Me Back,' as well as a number of cover tunes from folk music of yore. Among those covers was a tribute to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee that was heavy on the harmonica (Sekor plays two at once, swapping them back and forth between breaths) and four-part harmonies. It was a fitting tribute to the array of music which has graced the Newport Stage in its 54 years, and an outstanding ending to the first day of the festival.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:25 AM | Comments (2)

REVIEW: Guy Clark 'My Favorite Picture of You'

July 18, 2013

by Kim Ruehl, for

"Love's a gamble, love's a curse. Love's a bitch but it could be worse."

If any single line on Guy Clark's new album My Favorite Picture of You could sum up the common theme of all eleven tracks, that's it. It comes about halfway into "Hell Bent on a Heartache", where the storied songwriter explores his unending yearning for newness. It's not a song about seeking love so much as it is an admittance of the inevitability of disappointment. Indeed, the coexistence of love and heartbreak - and the various ways the two feed off each other - is at the core of each song on the album. It's this balance Clark strikes which says the most about what he means by a love song.

There are enough songs in the world about all the easy and obvious ways of love - the first storied glance, the romance and lust, the longing and all the other schmaltz. But, when you get to the raw truth of it all, the stuff that lasts doesn't do so devoid of heartbreak, but rather in spite of it.

The title track tells the story behind the Polaroid Clark holds on the cover of the disc. It's a shot of his wife Susanna in the 1970s, when she had just come home to find Guy and his friend Townes Van Zandt drunk again. She was angry and hurt, storming off, full of fire. "You never left but your bags were packed just in case," he sings, describing her as "nobody's fool ... smarter than me." It's not an easy song to hear, but neither is lasting love an easy task. Telling the story in simple terms that are emotional and provocative - and rhyme - is another feat altogether. But, Clark is one of the best.

The disc isn't all romantic love, though. There's "Heroes" - a smart, emotional song about soldiers living with PTSD. He flexes his epic story-song muscles on "The Death of Sis Draper" (set to the tune of "Shady Grove") and turns to commentary on "Good Advice". The latter seems more a reaction to others trying to offer good advice than it is an attempt to provide some. Though, he does manage a few words of wisdom: "If it's not one thing, it's another, and that you can count on."

But, it's "I'll Show Me" - the self-effacing tune which closes the disc - where Clark finally shrugs the downside of his running theme. With wonder and pride, he credits the love: "How'd I get this far, you ask. I'm here today it was no small task."

Posted by Linda Fahey at 4:08 PM | Comments (2)

Folk Alley New Music Adds

July 11, 2013

Slaid Cleaves Still Fighting the War.jpgSo much great music continues to pour in to Folk Alley Central on a daily basis. Here's a list of our most recent additions to the Folk Alley stream!

*And don't forget, you can listen to our special 5-hour side stream called 'Fresh Cuts' which is loaded with music from all the new releases added to Folk Alley over the past 6 months!


Aoife O'Donovan - 'Fossils'
Ashleigh Flynn - 'A Million Stars'
Bruce Molsky - 'If It Ain't Here When I Get Back'
Claire Lynch - 'Dear Sister'
Della Mae - 'This World Oft Can Be'
Donna the Buffalo - 'Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday'
Genticorum - 'Enregistre Live'
Guy Clark - 'My Favorite Picture of You'
Jason Isbell - 'Southeastern'
Joy Kills Sorrow - 'Wide Awake' (EP)
Peter Rowan - 'The Old School'
Pokey LaFarge - 'Pokey LaFarge'
Putnam Smith - 'Kitchen, Love'
Rebecca Frazier - 'When We Fall'
Red Tail Ring - 'The Heart's Swift Foot'
Sam Amidon - 'Bright Sunny South'
Shannon McNally (feat. Dr. John) - 'Small Town Talk (Songs of Bobby Charles)'
Slaid Cleaves - 'Still Fighting the War'
Susan Werner - 'Hayseed'
The Black Lillies - 'Runaway Freeway Blues'
The Boxcar Lilies - 'Sugar Shack'
The Carper Family - 'Old-Fashioned Gal'
The Deadly Gentlemen - 'Roll Me, Tumble Me'
The Gibson Brothers - 'They Called It Music'
The Lone Bellow - 'The Lone Bellow'
Tony McManus - 'Mysterious Boundaries'
Various - 'Woody Guthrie at 100!: Live at the Kennedy Center'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 4:49 PM

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