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Review: Elephant Revival - 'These Changing Skies'

October 31, 2013

by Kim Ruehl for FolkAlley.com

Americana/folk bands from Colorado tend to write songs with a few common threads. Whether it's the enormity of the Rocky Mountains or the gamut of weather patterns enjoyed by that state, its roots music players make a habit of creating music that sounds like it's one with the nature by which it's surrounded. Elephant Revival may have started with one foot in Oklahoma, but their Colorado roots run just as deep. Their latest album These Changing Skies, sounds like it's swimming in a Boulder moonlight.

From the atmospheric, long-bowed fiddle lines to the quiet, dreamy harmonies and occasional weeping musical saw, the disc is replete with creative arrangements. It feels like a bit of a departure from previous efforts that have verged on the newgrass/jamband style. This time around, they seem to have shirked expectations and decided to just lean harder on their Celtic, pop, and bluegrass influences. The result is an aesthetic all their own, straddling all of contemporary folk music's various, assumed boundaries.

Of course it helps that every song is danceable, backed by a constant buoyant rhythm. Even the slower songs seem to bop about on an easy breeze. By the time "Down to the Sea" swells under the syncopated build of a couple of fiddles and, ultimately, electric guitar, it feels as though the album has its own beating heart.

Elephant Revival have been slowly making strides across the national folk circuit these past few years, but These Changing Skies is likely to be the catapult that sails them above and beyond many of the up-and-coming bands of the genre. Or, at the very least, it should establish them on a grander stage. Defying the trend of creating radio-friendly indie roots music, Elephant Revival has shifted its focus to finding a path most suitable to its talents. As a result, every song is good. What more can you want?

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WATCH: more Elephant Revival videos produced by Folk Alley at this year's Fayetteville Roots Festival.

"Ring Around the Moon"

"In Love and Rage"

"Remembering A Beginning"

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:36 PM | Comments (3)

Hear It First at Folk Alley - Poor Old Shine

October 29, 2013

HEAR IT FIRST: Poor Old Shine - 'Poor Old Shine'

*audio for this feature in no longer available*

by Kim Ruehl, FolkAlley.com

By now, it's almost a cliché that New England is a hotbed of great, outside-the-box roots music. What's more, so much of it has been pouring from the discriminating taste-makers at Signature Sounds these past few years. They're the label that's brought us everyone from Eilen Jewell to Joy Kills Sorrow and Lake Street Dive. Now, they're readying a self-titled debut from Connecticut-based Poor Old Shine, due Nov. 5.

Produced by sharp-eared songwriter/instrumentalist extraordinaire Sam Kassirer, Poor Old Shine introduces some of the most jubilant and danceable indie roots music this side of the Carolinas. That's not terribly surprising, considering the band counts the Avett Brothers among its many influences. Indeed, the Avetts' stomping-and-cavorting energy tumbles along, through this disc, without ever bumping up against imitation. Another cited influence is the great Pete Seeger, whose simple-is-better approach to songwriting is clearly taken under fierce consideration here, as well.

POS Close hi-rez 250.jpgIndeed, Poor Old Shine straddle the influence of new and old throughout the disc, jumping and harmonizing through early highlights like "Footsteps in My Ears" (almost like Sunny Day Real Estate meets Mumford & Sons). But they can just as well deliver quiet, well-considered respite in songs like "Ghost Next Door" or romantic proclamations in songs like "Love Song" ("I've been dreaming of you all night long / but no word my heart sings does justice to these things / and it's hard to write a love song.")

You could tip a hat to Kassirer's off-the-beaten-path Maine studio for so much of the simple, rural energy on this disc, but there's a certain point where that can't be fabricated, even by the most inspiring surroundings. At some point, the raw grit just has to be in the band's bones. Lucky for Poor Old Shine, that seems to be the case.

CLICK HERE to order 'Poor Old Shine'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:02 PM | Comments (1)

A Conversation with Sarah Jarosz on 'Build Me Up From Bones'

October 19, 2013

by Kim Ruehl, for FolkAlley.com

Sarah Jarosz got started early, releasing stunning albums of imaginative acoustic music before she was so much as out of high school. Of course, it helped that the discs included support from some of the other great mandolinists (her primary instrument) - folks like Sam Bush and Chris Thile, to drop a few names. But the songwriting and the music's overall vision, even when it's been the product of collaboration, has always depicted a young artist who is not afraid of creating music that does the aural equivalent of jumping off a cliff to see if it can fly. From turning Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee" into a bluegrass tune to delivering her own unexpected instrumentals, Jarosz has never left her songs longing for imagination.

Now, on her third album for Sugar Hill - this year's Build Me Up from Bones - she demonstrates all the ways she's benefitted from four years at the New England Conservatory. The disc's creative arrangements were borne of her longtime touring trio, consisting of Jarosz, Alex Hargreaves (fiddle), and Nathaniel Smith (cello). It blending elements of jazz and classical music with her habit of traditional aesthetics and, from start to stop, is an emotional and expansive collection.

I recently called Jarosz up on the road, as she was making her way from Minnesota to Madison, Wisc., to chat about the new disc:

Kim Ruehl: There's some clear growth since the last album, but what have you been up to, and where did this record come from for you?

Sarah Jarosz: I think it's a pretty clear blending of a couple of things. A lot of it had to do with my time at the New England Conservatory. In a way, it's the first record of mine that [my experience there] impacted. I think it took the full four years for that to infiltrate my musicality. [I think] Alex and Matt, my touring trio, had a lot to do with the sound of this record. I knew going into it that I wanted the trio to be a big part of the sound.

KR: You were a great musician before you ever went to college. So, I wonder what you learned in college, studying music?

SJ: Well, so many things. I think I definitely had [to make a] decision, whether I wanted to go straight onto the road after high school or if I wanted to go to college. I always wanted to have the experience of going to college. I didn't want to skip over that part of my life. I wanted it to be in Boston because the music scene was so great there. NEC was... so great because it offered up so much musical stuff I wasn't getting inside the acoustic scene. Within my first year, I was learning jazz and free improvisation, being pushed into these styles I'd never really listened to much before going there. I think doing that, and a lot of ear training, really pushed me in ways I may not have been pushed otherwise, or it would have taken me a lot longer in my life to get pushed in that way. On top of that, to have voice lessons for the first time in my life... [Singing] was always something I did on my own. I didn't have a lot of voice lessons, except in musical theater, here and there, when I was really little. Dominique Eade...really helped me grow a lot with my voice.

KR: Do you think the collaboration with Alex and Matt has made you a better listener? As a songwriter, there's a tendency to make a song sound the way you want it to sound, but a collaboration like that requires that you really pay attention to each other. Do you think that's something you picked up?

SJ: Oh, for sure. It was interesting going into the studio because, for the longest time, songwriting was just a solo, alone, private process for me. I would write songs and perform them on my own. So, [it was great] to have them put in this trio stetting. It's an interesting process; writing the songs to the trio and hearing them in different ways... it really pushes me in a lot of different ways. The trio setting, in general, [creates] an interesting dynamic because it's so sparse. There's a lot of room for space. But, trying to pay attention to when [you should] leave the space is sometimes the most important part of that. I think that was a big goal with this record, especially.

KR: Do you even think about what kind of music you want to make?

SJ: Not really. It's funny, when people ask me what genre of music I am, I never really know how to answer that. It's one of those tricky questions. I'm just kind of doing what's always felt natural to me, trying to grow and push myself and not just stay stuck in my old ways. But, at the same time, I do want to sound like myself.

KR: I think because you've played with Sam Bush and Darrell Scott, and all these other incredible artists, there's a tendency of people in my position to want to call you bluegrass or folk, but that doesn't really fit either. I wonder what you think of adding all these other elements of styles that you learned in school... do you think that's contrary to bluegrass and folk, or is it all just part of the same thing?

SJ: It's a difficult thing because I'm not trying to not be bluegrass. I'm not trying to necessarily fit into a genre or not fit into a genre. I think all these things feed into each other in a beautiful way. I think there's a lot to be said for tradition and roots, and honoring a tradition, for sure. I probably wouldn't have gotten into music at all had it not been for bluegrass, and getting excited about bluegrass. But at the same time, the musicians I looked up to growing up were people who weren't afraid to cross lines and boundaries and not pay attention to genres, and infiltrate different styles. Hopefully that winds up telling who each person is. I generally try not to make strict lines about stuff. I just do what seems natural.

KR: What's the best gig you've ever had?

SJ: I feel like Telluride Bluegrass Festival would have to be up there. It's truly amazing. That was also a life-changing place for me in the sense that, in 2007, that's where I met Gary Paczosa for the first time. That's where the whole thing with Sugar Hill came to be. So that seems like a very important place in my life, not to mention it's just stunningly beautiful.

KR: Is there anything else you want to mention? I know you're on the road right now...

SJ: Yeah, it's interesting. This is the first time in my life that I haven't been juggling all this with school. It's a real change, being on the road for this long and touring pretty much nonstop through November... it's great. I'm learning and growing with it. It'll be interesting to see what the next big goal is for me, though. I feel like finishing school still feels so fresh. That was a big goal for my whole life [so far], so it'll be interesting what the next phase leads to.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:50 PM | Comments (1)

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