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Song Premiere: Alice Gerrard, "Boll Weevil"

September 16, 2014

by Kim Ruehl, for

bollweevil.jpgAlice Gerrard started her career as one-half of the groundbreaking, hugely influential duo Hazel & Alice (with the late Hazel Dickens) around a half-century ago. It was a time when musicians from all over the country were discovering the traditional songs of places they'd never even been to. Not only was the mid-20th century folk boom about turning on to different areas of American life, but it was sort of like learning the language of people you'd previously thought were so different from you.

"Boll Weevil" was one of those songs - popularized by the legendary Leadbelly, then picked up and performed by Brook Benton (who had a pop hit with it in the 1960s. On her new album, Follow the Music (due out September 30th on Tompkins Square Records), Gerrard performs "Boll Weevil" in true folk fashion, delivering it straight-forward, over the old-timey fiddle, backed by members of Hiss Golden Messenger and Megafun. The result is not so much the delving into a time capsule as it is a vivacious, modern performance to remind us of from whence American folk music came.

Pre-order a copy of 'Follow the Music' HERE.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM

Video Premiere: Eliza Gilkyson, "Fast Freight"

September 15, 2014

By Cindy Howes for

ElizaGilkysonPR2014 250.jpgEliza Gilkyson's new album, 'The Nocturne Diaries,' is "inspired by the sort of thoughts that keep us awake at night in this modern world, where the news always seems to be bad". This video for the record's lead track "Fast Freight" captures that feeling and combines two elements that the singer is strongly associated with: Austin, TX and her father, the late folk singer, Terry Gilkyson.

The video was directed by her son, Cisco Ryder and shot in her hometown of Austin. It shows Eliza wandering the train yards while she plays her fathers song - a folk standard since the 1950's and has been covered by artists like The Kingston Trio, Tim Hardin and Gordon Lightfoot.

There is a bonus element that may be new territory for Eliza: absolute creepiness, and that is meant in a good way. "Fast Freight" is a dark song about someone who is tempted by the sound of the trains and the railroad to go back their past life of being a bum. It could be compared to an addict being tempted by their vice. Gilkyson claims she included her version of "Fast Freight" on her latest album, The Nocturne Diaries, to represent "a page from my dad's nocturne diaries, a window into what he was thinking about late at night back then." Her mission is very much accomplished. Her version of the song makes you wonder and worry about what her dad was going through at the time.

The special appearance in the video of the self-proclaimed "Roaming Blues Musician and Poet" Ray Bonneville - playing harmonica as the "kind of alter-ego" - seals the deal for the chills that this video sends down your spine. Plus, it's hard to imagine the lovely Eliza Gilkyson as a bum who hops trains, so Bonneville fills that role quite nicely.

Highlight of the video: the pair playing music around a hobo campfire with a can of a certain Texas beer set upon a concrete block. The lonesome black and white images showing Gilkyson standing alone in a graffiti covered railway, match perfectly alongside the daunting melody of this creepy folk standard.

Catch Eliza live on tour now!!

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:03 PM | Comments (4)

REVIEW: Rose Cousins, 'Stray Birds'

September 13, 2014

Rose Cousins - 'Stray Birds' (EP)
Old Farm Pony Records

By Cindy Howes, for

A new surprise EP from one of Canada's brightest singer-songwriters? Yes, please. Oh, she's covering some of her good friends and heroes? This includes Gordon Lightfoot? Well, don't mind if I just start weeping my face off.

rosecousins.jpgStray Birds, the new EP from Halifax's Rose Cousins is a small, quiet celebration in contrast to its predecessor. The beautiful We Have Made a Spark, was, indeed, a spark of a celebration for Cousins and her musician friends in Boston, where she made that album and which she calls her second home.

It's nice to hear Cousins pull back a bit on this release to show off some of her friends' songs and tell us about some of her heroes. The EP opens with Cousins slaying a jaw-droppingly gorgeous cover of Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind". No one else need cover this song again - the woman nailed it.

The two covers of her songwriter friends are "Tired Eyes" by Mark Erelli and "Shake" by Lori McKenna, both among Boston's finest. It's nice to see that Cousins is not done paying homage to the fantastic Boston/Cambridge music community.

Another surprised on Stray Birds, is her cover of "What's Love Got To Do With It", which is fun to play for someone who doesn't know it's Tina Turner's biggest hit until Cousins slides into the chorus.

The two original compositions on the EP include "The Farmer's Wife", perhaps referring to Cousins' time growing up on a farm in Prince Edward Island, and the standout title track - a pretty country sounding song with great additions of banjo (Charlie Rose) and fiddle (Bronwyn Keith-Hynes).

Stray Birds was recorded over the course of two days at the Dimension Sound Studio in Boston. While it seems like the spotlight is more on Cousins this time around, she does have some of Boston's finest players on this release, including Zachariah Hickman, Kevin Barry, Duke Levine, and the aforementioned, Rose and Keith-Hynes. These gentleman and lady are careful to add subtle and sweet layers to the already well-crafted songs.

Cousins claims that her favorite part of the EP is the cover art, which is a self-developed black and white photo of her father's hands holding a new chick from their farm. Cousins broke her elbow over the winter, which gave her opportunity to learn how to develop black and white photos. The gentle image on the cover tends to reflect the songs on this lovely collection that leaves the listener satisfied, yet anticipating this brilliant performer's next move.

Order a copy of 'Stray Birds' HERE.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:42 PM

Hear It First at Folk Alley - Irish Power Trio, The Alt

September 12, 2014

*Irish traditional music power trio, The Alt are unveiling their new self-titled album this week, and you can listen to it in its entirety in the player below. *

By Gideon Thomas, for

thealt.jpgThe group, made up of ex-Solas member John Doyle, flautist, singer and songwriter Nuala Kennedy and Eamon O'Leary, are all world-class musicians in their own right, and have now come together to produce a sumptuous and beguiling album which fully represents all of the fire and skill of the group's constituent parts.

The songs, both Irish and British songs in English and one Irish song ("Cha Tig Mor Mo Bhean Dhachaigh") find Doyle and Kennedy's voices intertwining to fantastic effect. The album follows in the traditions of Irish song and singers, but very much with its own feel, and the band members have clearly put into it what is important to them, and the strengths, both of the songs and the performers, is clear. The playing is forthright and sympathetic, and the tunes exciting, dynamic, intricate and beautiful - especially "Geese In The Bog/Covering Ground."

The story of the album is equally fascinating. The three musicians gathered in the village of Coolaney to conceive the idea of the album, but it came into being in a cabin in the Appalachians. This is a conscious nod to the impact that Irish music has had, and continues to have on many different forms of American roots music.

The Alt have put together an album of beauty, care and precision, a distillation of the power of modern traditional Irish music, with a unique American angle.

Enjoy the album, and make sure to check out The Alt!

Click HERE to order the album!

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:32 PM | Comments (1)

Dom Flemons On 'Prospect Hill'

September 5, 2014

by Kim Ruehl, for

domflemons.jpgMany people know Dom Flemons as one-third of the original membership of groundbreaking revivalist stringband Carolina Chocolate Drops. Indeed, with the CCDs, Flemons achieved international acclaim and earned award nominations from organizations like the Americana Music Association and the Grammys. But, before the Chocolate Drops made their debut, he was a performing songster and songwriter, covering the entire scope of what constitutes American folk and roots music - not just the stringband, Carolina-based stuff that would eventually make him folk-famous.

Now, Flemons has ventured out on his own again, with a "debut" solo album of sorts (he's released two recordings outside of the Chocolate Drops before, but seems to view this one as more of a definitive debut effort). 'Prospect Hill' is a collection of blues and ragtime, folk and bluegrass tunes. It's quick and simple, to-the-point, and wholly digestible. It's timely and timeless, and everything you might hope a good folk album would be.

I hopped on the phone recently with Flemons to talk about the genesis of this album, among other things:

Kim Ruehl: Let's start by talking about 'Prospect Hill' and where this album came from for you. You delve into a lot of different styles than you did with the Chocolate Drops. Where did this start? Was it with a song?

Dom Flemons: There's always a song, to start. When I started making this record, my full intention was to make a record that I felt would be good enough that I could make another record. I have a lot of ideas for songs and working with different material, whether it's original material or traditional material... This is my first solo record outside of the Carolina Chocolate Drops - I did two recordings before that were just me solo or a little bit of accompaniment with me. This one, I decided I wanted to have a small ensemble with me on each of the songs and I wanted to delve into the different [kinds of] songs I'm interested in, in one way or another, and kind of do some of the things I started doing with the CCDs.

The Chocolate Drops were very specific about the kind of material we wanted to put out there - North Carolina black stringband music or stringband music with our own sort of edge that we...researched specifically in that flavor. That was the goal. But all of us always studied different kinds of music. I'd been playing solo for five or six years before I started the Chocolate Drops with Rhiannon and Justin, so I wanted to re-introduce the other styles I've been into the last 15 years with this record, and just give a broad cannon of stuff so people could hear: Oh, he doesn't just do that one thing. He does a bunch of different things.

I tried to be specific in how I put the record together. I tried to make it a quick record that you could have a really good time listening to without having to invest too much time. It's a nice one to listen to in the car or blast out of the speakers, and it repeats really easily too. I tried to do a couple of things like that in my sequencing and how I recorded things.

KR: When you're coming from so many different traditions and styles, how do you choose what songs you're going to do?

DF: I recorded about 30 songs altogether. I whittled it down into a nice 14-song album. I made it about 39 minutes to the dot. That's how I chose the songs.

I wanted every song to be a song that really showcased what I do as a musician. I didn't stay emotionally invested with any of the songs that I picked. They were all songs I've been playing for 10 years so, so I invested in the way I enjoy the songs. Some of the songs I wrote on the album, I wrote in the last three or four years. I picked out the best of those songs and decided to put them out. I tried to work the best of both sides of what I've been doing the past 15 years as a musician.

As a member of Carolina Chocolate Drops, I got a great fan base through that. But there's a whole big world of people that are interested in a lot of different types of music. There's a new generation of younger people who are getting into the music in a big way. When I got into the music, there were still all the people who had established the music in the past 50 or 60 years, who were still very active members of the community. Now that they're not there, there's a whole generation of people that are my peers or a few years or older [than me] - I'm 32 years old - that are being pushed into a higher status spot. We have different ideas and different ways to define the music we're doing.

I notice that the demographic is growing of people who have no idea what the standards are. Just because, in general, with the post-digital revolution, anybody can learn anything they want to, but it's a matter of how much the things that need to be learned get exposed to these people. That's what I felt like on this record. When I was growing up, it was 1950s and 60s music all the time on the oldies station. That's not what's happening now. It's 1980s...the 80s has kind of even fallen off the mark to the 90s, 2000s, 2010. That's what kids can hear on the radio if they just turn the radio on. Also LPs. People are getting more interested in LPs. That's not going to grow too huge, but I think it's getting to be how it used to be, where if you really wanted an LP and the artwork and the product...people love stuff.

I thought of all these things when I made the record. The songs themselves were songs I thought pushed the concepts that I wanted to get out there, without me having to explain it. You just put the record on and you say, "Oh I like this record, I like how it sounds and I like the songs that are on it." I made sure it had songs I thought people might want to sing. I tried to make it very simple and short, so it was easy to listen to.

In the industry, I feel like there's a lot of music that's really long. We have a lot of emotional arcs in the music that comes out. I tried to cut that out. A lot of the old recordings I like are so straight to the point. I wanted to make a straight-to-the-point record. I'm so glad that people have been enjoying it so far. I wanted to have a particular sound and a certain urgency to it. I feel like I was able to make that come off.

KR: In the folk world, there's the singer-songwriters following the Woody and Bob tradition, then there are the stringbands like the CCDs, then there are guys like you who are very steeped in tradition but are doing it in an interesting, contemporary way without being gimmicky about it. I always wonder how you keep in mind honoring tradition and moving it forward without losing touch of the tradition?

DF: I don't even bother with what's popular. I mean, I keep an eye out for what's new. If I go to the airport, I'll buy a copy of Rolling Stone, or I'll buy something that shows popular music. I'll actually actively seek out stuff if it looks interesting to me. But I don't just go out of my way to buy stuff that's not in my realm. That, for me, helps me stay contemporary, to keep my mind in a contemporary setting, because I can't help but be living right now.

That's a thing that some people tend to get a little bit confused about. They present a certain image and they want to be that old thing and make references to that old thing. I used to do that myself. It's a strong way to develop, learning a style note for note. It's a very good way to become an excellent musician - to learn a style, learn something you want to and be that. Then, after a while - this is something Mike Seeger said in every video he ever made: "You can't help but be yourself in the end." So you know, all you have to do as a person is interpret the music and immerse yourself in it, and eventually your own style will come out. Even if you do something note for note, after a certain point, when you become a real musician who's mastered their craft, you're going to put your own stamp on it.

It's always going to be personal. That's the hangup I think that's been there for a long time, especially when it comes to original music and interpretations of songs - what people call covers. It sets things off-kilter in a way to where people have hangups about it. For me, I've been a fan of music for a long enough period, I've scrutinized albums professionally and even before I was professional in a way, that I've tried to not have that hang-up.

I'm ok with presenting what I'm good at, and not needing to present 100% of my being in an album. Some musicians get caught up in that. There are a lot of weird egos and rock star culture that feeds into that. I have no desire to do that. Even with writing songs, I've tried to downplay it. I don't want to be a songwriter full-time. I'd rather be a performer and, if I write songs, great. That's why I'm an "American songster" instead of "American singer-songwriter" or "folksinger," or something like that. Songster can cover both of those realms. That's something I've developed over 10 years of performing. It's nice to be able to get out there and honor the old people who've influenced me, but it's also nice to give a shout out for all those old people to the young folks who don't know [about them]. Say, "Come on you cats, get hip. Go to the library. Figure out what this stuff's all about."

I tried to do that with the music I put out there. That's always been a trajectory for me personally. This album, in my own mind, is kind of conservative in a way, because I try to reach out to the communities I've been to before, in the introduction, to say, "I'm out here and this is just the beginning."

Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:56 PM | Comments (2)

Hear It First at Folk Alley - Mark Erelli, 'Milltowns'

September 3, 2014

*Mark Erelli releases 'Milltowns,' his special tribute to his friend and mentor, singer/songwriter Bill Morrissey, on Tuesday, September 9. Until then, you can stream this album in its entirety in the player below.*

by Kim Ruehl, for

markerelli.jpgJust like you couldn't pry the Texas and Colorado out of Townes Van Zandt's songs, you'd be hard-pressed to separate New England from the simple, deceptively complex music of the late, great Bill Morrissey. His literary approach to songwriting not only meant his songs told beautiful stories in poetic verse, but they also followed along with the intrinsic melodies and rhythms inherent in the words themselves. Few songwriters encapsulate this kind of literary quality with the same consistency and aplomb as did Morrissey, except for, perhaps, Mark Erelli.

Erelli is widely known as one of the hardest working, most artful singer-songwriters on the New England folk circuit, and his original songs are as full of love and community as they are stories about triumph and heartache. So, it makes sense, somehow, that Erelli would dedicate his thirteenth recording to songs written by Bill Morrissey (plus a title track he composed himself).

'Milltowns' doesn't come off as a covers record or a tribute album, though, so much as it does a thank-you note for the songs Morrissey put out into the world. With each performance, Erelli gives himself over to the song and seems to be simply following along and learning from where the song takes him. Backed by Sam Kassirer on piano, Charlie Rose on pedal steel and banjo, and Zack Hickman on upright bass, Erelli also welcomes backing vocals from the area's finest singers: Rose Cousins, Kris Delmhorst, Jeffrey Foucault, Anais Mitchell, Peter Mulvey, and Rose Polenzani. It's hard to argue that these voices all together occupy the gaping hole that Bill Morrissey left behind, as all of their music speaks on behalf of the community and literary traditions of New England's musical past.

Needless to say, 'Milltowns' is an album that demands listening. Listen close; there's sure to be something in there to break your heart a split second before it leads you straight to grace.

CLICK HERE to order a copy of 'Milltowns.'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:54 AM

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