It's true: we're not all as lucky as April Verch. When WE want to honor a hero, we might tell a friend about him or her. We might send a heartfelt email or post something sappy and/or respectful on Facebook. When someone like April Verch wants to honor HER hero - well, this multi-talented fiddler and dancer and singer does it in her own unique way.
The hero in this case? The late John Hartford. "I'm a huge John Hartford fan," April Verch says. "His music and career are unending sources of inspiration to me. I've always loved this lighthearted song of his and when we were putting the album together I came across a Youtube version of John performing it with just his voice, fiddle and feet, and 2 double bass players. We decided to arrange it in a similar fashion, so it's sparse and vulnerable in some ways, but I think that's what makes it so special."
And it IS special. Her tone when she sings the plea, "Bring your clothes back home, try me one more time," fits perfectly with her knowing little smile, her delicate shrug and, of course, her light handed fiddling and graceful feet. Verch looks, in that moment, like there's nothing else in the world she'd rather be doing.
You'll find "Bring Your Clothes Back Home" on April Verch's new recording, 'The Newpart' out now on Slab Town Records - available HERE.
You can download a copy of "Bring Your Clothes Back Home" - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:59 AM
Album Review: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, 'The Traveling Kind'
Emmylou Harris makes magic with pretty much everyone she sings with, from Gram Parsons to Lyle Lovett. One of her most trusted sidekicks over the years, though, has been Rodney Crowell, and the two never fail to shimmer and shine as evidenced on 'The Traveling Kind.' Like they did on 'Old Yellow Moon,' Harris and Crowell harmonize on some tunes, hand off on others. Either way, they strike a natural balance and a beautiful chord. As always, Crowell provides the roots and Harris, the wings.
The lithesome title track opens the set with a mandolin-laced meandering through their individual yet shared experience of giving themselves and their lives over to the world through their music: "We were born to brave this tilted world with our hearts laid on the line. Be it way-crossed boy or red dirt girl, the song becomes the traveling kind." Other highlights include "No Memories Hangin' Around," "You Can't Say We Didn't Try," "Just Pleasing You," and "Her Hair Was Red" -- all of which could have been on almost any Harris or Crowell record of the past 40 years. From rootsy rockers and country croons, the songs here feel fairly old-fashioned, but never dated... timeless, to be sure. That's a credit to both the compositions and the performances.
There's nothing earth-shattering about 'The Traveling Kind,' because that's not the point. What's clear, though, is how much Harris and Crowell enjoy working together and how well they do it.
'The Traveling Kind' is out now on Nonesuch Records and available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:02 PM
Hear It First - The Good Lovelies, 'Burn the Plan'
May 19, 2015
(**The Good Lovelies will self-release thier new album, 'Burn the Plan' next week. Until then, you can listen to the complete album in the player below!)
Every now and again, you just need to shake things up. Take a new job, try a new hobby, learn a new skill - do whatever you have to do to remind yourself that life is happening NOW and that we need to enjoy every moment of it. In other words, you need to burn the plan. When's the last time YOU did that?
If it's been awhile, take a page from the Canadian trio The Good Lovelies' book. Their new recording (appropriately titled 'Burn the Plan') not only burns the plan, it builds something new - and rather extraordinary - from the papery remains.
8 years ago, friends Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore decided to start making music together. They must have known they had something special - harmonies that hearken back to a golden era of music, a time when female singers walked onto the stage in petticoat-stiffened dresses with hairdos up to there. That's really where you'll find the trio's bread and butter - with their three very different voices, voices that just happen to blend rather marvelously together, in that magical way of music.
And it's those voices that, once again, take center stage on the new recording. This time, though, the voices are joined not just by guitar, mandolin, piano and dobro, but also by a drum machine and other elements of good old-fashioned electronica. Yes, the careful musicianship is still there. Yes, the trio takes turns in the lead and follow vocal roles. But no, this is not your average folk trio. The Good Lovelies push boundaries with 'Burn the Plan' - which is, after all, part of the burning the plan...plan.
I will admit - the stand out track for me on the album is the one that sounds the most like a traditional contemporary folk trio. Track 9, "Four O'Clock," is a poignant reminder that life is short. Anyone who has experienced any kind of loss - well, just go ahead and grab the tissues. Before we reach the point of crying, though, the Lovelies do their part to make you smile and dance with non-stop energy. So much energy, and with so much drum machine, in fact, that when things slow down a bit for the songs "Last Night" and "When the City Settles," it's a relief.
All three of the Lovelies are in fine voice on 'Burn the Plan.' And while it's clear that there's a comfort amongst them, a sense of ease that comes from years of singing together, there's also a new edginess that seems to foreshadow what the trio might yet do in the future. Whatever that may be (and if we go by what they're doing with THIS new release), well, it's bound to be worth a listen.
'Burn the Plan' will be released on May 26th and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:22 AM
A Q & A with Darrell Scott on '10 - Songs of Ben Bullington'
Ben Bullington wasn't just any small-town Montana doctor. He was also a revered songwriter who counted Rodney Crowell, Will Kimbrough, and Darrell Scott among his fans and friends. But despite his fanbase, Bullington's first-ever Nashville performance happened in December of 2012 at the Station Inn, a month after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The following November, Bullington died, though his songs lived on. To give them even more life, Scott put his own fine touch on them on the upcoming '10 - Songs of Ben Bullington' album. It's a touching affair, through and through, with Scott's fondness for the writer and the written shining bright.
Kelly McCartney: When Ben got his diagnosis, he quit his work as a doctor and devoted his remaining time to making music. That seems like a pretty solid endorsement for platitudes like "do what you love" and "live like you're dying." What lessons did you learn from watching how he moved through that time?
Darrell Scott: I had great respect for his choices -- both NOT touring before his last year AND starting to tour in his last year. I understood both and admired him for his decisions.
What is it about his songs that touched you enough to record an album's worth of them?
They were simply great songs and I wanted to do it as a gift to Ben and his boys. (By the way, he has other great songs.)
What do you think you bring to these songs that no one else could have?
I think I brought a sincere simplicity. (I think others could do the same.) Plus, these songs are folk songs and I love folk songs -- so did Ben.
Does being a songwriter yourself make it easier or harder to step into someone else's stories?
It makes it easier, I suppose. I know what the song is trying to do.
You took a decidedly simple approach to the production of '10.' Why go that way rather than another?
I thought the songs had a simplicity (while talking about complex things) which I thought was beautiful. I wanted to portray them honestly and without any recording trickery -- what you hear is what you get. Ben was that way, too.
'10 - Songs of Ben Bullington' will be released on May 19 via Full Light Records and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM
Song Premiere: The Mike + Ruthy Band, "Rock on Little Jane"
If there's one piece of advice you wish you'd gotten from your parents...what is it? Does it involve falling in (or out of) love? Living life to its fullest? Never giving up? Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar, aka Mike + Ruthy, try to cover all those bases (and more, too) on their new single "Rock on Little Jane," which was inspired by their daughter. (And no, their daughter's name is NOT Jane. It's Opal June. Her name, says Merenda, didn't quite fit the rhythm of the song.)
Besides giving Ruthy Ungar the chance to explore the ups and downs of her most soulful vocal range, "Rock on Little Jane" is jam-packed with the hopes, both realistic and un, all parents have for their kids. It's also a song that centers around the promises parents make to their kids - promises that have no guarantee of actually coming true, but promises that inspire and soothe and encourage and calm just the same. "I know it seems today that no one can see you," Ruthy sings, but "there's going to come a day when they're going to want to be you." Don't we all hope that for the special young people in our lives?
This single from Mike + Ruthy's new recording 'Bright as You Can' (out on June 2nd), "Rock on Little Jane" captures the theme of family that runs throughout the whole album. It also offers a sneak preview of the musical direction Mike + Ruthy are currently traveling - yes, there are fiddles and acoustic guitars and lyrics that take center stage. But there's also a lot of electricity on the new record too. And the combination is simply sizzling.
'Bright as You Can' seems to be honoring the great musical traditions of the past while at the same time welcoming, with open arms, the future of what music can be. And "Rock on Little Jane" is perfectly indicative of what music should be - it's an anthem. A fist-raising, you can do it, don't ever stop trying anthem, one that inspires all kids, no matter how old we are, to sing along.
'Bright As You Can' will be released June 2 on Humble Abode Music (Thirty Tigers) and you can pre-order it HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM
Hear It First: Jimmy LaFave, 'The Night Tribe'
May 9, 2015
Music Road Records (Austin, TX) - Even before he named his first band back in Oklahoma, Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave knew he belonged to that special fraternity of shadowy creatures who move to rhythms dictated by darkness: the 24-hour diner waitress, the graveyard-shift radio DJs, the cops, the taxi drivers - the musicians. His night tribe. A few versions of Jimmy LaFave & the Night Tribe have existed over the years, but he'd never reflected life "in the neon glow of perpetual sin" via song until now, with 'The Night Tribe,' his new album, releasing May 12th on Music Road Records.
Explaining the term's origin, LaFave says, "In Oklahoma, you hear the word tribe a lot because of all the different Indian tribes, and I thought, 'What tribe of people am I part of?' It was always the night people." After reactivating the Night Tribe name for a recent European tour, he decided he wanted to do something thematic with it. "And that is when I write most of my songs," he adds. "Almost all the songs on the record were written at nighttime, driving."
While hardly dark in texture, LaFave's self-produced album captures the varied moods and musings of an accomplished folk/Americana artist known for possessing what critic Dave Marsh has called "one of America's greatest voices." LaFave is also known for his ability to draw musical lines from Oklahoma native son Woody Guthrie to Dylan, Neil Young and other influences in ways that feel completely organic. As most of LaFave's albums do, The Night Tribe contains a Dylan cover: his elegantly rendered "Queen Jane Approximately"; it also contains his gorgeously spare, yet majestic version of Young's "Journey Through the Past."
As for Guthrie, the folk icon's spirit directly inhabits the rockabilly-tinged "Dust Bowl Okies," and it certainly imbues the title tune, a bluesy noir that paints every shade of the "shadow world" where passion, promise, danger and loneliness all lurk. But it's safe to say it hovers throughout 'The Night Tribe,' from the mid-tempo opener "The Beauty of You" to the closing benediction, a prayer of sorts for fellow travelers, "The Roads of the Earth."
'The Night Tribe' will be released on May 12 via Music Road Records and you can stream the album in its entirety until then in the player below. Order the album - HERE.
Falling somewhere between Jason Isbell and Tom Waits, Oklahoma singer/songwriter John Moreland sure does have a way with a song. Much like Isbell's 'Southeastern' before it, Moreland's new 'High on Tulsa Heat' explores the writer's inner world with startling honesty. While it relinquishes regret, it refuses to forsake remorse because that's where the healing happens. Also like 'Southeastern,' there's nothing extraneous on this record, nothing that feels out of place or out of time -- Moreland's roughly hewn tales delivered with finely tuned grit in both voice and feeling.
Even so, there's a deliberate and determined poise to Moreland's work. He's looking for something and these verses are his roadmap... and he knows it. Sings about it, even: "Well, these angels in my eardrums, they can't tell bad from good. I lived inside these melodies just to make sure I still could. Then I cried all night even though I'm grown. Said, 'Honey, hold me close, make it feel like home.'" That's how he opens the album's second cut, the slow-rocking "Heart's Too Heavy." Later in the tune, he really gets down to what's bothering him... on the one hand: "You've got faith enough to lift this curse. But what if faith is just a false god's verse?" And, then, also on the other: "I can pin down the minute when I lost my buzz. Thought I was somebody nobody could love."
He digs further into those themes throughout the soulful groove of "Sad Baptist Rain," where he proclaims, "You're the exception here. I'm the rule. I traded love for a song, like a fool. I'm always drawn to the wrong thing to do and I keep proving it." You see, 'High on Tulsa Heat' is an exploration of home -- whether spiritual, emotional, or geographical. Maybe every album is, in its own way or another. But what Moreland does with these songs is so thoroughly sincere, it is undeniably relatable. Who among us hasn't, at some point, found themselves feeling the sorrowful ache that he describes "You Don't Care For Me Enough to Cry"?
'High On Tulsa Heat' is out now on Old Omens/Thirty Tigers and is available - HERE.
In listening to Allison Moorer's 'Down to Believing,' a Wim Wenders quote comes to mind: "My advice is, don't spend your money on therapy. Spend it in a record store." Here, Moorer puts her own spin on that. Whether or not she spent any time in therapy to get through the dissolution of her marriage to Steve Earle, she certainly spent a lot of it writing songs about it. From top to bottom, the cycle traces her internal machinations (and throws in a cover of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," just for good measure).
Quite a bit of the set, including the opening track, is grounded in down and dirty roots rock so that Moorer can make the point perfectly clear that "It ain't ever gonna be like it used to be." As a thesis statement or a song hook, the message of resolve is undeniable: Things have changed. As the other dozen songs unfold, Moorer continues to be an active participant in her situation rather than a passive victim of her circumstance -- the album brimming with defiance, even destruction, but never defeat.
The soul searching title track finds Moorer affirming her faith in the simplicity of things. She sings, "I guess it comes down to believing, and whether we do or we don't. I guess it comes down to staying or leaving, and whether we will or we won't." There's no need to make emotional mountains out of practical molehills, after all. Later, on "I'm Doing Fine," Moorer spends three minutes convincing herself as much as anyone that the light at the end of the tunnel is, indeed, still shining... right in here eyes.
Just before that comes in the set, she steps out of the husband-wife dynamic to address some broader familial relationships. The quietness of "Blood" conveys the inherent knowing that comes only through the shared genetics of siblings, while the retro groove of "Mama Let the Wolf In" serves as an apology that this particular mother feels a need to make to her son.
There's a richness and a relevance to 'Down to Believing' that gets dressed up in melodies and arrangements which land somewhere between her sister Shelby Lynne and Sheryl Crow. And, anyone taking a ride on the roller coaster that is grief and loss would do well to give this thing a listen... or 20.
'Down To Believing' is out now on Entertainment One Music and is available - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:49 AM
A Q & A with Ray Wylie Hubbard
May 6, 2015
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
With its homespun eloquence and hard-earned wisdom, Ray Wylie Hubbard's music comes off as equal parts Buddha, books, and bars. The Texas songwriter has done some living and he's never been shy about sharing the stories. Some of them are even true. And some of them fill out the minutes of 'The Ruffian's Misfortune,' Hubbard's latest in a long line of musical adventures.
Kelly McCartney: It's pretty safe to say that you don't really fit into the country music scene (particularly these days), but it's also been suggested that you don't quite fit the Texas songwriter mold, either. If'n you had to be labeled, how does the broader Americana box feel? Does that give you enough room to do what you do?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Well, I consider myself a old folk cat who was influenced by acoustic blues and rootsy garage rock who only liked country if it was done by the Byrds, Parsons, or Hearts and Flowers, so Americana works, but I kinda push it a little.
KM: You dug into blues in your early 40s and have built it into your sound since then. Lately, a lot of guys in their early 20s are folding blues into their rock. What kind of person does it take to really get the blues in the right way -- to be able to understand and respect the form enough to make it their own?
RWH: I feel fortunate to have seen Lightnin' [Hopkins], Mance [Lipscomb], and Freddie King and it struck me that they were playing the blues not to be famous or rich but they had no choice. So the young blues guys I like are condemned to play them blues.
KM: When you're writing, do you find that setting poetic substance on top of grooving style helps get the point across?
RWH: Lyrics laid on a deep groove are a very powerful thing. Perhaps that was what was stolen from the gods after fire.
KM: What's the trick to crafting characters without judging them and their stories?
RWH: A beautiful thing about songwriting is that you can do the crime without having to do the time.
KM: What has it been like to revisit and recount your life in your upcoming autobiography? No doubt you have some capital 'S' stories to tell.
RWH: Yeah. I am somewhat amazed that a tow-headed, barefoot Okie kid in overalls has sung "Help from My Friends" with a Beatle at Radio City Music Hall, played "Snake Farm" with Joe Walsh setting in, got kidnapped by Willie Nelson, played poker with Freddie King and Bugs Henderson, drank homemade chalk beer with Mance Lipscomb, got stiffed on a lunch check by Colonel Tom Parker, did Letterman and Fallon, got 12-stepped by Stevie Ray [Vaughn] and... and bunch other stuff... (no capital S stuff though since i don't use the shift key).
'The Ruffian's Misfortune' is out now on Bordello Records and is available - HERE
Mavis Staples has a once-in-a-generation voice and, when she wields it, she lifts spirits and saves souls with its power -- something she's been doing for most of her life. On her new four-song EP, 'Your Good Fortune,' the legendary gospel singer teams with young bluesman Son Little who has made a name for himself by defying and destroying the boundaries of genre in his own music. And he does the same here.
On the opening (and title) track, a muddy bass and a tinny snare combine underneath Staples' bound-for-glory voice as it both moves and moors the listener through the meandering plea from doubting sinner to forgiving saint: "Why did you spend your good fortune on me?" The funky, stuttering groove of "Fight" underpins warped guitar riffs and weird (but cool) electro-synth runs. Here, again, Staples makes believers out of any heathens who might happen upon her potent voice. Hers is the kind of church in which all are not just welcome, but wanted. Both tunes were composed for Staples by Son Little.
As she works through the hallowed resignation and resolve of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," Staples reaches as deeply down into her own voice as she does into the listener's soul. Little throws in a gnarled guitar solo and electronic flourishes that both honor and update a track done by the Staple Singers way back in 1962. The final cut is the Pops Staples gem "Wish I Had Answered" that was first recorded by the family in '63. This time around, Mavis does it up by herself -- though not without a chorus of supporting voices. Like the rest of the EP, her take is both classic and contemporary.
The only shortcoming of the 'Your Good Fortune' EP is just that... it's short. The magic that Mavis Staples and Son Little make together deserves a whole lot more than just four songs.
'Your Good Fortune' is out now on ANTI Records and is available - HERE.
Following the lead of so many of her contemporaries, singer/songwriter Liz Longley turned to Kickstarter when she was ready to make a record. After raising nearly $55,000, the Berklee School of Music graduate made the record she wanted to make with guitarist/producer Gus Berry. Longley also relocated from Boston to Nashville and signed on with Sugar Hill Records, adding a little folk-pop goodness to their roots-based roster. The eponymous effort finds Longley mining the all-too-familiar terrain of lost love.
Kelly McCartney: So... Kickstarter. It served you well. Do you think crowdfunding is the way this thing is going to keep going -- whether it's Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, or whatever?
Liz Longley: I love Kickstarter and am so thankful for the opportunity it provided to team up with fans and make a record. The album I made with 650 fans through Kickstarter led to a record deal, in my case, so my next record will not be crowdfunded. For fans and creators to be able to share in a creative endeavor like that is a unique experience and I think it'll continue to be a popular route.
KM: When you were making this record, you put a camera in the studio and streamed the whole process as one of the Kickstarter perks. How in the world did that not make you self-conscious?
LL: The people who were tuning in already believed in the record enough to fund it. I knew most of the names of the donors through meeting them at shows over the years. I knew it was safe to be myself and create freely.
KM: Heartbreak is what ties the whole thing together. Seeing as it's such a universal experience, how do you find ways to say, "This sucks!" that haven't been said already?
LL: Every relationship is unique. I used specifics from my experiences to make it more real for the listener... and a metaphor or two to add another dimension. The song "Bad Habit" compares my relationship with a guy to his relationship with cigarettes, for example.
KM: Do you think people are born writers or is it a skill that can be taught (and not just refined)?
LL: I think it can be taught. I certainly hope it can. I'm still learning!
KM: Dealing with Boston drivers notwithstanding, tell me about your time at Berklee. Was it everything you wanted it to be?
LL: It was more than I thought it would be, honestly. It shaped me as a writer, helped me grow as a performer, and connected me to a network of incredible musicians that I still share the stage with to this day.
Liz Longley's self-titled Sugar Hill Records debut is out now and is available - HERE.
'Tetu' (Determined) is Quebecois four-piece Le Vent du Nord's eight album, and one that sees the band play to, and develop, existing and new strengths. If you have heard the band, live or on record, you will know the sound, the instrumentation, and the often-astounding togetherness of the band. Indeed this is what they have built their legend on. If you are new to the band, as indeed I am, 'Tetu' is the type of record which will make you want to find out more about them, their other albums, and most importantly, the songs and traditions which they tap into to create works like this.
This time around, the Vent boys (Nicolas Boulerice - hurdy gurdy, accordion, Oliver Demers - fiddle, mandolin, Rejean Brunet - bass, Simon Beaudry - bouzouki, with each contributing to vocals and much more) have gone 'back to basics', recording the album in a backwoods studio not far from their Quebec base. On it, they explore their Quebecois roots, and some long forgotten traditions, both of song and dance. 'Tetu' blends self-written and traditional pieces, all bound together by the band's seamless energy and sense of innovation.
Catch a glimpse of opener "Noce tragique" and you will catch a feel of 'Tetu' straight away, complete with Jews harp and finely-tooled vocals. You'll get the swing of rising fiddles, and the album's perfect juxtaposition of an old, country, almost 'rustic' feel (that recording process again) and a youthful, thrusting musical attitude. Add in razor-sharp instrumentation and harmonies, and 'Tetu' can't have a better start.
"Loup-Garou" has a swinging bounce to it, from its hurdy gurdy, bass guitar and percussion-filled opening, to the clever swapping between lead and harmony vocals, and "Le rosier" shows how at ease LVDN are with their material. It sounds easy, it sounds fun, as they move between light and shade, happiness and blues.
Tune sets like "Cardeuse-Riopel" and "D'ouest en est" take traditional pieces, where they are from and what they represent, and thrust them far into the future. The band deliver them with foot-stomping fever, the end results being overwhelmingly uplifting and optimistic.
"Confederation" is a Boulerice song about "North American French-speakers who can often be forgetful". Make of that what you will, but it is clearly a comment on the relationship between language, culture (and indeed music), whilst "Chaise ardente" sees its hero descend to hell in the name of curiosity. "Forillon," meanwhile, is the story of Forillon Park, which was created in part by a forced re-settlement of several families in the area, by an allegedly bullying firm of private contractors.
By contrast, "Petit reve IX" is, while 'just' an interlude, a beautiful moment, with a piped hurdy line, subtle guitar, and sliding fiddle - like the dream that it is. As you would expect from a song called "Pauvre enfant," there are some affecting, emotional vocals on this one, which are complemented by soaring fiddle lines later on. And "L'echafaud" is darker still, with the resounding vocals full of sadness and bittersweet regret, as a man sentenced to death looks back on his life. This short track ably demonstrates the variety of 'Tetu'.
"Papineau" shows once again the strength and control of the interplay between lead and harmony vocals, whilst closer "Amant volage" swings and cuts with some deft fiddle and piano to finish things off.
'Tetu' is highlighted by some seeping, swooping, expert playing, and sympathetic singing - LVDN are a group who really work together on all fronts. A delight.
'Tetu' is out now on Borealis Records and is available - HERE.
Norah Rendell is the Canadian singer behind the beautiful new album, 'Spinning Yarns.' Blending a range of influences and inputs over twelve tracks, drawn from some interesting sources. Showcasing the power of both song and community, the album shows off the strength of Norah's singing, and the conviction she puts into her music. It also speaks of the immigrant experience, as many of the pieces have their roots in the British Isles and Ireland. We spoke to Norah about the album, her singing roots and the songs she has encountered that make up 'Spinning Yarns.'
Gideon Thomas: Norah, thank you for taking the time to talk to Folk Alley. I wanted to start off by asking about your own background, how you came to singing, and how you'd describe your personal singing practice.
Norah Rendell: Thanks for featuring the album on Folk Alley - it's great to chat with you. I came to singing through the Irish session scene in my home town of Vancouver, British Columbia, but I have always loved singing - in the car, in the shower, anywhere really. I was trained as a recorder player, and pursuing a career in early music performance when I discovered my passion for singing, in particular traditional songs. I sing all sorts of folk songs, but these days I'm mostly singing Irish songs with Canadian and American connections.
The new album is full of wonderful versions of some well-known, and lesser-known songs. Tell us about the research you undertook for the record - what started you off on the journey, and what were some of the sources you used?
I've been thumbing through books of Canadian folk songs for years seeking out rare versions. For this album, I turned to field recordings for raw material, more than I ever have before. The key source that inspired this recording was Angelo Dornan, an incredibly skilled singer with a gorgeous repertoire from Elgin, New Brunswick. About five years back, my husband Brian shared a collection of Dornan's field recordings with me. He had received them from Catherine Crowe, a singer and artist from Ontario. I was blown away by the songs themselves, and by Dornan's compelling delivery, much of which was characterized by an unmistakable Irish style.
Having recently spent two years studying music in Ireland (and missing Canada), these recordings provided a way for me to connect my passion for Irish trad with my own heritage. Looking back now, hearing Dornan's singing was a bit of an ah-ha moment.
Other sources were field recordings from MacEdward Leach and the Atlantic Songs of Canada and collections from Helen Creighton. My husband, Brian Miller, is the real researcher in the family and he has impeccable taste in songs. He led me toward some of the best singers in the MacEdward Leach collection, like Cyril O'Brien (St. Patrick's Day) and the Molloys (Forty Fishermen).
And the specifically Canadian versions talk of related ideas like immigration, community and continuity. Why did you want to pick up on these areas?
I suppose most of the songs are about unrequited love, betrayal, accidents, death and vengeance - all the good stuff! Communities across the globe have to find ways of dealing with these big issues all the time. I am intrigued by the timelessness of the old songs. Another connection to community is that these songs would have usually been shared in communal settings such as house parties or musical gatherings. They are far from Kumbaya campfire sing-a-longs, but their existence is proof that people have been singing for a long time, to pass the time or to document/process important (often emotional) events.
There's focus on music in the community, and music in many different communities - is this an important consideration for you?
I was drawn to traditional Irish music in my early twenties first and foremost because I loved the music itself, but there was much more to it than that - I loved the humility of the musicians I met, the parties, the constant searching for renewed material, the comradery. It was fun, and casual. Irish music instantly became a part of my everyday life. I had tunes and songs dancing around in my ears all day and night and I never felt alone. That sounds silly, but it is true.
Music, especially folk music, has the power to bring people together. I think that is an amazing thing, really. These days, I'm spending a lot of my time running an Irish music school in Saint Paul, Minnesota called the Center for Irish Music. I'm passionate about keeping the tradition alive, and I guess I'm walking the walk - teaching young kids the skill and joy of playing music while continuing to be a performing musician myself.
You've selected quite a band for the recording of 'Spinning Yarns', so give them a shout out.
Oh, I could go on and on...The accompanists on 'Spinning Yarns' are some of the best at accompanying trad Irish song in North America. Brian Miller (Bua) and Randy Gosa are my guitar-bouzouki dream-team. They both have drive, an ineffable drive in their playing, whether they are picking out a sensitive, unmeasured song, or accompanying "The Pinery Boy," a song from the album with a Wisconsin connection and a more Americana feel. I think rhythmic nuance differentiates a good arrangement of a traditional song from a "just ok" one, and that their genius is in their approach to rhythm and groove. Brian and Randy share a musical brain after working together for years on material with a similar theme to 'Spinning Yarns.' I am honoured to have them as the core collaborators on this album.
My old band mate from the Outside Track, Ailie Robertson, is an intuitive innovator on the harp and she loves songs. Back when we were touring together, she knew all the lyrics to my songs. I'm a hug fan of the harp, and I'm thrilled that she was able to make the trip to Minnesota to record the album. Dáithí Sproule, a good friend, and Altan's guitarist, is among the best. We have been working on other material together - maybe one day we'll I'll be lucky enough to do an album with him!
Tell us about your work with The Outside Track - are you recording or playing with them at present?
I left the Outside Track late in 2013 to launch a solo career and to be based closer to home. I have a two year-old son now and although I miss the European touring (ham, cheese, baguettes anyone?), I am perfectly content to be sleeping in the same bed most nights. My little sweetie is in a separate room across the hallway and I can eat whatever I want for breakfast!
I miss playing with the Outside Track. They are fantastic musicians and dear friends. They are releasing an album very soon, the first since I was in the band, and they're sound has made the transition seamlessly - your readers should check it out.
Finally, you've made reference to the special nature, and the 'truth' of traditional song. Why is singing and recording these songs so special and important for you?
Honestly, I have no idea - Maybe I was a traditional singer in a past life. My conscious mind finds traditional songs rather esoteric, but my heart and my musical brain loves them and won't allow me to stay away from them for long. I have talked to other traditional singers that have that same experience. There is both timelessness and a selflessness in a good traditional song. These days, I think those are two concepts that we could all spend more time reflecting upon. I have always been drawn to older things, reused items, colorful characters. There is wisdom to be gained from being attentive to the stories that such things carry along with. I love the idea that I am singing a song that some unknown person wrote, that others were moved to learn and adapt to their own lives, and that I enjoy in 2015. And then, there are those incredible Irish melodies, with melodic intricacies that may be unrivalled....
Norah Rendell's 'Spinning Yarns' is out now on Two Tap Music and is available HERE.