The Canadian folk duo of Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott -- aka Twin Bandit -- comes from a long line of harmony makers. Many times the pairing is made of siblings like the Louvins, Everlys McGarrigles, or Roches. While Walker and Elliott may not share biological DNA, their musical chemistry is undeniable. Twin Bandit's debut album, 'For You,' comes out on Monday and opens in the sparest of ways with "Tides," building from there. If the Wailin' Jennys had made Emmylou Harris's 'Wrecking Ball,' it might well sound like 'For You.'
The two of you met while working at St. James Music Academy. How did you discover your musical chemistry?
Hannah Walker: We discovered our mutual love of harmonies the good ol' fashioned way... by singing together! We were cooking at the St.James Music Academy and I started to sing an old traditional. Jamie joined me in beautiful harmony. It's rare to find two voices that blend. We knew it was a special thing to find a singing soulmate. So began the early days of Twin Bandit.
Being signed to Nettwerk and gearing up for the album release has happened pretty quickly, right? How does it feel to be getting your music out there?
Jamie Elliott: It feels incredible to be able to share our music with a large audience. We have gone from playing for our family and friends in living rooms to sharing the stage with musicians that we really admire in some of the most beautiful venues. We feel honoured for our opportunity to work with Nettwerk. They believe in the power of music just as we do.
What other duos do you two study or admire for their harmony techniques? Is there one, in particular, that Twin Bandit is musically related to?
JE: Some duos that we look up to are the Louvin Brothers, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Simon and Garfunkle. Although Fleetwood Mac isn't a duo, we have always felt very inspired by their harmonies.
It's interesting that you cover a Daniel Lanois tune on the record because "Rosalyn" sounds like a Lanois production. Are you both fans of his? One more than the other?
HW: I think back fondly to Lanois's music in the background of my life. He was a musical fixture in our household, from his familiar production on many of our favourite albums to his own music. When I met Jamie, I introduced her to the album 'Shine.' She felt a connection to his lyrical honesty and the evocative soundscapes the same way I did.
This album could have easily been just your voices, your guitars, and your songs. But it got gussied up a bit, and gorgeously so. Did the two of you have a vision going in or did Jon [Anderson] shape the sound?
JE: We would have to say it was a little of both. Jon Anderson was amazing to work with. Even though we often play live as a duo, we were so excited to fill out our sound with the insight of Jon's production and our friends' musical talents. We were able to meet many times before recording to find mutual inspiration for the album's sound. Jon has an incredible taste in music and he helped us actualize our vision and bring it to life in a new way.
'For You' is out on June 29th via Nettwerk Music Group and is available at iTunes. You can stream the album in its entirety below!
From Ireland to England to the United States: 'Because I Did Murder That Poor Little Girl Whose Name Was Rose Connelly'
In this piece, I am looking at the popular trope of the murdered sweetheart, in a range of traditional British, Irish, American and Anglo-American ballads. I will look at the stories of the songs and the characters they contain, as well as the roles played by both men and women in not only a core set of songs (variously titled the Oxford Girl, the Wexford Girl and the Knoxville Girl), as well as a wider collection of songs containing The Banks Of The Ohio, and also Down In The Willow Garden/Rose Connelly.
I will look at notions of 'fact' and 'true life' in these songs, and I want to explore the relationships between the songs in the sample, and the essential differences between the various stories.
This 'core' set of songs takes the form of differing versions of the same story. A young man, a miller by trade, takes it upon himself to murder his young sweetheart, for reasons which are not immediately obvious (indeed, in many versions, not obvious at all). The song seems to have its origins in 18th century (or earlier) English broadsides (cheap street literature), which came into the oral tradition in a variety of ways. The young man's crime is not detected, and he carries on with his normal life, more or less.
The songs have proved hugely popular across folk, roots and country circles, and the variation in the lyrics of the traditional versions have been stabilized in cut-down forms of the story which have been popularized in recorded versions.
"The Banks of the Ohio" is another, related song, which follows the same basic story as the Oxford/Knoxville Girl. In Banks...the girl rejects his marriage proposal, a possible 'motive' for his undeniable cruelty.
"Down In The Willow Garden" (also known as "Rose Connolly") takes us from Ireland to the United States, and, although following on from the above songs, may have an American origin. Unlike some of its predecessors, it has a named character (Rose), and, rather gruesomely, some versions describe the murder in more detail. As well as being stabbed, as in Oxford... et al, she is poisoned and drowned for her sins.
One cannot help but reflect on the question of why these songs have proved so popular, so resolute in the tradition? There are so many versions which have been left to us from singers and communities across the generations. Sure, the story is a strong one, one which speaks to our humanity, but there must be more to it than that. There seems to be some voyeurism, some attraction to cruelty, a 'ritual misogyny', as Teresa Goddu has described it.
It is worth for a moment looking at the characters portrayed in the stories, and the roles which they play. We never seem to get much biographical information on the characters (perhaps symptomatic of traditional song), bar the fact that young Willie is an apprentice miller (as revealed in some takes on Oxford...). Of the woman, we know next to nothing, except that she is a tragic innocent who can act in nothing but deference to her man. She chooses nothing, has no agency. As we are more or less in the dark as to the male's motives (he may have been on the receiving end of some bad news, or a disagreement - hardly the stuff of murder, surely), we can only wonder at why he commits the heinous act.
And indeed, murder sometimes makes a hero of a man, or at least boosts his profile. But in all of the songs I am looking at, I can't help but think of him as something of a weakling, a man defined by his cruelty alone. We are looking at a cut-down version of a cut-down story, but it is still one which makes me think of a senseless crime with a bit-part victim and a weak and feckless perpetrator.
Down...does take his portrait further, as he realizes, when he is brought to justice, that the murder has had unforeseen consequences, and that he must face the hangman's noose. This contrition is certainly not found in every instance of the ballad.
'Fact' and 'true life' are notoriously difficult concepts to attach to traditional music, and, as much as it does reflect and reinforce everyday concerns, norms and experiences, it is still the result of the fictionalisation of real events. Willie and Rose, and their contemporaries, are versions of real people, their lives imagined (and re-told and re-contextualised). For songs to be 'successful' in tradition, for them to pass into, and through space and time, they have to be popular. They have to resonate with singers and audiences, and to do this, they have to be good stories. Songs have to hook people in, and grab their attention. This is to take nothing away from the tragic events of the songs, but simply to point out their strengths as songs and performances.
Traditional ballads take us on voyages through history, geography, social conditions and politics, and, in the case of "The Oxford Girl," "Down In The Willow Garden" and the like, gender relations. The situation of women is not something that is immediately considered when listening to the exploits of so many poor victims of male violence or misogyny, but is something which we should not ignore. I am the first to celebrate the beauty and poignancy of the form, but this appreciation should not be at the expense of the recognition of historical and contemporary malfeasance.
Jonathan Edwards is one of those singer/songwriters that everyone knows, even if they don't know they know. That's largely due to his 1971 folk-pop hit "Sunshine." The iconic tune paved the way for Edwards who has since released 16 albums with 'Tomorrow's Child' now joining the collection. Over the decades, Edwards has worked with Emmylou Harris, Michael Martin Murphey, B.B. King, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, the Allman Brothers, and so many more. For his new project, he got a little help from his friends... including Darrell Scott as producer.
Kelly McCartney: When you were back in military school, just starting to write songs, did you have an ambition to pursue music as a career? Or were you just trying to pass the time and chase your muse?
Jonathan Edwards: I didn't even know how to spell "career" at that time. Like most kids, I was like a thirsty sponge, soaking up chords, rhythms, grooves, lyrics, structure, and the whole self-expression, artistic, creative culture and community. Of course, the entire "process" of writing poetry and prose and the translation into songwriting was soon to follow. The muse shall not be chased; she will come on her own volition, at a time and place of her choosing. Just make her comfortable and happy.
Thinking back on making your first record -- losing the "Please Find Me" recording and adding "Sunshine" in its place -- that has to be the greatest "meant to be" moment in your life, right?
I have always been a creature of serendipity and convergence. What I mean by that is being open to the often subtle winds and currents and tides that push and pull your ship slightly off your intended course. There are rocks out there and shallow water, and I take it all in as I survey the horizon in front of me. I don't miss a thing. I'm lucky I have such an unblemished driving record.
Do you ever go into "what if" mode and imagine how things might have turned out if that hadn't happened?
Perhaps my high school guidance counselor would have been right when, after reviewing my aptitude test, she asked if I had ever considered welding as a profession. I don't really believe in predestination or any of that; I just believe a creative soul (and I think everyone has one) needs to be wide open to ALL of the senses we are endowed with and the energy to sustain the impulse to reflect that inspiration for others to enjoy.
From the Broadway stage to the folk circuit to the silver screen, you've kind of done it all. Do you have a preference for one art form? Or do they each have their own special place in your heart and creativity?
I'd like to know what the statistics are regarding ADD and the creative process. I love doing it ALL. There is SO much to be learned from all these efforts, and they all inform and enrich each other all the time. Challenging? Sure, but it always seems to travel in a positive direction and I'm forever grateful that my friends and fans have joined me on this journey and have rambled through their changes right along with me.
For the songs, you balance confessionals and classics. How important is that levity for you? And how tricky is it to get the ratio right?
My approach has always been to talk about the feelings I am dealing with at the time, in hopes that other people will be able to relate and maybe gain some insight, perspective, pleasure -- or maybe just the knowledge that they are not alone, that other folks, even the ones in the spotlight, may be going through those same feelings. The balance is tricky. I want so much to give the people who venture out on a Saturday night everything they want -- everything and more that they expect from our almost 50-year relationship -- while at the same time gently urging us all to move forward and make new memories and create new pictures.
Similarly, you've worked with a whole lot of folks... Emmy, B.B., Chapin, the Allmans, Murphey... so many. How did it feel to recruit some of your friends to help out on this record? You and Alison Krauss sound lovely together.
Speaking of memories, I have such amazing recollections of hanging out with some of the most treasured and revered artists of all time and I hold them dear to my heart. One of my favorite old photographs is me sitting in a chair in some dressing room somewhere playing James Taylor's guitar and he is bending over examining my picking technique. You can't make this stuff up!
And as for dreams coming true, when Darrell Scott and I met and started talking songs, musicians, studios, and soul, it was clear from "hello" that yet another dream was going to be realized in my waking hours. At the urging of my wife and manager (two different people), I very tentatively started calling up some of the people whose work I have so admired all my life, to carefully inquire whether they might possibly be interested in coming in and singing and playing with me on my new album. I didn't hear, "I"m really busy" or, "Not right now" or, "I'd love to but..." I heard a resounding, "Yes, I'll be there, just tell me where and when!" To sing with people like Shawn Colvin, Vince Gill, and Alison Krauss, and have Jerry Douglas play dobro -- just to name a few -- are among the greatest gifts I've ever been given.
From an outsider's perspective, English folk singer Sam Lee's eclectic -- if not downright eccentric -- life as a Chelsea School of Art student, burlesque dancer, and wilderness expert was either going to prepare him for absolutely anything or absolutely nothing. Middle of the road, it certainly was not. But, when he met Scottish Traveller singer Stanley Robertson, the preparation for absolutely anything came in handy.
For four years, Robertson mentored Lee in the ages-old tradition of Traveller and Gypsy music. He also met and studied with other masters of the form, including Freda Black, who passed her "Bonny Bunch of Roses" torch to the young singer. With that front-row seat and first-hand experience, Lee embarked upon his own mission of bringing those old songs into the now, as well as the future. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with critics calling Lee the Alan Lomax of Gypsy music. His debut album, 'Ground of Its Own,' won the United Kingdom's Arts Foundation prize in 2011 and was nominated for the Mercury Music Award in 2012.
Lee's follow-up LP, 'The Fade in Time,' will be released in the U.S. -- in tandem with 'Ground of Its Own' -- next week. Recorded over the course of three months at Imogen Heap's Hideaway Studio in Essex with Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle serving as co-producers, it is filled with ancient Gypsy folk songs that have rarely been heard outside the Traveller communities that roam the British Isles.
'The Fade In Time' was released in the US via Thirty Tigers on June 16. The full album stream is no longer available, but you can sample a track from the collection below!
The album is available at iTunes, HERE and at Amazon.com, HERE.
On their best record in a decade, the Indigo Girls harken back even as they move forward. Rites of Passage, Swamp Ophelia, Shaming of the Sun, and Come on Now Social -- arguably the best albums in the Indigo catalog -- all echo softly through this set, whether in the note choices of a harmony or the layout of an arrangement. And One Lost Day rises up from those roots to find its own wings, set aloft on the thoroughly thoughtful production of Jordan Brooke Hamlin.
As should be expected, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers alternate between the political and the personal in their songwriting, sometimes blurring the lines that divide the two. Saliers starts the set by recounting a tale from her Tulane days that involved her friend "Elizabeth." (She has joked that writing songs like this one is her way of reaching out to old friends because she doesn't do Facebook. Whatever works!) Ray counters that sentiment with the album's lead single, "Happy in the Sorrow Key." Here, she contemplates what it means to be content -- yes, happy -- even while riding out the turbulence of the human existence.
Themes of life and death, the coming and the going, are plentiful in Ray's half of the song cycle -- at least a few of her compositions were finished during and after a small window of time that saw both her father's passing and her daughter's birth. "Texas Was Clean" is a hypnotic dream of a life long lost to the passing of time. "Texas was clean, just a no-man's dream. A slate that I'd never written on. The dust blown 'round, lonely town, boots on the porch of a barn. As far from the South without getting out of the corner of my heart," Ray and Saliers sing in harmonic unison before splitting off into separate parts -- the muted drums and tender guitars leading the way.
Reckoning is another theme that finds its way into tunes like "Spread the Pain Around," "If I Don't Leave Here Now," and "Fishtails," each of which evidences some of the best writing and performances the Girls have ever laid down. And, of course, they both give what they got in spades as Ray puts her customary edge on "The Rise of the Black Messiah" and Saliers lays her lovely lilt all over "Come a Long Way."
More than 30 years into playing together, the Indigo Girls once again remind us why they have lasted and why they are loved. Their songs continue to be both bold and thoughtful, and their voices are as rich and robust as ever.
One Lost Day is out now on Vanguard Records and is available Amazon.com and iTunes.