A debut album at the age of 68 is quite unusual for a lifelong musician, but for the Montreal-born, Chaim Tannenbaum, it never felt right until recently.
"I suppose you need a very good reason to do something, but no very good reason not to do something... There's no reason really, for which I didn't make a record. You wake up Monday morning and you think "Should I make a record today?" and the answer is "No!" and you wake up Tuesday and you have the same answer."
Tannenbaum has become somewhat of an underground folk legend, particularly to the tight-knit scene in Montreal and for followers of The McGarrigle Sisters (Kate and Anna) and Loudon Wainwright III. He met Kate and Anna when he was sixteen and began playing music socially with them. Tannenbaum went on to pursue a career in teaching philosophy while Kate and Anna started playing and recording professionally. After teaching in London (where he became friends with Loundon Wainwright III), he ended up a professor at Dawson College in Montreal for over three decades. The McGarrigles and Wainwright always included him on tours and recording projects when his teaching schedule allowed. Aside from a scrapped Hannibal Records project from the 1990's, Tannenbaum never had the desire to record even though friends and fans pleaded with him to do so.
Knowing his history is not important when hearing this record. The music has the same uplifting effect for a folk music fan. Tannenbaum's love for Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Sonny Terry shines through in an album filled with mostly traditional folk songs. This feels and sounds like an all-important historical recording from someone who has lived and breathed folk music for decades. The difference in knowing the history when hearing the music is that you cannot detect any sense of fatigue or cynicism from Tannenbaum. This is an extremely gifted musician who saved all his youthful love and musical splendor for this album.
Tannenbaum's purity rings through alongside beautiful sparse instrumentation that could score a Wes Anderson film. The whimsical, but not overwhelming, horn and woodwinds in the epic "London Longing For Home" (one of three original Tannenbaum compositions), bring alive the emotions that come with being homesick in gray London. Looking through the credits is an impressive list of gathered friends from Loundon Wainwright III to newcomer Margaret Glaspy. One name not among the performers is, of course, his friend, the late Kate McGarrigle, who died six years ago. He does, however, pay tribute to his dear friend by recording one of her songs, "(Talk to Me of) Mendocino". The song is an interesting and appropriate choice in that it is from the point of view of someone saying goodbye to an old life and welcoming in a new one. If this album does not mark a new chapter of recording for Chaim Tannenbaum, it certainly is an important piece of work from one of the finest folk singers that you almost never heard of.
Chaim Tannenbaum's debut self-titled album is out May 27th via StorySound Records and is available now for pre-order at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:10 PM
Song Premiere: Jonah Tolchin, "Unless You Got Faith"
Matters of faith are seamlessly entwined with roots music, from old spirituals to classic soul to new blues. Singer/songwriter Jonah Tolchin's work always falls somewhere along that spectrum, occasionally leaning more this way or that. On "Unless You Got Faith," the lead track from his upcoming album, 'Thousand Mile Night' (due out on August 5,) Tolchin leans into all of the traditional wisdom and modern influences he can summon.
As a hammond organ leads the way, Tolchin outlines all the different kinds of faith we need to have in our lives in order to fully live: "Faith that he won't leave, faith that she won't lie, faith in the water, faith in the sky, faith in the choices that you learn to embrace... you can't love in this world unless you got faith." It's advice that pretty much everyone needs to hear and heed, at one point or another - including Tolchin.
"When I was working as the producer on Julie Rhodes debut album, 'Bound to Meet the Devil,' I wrote this song for her to sing. It was a message that I felt she needed to be singing to herself at the time," Tolchin says. "I found out afterward that it was a message I needed to be singing to myself, too. This song is not necessarily about the kind of faith that is talked about in religion, although it does apply."
Tolchin recorded 'Thousand Mile Night' at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with producer/multi-instrumentalist Marvin Etzioni. Players on the set include guitarist Lucas Hamren, drummer Michael Joel Bosco, and bassist Jamie McFarlane (son of Muscle Shoals musician Will McFarlane).
'Thousand Mile Night' is due out on August 5 via Yep Roc Records and is available now for pre-order at iTunes.
In Review: Singer-Songwriter Anais Mitchell Guest DJ on Folk Alley
May 20, 2016
by Ann VerWiebe, Folk Alley
Singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell recently geeked-out host Cindy Howes by sitting in for her shift and "spinning" a few choice songs. Mitchell's new folk opera, Hadestown, opens officially Off-Broadway on May 23 after a decade of development, which also involved Anais touring behind her concept album of the project with a rotating group of guest artists.
Listen to the segment in hour 1 of Cindy's Folk Alley shift from Wednesday, May 18 and hear all about Anais' adventures with Hadestown, along with songs from the show and cuts by her friends, like touring buddies Patty Griffin and Sara Watkins!
Audio for this Guest DJ hour is no longer available.
A lot of chatter has filled the country music void for quite a while now, folks arguing about what's real and what's not. But as artists like Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton, Ashley Monroe, Margo Price, Kacey Musgraves, and others break through various ceilings and kick down random doors, the argument about a lack of "real" country music is left, well, lacking. Add indie upstarts like Dori Freeman, Andrew Combs, Sam Outlaw, Tami Neilson, and Sam Morrow to that list, and the contrary position is all but erased.
And then comes along Wonky Tonk (aka Jasmine Poole) to further broaden the field with what she calls a "punk cowgirl aesthetic" on her debut album, 'The Stuff We Leave Behind,' which dropped last year. The set was a long time coming from the Kentucky singer/songwriter who is already back on track with more music and taking her cues from the greatest of the greats on her new single, "Suitors."
As Poole tells it, "Inspired by Dolly and Loretta's no-nonsense flavor of country songwriting, 'Suitors' was written in response to the influx of people talking jive following the release of my debut LP, 'The Stuff We Leave Behind.' After the release, I had friends, strangers, and the people in between projecting their needs and wants on me, with the elusive understanding that I was supposed to carry it since I put myself out as a performer.'
"Basically, 'Suitors' is a tune describing the toll that performing, especially as a woman, takes on one's psyche and social life -- where you have to balance being your character, as well as keeping yourself whole, while also remaining open for listeners to give and take what they need without leaving yourself bereft."
Sometimes, two artists come together out of nowhere and, as great as the parts might be, the whole is even greater. That's just what happened with Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones. The singer/songwriters discovered a shared love of a classic sound and set about crafting a collection of their own. Through 'Little Windows,' Thompson and Jones give us a glimpse into a simpler musical time, when affairs of the heart needed not more than three minutes to work themselves out.
Kelly McCartney: What's the key to writing classic-sounding, highly versatile tunes? Simple, timeless themes, certainly. But what are the musical secrets involved?
Teddy Thompson: You need to be concise! All of our songs are two-and-a-half minutes long, so you can't waste a word or a bar. It helped to have three writers. We were able to bounce everything off each other and be sure it was good enough and spoke to all of us.
Kelly Jones: I agree, and also think you need to maintain a harmonic simplicity in the chords you choose and deviate to something more clever only in select moments or sections. More musical interest can be created through how you use those chords rhythmically, or in the instrumental hooks throughout, but ultimately the music should support a very singable and memorable melody.
How is it that all the great love songs have yet to be written? Is that ever a concern?
Teddy Thompson: I don't think that all the great love songs have yet to be written. I feel like most of them have already been written. It's all been done before. It's hard to come up with something new!
Kelly Jones: One of the ongoing challenges as a songwriter is to get away from what now are well-worn clichés in love songs. There are countless beautiful love songs out there, but I think the best new love songs access something true and specific about our human experience in a unique way. The heartbreaking love song "Whiskey and You" by Chris Stapleton is a great example of this for me.
Within the era, style, and craft that you guys looked to, who would you say are the masters... and why?
Teddy Thompson: Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly. We tried to work the way they did. Quickly, to the point, heartbreaking and hopefully a touch witty to boot.
Kelly Jones: Yes, and Dolly Parton, too. She sings about profoundly moving truths, in deceptively simple ways.
Forget the three-minute pop song, you guys got down to two minutes on some of these. Obviously, every song has different needs, but if there were a magic number for the perfect song length, what would it be?
Teddy Thompson: I'd say three minutes. I like the idea that we shaved 30 seconds off the best time, though!
Kelly Jones: Yes, I've been raised in the three minute school of songwriting, too. Just short enough to hopefully inspire an instant repeat!
How rare is it to find two voices that blend so readily and so beautifully -- particularly when they come from such different musical backgrounds? And what is it about your voices that works so well?
Teddy Thompson: We are actually very different singers with very different voices. We got lucky that we were able to find a good blend. It's an intangible thing. A magical thing at times.
Kelly Jones: It's quite rare (in my experience) no matter what the singers' backgrounds are. It helps that Teddy and I admire the same kinds of vocal performances. I think it inspires us sing from a similar emotional place.
'Little Windows' is out now via Cooking Vinyl and available at iTunes and Amazon.com