More so than many of his peers, Gregory Alan Isakov has a magical, mystical way with a folk song. There's a tenderness to his approach that never tips into the abyss of corniness that befalls so many others. His new collaborative album, Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony, is a perfect example, as the orchestra so easily floats under, around, and above his compositions.
"One of the things we were really going for, making this record, was a symphonic element that allowed the songs to breathe and maintain a sense of space," Isakov says. "And I love how it came out -- so many hands were involved with the arrangements, scores, mixing, artwork, and video work."
On its own, "The Stable Song" epitomizes what sets Isakov apart. Add on the Colorado Symphony and a throwback video, and the die is cast. Isakov turned to his bassist, John Grigsby, to make the video using a combination of vintage footage and live "actors" folded into each other through animation and editing. As Isakov tells it, "John Grigsby is one of the most creative animators and musicians I know. I love how our collaboration with this video took shape. I think that's why I love playing with John in the band, as well. Songs, for me, don't really exist in the literal world. I love how this video allows the viewer to dream up their own take on the song."
Gregory Alan Isakov and the Colorado Symphony is out now and available at iTunes and Amazon.com
John Prine (feat. Susan Tedeschi) - Color of the Blues - For Better, Or Worse - Oh Boy / Thirty Tigers
Jerry Douglas - Monroe's Hornpipe - Under The Wire - Sugar Hill
Amos Lee - Spirit - Spirit - Republic
Gary Clark Jr. - Take Me Down - Gary Clark Jr. - Warner Bros.
Steve Earle - The Gulf Of Mexico - I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive - New West
Ani DiFranco - Allergic To Water (in-studio) - Folk Alley Exclusive - Live from the 30A Songwriters Festival - Folk Alley Exclusive
Ani DiFranco - Play God (in-studio) - Folk Alley Exclusive - Live from the 30A Songwriters Festival - Folk Alley Exclusive
Ani DiFranco - Binary (in-studio) - Folk Alley Exclusive - Live from the 30A Songwriters Festival - Folk Alley Exclusive
Pete Seeger (w/ B.Bragg,Ani D,S.Earle) - Bring Them Home - SEEDS:Songs of Pete Seeger Vol 3 - Appleseed
Pete Seeger - If I Had a Hammer - Sing-A-Long - Smithsonian
Martin Sexton - Shut Up and Sing - Mixtape of the Open Road - Kitchen Table
We Banjo 3 - Good Time Old Time - String Theory - We Banjo 3
Uncle Earl - Bony on the Isle of St. Helena - Waterloo, Tennessee - Rounder
Norah Jones - Carry On - Day Breaks - Blue Note
The Little Willies - I Gotta Get Drunk - The Little Willies - Milking Bull
Dietrich Strause - Rainy Days - How Cruel That Hunger Binds - Dietrich Strause
Shawn Colvin - Not A Drop Of Rain - Uncovered - Fantasy/Concord
The Foghorn Stringband - Columbus Stockade Blues - Devil In the Seat - Foghorn Music
Anna & Elizabeth - Heap of Horses - Sun To Sun - Free Dirt
O'Connor Band with Mark O'Connor - Always Do - Coming Home - Rounder
Bob Weir - Only A River - Blue Mountain - Columbia/Legacy
Grateful Dead Tribute - Friend of the Devil - Pickin' on the Grateful Dead: Tribute - CMH
Grateful Dead - Monkey and the Engineer - Reckoning - Arista
The Stray Birds - All the News - Magic Fire - Yep Roc
Amy Helm - Good News - Didn't It Rain - Entertainment One
Folk Alley's weekly, syndicated radio show, hosted by Elena See, is produced by WKSU (NPR-affiliate in Kent, OH). The show is available for free to stations via PRX.org or directly from WKSU via FTP for non-PRX members. Stations may air the show as either a one-, or two-hour program. The Folk Alley Radio Show is presently carried by approximately 50 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com
Posted by Linda Fahey at 4:07 PM
Hear It First: Dietrich Strause, 'How Cruel That Hunger Binds'
When Dietrich Strause decided he wanted to make a new record, he recruited a bunch of the most talented folks in the New England indie-folk scene, including Alec Spiegelman, Lyle Brewer, Amy Correia, and Mark Erelli, then got Zachariah Hickman and Sam Kassirer to helm the whole thing at Great North Sound Society in Parsonsfield, Maine. The result, 'How Cruel That Hunger Binds,' is an artistic work that feels simultaneously big and small: It has a broad vision coupled with an intimate execution.
Punctuated with horns here, vibes there, and woodwinds elsewhere, the aural landscape expands and contracts to suit the needs of each piece. Though much of the overarching production credit surely goes to Hickman, it all begins with the songs with which Strause has an intriguing relationship.
"The songs I write are some of my closest friends -- which is why, in the past, recording music was a type of grieving. Committing to an approach or a particular take of a song was saying goodbye to an old friend for the last time, like waving from the window of a car you're not driving," Strause says. "But throughout recording 'How Cruel That Hunger Binds,' I felt like I was making new friends; I was on the other end of the cycle. I didn't dwell on what I was losing, but embraced all that I was gaining. I think it's a fitting musical backdrop for the lyrics, which revolve around desire, love, lust, and adventurous hearts."
Highlights of the set include "The Beast That Rolls Within," "Spring Has Sprung," and "Boy Born to Die." According to Strause, "The album's title comes from 'Boy Born to Die,' but the song that holds the essence of the album is 'Lying in Your Arms.' There's a cruelty in the cycle of our nature -- we destroy to survive. We say goodbye to old friends to make way for new ones. The Beatles sang, 'All You Need is Love,' but I suppose these songs are about how all you need is to love."
'How Cruel That Hunger Binds' will be released August 26 and is available for pre-order at iTunes and HERE.
A lot of roots music lovers have watched Sara Watkins (and her brother Sean) grow up, personally and professionally, over the past couple of decades. As members of Nickel Creek and the Watkins Family Hour band, the two are bound together in many hearts and minds. But they both have solo careers, as well, and Sara's new set, 'Young in All the Wrong Ways,' does much to establish her singular, crystalline voice, literally and musically. The impressive collection marks a stepping out for her... and a coming of age.
Kelly McCartney: What was different about your songwriting approach on this set?
Sara Watkins: There was a point that I started to become aware that songs were starting to come out, and I could feel that I still had more to say. This led to a chunk of time in which, whenever I could, I'd wake up around 7:30 or 8, make coffee, and -- without looking at my phone to check email, texts or news -- sit outside at a table with a guitar and some paper. I got some good work done out there.
Did you have a sonic vision going in or did that evolve?
The sonic vision was pretty broad strokes. It was more about getting the right musicians in the room together. That was the primary focus. I knew this wouldn't be a solo-heavy record. I knew there wouldn't be a ton of fiddle on it, but wanted it to feel more orchestral.
There are quite a few different styles on this thing, but it comes off as cohesive. What conscious choices did you make to tie them together?
Thank you. This is the first of my records on which I wrote or co-wrote all the songs. I think it helps that the lyrical voice is consistent throughout. Even though the album covers a lot of subjects over time, it all came through me.
"Move Me" feels like the biggest curve ball of the collection. How does it feel to push yourself -- and your voice -- to that edge? And how do people respond to it?
Interesting. I love singing "Move Me." It comes out pretty naturally live. Audiences have been receptive to this new material -- it's been great touring so far and there is much more to do.
Because you regularly collaborate with Sean, do you guys strategize together on the timing of all your various projects, or do you each just go with the flow?
You know, we actually do a little bit. We had to take a five-month break from our monthly Watkins Family Hour residency in L.A. because our tours were directly opposite from each other. He'd come home from his tour and the next day I'd leave for my tour. It was ridiculous. Now we have started to try and coordinate a few breaks here and there in our touring so we can keep the Family Hour fairly consistent.
'Young In All the Wrong Ways' is out now on New West Records and available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Anyone worried about the legacy of Levon Helm and The Band need not worry; the first 10 seconds of The Stray Birds' new album, Magic Fire will ease your mind in more ways than one. Produced by Larry Campbell, a man who was actually in Levon Helm's band (and who also has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Willie Nelson), the record was created in 10 days in New York State's Hudson Valley. Campbell's studio served as a retreat for the group, who had never worked with an outside producer. His vision aligned with theirs, plus he offered to play on whatever song they wanted. His production-lead and contributions on pedal steel, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar have taken this band to the next level.
Magic Fire - The Stray Birds' fourth full-length album - sees the band expanding and broadening their sound while adding Shane Leonard (drums/percussion/vocals) as a new member. Leonard heightens that rhythmic quality that the group always had and his groove settles right in on record. He'll be bringing it out on the road too, as he's now an official member of the band in concert as well as in the studio.
The first thing that strikes you when listening to The Stray Birds is the voice of Maya de Vitry, who also plays acoustic guitar and fiddle. In the past, her vocal style was the center the band, with Oliver Craven (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, fiddle, slide guitar, mandolin) and Charlie Muench (vocals, upright bass) as important supporting roles. The depths that de Vitry's voice reaches are quite unusual and extremely captivating. You could write an entire essay on the emotions this woman is able to encompass on just one song. However, discounting the contributions of the very talented Craven and Muench would be unwise. Craven's smart writing and sharp playing abilities are incomparable, while Muench's steady bass beat and vocals add to the distinct character of The Stray Birds. This album proves to be their most collaborative release with songwriting contributions from each member, including Muench's first complete composition "Where You Come From."
Something that has remained constant through their change in sound is The Stray Birds sweeping and massive harmonies. The band has masterfully crafted their choruses, which bring to mind those amazing refrains you'd hear from The Band in songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." If the late Levon Helm were still around, you know he'd be hosting this young band at one of his famous Midnight Rambles at his barn in Woodstock, NY.
The Stray Birds' Magic Fire is out via Yep Roc Records on Friday, August 19 and is available for pre-order HERE!