Sometimes, a voice comes along at the exact moment in history that it very much needs to be heard. Though Rhiannon Giddens first stepped up to the mic as part of the Sankofa Strings and Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005, it's on her truly stunning new album, 'Freedom Highway,' that she truly finds her voice and offers it to the voiceless so that we may, perhaps, finally hear them.
Throughout the song cycle, Giddens inhabits and interpolates various characters from across Black history. There's the young slave girl in "At the Purchaser's Option" who clings to herself and the child born from, presumably, a master's rape. There are the four young victims immortalized in Richard Fariña's "Birmingham Sunday" about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by the Ku Klux Klan. There's the man who represents far too many shot by police for [insert action here] while Black in "Better Get It Right the First Time."
While many of the threads Giddens weaves together here represent victims, there is a palpable defiance in each strand. The fists of these characters aren't clinched for revenge; they are raised in power and in solidarity. Their gaze is focused not on their oppressors, but on the justice that looms out on the distant horizon, just barely in sight, but in sight, nonetheless. And, by keeping these stories alive, Giddens is doing her part to make sure that justice is not a mirage. In a year offering an embarrassment of roots music riches, Rhiannon Giddens' glorious 'Freedom Highway' is set to be one of the most important and, indeed, one of the most potent.
'Freedom Highway' is out now on Nonesuch Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
In Review: Guest DJ Kelly McCartney from The Bluegrass Situation
March 22, 2017
Kelly McCartney, Editorial Director at The Bluegrass Situation, joined Cindy Howes on Folk Alley for a new music preview for the month of March. McCartney shared new songs from familiar favorites like Hurray for The Riff Raff, Sera Cahoone and Aimee Mann and a lot of great newer acts like Juile Byrne and Mipso.
Listen below to the entire hour of selections from Kelly and hear what's been catching her ear lately.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 6:38 PM
Video Premiere: The Steel Wheels, "Scrape Me Off The Ceiling"
Can getting bad news be...a good thing? Well, no. Of course not. But it can help to shine the spotlight on the things in our lives that need work, that need to be changed. And shining the light on things that need to be changed is what The Steel Wheels' new song and video, "Scrape Me Off the Ceiling," is all about.
Hailing from the Blue Ridge Mountains region in Virginia, the four band members first branded themselves as The Steel Wheels in 2010, though they've been making music since three of them first met at Eastern Mennonite University in 2004. In the seven years since they officially became The Steel Wheels, Trent Wagler, Eric Brubaker, Brian Dickel, and Jay Lapp have developed an easy, comfortable rapport that lends itself to the kind of intimate recording environment that worked so well for their new recording 'Wild As We Came Here.'
Working with an outside producer for the first time, the band recorded in Maine at producer Sam Kassirer's rural farmhouse/recording studio. Band member Trent Wagler (banjo, guitar) says making the album was, more than anything else, just "like a bunch of friends hanging out making some hits and having fun."
And, boy, do these musicians have fun. Whether they're mixing martinis, editing lyrics, or playing for a crowd of music lovers, the band talks, laughs and makes music with an intense kind of joy.
That intense joy comes to life in the video for "Scrape Me Off the Ceiling"- the bandmates and friends look like they're having a blast in between shots of chickens wandering around and the kind of technicolor leaves you only ever see in the Northeast. Trent Wagler, who wrote the song and presented it to the band, says it's "a celebration of bad news and how it clarifies what we need to work on...I'm a little suspicious of success and more able to get my bearings when there's a problem to work on."
"The video," Wagler continues, "is a mix of studio moments in Maine and a lot of candid shots on and off stage - a lot of which comes from our festival, Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Mt. Solon, Virginia. I think this video gives you a chance to see the real musician doing really real things with other very real people. It has an authentic feel."
'Wild As We Came Here' is due out May 5th and is available for pre-order, HERE.
If ever there were a "Hardest Working Band" award,Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors might well be nominated to take it home: in 2015, after more than a decade of making music together, this hard working, East Nashville based band released Medicine, an album that made several "best of the year" lists and an album that was, according to front man Drew Holcomb, their "arrival record."
And now that they've "arrived," Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors don't plan on leaving anytime soon, as they prove with their brand new release, out March 24, Souvenir. Produced by Joe Pisapia and Ian Fitchuk, the same team that helped bring Medicine to life, Souvenir is, Holcomb says, "probably my favorite album I've ever made."
And with a song like "Rowdy Heart, Broken Wing" it's not hard to understand why he feels that way.
It's a deceptively simple song, only about two and a half minutes long, with a single voice and a few nicely reverbed instruments (banjo, guitar, pedal steel) that gradually build up to a lush swell of sound.
There are no complicated harmonies here, no virtuosic guitar riffs. Instead, interspersed with short sentences about loss and desire, Holcomb's rough and rumbly voice repeats a single plaintive phrase over and over again: "Got a rowdy heart and a broken wing."
A catchy phrase, for sure. But think about it more closely: a rowdy heart and a broken wing. You want to do so much, to feel so much, to experience so much - that's your nature. And yet...you can't. You are unable to fulfill your own heart's desires and there's not a thing you can do about it.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, 'Souvenir' is out on March 24 on Magnolia Music and is available for pre-order at iTunes and Amazon.com
Admit it: when you're home alone and your favorite song comes on the radio (or pops up on your playlist), you start singing and dancing around the kitchen, maybe playing a little air guitar or drums, and just generally having a great time. Sometimes, when you hear the right song, you just have to move.
Well, you're in good company:Phoebe Hunt feels that way, too.
Fiddler, singer-songwriter, and Texas swing chanteuse Phoebe Hunt started making waves as a member of The Belleville Outfit about 7 years ago and has since gone on to pursue a solo career. (She also works with a band she calls The Gatherers.) She loves music with her whole body - you can see it for yourself when you watch the video for one of her new songs, "Lint Head Gal."
With a twang in her voice and some energetic air fiddling to accompany her, Hunt tells the story of a woman who is absolutely determined to make her own way in the world. Does she need education? Nope. How about a man? Nah, she had one and ran off because she got bored. Love isn't necessary to survival, either, and family members and friends are overrated.
Hunt says, "'Lint Head Gal' is the story of a revolutionary woman. During the time of industrialization in American history, many women moved from the country into the cities to create an independent life for themselves, free from the shackles of the patriarchal paradigm they had been raised within. Often times these women ended up in factory jobs, barely skimming by. This quest meant being rough and tough and ready to do almost anything for freedom. 'Lint Head Gal' embodies that woman and her quest for personal liberty."
Hunt punctuates these statements of power and determination with her hands and feet, spinning around the room with a feeling of wild abandon. At moments, there's such exuberance in her movements, she looks like she might actually take flight. Like the character she's singing about, Phoebe Hunt is clearly going to do things her own way - and she's clearly going to have a fabulous time while she does it.
You'll find "Lint Head Gal" on Phoebe Hunt & The Gatherers' new recording, Shanti's Shadow, due out this spring. The single is available now at iTunes and Amazon.com.