We join the folk music community in mourning the loss of our friend, singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave who passed away yesterday (May 21) from a rare form of cancer, and extend our deepest condolences to Jimmy's family, friends and loved ones.
Jimmy will always hold a very special place in the larger folk music community, and in particular among his Austin, Texas tribe. He'll forever be remembered for his poignant songs and deeply moving vocals, and for his kindness, humor, grace and generosity.
As a tribute, we've put together a 20-song playlist of some of our favorite Jimmy LaFave songs. If you're not familiar with Jimmy's music, we especially hope you'll listen.
Life, just as with nature, is comprised of seasons. Infancy, youth, middle-age, and old-age are familiar milestones, but even within those phases, we each experience the metaphorical mountains, valleys, and deserts that make up a life well-lived. And though their journeys might be more public and artistic, creative folks' ebbs and flows are no different. Such is certainly the case with Chris Kasper.
For his new album, O, the Fool, Kasper found his muse in a tarot card of the same name that depicts a traveling jester (or vagabond, depending on the deck) with all his belongings bundled in a handkerchief and tied to a stick flung over his shoulder. "The Fool, in the tarot deck, usually represents a new beginning and end to something in your old life," Kasper explains. "It also signifies important decisions that involve an element of risk. For me, I felt this record was doing this, in a musical and lyrical sense. It also sounds a lot like my own personal and musical evolution."
Indeed, Kasper has made intentional artistic strides away from his last effort, Bagabones, which was chock full of minor keys and weird sounds, and toward a lighter lushness that represents and reflects the journey he, himself, made over the past few years. "These songs became small journeys in themselves, even lyrically, traveling from the east to the west," he notes, "through cycles of love, second guesses, car troubles, longing for lazy mornings, letting go, and starting over. "
The song titles, themselves - "City by the Sea," "Moving West," "State Trooper," and "Love Letter from Santa Fe," among others - trace his steps and tell his story across a musical landscape that is both soulful and playful.
"I learned a lot from arranging strings on the last record and I wanted to try more of that," Kasper adds. "My method was to keep the tunes fairly simple in structure, even abandoning choruses in some songs in favor of tag lines or dressing them up with strings, horns, and piano. It felt like a good and challenging road for me to explore."
O, the Fool is out on June 2. Pre-released singles from the album are available now at iTunes.
Subjective interpretation is one of the fundamental components of art. Where some see chaos, others see order. Where some sense rage, others sense passion. In Pieta Brown's "Street Tracker," some might experience tenderness and vulnerability in both purpose and practice. But the artist herself experiences something completely different.
"The spark for 'Street Tracker' was a photograph I saw of a motorcycle not long after getting home from being on the road touring," she says. "I saw a kind of openness, freedom, and power in the machine. I hear and feel this same mix in Mark Knopfler's guitar playing."
Of course, vulnerability and courage are inextricably linked, so perhaps this song (like most of Brown's music) lives in the space between the two, in the transformation of those qualities into the artwork that represents them. Like the power in even the gentlest of streams that slowly, gradually, defiantly wears down the stones that stand in its path, "Street Tracker" is both calming and clarion.
Translating those qualities into a visual piece would, necessarily, demand a certain sensitivity. "For the video, I wanted to continue the collaboration aspect of the Postcards project and invited the mesmerizing aerial silks performer Mimi Ke to work together," Brown notes. "She so gracefully manages to convey this same spirit of openness, freedom, and power that I first saw in that photograph. Making the video of her choreography and performance was extra fun, and I remain mesmerized."
Pieta Brown's latest album, Postcards, is out now and available at iTunes and Amazon.com
If you're lucky, it'll be one or two songs on an album that instantly grab you and draw you in. Maybe three songs, if you're really fortunate. If all the stars have aligned, Jupiter and Mars share a rising sun and moon phase, and the universe has (somehow, in its infinite wisdom) discerned that you need good music around you, you'll find an album where you connect with half the songs. That's as rare as a blue moon, though - I can count on one hand (ok, maybe two hands) how often that has happened.
That's why Transient Lullaby is such an extraordinary body of work: not one, not two, not even half, but each and every song on The Mastersons' newest release has something that's going to draw you in and keep you there, hanging on to every word, every phrase, every guitar lick or violin line.
And there are a lot of guitars and violins. Mandolins, too. Dobros. Organs. Harmonicas. Other string instruments and percussion instruments galore. In their infinite wisdom, Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore explore a huge sound world, blowing it wide open with lush orchestration, gorgeous string arrangements, a mix of acoustic and electric sounds and spot-on vocal harmonies that, more often than not, don't resolve to the chord you think they're going to resolve to - one more reason to keep listening, as you think to yourself: "What will this duo think to do next?"
That's also a question you might ask them when it comes to their career trajectory - what will The Mastersons think to do next? If they're not touring as a duo, they're on the road with Steve Earle, as part of his band The Dukes. And it's that nonstop motion, exhausting for some, that energizes this husband and wife team. "When you travel like we do, if your antenna is up, there's always something going on around you," reflects guitarist/singer Chris Masterson. "Ideas can be found everywhere. The hardest thing to find is time."
The Mastersons did find the time, though, and used it wisely, creating an album that's filled with images and ideas of wanderlust ("Transient Lullaby"), relationships that come and go ("Highway 1"), devoted lovers (the Neil Young-esque "Fire Escape") and cautious optimism in an uncertain future ("Perfect").
The Mastersons' laid back groove brings to mind the best of 1960s and 70s folk pop while their unusual arrangements and surprising vocal harmonies place them firmly in the present. And it's the unique lens they use to look at the world around them (and us), not to mention their seemingly endless supply of energy, that ensures they'll be singing and playing long into the future.
In Review: Guest DJ, Kim Ruehl from 'No Depression'
May 11, 2017
Kim Ruehl, editor-in-chief for the roots journal No Depression, joined Cindy Howes for a Guest DJ hour showcasing the music highlighted in the most recent in-print edition.
For summer of 2017, No Depression took a trip around the world (well, figuratively, even though Kim would have LOVED to travel to make this issue) to places like Honduras, Israel, Japan, Northern Ireland and more. The articles highlight and focus on International music, but not just "world music" in general. Much care has been taken to examine and present "folk music" from each of these countries. From stories about a 50-year-old Japanese bluegrass band (Bluegrass 45) to a traditional Scottish group who invents their own instruments including the "Sporkinator" (which is made of utensils, obviously).
Once again, No Depression collects unique and interesting stories that reflect folk and roots music. This time around, they expertly showcase the genre from a global perspective.
Find out more about No Depression and about becoming a subscriber HERE.
They'rrrrrrrrrrre bbbbbbaaaaaaacckk! Yep, it's true. With their tight vocal harmonies, technical virtuosity on fiddle and guitar, and a sense of intimacy borne out of years and years of making music (and a life) together, The Mammals are back and stronger than ever.
Since there are just a few things happening in the world right now, Ruthy Ungar and Mike Merenda, along with Ken Maiuri (piano), Konrad Meissner (drums), Jacob Silver (bass), and Andy Stack (harmony vocals), figured that 2017 was a good time to get the band back together. Music, after all, can help us figure out what's going on in the world and can help us figure out how to talk about what's going on in the world, too.
The band's first two singles ("Culture War" and "My Baby Drinks Water") take a strong political stance - they don't shy away from sharing very honest opinions about the state of the world. But The Mammals know the importance of taking a break every now and again, too. And that's what "Lilac Breeze" is - a sort of gentle, open the windows and let the fresh air in, soul cleanser of a song. And the vivid imagery in "Lilac Breeze" definitely touches your soul - and your nose, too.
"There's at least one week every spring when our purple and white lilac trees fill our little Catskill Mountain yard with the most glorious fragrance," Mike Merenda says. "Last year we were lucky enough to be home during May and I was swept away by springtime's magic. Whatever I was worried about that day seemed to fade into oblivion. This song attempts to bottle up a little of that contentment, when everything falls into place and you're happy just being where you are. Easier said than done. It helps to be surrounded by lilacs!"
Since the release of our last full-length album,Lost at Last, we have traveled thousands of miles and played hundreds of shows to a wide range of audiences. Every performance has been completely unique and we learn something new about ourselves, and our music at every show. Maybe Believe was written while touring, and we got a chance to road test many of the tunes and let them grow as music will over the course of many performances. Other tunes were purposely left in their most basic form to be completed in the studio with the guidance of our producer, Dave King (The Bad Plus).
This is our second album with Dave. The first time we worked with him, he helped us figure out our identity as a band, and he was a major influence on our overall sound. Two years later with Maybe Believe, he recognized that the trio had grown into a fully formed, road-tested, musical idea, and his goal in the studio was to capture the spontaneous energy of our live show... and we did!
In true Jon Stickley Trio fashion,Maybe Believe features original compositions that represent the band's next evolutionary step, as well as covers by Aphex Twin and Bill Monroe. From its crowd-funded beginnings, to the music, to the artwork, I am more proud of Maybe Believe than any project I have recorded to date. I hope people enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it!
'Maybe Believe' is out on May 12th and is available for pre-order HERE.