Round about five years ago, Paul Wright and Tim Harrington started busking on the streets of Boston playing cello and guitar, and singing harmonies to any and all who would listen. Since then, they've become Tall Heights, evolving their sound as they logged the miles. Their new release -- 'Holding On, Holding Out' -- is the result of that on-the-road refinement. The two still sing together, it's just that the harmonies have been largely traded for a different approach.
Harmonies are at the core of what you guys do. Which artists inform your style? And are there parts your voices naturally fit in relation to each other, or do you get a little crazy sometimes and experiment?
Paul Wright: For harmonies, of course we dig the greats: Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles. More recently, we've been admiring the work of the Milk Carton Kids, Lucius, Darlingside, and so many more. Usually, I sing lower and Tim sings higher, but that's barely true anymore. We switch so much.
On the new EP, it's primarily singing in unison. What prompted that shift?
PW: I think we had already found that singing together sounds sweet when we do it well, then we heard Lucius doing it a ton and were like "yep." I think Lucius showed us and our good buddies, Darlingside, the value of the oft-overlooked harmony part known as unison. Same notes, same words, same octave. It's a great part and it's really hard to sing well. Anyone can sing a major third above a melody and it'll sound pretty damn good, but it took us a long time to get to a place where unison would readily lock in. We pretty much abuse the unison now. Darlingside's been digging into the world of unison a lot, too. I think we found it together.
Often enough, when artists fold electronic elements into their music, they forsake melodies in favor of beats. How did you guys approach that evolution?
PW: We write our songs as we always have: two dudes in the trenches developing ideas that excite us. Once the song is developed enough, it tells us what else it needs. Sometimes that's nothing more, sometimes it's a juicy-sounding beat from the 1980s. Two phases of one process, usually dealt with at different times, and hopefully neither forces the other to compromise. There's always room for great melodies and sick beats. I mean that's what great pop music is: from the Beatles to Daft Punk.
Icelandic music... GO!
PW: Asgeir and Sigur Ros really inspired us from a production standpoint. We love the cinematic and mixed-media approach to their recordings. Truth is, we don't know a ton about the Icelandic scene other than that a few of their bands have really inspired us in a real way. And it seems like there's so much more for us to discover and learn from the Icelandic music scene, which seems to be thriving.
The two of you have been collaborating for five years now. Looking back and looking forward, did you expect to be where you are at this point? And where do you hope to be in another five?
PW: Ha! Five years ago, I was pretty sure we'd be huge by now. Here we are though -- still driving in the same minivan around the country, believing more than ever that we need to keep going. I guess that's the unchanging factor: I (and we) believe in us more strongly than ever. Our sound has changed in ways that I never would have forecasted and that's awesome because the process has been so organic and natural.
Here's where I'm at regarding a five-year plan: In five years, I want to be happy. Music makes me tremendously happy, and I know I'll be playing and creating it until I'm old and irrelevant, but fashioning a five-year plan around a business - this business - that's as unpredictable as it is unfair and shitty is definitely no way to find happiness in a sustainable way. We'll keep walking through open doors and caring a lot, and we'll see where that takes us.
David Ramirez's new album, Fables, is a jewel in the 2015 Americana crown and a must-listen for anyone who has ever waged a personal war with the capital "t" Truth. Problem is, the first two cuts of the album are so good, it's hard to get past them to explore the other eight.
"Communion" opens the set with an easy sway of a groove -- one which belies the potency of the song's message. Ramirez first details taking communion at a Southern Baptist church before describing what would later come to serve as his chosen worship. "I stood in long lines just to do a few lines and I stumbled down the block as the sun was coming up," Ramirez sings, offering a glimpse into his own personal darkness. "Well, honey, you asked where I came from. I've come from a lot of different places. Oh, but I hope that I'll end up right next to you." And that's all he has to say on the subject. The rest, he leaves up to the guitars to explain.
Then comes "Harder to Lie," the emotional centerpiece of the record that documents the internal journey Ramirez took over the course of way-too-many miles of driving around the country alone. It picks up the story where "Communion" left off: "When it comes to loving me, you best be ready because this will get heavy when you learn just what I am. I fed you fables and fooled you with words from my tongue trying to make you think I was a better man than I was." But, now, he's coming clean... with himself and with his lover. He's breaking down the walls and laying it all on the line. This is heartfelt and headstrong stuff.
The stunning contemplations and confessionals continue across the remaining tracks, with the thread of reckoning and the passion of Ramirez tying it all together.
War. So much meaning, so much emotion, so much sorrow and anger and sadness and fear and uncertainty packed into one, tiny, little word...a word the whole world is talking about these days.
War. It's what Kristin Andreassen pondered as she wrote "How the Water Walks," which you'll find on the album she released earlier this year, Gondolier.
"How the Water Walks" is "about war," Andreassen says. "It's about how they start, which I'm suggesting has more to do with fear than with aggression or desire."
The song, which is filled with haunting imagery and thought-provoking lyrics, feels...personal. Perhaps due to the "body" percussion Andreassen uses throughout, perhaps because the idea of being totally alone in the woods is a bit daunting, perhaps because the horror of war is in direct contradiction to the peace of the great outdoors. With soft hand claps and foot taps echoing the gentle splish splash of water against rocks, if you close your eyes, it's like you're right there in that tent, too.
The song is more than powerful enough on its own. But right about this time last year, Andreassen and musician-artist-creator Anna Roberts-Gevalt teamed up to produce something that adds another dimension to it, another layer for the listener to experience.
Roberts-Gevalt is one-half of Anna and Elizabeth, a duo that strives to present traditional music to a whole new audience of music lovers with amazing voices, fantastic instrumentation and...crankies (hand-cranked pictorials crafted from fabric, yarn and other colorful elements).
It wasn't exactly a crankie that Andreassen wanted for their collaboration: "I just wanted it to be something that inspired her [Roberts-Gevalt], and I wanted it to be something that we could re-create live on a special occasion...I was hoping she'd do something similar but different for this video."
And...she did. "Anna brainstormed images and approaches for me on a private blog...one of the pictures she posted there was of her grandfather on D-Day, in a boat, about to land in France...I was really drawn to that."
For her part, Roberts-Gevalt says she "started reading and thinking about what it would be like, to be waiting for war, the way Kristin is in the song. I am not sure, really, that the video centers on a war on particular - just imagining it. Which is also why I liked using shadows - you only see the shadow of an image I painted, which seem to echo the way memories and imagination works in the mind."
Using a string-filled wooden box, flashlights, photographs and original art, the steam from a tea kettle, and of course, shadows, Andreassen and Roberts-Gevalt have created another way for any listener to experience "How the Water Walks": it's a mini-movie, a tiny story brought vividly to life in black and white and gray.
Andreassen says she wants anyone who watches to "feel the presence of me the 'singer' or 'narrator' and to get a sense of the organic nature of the soundscape...I went back to Anna's and said just shine a flashlight on me and film the shadow of me doing the rhythm...it hopefully helps the song feel more like folk music and less like 'studio magic.' Both the song and the video are very human-scale, organic projects, which I think is important given the content."
Steve Earle - Dirty Old Town - Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl - Compass
Rufus & Martha Wainwright - Sweet Thames, Flow Softly - Joy of Living: A Tribute to Ewan MacColl - Compass
Mark Erelli - By Degrees - [single] - Mark Erelli
Justin Roth - The Weaver of Avoca - Shine - Justin Roth
Ani Difranco - Coming Up - The Silverwolf Story (compilation) - SilverWolf
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 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 over 38 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com
Much like Joshua Radin and Damien Rice, Joshua Hyslop puts a contemporary spin on the classic form that is folk music with his new album, 'In Deepest Blue.' There's a softness to his approach, that's more tender than light due to the candor with which he crafts his songs and the sparseness in which he frames them.
"The Flood," the set's opening track, grounds itself with an unburdened drum groove which adds just enough support for the whole piece to ebb and flow along as the mandolin and acoustic guitar rise and fall... which is exactly how Hyslop intended it to be.
"I wrote this song after I'd been feeling really numb for quite a while. It helped pull me out of that place and got me feeling hopeful again," Hyslop says. "I think the video (directed by Nancy Lee) and the song both do a good job of showcasing the importance of letting go of the past and moving on."
Toronto is known as a music city by both residents and visitors. Folk Alley spoke to two bands who hold onto this reputation, as well as expand it, in different ways. Fiddle & Banjo, the duo of Karrnnel Sawitsky and Daniel Koulack bring out an old-time aesthetic, combining classic American folk songs with Anglo- and French-Canadian and Metis tunes on their latest set, fittingly titled 'Tunes from the North, Songs from the South.' The Slocan Ramblers represent the bluegrass end of the continuum, finding their influence in the gritty, real-life underbelly of the city, and their West End neighborhood. This red-hot roots band expand on these themes on new work 'Coffee Creek.'
We spoke to both bands about their music, their city, and how these two things reflect and influence each other.
Gideon Thomas: I wanted to start off by asking you about your respective albums; to Karrnnel and Daniel - how and why did you decide to tap into an old-time Canadian influence?
Karrnnel: The old-time Canadian influence is something that came instinctively to both of us right from day 1 in this collaboration. Daniel and I both come from backgrounds of Canadian traditional music and so it was natural for us to gravitate toward an album rooted in traditional music. I would say in our individual musical projects we have both followed a similar journey: new original music rooted in traditional styles - really trying to continue to grow the repertoire and create our own sound. So with this new Fiddle & Banjo album we wanted to focus on the traditional Canadian influence that shaped us individually, but also focus on making our interpretations of old time repertoire.
Daniel: The Canadian fiddle tradition and more specifically the prairie fiddle tradition is incredibly rich. It encompasses so many styles reflecting the different populations that ended up on the prairies - Metis, French-Canadian, Ukrainian, Scottish along with the over arching influence of Don Messer and Andy Desjarlis. As an "urban" musician from Winnipeg I have only become acquainted with this music in the last ten or fifteen years, though I have been playing Appalachian tunes for forty years! Karrnnel, however was literally born into this tradition with two older sisters that are excellent fiddle players, an accordion playing father and a mother who liked to dance to Don Messer in the kitchen.
The five string banjo is not a part of this musical tradition - but as we know, banjo and fiddle sound great together, and there are so many great tunes from the North... so why not?!!!
And to the Slocan Ramblers, you've been described as playing ''working class' bluegrass roots' - can you tell us a little more as to what this means to you and how it relates to your experience in Toronto.
Ramblers: The band got its start with a weekly gig in Toronto. We played every Tuesday from 10:00pm to 1am for two years at a bar called the Cloak and Dagger. It was a rowdy bar and the audience didn't seem to respond much to the more polished bluegrass sound. We got used to playing rowdy sets of high-energy bluegrass. That gig definitely helped shape the sound of the band. Over two years the band definitely got a reputation for hard driving high-energy shows.
(BOTH) Talking of Toronto, I wanted to ask both groups about the city - tell us about the musical scenes here and how they influence you.
K: I have been living in Toronto for just over 2.5 years now and there are 2 things that really stand out to me about this city musically. First is the amount of quality live music that happens every day and night. I have never experienced living in a city where I feel like I am missing more shows, jams or sessions that would cause me to get those little inspiration dimples on the inside of your brain. Am I the only one that gets those? That feeling of seeing/hearing something that makes you so inspired the goose bumps go right on the creative part of your brain.
Secondly is the amount of incredible musicians that live in Toronto and how friendly the music community is. Since I have not been in Toronto for too long, I am still meeting more and more musicians and it seems that if I ever have a request to find, for example, a guitar player, I end up getting a list of players that I could not have imagined living any where else. Quality people, quality musicians!!
The combination of the amazing musicians in Toronto along with the amount of great music that comes thru this great city is very positively shaping my music and my musical endeavors.
D: I am a Winnipegger, but I hear great things about the old-time and bluegrass scene there. I did live in Toronto in 1978 and 1979 (when I was 13 and 14). When I was there I was very lucky to have the great Ken Whitely as a school music teacher through a program called Mariposa in the schools. On Saturday mornings I would wake up at 5:00 AM and make my way to the St. Lawrence market to get the best busking spot. In one morning I made $75 which was really good money for a kid those days. I went to a camera store and purchased a good used camera with a bag full of quarters, dimes and nickels. The sales person was not impressed!
R: The music scene in Toronto really is exceptional. Any night of the week you can go see world-class music in almost any genre. In terms of bluegrass, there are regular weekly shows almost every night of the week. Most of us got into the music through seeing the Foggy Hogtown boys, a great Toronto bluegrass band. They have had a weekly at the Silver Dollar for something like 17 years now. That show was a definite influence. There is also a whole host of great singer songwriters in the city. Being able to go see someone like Corin Raymond play at the Cameron House on any given Thursday is definitely a perk of living in Toronto. There's definitely no shortage of inspiration.
(BOTH) What do you think ends up being the end result of working in the city, for you own music, and for Toronto music as a whole?
K: For my own music, I find that the high quality of musicianship around the city and the bands that pass thru the city pushes me to continue to refine, practice and push my art and my musical voice. The value of this self reflection of your art form is something that I have never taken for granted, and living in Toronto makes this possible with much more frequency. I also feel that living in a city with the vast amount of music and musical styles forces me to focus on creating a unique identity as a musician. I would rather be a new body of water rather than a big wave in an existent ocean.
In terms of the result for Toronto music as a whole, I think this notion of creative inspiration is a self-fuelling growth that will continue to grow the scene in Toronto to interesting new places. Especially in the 'old-time' scene around town, the interesting group of people that has recently moved to Toronto makes me very excited to see where it will go.
R: Being in Toronto is great for getting inspired to be a better musician and a better writer. It's not necessarily an overly competitive music scene; there is just a lot of talented people doing really interesting and stuff and setting the bar pretty high. As in a lot of cities with a surplus of great musicians, there's a lot of venues and a lot of shows happening all the time but not a whole lot of very well payed gigs. Most working musicians we know make their living on the road for the most part. Toronto seems to be the place you come home to, try out new material, write, see what other people are up to and get inspired. The result is a lot of great music happening all the time all over the city.
A couple of questions for Karrnel and Daniel: How did your collaboration of fiddle and banjo come about, and why do you think you've maintained it?
K: The first Fiddle & Banjo album came about after Daniel and I met at a music camp in southeastern Saskatchewan - the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party. Predictably and on recipe: meet, jam, laugh & smile (in a folk music way), exchange contact info .... and the rest is history. That's a pretty simple explanation, but it was really about that simple. Daniel and I are both prairie people (from Manitoba and Saskatchewan respectively) so I think the prairie spirit of doing and asking questions later had a lot to do with the first album.
For the second album, it had been a few years since the 1st fiddle and banjo and I had a big US tour in early 2015 (which Daniel was on), and so we decided to record a new album and promote it for that US tour. The first album was so fun for both of us that when we were talking about a second album it was only a question of when.
D: Karrnnel and I met at a wonderful fiddle camp in Saskatchewan called Kenosee Lake Kitchen party that we were both instructing at...you know how with certain musicians you sit down to play, and it's instant fun - it feels right. That's what happened! We both have multiple musical projects, but this definitely occupies a special place. This is our second album together and we are beginning to develop a sound. I think that we both have the feeling that we are onto something!!!
And I am intrigued by the blending of ideas and music from the US and Canada - something I've not come across a great deal of. From where did you draw the songs and tunes which have gone on to the record, and why?
K: The "Songs from the South" element on the album (the 5 American old-time songs) came about after we were lucky enough to get Joey Landreth confirmed for recording. Daniel and I rummaged thru his record collection for songs that we would want Joey to sing on the album. Going thru this process really outlined Daniel's American old-time influence in his music collection and also led us to the realization how the American old-time and Canadian old-time traditions are different, but similar.
I have been a part of the old-time Canadian fiddle scene for my whole life - I played in a family band since I was 4 and played fiddle contests, jams, workshops and camps across Canada my entire life. Clawhammer banjo was rarely present in the majority of my Canadian old-time fiddling scene growing up and yet in the American old-time scene it is much more predominant. This was an interesting insight after going thru Daniel's records. The amount of repertoire that is shared between the American and Canadian old-time traditions combined with the similarities in sensibility of styles is really the unique idea that we were trying to capture with this album in repertoire, instrumentation and style.
D: When we were in the early stages of planning this recording Karrnnel recruited the wonderful singer and dobro player Joey Landreth to join us on a few tracks. Karrnnel came to Winnipeg, and we had a listening party at my daughter's house where my old record player and all of my old records now reside. It was really fun. I forgot how good the records and my old stereo sound!!! We chose the songs from this session.
That is when we got the idea of calling the album 'Tunes From The North, Songs and From The South.' The title informed our choice of fiddle tunes - we wanted good tunes that were uniquely Canadian, a couple that were specifically from our neck of the woods, we each brought a couple of originals, and then rounded it off with the Ed Haley tunes which kind of tie it all together.
And for the Ramblers: Tell us more about the band, and how you guys came together?
R: It was kind of a happy accident. We had all been getting pretty into bluegrass and Americana music and were looking for an outlet to play. Adrian, Darryl and Alastair met in college, and Frank had met Alastair working at a local bike shop. We got together to pick some tunes and hit it off right away. We ended up opening up for a friend's band about a week later. That turned into a weekly gig which we did for a couple years. Which grew into releasing an album and touring. Somehow its ended up being a full time occupation.
And I wanted to ask about how you selected your repertoire, and why you wanted to make the tunes on the new album, and indeed the album as a whole?
R: We select most of our material on the road. We're always trying to keep the live show fresh, so we are always throwing in new tunes. What we add depends on the day, how we're feeling, what we have been listening to in the van etc. Some tunes don't work out, and some seem to just stick. They tend to evolve over time as we play them live. Sometimes we will play a tune for months before we figure out the right treatment for it. Similarly, with original material most of our writing happens on tour as well. We write and experiment a lot on the road. Last year we started doing a lot more writing, particularly getting into writing songs and lyrics. It was kind of a new thing for us, by the end of the summer we had a lot of new original material. Going into the studio seemed like the natural thing to do. It was a lot of fun focusing on our own songs. Even since recording the album we have been writing more and more.
Karrnnel Sawitsky and Daniel Koulack's (Fiddle & Banjo), 'Tunes from the North, Songs from the South' is available via iTunes and Amazon.com.
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151105
November 8, 2015
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #151105. Aired between November 6 - November 12, 2015. Hosted by Elena See
Artist - Song - Album - Label
The Steel Wheels - Winter Is Coming - Leave Some Things Behind - Big Ring
Jon Stickley Trio - Point to Point - Lost At Last - Jon Stickley
10 String Symphony - Even A Dog Has Dreams - Weight of the World - Poppychop
Norah Rendell - The Pinery Boy - Spinning Yarns - Two Tap Music
Steep Canyon Rangers - When the Well Runs Dry - Radio - Rounder
Joe Ely - Magdalene - Panhandle Rambler - Rack'em
Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You - My Favorite Picture of You - Dualtone
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi - Ladies of the Canyon - Reprise
Dave Van Ronk - Clouds (From Both Sides Now) - Dave Van Ronk & the Hudson Dusters - Verve
K.D. Lang - A Case Of You - Hymns Of The 49th Parallel - Nonesuch
The Cox Family - Honky Tonk Blues - Gone Like the Cotton - Rounder/Warner
Tommy Emmanuel - Only Elliott - It's Never Too Late - CGP Sounds / Thirty Tigers
Josh Ritter - Cumberland - Sermon On The Rocks - Pytheas
Jerry Douglas (Mumford & Sons) - The Boxer - Traveler - Rounder
Sarah Jarosz - Gypsy - Follow Me Down - Sugar Hill
The Ballroom Thieves - Archers - A Wolf In the Doorway - Blue Corn
Mr. Sun - If I Were A Bell - The People Need Light - Compass
Andrea Zonn - Where the Water Meets the Sky - Rise - Compass
Cicada Rhythm - In the Garden - Cicada Rhythm - Normaltown
The Stray Birds - Down in the Willow Garden - Borderland (EP) - The Stray Birds
Rhiannon Giddens - Up Above My Head - Tomorrow is My Turn - Nonesuch
Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Down By the Riverside - Gospel 'N' Soul Revival - Great American
Shawn Mullins - The Great Unknown - My Stupid Heart - Sugar Hill/Concord
Indigo Girls - Alberta - One Lost Day - Vanguard
Corb Lund - Run This Town - Things That Can't Be Undone - New West
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - So Familiar - So Familiar - Rounder/Concord
James Hill - Uke Talk - A Flying Leap - Borealis
Tim O'Brien - Go Down To the Water - Pompadour - Howdy Skies
The Mike + Ruthy Band - The Ghost of Richard Manuel - Bright As You Can - Humble Abode
The Band - Tears Of Rage - Music from Big Pink - Capitol
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 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 over 38 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com
Singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters has had quite a year. Following the universally praised release of 'Blackbirds' in February, she has toured the U.S. and abroad almost non-stop - with another 2016 tour slated to mark the 20th anniversary of her debut album, 'The Secret of Life.' In the here and now, as 2015 tip-toes toward a close, Peters looks back on her very busy and very fulfilling year.
Kelly McCartney: You've had quite a ride this year with 'Blackbirds.' How's that feeling and how do you follow it up?
Gretchen Peters: It was quite unexpected and I'm really thrilled. Everyone was saying, "How will you follow up 'Hello Cruel World?'" and I got to the point where I just didn't want to hear that any more. You can't keep trying to top yourself; you can only do the work that's in front of you the best you know how. As far as following this album, it's a little too early for me to think about just yet. There are a couple of side projects that I'm really interested in doing - maybe one of those will be my next thing. I have about a month of touring left before I get a good rest. We've been hitting the road pretty hard for over a year now, and I'm going to recharge my batteries before I do anything.
Its success is a testament to the fact that listeners are up for a challenging, somewhat unsettling musical experience - so long as it's crafted well. Which cuts seem to be fan favorites? And what are your favorites still to play after touring this thing all year?
"When All You Got Is a Hammer" worked well live from day one. The sleeper on the record was "The Cure for the Pain" - it turned out to be much more dramatic live than I every thought it would, and it seems to affect people strongly. The other song that's really evolved live is "Everything Falls Away," which now has an extended ending. We sometimes end our shows with it. My favorites to play are probably that one and "Nashville," which I just adore singing. I love how these songs keep evolving as we play them.
You wrote a review of the recent Rickie Lee Jones release that she responded to, and then you had lunch with her in New Orleans. That must've been a double bucket list check-off. Are you still riding that high?
Rickie Lee had such a profound influence on me as a 20-year-old that I was pinching myself the whole time we were at lunch. Even though we talked about music a lot, we also talked about lots of other things - dogs, quantum physics, the freedom that comes with being a certain age... I truly loved her latest album. She did impart some wisdom to me regarding performing - she came to our show in New Orleans two nights prior to our lunch, and stayed all night - but that little gem I am going to keep to myself.
Though you've had several releases in between, what are the biggest differences you've encountered -- in yourself and in the fans -- working this record versus 'The Secret of Life'?
I made 'The Secret of Life' 20 years ago. It feels like a lifetime. I mostly remember feeling so self-conscious, and like I was trying to please people whom I knew would never be pleased - radio consultants, music programmers, mainstream commercial country fans. I was such an odd duck. I got a lot of feedback from radio like, "She's too smart for the room" or "My wife loves this, but we're not gonna play it." What does that even mean?
But I knew in my bones there was a different path for me, and I've never regretted taking it. I got my masters back and started my own label in 2000, way before most people were doing it. I just couldn't bear the thought of not being in control of my own artistic output. As far as fans, some of them have been with me since 1996 - the faithful - but most have come along in the past 10 years or so, which is when I feel I really hit my stride as far as record-making goes. The big difference between now and then is that I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin.
As we approach year's end, there's a pretty decent chance 'Blackbirds' will land on some "Best of 2015" lists. What would that mean to you and for you?
Artists don't make these records in a vacuum. We make them for people to listen to. So, of course I'm thrilled and happy when an album I've made ends up on some of these lists, because it means more people will ultimately listen to it. And it means someone found it worthy of praise. Everyone loves validation, and I'm no different. I celebrate the victories and I try to let the losses roll off me. At the end of the day, though, I know when I've done good work, and I know when I've fallen short. I'm really proud of Blackbirds and I wouldn't change anything, even if it weren't getting so much recognition. But I'm awfully glad it is. I feel like, thematically and sonically, it's one of the strongest - if not the strongest - record I've ever made.
There's so much going on in singer/songwriter Jeffrey Foucault's voice that, if he were singing "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star," it would feel like the existential wonderings of a road-worn, world-weary celestial traveler that it is rather than a simple kids' song. Instead, on 'Salt As Wolves,' his fifth album of original compositions, Foucault offers up a collection of blues- and country-tinged tunes that are as gritty and gruff as they are haunted and haunting.
Supported by a band that includes guitarist Bo Ramsey, bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis, drummer Billy Conway, and guest vocalist Caitlin Canty, Foucault bucks and rumbles his way through highways and heartaches -- standard fare for the traveling troubadour set. But Foucault's handling of these tales is both earnest and exquisite. "Des Moines" ambles along, in no rush to get anywhere other than right where it is, setting an easy pace -- and a high bar -- for all that follows. And all that follows, whether the barroom blues of "Left This Town" or the shuffling sway of "Hurricane Lamp," delivers on that promise.
David Ramirez - That Ain't Love - Fables - Sweetworld
Robinella and the CC Stringband - This Can't Be Love - No Saint, No Prize - Big Gulley
Corb Lund - Weight of the Gun - Things That Can't Be Undone - New West
Balsam Range - Backdraft (You Light It You Fight It) - Five - Mountain Home
Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free - Something More Than Free - Southeastern
Heidi Talbot - Time - In Love + Light - Compass
The Decemberists - The Harrowed and The Haunted - Florasongs (EP) - Capitol
Brooke Annibale - Find My Way - The Simple Fear - Brooke Annibale
Ryan Adams - How You Get The Girl - 1989 - Blue Note
10 String Symphony - Mama, You Been On My Mind - Weight of the World - Poppychop
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova: Swell Season - You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - I'm Not There (soundtrack) - Columbia
Elana James - I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Snarf
Anthony D'Amato - If It Don't Work Out - The Shipwreck From The Shore - New West
Nickel Creek - House of Tom Bombadil - Nickel Creek - Sugar Hill
The Mavericks - Pardon Me - Mono - The Valory Music Co
HONEYHONEY - Whatchya Gonna Do Now - 3 - Rounder
John Hiatt - What Do We Do Now - Crossing Muddy Waters - Vanguard
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 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 over 36 stations nationally. Folk Alley also presents a 24/7 hosted Internet channel available at FolkAlley.com, TuneIn, iTunes, Live 365 and more. :: for more information contact Linda Fahey at 518-354-8077: Linda@folkalley.com
Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:36 AM
Win tickets to see Patty Griffin at the El Rey Theater in L.A.
October 28, 2015
Enter for a chance to win a pair of ticket to see Patty Griffin in concert at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on Friday, November 6th! We have two pairs of tickets to give away courtesy of Goldenvoice promotions.
Patty Griffin with Darlingside (!!)
The El Rey Theatre
5515 Wilshire Blvd,
Los Angeles, CA
Friday, November 6th
9:00 p.m. (doors at 8:00)
All Ages show
1. Visit and follow our Instagram page (@Alley_Pics) and leave a comment telling us your favorite Patty Griffin song; and/or,
Can something live comfortably in the traditions of the past, yet fully and eagerly embrace the ideals of the present at the same time? In a word: yes. And the latest recording from the Massachusetts-based band Darlingside proves it.
There are a handful of words that instantly come to mind when thinking about this quartet. Friendship, tradition, intimacy, respect, collaboration - eclectic words that work well together to describe the kind of music these guys make. And they are guys, too - four friends who've known each other for more than a decade. The quartet (Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft) met when they were all students at Williams College and they very quickly realized their combination of vocal ranges, musical ability and creative writing was compelling, to say the least.
Right from the get go, it's pretty clear to anyone who listens that Darlingside has a deep respect for the folk rock traditions of the 1960s and 1970s. At certain moments ("Go Back," "The Ancestor"), you might almost imagine you're listening to a contemporary of the Byrds, or Simon and Garfunkel, or the Beach Boys. Darlingside's harmonies are lush and lovely (and sometimes unexpected - in a good way), and the percussion-lite music they make with their guitars and cellos and banjos and fiddles and mandolins is rhythm driven and serves as the perfect frame for these four impeccably suited voices.
That Darlingside respects the traditions of the past is clear. And yet, this is a band that's also firmly fixed in today's contemporary music scene, deftly using different loop and electronic effects throughout the album - check out "Do You Live?," and, to even greater effect, "Volcano Sky." What's especially effective about 'Birds Say' is how seamless the whole thing sounds - the quartet dips back and forth between past and present easily - nothing sounds out of place, nothing sounds strange, everything flows together...and yet, surprises (an imaginary sword fight with a famous actor's doppelganger, for example, in "Harrison Ford") abound.
If you listen to just one song on this album, make it "White Horses." This is perhaps Darlingside's most obvious tribute to the folk-rock bands of the 1960s and it serves to remind us WHY those bands left such a lingering impression. There's something almost magical about the chord progressions, the gentle melding of banjo and guitar and the drone of the fiddle - not to mention the swell of the band's harmonies - that make "White Horses" the kind of song that reaches out and punches you in the heart. The lyrics drip with yearning and the whole thing serves as a reminder that our past always, somehow, effects our present. Another standout is "God of Loss." Again, in the same vein as "White Horses," the narrator looks back at the influences - some good, some bad - that shaped him into the person he is today.
Truthfully, there's something positive to be said about every track on 'Birds Say.' It's a compelling album, filled with evocative lyrics and top-notch musicianship...the kind of album that'll make anyone who hears it sit up and say, "Who IS Darlingside and when can I hear them again?"
Anyone who has followed Shawn Colvin's career for any length of time knows that she is very fond of covering songs. She can't help it. She got her start as a cover artist in a bar band. As good of a copy cat as she is, however, Colvin learned long ago that she had to make the songs her own by finding their emotional and/or musical pivot points and turning them inside out or upside down, depending on the piece. That's the beauty of interpretation, at least in the hands of a true songsmith like Colvin.
On her lastest album, 'Uncovered,' she puts her stamp on tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Robbie Robertson, Tom Waits, and others. "American Tune," "Acadian Driftwood," "Lodi," "Not a Drop of Rain," and "Hold On" all feel like natural fits for Colvin, while Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away" undergoes a complete reworking, as does Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" where Colvin swaps the wailing saxophone for a woeful steel guitar. She also invites David Crosby in to sing the harmonies. The resulting effect finds what was once a radio-friendly ditty of hope turned into a hauntingly achy dirge. And it's wonderful. Alternately, Colvin keeps some of the pep in the step of Crowded House's "Private Universe," but scales back its original, highly produced atmosphere to an intimate, solo guitar and vocal affair.
What it comes down to is this: No matter who wrote the songs, 'Uncovered' is a Shawn Colvin album through and through.
As artists move through the world, they see and feel things that less-sensitive people don't. Then, they retreat to their creative spaces and translate those experiences into music, paintings, and words, as best they can. Patty Griffin has long had her eyes and heart trained on the stories unfolding around her in the lives of the overlooked and the underestimated. Occasionally, she even turns her gaze inward to express the trials and tribulations she, herself, is enduring. With 'Servant of Love,' Griffin shares both of those perspectives wrapped up in the most elegant and urbane musical setting she's offered to date.
To be sure, Griffin has never stood still for long, musically. She quickly evolved her sound away from her brilliantly sparse 'Living with Ghosts' debut album to her wonderfully dense 'Flaming Red' second effort. Since then, she's struck various balances of folk, blues, country, jazz, and soul. 'Servant of Love' gives each of those styles their time in the sun on incredibly intricate compositions.
Because of that craftsmanship, 'Servant of Love' comes off as somewhat detached on the first and second listens. There's no "Moses," no "Goodbye," no "Rain" to hang your hat on here. Instead, from the opening piano salvo of the title track, Griffin challenges her listeners to take a journey with her. From the swampy lurch of "Gunpowder" to the gentle lilt of "Made of the Sun" to the mournful lull of "You Never Asked Me," Griffin gracefully -- sometimes heartbreakingly, always triumphantly -- climbs her way toward an artistic height she's been pointing to for 20 years now.
Some might insist that comparing Rayland Baxter to Paul Simon is inappropriate, the likening of a go-kart to a Mercedes. But that would be overly reductive and dismissive of Baxter's burgeoning talent. Baxter isn't a carbon copy of Simon, to be sure, but how can anyone listen to "Mr. Rodriguez" and not hear the similarities vocally, musically, and poetically?
Setting that comparison aside and looking at Baxter in relation to only his previous work, 'Imaginary Man' represents a sizable leap forward for him. Whereas 'Feathers & Fishhooks' found him wandering through a more rural aesthetic, this effort urbanizes the space with heartier production elements -- thick guitars, churning organs, and lush strings echo, gurgle, and swirl through cuts like "Young Man," "Oh My Captain," and "Rugged Lovers" giving Baxter's delicate tenor that much more heft. While the adventurous pieces are certainly fun and lively, offering Baxter grittier spaces in which to roam, it's the quieter moments ("Rugged Lovers" and "Lady of the Desert," in particular) that allow his inner romantic to really revel.
Rayland Baxter's 'Imaginary Man' is out now on ATO Records and is available at Amazon.com and iTunes.
After six critically acclaimed releases over the course of 10 years, the unbridled Americana force that is Langhorne Slim recently issued his seventh project, 'The Spirit Moves.' Slim got sober two years ago and became a meditator in order to harness his energy in a whole new way. The resulting songs speak for themselves, reflecting the new level of openness and clarity that have emerged in the aftermath of that seismic life shift.
Kelly McCartney: You've had a few different firsts with this new record. For one: co-writing. The results are clearly positive, but how'd that go for you in the process?
Langhorne Slim: My process on this record was... and maybe it's always been this way... I have some songs that come to me like the great gifts that songwriters have talked about from the beginning of songwriting. That occurs to me, thank goodness, from time to time. A lot of them are battles and they'll come in through bits and spurts, little pieces that are floating around my head. Eventually they start to accumulate and drive me a little crazy, and I'll just have a ton of recordings on my phone and bits and pieces floating around my head.
I didn't do it on purpose, but I was out there working with Kenny [Siegal] in Catskill, New York, and I was playing him some of the new tunes... or the ideas. He was just effortlessly, in the beginning, kind of finishing my musical thoughts in a way that I hadn't experienced ever before. And I had never really sought that out before. I don't remember the beginning stages of the process. I just recall being in Nashville and building up these songs for a month or two, starting to feel very frantic and anxious and freaked out. [Laughs] Because what happens is, eventually, you have to get this thing out or else it weighs your soul down. It becomes a physical feeling, a kind of uneasiness. To get it out is certainly therapy. Then I could be a little bit calmer for a little while until the ideas would build up again and start driving me mad. Then I would retreat to the Catskills with Kenny and we would drive each other completely bat-shit crazy, but come out with songs. [Laughs] It was certainly madness. I don't know what our method was, but... it worked. We got songs that I'm really proud of.
For two: sobriety. So what do songwriting and performing bring to your self-reflection and recovery and working through things?
I never attempted shyness through art or music. Some people connect with what I do and like it. Some people think it's too over the top. I really find strength in being open and being vulnerable, in some ways. Something like getting sober and needing to... I had a lot to prove to myself and others -- that I could take that step, make that change, and live that way, number one. Music is my air, in a lot of ways. It's the driving force in my life. I hadn't, for 15 years, performed or written or really been creative without some whiskey or wine or some other thing. I always had something. And something turned into a crutch that I was dependent on. I want to be dependent on love and friendship and music, but in a healthy, positive way -- relationships that move me and keep me on my toes.
I was a very passionate kid. It got me in a lot of trouble when I was a kid. And that fire never went away. Now I'm a passionate 35-year-old man. I was pissing on my own flame for a while and sort of tempting it to see if it would stay awake. And it did. But it was having problems. That flame needs to stay awake and alive and be a healthy fire. I think for a lot of people who are very, very passionate, you can get yourself into trouble. I've done it my whole life. One of my main goals is to keep that energy and that intensity and that passion for it all... for life, for music, and for love. But to refine it and to unite with my inner bad-ass and not be a bee-otch to anything. Because it's not me. That's not my true self.
It makes more sense now that you are a meditator which, for someone known for a sort of uninhibited energy, is a bit unexpected... and yet not. I would imagine that's part of how you are able to now refine and harness all that energy. So what are the best lessons you've learned or the best gifts you've gotten from that practice, personally and/or professionally?
To be still is an immense gift, when you put it onto yourself, when you struggle with restlessness or anxiety with addiction -- or anything, I guess. Life is beautiful, but very challenging for us all, in ways. To be still and just breathe and allow yourself to be soft and try to be kind to yourself... our society and a lot of what most of us are all about are not really tying to the soul. It's a lot of this exterior stuff that I believe is dangerous, in a lot of ways.
And I'm a part of it, too. I'm not wagging my finger. It's a lot of "Where can we go and what can we achieve outside of ourselves?" And I'm continuing to find, through music and now through meditation and other things, I don't know about the answers, but a lot of what I have been looking for is already there. I believe that deeply. Meditation can help with that. I've always been a restless guy. That restlessness and passion and fire has allowed me a career. But it also has presented me with a lot of problems and a lot of challenges.
Do you feel like the 'The Spirit Moves' is a new beginning altogether or is just the next chapter in the Life of Langhorne?
Uhhh... both. It's the new beginning of the next chapter, I guess.
Or it could be a whole other story.
It's a whole new book, but it's still little ol' me. Maybe it could be... it's not a sequel when it's a book... but, yeah, a new book but the same theme. I've opened the same heart, but it's opening in a different way. That ain't the end of that book. There's a lot more to go.
I keep talking about hippie things, like energy and spirits, but it's because I believe in it. And when these changes have been going on in my life, I've felt the shift in that energy. So when you write a song, I suppose it's going to be a little different. I didn't sit down and say, "I'm going to write a song about being sober now." Similar to when I've gone through a break-up, music never works for me like that. It's always been more of a spiritual, energetic thing in that it's not a conscious process. It moves through me. But it moves through me differently now, I suppose, than when I was always somewhere else. [Laughs] For better of for worse, I'm right here, man. For better or for worse. And I'm grateful to feel that. It's not always easy, but not everybody gets out of the other end.
Langhorne Slim's 'The Spirit Moves' is out now via Dualtone Music and available at Amazon.com
Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:07 AM
NPR Music's 'Songs We Love - Americana Edition'
September 25, 2015
Rhiannon Giddens, Patty Griffin And Shakey Graves - A Musical Conversation
by Ann Powers, NPR Music (photo by Joshua Shoemaker)
"I think songs can have different lives," said Rhiannon Giddens in the conversation that flowed throughout NPR Music's "Songs We Love: Americana Fest Edition" panel on September 16 at Nashville's historic RCA Victor Studio A. "Each song has its own way that it likes to be done, but it can be more than one way," the Carolina Chocolate Drops multi-instrumentalist and singer continued. "If you tap into it, you can feel it."
Sharing tunes and conversation with fellow Americana stars Patty Griffin and Shakey Graves, Giddens embodied the mood of the festival that would unfold over the following four days. Her selections during the daytime event, spanned Tejano music, Appalachian folk and '90s honky-tonk, illustrating the enduring truth that in a genre whose boundaries remain fluid, song craft remains the magnetic core. Griffin added to the conversation by showing how learning new things (perfecting her piano skills) and turning to old sources (re-reading James Baldwin) influenced her songwriting process on the stunning new album 'Servant of Love.' Graves, a spontaneous raconteur, reflected upon the many different versions his songs take as they evolve - the waltz version, the slow country one, the "I'm yelling at you!" one. At one point, he performed a beautiful, spare take on Townes Van Zandt's "No Place to Fall" that showed how the poetry held within a song's musical frame matters most.
Singer/songwriter Kevin Gordon grew up in the northeast corner of Louisiana, in a town called Monroe. He played in the school band, probably fished in Black Bayou, and went to football games at what was, back then, Northeast Louisiana University. Although Gordon has left Louisiana, Louisiana has never left him...or his music. The places and people that comprised his youth are ever-present in his songs, including the ones that fill his new album, 'Long Gone Time'.
Kelly McCartney: You moved to Nashville quite a while ago, but you still visit your Louisiana homeland. How have things changed or not changed down there in the past few decades?
Kevin Gordon: It's still "home" - the cliche says you can't go back, but you really can't get away from it, either. It's a fascinating, beautiful, and nasty place, full of contradictions ... the best music and food; poorly funded public schools and exceptionally corrupt, eccentric governance. There's nowhere else like it. And I keep going back. I guess I think I'm going to figure it all out somehow. Or, I just have the need to drive south for a good po-boy once in a while.
Your songs are often cited for their literary qualities. Is that a style you chose to pursue or did it choose you?
I don't believe in style as a conscious choice, at least as a way to make art or music that's honest. I just try to be true to whatever I'm hearing in my head, to what feels good and right at the time. Yes, I did go to grad school in poetry ... but I'm also, essentially, a self-taught guitar player, and my deepest ties to music have more to do with rhythm, with the body, than with any high-minded thoughts about melodic structure or lyrical complexity.
This is a three-parter: What's the trick to getting inside the heads and hearts of your characters? Do you have a favorite character? And do any of them have recurring roles in more than one song?
I don't have any tricks, though listening critically seems most important to me for just about all aspects of songwriting. You have to forget it's you when you're listening back to a draft of a song. Most of my characters are or were "real" people - so I either still hear their voices in my mind or, in the case of Brownie Ford -- who appears in two songs on 'Long Gone Time' -- I read interviews with him and combined that with the memory I have of meeting him that one time in Monroe.
I don't have a favorite character, though I have written four or five songs about a guy who closely resembles an old friend from Monroe, who doesn't seem able to keep his life together. (This friend used to come to my shows down there, and would request those songs.) There's a song on 'Gloryland' about a woman I read about in a book, called 'Local Color,' by folklorist William Ferris. She was a quilter, named Pecolia Warner, from Yazoo City, MS, and the prose on the page was in first-person, like she was just sitting there talking to you. I read the chapter on Ms. Warner and, within five minutes, had started what became the song "Pecolia's Star."
So many glowing articles about you make mention of how you are under-appreciated. But you do a pretty specific thing, musically. These aren't three-minute pop songs you're writing. Obviously, you want people to hear your music, but what's the ultimate, long-term win for you?
I just want to keep writing songs and making records, and hopefully get better at it as I go along. I think that when you start feeling too proud of, or satisfied with, your work, you've kind of lost it - the idea of why you're doing this in the first place. To stay humbled by the persistent mystery and wonder of this life feels like the most important thing to me, as a creative person. To not give a damn about what people think is also important. Practically speaking, though, things seem to get a little better out there with each record. So I keep going. This is just what I do. I want to keep doing it as long as I'm able.
"Colfax," from your last album, caught a lot of ears off guard. If that song turns out to be the pillar of your legacy, how would you feel?
I'm glad I finished that song; I'd been trying to write it for several years. I wasn't sure where I was going with it - except that I wanted the song to stay true to the story as it actually happened. But that presented a problem, because the story didn't have some sort of Hollywood, CGI-induced, bombs-and-glory ending*. (And that kind of monotony, that lack of drama, ended up being one of the things the song is "about," I think - the constant, often silent struggle that victims of prejudice face, and their often quiet, yet heroic, push-back against all that.) But the song had to be about the experience itself first, including all the goofy adolescent stuff, which everybody can relate to. So, yeah, if whoever decides these things thinks "Colfax" is at the top of the heap, I'm fine with it.
*And the first version I came up with, which had a kind of north Mississippi, hill-country blues groove, seemed to want that. But I heard a couple of friends play their own long, linear, lyric-driven songs (Tommy Womack, "Alpha Male & the Canine Mystery Blood"; Peter Cooper's song about Hank Aaron, "715") and that inspired me to go back and try again. Once I simplified the chord structure and the groove, I had 90 percent of those lyrics within an hour. They just fell out. I'd never written anything like it.
Stream 'Long Gone Time' in its entirety in the player below!
October 4 - Roots Music House Concert - Peace Dale, RI
October 6 - Atwood's - Cambridge, MA
October 7 - Norey's - Newport, RI (October 9 - Folk Alley Session taping - Saranac Lake, NY)
October 10 - Nelson Odeon - Cazenovia, NY
October 24 - Landhaven - Barto, PA
Some 23 years ago, Iris DeMent appeared on the singer/songwriter scene with her 'Infamous Angel' debut. With that set, she set her own artistic bar remarkably high, particularly with the folk perfection that is "Our Town." Since then, DeMent has built an impressive catalog of albums and collaborations, all filled with her personal blend of charm and melancholy. Her newest project, 'The Trackless Woods,' finds DeMent setting the words of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova to music. It's a somber, yet serene collection inspired by DeMent's personal exploration of her adopted daughter's native culture.
Kelly McCartney: Being one of 14(!) children, you've said that you understood your parents best through music. What do you hope to convey to your daughter through your work... this new album, in particular?
Iris DeMent: My daughter spent the first six years of her life in Russia. Anna is one of Russia's most beloved poets. It was a combination of my love for her work and a desire to, in some small way, bridge the gap between my daughter's two worlds that led to the making of this record. I hope to help reconnect her to her heritage... OR, at least open the door to it.
Music is such a mysterious force. You've said that you felt like the music was already in these poems when you found them. That must mean you didn't find many that weren't singing dirges to you because, save a couple that have some pep, this is a solemn affair. Talk to me about translating and honoring someone else's work in that way.
Anna's poetry is filled with hope, forgiveness, and love, even though she was living in times that spoke to none of those qualities. Her entire adult life was one revolution or war after another, loved ones being executed or dying in prison camps and her work being banned and her character being brought into question. She not only survived all these things but thrived, somehow, as an artist. By way of her poetry, she brought comfort and encouragement to countless others who were enduring the same suffering. I didn't concern myself with trying to entertain anyone with this record. There's no shortage of that out there already. I concerned myself with honoring her life, her work, and the victorious human spirit that sings in all of these poems and can sing in each of us.
Akhmatova lived and wrote during such a tumultuous time in Russian history. Were there certain poems or themes that you shied away from? Or were you able to find little threads of hope pretty consistently?
Some of her poems have very Russian-specific themes and, for obvious reasons, I chose not to take those on. But, basically, if a poem spoke to me and I felt it lent itself to music, or at least the music that runs through me, I went to work on it.
Do you agree with Akhmatova's summation in "To My Poems," in regard to your songs? Because it's a fairly dark take on creativity as a pursuit or an outlet.
Anna devoted her life to this work and the work nearly cost her her life! It's pretty safe to say she believed in the value of what she was doing. I don't think of this particular poem, or any creative work, for that matter, as something to agree or disagree with. I look for the integrity of it, the spirit of it, and take it or leave it on its own terms. "To My Poems" feels to me like the expression of someone's truth, a truth that may have lasted five minutes or a lifetime -- I don't know or care. Truth is inherently beautiful and valuable, no matter its lifespan.
One of the things that's so striking about you is that you come off as just an everyday Jane. Then you sing and that's out the window. Do you feel like Iowa allows you that space or would you have maintained a sense of normalcy in, say, L.A. or Nashville?
I don't relate to the idea of an everyday anything. I've never met an everyday "Jane" or "Joe"! All of life... the fact that we are here... that there is an Iowa, a Mars, a California... that Anna lived and poured her heart into these poems and lifted the hearts of others by doing that, mine included... that I'm raising this child from Russia, a place that sounded like another universe to me not all that long ago... there is no such thing as ordinary. All of it is "out the window." No exceptions!
'The Trackless Woods' is out now on Flariella Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:47 AM
Album Review: Jason Isbell, 'Something More Than Free'
As soon as "If It Takes a Lifetime" opens Jason Isbell's 'Something More Than Free,' it's obvious that the singer/songwriter did not make 'Southeastern: The Sequel.' Quite the opposite, really. 'Southeastern' overflowed with cutting lyrics that rock his fellow writers back on their heels in awe every time they hear them. Lines like this (from "Songs That She Sang in the Shower"): "On a lark, on a whim, I said 'There's two kinds of men in this world and you're neither of them.' And his fist cut the smoke. I had an eighth of a second to wonder if he got the joke." Those kinds of brilliant turns of phrases filled each song on that album and made it what it was.
Here, though, Isbell is far more exacting and economical in his eloquence, applying rigorous standards to his word choices and reserving the grandiosity for his musical explorations. That's not to say that his character sketches aren't poetic. They are. They are merely more grounded than lofty this time out, leaving less of a vapor trail. "And the couple in the corner of the bar have traveled light and, clearly, traveled far. She's got nothing left to learn about his heart and they're sitting there a thousand miles apart," he sings in "Flagship" to set the scene. Then he injects himself into the story: "Baby, let's not ever get that way. I'll say whatever words I need to say." It's the most tender moment on the record, haunting in its simplicity.
Contrasting that piece are entries more reminiscent of the Band and Neil Young than anything on 'Southeastern.' And while specific lyrics may not linger, Isbell's melodies certainly do. While "If It Takes a Lifetime," "Flagship," "24 Frames," "Children of Children," and "Hudson Commodore" are certainly stand-out tracks, 'Something More Than Free' is one of those top-to-bottom albums that, just drop the needle anywhere and it'll hit a great song.
'Something More Than Free' is out now on Southeastern Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Oklahoma's Samantha Crain is a musical force to be reckoned with. As a singer, her phrasing and rhythms fail to follow traditional folk patterns. And, as a songwriter, her compositions prick and pry at our hearts and minds in the best possible ways. Her latest endeavor, 'Under Branch & Thorn & Tree,' puts those talents to work on a collection of songs that folds the political into the personal. From the easy swagger of "Big Rock" to the gentle folk of "Elk City," the set finds Crain in fine form.
Kelly McCartney: You're a live-to-tape, one-take kind of recording artist. Do you ever go back and fiddle with arrangements after the fact? Or do they stay true for their life cycles?
Samantha Crain: My live performances are rarely exactly like the recorded songs. I strongly believe in the fluidity of songs depending on what musicians you're playing with or the mood of the audience. However, arrangements are very important to me. Just because we do analog recording and do few takes, doesn't mean I don't give thought to arrangement; I do. I'm very deliberate in everything I do. I just do a lot of pre-recording practice and talking with the other musicians. I want everyone to be on the same page, in the same headspace, but, at the same time, in the moment and surprising. Most songs, through their lifetimes, take several different forms regarding tempo or groove; it just happens organically after you haven't listened to the recording for years.
A lot of singer/songwriters put more emphasis on the songwriting part of their craft. You weight them pretty evenly, though. Who are your influences as a singer? And how does the singing affect or inform the writing for you?
I'm really drawn to any singers who are overly emotional or do something different tonally or rhythmically. I've always been into pretty polarizing voices. I love Billie Holiday, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Roy Orbison, Marc Bolan, Lhasa de Sela, and Annie Lennox. I've been told I'm a very rhythmic singer. Its not something I'm particularly aware of, but I assume my natural inclinations to move words in certain ways affects the way I write. I don't try to study how I create; I just do it.
In your songs, you use personal perspectives to make political points. Do you ever worry that the nuance softens the blow you're landing too much? Or do you find that it's the sugar that helps the medicine go down?
I feel a little of both. Part of me feels I'm being too gentle; the other part of me thinks its the best way to get the narratives into a public consciousness. I go back and forth with how I feel about it. I probably always will. I still do believe the only way to have intelligent and meaningful conversations about anything political or social is through empathy, though. And I know empathy only comes with understanding other people's stories and lives. That is something I will always believe. So however hard or soft I'm being with my issue, the story will always be the base.
If you had to pick one song, from this album or another, that represented the heart of what you're trying to do as an artist... which one and why?
I really feel like "Elk City" on this album was a breakthrough song for me -- a song that represents the exact sort of song I'd like to keep writing for the rest of my life. Something that has humanity in the lyrics and, to me, that song is interesting musically without seeming difficult. I'm just really proud of that song. I feel like I'll want to play that song for the rest of my life.
Cultural appropriation is a hot topic these days. And it's something you've stood up to in the past, in terms of your Native American heritage. Some people argue that every culture is appropriated. Why do you think it's such a hard thing for folks to grasp that even "all-in-good-fun" mockery is still mockery?
Racism is a learned thing. Its very hard to unlearn. Moving away from cultural appropriation starts in our education system... and it's not being addressed at all really, considering the history in our history books is terribly skewed. These aren't problems that are easy to address in an abrupt manner. These are solutions we start pumping into the framework of society now for a more positive, equal future.
'Under Branch & Thorn & Tree' is out now on Ramseur Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
There's a reason sophomore albums are considered a tough nut to crack. An artist has only a year or two to write a batch of tunes that stack up to the batch from their debut that they had their whole pre-debut life to write. Whether or not that debut was successful, the artist also has to decide to stay that artistic course or branch out in a different direction. Kacey Musgraves stayed firmly put on 'Pageant Material,' her follow-up to the wildly successful 'Same Trailer, Different Park.'
Taken on its own, without any knowledge of its sibling, 'Pageant Material' is a fun and lovely album. The songs are overflowing with memorable melodies, clever catchphrases, and pitch-perfect performances. And the first five cuts, from "High Time" through "This Town," are as thoroughly appealing as anything in her arsenal. At the heart of that mini-set is the sweet-but-not-saccharin "Late to the Party" which serves very nicely as the free-wheeling Millennial's version of a love song. It also provides a wonderful counterpoint to the snappy repartee of "Dimestore Cowgirl," "Pageant Material," and "This Town."
But, then, in the number six slot is "Biscuits." The album's first single can't help but be compared to the high watermark of Musgraves' career that is "Follow Your Arrow." In fact, a casual listener would be forgiven for confusing the two -- that's how similar they are in style and substance. Throughout the second half of the cycle, the comparisons could easily continue, but taking a step back allows "Somebody to Love," "Miserable," and "Good Ol' Boys Club" to shine on their own merits, in their own lights. Trouble is, albums in an artist's career don't exist in a vacuum, so a lot of these tunes make the whole feel like 'Same Trailer, Another Different Park.'
No question, Musgraves is a talented and spirited artist who is shaking things up in the best of ways. Here's hoping she applies some of that boundary pushing to album number three.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 3:15 PM
Album Review: Eilen Jewell, 'Sundown Over Ghost Town'
With a title like 'Sundown over Ghost Town' and cover art of a silhouetted figure with an acoustic guitar in front of a vast, star-filled horizon, Eilen Jewell's new album sends a signal that what lies therein could easily be simple and spacious country-folk songs. Uh, not quite. Yes, there are some simple and spacious country-folk songs here -- "Half-Broke Horse," "Green Hills," and "Songbird," at the very least. Otherwise, Jewell takes the theme of coming home and has fun with it. After all, you can come home again, but it may or may not be what you remember.
In Jewell's case, the story unfolds from the point of her return to Idaho after living in Boston. Oh, and having a baby, too. Most of the lyrical content draws from those endlessly deep wells. On the whole, the set is more refined and more restrained than Jewell records past, but no less creative, in its own way. From the gentle, mandolin-filled folk of "Worried Mind" to the delightful, Tex-Mex rockabilly of "Rio Grande" to the high lonesome torch balladry of "Here with Me," the album alternately lopes and lilts in all the right places.
For instance, Jewell isn't the first artist this year to set surf rock against a spaghetti western backdrop as she does on the spirited "Hallelujah Band" -- Lord Huron, too, makes that mix on 'Strange Trails' -- but it works well and shows just how many different colors Jewell has on her artist's palette.
'Sundown Over Ghost Town' is out now on Signature Sounds, and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:55 PM
Video Premiere: The Stray Birds, "Never For Nothing"
You might not make a lot of money. You might not win awards or accolades. You might not make new friends or establish important new connections. But sometimes, following your heart and doing what you KNOW is right, what you FEEL is right - well, that's reward enough.
Maya de Vitry of The Stray Birds says this song is "an homage to music as an offering--on a back porch, singing for nobody but the birds--on a subway platform, tossed as a rope for anyone to hold--around a campfire, shared between friends and the stars." In other words, music is enough of a reason to make music.
The Stray Birds - they're a band known for their tight harmonies, their impeccable instrumentation and their ability to make their audience feel completely involved in the music they make. With "Never for Nothing," the Birds also prove how capable they are of creating incredibly vivid stories and characters with their music.
Lyrics like "I'm dripping from the rivers I never meant to cross/But I like the things I'm learning more than anything I've lost/And, oh, I have lost...but not for nothing," let the band paint a very clear picture of complicated and oh-so-human emotions. The gorgeous music video that accompanies the song, featuring Fish & Bird's Taylor Ashton and filmed and edited by Jacob Blumberg, only helps us better understand those emotions - the contradictions of hope and heartbreak, longing and gratitude, that we are all capable of feeling at the same time.
The Stray Birds' 'Best Medicine' is available via YepRoc Records at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Country singer Kasey Chambers, who has been a prime representative for Southern Australia's rural music tradition, strikes a balance of exploration and maintaining her core sound on her latest release 'Bittersweet,' due out via Sugar Hill Records on July 24th. It is notable that Chambers' tenth studio album, which sees her writing about freedom, sweet releases and the bittersweet, is her first release since the separation from her husband, singer/songwriter, Shane Nicholson. Her last solo album of originals was 2010's 'Little Bird' followed by the 2012 'Wreck and Ruin' collaboration with Nicholson. On listening to this new record, it is clear that she has had some life altering experiences, which have left her with a lot to say. It is not an outright breakup album, but there are certainly songs that hint strongly towards starting anew and surviving. Take, for example, the closer "I'm Alive," where she boldly professes: "And through all the blood and the sweat and the tears/Things ain't always what they appear/I made it through the hardest f****** year." On the other side of that is the title track - a duet with fellow Australian, Bernard Fanning. "Bittersweet," the slow burning ballad about the pain of needing to end a relationship, but not knowing how, is poignant and heartbreaking. Chambers' songwriting impressively displays the many complicated dynamics that ending a relationship brings out, and she sounds so free while doing so.
'Bittersweet' also marks a change sonically for Chambers, who has exclusively worked with her brother/manager Nash Chambers. This album sees her looking to broaden her range and sound with the production skills of Nick DiDia. DiDia's credits include huge sounds like Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam and Train. His past work's influence is not very noticeable on many tracks that have that classic Chambers' folk/country tinged sound like "Oh Grace," "I Would Do" or "Heaven or Hell." Chambers also nails that familiar sound she's known for on "House On a Hill," which marks the first duet with her father and mentor, the musician Bill Chambers. It seems like DiDia's ability to bring out this intensity and drama from Chambers' songs is unprecedented. Chambers' shows massive growth in that department in the song "Wheelbarrow," which sounds like it could be on an Alan Lomax prisoner chain-gang field recording (aside from the super dirty electric guitar). A highlight on the record is the barnburner, "Too Late To Save Me." It is hard to understand why this stirring performance is all the way on track ten on the record.
While there are elements that will be familiar from the Kasey Chambers' albums of the past: sweet alt-country sounds and that beautiful clear voice of hers, this album truly marks a turning point for her. After 15 years recording, Chambers has won multiple ARIA and CMAA awards in Australian music, including the ARIA for Country Music Album of the year for 'Bittersweet' in 2014 (The record was released last year in her native country). It's inspiring to hear a musician and songwriter who is so celebrated, broaden her range so successfully in what has been a challenging time of change in her life.
Kasey Chambers releases 'Bittersweet' via Sugar Hill Records on July 24th, available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Seeing as Muscle Shoals is not more than a hop, skip, and a jump or two from their home base in Nashville -- and lead singer Gary Nichols grew up there -- the SteelDrivers headed down that way for their new set, unceremoniously titled as 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings.' But it sounds nothing like anything ever recorded in Muscle Shoals. There are no slinky bass runs, no funky horn parts, and no deep drum grooves anywhere to be found here.
That's not to say, though, that it's a bad record. It's not. It's just not what you might expect from the title. But it's exactly what you might expect from the SteelDrivers -- a head-on, taste-the-dirt blend of bluegrass, folk, and country that wraps itself around Nichols' soulful voice and the deft skills of fiddler Tammy Rogers, banjo player Richard Bailey, mandolin man Brent Truitt, and bassist Mike Fleming. For another dash of authenticity, Nichols' longtime friend and fellow Alabaman Jason Isbell even co-produced and added slide guitar to two tracks, "Brother John" and "Ashes of Yesterday."
It's a thoroughly supple, occasionally somber set, but even the darker hues have a fluidity that keep them from getting too bogged down in their own self-importance. Considering the rampant racial tensions that continue to wreak havoc on the U.S., the SteelDrivers' heartfelt ode to the Civil War in "River Runs Red" seems ever-timely as Nichols intimates that the harrowing legacy, indeed, lives on: "The winners are losers, when you count the dead. We watch it go by. We all bow our heads. The guns have gone silent, but the river runs red."
The SteelDrivers' 'The Muscle Shoals Recordings' (Rounder) is available now at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:51 PM
Hear It First - Old Man Luedecke, 'Domestic Eccentric'
July 17, 2015
*Old Man Luedecke releases his new album 'Domestic Eccentric' on July 24. You can listen to the album in its entirety before then in the player below!*
I had a friend in college who, when asked if she was homesick on the first day of our freshmen year by the well-meaning resident advisor, shrugged her shoulders and said, "Eh. Home, to me, is where your pillow is."
What was she talking about? Home is where your dog is. Where the neighbor's front door slams loud enough so that you can hear it in your bedroom, two stories up. Where the church bells seem to ring incessantly, no matter the time of day or night. And where everything you love and hate seems to exist in some sort of comfortable chaos.
That was the first time I learned that "home" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. To Chris "Old Man" Luedecke, for example, home is babies growing up too fast and a wife who only gets more wonderful as the years go on. Home is a rustic, quiet existence, filled with the sounds of coffee percolating, stories of true love being told around the dinner table, and, of course, the non-stop plucking and strumming of banjo strings.
For his new recording 'Domestic Eccentric,' Old Man Luedecke invited one of his musical heroes, Tim O'Brien, to his hand-crafted cabin in the woods of Nova Scotia. The two spent some time pondering the meanings of home and family and good music. Other friends gradually joined in - some in that cabin and some in other cities - and the end result is what Old Man Luedecke describes as "a rich portrait of personal friendships." From the listener's point of view, it's also a rich sonic portrait with each musician getting a well-deserved turn in the spotlight.
From the opening track "Yodelady" (which is really a love song that, yes, includes yodeling) through "The Briar and the Rose" and the oh-so-poignant "The Early Days," and winding up at the final track, "Happy Ever After," we get a very clear picture about the most important people and experiences in Old Man Luedecke's life.
If you think about it, it's really quite gracious of him to give us this personal glimpse of what makes his life tick - and it sure doesn't hurt that the musicianship surrounding these intensely individual revelations and observations is incredible. Banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass and drums - it all serves to underscore what's most important to this banjo savant from Nova Scotia. And that, of course, is his home.
'Domestic Eccentric' is due out on July 24 via True North Records, and is availabe now for pre-order at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Sometimes, no matter how much you love a place, no matter how deeply it seems to speak to you, no matter how much it seems like home, it's simply not the right place for you. And sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is pack up, put your boots on and leave to make a new home somewhere else. That's the realization Eilen Jewell came to awhile back. And that's what inspired her to write "Rio Grande," which you'll find on her new album 'Sundown Over Ghost Town.'
Jewell describes the album as a whole as "very autobiographical." And it's true - there are lots of personal reflections and introspective musings throughout. The real beauty of this recording, however, lies in Jewell's ability to take what's relevant to her life and turn it into something that's relevant to the lives of anyone who chooses to listen.
"Rio Grande" is a perfect example of the personal becoming universal. After all, who among us has not had the experience of longing for and despising a place at the same time? You know: that push-pull-back-forth-I-want-it-no-I-don't kind of feeling - we've all experienced it. And through the spaghetti western-esque stylings of Eilen Jewell, guitar master Jerry Miller and trumpeter Jack Gardner, we get to experience it again, this time from the outside looking in.
The video perfectly highlights that feeling, too. Shots of Jewell and the band, nearly expressionless, interspersed with landscapes that look bright and dull at the same time, that seem beautiful and desolate all at once, only serve to emphasize the contradiction she feels - I love this place so much, I want so badly to be happy and healthy here...and, sadly, it just isn't right.
'Sundown Over Ghost Town' is out now on Signature Sounds Records, and is available here at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:58 PM
A Q & A and Video Premiere: The Earnest Lovers - 'San Andreas' Fault'
When Pete Krebs and Leslie Beia came together as Earnest Lovers, it was a meeting of both minds and hearts. Musically, they shared a passion for classic country. Romantically, they shared a passion for each other. You don't have to look very far back in the lineage to find myriad tellings of the very same tale in Johnny and June, Dolly and Porter, George and Tammy. Krebs and Beia, though, found each other and their sound in Portland, not Nashville. Still, their EP, 'Sing Sad Songs,' could have come just as easily from the rolling hills of Tennessee, as it did the urban environs of Oregon. It's a classic collection for the modern age.
Kelly McCartney: The Earnest Lovers had an auspicious start, right? Something about a ring of fire and a winning lottery ticket? Story please.
Pete Krebs: Our first night performing together ended at about 6 am, after a night of drinking whiskey and playing songs around the fire (built inside of an old washing machine liner) in Leslie's back yard. A few hours later, we woke to a rush of feet, cursing, and someone yelling, "Call the fire department!!!" Our fire, which we thought we had extinguished fully, had smoldered, heated back up again, and burned a perfect circle through her back deck and was working on the supports underneath. This is a very awkward way to meet someone's roommates, let me tell you.
Our first weekly gig together was at a place called the Gold Dust Meridian, which we still play every Wednesday (when we're in town). That first night, a guy came up and put three lottery tickets in the tip jar. We got home and tossed them on the kitchen ledge and forgot about them for a few weeks. We finally got around to looking at them more closely and, since they were scratch-offs, each took one. Neither were winners, but the third one, we shared. We won $100 and instantly had a band fund!
Tell me about some of your favorite classic country duets and what makes them so special.
Leslie Beia: There's something very special about husband/wife duos that I find fascinating. Although the best performers, like Dolly and Porter, sing magically together and play the part on stage, there's something else at work when the relationship is both personal and professional. It's like sister or brother harmony: You can come very, very close to approximating it, but there's just this other level that can only be reached through a certain depth of familiarity.
I sometimes watch old George and Tammy videos and try to imagine what they were really feeling for each other on stage, knowing there was so much chaos behind the scenes. Sometimes she looks like she's about ready to strap him to an anvil and send him over! Pete and I are enjoying this grand adventure together with all the layers. It's a lot of work, but there's a richness we get to experience that hopefully informs the music. And to date, no one has yet purchased an anvil... so far so good!
Obviously, three chords and the truth factor in, but how do you craft new songs that sound classic and timeless?
PK: The classic country music that we love is deceptively simple music. It often deals with very complicated subjects that are communicated or implied in such a way that the underlying, deeper story is made as human as possible, and is thus very inclusive. "She Thinks I Still Care," recorded by George Jones, is a great example of this. So much is left unsaid, but the deeper story is crystal clear.
When we write our original tunes, we try to write about things we know and care about, and pay a great deal of attention to nuance and language, framing them inside the familiar sounds of classic country music that we love. The result, hopefully, reflects that deceptive simplicity which holds a deep story.
Portland doesn't seem like a honky tonk town. What's that scene like there?
PK: Portland has a historically strong traditional country music heritage that might not seem apparent at first. Willie Nelson lived here, playing the local honky tonks and DJing at a radio station in neighboring Vancouver, Washington. During the '40s and '50s, we had some of the biggest country music dance halls on the West Coast. The scene was huge thanks to the Kaiser shipyards located here during the war, which attracted thousand and thousands of workers from Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southern states. After the war was over, a lot of them stayed and the music remained strong for decades.
We're lucky to have several venues that feature country music exclusively (or at least frequently), and a pool of world-class musicians to draw from. While there's certainly a lot of modern country fans around, we have a great scene which loves and embraces the older sounds of classic country music of the '40s, '50s, and '60s.
You and Pete -- and your players -- all dress the part for gigs. Does that help summon the proper spirit?
PK: We think it's nice to get decked out when we perform because it adds something special, visually, to the show and because, back in the day, the performers seemed to always make a point of looking sharp. It's debatable whether or not songs of heartbreak and loss translate better when you're looking fancy, but it can't hurt (no pun intended).
The Earnest Lovers new EP, 'Sing Sad Songs' is out now via Elko Records, and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 5:41 PM
Online Benefit for Emanuel AME Church via Concert Window
July 10, 2015
Peter Mulvey is organizing an online benefit concert via Concert Window for the Emanuel AME Church, featuring Mulvey, Pamela Means, Vance Gilbert, Peter Yarrow and more special guests to be announced.
Pay what you can and tune in Sunday, July 12 at 3pm EDT - HERE.