When they first got started back in 2008, the founders of Good Old War -- Keith Goodwin, Tim Arnold, and Dan Schwartz -- carved their band name out of their own. Though they bid farewell to Arnold, the moniker still stands for the group's fourth full-length release, 'Broken Into Better Shape,' just out on Nettwerk.
The album leans heavily on raucous folk-pop to make its point, but closes with the tender acoustic ballad, "Don't Forget." While traveling around in support of the release, Goodwin and Schwartz stopped by the Mobli Beach House in Florida to lay down an even more tender, more acoustic rendering of the tune.
Schwartz explains the sparseness, "The song was written to say goodbye to a person very close to us. The music was meant to be as intimate as the lyrics are, so it was recorded that way. Because of that, it doesn't really change much in an acoustic setting. Mainly, we try to make sure we're on the meanings of songs and do our best to make sure we're expressing that whenever we play."
The Canadian folk duo of Hannah Walker and Jamie Elliott -- aka Twin Bandit -- comes from a long line of harmony makers. Many times the pairing is made of siblings like the Louvins, Everlys McGarrigles, or Roches. While Walker and Elliott may not share biological DNA, their musical chemistry is undeniable. Twin Bandit's debut album, 'For You,' comes out on Monday and opens in the sparest of ways with "Tides," building from there. If the Wailin' Jennys had made Emmylou Harris's 'Wrecking Ball,' it might well sound like 'For You.'
The two of you met while working at St. James Music Academy. How did you discover your musical chemistry?
Hannah Walker: We discovered our mutual love of harmonies the good ol' fashioned way... by singing together! We were cooking at the St.James Music Academy and I started to sing an old traditional. Jamie joined me in beautiful harmony. It's rare to find two voices that blend. We knew it was a special thing to find a singing soulmate. So began the early days of Twin Bandit.
Being signed to Nettwerk and gearing up for the album release has happened pretty quickly, right? How does it feel to be getting your music out there?
Jamie Elliott: It feels incredible to be able to share our music with a large audience. We have gone from playing for our family and friends in living rooms to sharing the stage with musicians that we really admire in some of the most beautiful venues. We feel honoured for our opportunity to work with Nettwerk. They believe in the power of music just as we do.
What other duos do you two study or admire for their harmony techniques? Is there one, in particular, that Twin Bandit is musically related to?
JE: Some duos that we look up to are the Louvin Brothers, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and Simon and Garfunkle. Although Fleetwood Mac isn't a duo, we have always felt very inspired by their harmonies.
It's interesting that you cover a Daniel Lanois tune on the record because "Rosalyn" sounds like a Lanois production. Are you both fans of his? One more than the other?
HW: I think back fondly to Lanois's music in the background of my life. He was a musical fixture in our household, from his familiar production on many of our favourite albums to his own music. When I met Jamie, I introduced her to the album 'Shine.' She felt a connection to his lyrical honesty and the evocative soundscapes the same way I did.
This album could have easily been just your voices, your guitars, and your songs. But it got gussied up a bit, and gorgeously so. Did the two of you have a vision going in or did Jon [Anderson] shape the sound?
JE: We would have to say it was a little of both. Jon Anderson was amazing to work with. Even though we often play live as a duo, we were so excited to fill out our sound with the insight of Jon's production and our friends' musical talents. We were able to meet many times before recording to find mutual inspiration for the album's sound. Jon has an incredible taste in music and he helped us actualize our vision and bring it to life in a new way.
'For You' is out on June 29th via Nettwerk Music Group and is available at iTunes. You can stream the album in its entirety below!
From Ireland to England to the United States: 'Because I Did Murder That Poor Little Girl Whose Name Was Rose Connelly'
In this piece, I am looking at the popular trope of the murdered sweetheart, in a range of traditional British, Irish, American and Anglo-American ballads. I will look at the stories of the songs and the characters they contain, as well as the roles played by both men and women in not only a core set of songs (variously titled the Oxford Girl, the Wexford Girl and the Knoxville Girl), as well as a wider collection of songs containing The Banks Of The Ohio, and also Down In The Willow Garden/Rose Connelly.
I will look at notions of 'fact' and 'true life' in these songs, and I want to explore the relationships between the songs in the sample, and the essential differences between the various stories.
This 'core' set of songs takes the form of differing versions of the same story. A young man, a miller by trade, takes it upon himself to murder his young sweetheart, for reasons which are not immediately obvious (indeed, in many versions, not obvious at all). The song seems to have its origins in 18th century (or earlier) English broadsides (cheap street literature), which came into the oral tradition in a variety of ways. The young man's crime is not detected, and he carries on with his normal life, more or less.
The songs have proved hugely popular across folk, roots and country circles, and the variation in the lyrics of the traditional versions have been stabilized in cut-down forms of the story which have been popularized in recorded versions.
"The Banks of the Ohio" is another, related song, which follows the same basic story as the Oxford/Knoxville Girl. In Banks...the girl rejects his marriage proposal, a possible 'motive' for his undeniable cruelty.
"Down In The Willow Garden" (also known as "Rose Connolly") takes us from Ireland to the United States, and, although following on from the above songs, may have an American origin. Unlike some of its predecessors, it has a named character (Rose), and, rather gruesomely, some versions describe the murder in more detail. As well as being stabbed, as in Oxford... et al, she is poisoned and drowned for her sins.
One cannot help but reflect on the question of why these songs have proved so popular, so resolute in the tradition? There are so many versions which have been left to us from singers and communities across the generations. Sure, the story is a strong one, one which speaks to our humanity, but there must be more to it than that. There seems to be some voyeurism, some attraction to cruelty, a 'ritual misogyny', as Teresa Goddu has described it.
It is worth for a moment looking at the characters portrayed in the stories, and the roles which they play. We never seem to get much biographical information on the characters (perhaps symptomatic of traditional song), bar the fact that young Willie is an apprentice miller (as revealed in some takes on Oxford...). Of the woman, we know next to nothing, except that she is a tragic innocent who can act in nothing but deference to her man. She chooses nothing, has no agency. As we are more or less in the dark as to the male's motives (he may have been on the receiving end of some bad news, or a disagreement - hardly the stuff of murder, surely), we can only wonder at why he commits the heinous act.
And indeed, murder sometimes makes a hero of a man, or at least boosts his profile. But in all of the songs I am looking at, I can't help but think of him as something of a weakling, a man defined by his cruelty alone. We are looking at a cut-down version of a cut-down story, but it is still one which makes me think of a senseless crime with a bit-part victim and a weak and feckless perpetrator.
Down...does take his portrait further, as he realizes, when he is brought to justice, that the murder has had unforeseen consequences, and that he must face the hangman's noose. This contrition is certainly not found in every instance of the ballad.
'Fact' and 'true life' are notoriously difficult concepts to attach to traditional music, and, as much as it does reflect and reinforce everyday concerns, norms and experiences, it is still the result of the fictionalisation of real events. Willie and Rose, and their contemporaries, are versions of real people, their lives imagined (and re-told and re-contextualised). For songs to be 'successful' in tradition, for them to pass into, and through space and time, they have to be popular. They have to resonate with singers and audiences, and to do this, they have to be good stories. Songs have to hook people in, and grab their attention. This is to take nothing away from the tragic events of the songs, but simply to point out their strengths as songs and performances.
Traditional ballads take us on voyages through history, geography, social conditions and politics, and, in the case of "The Oxford Girl," "Down In The Willow Garden" and the like, gender relations. The situation of women is not something that is immediately considered when listening to the exploits of so many poor victims of male violence or misogyny, but is something which we should not ignore. I am the first to celebrate the beauty and poignancy of the form, but this appreciation should not be at the expense of the recognition of historical and contemporary malfeasance.
Jonathan Edwards is one of those singer/songwriters that everyone knows, even if they don't know they know. That's largely due to his 1971 folk-pop hit "Sunshine." The iconic tune paved the way for Edwards who has since released 16 albums with 'Tomorrow's Child' now joining the collection. Over the decades, Edwards has worked with Emmylou Harris, Michael Martin Murphey, B.B. King, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, the Allman Brothers, and so many more. For his new project, he got a little help from his friends... including Darrell Scott as producer.
Kelly McCartney: When you were back in military school, just starting to write songs, did you have an ambition to pursue music as a career? Or were you just trying to pass the time and chase your muse?
Jonathan Edwards: I didn't even know how to spell "career" at that time. Like most kids, I was like a thirsty sponge, soaking up chords, rhythms, grooves, lyrics, structure, and the whole self-expression, artistic, creative culture and community. Of course, the entire "process" of writing poetry and prose and the translation into songwriting was soon to follow. The muse shall not be chased; she will come on her own volition, at a time and place of her choosing. Just make her comfortable and happy.
Thinking back on making your first record -- losing the "Please Find Me" recording and adding "Sunshine" in its place -- that has to be the greatest "meant to be" moment in your life, right?
I have always been a creature of serendipity and convergence. What I mean by that is being open to the often subtle winds and currents and tides that push and pull your ship slightly off your intended course. There are rocks out there and shallow water, and I take it all in as I survey the horizon in front of me. I don't miss a thing. I'm lucky I have such an unblemished driving record.
Do you ever go into "what if" mode and imagine how things might have turned out if that hadn't happened?
Perhaps my high school guidance counselor would have been right when, after reviewing my aptitude test, she asked if I had ever considered welding as a profession. I don't really believe in predestination or any of that; I just believe a creative soul (and I think everyone has one) needs to be wide open to ALL of the senses we are endowed with and the energy to sustain the impulse to reflect that inspiration for others to enjoy.
From the Broadway stage to the folk circuit to the silver screen, you've kind of done it all. Do you have a preference for one art form? Or do they each have their own special place in your heart and creativity?
I'd like to know what the statistics are regarding ADD and the creative process. I love doing it ALL. There is SO much to be learned from all these efforts, and they all inform and enrich each other all the time. Challenging? Sure, but it always seems to travel in a positive direction and I'm forever grateful that my friends and fans have joined me on this journey and have rambled through their changes right along with me.
For the songs, you balance confessionals and classics. How important is that levity for you? And how tricky is it to get the ratio right?
My approach has always been to talk about the feelings I am dealing with at the time, in hopes that other people will be able to relate and maybe gain some insight, perspective, pleasure -- or maybe just the knowledge that they are not alone, that other folks, even the ones in the spotlight, may be going through those same feelings. The balance is tricky. I want so much to give the people who venture out on a Saturday night everything they want -- everything and more that they expect from our almost 50-year relationship -- while at the same time gently urging us all to move forward and make new memories and create new pictures.
Similarly, you've worked with a whole lot of folks... Emmy, B.B., Chapin, the Allmans, Murphey... so many. How did it feel to recruit some of your friends to help out on this record? You and Alison Krauss sound lovely together.
Speaking of memories, I have such amazing recollections of hanging out with some of the most treasured and revered artists of all time and I hold them dear to my heart. One of my favorite old photographs is me sitting in a chair in some dressing room somewhere playing James Taylor's guitar and he is bending over examining my picking technique. You can't make this stuff up!
And as for dreams coming true, when Darrell Scott and I met and started talking songs, musicians, studios, and soul, it was clear from "hello" that yet another dream was going to be realized in my waking hours. At the urging of my wife and manager (two different people), I very tentatively started calling up some of the people whose work I have so admired all my life, to carefully inquire whether they might possibly be interested in coming in and singing and playing with me on my new album. I didn't hear, "I"m really busy" or, "Not right now" or, "I'd love to but..." I heard a resounding, "Yes, I'll be there, just tell me where and when!" To sing with people like Shawn Colvin, Vince Gill, and Alison Krauss, and have Jerry Douglas play dobro -- just to name a few -- are among the greatest gifts I've ever been given.
From an outsider's perspective, English folk singer Sam Lee's eclectic -- if not downright eccentric -- life as a Chelsea School of Art student, burlesque dancer, and wilderness expert was either going to prepare him for absolutely anything or absolutely nothing. Middle of the road, it certainly was not. But, when he met Scottish Traveller singer Stanley Robertson, the preparation for absolutely anything came in handy.
For four years, Robertson mentored Lee in the ages-old tradition of Traveller and Gypsy music. He also met and studied with other masters of the form, including Freda Black, who passed her "Bonny Bunch of Roses" torch to the young singer. With that front-row seat and first-hand experience, Lee embarked upon his own mission of bringing those old songs into the now, as well as the future. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive, with critics calling Lee the Alan Lomax of Gypsy music. His debut album, 'Ground of Its Own,' won the United Kingdom's Arts Foundation prize in 2011 and was nominated for the Mercury Music Award in 2012.
Lee's follow-up LP, 'The Fade in Time,' will be released in the U.S. -- in tandem with 'Ground of Its Own' -- next week. Recorded over the course of three months at Imogen Heap's Hideaway Studio in Essex with Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle serving as co-producers, it is filled with ancient Gypsy folk songs that have rarely been heard outside the Traveller communities that roam the British Isles.
'The Fade In Time' was released in the US via Thirty Tigers on June 16. The full album stream is no longer available, but you can sample a track from the collection below!
The album is available at iTunes, HERE and at Amazon.com, HERE.
On their best record in a decade, the Indigo Girls harken back even as they move forward. Rites of Passage, Swamp Ophelia, Shaming of the Sun, and Come on Now Social -- arguably the best albums in the Indigo catalog -- all echo softly through this set, whether in the note choices of a harmony or the layout of an arrangement. And One Lost Day rises up from those roots to find its own wings, set aloft on the thoroughly thoughtful production of Jordan Brooke Hamlin.
As should be expected, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers alternate between the political and the personal in their songwriting, sometimes blurring the lines that divide the two. Saliers starts the set by recounting a tale from her Tulane days that involved her friend "Elizabeth." (She has joked that writing songs like this one is her way of reaching out to old friends because she doesn't do Facebook. Whatever works!) Ray counters that sentiment with the album's lead single, "Happy in the Sorrow Key." Here, she contemplates what it means to be content -- yes, happy -- even while riding out the turbulence of the human existence.
Themes of life and death, the coming and the going, are plentiful in Ray's half of the song cycle -- at least a few of her compositions were finished during and after a small window of time that saw both her father's passing and her daughter's birth. "Texas Was Clean" is a hypnotic dream of a life long lost to the passing of time. "Texas was clean, just a no-man's dream. A slate that I'd never written on. The dust blown 'round, lonely town, boots on the porch of a barn. As far from the South without getting out of the corner of my heart," Ray and Saliers sing in harmonic unison before splitting off into separate parts -- the muted drums and tender guitars leading the way.
Reckoning is another theme that finds its way into tunes like "Spread the Pain Around," "If I Don't Leave Here Now," and "Fishtails," each of which evidences some of the best writing and performances the Girls have ever laid down. And, of course, they both give what they got in spades as Ray puts her customary edge on "The Rise of the Black Messiah" and Saliers lays her lovely lilt all over "Come a Long Way."
More than 30 years into playing together, the Indigo Girls once again remind us why they have lasted and why they are loved. Their songs continue to be both bold and thoughtful, and their voices are as rich and robust as ever.
One Lost Day is out now on Vanguard Records and is available Amazon.com and iTunes.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:07 AM
Video Premiere: April Verch, "Bring Your Clothes Back Home"
It's true: we're not all as lucky as April Verch. When WE want to honor a hero, we might tell a friend about him or her. We might send a heartfelt email or post something sappy and/or respectful on Facebook. When someone like April Verch wants to honor HER hero - well, this multi-talented fiddler and dancer and singer does it in her own unique way.
The hero in this case? The late John Hartford. "I'm a huge John Hartford fan," April Verch says. "His music and career are unending sources of inspiration to me. I've always loved this lighthearted song of his and when we were putting the album together I came across a Youtube version of John performing it with just his voice, fiddle and feet, and 2 double bass players. We decided to arrange it in a similar fashion, so it's sparse and vulnerable in some ways, but I think that's what makes it so special."
And it IS special. Her tone when she sings the plea, "Bring your clothes back home, try me one more time," fits perfectly with her knowing little smile, her delicate shrug and, of course, her light handed fiddling and graceful feet. Verch looks, in that moment, like there's nothing else in the world she'd rather be doing.
You'll find "Bring Your Clothes Back Home" on April Verch's new recording, 'The Newpart' out now on Slab Town Records - available HERE.
You can download a copy of "Bring Your Clothes Back Home" - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 7:59 AM
Album Review: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, 'The Traveling Kind'
Emmylou Harris makes magic with pretty much everyone she sings with, from Gram Parsons to Lyle Lovett. One of her most trusted sidekicks over the years, though, has been Rodney Crowell, and the two never fail to shimmer and shine as evidenced on 'The Traveling Kind.' Like they did on 'Old Yellow Moon,' Harris and Crowell harmonize on some tunes, hand off on others. Either way, they strike a natural balance and a beautiful chord. As always, Crowell provides the roots and Harris, the wings.
The lithesome title track opens the set with a mandolin-laced meandering through their individual yet shared experience of giving themselves and their lives over to the world through their music: "We were born to brave this tilted world with our hearts laid on the line. Be it way-crossed boy or red dirt girl, the song becomes the traveling kind." Other highlights include "No Memories Hangin' Around," "You Can't Say We Didn't Try," "Just Pleasing You," and "Her Hair Was Red" -- all of which could have been on almost any Harris or Crowell record of the past 40 years. From rootsy rockers and country croons, the songs here feel fairly old-fashioned, but never dated... timeless, to be sure. That's a credit to both the compositions and the performances.
There's nothing earth-shattering about 'The Traveling Kind,' because that's not the point. What's clear, though, is how much Harris and Crowell enjoy working together and how well they do it.
'The Traveling Kind' is out now on Nonesuch Records and available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 1:02 PM
Hear It First - The Good Lovelies, 'Burn the Plan'
May 19, 2015
(**The Good Lovelies will self-release thier new album, 'Burn the Plan' next week. Until then, you can listen to the complete album in the player below!)
Every now and again, you just need to shake things up. Take a new job, try a new hobby, learn a new skill - do whatever you have to do to remind yourself that life is happening NOW and that we need to enjoy every moment of it. In other words, you need to burn the plan. When's the last time YOU did that?
If it's been awhile, take a page from the Canadian trio The Good Lovelies' book. Their new recording (appropriately titled 'Burn the Plan') not only burns the plan, it builds something new - and rather extraordinary - from the papery remains.
8 years ago, friends Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore decided to start making music together. They must have known they had something special - harmonies that hearken back to a golden era of music, a time when female singers walked onto the stage in petticoat-stiffened dresses with hairdos up to there. That's really where you'll find the trio's bread and butter - with their three very different voices, voices that just happen to blend rather marvelously together, in that magical way of music.
And it's those voices that, once again, take center stage on the new recording. This time, though, the voices are joined not just by guitar, mandolin, piano and dobro, but also by a drum machine and other elements of good old-fashioned electronica. Yes, the careful musicianship is still there. Yes, the trio takes turns in the lead and follow vocal roles. But no, this is not your average folk trio. The Good Lovelies push boundaries with 'Burn the Plan' - which is, after all, part of the burning the plan...plan.
I will admit - the stand out track for me on the album is the one that sounds the most like a traditional contemporary folk trio. Track 9, "Four O'Clock," is a poignant reminder that life is short. Anyone who has experienced any kind of loss - well, just go ahead and grab the tissues. Before we reach the point of crying, though, the Lovelies do their part to make you smile and dance with non-stop energy. So much energy, and with so much drum machine, in fact, that when things slow down a bit for the songs "Last Night" and "When the City Settles," it's a relief.
All three of the Lovelies are in fine voice on 'Burn the Plan.' And while it's clear that there's a comfort amongst them, a sense of ease that comes from years of singing together, there's also a new edginess that seems to foreshadow what the trio might yet do in the future. Whatever that may be (and if we go by what they're doing with THIS new release), well, it's bound to be worth a listen.
'Burn the Plan' will be released on May 26th and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:22 AM
A Q & A with Darrell Scott on '10 - Songs of Ben Bullington'
Ben Bullington wasn't just any small-town Montana doctor. He was also a revered songwriter who counted Rodney Crowell, Will Kimbrough, and Darrell Scott among his fans and friends. But despite his fanbase, Bullington's first-ever Nashville performance happened in December of 2012 at the Station Inn, a month after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The following November, Bullington died, though his songs lived on. To give them even more life, Scott put his own fine touch on them on the upcoming '10 - Songs of Ben Bullington' album. It's a touching affair, through and through, with Scott's fondness for the writer and the written shining bright.
Kelly McCartney: When Ben got his diagnosis, he quit his work as a doctor and devoted his remaining time to making music. That seems like a pretty solid endorsement for platitudes like "do what you love" and "live like you're dying." What lessons did you learn from watching how he moved through that time?
Darrell Scott: I had great respect for his choices -- both NOT touring before his last year AND starting to tour in his last year. I understood both and admired him for his decisions.
What is it about his songs that touched you enough to record an album's worth of them?
They were simply great songs and I wanted to do it as a gift to Ben and his boys. (By the way, he has other great songs.)
What do you think you bring to these songs that no one else could have?
I think I brought a sincere simplicity. (I think others could do the same.) Plus, these songs are folk songs and I love folk songs -- so did Ben.
Does being a songwriter yourself make it easier or harder to step into someone else's stories?
It makes it easier, I suppose. I know what the song is trying to do.
You took a decidedly simple approach to the production of '10.' Why go that way rather than another?
I thought the songs had a simplicity (while talking about complex things) which I thought was beautiful. I wanted to portray them honestly and without any recording trickery -- what you hear is what you get. Ben was that way, too.
'10 - Songs of Ben Bullington' will be released on May 19 via Full Light Records and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM
Song Premiere: The Mike + Ruthy Band, "Rock on Little Jane"
If there's one piece of advice you wish you'd gotten from your parents...what is it? Does it involve falling in (or out of) love? Living life to its fullest? Never giving up? Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar, aka Mike + Ruthy, try to cover all those bases (and more, too) on their new single "Rock on Little Jane," which was inspired by their daughter. (And no, their daughter's name is NOT Jane. It's Opal June. Her name, says Merenda, didn't quite fit the rhythm of the song.)
Besides giving Ruthy Ungar the chance to explore the ups and downs of her most soulful vocal range, "Rock on Little Jane" is jam-packed with the hopes, both realistic and un, all parents have for their kids. It's also a song that centers around the promises parents make to their kids - promises that have no guarantee of actually coming true, but promises that inspire and soothe and encourage and calm just the same. "I know it seems today that no one can see you," Ruthy sings, but "there's going to come a day when they're going to want to be you." Don't we all hope that for the special young people in our lives?
This single from Mike + Ruthy's new recording 'Bright as You Can' (out on June 2nd), "Rock on Little Jane" captures the theme of family that runs throughout the whole album. It also offers a sneak preview of the musical direction Mike + Ruthy are currently traveling - yes, there are fiddles and acoustic guitars and lyrics that take center stage. But there's also a lot of electricity on the new record too. And the combination is simply sizzling.
'Bright as You Can' seems to be honoring the great musical traditions of the past while at the same time welcoming, with open arms, the future of what music can be. And "Rock on Little Jane" is perfectly indicative of what music should be - it's an anthem. A fist-raising, you can do it, don't ever stop trying anthem, one that inspires all kids, no matter how old we are, to sing along.
'Bright As You Can' will be released June 2 on Humble Abode Music (Thirty Tigers) and you can pre-order it HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 9:00 AM
Hear It First: Jimmy LaFave, 'The Night Tribe'
May 9, 2015
Music Road Records (Austin, TX) - Even before he named his first band back in Oklahoma, Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave knew he belonged to that special fraternity of shadowy creatures who move to rhythms dictated by darkness: the 24-hour diner waitress, the graveyard-shift radio DJs, the cops, the taxi drivers - the musicians. His night tribe. A few versions of Jimmy LaFave & the Night Tribe have existed over the years, but he'd never reflected life "in the neon glow of perpetual sin" via song until now, with 'The Night Tribe,' his new album, releasing May 12th on Music Road Records.
Explaining the term's origin, LaFave says, "In Oklahoma, you hear the word tribe a lot because of all the different Indian tribes, and I thought, 'What tribe of people am I part of?' It was always the night people." After reactivating the Night Tribe name for a recent European tour, he decided he wanted to do something thematic with it. "And that is when I write most of my songs," he adds. "Almost all the songs on the record were written at nighttime, driving."
While hardly dark in texture, LaFave's self-produced album captures the varied moods and musings of an accomplished folk/Americana artist known for possessing what critic Dave Marsh has called "one of America's greatest voices." LaFave is also known for his ability to draw musical lines from Oklahoma native son Woody Guthrie to Dylan, Neil Young and other influences in ways that feel completely organic. As most of LaFave's albums do, The Night Tribe contains a Dylan cover: his elegantly rendered "Queen Jane Approximately"; it also contains his gorgeously spare, yet majestic version of Young's "Journey Through the Past."
As for Guthrie, the folk icon's spirit directly inhabits the rockabilly-tinged "Dust Bowl Okies," and it certainly imbues the title tune, a bluesy noir that paints every shade of the "shadow world" where passion, promise, danger and loneliness all lurk. But it's safe to say it hovers throughout 'The Night Tribe,' from the mid-tempo opener "The Beauty of You" to the closing benediction, a prayer of sorts for fellow travelers, "The Roads of the Earth."
'The Night Tribe' will be released on May 12 via Music Road Records and you can stream the album in its entirety until then in the player below. Order the album - HERE.
Falling somewhere between Jason Isbell and Tom Waits, Oklahoma singer/songwriter John Moreland sure does have a way with a song. Much like Isbell's 'Southeastern' before it, Moreland's new 'High on Tulsa Heat' explores the writer's inner world with startling honesty. While it relinquishes regret, it refuses to forsake remorse because that's where the healing happens. Also like 'Southeastern,' there's nothing extraneous on this record, nothing that feels out of place or out of time -- Moreland's roughly hewn tales delivered with finely tuned grit in both voice and feeling.
Even so, there's a deliberate and determined poise to Moreland's work. He's looking for something and these verses are his roadmap... and he knows it. Sings about it, even: "Well, these angels in my eardrums, they can't tell bad from good. I lived inside these melodies just to make sure I still could. Then I cried all night even though I'm grown. Said, 'Honey, hold me close, make it feel like home.'" That's how he opens the album's second cut, the slow-rocking "Heart's Too Heavy." Later in the tune, he really gets down to what's bothering him... on the one hand: "You've got faith enough to lift this curse. But what if faith is just a false god's verse?" And, then, also on the other: "I can pin down the minute when I lost my buzz. Thought I was somebody nobody could love."
He digs further into those themes throughout the soulful groove of "Sad Baptist Rain," where he proclaims, "You're the exception here. I'm the rule. I traded love for a song, like a fool. I'm always drawn to the wrong thing to do and I keep proving it." You see, 'High on Tulsa Heat' is an exploration of home -- whether spiritual, emotional, or geographical. Maybe every album is, in its own way or another. But what Moreland does with these songs is so thoroughly sincere, it is undeniably relatable. Who among us hasn't, at some point, found themselves feeling the sorrowful ache that he describes "You Don't Care For Me Enough to Cry"?
'High On Tulsa Heat' is out now on Old Omens/Thirty Tigers and is available - HERE.
In listening to Allison Moorer's 'Down to Believing,' a Wim Wenders quote comes to mind: "My advice is, don't spend your money on therapy. Spend it in a record store." Here, Moorer puts her own spin on that. Whether or not she spent any time in therapy to get through the dissolution of her marriage to Steve Earle, she certainly spent a lot of it writing songs about it. From top to bottom, the cycle traces her internal machinations (and throws in a cover of "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," just for good measure).
Quite a bit of the set, including the opening track, is grounded in down and dirty roots rock so that Moorer can make the point perfectly clear that "It ain't ever gonna be like it used to be." As a thesis statement or a song hook, the message of resolve is undeniable: Things have changed. As the other dozen songs unfold, Moorer continues to be an active participant in her situation rather than a passive victim of her circumstance -- the album brimming with defiance, even destruction, but never defeat.
The soul searching title track finds Moorer affirming her faith in the simplicity of things. She sings, "I guess it comes down to believing, and whether we do or we don't. I guess it comes down to staying or leaving, and whether we will or we won't." There's no need to make emotional mountains out of practical molehills, after all. Later, on "I'm Doing Fine," Moorer spends three minutes convincing herself as much as anyone that the light at the end of the tunnel is, indeed, still shining... right in here eyes.
Just before that comes in the set, she steps out of the husband-wife dynamic to address some broader familial relationships. The quietness of "Blood" conveys the inherent knowing that comes only through the shared genetics of siblings, while the retro groove of "Mama Let the Wolf In" serves as an apology that this particular mother feels a need to make to her son.
There's a richness and a relevance to 'Down to Believing' that gets dressed up in melodies and arrangements which land somewhere between her sister Shelby Lynne and Sheryl Crow. And, anyone taking a ride on the roller coaster that is grief and loss would do well to give this thing a listen... or 20.
'Down To Believing' is out now on Entertainment One Music and is available - HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 10:49 AM
A Q & A with Ray Wylie Hubbard
May 6, 2015
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
With its homespun eloquence and hard-earned wisdom, Ray Wylie Hubbard's music comes off as equal parts Buddha, books, and bars. The Texas songwriter has done some living and he's never been shy about sharing the stories. Some of them are even true. And some of them fill out the minutes of 'The Ruffian's Misfortune,' Hubbard's latest in a long line of musical adventures.
Kelly McCartney: It's pretty safe to say that you don't really fit into the country music scene (particularly these days), but it's also been suggested that you don't quite fit the Texas songwriter mold, either. If'n you had to be labeled, how does the broader Americana box feel? Does that give you enough room to do what you do?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Well, I consider myself a old folk cat who was influenced by acoustic blues and rootsy garage rock who only liked country if it was done by the Byrds, Parsons, or Hearts and Flowers, so Americana works, but I kinda push it a little.
KM: You dug into blues in your early 40s and have built it into your sound since then. Lately, a lot of guys in their early 20s are folding blues into their rock. What kind of person does it take to really get the blues in the right way -- to be able to understand and respect the form enough to make it their own?
RWH: I feel fortunate to have seen Lightnin' [Hopkins], Mance [Lipscomb], and Freddie King and it struck me that they were playing the blues not to be famous or rich but they had no choice. So the young blues guys I like are condemned to play them blues.
KM: When you're writing, do you find that setting poetic substance on top of grooving style helps get the point across?
RWH: Lyrics laid on a deep groove are a very powerful thing. Perhaps that was what was stolen from the gods after fire.
KM: What's the trick to crafting characters without judging them and their stories?
RWH: A beautiful thing about songwriting is that you can do the crime without having to do the time.
KM: What has it been like to revisit and recount your life in your upcoming autobiography? No doubt you have some capital 'S' stories to tell.
RWH: Yeah. I am somewhat amazed that a tow-headed, barefoot Okie kid in overalls has sung "Help from My Friends" with a Beatle at Radio City Music Hall, played "Snake Farm" with Joe Walsh setting in, got kidnapped by Willie Nelson, played poker with Freddie King and Bugs Henderson, drank homemade chalk beer with Mance Lipscomb, got stiffed on a lunch check by Colonel Tom Parker, did Letterman and Fallon, got 12-stepped by Stevie Ray [Vaughn] and... and bunch other stuff... (no capital S stuff though since i don't use the shift key).
'The Ruffian's Misfortune' is out now on Bordello Records and is available - HERE
Mavis Staples has a once-in-a-generation voice and, when she wields it, she lifts spirits and saves souls with its power -- something she's been doing for most of her life. On her new four-song EP, 'Your Good Fortune,' the legendary gospel singer teams with young bluesman Son Little who has made a name for himself by defying and destroying the boundaries of genre in his own music. And he does the same here.
On the opening (and title) track, a muddy bass and a tinny snare combine underneath Staples' bound-for-glory voice as it both moves and moors the listener through the meandering plea from doubting sinner to forgiving saint: "Why did you spend your good fortune on me?" The funky, stuttering groove of "Fight" underpins warped guitar riffs and weird (but cool) electro-synth runs. Here, again, Staples makes believers out of any heathens who might happen upon her potent voice. Hers is the kind of church in which all are not just welcome, but wanted. Both tunes were composed for Staples by Son Little.
As she works through the hallowed resignation and resolve of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," Staples reaches as deeply down into her own voice as she does into the listener's soul. Little throws in a gnarled guitar solo and electronic flourishes that both honor and update a track done by the Staple Singers way back in 1962. The final cut is the Pops Staples gem "Wish I Had Answered" that was first recorded by the family in '63. This time around, Mavis does it up by herself -- though not without a chorus of supporting voices. Like the rest of the EP, her take is both classic and contemporary.
The only shortcoming of the 'Your Good Fortune' EP is just that... it's short. The magic that Mavis Staples and Son Little make together deserves a whole lot more than just four songs.
'Your Good Fortune' is out now on ANTI Records and is available - HERE.
Following the lead of so many of her contemporaries, singer/songwriter Liz Longley turned to Kickstarter when she was ready to make a record. After raising nearly $55,000, the Berklee School of Music graduate made the record she wanted to make with guitarist/producer Gus Berry. Longley also relocated from Boston to Nashville and signed on with Sugar Hill Records, adding a little folk-pop goodness to their roots-based roster. The eponymous effort finds Longley mining the all-too-familiar terrain of lost love.
Kelly McCartney: So... Kickstarter. It served you well. Do you think crowdfunding is the way this thing is going to keep going -- whether it's Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, or whatever?
Liz Longley: I love Kickstarter and am so thankful for the opportunity it provided to team up with fans and make a record. The album I made with 650 fans through Kickstarter led to a record deal, in my case, so my next record will not be crowdfunded. For fans and creators to be able to share in a creative endeavor like that is a unique experience and I think it'll continue to be a popular route.
KM: When you were making this record, you put a camera in the studio and streamed the whole process as one of the Kickstarter perks. How in the world did that not make you self-conscious?
LL: The people who were tuning in already believed in the record enough to fund it. I knew most of the names of the donors through meeting them at shows over the years. I knew it was safe to be myself and create freely.
KM: Heartbreak is what ties the whole thing together. Seeing as it's such a universal experience, how do you find ways to say, "This sucks!" that haven't been said already?
LL: Every relationship is unique. I used specifics from my experiences to make it more real for the listener... and a metaphor or two to add another dimension. The song "Bad Habit" compares my relationship with a guy to his relationship with cigarettes, for example.
KM: Do you think people are born writers or is it a skill that can be taught (and not just refined)?
LL: I think it can be taught. I certainly hope it can. I'm still learning!
KM: Dealing with Boston drivers notwithstanding, tell me about your time at Berklee. Was it everything you wanted it to be?
LL: It was more than I thought it would be, honestly. It shaped me as a writer, helped me grow as a performer, and connected me to a network of incredible musicians that I still share the stage with to this day.
Liz Longley's self-titled Sugar Hill Records debut is out now and is available - HERE.
'Tetu' (Determined) is Quebecois four-piece Le Vent du Nord's eight album, and one that sees the band play to, and develop, existing and new strengths. If you have heard the band, live or on record, you will know the sound, the instrumentation, and the often-astounding togetherness of the band. Indeed this is what they have built their legend on. If you are new to the band, as indeed I am, 'Tetu' is the type of record which will make you want to find out more about them, their other albums, and most importantly, the songs and traditions which they tap into to create works like this.
This time around, the Vent boys (Nicolas Boulerice - hurdy gurdy, accordion, Oliver Demers - fiddle, mandolin, Rejean Brunet - bass, Simon Beaudry - bouzouki, with each contributing to vocals and much more) have gone 'back to basics', recording the album in a backwoods studio not far from their Quebec base. On it, they explore their Quebecois roots, and some long forgotten traditions, both of song and dance. 'Tetu' blends self-written and traditional pieces, all bound together by the band's seamless energy and sense of innovation.
Catch a glimpse of opener "Noce tragique" and you will catch a feel of 'Tetu' straight away, complete with Jews harp and finely-tooled vocals. You'll get the swing of rising fiddles, and the album's perfect juxtaposition of an old, country, almost 'rustic' feel (that recording process again) and a youthful, thrusting musical attitude. Add in razor-sharp instrumentation and harmonies, and 'Tetu' can't have a better start.
"Loup-Garou" has a swinging bounce to it, from its hurdy gurdy, bass guitar and percussion-filled opening, to the clever swapping between lead and harmony vocals, and "Le rosier" shows how at ease LVDN are with their material. It sounds easy, it sounds fun, as they move between light and shade, happiness and blues.
Tune sets like "Cardeuse-Riopel" and "D'ouest en est" take traditional pieces, where they are from and what they represent, and thrust them far into the future. The band deliver them with foot-stomping fever, the end results being overwhelmingly uplifting and optimistic.
"Confederation" is a Boulerice song about "North American French-speakers who can often be forgetful". Make of that what you will, but it is clearly a comment on the relationship between language, culture (and indeed music), whilst "Chaise ardente" sees its hero descend to hell in the name of curiosity. "Forillon," meanwhile, is the story of Forillon Park, which was created in part by a forced re-settlement of several families in the area, by an allegedly bullying firm of private contractors.
By contrast, "Petit reve IX" is, while 'just' an interlude, a beautiful moment, with a piped hurdy line, subtle guitar, and sliding fiddle - like the dream that it is. As you would expect from a song called "Pauvre enfant," there are some affecting, emotional vocals on this one, which are complemented by soaring fiddle lines later on. And "L'echafaud" is darker still, with the resounding vocals full of sadness and bittersweet regret, as a man sentenced to death looks back on his life. This short track ably demonstrates the variety of 'Tetu'.
"Papineau" shows once again the strength and control of the interplay between lead and harmony vocals, whilst closer "Amant volage" swings and cuts with some deft fiddle and piano to finish things off.
'Tetu' is highlighted by some seeping, swooping, expert playing, and sympathetic singing - LVDN are a group who really work together on all fronts. A delight.
'Tetu' is out now on Borealis Records and is available - HERE.
Norah Rendell is the Canadian singer behind the beautiful new album, 'Spinning Yarns.' Blending a range of influences and inputs over twelve tracks, drawn from some interesting sources. Showcasing the power of both song and community, the album shows off the strength of Norah's singing, and the conviction she puts into her music. It also speaks of the immigrant experience, as many of the pieces have their roots in the British Isles and Ireland. We spoke to Norah about the album, her singing roots and the songs she has encountered that make up 'Spinning Yarns.'
Gideon Thomas: Norah, thank you for taking the time to talk to Folk Alley. I wanted to start off by asking about your own background, how you came to singing, and how you'd describe your personal singing practice.
Norah Rendell: Thanks for featuring the album on Folk Alley - it's great to chat with you. I came to singing through the Irish session scene in my home town of Vancouver, British Columbia, but I have always loved singing - in the car, in the shower, anywhere really. I was trained as a recorder player, and pursuing a career in early music performance when I discovered my passion for singing, in particular traditional songs. I sing all sorts of folk songs, but these days I'm mostly singing Irish songs with Canadian and American connections.
The new album is full of wonderful versions of some well-known, and lesser-known songs. Tell us about the research you undertook for the record - what started you off on the journey, and what were some of the sources you used?
I've been thumbing through books of Canadian folk songs for years seeking out rare versions. For this album, I turned to field recordings for raw material, more than I ever have before. The key source that inspired this recording was Angelo Dornan, an incredibly skilled singer with a gorgeous repertoire from Elgin, New Brunswick. About five years back, my husband Brian shared a collection of Dornan's field recordings with me. He had received them from Catherine Crowe, a singer and artist from Ontario. I was blown away by the songs themselves, and by Dornan's compelling delivery, much of which was characterized by an unmistakable Irish style.
Having recently spent two years studying music in Ireland (and missing Canada), these recordings provided a way for me to connect my passion for Irish trad with my own heritage. Looking back now, hearing Dornan's singing was a bit of an ah-ha moment.
Other sources were field recordings from MacEdward Leach and the Atlantic Songs of Canada and collections from Helen Creighton. My husband, Brian Miller, is the real researcher in the family and he has impeccable taste in songs. He led me toward some of the best singers in the MacEdward Leach collection, like Cyril O'Brien (St. Patrick's Day) and the Molloys (Forty Fishermen).
And the specifically Canadian versions talk of related ideas like immigration, community and continuity. Why did you want to pick up on these areas?
I suppose most of the songs are about unrequited love, betrayal, accidents, death and vengeance - all the good stuff! Communities across the globe have to find ways of dealing with these big issues all the time. I am intrigued by the timelessness of the old songs. Another connection to community is that these songs would have usually been shared in communal settings such as house parties or musical gatherings. They are far from Kumbaya campfire sing-a-longs, but their existence is proof that people have been singing for a long time, to pass the time or to document/process important (often emotional) events.
There's focus on music in the community, and music in many different communities - is this an important consideration for you?
I was drawn to traditional Irish music in my early twenties first and foremost because I loved the music itself, but there was much more to it than that - I loved the humility of the musicians I met, the parties, the constant searching for renewed material, the comradery. It was fun, and casual. Irish music instantly became a part of my everyday life. I had tunes and songs dancing around in my ears all day and night and I never felt alone. That sounds silly, but it is true.
Music, especially folk music, has the power to bring people together. I think that is an amazing thing, really. These days, I'm spending a lot of my time running an Irish music school in Saint Paul, Minnesota called the Center for Irish Music. I'm passionate about keeping the tradition alive, and I guess I'm walking the walk - teaching young kids the skill and joy of playing music while continuing to be a performing musician myself.
You've selected quite a band for the recording of 'Spinning Yarns', so give them a shout out.
Oh, I could go on and on...The accompanists on 'Spinning Yarns' are some of the best at accompanying trad Irish song in North America. Brian Miller (Bua) and Randy Gosa are my guitar-bouzouki dream-team. They both have drive, an ineffable drive in their playing, whether they are picking out a sensitive, unmeasured song, or accompanying "The Pinery Boy," a song from the album with a Wisconsin connection and a more Americana feel. I think rhythmic nuance differentiates a good arrangement of a traditional song from a "just ok" one, and that their genius is in their approach to rhythm and groove. Brian and Randy share a musical brain after working together for years on material with a similar theme to 'Spinning Yarns.' I am honoured to have them as the core collaborators on this album.
My old band mate from the Outside Track, Ailie Robertson, is an intuitive innovator on the harp and she loves songs. Back when we were touring together, she knew all the lyrics to my songs. I'm a hug fan of the harp, and I'm thrilled that she was able to make the trip to Minnesota to record the album. Dáithí Sproule, a good friend, and Altan's guitarist, is among the best. We have been working on other material together - maybe one day we'll I'll be lucky enough to do an album with him!
Tell us about your work with The Outside Track - are you recording or playing with them at present?
I left the Outside Track late in 2013 to launch a solo career and to be based closer to home. I have a two year-old son now and although I miss the European touring (ham, cheese, baguettes anyone?), I am perfectly content to be sleeping in the same bed most nights. My little sweetie is in a separate room across the hallway and I can eat whatever I want for breakfast!
I miss playing with the Outside Track. They are fantastic musicians and dear friends. They are releasing an album very soon, the first since I was in the band, and they're sound has made the transition seamlessly - your readers should check it out.
Finally, you've made reference to the special nature, and the 'truth' of traditional song. Why is singing and recording these songs so special and important for you?
Honestly, I have no idea - Maybe I was a traditional singer in a past life. My conscious mind finds traditional songs rather esoteric, but my heart and my musical brain loves them and won't allow me to stay away from them for long. I have talked to other traditional singers that have that same experience. There is both timelessness and a selflessness in a good traditional song. These days, I think those are two concepts that we could all spend more time reflecting upon. I have always been drawn to older things, reused items, colorful characters. There is wisdom to be gained from being attentive to the stories that such things carry along with. I love the idea that I am singing a song that some unknown person wrote, that others were moved to learn and adapt to their own lives, and that I enjoy in 2015. And then, there are those incredible Irish melodies, with melodic intricacies that may be unrivalled....
Norah Rendell's 'Spinning Yarns' is out now on Two Tap Music and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:24 AM
Album Review: Kristin Diable, 'Create Your Own Mythology'
Kristin Diable's 'Create Your Own Mythology' is an absolute gem of a record. Right out of the gate, the first track is equal parts Dusty Springfield, Lissie, and Neko Case, bringing the best from those renowned artists to bear in one crazy-great piece. Next up, "Hold Steady" deploys a slinky, shuffling groove and stretches out toward Amy Winehouse and Duffy territory, and darn if it doesn't pretty much get there. If the rest of the album cleared those two bars, 'Create Your Own Mythology' would be a real masterpiece. But the rest of the album falls just shy, leaving the set to settle for tags like 'admirable effort,' 'remarkable debut,' and, of course, 'absolute gem.'
Still, after the pair of openers brings you to the edge of your seat, buckle on up for the ride to come. From "Time Will Wait" through the closer, these are well-crafted, superbly rendered tunes that do, in fact, create a certain mythology of their own. Even surrounded by and immersed in a world of her own making, it's clear that Diable can sing. And she does so with not just her voice, but her heart and soul, as well -- a skill sorely lacking in many of today's more vigorous vocalists.
Producer Dave Cobb sure knows how to pick 'em. Cobb already has records by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, and Shooter Jennings in his portfolio, and Diable's makes a fine addition.
In concert, he's unassuming: wandering onto the stage as if he has all the time in the world, and usually in a pair of ripped and dirty jeans a size and a half or so too large for his lanky frame. When he leans into the microphone, hunched over one of his amazing instruments, he talks to the audience as if they're all in on it - there are no secrets between Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr and his fans...or maybe "friends" is a better word than fans - the intimacy Parr creates during a show is akin to friends getting together to make, and talk, about music. Once he pushes back from the mic, though, and starts to play, Charlie Parr is anything but unassuming.
Parr, a self-taught guitarist and banjo player, grew up surrounded by his music-loving father's vast collection of folk and blues records. He immersed himself in the sounds of Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, among others, and those influences are all very apparent in his newest recording, 'Stumpjumper.'
At the same time, however, 'Stumpjumper' is a bit of a departure for Charlie Parr. For one thing, it's the first album he'll release on his new label, Red House Records. For another, it's the first time Parr has recorded a solo album with a band and while at times his voice seems to be nearly overwhelmed by the additional instruments (perhaps a question of needing to be mic-ed a little closer?), the additional instrumentation ultimately serves as a nice foil to Parr's own unique guitar and banjo style. This is especially evident on the title track, which essentially serves as a sort of musical biography of Charlie Parr.
There's also a 7-plus minute retelling of the biblical story of Lazarus ("Resurrection"), a musical recreation of a conversation Parr overheard - a couple talking about what they didn't like about each other ("Evil Companion"), and some thoughts on getting older and watching how a family's dynamics shift ("Over the Red Cedar"). Charlie Parr, it seems, is inspired by anything and everything and, thankfully for the listener, he explains his inspirations in his liner notes.
Parr also shares the overarching theme of 'Stumpjumper,' which stems from a single song, the bluesy murder ballad "Delia." In preparation for the album, Parr spent hours listening to various versions of the song, letting the words and images roll around in his head until he came up with his own version of the story.
Charlie Parr fans needn't worry that his decision to sign with a label and his decision to record with a backing band will change him in any way. If nothing else, 'Stumpjumper' proves that Parr's a master musician, a craftsman utterly devoted to the task at hand, and adept at using his own unique style to create something that, although totally original, very clearly has its roots in the familiar.
'Stumpjumper' will be released via Red House Records on April 28 and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the Honeycutters live the roots life all the way through... even releasing their upcoming 'Me Oh My' LP on Organic Records. With singer/songwriter -- and, now, producer -- Amanda Platt at the helm, the group puts their own spin on an old form. Sure, there's a timeless quality to honest songs done up by a bunch of great players; but when Platt, Tal Taylor (mandolin), Rick Cooper (bass), Josh Milligan (drums), and Matt Smith (pedal steel, electric guitar, and dobro) come together, there's also a freshness to it.
KM: Along with folks like Claire Lynch, Nora Jane Struthers, and Lindsay Lou, you are the female leader of an otherwise all-male band. It wasn't that long ago that Hazel & Alice broke that particular glass ceiling. What's it take to wear that hat well?
AP: I'm definitely still learning! I'm not someone who particularly relishes the leadership position...it's been a good experience for me because I've had to get a lot more definitive about what I want. It's taken me a while to realize that the pure democracy model doesn't always work that well in a five-piece band.,, sometimes someone just needs to say what's happening and go ahead with it. Some days that's me.
You even stepped into the role of producer on this one. How'd that feel? And will you do it again in the future or for other artists?
I would really love to do it for other artists. I hadn't thought much about that. But I think it would be fun to play that role in a situation where it wasn't necessarily my voice and my music being produced. I did enjoy making this record. I was working with a group of people (Jon Ashley, our engineer, and the guys in the band) who I really trust and who are all supportive and uplifting. So it felt safe. Also, I just felt like I know these songs better than anyone else and that made me the best person to decide how they'd come to life.
You've said that you feel like you've found your voice with this record. Did you notice any specific breakthrough moment or internal shift that happened? Or was it a more natural, gradual arrival?
I'm not sure... I think it was pretty gradual. I'm not usually one to have big flash-of-light epiphanies. I don't love change, and it usually takes me a while to adjust and realize the good that's come out of it. The summer before we hit the studio was full of change and some pretty big emotional moves for me. I think that the air really started to clear when I was recording my vocals and I realized that I had survived all that turmoil and there was a new calmness in my voice. I just felt more in charge. Also, I think that this particular group of songs is more honest for me. I always blend truth and fiction when I'm writing, but I feel like I stayed more personal here.
Asheville seems to have a fairly flourishing music scene. Tell me a bit about that community and how you guys fit into it.
It does have a very flourishing music scene! So much variety. It's been that way a long time, and I think something that keeps it really community-oriented is that no one really moves here to "make it" like you might find in bigger cities. Plenty of folks, myself included, come here for the music and to pursue a career in it, but there's not really a strong sense of competition. Everyone in the Honeycutters plays in other bands, and it's not unusual to find two or three of us hanging out at a friend's open mic on a Monday. There's just a lot of great people and great music and great beer.
How much does geography factor into your music? Do you think you'd be the same artist if you lived in, say, Florida or North Dakota?
I'm really not sure. I think I'm definitely inspired by the traveling aspect of my job.. seeing the contrast around this country is pretty amazing, both geographically and culturally. I've never been to North Dakota. I think that and Alaska are the only two states I haven't visited, at this point.
'Me Oh My' will be released via Organic Records on April 21. You can pre-order HERE.
Somewhere between Texas, Virginia, Arizona, and Alaska -- that's where James McMurtry looked for himself and his voice as an aspiring young singer/songwriter. By the time his 1989 debut, 'Too Long in the Wasteland,' came to pass, he'd found both and was back in Texas where it all began. Since then, McMurtry has released another 10 records, with his 12th, 'Complicate Game,' dropping just recently. It's his first album in six years and it finds the oft-political writer turning his pen to the personal, instead.
KM: How are you adapting to the ever-shifting sands of the music business and the artists' economy?
JM: The business seems to have adapted to me. I never had much in the way of record sales. Now, nobody does, and acts like me, who already know how to tour on the cheap, are the ones still up running.
Most songwriters are either storytellers or autobiographers -- rarely are they both. Is that an instinctual or a learned divergence? Nature or nurture?
I don't know. I prefer to write fiction. I grew up in a house where fiction was written on a normal basis, so one could argue for nurture in my case. My father, by contrast, grew up in a house where no one read fiction, much less wrote it. His people read for information, 'Farmer's Almanac' and the like. He must have been born a fiction writer.
When you're writing a story, how do you choose which perspective to take? And have you ever gone back and written a companion piece from a different character's point of view?
I've never done the alternate pov companion piece. My songs start with two lines and a melody. When I hear the lines, I think, "Who said that?" If I'm lucky, I can conjure up a character who would have spoken the lines. Then I write the song either from the character's point of view or third person omniscient. Once in a while, I'll try second person.
Copyright infringement aside, do you ever worry that all the songs have been written? Or is there an infinite stream of inspiration to tap?
You can always use different words, different grooves, melodies . . .
On the new record, you focus on the personal more than the political. While those approaches can be equally powerful, do you think we'll ever get to a time when songs like "We Can't Make It Here" are no longer a necessary part of the equation?
There will be protest songs as long as people are pissed off. Let's hope they remain pissed off rather than apathetic.
James McMurtry's 'Complicated Game' is out now on Complicated Game Records and is available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:26 AM
Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150402
April 8, 2015
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150402. Aired between April 3 - 9, 2015. Hosted by Elena See
Artist - Title - Album - Label
Sam Bush - The Wizard of Oz - King of My World - Sugar Hill
Tom Paxton (live) - My Favorite Spring - Live for the Record - Sugar Hill
Chuck Brodsky - Bonehead Merkle - Last of the Old Time - Red House
The Steel Wheels - Find Your Mountain - Leave Some Things Behind - Big Ring Records
The Steel Wheels - Help Me - Leave Some Things Behind - Big Ring Records
Pentangle - Springtime Promises - Basket Of Light - Shanchie
The John Renbourn Group - John Barleycorn - A Maid in Bedlam - Shanachie
John Renbourn - The English Dance - The Black Balloon - Shanachie
Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan - Crossing Muddy Waters - Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan - Sugar Hill - Yep Roc
John Hiatt - God's Golden Eye - Crossing Muddy Waters - Vanguard
Sufjan Stevens - Should Have Known Better - Carrie & Lowell - Asthmatic Kitty Records
Norman Blake - Blake's Rag - Wood, Wire & Words - Plectrofone Records
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Everything Changed - Ionia - Lindsay Lou Music
Pokey LaFarge - Wanna Be Your Man - Something In the Water - Rounder
Steve Goodman (Jethro Burns) - Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Affordable Arts - Red Pajamas
Donovan - Give It All Up - Sutras - American
Pharis & Jason Romero - Backstep Indi - A Wanderer I'll Stay - Lula Records
Liz Longley - Peace of Mind - Liz Longley - Sugar Hill
Anna & Elizabeth - Little Black Train - Anna & Elizabeth - Free Dirt
Anna & Elizabeth - Very Day I'm Gone (Rambling Woman) - Anna & Elizabeth - Free Dirt
The Punch Brothers - Boll Weevil - The Phosphorescent Blues - Nonesuch
Lonnie Johnson - Playing With the Strings - Steppin' On the Blues - Columbia
Amos Lee - Mountains of Sorrow - Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song - Blue Note
The Honeycutters - Jukebox - Me Oh My - Organic Records
Ellis Paul - Jukebox On My Grave - American Jukebox Fables - Philo
Feufollet - Tired of Your Tears - Two Universes - Feufollet Records (Thirty
Sloan Wainwright - Tired of Wasting Time - Life Grows Back - Derby
Ryan Adams - Tired of Giving Up - Ryan Adams - PaxAm Records - Blue Note
The Mavericks - What Am I Supposed To Do - Mono - The Valory Music Co.
Caroline Spence - Hard Headed, Hard Hearted - Somehow - Caroline Spence
Folk Alley's weekly, syndicated radio show 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
Following the trail blazed by guys from Leon Russell to Sturgill Simpson, Sam Lewis applies his soulful voice and poet's heart to a new batch of tunes on his upcoming sophomore effort, 'Waiting On You.' The album brings some of the best Nashville has to bear out to support the young singer/songwriter, including Will Kimbrough, Darrell Scott, Gabe Dixon, and the McCrary Sisters.
On the breezy lead track, "3/4 Time," Lewis lets his inner optimist out for a romp, though it took some coaxing to actually emerge. He started writing the song in Nashville, but didn't call it a wrap until he'd hopped the pond and was spending some time in rural England last summer. Eventually, what began as a simple exercise in tempo and mood turned into one of the set's most solid offerings.
"This song initially began as a response to the simple fact that my new batch of material lacked an upbeat, 'happy' song," Lewis explains. "The lyrics changed significantly from start to finish because I wasn't happy with the pessimistic tone that was taking shape. The glass is usually half-full to me and I felt inclined to convey more of that mindset than taking the song down some negative path which was where it was obviously headed in the beginning. Sometimes happy songs come from frustrating situations and may even inspire us or at least make us feel like we are not alone. I only hope this comes across when you listen to '3/4 Time' even though the song is actually in 4/4."
Sam Lewis' 'Waiting On You' will be released on April 21 on Brash Records and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Pokey LaFarge may have been a slow kid, but he sure is a quick study. Growing up in Normal, Illinois, he found inspiration in guys like John Steinbeck, Muddy Waters, Ernest Hemingway, Willie Dixon, Jack Kerouac , and Bill Monroe. After high school, the aspiring songwriter hitchhiked his way around the country. Add all that up, and it's no wonder that LaFarge has become a thoroughly literate, highly prolific, traveling roots musician releasing his seventh full studio album in less than 10 years, the much-anticipated Something in the Water.
KM: Let's start off with some life lessons... It seems like you listened well to your elders (your grandparents, specifically), but then you took a risk and spent some time hitchhiking around the country. Looking back from now, what advice would you pass on to the next generation of traveling troubadours?
PL: Don't take anything anyone says too literally, but keep it in mind. Don't settle for what others may say is pre-ordained. Get out of town and see the world. Juxtapose what you've been taught with what you learn. Don't disregard anything...
Your old-time sound gets recorded on vintage gear and tape, but then it's squished into mp3s. Is that somewhat disheartening to you or is it just the cost of doing business in the 21st century?
Nope, not disheartening at all. I actually use digital and analog recording technology. I think both a Victrola and a laptop have their purpose. It's whatever helps the song, the performance, and the recording.
It seems like old-time music is enjoying a renewed interest lately. Are more people playing it, are they playing it better, or are more people just paying attention?
I don't know if there are more people playing now or better than, say, 30 years ago when the folk revival sort of died out. I certainly think that are more people paying attention by the day. I think the Internet is a great tool for exposure to this music. It's accessible and it means that not everyone needs to go out digging for records to get their hands on to this music. I think, to the credit of some of my peers, they've done a bang up job of harnessing some of the early, early greats and brought it into the future.
Do you feel like you were born in the wrong decade or are you okay being a musical ambassador to another era?
Not so much. I'm much more excited about the opportunity the future brings and, thus, feel much more excited about the potential of being an ambassador to the coming times.
Having bounced around between different band configurations and label affiliations, how are you feeling about where you are now and where you're headed?
Well, I know two things to be true: First, I'm not in complete control of the future; but, second, I know that I've become successful doing one thing -- being myself. So I'll continue doing just that -- whatever that is...
Pokey LaFarge new album, 'Something In the Water' will be released on April 7 via Rounder Records and is available for pre-order - HERE.
Deb Talan and Steve Tannen (aka the Weepies) have had quite a go of it lately. Over the past five years, the husband-wife duo has stayed at home in Iowa raising three kids, beating breast cancer, and recording an album -- 'Sirens.' The name is a tip of the hat to both sweet-voiced muses and shrill-toned alarms because the Weepies aren't two to shy away from things. Rather, they take life head-on with clear eyes and full hearts. So, naturally, they can't lose.
KM: It's probably safe to say that you guys are one of very few contemporary folk acts to bundle together one million album sales. How does that feel for you, personally? But, also, what do you think it says about the audience and broader music world?
ST: A big number like that is softened because it happened so slowly, over years. We never had a "hit" or a moment, just a gradual ability to reach out a little further, which has been amazing.
Our level of recognition is really low, so it's still a surprise when things work or when my dad says he heard us while on hold with Delta, yet we get to write and put out records and tour and most of the things that come along with being a recognized musician -- it's the perfect mix for us. Maybe our own tastes overlap with a slightly wider audience, but we're just trying to make music we like. "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" remains the ultimate songwriting goal. Well, that and "Sex Machine."
How has it been to stay put for a while? And, now, to hit the road again?
Great to stay put (pregnancy and new baby), then frustrating to stay put (cancer), and now SUPER AMAZING AWESOME that we can go on the road. Been too long and we are looking forward to it the most you can look forward to anything.
Having people remotely record parts for the new album must have been both a creative dream and a logistical nightmare. Were you able to coax out your vision for the tunes or did you let the players run with whatever they felt would work?
Logistically, it was actually easier than usual -- to get any group of musicians together into a studio can be a challenge. To get these particular guys in a room at the same time would have been impossible, yet here they are on these tracks together! The generosity of each player made it happen -- their willingness to get in a local studio or Skype with us at 8 a.m. is what made this record.
When we approached the musicians, the songs were already there, and the heart of what Deb and I do was laid down. We know the previous work of each musician so well -- we'd been watching their dance moves for years, so to speak -- but they still exceeded our hopes. So it was mostly a creative dream. We literally picked these players from a dream list: "If we could work with ANYONE, who would we ask," and they all said yes. We wanted each player to do their thing, and tried to give as much or as little direction in order to tap in to their own magic. We wouldn't presume to tell Gerry Leonard what guitar tone to get, or instruct Pete Thomas on groove, but we would discuss taking the eighth note feel out of the bridge, and sing the horn parts we had in mind over the phone.
Making a record when, presumably, you both were in such a raw and vulnerable space... that's a brave thing to do. Do you think having that creative outlet and purpose actually aided the healing process?
I'm not sure that's right about the bravery. Deb approached treatment bravely, because that's scary and she had to walk through it. Making a record isn't scary, though, and we could see that was a helpful thing to do. It provided a focus beyond cancer. Family, friends, and then this project... so then cancer really had to take a backseat to all that, at least in our heads and in day-to-day conversation. Deb was pretty fierce and that attitude helped. And I had something to worry over that wasn't
Deb or the kids when I couldn't sleep.
In an age when so many artists are putting out EPs, you guys cobbled together 16 tracks. Is there one among the group that captures the essence of the record and experience? Or do they really need to be taken as a whole to understand?
We recorded many more than this, actually. This is the short version! But these 16 feel like snapshots from the year -- just like in a photo album. Each song is a record of a moment, and the whole album gives a clearer impression. "No Trouble" still seems resonant, but it certainly misses a lot about the year, as well. And we wanted to start with "River from the Sky" because it was very much about the year. Though if we had to put our finger on what started the record, it would be a really simple one at the end called "My Little Love." It's about our boys, and it was the two of us on a cold afternoon singing and playing in the studio. You can hear the kids outside at one point. It's a place of hope, and that recording inspired us to keep going back there.
The Weepies new album 'Sirens' will be released on April 28 via Nettwerk Records and is available for pre-order HERE.
On the new 'Strange Trails,' Lord Huron picks up right where 'Lonesome Dreams' left off... with impossibly catchy melodies, emphatically fanciful lyrics, and intriguingly hazy production. Lord Huron has a very specific, radio-ready sound that emerges somewhere between the crisp acoustic guitars and Ben Schneider's layered vocals, and which owes a solid debt to My Morning Jacket, Fleet Foxes, and Animal Collective.
As on that predecessor, the songs here find their singer traversing the land and brooding about love in the most cheerful way imaginable. Heck, even their titles betray that underlying theme -- "Meet Me in the Woods," "The Yawning Grave," "Frozen Pines," and "Way Out There." To really drive it home on songs like "La Belle Fleur Sauvage," "The World Ender," and "Cursed," chunky guitars chug like steam engines headed out of western towns in search of big, blue skies and wide open plains to help that same singer forget about the loveliest little gal either side of the Rio Grande.
To be sure, 'Strange Trails' is a pleasant and pleasing record, an easy, folk-rock listen teeming with potential singles and gleaming platitudes. And, maybe, that's enough. It was certainly enough for 'Lonesome Dreams' to catch on like wildfire. After all, not everyone has to be Neil Young or even Justin Vernon -- indeed, not everyone can be Neil Young or Justin Vernon. Some people get to be Ben Schneider.
'Strange Trails' comes out April 7 and can be ordered HERE.
Laura Marling, the British songstress who released four records in five years, returns with her fifth, 'Short Movie.' After the earlier flurry of activity, Marling spent a couple of years in a self-imposed exile in Los Angeles surrounded by people who made art for art's sake and nothing more. The experience recalibrated and renewed her dedication to her own art, and resulted in this album.
Marling admits that she's not a skilled enough musician to craft exquisitely simple songs. That's why her exquisitely complex compositions meander to and fro through intricate arrangements and varied signatures. Because of that, Marling has, in the past, drawn comparisons to Joni Mitchell. Here, that influence is evidenced on songs like "I Feel Your Love" and "Easy," though Marling's interpolation of Mitchell's style is not as true as on, say, Eva Cassidy's records. Marling uses Mitchell as a mere starting point before veering off in all manner of directions.
Once she gets going, Marling channels her inner Chrissie Hynde on "False Hope" and "Gurdjieffs's Daughter," then does her best Lou Reed-inspired talk-sing on "Strange" to craft some of her edgiest pieces. A little further in, "Don't Let Me Bring You Down" feels like classic Ani DiFranco (though not without a small injection of Hynde-style swagger). That song's opening lines sum up so much of what L.A. life was like for Marling -- and anyone else, for that matter: "Living here is a game I don't know how to play. Are you really not anybody until somebody knows your name?"
On the folkier, acoustic bits, Marling readily allows Nick Drake's ghost to haunt "Warrior" and "How Can I" to great effect. Wonderful songs, both. Plugging in, Marling puts a plodding pulse and a tempered electric vibe on "Walk Alone," "Howl," and "Worship Me" -- all of which recall M. Ward or, maybe, Iron & Wine. They are moody and muted, and some of Marling's best works. As a follow-up to 2013's critically acclaimed 'Once I Was an Eagle,' this set may not clear that record's bar, but it holds its own.
'Short Movie' was released through Ribbon Music on March 24 and is available HERE.