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.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 11:19 AM
An Exclusive Interview with Peter Mulvey - 'Take Down Your Flag'
In response to the Charleston, SC shootings, Milwaukee singer-songwriter, Peter Mulvey, has found himself at the forefront of a folk musicians' movement with his protest song "Take Down Your Flag". The song began as a simple request for the South Carolina government to take the confederate flag down to half-staff in the wake of the massacre, in which 9 black Americans were gunned down in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mulvey wrote one verse of the song and then asked other folk musicians to write 8 more verses, one for each victim. Since the song's posting online, over 200 verses have been written by songwriters like Ani Difranco, Melissa Ferrick, Anais Mitchell, Vance Gilbert, Mark Erelli and many more.
On June 30th - two weeks after the shootings - Peter Mulvey took the time to talk to Folk Alley about "Take Down Your Flag".
Cindy Howes: You wrote the song "Take Down Your Flag" in response to the Charleston, SC shootings on June 17. When did you actually write the song?
Peter Mulvey: I wrote the song in the dressing room, next to Ani Difranco, underneath the Calvin Theater in Northampton, on Friday June 19. I wrote it about a half hour before I went on stage, it took ten minutes.
Can you explain the moment that you were moved to write it?
It was the two days of talking. The shootings, I found out about them Wednesday night, Thursday I spent the day alone and hanging out with Pamela Means. She and I are Milwaukee ex-patriots, although I have since moved back. We've been talking about race for 25 years, she's of mixed race and we have our own stories. Then I talked to Ani and her band members before our show. Then I wrote the song just before the show. What led up to it was 25 years, actually 40 years, of thinking about this and then two days of conversation and then it was all distilled in ten minutes.
How did you come up with the idea of using other songwriters to add their own verse? Why was it important for other songwriters to add their voice and verses?
There's only so much one song can do, and the only verse I wrote which mentioned any of the victims was a verse for Susie Jackson because I was appalled that an 87-year old person could be murdered. I wrote a verse only for her as sort of a window to get into this tragedy. A fan of mine wrote and asked if I was going to write 8 more verses (for each of the victims). At that moment, a friend called and ask to cover the song. I said "Fine, but write another verse." Then Pamela Means, Ani Difranco, Erin Mckeown, Melissa Ferrick, Birds of Chicago, Paula Cole and many others have all written a verse. Jeff Daniels, the actor, told me he wrote a verse, but hasn't recorded it yet. This has kind of gotten out from under me.
Whose verses have you been surprised the most by?
Vance Gilbert. I wrote to him at one o'clock in the morning on Saturday. He told me he would do it the next morning, but then he got out of bed and wrote a verse right that moment. He sent it to me by 3 in the morning. He chose Dylan Roof as his victim. He chose the shooter as his victim. That surprised me and then what startled me more is when I wrote to him "That's an Olympic level amount of forgiveness," he wrote back and said "No. It's a verse in a song. Forgiveness is a process and I'm going to be working on it". That was a really bracing clarification of what it must feel like to have the same color skin as the people who were killed for the color of their skin and nothing more. It's like messing with the Taliban, in that; you don't even have to mess with these people for them to kill you. You can just be alive and they'll kill you for it. We who are not marked as targets, we can't know what it's like until we talk to somebody who is. That's the thing I most hope: that people will talk to each other, so they can wake up to the realities of their fellow human beings.
You told me that you only wrote one verse for "Take Down Your Flag", but in actuality, you wrote two?
Yes. I wrote a verse for Bree Newsome the incredibly brave hero who climbed that flag pole and took that flag down. She did it respectfully, with love, she had a smile on her face, and she was quoting from the bible. She and her pal who helped her, James, they didn't even let the flag touch the ground, they didn't burn it and they didn't shout profanity. They just took it down. She's made an amazing statement and she is my hero. She is in real danger now. She has messed with people who will remember her name. I am awestruck by her courage. You know, I've written a song, politicians have talked and Walmart has weighed in, but every funeral that was happening, had to happen underneath that flag. She is the only human being who has managed to give even an hour or two of relief from that small measure that must add to the pain and sorrow of those people.
The classic way of presenting a "folk protest song" is in a live setting usually feeding off the energy of other protestors (Pete Seeger, Joan Baez), but can you talk about the experience you have felt writing a protest song in 2015 and using social media as your way of spreading the word?
Yeah, it's super weird! It's super beautiful and super weird. The whole world is like this giant amalgamated, atomized, on-going concert/high school reunion. Everyone can talk to everyone in real time. I remember seeing a documentary about "We Shall Overcome" and it took months for the version to solidify, and then it swept. Now we have this weird thing where it's only been ten days and it's been sweeping, obviously a shallower version of impact within the culture, but it happens more quickly and happens in a more surreal way. I know the internet is a weird place and Facebook is a weird place, but I'm glad to see this song get out there. The first inkling of how powerful this stuff was for me was The Arab Spring and The Black Lives Matter moment. Some of the central figures, Deray McKesson and Netta Elzie, their work is almost exclusively on Twitter. It's amazing what they are accomplishing. They are holding to the fire, the President of the United States of America and twitter is allowing them to do this. It's just head spinning how everything has changed. I think it's changing for the good.
What is the next step for "Take Down Your Flag"?
We're going to be doing a benefit concert via Concert Window on July 12th in the afternoon. It'll probably start with me and probably be a rolling tag-team thing where everyone will be streaming on their feeds. The idea is to raise money. I did an impromptu one with almost no promotion on a hotel room on Friday night and about 50 people watched and donated $700 to the Emanuel Hope Fund which was immensely soothing to all the heartache here. I'm hoping we can raise thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. There are so many bereft children here who are going to need braces and tuition and probably therapy. The last funeral happens this Thursday when Rev. Simmons is laid to rest in Colombia. Then everyone's just gotta walk through the alien landscape of loss and we have to help them. It's just imperative that we help them.
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.