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.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 4:25 PM
Important information about your Folk Alley account
March 24, 2015
Dear Folk Alley Listener,
On March 23, 2015, Folk Alley confirmed a breach in the security of the Folk Alley website. This unauthorized access resulted in the exposure of your information stored on the site. This information contained email addresses and passwords used to register with the site. There is no evidence that names, addresses and phone numbers were accessed. It did not contain data such as credit card numbers, as we do not store this on our site.
The unauthorized access was suspected during a routine review of logs. After further investigation, the scope of the breach was identified. The vulnerability that was exploited in order to gain access to the server has been corrected.
For the safety of your account, and to protect other accounts for which you may use the same information, we advise that you change your password at sites using the same email and password. We will soon be sending correspondence with instructions on how to regain access to your account.
Director of Programming
Posted by admin at 5:31 PM
Album Review: Brandi Carlile, 'The Firewatcher's Daughter'
Sometimes, on a record, individual tracks stand out on the very first listen -- for better or worse -- but the collection, as a whole, takes a few more spins to really sink in. Even then, it might not fully come together as a cohesive listening experience although it might still be enjoyable when taken in fits and starts. Such is the case with Brandi Carlile's'The Firewatcher's Daughter' (and, indeed, her last two records, as well). There are some absolutely, immediately stellar pixels on this album, but the bigger picture takes a minute to come into view.
Buzzing with excitement -- like their parents are out of town -- Carlile and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) get things going with the wildly insistent "Wherever Is Your Heart." But, just as quickly, they rein it all back in on the very next cut. If "Wherever Is Your Heart" is their Saturday night, then "The Eye" is their Sunday morning. With three-fold harmonies that stick together for the entire piece,"The Eye" holds in it so much of what makes Carlile and the twins so very special, in both style and substance. Lyrically, it digs into one of the band's recurring themes, that of drinking as an escape and an excuse, but always written with the hand of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.
A little further in, "Mainstream Kid" stands as the edgiest thing Carlile and company have ever done. Gritty, vintage guitars (including a blazing solo) drop off about halfway through, but the petulant kick drum keeps the drive going as Carlile brings it down just enough to then let everything cut loose and carry on. It's going to be a thrill seeing them rock this one live. Though "Beginning to Feel the Years" has the unenviable job of following it in the sequence, it gets its job done, serving as a respite, a recovery from the pummeling -- albeit a pleasing one -- that is "Mainstream Kid."
On the proverbial side two, "Blood Muscle Skin & Bone" and "Alibi" pick up, somewhat, where "Mainstream Kid" left off, while, deeper still, "The Stranger at My Door," from which the album's title is drawn, may well be the musical synthesis of Carlile's influences. Here, a dusty, cowboy bluster collides with Queen-esque background vocals that come out of nowhere -- and somehow still work -- proving that Carlile really is the musical love child of Johnny Cash and Freddie Mercury. And proudly, rightfully so.
Though there's an awful lot of heart on this album, the last entry, a cover of the Avett Brothers' "Murder in the City," is pretty magical, particularly when comes Carlile's subtle injection of emotion on the last few lines about her wife and daughter. That moment will surely resonate with so many who are only just beginning to enjoy the ability to share their name with the ones they love.
As on her previous efforts, Carlile uses 'The Firewatcher's Daughter' to explore the various closing and opening of doors that make up a life worth living. And, as always, she does so with an obvious gratitude for both.
'The Firewatcher's Daughter' was released on March 3 via ATO Records, and is available - HERE.
Martin Sexton is one of those guys who has been slugging it out on the singer/songwriter circuit for 25 years. Though he dangled his toe in the major label waters in the late 1990s, Sexton has been, by and large, a fiercely independent artist. Defying anyone and everyone's attempts to pin him down -- and confounding those who might expect him to be a typical folkie -- Sexton has long-asserted his artistic independence by being one of the most soulful cats to ever sling an acoustic guitar. And, on his new 'Mixtape of the Open Road,' he takes that dismissal of genres to a whole new level.
KM: There's a lot of talk lately about middle-class creatives -- musicians who can make a decent living without ever "breaking." Seems like you fit in there. Has that always/ever been enough? Or would you have preferred to go big?
MS: I don't think I quite fit that category. I am blessed with, and continue to be amazed by, the fans who keep coming and growing in number... and, yes, what a wonderful time it is to be an independent artist. To call it a "decent" living is not only inaccurate, but does not honor the gift I'm so grateful to have.
You've been a pretty consistent road dog for the past 20 years. Does it get to a point, somewhere in there, that the road feels more like home than home does?
As a recording artist and a touring artist, I feel very at home on the road, naturally, but nothing could compare with being with my family on the Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. That's where my heart lives. And although our house recently burned down, it's like church -- the hallowed ground remains and we will rebuild our beloved camp.
The varied conceit for your Mixtape record... did it come before or after you had the songs?
It came after I had the songs. The songs dictated to me that the concept of this record would be that of a mixtape as they were pulling me in 12 different directions. There are some throwback-feeling tunes on Mixtape that recall a simpler, seemingly more joyful time in the world.
Do you feel like we, collectively, need to be reminded to just slow down and enjoy life? Music is certainly a great way to communicate things like that, even subliminally.
Yes. I made this record in a joyful space and, if that reminds people to stop and smell the roses, then that's a beautiful thing. While I kept some of the subject matter light or simple, I also wanted to retain the message -- unity, hope, and dream chasing -- what I've always strived to convey through my music.
People describe you and your music in all sorts of ways. How do you describe what you do?
To describe myself... hmm... I'd have to say soul music, as the music is coming from my heart and soul. It comes from an honest place, and I genuinely mean it.
'Mixtape of the Open Road' was released on February 10th on Kitchen Table Records and is available - HERE
Austin's Alejandro Rose-Garcia is professionally known as Shakey Graves, and with his new record, 'And the War Came,' he extends the ground - emotionally and sonically - broken by his 2011 self-released debut album, 'Roll the Bones.' That album brought him national acclaim and, three years later, still ranks near the top of Bandcamp's digital best-seller charts.
"The first album was me wanting to burn down my life, cut my hair off, and run screaming into the woods," says Rose-Garcia. "This (new) album is the trials and tribulations of becoming domesticated, letting people into your world and letting go of selfishness-the story of becoming a pair, losing that, and reconciling with the loss and gain of love."
Rose-Garcia knew that he wanted the follow-up to achieve something different. "With the first album, I didn't have any expectations except my own," he says. "This time, I was making something people were going to listen to out of the gate. I tried to maintain everything I enjoy about recording, the weird homemade aspect, but I was seeking a new, shining sound quality. The concepts for the songs are a little bigger. This is not the 'Mr, Folk, Hobo Mountain' album - it's more of the Cyborg Shakey Graves. It's definitely the next step in the staircase."
NPR Music's Ann Powers called 'And the War Came' one of the Top 15 Albums of 2014.
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Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell have both enjoyed lengthy, prolific, and acclaimed careers in the singer/songwriter world. Even as solo artists, though, they shared an artistic kinship that neither could deny... nor could their fans. So, when the two finally realized their long-time dream of collaborating as a duo, the Pine Hill Project was born. Gathering up some Kickstarter funds and Larry Campbell as producer, the two were off to the races. The result? 'Tomorrow You're Going,' their new album of cover tunes that will be released on March 17 via Signature Sounds.
How did it feel to raise more than twice your Kickstarter goal? That must have signaled that you were on to something.
LK: Based on the turnouts when we perform together, and emails from fans asking when we were going to record together, we knew there was interest from our audiences in us working together, but we didn't have a clear idea how MUCH interest there was. I mean, it's not an easy thing to measure. And, honestly, we were nervous that we wouldn't meet our Kickstarter goal at all. After we launched the campaign, we sat by our computers for the next 24 hours and watched the numbers come in (pretty exciting and very addictive). When we met our goal after 27 hours, we felt a combination of amazed, relieved, and very grateful to our fans for supporting us.
When the numbers continued to climb over the next 30 days, it told us a few important things: it meant we had enough money to make exactly the album we wanted to make and to promote it and not have to skimp on anything; it confirmed for us that there really was a sizable audience for a duo project from us; and it told us that the landscape of our musical world had truly changed since we both started out more than 20 years ago. That is, in a world of streaming services where fewer and fewer people are buying CDs and where record companies have little money to offer for recording budgets, people who do what we do can still make the records we want to and get them out to the world. It's really a new paradigm.
You guys have thought and talked about doing a project for over 20 years. Was it always going to be covers? Or was that just where you landed at this juncture in time and space?
RS: Yes, it was always going to be covers. We love wallowing in other people's songs! Always have.
LK: And we've always loved the same kinds of songs. It's kind of uncanny. Over the years, when one of us brought a cover song to the other, like when we've done occasional shows together, almost invariably the other one would like it just as much. Not always, but mostly. So making an album of songs we love was always the project we wanted to do.
The statement that your "voices have always understood each other" is such a thoughtful appreciation of your shared artistry. Let's get into that a bit more... is it an emotional understanding or a more technical, tone thing? Or, maybe, a bit of both?
RS: The voices naturally try to accommodate each other. Technically speaking, it's a really complex phenomenon. But it mostly comes down to note choice, phrasing, vocal weight, and timbre. With two-part harmony (as opposed to, say, three), the question of note choice is fairly open. There's lots of room for the second part to jump around in the intervals. Our harmonic choices each make sense to the other -- even if sometimes there are surprises... especially when there are surprises.
As for timbre, I can't explain how that happens (when it does happen). But it's something we're both looking for: a certain kind of unity in the blend. The only thing I can compare it to is the effect that vacuum tubes will have on the sound of an electric guitar. I think the word is saturation. That happens with voices, too. Adjusting vocal weight is also something that happens naturally. In our case, the person singing the harmony will adjust in order to not overwhelm the melody voice. As for phrasing... well, that's the tough part. We're both used to singing lead vocal, where one can phrase away with impunity. Not so if there's a second voice. A consensus has to be reached! We're working on it. My people are talking to her people. In general, we just come from a very similar place in terms of the kind of music we grew up on. What sounds good to one generally sounds good to the other.
LK: I heard Emmylou Harris, one of the great singers and harmony singers, say something once: that the harmony is really another melody. That's so true and is part of how I think about singing harmony with Richard -- the harmony part is not just adding to the main vocal; it's a whole other, central musical element in and of itself. That's part of why singing harmony with Richard is so fun and so creative -- the sky's the limit in terms of what I can choose to sing. I've had plenty of experiences being hired to sing harmony with other people when they told me the specific notes to sing. That was no fun at all.
When you're doing cover songs, how do you decide which way to lean it... which elements to stir up in a particular tune and how to make it your own?
RS: It happens naturally. We have our own way of doing things. I'll play a song over and over again -- usually beginning with an approximation of the original (or another version). At the start, I'm usually uncomfortable with the song. I know I like it, but can't find a way in. So I play it over and over, trying different approaches (tempo, key, meter signature, instrumentation, etc). Little by little, I move away from the original. Without evening knowing it, I'm moving toward something that makes sense to me -- how I might have played it had I written it. Not only is this the only way I can go about covering a song, it's also more interesting than simply copying someone else's version. What's the point of that?
LK: I started singing songs I thought were great when I was a kid, at the piano after school, songs from that book Great Songs of the Sixties. Singing songs I love has always been one of my very favorite things to do. From the start, I've never given much thought to how to sing it or play a song. I just did it. If I eventually recorded the song, that's when I started to think about how to do it differently from the original. And often that's where my producer and my band came in with arrangement ideas. And, also, I've tended to cover songs written and recorded by men. It hasn't been planned; it's just sort of happened. So, immediately, my version will sound different than the original by default.
Now that you've realized this dream collaboration, where do you set your sights next? Will there be more PHP to come?
RS: Right now we have no specific plans for any other projects together. We'll see what happens with this album and take it from there. Whether or not there's another Pine Hill Project album, I'm sure we will keep singing together.
'Tomorrow You're Going,' will be released on March 17 on Signature Sounds. You can stream the album in its entirety in the player below until then.
Few artists have as sly and sardonic a musical wit as the Decemberists' Colin Meloy. That point is evidenced so clearly on 'What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World' in which Meloy delivers a simultaneous acknowledgment and confession in "The Singer Addresses His Audience": "We know, we know, we belong to ya. We know you threw your arms around us in the hopes we wouldn't change. But we had to change some, you know, to belong to you."
And change they did. Some. Just enough, it would seem. That bit of change comes in the fact that, even though they continue to gather elements of folk, jazz, blues, and pop, the band, this time, wrapped everything up in concise little musical packages. Previously casual listeners taken back by the meandering baroque escapades may well become devoted fans, with this album. That's how on point it is. In a roundabout, Decemberists kind of way.
Colin and company recorded 'What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World' over the course of 18 months starting with "Lake Song," a schedule which could easily have made for a disjointed and disoriented record. But, even as the peppier numbers ("Calvary Captain," "Philomena," "Make You Better") get sprinkled betwixt and between some lower-key moments ("12-17-12," "Till the Water Is All Long Gone," "Carolina Low"), the overall set feels perfectly cohesive and coherent. Wonderfully, shockingly so. It's dynamic, but never jarring -- a mark not everyone hits even with a more focused process.
Quite simply, no one sounds like the Decemberists... and it's not just that Meloy has a thoroughly distinct voice, literally and figuratively. It's that they have fun with their music, wandering to and fro across an incredibly wide artistic gap, while never forsaking the homeland that is good songs and interesting production.
'What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World' is out now on Capitol Records and available HERE.
Posted by Linda Fahey at 12:59 AM
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150305
March 8, 2015
PLAYLIST: Folk Alley nationally syndicated radio show #150305. Aired between March 6 - March 12, 2015. Hosted by Elena See
Hour 1 (a recap of the 2015 Folk Alliance International Conference)
Ray Bonneville - Rough Luck - Rough Luck - Stonefly
Mollie O'Brien & Rich Moore - Sunday Street - Love Runner - Remington Road
The Bombadils - Heave Away - Grassy Roads, Wandering Feet - The Bombadils Music
The East Pointers - Ken the Hen - The East Pointers (EP) - The East Pointers
Rose Cousins - What I See - We Have Made a Spark - Old Farm Pony
Peggy Seeger - Gonna Be An Engineer - The Folkways Years 1955-1992 - Folkways
Tom Paxton - Leaving London - The Best of Tom Paxton - Elektra
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Hot Hands - Ionia - Lindsay Lou Music
The Steel Wheels - The Race (In-Studio) - Exclusive Folk Alley in-studio recording - The Steel Wheels
Sam Baker - Isn't Love Great - Say Grace - SamBakerMusic.com
Quinn Bachand - Lady Be Good - Brishen - Beacon Ridge Productions
I Draw Slow - Goldmine - Redhills - Pinecastle
Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear - Silent Movies - (single) - Glassnote Entertainment
Natalia Zukerman - Little Bird - Gas Station Roses - Weasel Records
The Gibson Brothers - Long Gone - Brotherhood - Rounder
Nashville Mandolin Ensemble - Star Trek-where no mandolin has gone before - Plectrasonics - CMH
Alison Krauss - Gentle River - Too Late to Cry - Rounder
The Pine Hill Project - Lately - Tomorrow You're Going - Signature Sounds
The Pine Hill Project - Wichita - Tomorrow You're Going - Signature Sounds
Robert Earl Keen - I'm Troubled, I'm Troubled - Happy Prisoner - The Bluegrass Sessions - Dualtone
Tara Nevins - Troubles - Mule to Ride - Sugar Hill
June Tabor & Oysterband - Bonnie Bunch of Roses - Ragged Kingdom - Topic
Rhiannon Giddens - Up Above My Head - Tomorrow is My Turn - Nonesuch
Joe Pug - The Measure - Windfall - Lightning Rod
Kate Rusby - The Outlandish Knight - Ghost - Pure Records
Martin Simpson - Ghost In The Pines - Righteousness & Humidity - Red House
Passenger - Start A Fire - Whispers - Nettwerk - Black Crow
Andrew Combs - Rainy Day Song - All These Dreams - Coin Records (Thirty
The Weepies - Please Speak Well of Me - Be My Thrill - Nettwerk
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