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January 27, 2012

New Music for January

Once upon a time, Norah Jones won five Grammy Awards for her debut album, Come Away With Me. That initial success has allowed her to work on a variety of lower-profile, and at same time very interesting, projects. The Little Willies consists of Jones and Lee Alexander, Jim Campilongo, Richard Julian and Dan Rieser - five friends who were hanging out together and one day decided to start a band. Of course, when your girl singer is Norah Jones doing a cover of "Jolene," you have a leg up. Check out For the Good Times and hear for yourself.

Barnstar! calls themselves a "bluegrass band for people that hate bluegrass." This point of view (as evidenced on their new CD, C'MON!) may have something to do with the group's construction. Jake Armerding, Taylor Armerding, Mark Erelli, Zachariah Hickman and Charlie Rose may play bluegrass instrumentation, but the mix is all theirs. Most of the Barnstar! members are already established solo artists and the blend is confident - and really, really fast!

Speaking of solo artists looking for new experiences, The Goat Rodeo Sessions redefines the term "supergroup" by bringing together Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile (with friends like Aoife O'Donovan) for a collection of songs that can only be described as a new experience in traditional music styles. Their collaboration proved so successful that you can now watch Goat Rodeo Sessions concerts live in HD at movie theaters throughout the U.S.

Sometimes, bad things happen to good CDs. A staff member who shall remain nameless suggested that I profile Hold on Me, the latest from Colorado-based Spring Creek, because Taylor Sims, Alex Johnstone, Chris Elliott and Danny Booth's mix of original bluegrass songs made it one of his top picks for the month. But, it seems that it's being added a few months late. Why? Because one of his dogs really loved it, too - in fact, she loved it so much that she grabbed the CD and hid it under the couch. Don't let this happen to you (a digital download can't be shoved under the sofa)!

Other CDs making their way across the great divide:

The Gathering - "The Gathering"
The Pines - "Dark So Gold"
Paul McKenna - "Stem the Tide"
Gretchen Peters - "Hello Cruel World"
Darrell Scott - "Long Ride Home"
Gina Forsyth - "Promised Land"
Luke Liddy - "Back Door Rain
Beth Portman - "Lovin'"
Hoots & Hellmouth - "Salt"
Freebo - "Something to Believe"
Suzie Vinnick - "Happy Here"
Ken & Brad Kolodner - "Otter Creek"
Big Head Blues Club - "100 Years of Robert Johnson"
Great American Taxi - "Paradise Lost"
Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 8:39 AM

Hear It First: Darrell Scott - 'Long Ride Home'

January 24, 2012

DarrellScott_hires8-2_web rotator.jpgby Kim Ruehl,

In the summer of 1975, Wayne Scott rented a cabin in California and took his 16-year-old son Darrell out there to write some songs. Darrell had already been playing music for about a decade and was showing promise as a songwriter. In the years which followed, the younger Scott would eventually move to Nashville and write hits for mainstream country stars like the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill. He'd record a bevy of his own albums, win awards from the recording academy and the Americana Music Association, and lend his dexterous multi-instrumentalist skills to artists as variant as Robert Plant and Joan Baez.

Like all musicians, no doubt, Darrell would learn music is often redemptive, occasionally prophetic, and frequently falls somewhere between the two. Writing a song can be a healing process for a long-broken heart; it can be a mysterious encounter with a kind of heartbreak you've yet to discover. Months - sometimes even years - later, the songwriter might find himself in a situation which was clearly prophesized by that long-ago song. So it is that Darrell Scott releases The Long Ride Home on January 31 - an album full of songs from his formative years (including two from that trip to California), and a thank-you note of sorts to his late parents Evelyn and Wayne Scott, both musicians in their own right.

On November 18, 2011, Wayne Scott ran a red light in Kentucky and rammed into a Wendy's fast food joint after being pushed that way by a semi. He was taken by helicopter to a hospital, where he died four hours later. It had only been a matter of months since father had helped son put finishing touches on The Long Ride Home. Considering the gravity of that event, it would be impossible - and darn near remiss - to not consider the album through the lens of such a loss.

DarrellScott-LongRide.jpgAfter all, here are songs like "No Use Living for Today" and the heartstring-tugging "Someday" (where Darrell sings: "I am a feeling man who cannot shed a tear / but I will cry someday"). These are songs which remain true to the basic tenet of both country and folk songwriting: three chords and the truth. Of course, given Scott's remarkable artistry on a number of different instruments (and that of his friends who appear with him on the disc - Guy Clark, Tim O'Brien, Patty Griffin, and Rodney Crowell, to name a few), "three chords" seems to oversimplify things a bit.

Indeed, as is typical of a Darrell Scott album, The Long Ride Home includes plenty of meandering, creative solos on instruments as varied as Hargus "Pig" Robbins' popping piano and Scott's own languid pedal steel. But, these songs are stories above all else, written in a much different time and place. Returning to them now, from this point of his journey, Scott somehow manages to deliver them with a sincerity and poise which defies nostalgia or any other element of backward-glancing. This just goes to show a great song - like its writer - grows better over time, rather than growing old.

Indeed, the 16-year-old who wrote "The Country Boy" with his father in a California cabin certainly didn't know the tune would find a new life 40 years later, when lyrics like these would come to mean so many different things:

From the rocking of his cradle
To the covering of his grave
You'll never know the loneliness and sorrow he goes through
The country boy has been there, that's what makes him sing the blues

Posted by Kim Ruehl at 8:26 PM | Comments (1)

S**t Folksingers Say

January 20, 2012

by Kim Ruehl,

You've seen the meme around the web - videos posted and shared all over Twitter and Facebook featuring cliched phrases about a certain town or profession. My friend in Austin posted "S**it Austinites say," my friend who's a minister posted "S**t seminarians say." Even I posted to my yoga teacher friend's wall: "S**t yogis say."

But what about folksingers?

Once I've stopped rolling my eyes at the sheer predictability of it all, I start to feel a little left out. Folksingers say s**t. So, rather than wait for someone else to make the video or write the post, I've come up with an entry of my own:

Wait a sec, how do you make a d-minor chord again?

I was up all night with Pete Seeger's banjo book.

I was up all night reading 'Woody Guthrie: A Life.'

I was up all night writing a song about Occupy Wall Street.

I was up all night contra dancing.

I was up all night walking on train tracks, just to see where they go.

I was up all night drinking whiskey and thinking about whether or not there's enough space in my backyard to build a yurt.

I was up all night driving ten hours to the next town for my gig at the Unitarian church.

I wrote a song about my chickens last night.

She's a little too Ani DiFranco-y.

He's a little too Steve Earle-ish.

Wanna sing harmony on this?

Can you play mandolin? I just need a quick mandolin solo.

We met and fell in love and built a life together and broke up, in the span of one Kerrville Folk Festival.

I sat in with [insert name] at Folk Alliance last year.

I don't read music.

I'm just a guitar player.

It's all about the lyrics.

Posted by Kim Ruehl at 7:42 PM | Comments (3)

CD Review: La Bottine Souriante ~ Appellation d'Origine Controlee

January 17, 2012

La Boutine Appellation d'Origine Controlee.jpgby Jim Blum,

La Bottine Souriante
Appellation d'Origine Controlee
(Borealis Records)

French Canadian traditional music is certainly a strong part of Folk Alley's diverse offerings. You don't have to be from Quebec to sense the energy and dynamics of the fiddle, footboard, and accordion. Similar to the contra dance scene in New England (which has spread across the U.S.) those who hear it, that love it, can't sit still listening to it. They must dance.

La Bottine Souriante formed in 1976 and soon became a Canadian favorite. Not settling for being copycats to the heroes who preceded them, the group started to experiment by adding other sounds in the late 80's - jazz, folk, even salsa. Their audience liked the creativity as long as the group's original stylistic foundation was in place. They have now sold over 1/2 million albums. In 1991 they added a horn section. Today the group boasts 11 members.

This discussion brings us to their latest album Appellation d'origine Controlee which celebrates their 35th anniversary. The fusion that this album presents may wrinkle a few foreheads. The brass section now seems to dominate and often feels over the top. The first song, "Cette Bouteille-la" adds a hip hop element which feels trite. The 6th song, "Andre Alain En Sol Majeur," features a dated pop-jazz George Duke sounding keyboard which does not blend with the rest of the instruments. "La Gourmand" presents a Latin feel which the group has experimented with in the past, but here sounds out of place. "Au Rang d'Aimer" is all vocal and is way too long to present no instrument solos whatsoever.

Listening to the whole album at once makes the disconnect more obvious. Given the ensembles long history of successfully driving the tradition to meet with interesting intersections, occasional potholes should be no surprise. If Shooglenifty can go Techno, anything is possible.

Posted by Jim Blum at 1:11 PM

Five Albums You Shouldn't Miss In 2012

January 9, 2012

by Kim Ruehl,

It's early yet, and the albums which have been announced for release in 2012 only get us into April, so who's to say what will come later in the year. That said, though, there's definitely some great music due in the first quarter of 2012, from protest music to innovative chamber-folk-indie-pop-fusion stuff, to ten whole new songs from Leonard Cohen. As my inaugural post here at Folk Alley, I've chosen to highlight five discs due to drop this winter and spring from some of the best artists in the field. See what you think, mark your calendar, then let us know what you're looking forward to in 2012.

AniDiFranco-WhichSide.jpg1. Ani DiFranco - Which Side Are You On? (Righteous Babe, Jan. 17)
As Brooklyn, the Carolinas, and the Northwest have been churning out chamber-folk innovators like nobody's business, Ani DiFranco has been holding it down for the more traditional topical song lovers. Sure, she's had her diversions into the twisty darkness of heartbreak through the years, but this new album (her first in a whopping three years - ages for the "little folksinger") is heavily charged and rather politicized. If anyone was going to make music of the word "abortion," it was bound to be DiFranco. That moment ("Amendment") is just one of many likely to incite some...response. Besides, Pete Seeger picks a banjo on this one as DiFranco revives Florence Reece's classic labor anthem on the title track (albeit with new lyrics). It's available for pre-order at her site.

2. Laura Gibson - Le Grande (HUSH, Jan. 24)
Laura Gibson's follow-up to the subtle beauty of 2009's Beast of Seasons is, as the title suggests, slightly less understated. Gibson's voice, in all its earnest glory, can sound a bit like the creaking of the rope as the tire swing swings. But instead of putting it in the center of the album, her voice here is countered by ambitious instrumentation and imaginative arrangements. Which is to say it's one of many well-considered instruments reaching toward a new and intriguing goal. Fans of Gibson's previous efforts won't have to strain to find her rural folk roots, but those coming along for the first time will be introduced to a languid sort of chamber folk - a more energetic offering, to be sure. This one will take all year, I reckon, to reveal all its secrets. (You can stream it this week - beginning Jan. 8 - at NPR.)

3. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas (Jan. 31)
Any release from Leonard Cohen is welcome in my world, particularly one which delivers brand new songs. There are ten of them on this disc and, based on the one that's available for streaming on his website, it's bound to do all the things we've come to expect from Cohen's music: seduce, question, darken, meditate, and inspire.

4. Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden (Nonesuch, Feb. 28)
Carolina Chocolate Drops have so consistently blown my mind, the only thing I can imagine that would take their appeal up a notch would be teaming up with someone like Buddy Miller to produce a new album. Of course, they went and did just that for their 2012 release, which means the disc is sure to be as true to the Drops' artistic vision as is possible. Though Dom Flemons has announced a side project of trad folk with Virginia-based fiddler Boo Hanks, this new CCDs disc is likely to follow a similar path to 2010's Grammy-winning Genuine Negro Jig and firmly straddle the wide gap between old timey and cutting edge.

5. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself (Mom & Pop Music, Mar. 6)
Every time Andrew Bird has put an album out, it's wound up being one of the best indie releases of the year. Yes, that's a strong statement, but the music backs itself up. Sure, his work is folk music only by the loosest of definitions but, like his previous efforts, this one is likely to defy genre definition and appeal to audiences across the board.

Posted by Kim Ruehl at 10:05 AM | Comments (1)

Folk Alley's Best of 2011 - Matt Reilly

January 5, 2012

by Matt Reilly, host on M-F midnight to 5:00am; Sat 2:00 to 5:00 pm; and Sun 2:00 - 7:00pm (ET).

It's always tough to whittle a best of list to just 10. Someone always gets left out. With that in mind, I came up with my top 10 by asking myself what albums do I listen to most frequently in my free time? Which artist has stepped up their game or created something that will stand the test of time within their body of work? What have been my favorites to share with the listeners? Now that you know my process and the votes have been tabulated, ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Matt Reilly Top 10 Folk(ish) Albums of 2011.

Thumbnail image for Robert Ellis Photographs.jpgRobert Ellis

Willie Nelson and George Jones had a baby and they named him Robert Ellis. This Houston native, who is only in his early 20's, has basically crafted a two sided album: the first half is introspective singer songwriter fare with a twang, and the second is full blown honky-tonk that reminds us that real country ain't dead.

Iron and Wine.jpgIron & Wine
Kiss Each Other Clean

Sam Beam continues to evolve sonically by adding production elements that most artists who are labeled folkies eschew. Modern and retro all at the same time.

Paul Simon.jpgPaul Simon
So Beautiful Or So What

Not content to look backwards, Paul Simon continues to amaze with his sharp songwriting and melodic and intricate song structures. While this album certainly harkens back to his late 80's 'Graceland' work, it feels like it belongs in the 21st century.

Bon Iver.jpgBon Iver Bon Iver

Justin Vernon has scored again. His earlier work made him a mainstay in hipster Ipods, but his new self-titled release has seen Vernon fleshing out his haunting sound and filling the holes in our hearts that careless lovers have callously carved. He does the suffering so you don't have to.

Decemberists King is Dead.jpgThe Decemberists
The King Is Dead

The current indie folk kings have cast off the Victorian concept album cloak that has made some of their earlier work seem pretentious and heavy handed. By teaming with guitarist Peter Buck, the new collection has (perhaps unsurprisingly) a jangly, pop-laden sound that is quite accessible and gives the material room to breathe.

Sarah Jarosz Follow Me Down.jpgSarah Jarosz
Follow Me Down

There's always been a darkness to the songs of Sarah Jarosz that appeals to me. Her day job as a student at The New England Conservatory has paid dividends as well. You can hear a more sophisticated artist and while here playing has always been extraordinary, here songwriting is getting better all the time and when you put the two together it's enough to make you ask for her birth certificate. No college kids are this good! A choice Radiohead cover never hurts either.

Gillian Welch Harrow.jpg Gillian Welch
The Harrow and the Harvest

Gillian Welch could release an a cappella record and it would be captivating because that voice! Nobody sounds like her. With spare arrangements and playing from her musical compadre David Rawlings, you feel like you're lamenting the loss of a lover that has left you standing in a winter cornfield crying your eyes out with a shotgun in your hand.

The Head and the Heart.jpgThe Head and the Heart
The Head and the Heart

At first listen, I was unimpressed. However, after seeing a live performance and giving the record a few more spins, I found myself with several of these songs stuck in my head. That's the mark of good songs: they stick to your musical ribs. Onstage, they have a youthful energy that is infectious yet calming.

Tom Waits.jpgTom Waits
Bad As Me

A return to form from an American treasure. Alternating between beautiful, heartfelt ballads and growly, vaudevillian rockers, Tom Waits has crafted an album that stands among his finest work.

Laura Marling.jpgLaura Marling
A Creature I Don't Know

Laura Marling is just one of those young artists with an old soul. As one of the new torchbearers of British Folk, you can hear forebears like Nick Drake and Donovan in her songs. We are going to be hearing here name for years to come.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 5:31 PM

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