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February 28, 2013

Congratulations to Jeffrey Siegel from Tokyo, Japan, who was the randomly selected winner from our most recent listener survey! Jeffery is a fan and a longtime member of Folk Alley and we will be sending him a fleece pullover and 10 folk CDs as a big thank you for taking his time to help us out.

The information that all of you provided will be very valuable to us as we determine what the tweaks we need to make in turning Folk Alley into an even better service for you. The good news is that overall our service received a high approval rating - and we now have your suggestions to help us formulate our short- and long-term strategy for Folk Alley.

The best observation we made after looking at the survey results is that for you, Folk Alley is truly about the music. There are a lot of amateur musicians in our audience who play guitar and maybe you sometimes find yourself strumming along while you listen to the music. It is also apparent that for those who say they support Folk Alley financially, they do so because they love the music and because folk music is getting harder to find on the radio. Our 24/7 folk music service just adds to our value to you.

Again, thanks for the time and effort so many of you took taking our survey. We are happy to have your support and we will continually strive to make Folk Alley a great experience for you.

Al Bartholet
Director, Folk Alley

Posted by Al Bartholet at 2:49 PM

Kim Ruehl's Q&A with Amy Ray

February 15, 2013

amy-ray 600.jpgBy Kim Ruehl,

Twenty-six years into a career that has spanned two dozen highly acclaimed albums (if you count her solo stuff and that with the Indigo Girls, holiday recordings, live albums), Amy Ray can still fly under the radar. Even many Indigo Girls fans don't realize she's had a robust - and decidedly not-Indigo-Girls-sounding - solo career for more than a decade. Much of her work outside of the duo has been heavily influenced by some combination of her punk and soul influences, though she'll be heading into a New York studio this May to start recording a classic-style country album.

In her spare time, whatever that is, she dedicates her energy and celebrity to a number of social issues, from eradicating poverty and racism across the South to LGBT rights and environmental justice. Recently, I spoke with Ray about her work with groups like the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Southerners on New Ground, and Project South (if you visit her website, you can order a live concert DVD she recorded as a fundraiser for Project South). Naturally, our conversation inevitably led to the music.

Here's an excerpt:

Kim Ruehl: Are you hearing an increase in socially-minded songwriters lately? For a little while there those folks were harder to find. It seems to be coming back into the foreground.

Amy Ray: Yeah, It seems like a lot of people around me are socially conscious. I don't know who gets attention and who doesn't. But...I think the environment [for music] right now is, to a certain extent, more progressive because Obama's in office...the gay rights movement and the immigration movement, the environmental movement. There's been so much...I don't want to say progress, but [there's been] movement. I think when that happens songwriters who are in that context get talked about more.

It's still hard to write the modern day protest song. It's hard to write a Woody Guthrie song now. I'll work on something like that and it seems so simple to do. But, it would definitely take me longer to write that than it does to write [other stuff]. It's not for lack of inspiration. I just think it takes a certain knack. You borrow heavily from other writers and melodies, as did many of the protest songs. You do it in the spirit of what the song is for. You're not worrying so much about crafting the song as you are about writing for the cause. There's a difference. When you sit down to write songs, it's which realm you want to be in.

I know a lot of writers who have songs that comment on something that happens... Lindsay Fuller may write about asbestos poisoning, but writing that song that everybody can sing at a rally? That's what I've been thinking about lately. How do you do that?

KR: Do you think it has to do with the fact that we're so informed now? I mean, Woody Guthrie wasn't working from a 24-hour news cycle. He got the news in little snippets and then had time to work on it. Now, there's always something happening - it's a little overwhelming if you're a songwriter.

AR: That works for me. Definitely. I think you're right. There's so much at your fingertips. You feel like if you don't include everything, you're not doing it justice.

I still think Zack de la Rocha is one of the greatest political writers of our time - from Rage Against the Machine. I think he knew how to write lyrics everybody can sing, but it's not like you can go do that at protests with an acoustic guitar.

I was hanging out with some people from SONG [Southerners on New Ground] and we were talking about that - how do you write the modern day Woody Guthrie song? I haven't done it yet. I definitely have been thinking a lot about that. What does it take to write a song like "We Shall Overcome"? It's very simple. And you're right, it may be that we just have too much information.

KR: Changing gears, I'd love to hear more about the symphony tour [the Indigo Girls have been doing]. How did you get the arrangements done for that?

AR: ...We've been thinking for a long time about playing shows with a symphony orchestra. Years back, we did a show with the Atlanta Ballet and their orchestra played with us. There were 10 songs they did the charts for, and the dancers choreographed. We played live onstage with a band while the dancers were dancing. It was really fun, and kind of crazy. We thought it would be fun to play with a full orchestra but we just didn't know how to approach it, because of the money - it costs a lot to write scores. It's a very big investment. We had friends who had done it but we didn't know how we'd go about it. Then we got a call from an agency where that's all they do...we hired a couple of amazing arrangers who did 19 charts for us. Over the course of a couple of months, we emailed back and forth, heard synthesizer mockups of what they were working on and we commented on them. It got finished and the agency went out there and got offers... little by little, they stream in.

The symphony sizes are anywhere from 65 to 115 players. They get the charts a week ahead of time. I don't think they have time to practice. We show up on the day of the show, do a little baby sound check, run through one song, and that's it. Then we play that night. It's really fun and challenging. You never know what's going to happen. It's so new for us. When we first started we were so nervous, we didn't know how to find our bearings most of the time, but now we understand it better. Every night is different - all the orchestras are built differently, the conductors interpret things differently. It's a totally new musical experience.

KR: Have you recorded any of those shows?

AR: So far, the symphony we resonated with the most was in Birmingham, so we're going to go back to Birmingham and do a show - probably a free show - and we'll take the time to record with the symphony live. If we mess up, we'll go through it again, so we don't have to fix things with ProTools, and can get a really solid live recording that [hasn't been] fixed. We're going to do that in May and then put something out in the Fall, maybe.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 2:13 PM

Review: Pharis & Jason Romero - Long Gone Out West Blues

February 13, 2013

Thumbnail image for Pharis and jason album cover.jpgby Kim Ruehl, for

Let's just get the Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings comparison out of the way.

Good, now we can listen more deeply. After all, Pharis & Jason Romero are artists unto themselves - instrument makers, songwriters, pickers extraordinaire. These two clearly have as much adoration and natural talent for the traditions of American folk music as they do for the intrinsic musicality of their two voices.

Fresh from a win at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (they won New/Emerging Artist of the Year), they've got a sophomore album ready (Long Gone Out West Blues), which wanders deeper into their craft. Like a path through the woods, you think you know where you're headed until you to hear the running water. Then come the lonely songs.

pharis and jason-color for web.jpgThere can be a desperation in singing lonely songs - something quiet, sad, and seething. But, when the Romeros sing, there's more of a letting go. You're not peering into the mind of a songwriter; you're witnessing the release of some long-clenched story or emotion. Though these are all beautifully composed, well-considered songs, there's a sense that the music is coming more from the spur of the moment - the newness of the emotion - than from the channeling spirit you might witness with Welch & Rawlings. For example, when Pharis comes in on "Wild Bill Jones," it's like she was listening to this confession then joined in out of urgent solidarity.

Besides, as the album progresses, the influence of Joni Mitchell surfaces on "The Little Things Are Hardest in the End" - possibly the album's hardest hitting tune - followed by hints of Dylan and Baez, and other more elusive influences. A spirit emerges, clearly plucked from deep within obscure field recordings. From Pharis' thoughtful, creative originals to classics like "Sally Goodin", you might be hard pressed to determine what's old and what's new.

This is music made on a timeless continuum, where yesterday's troubles contribute to today's lonesome songs. Listen in, and see where it takes you.

Click HERE to order the 'Long Gone Way Out West Blues.'

Posted by Linda Fahey at 8:28 AM

Early 2013 Adds to the Folk Alley Music Collection

February 4, 2013

 New Music for 2013

One of the best live shows I ever saw was Cheryl Wheeler at the Kent State Folk Festival. Outside, there was a thunderstorm raging, but inside it was warm and cozy as Wheeler pulled together a set that included her funny songs (like "Potato" - honestly, the best!) and deeply touching personal songs, not to mention the wonderful on-stage banter. Now, you can experience Cheryl Wheeler in all of her glory with Greetings from Cheryl Wheeler Live (featuring piano great Kenny White).

Another artist I first saw at the KSFF (as we affectionately call it) was Seth Glier. He was just breaking out when he played the Kent Stage as an opening act. Since then, Glier has been earning more and more praise for his piano-based singer/songwriter style. Check him out on Things I Should Let You Know.

There has always been a strong connection between Ireland and American roots music. Philadelphia-based Solas has always been something of a Celtic bridge between the Old World and the New. In their latest album, Shamrock City, the story of immigration is told more directly. The songs track a young Irishman (in the form of Michael Conway, the great-great-uncle of Solas frontman Seamus Egan) in 1910 who moves hopefully to Montana, only to meet an unhappy end.

Pharis & Jason Romero are also inspired by days gone by, although less directly. The couple met at an old-time fiddle jam and it must have been true love because Jason (who also has a business making banjos) packed up and moved to a small town in British Columbia to be with Pharis. The pair now record heartfelt and honest songs that would sound at home in Dust Bowl-era Kansas. is pleased to offer Long Gone Out West Blues as a Hear It First streaming option on the website.

Other CDs welcoming in the New Year:

Richard Thompson - "Electric"
Heidi Talbot - "Angels Without Wings"
Carrie Rodriguez - "Give Me All You Got"
Mary Gauthier - "Live at Blue Rock"
Erynn Marshall & Friends - "Tune Tramp"
Gurf Morlix - "Finds the Present Tense"
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison - "Cheater's Game"
Liam Fitzgerald & the Rainieros - "Last Call!"
Michael Kiwanuka - "Home Again"
Natalia Zuckerman & Friends - "Gypsies & Clowns" (live)
Paul Kelly - "Spring and Fall"
The Avett Brothers - "The Carpenter"
The Outside Track - "Flash Company"
Patrick Woods - "Gone Before Morning"
Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 5:50 PM

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