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Hear It First at Folk Alley - Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

January 30, 2014

Cahalen and Eli Swing My Hammer 200 cover copy.jpg

by Kim Ruehl, for

Traditional old time, folk, and country-western music isn't necessarily the first thing that comes to most people's minds when they think of Seattle. When the Emerald City gets respect for its rootsy music, it's usually from critics praising the acoustic spirit of bands like Fleet Foxes and the Head and the Heart. But, the truth is that Seattle's relationship with old timey music and trad country goes back far beyond the hipster culture that makes it out of that town these days.

The truth is, there is a robust old time community in Seattle, and Cahalen Morrison and Eli West are among its very best practitioners. Luckily for the rest of the country, they've begun making waves well beyond the confines of that bucket of rain. Part of that is attributable to the fact that their simple and direct sound belies the complex and richly nuanced technical skill in their arrangements. It's folk music for people who aren't folky; it's as playful as it is accessible, as imaginative as it is sincere. They tap into Seattle's honky tonk history (everyone from Laam's Happy Hayseeds to Hank Sr. once upon a time passed through), marrying it with deep roots, Appalachian folk elements, parts of bluegrass and jazz and their own creative imaginations. It's the same stuff that came together to characterize the Northwest's pioneer spirit.

cahalenmorrisonandeliwest 225.jpgCrank up their latest album I'll Swing My Hammer with Both My Hands, and you can hear that pioneer spirit through the joyful, hard-working, occasionally expansive nature of their songs. "Livin' in America" is equal parts Appalachian fiddle tune and Rocky Mountain rag. The swinging "Natural Thing to Do" is so catchy and slow-dancey, it almost feels like something you've heard before.

Indeed, Morrison and West have proven, over the course of their small handful of records, that they have a knack for making everything they do feel rather familiar. They're not capitalizing on a trend, but are instead embodying the traditional music that is at the foundation of so much of the millennial folk boom.

I'll Swing My Hammer is their follow-up to Our Lady of the Tall Trees, which was a favorite among folk fans and bloggers alike. And, it marks Cahalen and Eli as one of the most reliable singer-songwriter pairs on the circuit.

Posted by Linda Fahey at 5:41 PM

Pete Seeger: Folk Singer, Educator, Banjo Player, Activist, Good Person

January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger at Newport  8288.JPGThe first year Folk Alley went to the Newport Folk Festival, we were all really excited to be there among so many fans of our music. I was most looking forward to seeing Pete Seeger perform. When I was a girl, one of the first albums my mother bought for us was Pete's Folk Songs for Young People - which we played on our portable record player with a stylus the size of a 3-penny nail. At that time, the mid-'60s, the folk revival was being eclipsed by the British Invasion, but Pete's music stayed with me.

Pete, who died yesterday (Jan. 27) may truly be considered the powerful oak of American folk music. He worked with his father, Charles, and stepmother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, as well as folklorist and archivist Alan Lomax as they gathered and preserved folk songs from rural communities - places where folk music truly drew life from being passed between generations. Pete traveled with Woody Guthrie, singing alongside union workers and learning their stories. He wrote or co-wrote songs - "If I Had a Hammer," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," "Turn, Turn, Turn," "We Shall Overcome" - that are part of the DNA of the American experience.

And, he shared his music (and himself) with people across the country and around the world. His book How to Play the Five-String Banjo is credited for inspiring many to pick up the instrument, giving it a new life in the folk idiom. After he was blacklisted for being a Communist in the '50s, Pete toured college campuses, connecting with the next generation one-on-one. Many younger artists - including Arlo Guthrie - looked up to Seeger, who never liked fame and lived out of the limelight in New York State's Hudson River Valley. He was married to his wife, Toshi, for 70 years (Toshi died in July) and he still performed periodically with his grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. A three-time Grammy Award-winner, Pete was nominated again this year in the Spoken Word category, but lost out to Stephen Colbert. He was still chopping wood at 94.

As I stood at the back of the Newport crowd, Pete (who had help start the festival with Toshi and George Wein 50 years before) drew the audience - and fellow performers - into one giant sing-along. Thousands of people, good singers and bad, joined together in heartfelt celebration. And, that's what folk music is all about - sharing our lives through the medium of song. Thank you, Pete! May your legacy last for generations to come and the mighty oak you planted keep us strong!

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 9:29 AM | Comments (4)

Thanks for everything, Pete

Pete Seeger has died at age 94. Along with writing songs that have become iconic and at the soul of the American folk music movement, Pete was a life-long activist and withstood being blacklisted to hold his place as a bonafide legend.

Posted by admin at 6:08 AM | Comments (12)

New Adds For January

January 23, 2014

Stay Toasty with New Music

If I had no idea that Cahalen Morrison & Eli West were from Seattle, I would know anywhere. Their beautiful and skilled songs have a true sense of place that evokes the Pacific Northwest - that despite its big cities, is really a region of mountains and rivers, the ocean and forests. They have an air of the outdoors that travels along with their music. Hear for yourself when Folk Alley presents a First Listen beginning Jan. 28 of the band's most-recent recent release, I'll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands.

Rosanne Cash's new CD, The River & the Thread, is also tied to a geographic location. The songs, written by Cash and collaborator/husband John Leventhal, were inspired by the South (contemporary and historical). Even though she now lives in California, Cash has an especially emotional relationship to Memphis, where she was born, and her father's home state of Arkansas. Rosanne has a very active life in social media - follow her on Twitter @rosannecash (and while you're at it, follow @FolkAlley).

A longtime songwriter stepping back into the spotlight, Irene Kelley returns with her third solo album, Pennsylvania Coal. Kelley's breakout as a songwriter came at age 19 when she felt the need to sing the glories of her home state in "Pennsylvania Is My Home," which also produced a PBS documentary. When her first solo album went unreleased in the '80s, she turned to writing successful songs for some of the most-popular bluegrass and country stars in the business - including Ricky Skaggs, Loretta Lynn, Rhonda Vincent, Trisha Yearwood and Alan Jackson. The new CD goes back to her roots to tell heartfelt stories of life in coal country.

Parker Millsap adds to Oklahoma's reputation as being home to great musicians. John Fullbright and Samantha Crain are recent adds to a list that dates back to Woody Guthrie and Gene Autry (among others, Blake Shelton, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill are also on the list). Parker's gritty approach to singing and songwriting belies his age. Still in his early 20s, his music sounds like it has already lived a long, hard life. Check in with Parker at the start of what should be a promising career on his debut eponymous CD.

Other new music to hunker down with:

Hurray for the Riff Raff - "Small Town Heroes"
Mollie O'Brien & Rich Moore - "Love Runner"
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings - "South"
De Temps Antan - "Ce Monde Ici-Bas"
Lucinda Williams - "Lucinda Williams"
Jack Williams - "Four Good Days"
Johnny Flynn - "Country Mile"
Hard Working Americans - "Hard Working Americans"
Tim Grimm - "The Turning Point"
Ganey Arsement - "Le Forgeron" 
Blue Highway - "The Game"
Julie Lee - "Till and Mule"
Posted by Ann VerWiebe at 3:28 PM

Five Folk Artists to Watch in 2014

January 21, 2014

By Kim Ruehl, for

Sure, a calendar year is a construct that doesn't have much to do with waves of creative expression and music releases. But, that doesn't mean it's any less fun to start a new year with a list of predictions about what's likely to be notable as the months march on.

The artists and bands in this brief list are not brand new, but they all happen to be at a place in their careers where a wider audience and more attention just seems to be in the cards. Whether you're interested in moody, introspective songs or rumpus music that gets you up and dancing, there will be plenty of new life breezing through the folk music world in 2014.

Here are some artists you won't want to miss:

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Granted, this New Orleans-based outfit is not exactly brand new on the scene, but they are poised to become one of the new folk crossover bands this year. Their sophomore full-length album (aptly titled Small Town Heroes) doesn't drop until Feb. 11, but already bloggers and critics are buzzing about the impact of the music it contains. NPR's Ann Powers has a profile of frontwoman Alynda Lee Segarra due this week, while Spin and Village Voice have also shone spotlights on the release. It may just be one of those rare albums on which folk devotees and mainstream critics alike, can agree.

Leyla McCalla

Also from New Orleans, Leyla McCalla's stunning new album Vari-Colored Songs marries together the stirring poetry of Langston Hughes with traditional Haitian folk music and some of her own, original arrangements. Performed mostly on cello and banjo, the disc is part old timey folk, part jazz, part something else altogether. Besides, McCalla has a stamp of approval from friend, collaborator, and former Carolina Chocolate Drop, Dom Flemmons, who hooked her up with the Haitian music that inspired part of this project.

Parker Millsap

Oklahoma native Parker Millsap has risen to the attention of the folk and Americana communities in the past year or two, fresh out of high school with an intuitive songwriting skill well beyond his years. Now, he's teamed up with the folks at Thirty Tigers for a self-titled full-length debut that places him neck-and-neck with fellow Oklahoman John Fullbright in the arena of gritty, emphatic folk-blues. No doubt the disc will make a mark with unsuspecting audiences across the folk world, and beyond, this year.

James Vincent McMorrow

Following up on the arresting emotionalism of his self-produced debut, Early in the Morning, James Vincent McMorrow has done it again, with a stunning collection of heartbreak songs titled Post Tropical. Though he has bristled at the notion of being called a folksinger, McMorrow's lyrical song-stories fit neatly with more contemporary interpretations of the form. Think Bon Iver and Ray LaMontagne, wrapped up in a cold wind and blown over a grey sea.

Show Ponies

This energetic Southern California-based quintet hops on the trail of big-sound duos like Birds of Chicago and Shovels + Rope (the band began as a duo, and still contains a lot of the duo energy). They pull together pieces of old time Appalachian folk with strong harmonies and rhythms to create a bouncy, fervent energy that's starting to make waves. No doubt they'll attract even more attention on the festival circuit this summer.

Posted by Kim Ruehl at 7:00 PM | Comments (1)

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