I've been asked recently to write reviews for various publications and sometimes asked to limit myself to 150 words. This is not easy. It's quite hard to tell an album's story in such a small space. But it's also great practice for keeping my writing brief and readable. So I'm debuting a new blog type here: 150 Word Reviews of some of the artists we've been listening to. It's a quick way to find new music, so help us spread the word!
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile: The Goat Rodeo Sessions
I may be strange, but as a fiddle nerd, it was Stuart Duncan's name that made me buy this album in Starbucks. Sure, Yo-Yo Ma's the most famous cellist in the world, and Chris Thile redefined the mandolin much like a young Bill Monroe once did, and Edgar Meyer's a bass God. We know all that. But Stuart Duncan is one of the best American roots fiddlers alive. I love him because he slips between bluegrass and old-time fiddle effortlessly, and can fiddle anything else under the sun. This album is a great listen, an essential part of the new wave of "chamber folk" music. The tunes are half-composed, half-improvised, and sound like a perfectly balanced blend between folk and classical music. Only these artists could pull it off, and it's a great sound. Don't expect covers of old folk songs, but do expect to enjoy this listening experience.
BUY THIS ON AMAZON
Windy Hill. Let's Go to the Fair.
I'm always on the look out for the new bluegrass music that harkens back to the classic days of the genre's formation. The sound that Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs birthed in the American South in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I'm not looking for a stale recreation, but that kind of red-hot, fire-in-the-belly picking and keening harmonies that made the old classics so perfect. Impossibly young bluegrass band Windy Hill have this in spades on their new album, Let's Go to the Fair. Their music fairly crackles with hot picking and burning fiddling, and their harmonies are deadly accurate. Somehow they manage to make the music sound entirely new without compromising the smallest smidgeon of respect for the true tradition. This isn't bluegrass handled with delicacy, it's a blazing brand of bluegrass pulled forth from the fire with cool iron tongs.
Windy Hill: I'm Leaving Town
(Two Notes: 1) They wrote this song, and 2) Good goddamn that is a hot fiddle solo opening this track!)
At First Light. Idir.
Though I'm a longtime fan of Irish traditional music, I've never been too familiar with the Northern Irish traditions. So I'm thankful that At First Light have been presenting their beautiful Ulster music to world audiences. On their new album, Idir, the core trio of uilleann piper/tin whistler John McSherry, fiddler Donal O'Connor and multi-instrumentalist Francis McIlduff are joined also by the beautiful singer Ciara McCrickard. If they sound a bit like Irish super-group Lunasa, that may be because McSherry was a founding member. In fact, McSherry's got to be the busiest uilleann piper around! In addition to a recent solo album and an album with Bob Brozman, he also released an EP with Bellingham, WA songwriter Robert Sarazin Blake (that we helped promote). On Idir, tunes and songs rush together like a babbling Irish brook, and you can easily imagine yourself in a Belfast pub, enjoying truly beautiful music.
At First Light: Ar Thóir na Donn
Dana Falconberry. Though I Didn't Call It Came.
2012. Crossbill Records.
I met Dana Falconberry a few months ago when she was touring with my favorite indie-roots artist, Matt Bauer. I hadn't realized then that not only is she a respected member of the Austin, TX music scene (no small feat), but she's also got her own intriguing projects. On her new EP, Though I Didn't Call It Came, released on Crossbill Records, her music is as delicate as a deep-sea diatom. Carefully performed, beautifully arranged, this is the kind of hand-made music that's almost a family heirloom. Woven vocal harmonies, softly plucked strings, a cracked patina voice; it's beautiful and fascinating and something you'd like to keep to yourself rather than share around. At four tracks and fifteen minutes, it's a tiny vignette EP that's hopefully a preview of more to come.
Dana Falconberry: Petoskey Stone