Archive for CD Review category
Originally the music of Brazil's bohemian, cosmopolitan urban centers (much like Parisian musette), choro music has delighted audiences around the world for well over a century. In choro, the sprightly rhythms, complex musicianship and beautiful melodies lay over a bed of jazz-like improvisation and informal music making; this is some tricky folk music to perform, to say the least. This blend of virtuosity and melodic beauty has led in the past couple decades to choro being introduced to bluegrass and American roots audiences through the common link of the mandolin. In choro, the bandolim (a modified version of the mandolin) has become one of the central instruments of the genre in the West, and the discovery by powerhouse American mandolinists like David Grisman and Mike Marshall of a mandolin-centric tradition of music led many others to discover choro as well.
Recently in the Northwest we've been graced by tours from young Brazilian choro bandolim master Dudu Maia and I recently got a copy of the new album, Simples Assim, from one of his projects: Trio Brasileiro. In the group, Dudu Maia plays bandolim and composes most of the tunes, award-winning guitarist Douglas Lora plays the violão 7 cordes (7-string guitar) and composes some tunes as well, and his brother Alexandre Lora plays the tambourine-like pandeiro. Three men, three instruments, but their music sounds like a much larger ensemble! The intricate and interwoven melody lines between the bandolim and guitar create a stronger foundation than you might at first think, and with the rapid-fire pandeiro drumming, which has an astounding amount of bass reverberation for a small instrument, this trio could easily fill up a room with their powerful sound. Part of the power here is the rich studio recording, which masterfully balances each instrument. Kudos to Maia who recorded the album in his own studio, Casa Do Som. As is the way in choro music, the melodies reign supreme here. The first tune–"Saruê Bengala", composed by Maia–delights in a rhythmic push-and-pull between the bandolim and the stuttering rhythms of the pandeiro. While some of the tunes have a more modern, edgier feel to them, like "Marujo," Trio Brasileira also include a tune composed by choro legend Jacob do Bandolim, "Aguenta Seu Fulgêncio" which brings a lovely vintage feel to the album. Throughout, Maia's bandolim playing sparkles, a sign that he truly is one of the best players of his generation. Simples Assim is a pleasure to listen to and highly recommended!
05/19/2013 | comments (0)
Celtic Fiddle Festival. Live in Brittany, 20th Anniversary Concert.
2013. Loftus Music.
Hard to believe it's been 20 years since the first Celtic Fiddle Festival album. I must have been 12 or 13 years old and I got that first album for Christmas. I put it on that night, and listened to it over and over on my little yellow walkman. I just couldn't believe the music. The swiftly flowing and wickedly twisted fiddling of master Irish musician Kevin Burke, the inherent stomping beats in the fiddling of Johnny Cunningham, and of course the utterly haunted and eerie fiddle tunes from Breton master fiddler Christian Lemaître. It helped set me down the path of a lifelong love of Celtic fiddling, and each fiddler became a touchstone to me. Sadly, Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham passed away some years ago, but his replacement, young Québécois fiddle powerhouse André Brunet was a godsend to me. His fiddling was so explosive and full of joy, that it reaffirmed how much I loved the music of French Canada, the music of my own heritage. Honestly, for me, the be-all-and-end-all of Celtic music is Celtic Fiddle Festival. I can't think of a better band.
Their new album, Live in Brittany, only serves to cement their reputation. The general idea of Celtic Fiddle Festival is to bring three grandmasters (and one master guitarist: Breton Nicolas Quémener in this case) together on stage and give them both a chance to shine individually and a chance to showcase their group arrangements. Thus each fiddler here gets a track or two just them and guitar, and there are four tracks where they all play together. It's hard to say which aspect of the album is better: the solo or the group. Solo, Kevin Burke's understated genius really comes through. As he gets further into a lifelong career that's seen him rise to the top as one of the very best living Irish fiddlers, he seems less and less interested in the traditional Irish trad album structures, where rarer and rarer tunes are sourced or original tunes composed if there aren't enough rare tunes found. Rather, he's taking victory laps here around the track of some very old chestnuts. Which isn't a bad thing at all. With Burke at the helm, these old tunes take on an entirely new life. "Galway Bay" and "Drunken Sailor" (both from the unique fiddling of Tommy Potts) are utterly sublime here and could both serve as primers on how to bring a transcendental beauty to traditional music. Christian Lemaître is in fine form as ever, bringing forth a goodly number of new, creepy Breton tunes. His slow airs are still some of the most haunting fiddling I know. And of course André Brunet brings his irrepressible energy back to the group. First with a set of lovely French-Canadian jigs (called 6/8 or "six-huits" in Québec), and then with two gorgeous and lush waltzes from his own pen. I've always felt that French Canada has the market cornered on intricate and beautiful waltzes, so it's nice to hear them get their due here.
The whole album was recorded live at an intimate concert in the ancient Breton town of Guémené-sur-Scorff, where guitarist Nicolas Quémener lives (I should mention too that Quémener turns in a truly beautiful set of guitar-picked fiddle tunes on the album). The setting and atmosphere of the concert can be felt through the recording and it all adds up to another stellar outing from Celtic Fiddle Festival. Whenever I hear their music, I'm taken back to that Christmas 20 years ago when I first discovered the magic of Celtic music. I hope you'll feel some of that magic too when listening to this album.
Celtic Fiddle Festival: Gavottes 'Swing'
Celtic Fiddle Festival: Galway Bay/The Drunken Sailor
05/08/2013 | comments (0)
Let me first say that I hate folk-pop music. God, how I hate it. I hate it because invariably the folk is the smallest consideration in the equation. It's usually just standard pop music with one acoustic guitar in the mix. Or now, with a banjo. Hell, I don't even really like "folk" music that much. Too often "folk" means Martin guitar-slinging singer-songwriter with overly simplified emo songs. What I like is music that feels like it's made with other people in mind. Not one person looking to get out some unresolved emotions, but one person who wants to make songs that can touch other people and resonate in someone else's life. Andrew Duhon is just that kind of songwriter, and I found myself utterly won over listening to his new album, The Moorings (which drops April 30).
Duhon writes folk-pop, but not the kind I hate. He writes songs that will trick lazy listeners into believing they're disposable pop songs, when really there are deep and solidly rooted foundations beneath the surface. That's why his music works. Pop is meant to be shallow and ethereal, to evaporate in the summer sun. It's a bit of a mirage, really. Or maybe an iceberg would be a better metaphor. Duhon's music has depth because he's drawing not only from different traditions–the hazy harmonica folk of "Shelter You Through", the burned-out Delta roadhouse wreck of "Sidestep Your Grave", the Celtic-tinged sea-drenched singalong of "The Mooring"–but he's also drawing water from a deeper well of human experience. The hairline fractures that run through his vocals inflect his singing with enough humility that you find yourself drawn into the song, looking for the story behind the lyrics. As for Duhon's story, I really don't know anything about him. I know it's a good album when I don't even care who the artist is. When I'm not looking for a story to help me understand the artist, I know that I've found music that was meant to reach further than just one person.
For More Info about Andrew Duhon, check out this quick piece in the very very excellent blog CMT Edge.
04/06/2013 | comments (0)
Our pile of awesome new albums of Southern old-time music is growing by the day and this makes us happy! There's nothing we like more than lots of albums of barn-burning fiddle and banjo duets, or eerie old mountain ballads. Here's our latest finds and delights, check 'em out and enjoy!
Bruce Molsky. If It Ain't Here When I Get Back.
2013. Tree Frog Music.
Bruce Molsky is one of the premiere old-time fiddlers in the world, despite the fact that he hails originally from the Bronx and didn't get his start in the music until he was in his 40s. But he's sure made up for lost time and geographical differences! If It Ain't Here When I Get Back is his first solo album in six years, though he's been touring and performing with various other groups and ensembles. He's been busy for sure, but it's nice that he's circled back to his original inspirations. Like previous Molsky albums, this really is a solo affair. It's just him on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and his brittle-glass vocals (plus he produced it). And it's lovely, of course. He draws the songs and tunes from his prime inspirations, which means this is more eclectic than you might think. "Bimini Gal" is a fun and rhythmic guitar number inspired by the great Bahamanian guitarist Joseph Spence, and he includes tunes from other inspirations like Metis and Irish fiddlers. But the emphasis on this album is more on old-time than his previous albums. There's much here for true-blue old-time music heads, like the shifty fiddling on "Rattle Down the Acorns" from lesser-known fiddler Delbert Hughes, Molsky's softly sublime clawhammer banjo playing on classic tune "Johnny Booger", and a sweet version of the chestnut "Bonaparte's Retreat" from the fiddler in John Dilleshaw's wonderfully named band "Seven Foot Dilly and his Dill Pickles". I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something that might be a bit controversial: the best part of any Bruce Molsky album is not his fiddling, but his singing. On each album he includes a tour-de-force song of absolute beauty, not just in his singing but in his quietly assured phrasing that manages to let the words float first into our minds. On his last album he cut a version of "The Brave Cowboy" that was utterly heart-rending (I was so happy to see my friends Cahalen Morrison & Eli West cover this version on their new album). Here that song is "Piney Mountains" from old-time songwriter Craig Johnson. I hadn't really heard of Johnson before this but I immediately went out and bought his album to hear his version of this song. Johnson passed away not too long ago, but he was renowned as an old-time singer and songwriter, and his ice-fragile vocals and cracked mountain accent are a wonder to hear. "Piney Mountains" is a song about rough living in the mountains ("Lost my fingers in the Galax mill"... "I started out logging when I was in my prime/Woman don't you weep for me"). It's one of the best examples I've ever heard of true mountain blues. Kudos to Molsky not only for finding this amazing gem, but also for pulling out the heart of it for us to see.
Of course this as an album from an absolute master. Of course the music here is just fabulous. Of course you'll find new tunes or new players by buying and listening to this album. Of course you won't regret your purchase. So pick up your copy already!
Bruce Molsky: Rattle Down the Acorns
Bruce Molsky: Piney Mountains (C. Johnson)
If you'd like to find out more about Craig Johnson, check out his only solo album here:
Craig Johnson - Away Down the Road
Tom Paley's Old-Time Moonshine Revue. Roll On, Roll On.
2012. Hornbeam Recordings.
Old-time singer and multi-instrumentalist Tom Paley has been around the block... to say the least. Cutting his first album for Elektra in 1953, he became a lynchpin of the folk revival through his early work in the seminal stringband The New Lost City Ramblers. Along with Mike Seeger and John Cohen, Paley influenced a generation of roots musicians, not least Bob Dylan, who was a huge fan of the Ramblers. Paley's got the kind of autobiography where he can casually drop that he taught Ry Cooder his open guitar tunings. And booked (and played!) gigs with Woody Guthrie. Not many can claim that anymore. But unlike Seeger or Cohen, Paley left the US and left the scene in the early 1960s, moving to England. He was replaced by Tracy Schwarz in the Ramblers, and spent the rest of his years until now living in the UK and playing regionally. With his new album, Roll On, Roll On, here's hoping that his name will move back to the top of old-time and American roots music elders.
Roll On, Roll On is a homey affair, just Paley and some UK friends, plus his son Ben, playing through some classic tunes from the old-time repertoire like "Little Birdie", "Whiskey Seller", "Devilish Mary" and others. But there's such a lovely weight to his voice... the weight of years and years spent at the forefront of a cultural movement. Perhaps most importantly, he's clearly still having fun with the traditions. "Beelzebubbles" is a charmingly funny song about the daughter of the devil that Paley wrote and set to the tune of an old Charlie Poole song. The ballad "The Morning of 1845" has some lovely notes from Paley that show his sense of the fun behind the music: "We usually think of ballads as being about weighty matters, like war, murder, death and disasters, but this one, though a ballad in the sense of a story-telling song, just deals with getting drunk and going off to a dance."
He may move a bit slower now than in the rambling rough-and-tumble days of the New Lost City Ramblers, but Paley's just as nimble as ever with this old music and his love through the years for the music shines through clearly.
Tom Paley's Old Time Moonshine Revue: Whiskey Seller
Erynn Marshall & Friends. Tune Tramp.
2012. Hickoryjack Music.
Erynn chose the name Tune Tramp for herself as a way to convey the wide-ranging promiscuity of old-time music jammers. Some of these jammers travel all over the US, Canada, even the world looking for the great jams and reveling in the fun of picking and playing with friends. I call them "jam hounds", and could probably be considered one myself. I've jammed with Erynn a few times, in fact, and she's a wonderful jamming partner. Open to any tune, considerate about not bringing out super-hard or super-obscure tunes if the players aren't up for it, and genuinely happy to be playing with people no matter their level as musicians. It's a breath of fresh air in a world where star players can sequester themselves in back rooms hiding from the legions of lower-level players who want to jam with them. Jamming isn't always the most egalitarian activity (though it should be) and Erynn is a strong force towards changing that. She's also a strong force for the preservation and continuation of Appalachian old-time music and fiddling. Though she was originally from Canada, she lives now in Galax, VA, leading the Blue Ridge Music Center at the heart of Appalachian old-time's motherland. It's the perfect place for such an outgoing advocate for the music and she's been doing great work there.
With Tune Tramp, Erynn documents some of her travels across the US and Canada, each track a kind of field recording of her playing with friends. And what friends! The guest list reads like a who's-who of old-time music: Skip Gorman, Kirk Sutphin, Rafe & Clelia Stefanini, Pharis & Jason Romero, Chris Coole, Foghorn Stringband, The Canote Brothers, Paul Brown, Bruce Greene, Eddie Bond, John Harrod, even young Cajun all-stars Joel Savoy and Kelli Jones-Savoy. Some of this is called keepin-it-in-the-family: Erynn's engaged to ace old-time mandolinist and songwriter Carl Jones, who's Kelli's father, so there's that. And Erynn and The Romeros had an amazing old-time band together for a few years called The Haints. But the rest of the folks here are all traveling friends. As with any kind of far-reaching album like this, there are real gems here. "Trouble on the Mind" from beloved Kentucky fiddler John Salyer is played here with such thoughtful expression that Erynn's really able to bring out the beautiful melody. "Tune Tramp," a song written by Carl Jones based on the album's title is a lovely ode to the long travels that traditional musicians undergo to learn and spread tunes. "Rambler's Blues," an old Stanley Brothers cut, sounds amazing with Caleb Klauder and Sammy Lind from Foghorn Stringband trading vocals, and Joel & Kelli Savoy turn a great Cajun version of the song "Poor Hobo." Billy McCumbers is a great find here; he's the son of aged West Virginia fiddler Lester McCumbers and a powerful Appalachian singer in his own right on "Silver Bridge." This album is a joy throughout and a great look at old-time music as it's passed between generations.
Adam Hurt & Beth Williams Hartness. Fine Times At Our House.
Young clawhammer banjo player Adam Hurt is widely considered to be an intense virtuoso on his instrument, and his new album with guitarist and singer Beth Williams Hartness is pretty much another case of proof-positive. His playing is effortlessly melodic, no small feat for an instrument (the clawhammer banjo) whose playing is designed for rhythm first and melody second (or third). The particular playing style of clawhammer banjo, in which pickers have to keep returning to the high-pitched fifth string at rapid intervals has always hampered players looking to bring out full and complete melodies. Of course this "limitation" has also given the banjo its characteristic rhythmic punch, and in the hands of a great player like Hurt, you get an instrument that can punch through a melody like machine gun fire. Don't think for a second that Hurt is bound by the old Ken Perlman melodic clawhammer banjo school that, though beautiful, frequently overclutters the playing with complex machinations designed to play every note of a fiddle tune. Rather, Hurt floats between this school and the dazzling power of the old guard of Appalachian clawhammer banjo players, able to bring out the essence of every tune without sacrificing a second of rhythmic intensity. It's a tour-de-force.
On Fine Times at Our House, Hurt fiddles along wonderfully as well. Is there anything he can't do in old-time music? The tunes are chosen with care, and though mostly well known, each tune sounds as fresh and new as the day it was written. Special love should be given to Hurt's cover of the sublime newly composed tune "Obama's March to the White House" from Seattle's Greg Canote. This and Red Prairie Dawn from Garry Harrison are two of the best new tunes these days and deserve to be played by all and sundry. Fine Times at Our House is an easy romp from one of the best clawhammer banjo players around, and it's an all-around great joy to listen to.
Adam Hurt: Richmond
Metis Fiddler Quartet. North West Voyage Nord Ouest.
I'm not sure Métis fiddling really qualifies as old-time music (though it's certainly old-timey), but heck, if it's good enough for Bruce Molsky, then it's good enough for me! Métis fiddling comes from the mixed populations living in Canada's Alberta and Saskatchewan provinces–and down into North Dakota and Montana in the States. The Métis people come from the intermarriage and genetic mixing of Native American and French-Canadians, historically based around the fur trade. There's a long and intense history here and much for the Métis to be proud of today; after all, they shaped the character and content of Western Canada and roamed the plains for a couple centuries as avowed badasses.
In the world of traditional North American fiddling, the Métis borrowed a lot from their French-Canadian roots, but the music was refracted through their Native American heritage. Tunes that might be recognizable in French-Canadian quarters were fractured and rebuilt, reflecting new rhythms and ideas that bend the tunes to a whole new cultural world. It's quite a wondrous thing, and great Métis fiddlers like John Arcand or Teddy Boy Houle never cease to amaze and inspire me. For the young members of Metis Fiddler Quartet, these inspirations have directly guided them and their debut album pays clear homage to the elders. Both Houle and Arcand taught the kids directly, or had a hand in the tunes they've chosen for the album. The tunes are arranged somewhat, since the instruments for this quartet are twin fiddles, guitar, and cello. The arrangements help bring new character to the tunes though, and the tunes are played with a remarkable dexterity in players so young. This album is clearly the start of a bright career as these young kids bring Métis fiddling to a new generation, and kudos to them for having such a clear respect for the traditions. This album is a pleasure to enjoy and I hope these kids go very far!
03/24/2013 | comments (0)
Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, that venerated holiday of green beer, ugly shamrocks, and watered-down Irish culture, trad supergroup Dervish is back with one of their hottest albums yet. While their past albums have lightly been pushing on the walls of the Irish tradition bit by bit, the new album, The Thrush in the Storm, is a solid return to their roots in the Irish session culture of County Sligo. The tunes fly fast and furious here, and Dervish again earn their title as one of the most technically dazzling bands in Irish traditional music today. I heard (but can't confirm) that this album was made in 5 days, and only Dervish could pull off something like that. I'm sure just hanging around and jamming they sound about this great.
The Thrush in the Storm is an even split between sets of instrumental dance tunes and songs. In the songs, of course, singer Cathy Jordan is a revelation as always. Her voice sparkles like a clear mountain stream, as she flows effortlessly through beautiful and rare songs in English and Irish Gaelic. "Baba Chonraoi" is a standout here, the story of a young girl mistreated by her (forcibly) adopted family who deserts to run away with the English army. Though you may not understand the Gaelic vocals, the song is remarkably touching nonetheless. "Handsome Polly-O" is a great example of Jordan's trademark ability to sing the more rhythmic and sprightly songs of the Irish tradition. Her voice is remarkably nimble here, and she navigates the twists and turns of the song with effortless ease. "The Lover's Token" is a beautiful and seemingly old ballad that tells of a love returning from war to test the faith of his beloved. It's a stunning showcase for Jordan's arresting vocals and a great song to boot.
Instrumentally Dervish are at the top of their game. They can blaze through a set of reels better than pretty much anyone else out there. But there are some nice slower moments here as well, perhaps more than on other Dervish albums. "The Harp and the Shamrock" is a lovely set of of hornpipes, I believe, that Dervish plows through ever so softly and carefully. It's a nice moment of restraint for a band perhaps better known for their show-stopping instrumentals. It's also nice to hear "The Rolling Wave", a set of beautiful jigs that ends with the ubiquitous tune, "The Rolling Wave". Dervish have nothing left to prove, having already cut albums full of rare and obscure tunes, so it's nice for them to have a victory lap around this old chestnut.
If you've never heard Dervish before, this album shows them at their best. If you have heard the before, then this album is a return to their most traditional roots and a great showcase for a band totally at ease with the music. Either way, this is about the best you can find today or any day in the world of Irish traditional music!
Dervish: Baba Chonrai
03/15/2013 | comments (0)
Cesaria Evora. Mae Carinhosa.
Sometimes as a music writer you get tired of running down all the details on an album. Sometimes you don’t even care where an album comes from or how it got to your desk. Sometimes you just want to sit back and let the music wash over you. It’s a similar feeling to relaxing on a beach after work (not that I’d know; I live in Seattle and our beaches are cold!). You let the little worries (like “I should probably be spending this time searching for the one-sheet that went with this album”) slide away and you just enjoy the beauty of music made by great minds and hearts.
That’s the case with the new release, Mae Carinhosa, from recently deceased Cape Verdean giant Cesaria Evora (she passed in 2011), which I recently got in the mail from the fine folks at PR firm Rock Paper Scissors. Does it matter when these songs were recorded or where they came from? If you’re an Evora completist it might. But I’m not. I’m just the kind of guy that feels like sunshine is washing over my body when I listen to her rich rich vocals. The kind of guy who loves the shaker beat of Cape Verdean music, and wishes she was maybe my grandmother. It’s impossible not to feel your spirit lift when listening to Evora. And that’s the gift this album can bring to you. 53 minutes of spiritual transportation. A queenly voice that sucks sadness out of you. A fleeting desire to run away from it all to a beach on Cape Verde. A phantom sensation of sand and salt. Money can’t buy these sensations. But money can buy music. And music can transport you.
Cesaria Evora: Mae Carinhosa
To find out more about this album, go HERE.
You can stream the album for now on CBC MUSIC.