Archive for CD Review category
Caitlín Nic Gabhann's been a young master of the Irish concertina buzzing around insider trad circles for some years now, so her much self-assured debut album, Caitlín, doesn't come as much of a surprise to us at Hearth Music. After all, she's toured with Riverdance (as a dancer, actually!), put together a group, NicGaviskey, of next gen powerhouses (including Billy McComiskey's son Sean), and toured the world a couple times. So we know she can play. What's delightful about her debut solo album is not her masterful performances or her consummate knowledge of the tradition–these things are expected of any Irish trad player worth their salt these days (the bar for Irish trad recordings is remarkably high!)– but the gentle joy she takes in the music and the thoughtful presence she brings to her playing. It's an album that can be enjoyed just on the surface for the wide variety of tunes and technique, or on a deeper level through her excellent liner notes and rare tunes sourced from interesting players. Caitlin's also got a very accessible style on the concertina, informed partly by the old school simplicity of County Claire players and the deftly compact virtuosity of concertina great Mícheál O' Raghallaigh. But all insider talk aside, this album is just great fun to listen to and if you're unfamiliar with the tiny concertina–possibly the cutest form of accordion–it's a great introduction to what the instrument can do. This is a wonderful modern album of Irish concertina playing that should sit proudly on the shelf of any fan of Irish traditional music.
PS: Special mention should go to the two lovely waltzes Caitlín includes on the album, a rarity in Irish music unfortunately, and to her stepdancing, which is a welcome treat on a few tracks.
Caitlín Nic Gabhann: The Rookery/Joe Cooley's Morning Dew/The Edenderry Reel
07/12/2012 | comments (0)
In honor of yet another rainy day in this Seattle "summer," here's a review of two great new albums from the rainy ol' Emerald Isle of Ireland. One post from Devon @ Hearth Music and a guest post from our good friend Dr. Squeeze. Unfortunately, these albums are a bit hard to find in the US. It's a common problem with Irish trad these days, probably brought on by the dearth of media outlets writing about Irish music and the death of American record stores. Best advice to get new Irish trad releases in the US? Start your own blog. It's not that hard; look at us! If we can do it, you can too!
Kevin Crawford: Carrying the Tune
2012. BallyO Records.
This album has exactly what you'd expect from Kevin Crawford: rare and carefully sourced tunes, impeccable playing on the Irish wooden flute and tin whistles, tasteful accompaniment, and a modern edge to an old sound. Crawford's best known as the Irish fluter in all-star ensemble Lunasa, and though a few tracks here have the kind of angular modern arrangements that made Lunasa one of the best and most in-demand Irish trad bands on the planet, most tracks are subtle, tasteful performances of purely traditional music. Carrying the Tune is an all-flute/whistle album, which can get a bit tiring, but Crawford's one of the few who can pull off an album like this and make every track sound refreshing and different. It helps too that he's got John Doyle on guitar. Doyle's got quite the Midas touch in Irish trad today; everything he touches comes out golden. Together Crawford and Doyle are a formidable duo, and if you're a big fat Irish trad nerd like me, I know you're waiting very impatiently for the album from the new super-group The Teetotallers, which features Crawford and Doyle together with Irish fiddle genius Martin Hayes. But until that drops (and until you start your own blog to get a promo copy), we'll have to content ourselves with this album. Actually, rumor has it that this album was intended to be a Teetotallers album, but schedule conflicts kept Hayes from joining Doyle and Crawford. Anyways, we'll take what we can get, and this is certainly more than we expected! The liner notes here track the source of each tune, and the tunes range the gamut of Irish tune families (including two nice waltzes!), so there's a ton of great material here for the budding Irish musician. And throughout there's such a genuine love for the music that it's hard not to fall in love too. In short, this is the kind of masterful album one would expect from Kevin Crawford. --Devon Leger
Kevin Crawford: Queen of May/Tom Dowd's Favourite/Naughton's
You can buy the album via PayPal (in Euros) at Kevin Crawford's Website
Séamus Begly & Oisín Mac Diarmada: Le Chéile (Together)
2012. Musical Ireland.
I just got my hands on the recent CD that features the fiddle/accordion team of Séamus Begley and Oisín Mac Diarmada. I recently wrote a review of another recording with Oisín Mac Diarmanda playing with the Innisfree Ceili Band. This time he teams up with the great Kerry accordion player Séamus Begley and they take us on a wild ride of breakneck reels, jigs, hornpipes, and polkas. As an added bonus, Séamus delights us with a few wonderful songs in his masterful Séan-nos style (un-ornamented songs in Gaelic).
It's just the two of them playing on the recording, except for an occasional singing duet with Séamus and his daughter Méabh Ní Bheaglaoich. Séamus comes from an illustrious musical family with a brother who also plays accordion (Brendan Begley). This recording is the result of two years touring with Oisín's troupe of "Irish Christmas in America." The influences, references and tune names on the CD read like a who's who of great Irish musicians: Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Ed Reavey, Andy McGann, Michael Coleman for the fiddlers and Finbarr Dwyer, Joe Burke, Johnny O’Leary, and Denis Doody for the box players.
The recording starts of with a set of rollicking slides: "The Scartaglen and Trasna Na dTonnta. This is followed by two reels: Richard Dwyer's and The Hunter's House and then a great song by Séamus: "An tSeanbhean Bhocht" with delightful backup vocals by his daughter. The rest of the CD keeps up the pace and quality with more songs, reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas. Throughout the recording, we feel the excitement and joy these two great musicians have playing together. It feels at times like two great thoroughbreds on a race to the finish, running neck an neck all the way.
I highly recommend this CD. --Dr. Squeeze
[Editor's Note: We've just heard that Séamus Begley has officially joined Oisin's awesome Irish trad band, Téada. Congrats all around, we love seeing two generations come together for good tunes and great parties!]
Séamus Begley & Oisín Mac Diarmada: An tSeanbhean Bhocht
Séamus Begley & Oisín Mac Diarmada: The Boys Of Tandragee/The Eavesdropper/Finbarr Dwyer’s
06/12/2012 | comments (0)
There's something brewing up north right now. We may not get much news about it here in the States, but for over 100 days students and citizens have been marching in Montréal against tuition hikes. The proposed tuition hikes are really just the tip of the iceberg for many of the protesters, a tangible reason to manifest opposition against a government that many feel is outdated and heading in the wrong direction for Québec. Amidst the iconic squares of red cloth pinned to jackets and banners, symbolizing the student strike, and the numerous counts of violence that have broken out on the streets, Montréal seems like a turbulent sea of red right now. In the time since I wrote this article, an inflammatory emergency law has been passed prohibiting all public gatherings in an effort to quell the demonstrations, and of course, has only lead to mass arrests (518 peaceful protesters in one night) and more conflict between the protesters and the government officials. It will be interesting to keep our eyes to the north and see what happens.
Wikipedia Page for the Québec Protests
In the meantime, Le Vent du Nord's Simon Beaudry kindly agreed to an interview (in French) with Hearth Music's Dejah Léger to talk complicated politics, music, and the future of Québec!
Le Vent du Nord Bring the Party
by Dejah Léger
Nobody brings the party like the Québécois. It’s a fact proven over and over by the unwavering and enduring international popularity of traditional groups like La Bottine Souriante, De Temps Antan, and Le Vent du Nord, whose audiences can’t get enough of their infectious joie de vivre. “There were over 630 people in the audience, more than we ever expected for a folk concert in Alaska,” said Simon Beaudry, guitarist extraordinaire of Le Vent Du Nord, speaking in French from a hotel room in Fairbanks of their recent concert promoting their new album Tromper le Temps. “We were taken aback. We sold out of all of our CDs the first night and we still have a show tonight!” However, Le Vent du Nord also brought another kind of party with them, and this Québécois Party is something else entirely. Known as the PQ (Parti Québécois), this party is less about being together and more about being apart.
With a Juno award and over 1,000 international shows to their credit, Le Vent du Nord are one of Québec’s premier and most influential traditional roots ensembles to date, leading the pack of "Boy Bands" that have emerged from Québec in the last ten years. Their newest album, Tromper les Temps, retains all of the characteristics that their public has come to know them for: their tight harmonies and haunting mix of medieval and contemporary sounds; their treasure-trove of Acadian & French-Canadian songs, lovingly dusted off and brought back to life with renewed vigor; their infectious podorythmie and driving energy. But on closer examination, there is an extra layer of unrest that makes this album far more intense than their previous albums—it is driven, not just by the innate power of Québécois. trad music, but by the unwavering belief that Québec should ultimately be a separate country from Canada.
It’s not a new argument—a point which Le Vent du Nord tries to make clear with their opening song, “Lettre à Durham”, in which Lord Durham, who historically tried to sweep Québec under the rug during the merger of Upper and Lower Canada, is taken to task. The song, written by the group’s frontman Nicolas Boulerice, even borrows a line ("les nègres blancs d'Amérique") from the controversial poet Pierre Vallières, who was seen by many as the intellectual leader of the Front de libération du Québec. They bring the argument to the present as they protest Canada’s plan to frack for shale gas in northern Québec, or Radio-Canada’s decision to cease broadcasting the hockey games in French to Québec. Their Facebook profile pictures are red in solidarity with the student protests that have halted Montréal since February. Meaning that, for all the handsome smiles and funny stage antics, these guys mean business.
But here’s the thing: unlike the majority of politically-tinged folk music, Le Vent du Nord has somehow found a way to make their point without being obnoxious. “We do it with a smile, not in a frustrated or enraged way” said Simon. “We enjoy talking about politics but we don’t want to be en chicane (fighting) with anyone.” And when asked if the language barrier dulls the blade of their convictions during international shows, he responded, “No, not all. With our new concert we’re working on introducing songs like 'Lettre à Durham' and 'La soirée du hockey' in English. It doesn’t take long at all, just a quick explanation at the beginning of the songs to let people know about these issues.” Since 70% of their concerts are outside of Québec, the added element of educational diplomacy is going to be an important point as they begin their tour in earnest in autumn 2012. “A lot of people don’t understand Québec,” says Simon. “It’s common to think we’re just Canadians who speak French, but its much, much more than that. Yes, we speak French, but it’s part of a huge culture. We have our own papers, television, music….Pour nous, le Québec est un pays.” Translation: "For us, Québec is a country."
Language plays a critical role in Québec culture and politics. Despite centuries of being surrounded by Anglophones, French is still the dominant language spoken in Québec. It’s not the flowery French we tend to associate with continental France, either—it’s a unique, vibrant, and rich language with a life—and vocabulary—of its own. Throughout the interview my ears strained to parse out Simon’s statements from the slew of Québécois expressions that punctuated his speech. He said things like “clin d'œil humoristique” (a “humorous wink,’ equivalent to our expression “tongue-in-cheek”) and “pieds-au-nez” (“feet to nose”, meaning “thumbing one’s nose”) that left me a little baffled. But although I realized very quickly that I was out of my depth, conducting an interview in a foreign language, passing into English would have defeated much of our purpose. “It’s really important to us to preserve our Francophone culture,” says Simon, then adds, “not just in Québec, either, but the Francophone culture of North America,” giving a nod to the often-overlooked pockets of French speakers within western Canada and the United States who strive to keep their linguistic and cultural identity intact as well. “We’re standing up for your language and culture, too.”
In the ten years since the formation of Le Vent du Nord—and perhaps because of their security in the world of traditional music—this is the first album on which the Boys express their political leanings. This has garnered them more media attention than ever before, and that in itself is a curious statement. For any number of reasons, we are drawn to their message of sovereignty and cultural preservation.
However, equally important to note, in regards to Tromper le Temps, is that interspersed with their flash-point songs are the over-looked tunes and chansons which have given them their long, enduring ride and rabid fan base, as well as provided the inspiration for their title, which translates to “Cheating Time.” On “Toujours Amants” and “Adieu Marie”, Simon retrieves skeletons of songs buried in time and gives them new life with fresh lyrics and melodies; Réjean Brunet steals a moment to marvel at his sleeping children in the tune “Souffle d’ange,” and Olivier Demers sings of timeless love in his heartfelt song “Le Souhait.” While many of the songs and tunes on the album are penned by the Boys, it somehow retains all the sounds of Québecois roots music, both maintaining and furthering the tradition and culture that refuses to lie down. It’s a poignant reminder that for all the reasons why Québec could be a separate country, there is an overwhelming reason why it should be a separate country. And that is: it has a distinct heritage, spirit, and soul that is unique, and this culture can—and should—be preserved in the country of Québec.
--UPDATE: Fred Pellerin, a much-loved storyteller (and traditional musician) just (06/08//2012) declined the National Order of Québec. The article here is in French, but he states "Mon coeur suit mon peuple, et ce peuple n'a pas le coeur à la fête." ("My heart follows my people, and my people's heart is not in this party"). He's doing this in response to the many protests in Quebec that have been pretty brutally attacked by the government. Vive le Quebec!
(Fred Pellerin Declines Invitation to the National Order of Quebec)
To hear tracks and get a tour schedule visit: http://www.leventdunord.com/
Le Vent du Nord: Lettre à Durham
Le Vent du Nord: Toujours amant
Thanks to Dejah Léger for conducting this interview in French with Simon Beaudry, thanks to Simon for his openness and honesty, and thanks to Louis Léger for help translating the French. Hearth Music is a family business and we don't hesitate to proclaim our love for our French-Canadian heritage!
06/04/2012 | comments (0)
Looks like we're the first on No Depression to review the new soundtrack to the hit Hollywood movie, The Hunger Games. Sure, we've all been hearing about it, especially the much ballyhooed Taylor Swift/Civil Wars collaboration and the production by Americana icon T-Bone Burnett, but the album itself is a musical wonderland. Burnett's off the leash with this one, gleefully quoting Appalachian tropes while shoving this old music into the swift currents of today's pop Americana.
It's ironic that the Hunger Games soundtrack is so good, since I don't remember a single one of these songs in the film. Two of them played over the end credits, but everything else was pretty generic composed film music. Technically this is a companion album, basically made up of songs inspired by the film rather than songs played during the film. It's ironic too, since the film isn't that great. Hair-brained director Gary Ross made the "artistic" decision that the camera work would be entirely hand-held, close-up shots in order to mimic the "urgency" of the action. Ugggh. The filming is constantly up the actor's faces, shaking as bad as an iPhone. It never pulls back to show scenery, or to show the bigger picture in a scene. Too bad, this could have been a great opportunity to really play up the Appalachian background of the film with beautiful vista shots and evocative staging. It's still watchable, largely because the story is so compelling and the acting is excellent, but I got motion sickness for the first time in a movie.
The Hunger Games is supposed to be set partially in a futuristic Appalachia. The story's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in District 12, a downtrodden borderland far from the capital center, impoverished by a fascist government and shackled to the main economy: coal mining. This Appalachia-light theme is the main reason the soundtrack is so focused on Americana, and it seems the main reason the soundtrack is so fully fleshed out in album form, but not in the film. Most of the action takes place outside of District 12, so the Americana themes are mainly used in the beginning.
Anyways, enough background, the soundtrack's the real star here. It's not uncommon for soundtracks these days to bring together a large number of eclectic pop stars, but Burnett has a larger vision here, and manages to tie the disparate artists into a compelling whole. The album flows beautifully, and the tracks are all interesting and innovative takes on the themes of the Hunger Games. It's Americana, but done by artists who know the genre well enough to play with its constraints. I also love how Burnett juggles the obvious constraints of working with a blockbuster Hollywood film with his own personal taste. The annoyingly bombastic and cloyingly pop song from Taylor Swift ("Eyes Open") is clearly there for the Billboard nod (I think it charted or something, but don't really care), but it's immediately followed by a gorgeous and subtle song from indie darlings The Low Anthem ("Lover is Childlike"). This song's enigmatic beauty is an amazing contrast to the lipstick pop sheen of Swift's craptastic single. It takes guts to pull of that kind of transition in a compilation album, and Burnett nails it. He even manages to subvert pop paradigms, pulling a remarkably edgy performance from pop-rapper Kid Cudi, and then following his gritty hip-hop track with a powerfully arranged song by the Punch Brothers.
Standout tracks (aside from the ones already mentioned) include Neko Case's powerful "Nothing to Remember" (what a voice!!!), a beautiful Appalachian ballad ("Daughter's Lament") from The Carolina Chocolate Drops' Rhiannon Giddens (she's amazing at these slow ballads), Miranda Lambert's pitch perfect country track ("Run Daddy") with the Pistol Annies, and blogosphere stars the Secret Sisters bring a cool retro vibe to their song "Tomorrow Will be Kinder." Here's a quick buying guide:
What to Grab on iTunes:
2. The Secret Sisters “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”
3. Neko Case “Nothing To Remember”
4. Taylor Swift “Safe & Sound ft. The Civil Wars”
6. Punch Brothers “Dark Days”
8. The Carolina Chocolate Drops “Daughter’s Lament”
9. The Civil Wars “Kingdom Come"
12. Miranda Lambert “Run Daddy Run ft. Pistol Annies”
15. The Low Anthem “Lover Is Childlike”
What to Skip:
7. The Decemberists “One Engine”
10. Glen Hansard “Take The Heartland”
14. Taylor Swift “Eyes Open”
PS: As much as we love to hate on Taylor Swift, HUGE kudos to her and the Civil Wars for turning out a truly amazing song. We've been listening to "Safe & Sound" over and over and over. It's a masterpiece!
This article first appeared in No Depression, where Hearth Music is a featured writer. Check out our No Depression page!
05/21/2012 | comments (2)
There’s something deeply triumphant about the new album from veteran country blues singer Rory Block, and what’s strange is that I’m not sure why this is. I Belong to the Band, released May 29 on Stony Plain Records, should be a simple album of covers of Reverend Gary Davis, the fabled blues/gospel shouter made famous in the 60s/70s folk revival. But there’s something deeper at work here. I think it’s love. In the liner notes, Block talks about visiting Davis with guitar master Stefan Grossman, and how Davis’ kind but stern, and thoroughly imposing, demeanor greatly impressed her. She soaked up the music, though it seems she didn’t actively take lessons from Davis, but more than that she connected to both Davis and Grossman as friends and reflects on that time with the slightly sorrowful memory that comes in later life. In creating an album of Davis covers, she’s both drawing forth these memories and also tying them to the memories of her life. Somehow she touches something deeper by doing this.
While I was expecting either iconoclastic covers of Davis, re-envisioning his music via her own lens, or pitch-perfect recreations, this album actually has neither. She just plays the music hard, beautifully hard. Her voice is as powerful as Davis and her picking gets the job done right. Despite the rather straight-ahead renditions, there’s a sense of triumph underneath, a sense of barely suppressed joy in the music. As the baby boomers move into late life, the music they once imitated has now become the music of their own lifetimes. In the liner notes, Block laments the loss of old-time tradition bearers like Davis, but doesn’t reflect that perhaps she might be bearing traditions of her own. Why did people fall in love with Davis’ music if not for the fact that he brought a lifetime of love to it? And that’s why I’m falling in love with this album from Rory Block: it reflects her own lifetime of loving the blues.
Rory Block: Twelve Gates to the City
05/09/2012 | comments (0)
I get so focused on my own version of folk music (fiddles, banjos, and songs written centuries ago by nameless poets), that I tend to forget that folk music for most people actually refers to a more modern vision of acoustic troubadours. So in honor of this world of folk, here are three artists that have been catching our ears recently.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
2011 re-release. Neverfoehl Records.
Despite being released in 2009 originally, Colorado singer-songwriter Reed Foehl's album, Once an Ocean, sounds as fresh as if it had been released yesterday. Foehl's an obviously gifted songwriter, with a quick ear for the humbly inspiring stories of everyday folks. The album's being re-released in anticipation of Foehl's upcoming full-length, and it's an indicator that Foehl will be a powerful force in the roots music world. The title track is stunningly beautiful and has been on constant repeat at HearthHQ. It weaves an innovative finger-picked guitar melody line with Reed's crystal-clear vocals. I'm a sucker for gently finger-picked guitar songs, but this song takes that archetype a step further with its intricately crafted guitar melody. Nicely done, sir!! Though Reed leads the album, he does bring some friends along to add beautiful touches to the music. Be Good Tanyas members Trish Klein and Frazey Ford are especially welcome, adding delicious harmony vocals and picking. Young indie folk artist Jefferson Hamer co-produces the album, brings a gorgeous song of his own ("Wolves"), and adds some beautiful guitar work to the mix. He's a talent to watch out for too! I'm not familiar with the other guests, but the album feels more like an ensemble album than a solo singer-songwriter leading a band, a welcome change from many of the albums I hear these days. I can't wait for Foehl's upcoming full-length! PS: You can check out an interview with Reed Foehl on No Depression from 2009 here.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
David Newberry: No One Will Remember You
2012. Northern Electric Records.
While other singer-songwriters talk about their storytelling skills and their ability to draw you into a song, Canadian singer David Newberry DELIVERS! His new album, No One Will Remember You, is packed with beautifully crafted songs, the kind of music that has to be made by hand with great care. Coupled with his beautiful voice, and you have quite the package! On the other hand, the songs are frequently overpowered by excessive, and at times needless, production (90s-era drums, screaming guitars, walls of sound), but he's so good that his songwriting and vocals cut through everything. His songs are gently sad, almost wistful, possibly exhausted, really the only emotions we have anymore in a world on the brink. On the title track, he sings "We cut the trees to make the paper / Turn the world inside out, and put it through a press / To teach ourselves that telling stories / Is just the same as getting out there and doing it yourself." Most singer-songwriters would like to shout their views from the mountaintop, but Newberry seems content just to talk about his life and his perspective. It's a refreshingly ego-less perspective that's unfortunately very rare. For the next album, let's just give him an acoustic guitar and set him loose on the road so real people can find his music. David Newberry deserves to be heard!
David Newberry: All of the Apples in the Basket
Anna Coogan: The Wasted Ocean
Seattle singer-songwriter Anna Coogan has a chameleon-like knack for molding her music to a specific genre's sound, and then for transcending that sound. She did this with her earlier album, Glory, in which she blew open the roots-based world of Americana with a sound that felt entirely new. Partly it's her vocals, which have such a sweet ache to them that they fit into most genres easily. But she's also an excellent song crafter, able to build compelling melodies and arrangements that draw you in. For her newest album, The Wasted Ocean, she looks to her East Coast upbringing and the maritime sea shanties she used to hear growing up. Her songs this time around are rife with imagery of the sea, sailors, and the "whalefish." It's not corny at all, and Coogan infuses these old themes with a new life. My only complaint is that her voice is mixed strangely on the album, somehow sounding a bit garbled or muffled. Other than that, this album is a great example of a multi-faceted singer-songwriter able to plumb her own depths to come up with new sounds.
Anna Coogan: Blood on the Sails