Archive for Northwest Music category
Tonight (Friday, April 22), Columbia City Theater will play host to a whole family of indie-roots music organizations from the Northwest. We're looking forward to hanging out with our buddies at Northwest Folklife, Ball of Wax, and especially American Standard Time (we've been guest blogging for them for a while). It's all part of the Northwest Folklife Pre-Festival Party and it will feature two of our most favorite bands: Mighty Ghosts and Crow Quill Night Owls.
We reviewed Mighty Ghosts a little while back, and have been following their music since they were a hardcore, underground Portland stringband called The Mighty Ghosts of Heaven. Check out our review of their new album:
Hearth Music Review of Mighty Ghosts' new CD, Aberdeen
And here's a quick sample to listen to:
Mighty Ghosts: Mayfly
And of course, the Crow Quill Night Owls are our heroes. Coming out of the Northwest crust-punk community, Kit Stovepipe discovered early blues and jugtime music and became one of the best ragtime guitarists around. Maria Muldaur recently snapped him as a new "discovery" and featured him more prominently on her album than special guests Taj Mahal or Dan Hicks. Have a listen to this killer track from the Crow Quill Night Owls new album:
Crow Quill Night Owls: Wake Up Sinners
And a new discovery for us is Led To Sea, the solo project of violist Alex Guy. The viola is one of the most beautiful instruments we know of, and it's a damn shame that it's been so under-utilized in American vernacular music. Alex has toured and recorded with a host of indie band, including Xiu Xiu, Laura Veirs, and is currently on tour with popular indie duo Thao & Mirah. Her soft voice meshes perfectly with the viola, and the lush production sounds great. She's also supposed to be an amazing live performer!
Here's a video of Led To Sea opening for Laura Veirs in the UK:
See you tonight!
04/22/2011 | comments (0)
Oliver Swain: John Henry
I used to book the Folklife Festival in Seattle and it always saddened me to learn that the most amazing Canadian roots music bands could be living and performing just three hours North in Vancouver, and yet no one in Seattle had heard of them. While a few bands had made the border jump (Be Good Tanyas, The Paperboys, The Duhks), many other bands simply avoided the US like the plague (and with GW in power at the time, who could blame them?).
Well, it's about damn time that people start waking up and noticing the amazing roots music coming out of the deep woods of British Columbia, and the first place to start is the brand-new CD from whisper-voiced folk prophet Oliver Swain. I first heard his other-worldly voice about four years ago via MySpace when I discovered a red-hot alt-old-time band called Outlaw Social. He sang a cover of Dock Bogg's "Trouble in Mind" that transported me with its empty silences and his eerie, floating vocals. He was the bass player for Outlaw Social, which tripped me out when I heard his falsetto singing. Outlaw Social didn't last too long, unfortunately, but I know that there were heated festival bidding wars to snap them up while they were around. We hadn't heard such a new, refreshing take on old-timey folk traditions in a long time and everyone was excited.
Outlaw Social: Trouble in Mind (listen to Oliver's haunting vocals)
Outlaw Social also broke another amazing singer, by the way, Pharis Romero (then Pharis Patenaude). Pharis' edgy voice was as fragile as Oliver's, but had an edge that tied the band's songs together. She was also a killer songwriter. Pharis went on to marry banjo guru Jason Romero and to found the impossibly-good old-time band The Haints. Now word is that 2011 will also see the release of a duo album of Pharis & Jason featuring more of Pharis' original songs. We'll definitely be blogging about that!
Outlaw Social: Old Iron Pin (Pharis sings and wrote the song)
But back to Oliver Swain's new album. Having been at the center of British Columbia's roots scene with Outlaw Social and his earlier work with excellent folk band The Bills, he's brought together some amazing players to join him on the album (fiddler Adrian Dolan from The Bills, young BC guitar wunderkind Quinn Bachand, and Emma Beaton of Joy Kills Sorrow) and he's also brought some beautiful original songs. Though he's well known as a bassist, I was surprised by his omnipresent banjo playing on this new album. While not flashy, his clawhammer picking provides a great grounding to all the soaring strings that weave through his songs. I bet he'll get compared to Old Man Luedecke, another Canadian banjo troubadour, but while Luedecke excels as a modern Woody Guthrie, shooting straight from the hip, Swain is much more elegant and graceful. His music is full of silence, thought, and deep emotion. It's the Zen rock garden of American old-time music. I can't imagine jogging to his tunes or bumping them at the gym; the only way to appreciate this music is to listen. Simply listen. Close your eyes and listen. And feel.
Of the tracks on his debut solo album, Big Machine, I was most drawn to "John Henry" and "Little Satchel". Both these songs were taken from traditional sources, but Swain spins out of the tradition into dark little musical corners I'd never explored before. Little Satchel features a gently whining dobro that keens just at the edge of our perception, unsettling the traditional melody and the listener. John Henry's harsh vocal harmonies open the track and a freight-train bowed-bass rhythm nicely offsets Swain's wafting vocals. The title track, "Big Machine", is also quite beautiful. It's an original song of Oliver's that I first heard with Outlaw Social, but his version on this album has more depth and maturity than I was expecting. Outlaw Social played the song full of bounce and fun, but Swain's solo take is much darker and more thoughtful. It's another indicator of how much he's matured as an artist and how much mastery he has over his music.
I guess you could think of this album in terms of the "chamber folk" movement coming out of Boston and the Berklee College (Crooked Still, Natalie Haas, Joy Kills Sorrow), but really this is just a layer of the musical depth on Swain's recording. Swain's great talent is his effortless translation of old melodies and words into something thoroughly modern and exciting. This is old-time music as fine art.
Oliver Swain: Little Satchel
04/20/2011 | comments (1)
I’ve had to think a lot about home-schooling recently. I shudder at the thought of my kids being chewed up and spit out of the public school system, especially in a big city like Seattle. But on the other hand, I’m sure as hell not trained to educate them when I can barely focus on a written page for more than 20 seconds! But the shiny kids in Youth Rescue Mission make a pretty good case for homeschooling. Growing up in a tight-knit family, music was a natural way to be together. They’ve kept that closeness both in the band’s sound (interwoven harmonies, clapped and strummed rhythms reminiscent of a campfire singalong, hummable melodies) and the band’s aesthetic (their debut CD includes paper and instructions to make a paper airplane modeled on their cover picture). A band made up of four siblings: Hannah, Daniel, Luke, and Jesse Williams, Youth Rescue Mission also feature mom and dad and even an archival recording of their grandma on their eponymous debut CD. They’ve also got some great string arrangements, a whole lot of tambourine, and songs that are like a warm embrace on a cold, rainy NW day.
The opening track, “Problem Solver”, is a great intro to the band. With lines like “It’s time we found our own way” and "Hold your hope, and put your heart into it", this is a band focused on the inner struggle of youth, a band working to find itself. If I was pressed to describe the roots of their sound, I’d have to say I think of them as a cross between kids who grew up in the country with singalongs from Rise Up Singing, and kids who soaked up the smooth urban vibe of TV shows like Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street. From the barnyard to the inner city, I’d say. But that's a mediocre way to describe their complex sound, which is both homey and cosmopolitan at the same time.
They draw from obvious sources like The Head and the Heart, sharing the same hand-clapping fun and open-hearted sincerity. Which is a good thing. Some of the current crop of Seattle indie roots bands have come under fire from the press (notably Seattle Weekly and Eric Grandy) recently for their over-sincerity. And while I don’t want to see our city’s music scene devolve into emo mush either, it’s pretty damn hard to argue with bands whose music is just so nice. For my two cents, I think we all could use more love from friends and family, so let’s quit the hating and get back to building up our Northwest musical family. As the kids in Youth Rescue Mission sing, “It goes into your soul”. And that's a nice way to describe the music coming out of our friendly, bearded folk community in these deep, dark Northwest woods.
Youth Rescue Mission: Problem Solver
Here's a great video of a living room jam session w/Youth Rescue Mission
Also, have a listen to this endearing Youth Rescue Mission in studio from KEXP
04/13/2011 | comments (0)
We rarely talk about country music as being "soulful" or having "soul."
Maybe today’s brand of urban twang just doesn’t have enough intimacy, or fragility to be thought of this way. Or maybe country singers have focused too much on the cliches, and to little on the stories. Whatever the case, thank god Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers are here to change this. With her honey-dripped vocals that sway between heart-broken and gently sobbing, she could easily be the biggest cliché in country music. But the gentle truth of her songwriting and the softness of her voice lend a weight to the music that gives her new CD from Signature Sounds, Starlight Hotel, a true feeling of soulfulness.
04/06/2011 | comments (0)
The Cave Singers will always be associated with the Northwest. And with roots music. Even though they don’t necessarily connect with either one. Doesn’t matter.
They’ve got beards, they sing over rootsy beats and finger-picked guitars. They make crooning cool again. Their albums have a bunch of pine trees on the cover and they just sound like they live in a moss-covered cave in the Olympic Peninsula’s rainforest. Or at least, that’s how they used to be.
Their new album, No Witch, doesn’t hew to these same clichés as their previous two albums, and I think that’s a good thing. Some people are calling this their “rock” record and that’s kind of right. It’s not like Iron & Wine’s change to indie rock (I still want to claw my eyeballs out whenever I hear that stupid opera singer on the first track of his EP w/Calexico), since they’ve kept their core sound strong. Lead singer Pete Quirk’s rambly voice (half the time I think he’s singing in French) holds true across each album, the stripped-down trap set of drummer Marty Lund still features a lot of kickin’ tambourine lines, and guitarist Derek Fudesco’s fingerpicking is still the true beating heart of The Cave Singers’ sound. But on No Witch, The Cave Singers clearly aren’t afraid to branch out in new directions, or to wrap their signature sound in new layers of production. And it works to their benefit.
03/30/2011 | comments (0)
Just got word from Port Townsend's non-profit arts org Centrum that blues legend Taj Mahal will headline the 2011 Acoustic Blues Festival. Taj Mahal will be joining the festival mid-week to present a special concert at Fort Worden on August 3. And if you're signed up for the festival's week of instruction, you'll also get an exclusive meet-and-greet with the master. Tickets are gonna go on sale to the general public on May 1. And I bet dollars to donuts that this show's gonna sell out. So maybe you should think about becoming a member of Centrum (to get early tickets in April) or if you're a musician you should definitely think about signing up for the full festival, which runs July 31-August 7.
The Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival is more of an intensive workshop for blues musicians of all levels than it is a series of concerts. It's one of the crown jewels in Centrum's inspirational folk arts and roots music programs, the others being The Festival of American Fiddle Tunes (July 3-10) and VoiceWorks (June 27-July 3). For a week you get to hang around the beautiful national park Fort Worden, learning at the feet of the masters and participating in rowdy, all-night jam sessions. It's an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in another musical culture without hardly having to leave home. For each of their festivals, Centrum employs an Artistic Director, usually a respected professionaly musician in the field. For the Acoustic Blues Festival, young blues master Corey Harris has been the Artistic Director for the past few years. You'll likely remember him from Martin Scorsese's killer blues documentary "Feel Like Going Home". He's got immense respect for the roots of the blues, but isn't afraid to push those roots. “To me, the blues is the blueprint,” Corey says. “You can go from that blueprint and build whatever house you want. That’s something that we as black Americans have given to the world: the concept of the blues. But at the same time, I'm of a different generation. I didn't ever have to go to the back of a bus. If I was out on the road, I wouldn't have to camp in my car because they wouldn't let black people in the hotel. So I'm trying to represent what my tradition is, and then represent my individual self in the contemporary moment." Harris knows his music and was recently selected for a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. He'll be teaching throughout the week at the festival.
Other faculty at the 2011 Acoustic Blues Festival include Jerron 'Blind Boy' Paxton (familiar to readers of this blog), Black stringband The Ebony Hillbillies, New Orleans accordion player and Mardi Gras krew member Sunpie Barnes, local slide guitar wizard Orville Johnson, New Orleans ace musician Washboard Chaz Leavy, highy respected bluesman Guy Davis, Malian master musician Cheick Hamala Diabate, harmonica master Phil Wiggins (formerly of Cephus & Wiggins), local harmonica wiz Mark Graham and more.
But if you don't play and are just looking for some great summertime concerts, be assured that all of these amazing musicians will be presenting concerts open to the public, either at the large concert space at Fort Worden (it used to be a hangar for zeppelins), or at local clubs in Port Townsend. Check out the concerts page for the details and see you on the Peninsula this August!
Taj Mahal: Fishin' Blues (Live at Amoeba Records)