The Warren G. Hardings: Get A Life
Out here in the Pacific Northwest we brew our bluegrass a little differently! Sure, the mandolin, fiddle, and banjo are all there, but we’re not afraid to toss in influences from raggedy pop songwriting to punk instrumental aggression. High-energy Seattle stringband The Warren G. Hardings pour a long tall pint of this Cascadian brewgrass on their new album, Get A Life. Inspired by the greats of American roots music, they’re all hardcore pickers on their instruments, casually tossing solos back and forth on stage. Though the music they create has obvious nods to a rural American past, the songwriting here owes more to the fierce politics of the Northwest than any kind of old-timey nostalgia. Or maybe more to the helter-skelter lifestyle of young men trying to make their names in an overloaded city, for many of the songs here speak to the stresses of building a life and a job on your own.
Known as a raging performance band, The Warren G. Hardings have been playing to hungry crowds all over the Northwest for the past few years, ever since meeting at underground bluegrass jams. When they went into the studio to record the new album, they were able to present some of the brash energy of their stage show, but also to draw back to more introspective and thoughtful songs. It’s a beautifully balanced album, and a snapshot of just how hard Northwest rootsgrass can rock.
Recorded in Seattle at Empty Sea Studios, Get A Life features original songs and rapid-fire machine-gun picking from this quintet of next-gen roots musicians. Lead singer and principal songwriter Dave Zelonka comes out the gate like a thoroughbred on the opening song “Treehouse,” channeling some of the punk rock he grew up with. Mandolinist, vocalist and fellow songwriter Gabriel Marowitz leads off the next song, “High & Low,” with righteous fury and saw-toothed vocals. A theme of love and longing runs throughout the album, interspersed with poetic odes (“my girl is cool as water/warm as brandy wine”) and tongue-in-cheek humor (as in “Cannibal Lies”). Songs like “Drifting,” recount the feeling of one’s life spinning out of control, while “Anonymous Waltz,” pines for a lost loved-one.
The Warren G. Hardings are at the forefront of a fresh wave of Cascadian newgrass. There’s an abandon to their music that unites the carefree folk music of a time long gone with the red-hot roots music movement that’s sweeping the nation.
The Warren G. Hardings: "Anonymous Waltz"
The Warren G. Hardings: "Treehouse"
Who are The Warren G. Hardings?
Dave Zelonka – Guitar
Dave has been playing music and writing songs since he was 14 years old. He grew up on punk rock but started playing bluegrass when he moved into an apartment that didn’t allow drums.
Gabriel Marowitz – Mandolin
Gabriel was inspired to pick up a mandolin after accidentally stumbling into a Yonder Mountain String Band show. This started a journey down the bluegrass rabbit hole leading further and further into the past, until he reemerged with a beard, heavily calloused fingers and many new friends.
Andrew Knapp - Bass
Since 5th grade the low registers have infiltrated Andrew’s mind, body, and soul. After a love affair with jazz in college, he met bluegrass in the heart of Cascadia and never looked back.
Steve Werner – Banjo
Steve Werner’s journey with bluegrass and the banjo began when he left the Arizona desert for the mountains and forests of the Great Northwest. Someday he might return from whence he came, but probably not.
Lee Callender – Fiddle
Lee plays the fiddle and has done so for 15 years. He lets his music do the talking.
04/04/2014 | comments (0)
The Henry Girls:
Louder Than Words
There’s a Vietnamese proverb that says “siblings are as close as hands and feet.” One listen to THE HENRY GIRLS and you’re compelled to add “vocal chords” to the phrase. Comprised of sisters Karen, Lorna, and Joleen McLaughlin, The Henry Girls give a master class in harmony, effortlessly and flawlessly weaving together Irish roots and Americana influences into a rich tapestry of song. Actually, this is no cliched “musical tapestry.” This is a warm, wool blanket on a rainy day. This is the tablecloth your great-grandmother made that adorns the coffee table in the summertime. This is The Henry Girls’ latest offering, Louder Than Words.
Thanks to strong family genes (including those of their grandfather, Henry, their collective namesake), Karen, Lorna, and Joleen have been bending ears as The Henry Girls for over a decade across numerous recordings. By 2010, they were nominated for an Irish Film & Television Award for Best Original Score for their contributions to the soundtrack of A Shine of Rainbows. Their previous album, December Moon, garnered rave reviews from press on both sides of the Atlantic. Now they offer their fifth studio album, Louder Than Words. Veteran producer Calum Malcolm (The Blue Nile, The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Stéphane Grappelli, Carol Kidd) returns on this album, which was recorded on The Henry Girls’ native soil in Co. Donegal, Ireland, and mixed and mastered in Scotland (their mother’s birthplace). Louder Than Words features a wide assortment of instrumentation and textures, but manages to feel concise and natural. Karen, Lorna, and Joleen make extensive use of their shared understanding and musical abilities, trading instruments and vocal duties back and fourth throughout the album’s ten tracks.
At the center of the album is a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Reasons to Believe.” Enlisting the help of Liam Bradley’s drums and percussion, Ted Ponsonby’s resonator guitar, and The Inishowen Gospel Choir’s powerful restraint, The Henry Girls submit a beautifully driving rendition of the American-heartland tune. Throughout, Louder Than Words features stories of heartbreak (“James Monroe”), unrequited love (“So Long but Not Goodbye”), and regret and uncertainty (“The Light in the Window,” “Home,” “It’s Not Easy”). The Inishowen Gospel Choir returns twice more throughout the tracklist, all the way into the final, swelling, mercy of “Here Beside Me.” As producer Calum hops on the Hammond, the voices swell together: “You with me, here beside me, is all I really need,” and you get the sense that they could just as easily be talking about family, about their neighbors, their hometown postalworkers, the people who make up a vibrant community. You can almost hear echoes of fellow Irishman Bono saying “these are the hands that built America.” Yes, The Henry Girls are indeed building something with Louder Than Words, and it comes from Irish, Scottish, and American roots. But this is a new world. A world that could only be born out of the shared imagination of three sisters sitting at the kitchen table, finishing each others’ sentences. And you’re there, hanging on every word, every note, just like the hem of your great-grandmother’s tablecloth hanging over the edge of that very table.
The Henry Girls: "Reasons To Believe"
The Henry Girls: "So Long But Not Goodbye"
04/01/2014 | comments (0)
Bradford Lee Folk:
Somewhere Far Away
If you want to reach Bradford Lee Folk, call him after two pm, Nashville time. That’s because before two o’clock, he’s out on his tractor in the fields of an organic farm outside the city, farming for a living. After 2pm, Brad heads back into Nashville to set up for a long night of burning bluegrass and rootsy Americana with his band The Bluegrass Playboys. That juxtaposition between the gritty dirt of the country and the glitz of Nashville lies at the heart of Bradford Lee Folk’s music. On his new album, Somewhere Far Away, you can hear the push and pull of the more progressive edges of American roots music against Brad’s own love for the rock-hard foundations of bluegrass. It’s a paradox you can hear even in the sound of his voice, which moves so easily between a rough-edged drawl and a sweet, crystal-clear, high-lonesome call. Really, it’s as simple as this: when Brad sings, you listen.
Bradford Lee Folk’s lived a hard-driving life in American roots music; the kind of life you find from a man who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. Born in Louisiana and raised in Missouri, Brad’s dad played country and blues, and the sounds of old-time stringbands filled his youth. Halfway through high school, though, he found a cassette tape of Flatt & Scruggs, and from then on it was “bluegrass, bluegrass, bluegrass,” as he says. After high school, Brad moved to Colorado, worked as a herdsman on a dairy farm, drove to his gigs in a ’72 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and formed up his ground-breaking bluegrass band Open Road. With razor-sharp precision, vintage suits and Dapper Dan haircuts, Open Road was the hottest young bluegrass band on the circuit. Signed to Rounder Records, Open Road released three records and toured everywhere before flaming out from the pressures and temptations of being thrown into the touring musician life too young. Afterwards, Folk bought a rural honky-tonk in the foothills of Colorado and kept right on rolling, booking so many hot country roots bands that his bar became a must-stop spot on the national circuit. After five years, Folk packed up and moved to Nashville, looking to return to his own muse in Music City. Now with The Bluegrass Playboys, Brad has a newfound focus on his music and his career, writing most of the songs on his new album, and leading a group of some of the hottest pickers in the city.
If you ask Bradford Lee Folk what kind of music he plays, his first answer will always be “bluegrass,” though on Somewhere Far Away you’ll just as easily hear Americana or country roots influences. Unlike many, he doesn’t see bluegrass as a isolated tradition separate from other American musical forms. On Somewhere Far Away, barn-burning bluegrass (“Foolish Game of Love”) rubs shoulders with the disquieting darkness of the Americana ballad “Soil and Clay”, or a character-driven story song like “The Piper.” “Trains Don’t Lie” was written about Brad’s hard-struck East Nashville neighborhood, but still retains a certain wistfulness, and the title track turns a sleepy waltz into a beautiful meditation on nature and environment. Somewhere Far Away is proof that you can build American roots music that looks to the future as easily as it looks to the past.
Bradford Lee Folk: "Foolish Game of Love"
Bradford Lee Folk: "Trains Don't Lie"
03/31/2014 | comments (0)
Cut to the Chase
Kathy Kallick has been among the elite of contemporary songwriters and singers since co-founding the seminal band, Good Ol’ Persons. Along the way, she has won a Grammy and two IBMA Awards, had five albums each spend a year at the top of the national bluegrass charts, appeared on three high-profile Rounder Records collections of bluegrass songs by women, received Lifetime Membership awards, and performed and recorded with the country’s top acoustic musicians. After 17 albums as a leading voice in American roots music, you’d think that Kathy Kallick would be ready to coast on her latest release, a collection of originals titled Cut To The Chase.
Instead, she’s upped the ante, working with new collaborators and exploring new forms, as she pushes her songwriting out of a comfort zone to discover various approaches to what she calls “story songs.” As Kathy notes, “Story songs were ways of spreading the news and recounting important events. I find the fact that something mattered enough to be recounted to be moving and compelling.” Her new songs certainly are compelling—and moving.
Some of that comes from co-writing three songs with renowned guitarist/singer/songwriter Clive Gregson. As she says, “My initial response to all three melodies created by Clive was shock. They were nothing like what I expected—which is precisely why I wanted to collaborate with him.” Their song, “Franco’s Spain,” has some of the lyricism of Joni Mitchell in a tale of adolescent travel and naivety. With “Time Traveller’s Wife,” a complex fable of love wraps around a melody line that mimics the intricate puzzle-box nature of the song. And their title track inspired the album’s cover art, created by the infamous Erik (“Savage Dragon”) Larsen.
Kathy’s solo compositions are equally mature and varied. Whether it’s the ethereal Greek chorus and resonant harp of “Persephone’s Dream” or the duet between pedal steel and dobro echoing the vocal duet on “Once Upon” or telling the story of one man’s life inspired by the sound of a train whistle (“Not As Lonesome As Me”) or refashioning “Ellie,” her Good Ol’ Persons classic, as a twangy country song, Cut To the Chase is a clear departure for Kathy Kallick from the bluegrass that has brought her such acclaim.
While she recorded some of these songs with her brilliant and versatile band—Annie Staninec (fiddle), Greg Booth (dobro), Tom Bekeny (mandolin), and Cary Black (acoustic bass)—Cut to the Chase also reunites Kathy with Good Ol’ Persons John Reischman (mandolin) and Sally Van Meter (Weissenborn), plus California luminaries like pedal steel legend Bobby Black, members of Wake the Dead, guitarist Molly Tuttle, and banjo master Bill Evans. In the end, it’s Kathy Kallick’s vibrant and soulful vocals as well as her distinctive and memorable compositions that make Cut To the Chase such a special experience. She combines a patchwork quilt mix of stylistic elements and of subject matter into a satisfying and powerful collection of new songs…which are also stories.
Kathy Kallick: "Tryin' So Hard To Get You"
Kathy Kallick: "Franco's Spain"
03/18/2014 | comments (0)
How Red Is the Blood
New Zealand artists Cy Winstanley (guitar, vocals) and Vanessa McGowan (bass, vocals) took a long, winding path to become the Americana roots duo Tattletale Saints, and that shows in the music on their debut full-length album, How Red Is The Blood. Both met in a jazz big band–Vanessa actually has a Masters of Jazz Bass from University of Nevada, Las Vegas–but were drawn together over a shared love of American roots music. Both come from New Zealand, but have traveled all over and actually formed their first Americana band in London. Now they’ve returned to New Zealand to form the critically acclaimed roots duo Tattletale Saints. With the help of a successful crowd funding campaign, Tattletale Saints were able to travel to Nashville to record their new album at Butcher Shoppe Recording Studios (part-owned by John Prine and the birthplace of many of Johnny Cash’s hit records). Tim O’Brien jumped on board to produce the album, bringing his experience as a Grammy-award winning Americana tastemaker and joining in on fiddle and mandolin as well. The result is an album that joins the beautiful simplicity of American roots music with hard-biting songs that echo a generation’s distress.
On their new album, the effortless, effusive nature of Tattletale Saints’ songs cleverly disguise the subversiveness of the lyrics. “Doctor, Doctor” sounds for all the world like a breezy jazz song, and Cy’s vocals could fit well in any jazz club today. But the lyrics speak to the harm that prescription drugs have wreaked on an aging generation held in the grip of huge pharmaceutical corporations. “Kathleen” is perhaps the catchiest song on the album and sounds like a lovely heartfelt folk song written for young love, but the song flips into deep darkness on the last verse, warped by the danger of unexamined love. The song “Fell Upon the Fields” is anchored by a cheerful fiddle melody (played by Tim O’Brien) and is written almost like an old cowboy ballad. But the lyrics are born from the dreariness of a London winter (a city that Cy called home for 7 years, some of which as a busker on the underground) and the hopelessness of a disaffected generation. As the singer reflects through the London fog to his fantasies of life out on the Western plains, you realize that the song itself is the fantasy; a sunny ranch hand melody desperately needed to brighten a young man’s dark day. Tattletale Saints love contrasting opposites, and many of their songs play with elements of light and dark, both in the melodies and in the songwriting.
There may be a temptation to label Tattletale Saints as just another young folk band singing the same old songs, another cog in the Americana wheel, but this would be a grave mistake. Tattletale Saints makes music that lures you in with its familiarity, but stabs deep as a knife. It’s the perfect example of the folk music of a new generation: bitter and furious at the state of the world, but unable to let go of its love for the roots of American music and the hopefulness of true folk songs.
Tattletale Saints: "Kathleen"
Tattletale Saints: "Fell Upon the Fields"
03/11/2014 | comments (0)
One Evening in May
For fiddler, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Laurie Lewis, the traditions of bluegrass and folk aren’t so much tools in her hands, but burning sources of inspiration that have driven her through a 30+ year career at the forefront of American roots music. A pioneering woman in bluegrass, Laurie has paved the way for many young women today, always guided by her own love of traditional music and the styles of her heroes that came before. Although she’s won a Grammy for her interpretation of Bill Monroe’s music, and is considered a masterful proponent of Ralph Stanley’s singing style, she has crafted the music her own way, by following her personal muse and remaining open to new influences.
In some ways, Laurie Lewis’ new album, One Evening in May, recorded one magical evening in May 2013 at the Freight and Salvage in Lewis’ hometown of Berkeley, CA, feels like a victory lap. She’s playing before a loving audience and it sounds like an utterly effortless evening of music. But the illusion of effortlessness covers up the fact that Laurie Lewis is making some of the most challenging and innovative music of her career right now. The album features eleven newly-penned Lewis originals, most of them written only a few months earlier. You can hear her pushing her sound towards Linda Ronstadt’s polished country singing with “En Voz Baja”, or blending a burning honky-tonk guitar line from Nina Gerber with longtime music partner Tom Rozum’s bluegrass mandolin tremolo on “Ring of Fire”. It takes guts to go after Johnny Cash’s great classic, but Laurie brings a steely edge to the song that’s a hallmark of her ground-breaking work as an inspirational frontwoman in bluegrass. “Trees” unites Lewis’ longtime love of mountain singing traditions with contemporary lyrics about the destruction of the environment and the promise of time to heal the wounds, and “My True Love Loves Me” is a master class in how to write a deceptively simple love song that’s also deeply moving. Laurie’s song, “Barstow,” has been likened to a 400-page novel distilled into five captivating minutes. Rozum contributes heartfelt lead vocals on two songs, and Gerber gives the ensemble a field of flowers to cavort in with her “Winthrop Waltz.” The icing on the cake is the inclusion of young folk harmony trio and protégés The T Sisters and a couple of guest spots by five-time National old-time fiddle champion Tristan Clarridge.
Lewis, Rozum, and Gerber are clearly having a ball playing together, testing each other’s knowledge of the American roots spectrum, and pushing their music to new heights. It takes years of mastery to make this sound so easy.
Laurie Lewis: My True Love Loves Me
Laurie Lewis: Trees