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)
The Devil and the Diamond
Matuto’s music is all about the dance. On stage, the instruments swirl together, bobbing in and out, whirling around the tension at the core of Matuto’s music: the push and pull between the Latin syncopations of Brazilian roots music and the folk traditions of the American South. It’s Bluegrass meets Brazil. It’s an unlikely combination on paper, but not in person. On the dancefloor it just feels right. One listen to the new album from Matuto, The Devil and the Diamond (out today, May 16th, on Motémo Records) and you’ll know just what we mean.
In 2002, South Carolina native Clay Ross moved to New York to pursue a jazz career, but just a few years later found himself in Recife, Brazil, immersed in the region’s folkloric music. Returning to New York, he began looking for like-minded conspirators, finding the perfect match for his love of Brazilian music in renowned accordionist Rob Curto (Forró for All). Born in New York, Curto is widely regarded as forró’s (NE Brazil’s accordion-driven country roots music) foremost ambassador in the States. He spent years living and playing in Brazil, completely absorbing and interpreting the country’s musical traditions. In February of 2009 during Carnaval in Recife, Ross and Curto formed Matuto (a Brazilian slang word meaning ‘Country Boy’). The band draws together some of the best musicians working across NYC’s diverse jazz, roots, and world music scenes, like in-demand fiddler Rob Hecht (Abigail Washburn, Jayme Stone), Brazilian percussionist Zé Mauricio, drummer Richie Barshay, and bassist Skip Ward.
Matuto is the kind of band that could only be born out of New York City’s vibrant culture. Its members hail from many different backgrounds, but operate as a loose groove-based collective drawn to folkloric music and the dance rhythms of the city. The band features violin, guitar, accordion, bass, drums, and various Brazilian percussion instruments: the alfaia (a large, wooden, rope-tuned bass drum), the pandeiro (a Brazilian tambourine), the berimbau (a single-string on a bow struck with a small stick), and the agogô (a pair of small, pitched metal bells).
The music of Matuto draws inspiration both from the Brazilian roots music that band leaders Clay Ross and Rob Curto have spent years passionately studying and from the American roots music that’s surrounded them since birth. On The Devil and the Diamond, you’ll hear Brazil in the rich tones of Rob Curto’s forró accordion playing, in the rural rhythms of maracatu (from the Pernambuco region), in the urban beats of Rio’s samba, and in the swiftly intricate, chorinho inspired melodies . All of this balanced with clear connections to the American roots music landscape, especially with Clay Ross’ burning country guitar lines on “Chicken Teeth,” the haunted gospel vocals of “Drag Me Down,” or the Motown feel of “Sun Song.” Like a true southern preacher, Ross delivers colorfully satirical lyrics reminiscent of David Byrne, Tom Ze, and Caetano Veloso. Together, Matuto weld these many influences into a uniquely danceable soundscape.
Matuto: "Drag Me Down"
Matuto: "Sun Song"
05/16/2013 | comments (0)
Kickstarter videos can be a difficult thing to produce. It's hard to ask your friends, fans and colleagues for money, so invariably they seem a bit a forced. But as Kickstarter's become the main way not only to support recordings and touring, but also to interact with fans, the Kickstarter video has become a central statement for an artist.
So with that in mind, I hope you'll check out the charming and intriguing video from Portland songwriter Leo J (of Leo J. and the Mêlées). His Kickstarter utterly won my over. He's looking for funds to support a cross-country bicycle trip to sing his own folk songs, which are pretty excellent, but also to gather folk songs and stories as he traveled to make into podcasts under the name Common Place: new world folk tales. He labels this project: Folklore Podcast - Folk Music Tour - Bicycle Pilgrimage. Check it out:
I was intrigued by the stories he mentions here in the video and by what exactly he's looking for while he bicycles around American communities. So I reached out and he had a very nice response:
"Basically, what I'm looking for, Devon, are stories of folklore, modern and traditional. Stories that give identity to a place and its people. Stories that are hard to believe and difficult to prove, but have gained a sort of mythical weight. Stories that you can't find on Google. Stories that are so embedded in a place that they can only really be told there. Stories of change and culture that comes directly from a relationship of a people to the place they live and not from some outside force with its own motivations.
Ultimately though, I just want to tell engaging, touching tales and I imagine the criteria will shift as I see what I come across. I'm very interested in the shifting and churning that goes on in this country: locals vs outsiders, folk culture revivals, urban sprawl, immigration and what it means to the way we relate to each other and the land around us."
Check out his Kickstarter and kick him some bucks. He's got 48 hours left. Good luck, Leo, and be sure to hit us up when you start posting some of your story podcast! For now you can listen to his new album which we've been really enjoying:
PS: Thanks to my buddy April at Common Folk Music for hipping me to this!
05/14/2013 | comments (0)
Red Tail Ring
You hear it from the first note. The first word. And you know acoustic roots duo Red Tail Ring are going to be different. You hear it in the voices. On their new album, The Heart’s Swift Foot, Laurel Premo’s voice sounds like a swift clear mountain stream. It almost seems as if there’s a current to her voice that keeps pulling steadily at you while you listen. Michael Beauchamp’s voice meshes beautifully with Laurel’s high, shimmering vocals. He sounds more rooted to the earth, more grounded in the grit of the traditional music that’s so inspired them. With the drone of Laurel’s fiddle, the rolling picking of her banjo, and the steady, rock-wall formations of Michael’s guitar, you might think at first that you’re listening to music coming straight out of the Appalachian mountains, but you can tell that this is only one inspiration for this duo. Hailing from Kalamazoo, the heartland of Michigan, Red Tail Ring has rebuilt the Southern old-time influences that first inspired them into finely crafted acoustic roots music. This is Americana in the sense that it flies free over the landscape of American folk music, keeping a constant eye to the rivers and pathways that map these traditions but moving unfettered across the land.
If Red Tail Ring sound like they’re bringing more to the table than usual for old-time inspired musicians, that’s because their backgrounds have brought them to the old music from very different directions. With degrees in Ethnomusicology and English Literature, Michael Beauchamp approaches both the music and the lyricism of Red Tail Ring with an ear for powerful turns-of-phrase and unusual sonic combinations. His first solo album was recorded with indie folk band Breathe Owl Breathe, known for their minimalist vision of roots music. Laurel Premo, born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, grew up on traditional music but also studied art and music at the University of Michigan. In 2008, she traveled to Finland to study Finnish trad music at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Beauchamp and Premo formed Red Tail Ring in 2009, and from looking at their musical output it’s clear that they’re invigorating each other creatively. Their last release was a double album; one album of traditional Appalachian songs, one album of beautiful originals. Together, they use every facet of their voices and instruments - including guitar, fiddle, banjo, octave mandolin, mandolin and jaw harp - to connect with audiences.
Red Tail Ring has built their music on a foundation of American traditions, but like any good architect, they revel in subverting the form in the subtlest ways. “Ohio Turnpike” starts off sounding like an old mountain ballad, but as the chords progress and the song reaches its bridge, you look around and start to feel as if you’re now on a new path, as if that last turning of the trail has taken you to a vista you weren’t expecting to see. Only the best musicians can play with form this carefully and still sound like their music is totally organic. “Dirt Triangle” is about an empty city plot, and sounds for all the world like a modern urban ode inspired by the old back-alley ragtime blues. Title track, “The Heart’s Swift Foot,” echoes elements of the British folk revival, tapping into the still beating heart of the ancient pagan ballads, but as filtered through the Scots-Irish traditions of Appalachia. “A Clearing in the Wild” has a prayerful feel, with both voices rising like a church hymn.
Red Tail Ring balance an enduring regard for the ballads and refrains of times past with a restless desire to create melodies and narratives that resonate with today’s listeners.
Red Tail Ring: Ohio Turnpike
Red Tail Ring: The Heart's Swift Foot
05/13/2013 | 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)
In our globalized, digital world, it’s amazing how powerful it can be to turn away from the noise and bustle to focus on one small, beautiful place. This is exactly what Scottish traditional singer Joy Dunlop has done with her new album, Faileasan (Reflections), pronounced “Fah- luh-sun.” She’s turned her head from the larger world to draw forth the raw and vibrantly alive music of her home region of Argyll, Scotland. A vocalist renowned for her ability to breath freshness into even the most traditional material, Joy brings ancient music traditions into the
twenty-first century with elegance and ease.
Raised in a small village in the Western Highlands of Scotland, Joy was steeped in the musical traditions of Argyll since childhood. She has been singing all her life, getting her start performing as a child in ceilidhs, and has risen to great honors as a vocalist, winning Gaelic Singer of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and the Royal National Mod Gold Medal in 2010. But Joy is more than a singer: she is an ambassador of Gaelic culture in the widest sense. She teaches, performs, translates, interprets, writes a newspaper column, and even appears in Gaelic language TV programming. Her signature across all her work is the generosity with which she shares her culture, and the enthusiasm she brings to her interpretations. Her haunting debut album, Dùsgadh (Awakening), won both the Scots New Music Award “Roots Recording of the Year” and the Fatea “Tradition” Award. In Faileasan, Joy ventures further into Scotland’s musical history, synthesizing the best of Gaelic vocal traditions with contemporary playing and poetry into a timeless whole.
Faileasan is not only a beautiful recording but also a carefully curated tour through life in Argyll. A unique production in today’s global music industry, Faileasan is an intensely local affair: all elements of the album were sourced from Argyll itself, from the material to the performers to the design/photography. Some of the songs take their words from contemporary Scottish poetry and their melody from recent compositions, while others are highly traditional, sourced from oral traditions and field recordings. “’S fhad’ an sealladh”, a waulking (clothmaking) song, even features a clip from the archives, sung by Nan MacKinnon in the 1950s. Joy’s translations of the lyrics and interpretive comments are included in her liner notes, keeping the songs accessible across language barriers. But no translation is needed for the emotional power of the songs, which shine through in Joy’s voice. Her arrangements are sparse yet precise, allowing Joy’s poignant, effortless vocals to float over the support of many of Argyll’s finest traditional musicians, including Aidan O’Rourke, Lorne MacDougall (bagpiper on the soundtrack of Disney Pixar’s Brave) and Donald Shaw and Karen Matheson of Capercaillie.
In Faileasan, Joy Dunlop focuses the brilliance of her voice and breadth of her knowledge on the material closest to her heart. The result is an album deeply grounded in the authenticity and traditions of Scotland, yet infused with the energy and creativity of a new generation, all lit up with the passion and power of Joy’s shimmering voice.
Joy Dunlop: Ma phòsas mi idir, cha ghabh mi tè mhòr
Joy Dunlop: 'S daor a cheannaich mi 'phóg