The Railsplitters: The Faster It Goes
Fresh off the success of their first album, and taking first place in Rockygrass’ Best New Band Competition, Colorado natives The Railsplitters got busy touring the US, meeting wider audiences, and of course, spending hours in the tour van! As you can imagine from five members traveling across the United States, the musical array pouring out of the van onto the open highway was wildly eclectic, crossing over genre and time. From boundary breaking trip hop and electronica groups like Gorrilaz and Thievery Corporation, to more direct influences like The Infamous Stringdusters and Lake Street Dive, the musical potpourri heard in their time on the road eventually began to seep into the band’s own music. With their new album, The Faster It Goes, they’re using these new sounds to break the bonds of bluegrass and unleash tradition. Lauren Stovall and the rest of the ‘Splitters suggest that using your roots to evolve is really at the heart of the genre as, “Bill Monroe himself was an innovator.” With their finger on the pulse, The Railsplitters are pushing the genre forward with an adventurous spirit and breaking boundaries with their innovative sound.
The Railsplitters’ secret weapon is two-fold: first, the innovative imagination of banjo player Dusty Rider’s songwriting, who writes with the full band in mind, imagining an entire song in his head before it’s even heard out loud. Second, the powerfully distinct vocals of Lauren Stovall whose voice is as clean as Emmylou, as cutting as Allison Krauss, and carrying some of the attitude of Dolly herself. Lauren’s vocal lines fill The Railsplitters’ sound with something distinct and undeniable. In addition, part of The Railsplitters new color is brought on by the band’s newest member Christine King whose superb fiddling adds a driving force to the band’s sound. With masterfully executed mandolin and banjo by Peter Sharpe and Dusty Rider and well supported by upright bassist Leslie Ziegler’s innovative style, The Faster It Goes testifies to The Railsplitters’ multi-polar and collaborative songwriting, giving voice to the impressive talents of its members and a cohesive character to the sound.
From the first track, “Tilt a Whirl,” it’s clear that The Faster It Goes is exploring modern speeds: “My mind is like an old Tilt-A-Whirl, it never seems to stop, not even for this girl.” With the foot-stomping drive of a reworked traditional tune like, “Salt Salt Sea,” or the complex harmony and aggressive rhythms in “It’s A Little Late,” The Railsplitters are trying to keep up with life, the faster, and faster it goes. While these songs pack an edge and highlight the band’s progression into more pop-influenced numbers, The Railsplitters know that life isn’t only lived in the fast lane, taking a few moments to unwind with earthy tracks like “The Estuary,” which pays tribute to their musical mountain roots, and the album’s hidden track, “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes.”
Though they operate with the instrumentation of a bluegrass band, The Railsplitters are making music totally unlimited by tradition. This is music for the open road, the open dance floor, and open ears--music of the American West, made for all.
The Railsplitters: "Tilt-a-Whirl"
The Railsplitters: "Salt Salt Sea"
05/19/2015 | comments (0)
If you’re wondering where the music of Nashville troubadour Woody Pines comes from, look to the streets. It was on the streets as a professional busker that Woody first cut his teeth, drawing liberally from the lost back alley anthems and scratchy old 78s of American roots music, whether country blues, jugband, hokum, or hillbilly. Heavy rollicking street performances are the key to some of today’s best roots bands, like Old Crow Medicine Show (Woody and OCMS’ Gill Landry used to tour the country in their own jugband), and they’re the key to Woody’s intensely catchy rhythms, jumpy lyrics, and wildly delirious sense of fun. Woody traveled all over the streets of this country, road testing his songs, drawing from the catchiest elements of the music he loved and adding in hopped-up vintage electrification to get that old country dancehall sound down right.
That’s why the songs on his new self-titled release Woody Pines (released May 28 on underground label Muddy Roots Recordings) are so hot. This is gonzo folk music, the kind of raise-the-rafters, boot-shakin’ jump blues that used to be banging out of juke joints all over the South in the late 1940s, but now it’s burning into the earholes of a younger generation of Nashville kids, all looking for music with deep roots and something to hang on to.
It’s tempting to call Woody Pine’s newest music “rockabilly,” and in fact he recorded the new album at Sputnik Studios in Nashville, famous for recording rockabilly and psych-twang heroes JD McPherson, Jack White, and Sturgill Simpson. But it might be more accurate to call Woody’s new songs “hillbilly boogie;” a rarely remembered genre of American music made famous by the Delmore Brothers. Hillbilly boogie sits at the exact moment when the buzzed-out, electrified hillbilly country music of Appalachia (which itself drew heavily from country blues), first hit the sawdust-floored honky-tonks of old Nashville and Memphis. It was the moment exactly before the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Woody writes with a wink to this critical time on songs like “Anything for Love” and “New Nashville Boogie,” drawing in modern references at will to make his points. He also dives deep into the tradition, drawing up gems like the old gangsta-folk song “Make It to the Woods” from the Mississippi Sheiks. In Woody’s music, there’s never an idea that roots music should be a recreation of an older time. Instead, he taps the vein of this music that’s still beating today, finding common ground with the old hucksters and bar-hounds who created the music in the first place.
When Woody Pines sings “when the train rolls by, I get a faceful of rain,” this isn’t some hipster dilettante twisting a faux-handlebar mustache and singing about old-timey railroads, this is a dedicated student of Woody Guthrie who used to hop freight trains to get from town to town. This is serious roots music that’s as much a way of life as an aesthetic choice. This music isn’t for dabblers; you gotta feel it in your bones. Let Woody Pines help.
Woody Pines "Make It to the Woods":
Woody Pines: "This Train Rolls By"
05/14/2015 | comments (0)
The Honey Dewdrops
In the summer of 2014, after a long stretch of living on the road, performing and writing across the U.S., Americana songwriters and Virginia natives Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, collectively known as THE HONEY DEWDROPS, decided to settle down in Baltimore, MD. "Touring is like collecting images of landscapes, sounds of voices, contents of stories, moods of plac-es and environments," says Wortman. "All of that can be useful. It tells you something about human nature, about how the world works, little by little.” And so the couple took their experiences on the road, and dug in to write and record their fourth album, TANGLED COUNTRY, in their new home. It’s a beautiful and engaging take on modern American roots music and the first album of theirs entirely written, arranged, and recorded in one place; a testament to the power of home.
Excellently produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered by Nicholas Sjostrom, who also joins The Honey Dewdrops on bass, piano, and Wurlitzer, the songs, all original compositions by Wortman & Parrish, tell stories that engage and resonate in a delicately creative way, blurring the line between narrative and prose. Wortman tells a story about a machine shop across the street from their house when they first moved to Baltimore. "Constant noise from power tools and what sounded like metal hammers banging out the shapes of giant steel swords, and with the regular hum of the city and traffic moving up and down the street, this took some getting used to." But then they noticed the times, sometimes lasting only seconds, sometimes hours, "where everything came to a stop, slowed down, became quiet, like everything was paused." This became the basis for Tangled Country's closing tune and only instrumental track, "Remington," as they tried to capture the feeling of "playing tunes together on the porch in those quiet moments in between” when the world seemed to have come to rest.
The closeness of sound and the musical compatibility that The Honey Dewdrops possess is unmistakeable. On Tangled Country, each share vocals and guitars, augmented by Parrish’s mandolin and Wortman’s work on banjo and harmonica. "I think it comes from spending a lot of time together and knowing the inner workings of each other creatively," say Wortman. And while comparisons to the music of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings are inevitable here, that’s be-cause there's something to this marriage of matrimony and music. Wortman and Parrish's musical chemistry is so vivid here in recorded form that it's not surprising to learn that their live performances are often described as "mesmerizing," "evocative," and “genuine." The culmination of three years of writing and arranging, Tangled Country captures and communicates this as the duo weave dynamics and harmonies from one track to another, proving that The Honey Dewdrops bear the mark of musical maturity – in performance, arrangement, and songwriting.
Throughout Tangled Country, Wortman and Parrish perform as if the most honorable thing to be is honest in themselves. In the song "Guitars," Wortman's voice considers the long lineage of songwriters and stewards of the American roots tradition: "We are born unto our own, sapling seeds from old growth...many hands and many years gone...everyone with a song to teach, some sing pain, some sing peace." But through this long convergence of tradition and history, the chorus makes clear the binding factor: "Sing we all true songs / We sing them right, we sing them wrong / Tuned up tightly and passed along / Like old guitars, we breathe songs." Tangled Country bears witness to The Honey Dewdrops' simply being themselves, stewards of the Americana tradition, having seen the world and grown a little older and now finally come home.
The Honey Dewdrops: "Lowlands"
The Honey Dewdrops: "Fair Share Blues"
04/23/2015 | comments (0)
Sun Might Shine on Me
After a lifetime spent traveling the backroads of American roots music, Seattle’s Buddhist blues harmonica master Grant Dermody knows there’s much more to the blues than the Mississippi Delta. On his new album, Sun Might Shine on Me, he shows the ties that bind the blues, from their Appalachian roots in old-time stringband music to Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole songs, from the farming blues of Virginia to blues in our nation’s capital. To assemble a crew of musicians that could interpret this far-ranging field of influences, Grant traveled down to Southwest Louisiana to record in the cypress-lined home studio of renowned master traditional artist Dirk Powell (Joan Baez, T-Bone Burnett, Balfa Toujours). Grant called in his friends from the area: young Creole fiddler Cedric Watson (Pine Leaf Boys), and Creole swamp-pop elder drummer Jockey Etienne (Slim Harpo); and flew in old friends like Seattle-based blues and folk guitar master Orville Johnson (Laura Love), and Texas-based blues mandolinist Rich Del Grosso (Howard “Louie Blouie” Armstrong). Though the songs and the musicians come from different places, Grant Dermody’s hard-rolling harmonica and powerful vocals tie this assemblage together perfectly. It takes a nuanced perspective to make music that rocks this hard, but also has something gentle and beautiful to say. Able to effortlessly move between traditions with his harmonica playing, Grant melds this instrument with his own voice and songwriting to create a strong original statement. As he says, ” Whatever emotion you have, you can get it out through the harmonica as long as you’re willing to go there. It’s the closest thing to the human voice.”
With his new album, Sun Might Shine On Me, Grant Dermody travels further down the twin spiritual paths of his life–music and Buddhism. Both paths have brought him to study for years at the feet of elders and great masters, and though American blues and Tibetan Buddhism may seem very different, Grant finds a fascinating commonality: both blues and Buddhism are focused on a deeper exploration of the hardships of life. As Grant explains it: “Mantra connects you with the energy of the Buddha that you’re praying to. You’re centering, and from as deep a place as you can, you’re trying to connect with that Buddha and that Buddha’s energy. Part of what happens with music is that you’re connecting with the energy of the song, and you’re serving the song on the deepest, most honest level that you can. And that changes song to song. What “Reuben’s Train” requires, isn’t at all what “Baby Please Don’t Go” requires. You have to be willing to go wherever the song requires you to go. And Dirk really gets that. And Orville and Rich, and Cedric and Jockey. It’s all about trying to dive deep, dig deep, be honest, bring power to it, bring humor to it when you need to.” The lessons Grant learned under the tutelage of elder blues masters like John Dee Holeman, John Cephas, or Honeyboy Edwards mesh with his studies today with his Tibetan Rinpoche. “To be fully present in a tune that’s about pain or hard times means that you dive underneath it… Not so it takes you over, but so it doesn’t have power over you anymore.” This mirrors what many blues artists have always said: that you don’t sing the blues because you’re sad; you sing the blues because it helps you feel better. Grant Dermody understands that deeply, and he’s gathered some of his best musical friends to create a testament to the enduring and transforming power of American roots music.
Grant Dermody: "Boll Weevil"
Grant Dermody: "Sail Away Ladies"
04/22/2015 | comments (0)
Dana Sipos: Roll Up the Night Sky
Spending her formative years in the Canadian subarctic city of Yellowknife, Dana Sipos’ songwriting is infused with a real sense of surrealism best influenced by the supernatural experiences of Canada’s high country. On her newest album, Roll Up the Night Sky, Dana beguiles and charms, weaving fragments of stories, myths and dreams into the imagery of the Northern Territories, creating nuanced songs that map heart and country and the spaces between.
Although Dana Sipos still considers these Canadian territories her home, she has been nomadic for the past few years, with an unconventional traveling style, touring by tall ship and bicycle, and currently planning tours by canoe and train. As musician-in-residence at the renowned Banff Centre in the Canadian Rockies, she spent a few months collaborating with an impressive array of musicians before teaming up with Yukon producer and multi-instrumentalist Jordy Walker (Tanya Tagaq, Little Scream) to bring her new album to life. Recorded in the home studio of Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire over a cold Montreal winter (with additional tracking at the Barr Brothers’ Montreal studio), Roll Up the Night Sky’s twelve tracks, now being released on indie Nashville label Muddy Roots Recordings, are a lot like the place they were recorded in – full of old instruments, old soul, and an unmatched creative energy.
In creating Roll Up the Night Sky, Dana Sipos draws from a range of musical inspirations with primarily strong female musicians at the forefront: next generation Icelandic artist Sóley, old school trip-hop band Portishead, Danish songwriter Agnes Obel, and Appalachian music re-inventors Gillian Welch and Sam Amidon. The new songs, accompanied Sipos’ innovative guitar, bouzouki, and three-finger mandolin picking style, sometimes bring to mind Natalie Merchant’s early work, or perhaps a more folk-influenced Fiona Apple. Sipos’ hauntingly hopeful lyrics artfully walk the tightrope between the real and the absurd, as heard in the song “Night Sky”: ‘Roll up the family history, leave it out to dry, roll up the night sky, replace the stars with your fire eyes, roll up the night sky, hang the moon in your bedroom”. Sipos’ indie songwriting is that of a true songsmith, using both ordinary and surreal expressions that are captivatingly calm, yet filled with a wild wind.
Dana Sipos: "Night Sky:"
Dana Sipos: "Old Sins"
04/20/2015 | comments (0)
Todd Grebe & Cold Country: Citizen
For all the ink spent arguing over who’s more “country” these days, folks tend to forget that you can hear country music first in the voice. It needs to be a little bit sad, a little bit weary, a little bit wise, and there should be just the hint of a smile at the edges. This is the kind of voice you hear from bandleader, songwriter, and real-deal country singer Todd Grebe on his new album, Citizen, with his band Cold Country. As a songwriter, Grebe crafts songs that stick with you, and though his clever wordplay as a songwriter is a key element, it’s the rough sheen to his voice that makes this music so country and so beautiful. Grebe’s got a voice tinged with the dust of the American West and the grit of Southern living, the kind of voice that first made country music great.
Todd Grebe & Cold Country are based out of the wilds of Alaska, where for years they ruled the bluegrass scene in this state. Todd’s wife and musical partner, Angela Oudean, was a key member of famed Alaska bluegrass band Bearfoot for years (Todd joined Bearfoot as well), and though it may be a surprise to some that the music they make now is hard-driving, electrified honky-tonk at its core, the truth is that there’s a strong current that unites bluegrass and country. Like songs written about real people with real problems, or songs celebrating the simple victories of life with a sardonic sense of humor. You’ll hear this on Citizen, and you’ll hear that Grebe has a powerfully directed voice as a songwriter. He’s able to capture a moment effortlessly, turning it into a larger commentary on people we all recognize. In “Box of Wine,” Grebe winkingly sings about a lover who’s “all fired up on a box of wine,” and on “Criminal Style,” he sings about loving a person so much that if they killed someone, they could call him up to find a place to hide the body (Michigan’s Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys just covered this song on their new album). Though many of the songs on Citizen have a humorous element, others dip easily into poignancy, like “More Than A Love Song,” or “Living a Lie.”
To record the new album, Todd Grebe & Cold Country rolled into The Butcher Shoppe studio in Nashville to work with Grammy-award winning recording engineer David Ferguson, famous for his work with Johnny Cash, and dove deep into a more electrified country sound. Cold Country alum Nate May traded in his mandolin for a telecaster, and Larry Atamanuik (Alison Krauss) jumped on the drums. Bassist Mike Bub (Del McCoury, Ashley Monroe) came on to co-produce the album and play bass, and special guests were invited, like pedal steel wizard Steve Hinson (George Jones), renowned Nashville session pianist Jimmy Wallace, and guitarist Megan McCormick (Jenny Lewis). Todd and Angela led the parade, trading off harmonies on the songs, and bringing Angela’s hard-driving fiddle to the fore.
With Citizen, Todd Grebe & Cold Country make the case that they’ve always belonged as a heavy-rolling honky-tonk band. Country was the key to their bluegrass from the start, and that’s why they were able to switch over so effortlessly. Now it’s clear that Todd Grebe & Cold Country are ready to take the dancehalls by storm.
Todd Grebe: "Criminal Style"
Todd Grebe: "Citizen"