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"
04/16/2015 | comments (0)
The “Western” in Country & Western Music rarely gets mentioned, but country music today owes a great debt to the realities of open-range ranching and days and nights spent on the vast North American prairies; to an age-old celebration of cowboy living. The Canadian prairies have always loomed large in this vision, and today Canada’s Western provinces boast some of the most cutting-edge country roots music. While artists like Kentucky’s Sturgill Simpson or Nashville’s Rosanne Cash craft their own signature country sound, now from Western Canada comes Leaf Rapids, a powerhouse duo who frame their music on a continuum that stretches from the Manitoba grasslands to Nashville’s modern streets. Leaf Rapid’s debut album Lucky Stars is a soundtrack for the modern cowboy–part Canadian trucker, part Manitoba Motown. Lucky Stars brings the deep roots of North America’s great plains into the new millennium.
Fronted by husband & wife Keri & Devin Latimer, Leaf Rapids came out of their popular indie folk band, Nathan, which spent the early 2000’s signed to major label Nettwerk. Winning 2 Canadian Folk Music titles and the 2008 Juno award (Canadian Grammy) for Roots Traditional Album of the Year, Keri and Devin’s outstanding talents grabbed the attention of industry heavy weights, including Canadian roots music producer Steve Dawson. Dawson, a prodigious multi instrumentalist, was eager to work with Keri and Devin on their new project Leaf Rapids via his renowned record label Black Hen Music. As a five time Juno award-winning producer, Dawson brought his powerful talents on a wide variety of instruments, from pedal steel to electric guitar, crafting a full band sound for this duo that borders on indie roots.
Named for a small Manitoba town, Leaf Rapids is primarily a reflection of landscape – miles and miles of grass or snow in any direction, and the northern lights dancing above. Their sound resembles the Canadian grasslands, as beautiful as they are harsh, taking notes from Canada’s soft tones and tough seasons. From Keri Latimer’s sweet, Dolly Parton-esque vocal styling, to Devin Latimer’s slow-and-steady bass lines, and Steve Dawson’s ruff-rider Nashville guitar riffs, Lucky Stars wears a three-piece searsucker suit that’s been rubbed in the mud. Featuring Dawson’s dazzling dobro and electric guitar, songs like “April” and “Healing Feeling” are as much country roots as they are atmospheric pop while “Vulture Lullaby” and the title track find focus with a more cosmopolitan Americana sound. “Welcome Stranger” and “Everything in Between” even incorporate a doo-wop sound that drives home the band’s refreshing sonic diversity.
On Lucky Stars, Leaf Rapids shows a far-ranging vision of country & western music that stretches from Manitoba to Memphis.
Leaf Rapids: "Virtual Machine"
Leaf Rapids: "Galaxie 500"
03/30/2015 | comments (0)
Brighter Every Day
Historically, mountain ranges have been formidable barriers for civilization. But for the first settlers who passed through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, those features gave way to a unique sense of independence and became insulators from the rest of civilization, with collaboration, rather than competition, as the prime virtue. Flash forward to 2015, and you can hear this dynamic at play on BRIGHTER EVERY DAY, the newest album from Denver indie-mountaingrass quintet TROUT STEAK REVIVAL. Produced by Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters, Trout Steak Revival’s new album comes on the heels of their breakout win at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and showcases the band’s virtuosic original songwriting and masterful musicianship.
Trout Steak Revival’s five members – Steve Foltz (mandolin & guitar), Casey Houlihan (standup bass), Will Koster (dobro & guitar), Travis McNamara (banjo), and Bevin Foley (fiddle) – each contribute vocals and songwriting in their post-modern approach to American roots music. Their collaborative songwriting process operates more like a collective than a traditional band, with one member bringing an idea while the others flesh out the arrangement with personal touches of instrumentation and harmony. Where it’s easy to use the cold technical language of “tightness” to refer to the arrangements, a better descriptor here might be “close-knit.” Trout Steak Revival’s concise yet multi-layered arrangements are derived from their years of experience playing with and nurturing each other creatively. Like the many bends in the Colorado River, each of the instruments diverge and run their own course, but always end up curving back around to the same destination.
Most of the members of Trout Steak Revival originate from the Midwest, having moved west to settle in Colorado. Many of the songs on Brighter Every Day center on storytelling and the varying places and experiences they’ve each come from, echoing a tension between rootedness and wanderlust. The album opens with a petition to the Union Pacific railroad, reflecting on having seen everything from the “Mojave Desert” to “San Francisco Bay,” pining for home and pleading: “Won’t you take me down your track, let your whistle blow, and bring me back.” “Ours For The Taking” was originally written by Houlihan for his fiancé while “Wind On The Mountain” is about getting caught in a snowstorm during a backpacking trip. The title track, written by McNamara on piano for the wedding of two friends, was later brought to the band and arranged for a five-piece. While the piano is retained here, Trout Steak Revival turns what might have been a meditative processional into a full-fledged celebratory dance. Finally, the album closes with “Colorado River,” a gorgeously raucous ode to their Rocky Mountain home – “I’m swimming’ in my sleep, in the Colorado River deep.”
It’s not hard to see how integral the Rocky Mountain communal tradition is to the listening experience of Brighter Every Day. Grown out of fertile ground, Trout Steak Revival represents a sense of community that has become as unshakeable as the mountains themselves. In Colorado, the air is just a little thinner and colder, making Trout Steak Revival’s unique brand of bluegrass take on an exciting and pioneering timbre that is poised to keep listeners breathless for years to come.
Trout Steak Revival: Union Pacific
Trout Steak Revival: Get A Fire Going