Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer:
The Flower of Muscle Shoals
Some dust just won’t wash off. Ask roots country songwriter Cahalen Morrison. His new album, The Flower of Muscle Shoals (out Aug 19 on Free Dirt Records), with his full band Country Hammer, is caked with the dust of the American Southwest. It’s the dust of a childhood growing up in Northern New Mexico; days spent exploring lost canyons, hiking hillsides covered in cottonwoods, and discovering old ghost towns. It’s also the dust of nostalgia, the kind of reflection of a just-married man looking back towards the inspirations of his youth. Cahalen Morrison grew up surrounded by the deep roots of country music; he played in his first country (and ranchero) band as a precocious 13 year old. Leaving New Mexico as a young man, his music began to branch out. “I did what every teenager does, and decided to go down the rock, and whatever road,” Cahalen explains. “But then I came back around to acoustic music, and now back to country. I love the focus on singing and the songs; I love the deep sincerity, the absurd humor… But obviously, overall, I really just love the music.” That full circle journey enabled Cahalen to develop a sound that sets him apart from other country artists. Exploring acoustic roots music and touring internationally with his acclaimed Seattle duo Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, he learned from the guidance of friends like Tim O’Brien and Kelly Joe Phelps. With his new project, Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer, and his new album, he’s taken all these influences and distilled them into a new form of American roots music, at once literate and profound, but written in the language of the country greats.
While offering up the comforting sounds of country and western’s roots, The Flower of Muscle Shoals plays more like a new classic than a dusty Nashville relic. That’s because, as a lyricist, Cahalen Morrison points much further afield than the lynchpins of country that he grew up listening to. As a songwriter, he draws from influences like literary legend Gabriél Garcia Marquez, Swedish naturalist poet Tomas Tranströmer, cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and especially the author Cormac McCarthy. As Cahalen says, “The sparse quality of McCarthy’s writing allows the reader to do much of the work themselves.” It’s a credo he follows in his songwriting, for though he’s adept at crafting the quick metaphors and turns-of-phrases that define country songwriting, there are images in The Flower of Muscle Shoals that stay with you well beyond the last note.
Cahalen Morrison now lives in Seattle with his wife, for whom he wrote the lovely title track (she’s from Muscle Shoals, AL). His band, Country Hammer, features some of the best Americana musicians in the Northwest and beyond: Country Dave Harmonson (Zoe Muth) on pedal steel, Jim Miller (Donna The Buffalo, Preston Frank) on guitar and additional vocals, Robert Adesso on guitar/harmony vocals, Mary Maass on fiddle, Ethan Lawton on drums, and Michael Thomas Connolly (Coyote Grace) on bass and accordion. Recorded at Empty Sea Studios in Seattle, Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer move through The Flower of Muscle Shoals with the precision of two-steppers on a honky-tonk dance floor. They prove, like Zoe Muth, Loretta Lynn, and Buck Owens before them, that the Northwest is a hotbed for true country roots. These days, Cahalen Morrison may be far from his Southwest roots, but he hasn’t forgotten the lessons of great country music: tell a story, keep it short, let the listener do the work. When you hear the dusty sounds of Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer rising from the grooves of your record, you’ll know this is music built to last.
Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer: "Nighttime is Here On the Valley"
Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer: "Sorrow Lines the Highway of Regret"
08/19/2014 | comments (0)
LAURIE LEWIS & KATHY KALLICK:
SING THE SONGS OF VERN & RAY
Vern Williams and Ray Park both grew up in the Ozarks of Arkansas, about five miles away from each other, but never met until moving to central California in the 1950s. Their memorable live performances and recordings in the ‘60s and ‘70s largely formed the basis for the bluegrass repertorie in California, and they became powerful influences on many aspiring bluegrass musicians.Their intensity and integrity left no doubt that they were the Real Deal.
Among those coming under the spell of Vern & Ray -- and playing in their bands on occasion -- were American roots music veterans LAURIE LEWIS & KATHY KALLICK. They have been turning to Vern & Ray material since they began singing together in the mid- 1970’s, and dedicated their first duet album, Together (Rounder Records), to Vern and Ray. They now revisit these beloved songs for their newly- released (and long-awaited) second collaboration, LAURIE & KATHY SING THE SONGS OF VERN & RAY.
They share and swap the lead and harmony vocal parts, and are ably assisted by some of the west coast’s finest musicians: Tom Rozum, Patrick Sauber, Keith Little, Annie Staninec, and Sally Van Meter. They offer fresh interpretations of songs learned from Vern & Ray that originated with the Carter Family, Stephen Foster, Ray Park’s original compositions, and a variety of other sources.
There’s something special about witnessing two contemporary masters returning to their personal roots in such a public way. LAURIE & KATHY SING THE SONGS OF VERN & RAY is a new classic, exploring and transforming early influences on an album that is as intimate and contemporary as it is universal and historical, a wonderful reminder that sometimes the best way to go someplace new is to remember where you’ve come from.
Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick: "Montana Cowboy"
Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick: "Cabin On A Mountain"
08/04/2014 | comments (0)
HAAS KOWERT TICE:
YOU GOT THIS
There’s a lightness and joy to the music of American roots trio Haas Kowert Tice, a sense of weightlessness that belies the complexity of the musical arrangements. This is music that uplifts, that soars, but that is also grounded by a respect and love for tradition. With just three acoustic instruments–fiddle, guitar, upright bass–Haas Kowert Tice are building a new kind of roots music.
Made up of three of the most exciting instrumentalists on the scene today, this trio of fiddler Brittany Haas (Crooked Still), bassist Paul Kowert (Punch Brothers), and guitarist Jordan Tice (Tony Trischka) have come together on their debut album, you got this, to use their string band roots to engage in close dialogue. Entirely instrumental, this is wordless communication heard from three distinct voices working for unity. “There is so much we don’t have to say to each other,” explains Paul Kowert. “We got together because we wanted a project in which we could explore our ideas--we wanted to see what we could find. We each contributed writing, and were each able to tinker with each other’s ideas. I think in this album you hear discovery.” That joy of discovery is key to this collaboration of master instrumentalists. It’s also the fuel that’s powered their careers so far: Brittany Haas exploring fiddle traditions with Bruce Molsky, Darol Anger, and Alasdair Fraser; Paul Kowert’s ground-breaking work with The Punch Brothers and now Dave Rawlings Machine, and his studies with Edgar Meyer; Jordan Tice’s ensembles and recordings with like-minded artists like Noam Pikelny and Casey Driessen. The thread that ties this all together is a driving passion to share great music with friends.
Trying to track the many overlapping influences on you got this is a labyrinthine process. For example, “Grandpa’s Cheesebarn,” a tune composed by Jordan Tice, brings together alternate banjo tunings, Norwegian dance tunes, hard-rocking folk rhythms, and Debussy-like string arrangements. “We’re all living lives that are bursting at the seams with all sorts of music,” Haas explains. “I think we’ve been inspired by similar things over the years and have inspired and influenced each others’ musical paths.” Haas Kowert Tice also love to experiment with delicate balances. Opening tune “Leadfoot” slips back and forth between a buoyant dance tune and the deep growling of Kowert’s bass lines. “Tell Me Whatcha Gonna Do Now” trades off a gorgeous, pastoral guitar line from Tice with Haas’ devilishly syncopated fiddling, incorporating sudden moments of softness and tranquility. There’s an element of surprise to the music of Haas Kowert Tice; tunes take unexpected turns, and melodies duck and weave in abrupt and exciting directions.
All three artists in Haas Kowert Tice have built their careers on their ability to move on the razor’s edge of tradition and innovation. They have a nearly unlimited arsenal of tools gathered from years in top-flight ensembles, but they’re not interested in flashy displays. This young trio would rather move their audiences with unique melodies, powerful arrangements, searingly beautiful playing on the fiddle and guitar, and stomach-rumbling chords and eloquent passages on the upright bass. They see each tune as a journey that they take with their listeners, but also as a path that they can travel together, discovering new ideas and new passions around every corner.
Haas Kowert Tice: "Leadfoot"
Haas Kowert Tice: "Tell Me Whatcha Gonna Do"
Find this album on Bandcamp:
07/09/2014 | comments (0)
Irish music and culture in America has always been a two-way street, moving music and musicians back and forth across the watery main. Philadelphia’s Irish-American roots band, RUNA, embodies this movement with their new album, CURRENT AFFAIRS, drawing equal inspiration from both the deep and ancient roots of the Celtic tradition and the modern reality of the Irish in America. On Current Affairs, RUNA draw from their own family history, the stories of the Irish in America, old songs from the Old World, and Americana and bluegrass influences. With members hailing from three countries (USA, Canada, Ireland), it makes sense that they’d spread their nets as far as possible to pull in these very different influences, but what’s surprising is how well the album meshes together. That’s a testament to the vision of RUNA and to the ties that bind the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.
Recording Current Affairs gave RUNA the chance to consciously push the tradition in new directions, bringing fresh ideas from American roots music into their signature sound. On the album, a working class American folk song learned from Pete Seeger (“The Banks Are Made of Marble”) rubs shoulders with a beautiful Gaelic ballad (“Aoidh Na Dèan Cadal Idir”) and a song from modern singer- songwriter Amos Lee, while an old British ballad (“The False Knight Upon the Road”) blends into an eerie American gospel classic (“Ain’t No Grave”). These different songs are laid atop a bed of lush Celtic instrumentation by RUNA’s powerhouse musicians, and it’s these same musicians who also represent each region of RUNA’s influences. Dublin- born guitarist/vocalist Fionán de Barra grew up speaking Irish Gaelic, immersed in the old traditions. His guitar work, inspired by various open tunings, propels the rhythm of RUNA’s songs. Galway mandolin/banjo player Dave Curley weaves in and out of the accompaniment playing deft, sparkling melodies and bolstering the rhythm with his powerful bodhran (Irish frame drum) playing. Montreal’s Cheryl Prashker’s percussion brings a refined force to the music. Nashville based, but Kentuckian by origin, young fiddle champion Maggie Estes White brings a knowledge of bluegrass and Texas fiddle traditions. Philadelphia-born bandleader Shannon Lambert-Ryan is an actor, singer, step-dancer, manager, and world music vocalist; quite the diverse resume! In RUNA, her cool, clear vocals move between the clarion Celtic song style and earthier American song styles with ease.
Joining RUNA on this album are some very special guests: three Grammy winners! Banjo player Ron Block (Alison Krauss & Union Station) is a wonderful surprise on the song “The Ruthless Wife,” a song inspired by the salacious events surrounding the death of Lambert-Ryan’s great-great grandfather. Harmonica player Buddy Greene (Billy Gaither) and accordionist Jeff Taylor (Elvis Costello) join RUNA fiddler Estes White on a virtuosic brace of tunes, “The Hunter Set.” With so many very different musicians, it would be a disservice to call RUNA’s music simply “Celtic.” Instead, this is music conceived in the New World, but with distinct ties to the Old World. Music that looks forward as much as it looks back. Music inspired by tradition, but unafraid of a bright new future.
RUNA: "The Banks Are Made of Marble"
RUNA: "Who Will Sing Me Lullabies"
06/30/2014 | comments (0)
There’s a rock hard spine that holds up the bones of American country music, both now and back to the distant past. That spine is the spirit of the women who have given their hearts and souls to the music–everyone from Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells to Sara Carter and Ola Belle Reed. It’s a spirit very much alive in the music of Asheville, North Carolina’s LOCUST HONEY STRING BAND. Born in Georgia, singer and fiddler Chloe Edmonstone channels generations of women in her original songs, writing odes to jilted lovers, hard drinkers, and independent souls that can walk hand in hand with the old-time mountain songs that have been carefully selected for Locust Honey’s new album, Never Let Me Cross Your Mind. The new album showcases the dynamic partnership of Edmonstone and renowned old-time musician guitarist/singer Meredith Watson, the core of Locust Honey. The two carefully crafted the arrangements and harmonies and sing so closely together that they could be siblings. The album also introduces Locust Honey’s new banjo player: Hilary Hawke of popular New York duo Dubl Handi, who’s been leading a new folk revival in Brooklyn.
Each member of Locust Honey String Band is steeped in the old-time music of the Appalachian mountains. They bring a huge passion for American roots and a knowledge of how the different genres of music that criss-cross Appalachia have historically intersected and influenced each other. The music on Never Let Me Cross Your Mind is a jubilee of Southern musical traditions, from old-time string band fiddle/banjo tunes to vintage country duets, old Carter Family songs, dancehall honky-tonk numbers, and mountain blues. It’s all tied together with remarkable finesse by three artists who know the roots of the music inside-and-out, but aren’t afraid to push back at the tradition to get at new truths.
Locust Honey String Band’s new album strikes a lovely balance between the raw ferocity of a live show and the precision and subtlety of a studio recording. Part of that’s due to the deft touch of recording engineer, Grammy-award winner Joel Savoy. Never Let Me Cross Your Mind was recorded, mixed, and mastered at his studios in Eunice, Louisiana, and you can feel the warmth and joy Locust Honey must have been feeling during these recordings. Each member of Locust Honey has a chance to shine here, and the interplay of the instruments and the vocal harmony is at the forefront. The lively arrangements are remarkably effective at drawing out the heart of the song by reworking its setting. “I’ve Forgotten More Than You’ll Ever Know About Him” turns from its 50s Western roots into a beautiful string band song. Nick Cave’s bleak “Henry Lee” is returned to its Appalachian roots without losing its iconoclastic nature. George Jones’ classic “Just One More” becomes a sister-harmony country and western song. And throughout, Edmonstone’s originals shine from the glow of all these different influences, actively pushing the traditions in new directions. It’s an ambitious album, but what makes it even more impressive is how simple and direct every song sounds. Never Let Me Cross Your Mind is a celebration of the power of acoustic roots music, of the fact that when you strip the music back to its core it only grows more powerful.
Locust Honey String Band: "When The Whiskey's Gone"
Locust Honey String Band: "Four Cent Cotton"
06/30/2014 | comments (0)
If your earliest childhood memory is dancing around in your room with a doll, singing along to Loretta Lynn, it’s a safe bet you were born to play music. In MISSY WERNER’s case she’s never stopped playing, though she’s traded the doll for a mandolin and an effortlessly powerful voice. After being brought up in and around the music of her family, she now releases her latest album of bluegrass and Americana songs, TURN THIS HEART AROUND, pulling together some of the brightest lights in American roots music to help her realize her vision.
Born to Kentucky natives, Werner was raised in Cincinnati, OH. Both her parents played in a bluegrass band and their music rubbed off on her from a young age. She learned guitar from age eight, studied fiddle in her adolescence, and eventually joined the band with her parents at 15. In her junior year of college she got a call from her father telling her that the band’s mandolinist quit and that she’d need to learn the instrument for a show only six-weeks away. So she grabbed the mandolin her uncle once won at a raffle for $5, and, as if studying for exams weren’t enough, she threw herself at the instrument. “It never occurred to Daddy that I might not be able to do it,” she says. “His faith in me inspired faith in myself. I’ve been playing mandolin ever since.”
In addition to her mandolin and lead vocals, Missy Werner’s band includes Tim Strong on guitar, Jeff Roberts on banjo, long-time friend and occasional bandmate Brandon Godman on fiddle, and Missy’s husband Artie Werner on bass, with all of them sharing their voices as well. But true to the bluegrass community, there are plenty more fingers at play here. “I love bluegrass because it is so inclusive,” Werner says. “Join in and pick up an instrument. Anywhere you see bluegrass, you are likely to see someone showing someone else a chord or a phrase, whether it be at the beginner level or beyond.” Werner’s joy for bluegrass oozes with genuine humility; in her eyes her success is owed to the sharing, teaching, and learning community of which she’s a part. But don’t be fooled: Missy Werner is as strong a musician as they come, both as a vocalist and an instrumentalist, and her wisdom as an artist shows itself in aligning with producer and long-time friend Jon Weisberger (IBMA Songwriter of the Year 2012), who curates and pulls together mostly-new songs from at least eighteen songwriters. They include Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee Bob Morrison, reigning IBMA songwriter of the year Eric Gibson, Paula Breedlove (Brad Davis, Marie Osmond), Mark Simos (Alison Krauss, Laurie Lewis), and Gretchen Peters (Martina McBride). Plus, Weisberger contributes a few of his own compositions as well.
On Turn This Heart Around, Werner is joined by some very special guests, like bluegrass wunderkind Sierra Hull who lends her talents on mandolin and octave mandolin and one of her own co-compositions, “A Song That I Love.” The voice of Americana songwriter Sarah Siskind (Alison Krauss, Bon Iver) joins Missy on her haunting song, “Wish I Was.” Larry Cordle, who co-wrote “Dead Man Walking,” also joins Werner on the song. Jeremy Garrett (The Infamous Stringdusters) sings lead on an all-quartet Gospel song, “Travelin’ Light”, with Charlie Cushman accompanying on finger-style guitar. This is quite the august musical collective and the album is full of surprises around every corner.
Turn This Heart Around is not just about family, or tradition, or even great music, though it is certainly all of those things and more. It is bluegrass at its core, always teaching, always learning, always sharing. It’s a father’s confidence that his daughter can learn on the fly. Turn This Heart Around is no album of covers, but rather the fruit of a community ideology of bluegrass music that reaches back many years, as vibrant today as it’s ever been, and Missy Werner’s voice owns every word and commands every note on this album. This is what she was raised to know and love.
Missy Werner: "The Heart You Break"
Missy Werner: "Main Street"