Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer : Dancin' in the Kitchen
Dancin’ in the Kitchen, the new album from two-time Grammy award-winners and folk music icons Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, is a delightful romp through music and songs made for today’s families. The fifteen songs on Dancin’ in the Kitchen not only reflect the growing diversity of families in the U.S. and around the world, they highlight the idea that families are bound by love, with music celebrating that love and diversity. Each song is also a chance for Cathy and Marcy to bring on some of the many friends they’ve made in their years at the forefront of folk music for families. And what friends! Cajun music masters The Savoy Family Band open the album’s title track, playing music that will actually get you dancing in the kitchen, famed Western Swing outfit Riders in the Sky turn in a trail-ridin’ cover of “I’m My Own Grandpa,” folk music stars Kim & Reggie Harris join in on John McCutcheon’s song “Happy Adoption Day,” beloved Seattle old-time duo The Canote Brothers sing from experience with Cathy Fink’s song “Twins,” and traditional Irish all-female band Cherish the Ladies bring a touch of ceilidh music to “Howdy Little Newlycome.” “This album has been on our to-do list for a long time,” Cathy explains. “We do both folk and country and old-time music as well as have a parallel career playing music for kids and families. When we started playing music for kids and families, we were very focused on playing traditional music, introducing kids to stuff that they’re not going to hear on the radio.”
The inspiration for Dancin’ in the Kitchen came from Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer’s desire to make an album that could reflect the modern family. “We’re at a time now,” says Cathy, “where we feel like it should be easier for everybody to feel comfortable in their families, and feel comfortable with who they are…Truth be told, when you said the word ‘family’ 20 years ago, people still had the Cleaver family in their heads, even though, that’s not what families looked like. When you say the word ‘family’ in 2015, you see every configuration that you could possibly come up with. We felt like it was past time to sing about it, to celebrate it, to create opportunities for conversation.” Songs like “Happy Adoption Day,” “Everything Possible,” and “I Belong To A Family,” speak to this, and could be part of a 21st century remake of the classic album Free To Be You and Me, but the other songs on the album speak more generally to how music, and especially folk music, can be a part of family life. “From Scratch” is about family dinner time, “Birthday Pup” celebrates family pets, and “Home” speaks to the universal need for a place to call home.
With Dancin’ in the Kitchen, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer show the breadth of their long careers in folk and roots music, drawing forth not only an all-star stable of guests, but also an album that dances happily between many different folk traditions.
Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer: "Dancin' in the Kitchen"
Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer: "Howdy Little Newlycome / Ceildh House Polka"
09/01/2015 | comments (0)
GREG BLAKE: Songs of Heart and Home
You’ll hear it in his voice immediately, the original strain of Appalachian mountain music that lies at the heart of all great modern bluegrass and country. Greg Blake grew up in the mountains of southwest West Virginia, and when he sings, you can hear a voice that connects to the great old generations of mountain singers, invested with a rich twang and the kind of eerily powerful cry that first inspired the ‘high, lonesome sound.’ On his new album, Songs of Heart and Home, he’s joined by some of the best bluegrass talents today, not least members of the band he leads as vocalist, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, plus guests like 3-time IBMA Vocalist of the Year Claire Lynch, K.C. Groves (Uncle Earl), bluegrass icon Laurie Lewis, mandolinist John Reischman, fiddler Blaine Sprouse, and dobro master Sally Van Meter (who also produced the album). But it’s his voice that rings out above them all, earnestly delivering songs of family, love, and life in the hills. These days he’s traded the low, rolling mountains of his West Virginia homeland for the sky-scraping peaks of Colorado, and he’s moved his lifelong calling as a minister to the full-time bluegrass music scene, but he still keeps his faith close and his family closer. On a song like “Dreaming of a Little Cabin,” you can hear the gentle guidance of a pastor and a devout family man reflecting on the good path. While bluegrass gospel may be one of Greg Blake’s signature talents, he’s certainly not averse to a little rough-and-tumble country singing, and his new album feature a blazing bluegrass version of Johnny Cash’s “Hey Porter” that shows off Blake’s razor-sharp and lightning-fast guitar picking abilities. Drawing from a wide variety of song sources, from Cash to 80s country (Joe Diffie), to Canadian folk (Ian Tyson), to the original source himself, Big Mon, Greg Blake has a far ranging set of influences but a powerful Appalachian base to his music that resets these vocal gems in new ways.
Growing up in West Virginia, Greg Blake was immersed in the sounds of old country, mountain bluegrass, and gospel harmonies for a young age. Moving to Kansas City, he started playing in multiple bands, eventually recording on 12 albums for groups like the Bluegrass Missourians, Mountain Holler, The Harvest Quartet and more. He’s twice been nominated for the SPBGMA’s Traditional Male Vocalist of the Year and five times won the SPBGMA’s Guitarist of the Year, not to mention the Kansas State Flatpicking championship. After moving to Conifer, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front Range just a few miles southwest of Denver, Greg joined all-star progressive bluegrass band Jeff Scroggins & Colorado as the lead vocalist. With both Jeff and his son Tristan breaking new ground instrumentally on the banjo and mandolin, Greg stepped up to the plate as a guitarist, and crafted the band’s sound around his signature vocals. Now after cutting two albums with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (and a third on the way), touring North America, and raising a family, he’s poised to come into his own as one of the true Appalachian stars of modern bluegrass. This debut solo album, Songs of Heart and Home, measures Greg Blake spreading his wings as a vocalist and bandleader, crafting genre crossing music that appeals to Bluegrass, Folk, Country, and Gospel fans alike.
It’s no small thing that Greg Blake was able to gather some of the best musicians and vocalists in bluegrass to join him on his debut solo album. A big man with an even bigger heart, he brings an uplifting joy to the music he knows and loves. Unfettered by genre divisions, he just follows his heart to find the deep mountain roots of the music, infusing everything he sings with a powerful, soaring spirit.
Greg Blake: "Dreaming of A Little Cabin (Featuring Claire Lynch)"
Greg Blake: "Home Is Where the Heart Is"
08/26/2015 | comments (0)
Legendary Shack Shakers: The Southern Surreal
These are a few of the images, myths, and stories that infuse seminal punk roots band the Legendary Shack Shakers’ new album, The Southern Surreal. Released September 11, 2015 on Alternative Tentacles Records–Jello Biafra’s record label–this is the Shack Shakers’ first release in five years, lands on the band’s 20th anniversary, and is their Alternative Tentacles debut (following releases on Yep Roc, Bloodshot, and Arkam Records). The Southern Surreal also features guest appearances by actor/musician and long time Shack Shakers fan, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison. With The Southern Surreal, the Shack Shakers explode the ‘Southern Gothic’ concept, reaching so deep into the forbidden roots of Southern culture that the rich mud they bring forth is almost unrecognizable.
It’s the kind of album that could only have sprung from the mind of frontman/mad genius JD Wilkes, a relentlessly curious Southern renaissance man who’s just as comfortable shredding the hell out of a packed house full of sweaty fans as he is settling in to a late-night jam with an elder mountain fiddler. As the bandleader for the Legendary Shack Shakers, JD has been compared to iconoclasts like David Byrne, Iggy Pop, or Jerry Lee Lewis, and with his small, wiry frame and intense, incandescent performances, it’s not hard to see why. But while he plays the carnival barker onstage, he’s a dedicated lifelong student of true Southern culture. In just the past couple years, he’s released an album of old-time mountain music with lost elder Appalachian fiddler Charlie Stamper, and he’s authored a book on the barn dances and jamborees of Kentucky. As a bonafide Kentucky Colonel (a title bestowed by the state’s governor), Wilkes wears the South on his sleeve, but isn’t afraid to dirty it up a bit, howling from the speaker stack and blasting out explosive blues harmonica lines.
The Southern Surreal marks a return to the Legendary Shack Shakers’ lineup of bassist Mark Robertson, guitarist Rod Hamdallah, and drummer Brett Whitacre. They’re back on the road with a renewed purpose following Whitacre’s miraculous medical recovery–he came back from death three times–and the new album is a launching point for national touring and more. This newfound purpose fuels the raw energy behind The Southern Surreal, which was recorded at the historic Woodland Studios in Nashville, home to classic recordings from artists like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan, and now owned by Gillian Welch & David Rawlings. JD’s recent work with his roots ensemble the Dirt Daubers, helped him push the Legendary Shack Shakers into new territory. On The Southern Surreal, the fire-breathing rockabilly (“MisAmerica”), cautionary crooning (“The One That Got Away”), and punk country (“Christ Alrighty”) the Shack Shakers are known for is still there, but the music has deepened to bring in influences as disparate as Mississippi hill country trance blues (“Fool’s Tooth”), mountain banjo and square dance songs (“Mud”), and Tom Waits-ian barrelhouse piano (“Demon Rum”), not to mention the found sounds that JD slipped into the recording, like crackly radio sermons, trains, coyotes, and ghost story field recordings. It’s a heady brew, and JD likes to compare it to the medicine shows of old, only this time the snake oil salesman’s peddling mescaline and speaking in tongues!
In the end, you’d think a band with six critically acclaimed studio albums, song placements on shows like HBO’s True Blood, and fans like horror author Stephen King or Americana icon Robert Plant, might take this one a bit easy. But the Legendary Shack Shackers are rolling harder than ever, bringing a new sound tied as much to the South’s haunted folklore as to the wall-rattling live shows that first gave them their ‘legendary’ moniker.
Legendary Shack Shakers: "Cold"
Legendary Shack Shakers: "Mud"
Legendary Shack Shakers: "Let the Dead Bury the Dead"
08/26/2015 | comments (0)
Ana Egge: Bright Shadow
“We were always the outsiders,” says folk songwriter ANA EGGE of her early roots in a small North Dakota town of 50 people. “I was taught how to shoot a gun and how to enjoy alfalfa sprouts and tofu, raised by two back-to-the-land hippies. My folks loved the outdoors and eccentric people; I ran around barefoot and learned to ride a motorcycle when I was 5. I grew up with all the time and space in the world.” Egge has since traded the openness of the American Plains for the untamable wilderness of New York City, recorded seven albums, and worked with musical legends such as Ron Sexsmith and Steve Earle. She’s been around the horn of life’s experiences, having gotten married and become a mother, but that childhood spirit of freedom has matured on her latest album, BRIGHT SHADOW.
Self-produced by Egge herself, Bright Shadow is a direct collaboration with acclaimed American roots trio, Yep Roc recording artists THE STRAY BIRDS – Maya De Vitry (fiddle, banjo, vocals), Charles Muench (upright bass, vocals), and Oliver Craven (mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar, vocals) – who join Egge as her band on the album. “They were fans of my last album (2011’s Steve Earle-produced, Bad Blood) and approached me about backing me up at Folk Alliance in Toronto 2012. There was an immediate affinity between us and the music just flowed.” The sound also marks a return to the kind of music she fell in love with first as a teenager playing in her high school bluegrass band, and listening to artists like Iris Dement on cassettes. “Acoustic instruments played in a circle with everyone singing. I had The Stray Birds very much in mind while writing and arranging these songs. Their strengths and personalities shine! We had so much fun in the studio.” As for Egge herself, the power of her voice lies in its ability to be at once haunting and comforting, possessing the otherworldly vocal quality of Emmylou Harris and the dark sweetness of Aimee Mann with a smooth effortlessness all Egge’s own.
Since recording Bright Shadow, Egge’s daughter was born and her mother died, and in retrospect, she says, the songs on the album mirror these intense and formative life changes. With a deeply supportive marriage to her wife of seven years, Egge felt for the first time that she could feel comfortable being beautiful on stage. “That might sound strange but it’s true,” she says. “After having our baby I felt the same kind of personal permission arise in me about being able to be comforting, giving, and sweetly mellow. On Bad Blood I was working through intense issues I’d been hiding from writing about for years, but with Bright Shadow I found myself beyond this trying or not trying. It’s spiritual and warm and life confirming.” While on her previous album Egge sang, “We are fools to work against the wind,” on Bright Shadow that sentiment has matured into a recognition of freedom and resolve. “I hitched a ride with the wind, and since he was my friend, I just let him decide where we’d go,” she sings on her cover of Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers,” continuing: “When a flower grows wild, it can always survive. Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.”
On BRIGHT SHADOW, Ana Egge reveals remarkable growth, as an artist and a person, recognizing that freedom comes less from fighting the current of the wind, but from being able to yield and follow. She offers her story to the American roots music tradition, an outsider, a wildflower, comfortable in her own skin. BRIGHT SHADOW is an album that feels at once unique and universal, a hard-learned meditation that, while the darkness can be true, the shadow is proof that the light exists.
Ana Egge: "Dreamer"
Ana Egge: "Bright Shadow"
07/30/2015 | comments (0)
Too Big World
The Bumper Jacksons are on a roll. Folding sounds of jazz, early blues, old-time music, and country swing into an exhilarating repertoire of modern American roots music, the DC-based band has brought a hard-driving party energy to countless dance floors. With three recent Washington Area Music Awards and many dozens of jubilant live shows under their collective belt, they’ve produced their second album, Too Big World, a sweetly balanced collection of hot swing numbers, heartbreak ballads, and late-night moonshine foot-stompers.
Frontwoman and Florida native Jess Eliot Myhre (clarinet, vocals, washboard) honed her musical chops in jam sessions in the streets and clubs of New Orleans, immersed in the music that fuels the city’s humid, carnivalesque all-night parties. In 2012, she met Maryland-born fellow songcrafter Chris Ousley (guitar, vocals) in Washington, DC, and the two joined forces to form the Bumper Jacksons’ core. Chris’ background in old-time banjo and bluegrass music harmonized perfectly with Jess’s vintage jazz credentials; the songs the duo collects, arranges, and creates weave the high lonesome echoes of old rural America into the galvanizing sounds of the cities and artists that have defined American jazz, blues and swing.
On the new album, recorded in Maryland with Grammy-winning engineer Charlie Pilzer (Smithsonian Folkways’ Anthology of American Folk Music), Jess and Chris continue to harvest the roots of American music. The band, featuring Alex Lacquement on upright bass, Dave Hadley on pedal steel, Brian Priebe on trombone, and Dan Cohan on suitcase percussion, blasts through sixteen carefully crafted, expertly curated tracks; sidelong horn and pedal steel flourishes enhance the band’s brawny vocal harmonies, dynamic swells, and high-octane rhythm section. The Bumper Jacksons’ musically eclectic approach sharpens the edge of traditional tunes like the gospel scorcher “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and the elegiac shapenote ballad “The Dying Californian.” On the Duke Ellington jazz classic “Delta Bound,” the group emphasizes the descending chromatic line and nods to Appalachian modal harmony. The Billie Holiday classic “Them There Eyes” perfectly manifests the bracingly romantic vintage jazz of Frenchman Street, as does the band’s treatment of the old bluegrass tune “Bully of the Town.” And gospel/rock legend Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Trouble in Mind” is a pedal-steel-enhanced stroll down a sorrowful stretch of railroad track.
Too Big World’s traditional tunes gracefully accompany a complementary assortment of Jess’s and Chris’ originals. The aptly rollicking “Coffee Mama” was written, says Chris, in personal homage to “all those no-nonsense ladies who don’t mind getting up a little early.” The soaring, heartwrenching vocals of Jess’s “Adventure Story” follow the nostalgic paths of a slowly breaking love, while Chris’ “Hell Is Hot” launches from a sepulchral introduction into a goodtime ramble through the most exciting corners of the underworld.
With so many influences from across the spectrum of American roots music, the Bumper Jacksons’ new album, Too Big World, is a virtuosic juggling act, pulled off by performers at the top of their game. As they continue to evolve and explore the frontiers and histories of the nation’s dance music traditions, they are poised to bring their music—rich, raw, and true—to the rest of America.
Bumper Jacksons: Come All You Virginia Gals
Bumper Jacksons: Bully of the Town
06/25/2015 | comments (0)
The Slocan Ramblers
As the most populous city in Canada, Toronto plays host to communities from around the world who make their home in this unassuming metropolis. And though the residents of Toronto come from all over, one thing they share is a lack of pretension, a desire to live in a city built on its merits, and not on a glitzy image. That’s a lesson learned by the young men in The Slocan Ramblers, one of the hottest roots bands in the city. They live in the West End, a neighborhood dominated by Koreans, Portuguese, and Italians, and they play working-class bluegrass roots music that harkens back to the grittiness of a city that used to be known as “Hogtown,” for all its slaughterhouses. On their new album, Coffee Creek, due out July 16 in the US, The Slocan Ramblers blend lightning fast and devilishly intricate instrumentals with the sawdust-thick vocals of singer Frank Evans, who takes lead on songs ranging from old-timey square dance numbers like “Groundhog,” to a Dustbowl classic like Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty.” “Toronto audiences don't respond to a clean, polished Nashville sound,” tune composer and mandolinist Adrian Gross explains. “They dig a lot of energy in their music, a rowdy bar vibe. They're hard to win over.” But The Slocan Ramblers have won them over, moving from a young ensemble of bluegrass pickers to one of the best known Canadian roots bands. They’ve done this by staying true to the roots of the music, not seeking to revive anything but rather to tap the rough and rowdy heart of the music.
Coffee Creek was produced by the band’s friend and mentor Chris Coole (The Foggy Hogtown Boys), a well-known banjo player and community leader in Toronto’s bluegrass and old-time scenes. Like Coole, The Slocan Ramblers bring the live, collaboratory aspects of the music to the fore, and they understand that if you polish up the music too much, you lose the raw excitement that makes it so vibrant. In the liner notes, Coole breaks it down: “What really impressed me while we were working on this album, was that, while they can pull off the precision and virtuosity that is at the backbone of bluegrass, they understand the power of the fragile moment in music. The fragile moment used to be a big part of what made an album cool–Monroe singing just beyond the edge of his voice, the moment right before you realize Vassar isn’t lost–the moment on and beyond the edge.” Listen to Evans’ worn vocals and you’ll hear some of the edge that great singers like Keith Whitley brought to the music. Or try Gross’ powerfully discordant and innovative mandolin solo on “Groundhog,” or Darryl Poulsen’s counterpoint Lester-Flatt-runs towards the end of the title track, or the rumbling beats of Alastair Whitehead’s acoustic bass on “Call Me Long Gone” (or Whitehead’s beautiful, world-weary original songs like “Elk River” or “Angeline”) to get a feel for how The Slocan Ramblers are pushing the envelope.
This is roots music without pretension, music intended to make you feel something, music to get you moving in a crowded bar. The Slocan Ramblers recorded Coffee Creek the same way they perform on stage: standing up, leaning into the music, and pushing harder and harder for that edge just beyond.
The Slocan Ramblers: "Coffee Creek"
The Slocan Ramblers: "Call Me Long Gone"