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CD Review: Yves Lambert Trio's Fresh Take on Québec Trad

Yves Lambert Trio. Trio.
2012. La Prûche Libre.

I've got a huge love for the music of Québécois folk legend Yves Lambert. To me, he is one of the two great voices of Québec (the other being his former bandmate from La Bottine Souriante, André Marchand), with a voice that embodies the truly Québécois lust-for-life. Thankfully Yves has been getting his due as an iconic figure of Québécois traditional music. His last album, Bal à l'Huile, featured him dueting with famous Canadian musicians like popular French-Canadian rock musicians Éric LaPointe, Canadian roots band The Duhks, and First Nations musical legend Florent Vollant. The highlight was his epic duet with LaPointe on the truly great medieval French song, "L'ivrogne et le pénitent" (The Drunkard and the Pilgrim). It's a lengthy conversation that beautifully and poetically highlights the divide between the religious life and the street life.

In contrast to the size of Yves' last album, which featured his Bébert Orchestra, the new album is strictly a trio affair. Just Yves on one-row button accordion and vocals with longtime collaborators fiddler Tommy Gauthier and guitarist Olivier Rondeau. Both Gauthier and Rondeau have a strong background in jazz studies (as do many young traditional artists in Québec, the result of an extensive system of music education in the schools), but they've also got the taste to subvert the traditions rather than overwhelm them with new sounds. That's what makes this album so delicious. You can hear it in the way they approach the set "Suite pour Johnny Connolly" (three Irish tunes): they play through them in a traditional manner, but flip the rhythms around enough to make it sound new, and play with the rhythms, alternating slow and fast. All in order to really get at the joyful heart of the tunes.

blog date 06/12/2013  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Sarah Alden's Eclectic Airship of Delights

Sarah Alden:

Fists of Violets

New York fiddler, singer, songwriter, and song collector Sarah Alden’s music is born of crossroads, borderlands, and journeys. Her debut album, Fists of Violets, starts at the mythic boundary where Appalachia meets Romania and embarks on a wild journey through vintage Americana, combining klezmer, old time, and Eastern European influences along the way. She fiddles with the urgency of punk on some tunes and the delicacy of a waltz on others, fearlessly embracing dissonance and darkness as enthusiastically as she celebrates love, grit, and the ties that connect family and friends.

Sarah started playing the violin at 5 years old, inspired by her aunt, who rigorously taught her Suzuki method classical technique before turning her loose on bluegrass and old-time. Sarah first discovered Balkan music in the aisles of an Asheville, NC record store, where she stumbled upon albums by klezmer revival bands that seized her imagination and wouldn’t let go. Chasing the tunes that inspired her, Sarah embarked on a globetrotting journey through Eastern Europe, where she played alongside traditional Romanian fiddlers, collected songs and stories from Transylvania, and returned home ready to put her own spin on those traditions. Building a home among the New York roots and world music scene, Sarah co-founded Balkan punk collective Luminescent Orchestrii, with whom she toured internationally and collaborated with Grammy Award-winning string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Fists of Violets sees Sarah stepping to the head of the band with a creative vision that embraces all her inspirations.
Fists of Violets is a celebration of family, given and chosen. The spirit of Sarah’s inspiring aunt animates her playing throughout the album, while the track “Aunt Viola’s Waltz” is dedicated to her grandmother, who Sarah describes as “the most important person in my life - the album wouldn’t be complete if she wasn’t part of it.” But Sarah’s musical family takes center stage on the many configurations and collaborations of players, including Sxip Shirey (composer and collaborator with Amanda Palmer), Rima Fand and Benjy Fox-Rosen of Luminescent Orchestrii, Patrick Farrell and Michael Winograd of the Veveritse Brass Band, and Scott Kettner of Nation Beat.

While Fists of Violets draws inspiration from both Eastern European and American traditions, it vibrates with freshness and modernity. Sarah fiddles with the drive of rock and the groove of R&B, while her stellar ensemble layers instrumentation into a sound that is lush, percussive, and bold. Recorded at Sarah’s New York brownstone, the album is infused with the spirit of the jam sessions and dance parties that the house hosts. With its themes of wanderers and journeys – from railroad hobos to airship captains, from the Balkans to the American South – Fists of Violets is the sound of a daring musical traveler coming home.

Sarah Alden: Fists of Violets

Sarah Alden: Dink's Tune


Sarah Alden: Fists of Violets


blog date 06/05/2013  | comments comments (0)

Folk Weirdos: Son of Rogue's Gallery and The Uncluded

Well it's only June, but I'm going to call it and say that the award for Weirdest/Most Gonzo Roots Music Recording of 2013 will be a tie between the madcap sea chantey compilation Son of Rogue's Gallery and the unprecedented collaboration The Uncluded, which joins the anti-folk of Kimya Dawson with motormouth hip-hop MC Aesop Rock. Here are a few thoughts on each of these strange strange releases and why they're so oddly compelling.

Son of Rogue's Gallery. Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.
2013. Anti Records.

Son of Rogue's Gallery is an off-the-wall, frenetic, partially insane compilation of celebrities and rock stars and folk legends singing old sea chanteys and pirate ballads. It's bankrolled by Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski of the Pirates of the Carribbean movies, and I guarantee you will not find stranger or more interesting artistic duets on any album this year. Much of the buzz for this album has been about Tom Waits & Keith Richards duet on the old folk song "Shenandoah," which is a pretty fascinating cover of the song.  Shane MacGowan's cover of "Leaving Liverpool" is getting lots of press too, and deservedly so. He sounds almost lucid and his voice is actually pretty listenable. But these collabos are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia slams her way through the call-and-response chantey "Sally Racket" accompanied by indie folksters Akron/Family. Ivan Neville's New Orleans funk cover of the classic "Mr. Stormalong" is another favorite of the album. Hollywood icon Anjelica Huston turns in a totally feasible cover of my favorite maritime song: "Missus McGraw". Consider the lyrics to this one:

Mrs. McGraw lived on the seashore
for the length of seven long years or more
When a great big ship sailed into the bay
"It's my son Ted with his legs away."

Then up comes Ted without any legs
And in their place are two wooden pegs
She kissed him a dozen times or two
Saying "My son Ted is it really you?"

"O were you drunk or were you blind
when you left your two fine legs behind?
Or was it walking on the sea
That cut your legs from the knees away?"

"I wasn't drunk and I wasn't blind
When I left my two fine legs behind.
But a cannon ball on the fifth of May
Cut my two fine legs from the knees away."

The songs are brilliant throughout. Salty, sandy, rough-as-fuck sea anthems that have somehow stood not only the test of time, but the death of the sea as the primary means of intercontinental travel.  I wonder sometimes how these old songs survive, and I wonder even more so how songs as strange, disturbing and archaic as those collected in these volumes have survived. But the real reason is they're just damn fun to sing!

Of course, not every track works perfectly, and as a whole the album is dizzingly diverse and eclectic, but that's the fun.  A good pirate crew had crewmates hailing for many ports of call across the world, all drawn together by the bounty of their seafaring trade. This compilation's the same thing: a chance for many different artists to shelter together on a strange journey. It suits the spirit of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies perfectly while also bringing some much needed new life to the old sea chantey tradition. Plus it's a lot of fun to listen to and discover (and sing along with!).



The Uncluded. Hokey Fright.
2013. Rhymesayers.

While Son of Rogue's Gallery draws most of its strangeness from the combination of wildly divergent artists collaborating on  obscure folk songs, The Uncluded's first album, Hokey Fright, draws its strangeness from the simple combination of two artists that seem very different, but actually have a lot in common. Anti-folk hero Kimya Dawson and hip-hop MC Aesop Rock may seem totally unconnected on paper, but less so in the studio. They've both made their bones off their stream-of-consciousness lyrics, street-wise rhymes, and DIY values. While Kimya became nationally known through her extensive work on the film Juno, Aesop was at the center of the 90s backpack rap world. After falling in step with each other's music and muses on Twitter, they started collaborating and found that their unpredictable musical stylings meshed well together. Though Kimya is ostensibly a folk artist, her songs inspired by folk music and performing often with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, she's always had a rap-like flow to some of her songs. And though Aesop's known as a speedy and radically creative MC, he was actually the one to approach Kimya first to trade music, so clearly has far-reaching tastes. After trading songs over email, both artists bonded over the sad passing of hip-hop artist Camu Tao, a close friend of Aesop's. Because of this Kimya asked Aesop to guest on her song "Walk Like Thunder" from her 2011 album, Thunder Thighs.

The two developed a close friendship from this experience, and began to tour together. When I interviewed Kimya for the now-defunct Cowbell Magazine in 2011, she talked about her and Aesop connecting over "critter hunting," a funny theme that features throughout the album. "That’s what we do for fun," she said, "we stay up to like one o’clock in the morning with flashlights, like walking along the creek looking for frogs."



Kimya also talked how they both had more in common than people might think: "It’s really cool because I think once people pay attention, you know, who might not have listened to hip hop or might not have been into folk music, they realize that he and I are just a couple of blabber-mouthy nerds. If they pay attention to the words, they realize that we are actually really similar." I've written before about how two wildly eccentric artists can somehow straighten out their eccentricities by collaborating together. But I'm not sure that's happening with The Uncluded's album. It's more like they're just holding hands and taking a walk together, letting each other speak in their own fashion. Love it or hate it (and we happen to love it), this is definitely one of the most strangely compelling folk albums of the year.





blog date 06/02/2013  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Quebec-Trad Group Genticorum Takes It Home



Invariably, the first thing listeners do after loading in Genticorum and pushing play is to double check the list of artists. That’s because it’s almost impossible to believe that the sound you are hearing comes from just three people. There must be at least several guest musicians, one assumes, to generate the foudroyant smash of melody that begins immediately and never stops. However, we can confirm that there are in fact just three young and virtuosic Québécois musicians who make up this award-winning group: Pascal Gemme; Yann Falquet; and Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand. As if to put any doubts to rest, Genticorum (pronounced “Jawn-ti-core-um”) is releasing Enregistré Live, a live album, and it’s obvious that even without a studio smokescreen Genticorum is still pure magic.

Drawing from a wealth of deep traditional sources, Genticorum highlights the breadth of traditional French-Canadian music: from irresistible knee-bouncing reels to sinuous jigs; from rowdy call-and-response songs to haunting ballads with complex harmonies. Hidden in between the tracks of Enregistré Live (Recorded Live) one can catch snippets of their infectiously warm stage banter (in Québécois French), which is all part of the charm that has garnered them international fame and multiple awards.

Enregistré Live, the group’s fifth album, opens with Genticorum’s signature sound: a rousing, flowing flute line, played by multi-instrumentalist Alexandre, over the churning roil of Pascal’s fiddling, the whole supported by Yann, a master of DADGAD-style guitar. Together they create a current of energy that will have anyone in earshot tapping their feet. Their first song, “Le Forgeron,” showcases the pure joy of French-Canada’s tradition of “chansons à repondre” or “call-and-response songs,” as well as the irresistible gravel of Pascal’s voice and the delicious three-part harmonies the group employs. “Déline” is a bone-chilling melodic wandering through minor and major in the most eerie a cappella intertwined harmony, telling the story of a young soldier who talks to his dead lover beyond the grave. Many of the tunes on the album are originals, although even a purist would have trouble spotting which ones. Pascal’s composed set “L’outarde au vin,” refers to a back-woods dish of Canada goose cooked in wine, and is comprised of two rollicking tunes, translated as “The Sauce” and “The Breast.” As Pascal noted with a wink, it’s up to the listeners to decide which of the two is their favorite.

Enregistré Live was recorded in Farnham, a small historic town in the Eastern Townships of Québec. Despite Genticorum’s dozen years of international tours and acclaim, the trio has rarely had an opportunity to play on their native soil—and for fiddler Pascal it was a particularly cathartic homecoming. Born and raised in the countryside just a few miles from the venue, “the highlight of this project was to get to play in front of my extended family and friends in my home town,” Pascal said. “My father had never seen me play on stage before that night.”

Which could explain why, of all their albums, Genticorum’s Enregistré Live sounds the most vibrant and hearty. It is fueled not only by their top-notch musicianship, but also by the deep fidelity they have to their roots, to those whom the music reflects and those who are reflected in it. Judging by the exuberant audience, there was an equal level of appreciation that evening for three of Québec’s finest musical diplomats.

So in a way, there is more than a trio creating the sound you are about to enjoy. Perhaps the list of guest artists simply includes an entire audience, a father seeing his son perform for the first time, a giant family knit around a centuries-old tradition of tunes and songs; and it is this captured moment of musical homecoming that makes this album truly magical.

Genticorum: "Déline"


Genticorum: "Le Forgeron"


Follow Genticorum on Facebook and their website!

blog date 05/31/2013  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Music Guide to Northwest Folklife Festival 2013

We're back again with our annual guide to the hugely humongous Northwest Folklife Festival, this Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-27, 2013. This is the largest community music festival in the nation, with (last I checked) 800+ bands, 25+ stages, and so much music and dance that it's physically impossible to see even a small fraction of the things you'd like to see. Now, some people like to wander around the festival, a shawarma and a cold lemonade in their hands, but I'm the kind of type that goes looking for something or someone new and amazing to discover. So I went through the schedule looking for cool things you might otherwise miss. Here's the:


All of these picks and more are selected on the Hearth Music Folklife Schedule. Feel free to check it out and copy our itinerary!


American Standard Time. Sponsored by No Depression + BECU
Monday, May 27, 3:30-6:30
Fountain Lawn Stage.

This is definitely the coolest show at Folklife this year, so put this sucker on your calendars folks!! Greg Vandy is the host of The Roadhouse on KEXP and he also runs the blog American Standard Time. That's where he premieres his beautifully shot mini-docs on roots artists like Frank Fairfield, Jerron 'Blind Boy' Paxton, Alela Diane, John Cohen and the upcoming one he's doing on The Crow Quill Night Owls. Vandy does amazing work, bringing top-flight roots bands to Seattle via KEXP and his blog and his showcase at Folklife will be star studded.

The Crow Quill Night Owls. 3:30pm.
The Sumner Brothers. 4:00pm
The Slide Brothers. 5:00pm
The Sojourners. 5:40pm

In addition to mad-genius jugband The Crow Quill Night Owls and Canadian barn-rockers The Sumner Brothers (both of whom we've worked with and written about before), Greg's bringing out two groups to represent African American traditions that don't often get covered at Folklife: gospel quartets and sacred steel. The sacred steel group is The Slide Brothers, key players in the recent movement to take Southern sacred steel guitar playing out of the churches and on to concert stages. It's a huge coup to get them at Folklife and a chance to catch a little heard tradition of American music dead-center in the festival. The second group, The Sojourners, are a trio of men living in Vancouver BC that Greg saw at Folk Alliance. Here's some more info on The Sojourners and their new album:

The Sojournersare a traditional African-American gospel trio that bring powerful instrumentation to their rich harmony singing. They were founded in Vancouver BC after a meeting between Canadian roots country singer Jim Byrnes and Vancouver gospel singer Marcus Mosley. Byrnes asked Mosley to pull together some friends and Mosley brought Will Sanders and Ron Small together. All involved loved the sound of this new trio, and Byrnes dubbed them The Sojourners. On their latest album on Black Hen Records (Byrnes' label too), The Sojourners dive deep into the repertoire of African-American sacred song, supplementing their powerhouse vocals with roots blues from Black Hen label founder and Canadian folk icon Steve Dawson and some lush soul influences as well. It's a compelling sound that works because of the faith and authenticity in the vocals; all three singers were established church singers before joining up, though they each hail from different parts of the US (Chicago, Louisiana, Texas) originally. On their new self-titled album, some of the highlights include a moving cover of Rev. Gary Davis' classic "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a great version of Los Lobos' "The Neighborhood,"and a hard-rolling cover of the popular spiritual "Brother Moses Smote the Water." This is classic gospel music done very very right. They're gonna be great onstage at Folklife!

The Sojourners: Brother Moses Smote the Water


The Sojourners: The Sojourners


Rogue Folk.
Friday, May 24, 7:30-10:00pm
Vera Project.

The crusties and folk punk kids have been a big part of Folklife for about the past decade, I'd say. There are some killer musicians in their ranks, and some remarkably creative ideas on how to bend folk traditions to a new generation focused on digital grassroots resistance like the Occupy movement. Rogue Folk is a showcase of the best of these groups, some traveling up from California to participate (and to spend time street performing!). Blackbird Raum is the king daddy of the scene and a totally compelling group to watch live. They're all hardcore trad music fans as well, and contra dancers too. I'm looking forward especially to Matador. This darkfolk trio out of Santa Cruz has a mesmerizing sound, half clashing-strings and ominous fiddle lines from Dorota and half eerie spacial vocals from Dorota and guitarist Matthew. Their music would fit well with the unsettling writing of Polish author Jerzy Kosinski. Their last album, The Taking, sounds like a cross between an acoustic black metal band and a street performing folk singer. Great combo and they'll surely be very interesting on stage!

Matador: The Dispossessed

Rogue Folk:
Strangeweather. 7:30pm
The Gembrokers. 8:10pm
Matador. 8:50pm
Blackbird Raum. 9:30pm

Maple Folk Showcase. MC'd by Devon Léger of Hearth Music.
Saturday, May 25, 11:30am-3:00pm
Northwest Court Stage.

Yours truly will be MCing this fun showcase of Northwest bands with strong Canadian roots. Here at Hearth Music, we love any kind of Canadian roots music so this is a special treat for me.

Kierah. 11:40am.
Blackthorn. 12:20pm
Samanthan & Tom Braman. 1pm
La Famille Léger. 1:40pm.
Podorythmie. 2:20pm

Canadian Celtic stalwarts Blackthorn will be back this year for a popular show, as they've long been a fixture at Folklife. My own band, La Famille Léger (made up of all the folks who run Hearth Music), will be playing French-Canadian music from all over Québec and Eastern Canada. Lovely father/daughter duo Tom and Samantha Braman (guitar/fiddle respectively) will be playing fiddle tunes inspired by the Cape Breton repertoire (see our review of the new album from Sami Braman's teen trio The Onlies HERE). New French-Canadian ensemble Podorythmie will close out the show, maybe with some crankies!  But for now I'd love to talk about the young woman opening the show: British Columbian Celtic fiddler Kierah.

Saturday, May 25, 11:30am
Northwest Court Stage.

Growing up the youngest of seven children in British Columbian stonemason family with strong Irish historical roots, Kierah must have felt a real need to stand out, and stand out she does with her newly released album. It's not just her technical prowess as a traditional fiddler that makes her new album, Stonemason's Daughter, note-worthy, it's her touch with the old tunes and her taste for composing new ones. On the set "That Dang Paddy Ryan," Kierah reins in the speedy fiddling and tucks into two great Irish tunes, reveling in the back beat that so rarely gets drawn out of that music. Her sets of Scottish Cape Breton tunes are wonderful as well, which is worth noting; Cape Breton fiddling is just about the trickiest tradition of Celtic fiddling to pull off. Her original tunes are great as well, not sounding totally derivative of traditional tunes, but sounding grounded enough in the tradition to be fun to play for most other fiddlers. The album was produced by Adrian Dolan, the fiddler/multi-instrumentalist from The Bills (who's also touring with Ruth Moody) and he brings a subtle hand to the album, giving Kierah's fiddling a powerful backing that really completes this package. On the set of original tunes "Granville Island Espresso" he whips himself and guitarist Adam Dobres (also from Ruth Moody's band) into such a frenzy that the track becomes pretty epic. It's not usual to hear acoustic traditional music kicking this much butt. Stonemason's Daughter appears to be Kierah's third album, since she's been fiddling and recording since she was just a kid. With this new album she's matured into one of the best young Celtic fiddlers in Western Canada and a name to watch.

Kierah: That Dang Paddy Ryan

Fisher Poets on the Road
Saturday, May 25, 6:30pm
SIFF Cinema Narrative Stage

The Northwest's tradition of fisher poetry is sadly underreported, though it's a rich and vibrant living tradition that anyone can experience at the annual Fisher Poet's Gathering in Astoria, OR. Fishermen (both men and women) gather during this festival both on stage and in impromptu pub sessions to tell stories of their lives of commercial fishing and to recite beautiful, hard-bitten poetry from the Northwest seas. Fisher poetry is one of the American occupational poetry traditions, along with cowboy poetry, logging poets, trucker poets, and probably others. Any profession that requires long periods of time spent in silence is perfect for creatig poetry, and this is the story I heard about the formation of Northwest fisher poetry is that the long journey from Washington and Oregon ports to the Alaskan fishing grounds is the root cause. As fishermen trundled along burning diesel to get North, they wrote poems and read poems over the CBs. Of course, today's fisher's poets aren't just constrained to writing about the sea; Oregon poet Clem Starck writes poems about chainsaws and carpentry, even laying concrete. But what he shares with other fisher poets (and occupational poets) is a gift for transforming the hard machinery and cold work into something beautiful.

At Folklife, fisher poet Pat Dixon has organized a panel on Commercial Fishing Work as part of Folklife's 2013 cultural focus on labor and labor traditions. He's bringing Clem Starck, maritime singer Mary Garvey, and the wonderful fisher poet Sierra Golden, an Alaska fisherwoman. Golden's a deft and powerful poet and I really hope she gets a chance to tell some of her poems. Check out a few samples HERE.

Check out Pat Dixon's excellent site that features the best fisher poets with sound and video samples:
In the Tote



Giddy Up: Country Roots (sponsored by BECU)
Sunday, May 26, 6-9pm.
Fountain Lawn Stage.

There's quite the movement today in Seattle of what's being called "Ballard Ave Country Music." This means young, sometimes hipster-ish bands that play traditional and roots country or indie music inspired by country roots and perform along the bars of Seattle's heavily gentrified Ballard neighborhood. Places like The Tractor Tavern, Conor Byrnes Pub, and even The Sunset can be hopping over the weekends, full of folks with PBRs and a need for a serious dose of twang. And there's some pretty great music coming out of this scene, of course. Top of the heap, in my eyes, is the Annie Ford Band. We've written about Annie before, and I definitely think she's one of the best roots musicians in Seattle. New to us were The Ganges River Band and Country Lips.

Country Lips. 6:15pm
Annie Ford Band. 7:00pm
The Ganges River Band. 7:45pm
Ole Tinder. 8:30pm

The Ganges River Band sure kicks off their new single, "I Am Your Man," right. They pour on the buckets of pedal steel twang, and lay back into a classic country kind of song about holding on to fleeting love. They don't seem retro for the point of being retro, just honestly enamored by the sound and feel of old-school country music. Their Bandcamp page labels them "a rowdy Texas country band currently living in Seattle," but it looks like the band is the brainchild of Ballard resident A.P. Dugas, who's been turning out intriguing alt-country songs in Seattle for a little while now. The Ganges River Band have just released their first self-titled album, and with songs like "I Am Your Man" and the absolutely excellent "Six Bottles of Wine" leading it off (Stuck out here in Houston/day dreamin' about leaving/But I'm doing fine.../On six bottles of wine)  this is a great signifier of the deep county roots along Ballard Ave these days.

Country Lips are the perfect kind of band to see at Folklife. I didn't immediately gel with their Bandcamp music, but I totally fell in step when I saw their live KEXP videos. They're a raucous crew, a seeming pastiche of Ballard Ave types tied together with a lot of alcohol and a love for hardcore twang. The vocals are engaging, the instruments are picked hard, and the band seems to be having a load of fun. It's gonna be a helluva great time hanging out with these bands on the Fountain Lawn. You should try your hand at a country two-step!

Northwest Stringband Throwdown.
Sunday, May 26, 6-9pm.
Fisher Green Stage.

Just across teh way from the Country Roots show, the humble little Fisher Green Stage will be throwing down with four up-and-coming Northwest stringbands. Led by the hard-driving Seattle alt-grass band The Warren G. Hardings (who put on a killer live show), these bands come from as far afield as Portland and feature a variety of styles from bluegrass to jamgrass to alt-country to hardcore old-time. I'm especially excited about The Porterbelly Stringband. I was sad when the excellent NW alt-time band Nettle Honey broke up, but it turns out two members of that band have made it into Porterbelly with the addition of young fiddler Noah Frank. I don't know too much about them, but looks like they've been playing the underground square dance scene in Seattle, which means that they can play hard. Audio tracks on their Facebook page are damn promising, including a nice romp through the classic "Billy in the Lowground" and a nice old-time tune I hadn't heard before: "Old Buzzard." Banjo player Johnny Fitzpatrick, one of the Nettle Honey guys, sounds hot on these tracks, blazing through some three-finger picking that matches Billy in the Lowground's fiddling note for note. This band's gonna be hot on stage. I can just tell!

Wide Open Spaces, sponsored by BECU.
Monday, May 27
Fisher Green Stage, 1-3:30pm

I have no idea what this show is supposed to be about or why the name, but sometimes these are the best shows at Folklife. And as I ran down my list of awesome Hidden Gems and New Discoveries at Folklife, I realized three bands on that list were in this show. So dang, this is the place to be Monday afternoon before you head to the American Standard Time show!

Pepper Proud. 1:00pm.
Tara Stonecipher. 1:40pm.
Br'er Rabbit. 2:20pm.
Blvd Park. 3:00pm.


Pepper Proud.
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.

Monday, May 27, 1pm
Fisher Green Stage.

Folk singer Pepper Proud has been indeed making Seattle proud recently, mainly off the force of her powerful acoustic performances and her gorgeous debut album, Riddles and Rhymes. And I do mean gorgeous. Pepper's voice has the gentlest bit of twang, a remnant of her West Virginia homeland, and the subtlest sense of fragility. It's a voice that pulls you in instantly. The kind of voice that makes you lean in a little closer to catch every word, to enjoy every moment. She's a great songwriter too, which is no small feat. "Fishing Blues" was the first song I heard from her via the beautiful YouTube Ballard Sessions of Seattle filmmaker Eratosthenes Fackenthall. It's a beautiful folk song, indebted perhaps to the old fishing blues songs, or maybe just connected to that old sepia-tinged country image in my head. It's a song about fishing for treasure in everyday life, a song whose first verse could almost be taken from an innocent children's book, but there's also a twinge of the sadness of growing up in the song. It's part of her larger tropes in this album that blend the sweet and whimsical with the sad and slightly bitter. There's a hard edge riding just underneath Proud's music and that's what makes it so interesting. Everything sounds like fragile gossamer, driven by Proud's crystalline voice, but it's like washing your best wine glass by hand. It's a beautiful object to be sure, but there's an underlying level of fear in knowing that one wrong move can cause it to shatter, cutting open your hand. That tension between beauty and danger is the core of Pepper Proud's music and one reason she's so compelling.


Pepper Proud: Riddles & Rhymes


Tara Stonecipher & The Tall Grass.
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.
Monday, May 27, 1:40pm
Fisher Green Stage.

Eugene songwriter Tara Stonecipher rides that perfect line between singer-songwriter lyricism and country twang. It's always a sweet combination, since it balances out the weaknesses in both genres. If you get tired of the freer-form melodies of singer-songwriting, the delicious country harmonies pull you back. And if the snare-driven backbeat and thump-a-thump bass of country begins to wear, the more expressive lyrics will bring you around. Stonecipher sounds remarkably mature and confident for releasing a debut EP with her band The Tall Grass (as in Tara Stonecipher and The Tall Grass), and that's part of what makes her worthy of attention. Really it seems like she's beginning to master two different worlds, a pretty mighty task. Her song "Dogs" is a perfect example. She's got the cresting vocal break that defines country singing, but the song as a whole is an affectingly emotional journey through a break up. Not sure how the dogs factor in, but I'd definitely like to listen to it a few times more just to find out. That's the sign of a good song and a good songwriter. You get a little lost in their songs.

Tara Stonecipher & The Tall Grass: Dogs


Tara Stonecipher & the Tall Grass: Recovery EP



Br'er Rabbit.
part of the Wide Open Spaces show.
Monday, May 27, 2:20pm.
Fisher Green Stage.

Br'er Rabbit bill themselves as "Folk-Stomp Americana" and that's just about right. 30 seconds into the first song, "Roller," on their new EP, and I defy you to keep from stomping along. There's an infectious joy to their music, certainly helped by the liberal use of ukulele and tambourine, but also by the sunny vocals of singer Miranda Zickler. These are just the kind of sunny vocals we need in the midst of a rainy Northwestern summer. Formed by brothers Nathan and Zach Hamer, Br'er Rabbit has a definite Lumineers vibe going on musically, which I like a lot, but seem to have a stronger folk foundation than the Lumineers. They've also got the taste for a singalong, a fine key point in any roots band, and the songs on their EP are all delightfully singable. Nathan, Zach, and Miranda are all excellent singers, and there's nothing better really than finding such a  fun folk band amongst folks so young. There's an underpinning of traditional music, but I love the fact that they're clearly in this to have a great time. This kind of abandon is at the heart of true folk music and it's at the heart of Br'er Rabbit's music as well.

Br'er Rabbit: Roller

The Onlies.
Friday, May 24, 7:20pm.
Northwest Court Stage.

Three of the best and brightest young folk and Celtic musicians in Seattle teamed up to make The Onlies. I know these kids well and they've got that wonderful, boundless enthusiasm of youth, and it shows on their second album, Setting Out To Sea. They've matured considerably since their 2011 album (which was great too), and they've expanded the sound of the group to feature multiple fiddle arrangements (all three are excellent fiddlers), some original songs and tunes, and a growing confidence in what was before just a way to have fun with friends. They've been learning this month from acclaimed songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello as part of the innovative youth music project More Music at the Moore, and it's clear that they're taking their musicianship and craft more seriously than ever. They've been getting great press too and may even have a West Coast tour getting put together. Each of The Onlies, Riley Calcagno, Samantha Braman, and Leo Shannon, are still in high school, so it's hard to believe that they sound this polished at such a young age. I had a Celtic band when I was in high school, and though we had an absolute blast playing music, I can assure that we didn't sound anywhere near as good as these kids. The tunes on Setting Out To Sea range across the Celtic traditions, from renditions of Irish tunes like Rakish Paddy and Lord Gordon's Reel, to old-time, Cape Breton, and French-Canadian tunes. Original tunes, like Sami Braman's "December March," rub shoulders with traditional tunes and rollicking fiddle tunes are slipped into songs and run through with obvious glee. A beautiful new Scandinavian tune by Ola Bäckström, "I'm Not Fed Up With the Pacific Ocean," benefits from winding harmony lines in the fiddles, and Liz Carroll's twisty tune "Half Day Road" gets a great treatment. Jeez, if they're whipping off Liz Carroll tunes at this age... Sigh. Kids these days!

The Onlies: Grey Owl


The Onlies: Setting Out to Sea



Hank Bradley & Cathie Whitesides.
Friday, May 24. 8:20pm.
Alki Court Stage.

Hank Bradley is one of the best old-time fiddlers on the West Coast, and probably in the US, though he doesn't get the recognition he really deserves. He was a seminal figure in the early folk revival old-time boom, and his bootlegged cassette mixtapes of old 78s influenced a lot of people as they were handed around from friend to friend. He's also a powerful tune composer. I've been in classes with him teaching tunes he's written and I can say he does things with traditional old-time fiddle tunes that I've never heard or conceived of before. For years, Hank and his partner Cathie Whitesides have also been performing traditional Greek and Balkan music. They'll probably do mostly this at Folklife, and it's a trip to hear how they can mash the odd and intense rhythms of Balkan music with the drones of old-time fiddling. Hank's his own master class in traditional fiddling, so step up and get some wisdom from a true master!


The Family Carr.
part of the
Global Contra Dance.
Saturday, May 25, 12:00pm.
Warren's Roadhouse.

Kevin Carr's one of my favorite fiddlers and an all around great guy. For years, he's been teaching fiddle at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, and he's always quick to help anyone starting out on this difficult and demanding instrument. As fiddler, his style draws from many different traditions–and he's one of the few fiddlers I know who's proficient and respected in each of these traditions–but always manages to sound like his own. There's a lilt to his playing, a lift, and there's also a joyful quality to his ornamentation. His playing is beguiling to me, and I've sat with him at about a hundred sessions over the past decade or so, always enjoying myself immensely. Throughout the time I've known him, he's always played music with his wife, Josie Mendelsohn. Josie's a wonderful piano player (guitar, spoons and fiddle too!) and a great soul as well, so they make a great team. In fact, Josie was a member of the Good Old Persons back in the day with Laurie Lewis! Kevin and Josie tour the Northwest playing contra dances and concerts and Kevin's a wonderful storyteller and bagpiper too. For such a talented duo, it's a true joy to see that their love and passion for music has been passed on to their kids. It hasn't always been an easy road of course–it never is growing up with a lot of expectations from parents and friends that you'd become a musician as well–but the spark was lit in both kids, Molly and Daniel Carr and they've joined with Kevin and Josie to make The Family Carr (great band name btw!).

For Molly, it all clicked into place during a trip to Galicia. Kevin had been going to Galicia for years and learning the music, and Molly found the same comradery there that kept drawing Kevin back. She stayed for a while, and formed a killer young band called As Faiscas. On the new album, Molly sings some beautiful songs, including the Galician song "Canto de Monzos," which includes a beautiful tune on the Galician bagpipes (gaitas) as played by Kevin. Daniel Carr weighs in as well with a charming cover of "Sail Away Ladies," and Josie and Molly's haunting version of the French-Canadian song "Je Sais Bien," is another highlight (this song appears in Josie's indispensable book of French-Canadian songs published by Mel Bay). Kevin sings as well, leading up a fun version of the great old-time song "Wild Hog In the Woods." As mentioned, the album wanders across incredibly diverse ground, as Appalachian old-time tunes rub shoulders with French-Canadian dance tunes learned from old masters and wild Galician tunes join hands with Irish trad session pieces. It's all a lot of fun and a great window in the kind of diverse world of folk music that my generation enjoys today thanks to the hard work of the first folk revival. It's also a great window into the joy of making music as a family.

The Family Carr: Wild Hog in the Woods/Elzic's Farewell


The Family Carr: The Family Carr


Bradford Loomis.
part of the
Team Up for Nonprofits Show
Saturday, May 25, 1:00pm.
Fountain Lawn Stage.

Bradford Loomis came as a surprise for me. I thought I knew the Seattle roots music scene pretty well. And it's not like he's unknown here; in fact, he's quite well known from his many performances at Seattle roots shows. It was, again, the video from Eratosthenes Fackenthall's Ballard Sessions that converted me to his dark Americana music. This was the video:

It starts off nice and simple, with a beautiful, heartfelt folk song, but by the end he's practically wailing! I got ahold of his new album, Into the Great Unknown, and it's in a similar vein to this video but with a full backing band and some gorgeous harmony singing. This is what Americana should sound like today, and too often does not. These are expertly crafted songs that owe a huge debt to the historic roots of American music but refuse to be bound by any stuffy idea of tradition. They can flip over into a killer mainstream country sound that would put plenty of wannabes in Nashville to shame, but they can also flip back to an old-school tent revival shout. And best of all, these songs are singable and hummable and just plain fun to listen to. Pay attention folks, this guy's going places!

Bradford Loomis: See You On the Other Side


Bradford Loomis: Into the Great Unknown



Folklife's an insane event, but these hot tips will guarantee you have the best possible time.

-Volunteer for a shift. Folklife runs on about a thousand volunteers, so they need help. Go to the second floor of the Center House to sign up. Usually you get cool jobs. But the real thing you get is a participant button. Which leads me to:

-The Participant's Lounge is the best part of Folklife. Located just next to the new skatepark, the participant's lounge is where all the performers go to hang out all weekend and jam up a storm. It's a magical place with free drinks, cheap beer, good conversations and fascinating musical encounters. It's everything that's great about Folklife and you can only get in with a participant button.

-Get Inside if it's hot and you're tired. Folklife's exhausting on hot days and the crowds are insane. Get inside for an indoor theater show and you can sit down and feel a million times better. I recommend Center House Theater. It's the best listening space at Folklife and when I worked there we'd always throw the coolest and strangest bands in there. Also try the Folklife Cafe.

-Get your beer at the Northwest Court. The crowds are mellower up there and you can singalong to sea chanties.

-Give Folklife your damn money. Folklife runs off a few hardy, overworked souls and it doesn't charge at the gate. That means anyone in Seattle can experience not only some great music and dance, but the cultures of the folks who live around them. That's an amazing mission that deserves some of your bucks.

-Enjoy the street performers. This is actually like a second festival wrapped up in the first one. Street performers range from crusty jugbands to little kids with violins to dudes who staple dollar bills to their chest. It's awesome.


blog date 05/22/2013  | comments comments (1)

CD Review: Dudu Maia's Trio Brasileiro Are a Choro Delight

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!



Trio Brasileiro: Simples Assim


blog date 05/19/2013  | comments comments (3)