I titled this post somewhat facetiously, since I don't really think that veteran bluesmith Eric Bibb cut his new album in Louisiana on vacation. It's just that the album, Deeper in the Well, sounds so relaxed and natural that I wouldn't be surprised if everyone involved considered it their personal vacation. The promo shots on the album of Bibb traveling the bayous in his Hawaiian shirt and lounging barefoot on the porch pickin' his guitar help with this image, as does the pic of all the great collaborators on the album with huge grins on their faces. It's just that kind of music: the old-fashioned summery country blues and roots music done with such joyous ease that you just can't keep from grinnin'.
The story behind the album is that Eric Bibb met with his booking agent Matt Greenhill of Folklore Productions. Greenhill suggested adding to Bibb's touring duo–Bibb and Seattle harmonica virtuoso Grant Dermody–by approaching renowned old-time and Cajun multi-instrumentalist (and awesome recording engineer) Dirk Powell. The collaboration between Bibb, Dermody, and Powell went so well that the decision was made to record. In a second stroke of genius, Greenhill suggested adding Louisiana Creole super-star fiddler and accordionist Cedric Watson. That's one hell of a band there, and indeed this group is actually touring now under the name "The Eric Bibb String Band." In any case, this super-group of roots musicians from country blues, Southern old-time, and Louisiana Creole/Cajun backgrounds got together around Dirk Powell's Cypress House Recording Studio in the charming, sleepy little town of Breaux Bridge, and proceeded to knock out a thoroughly relaxed and wonderful album together.
Bibb leads the group, and anyone who knows country blues knows how effortless this music is to him by now. Grant Dermody shines throughout, helped by his experience playing harmonica in many other genres outside the blues. We recently promoted his solo album, which we completely fell in love with, and we also recently reviewed his recent trio album with dobro master Orville Johnson and guitar whiz John Miller. Dirk Powell brings a whole stack of instruments to the recording, plus his truly excellent ear at recording acoustic roots music. Cedric Watson fiddles throughout and basically proves there's nothing he can't play. The songs are drawn equally from traditional sources and Eric's pen, but sound traditional throughout. Standouts include the rollicking "Dig a Little Deeper in the Well," sourced from an old Doc and Merle Watson recording, a jointly written song, "Money in Your Pocket," from Eric and one of our favorite songwriters, Michael Jerome Browne, and a fascinating reduction of the classic "Sinner Man."
I could talk a lot more about this album, but honestly the point here is that it's just pure fun to listen to. And I imagine it must have been pure fun to make. Wish I coulda been a fly on the wall at these recording sessions!
Eric Bibb: Bayou Belle
09/02/2012 | comments (0)
We're excited to be working again with Northwest songwriter and folk artist Coty Hogue. Based out of Bellingham, WA, her debut album, Going to the West, was so well received that we had high hopes for her follow-up. And she sure delivered! On When We Get To Shore, she again taps into her signature blend of influences: her own songs, songs from her friends, covers of well-known popular songs redone as roots music, and haunting Appalachian balladry. She's one of the few artists we know who can move effortlessly between these genres of music, while bringing a cutting-edge vision to each. That's no small feat! Add to this the fact that her new album is a live album taken from high-end recordings at a recent Empty Sea Studios show in Seattle, and Coty Hogue's talent is undeniable.
Coty Hogue - When We Get To Shore
It’s exceedingly difficult to create a great live album, but with When We Get to Shore, Northwest songwriter and folk singer Coty Hogue seems to have succeeded at just that. When recording live music, there’s no safety net. There’s no autotune to adjust the singing, or do-overs to cover up mistakes, but Coty Hogue clearly needs none of that. Her live album crackles with electricity and showcases her distinctly beautiful voice. It’s the kind of voice that’s equally at home singing a subtle, acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” as it is singing songs from her own pen, or a mournful Appalachian ballad. Few singers today can claim that kind of diversity, but Coty Hogue walks these lines easily.
All these influences come from a life well-lived. Raised in Montana, Coty Hogue grew up with the awe-inspiring wide open skies and rugged mountains of her hometown embedded in her music. She left at a young age to move to Bellingham, WA, a small arts-based city nestled into the waters of the Puget Sound about an hour and a half North of Seattle. She nurtured her songwriting talent there, collaborating with other artists, including fellow songwriter Sarah Fulford (whose song “Jonah” opens the album, and whose songs have featured on all of Coty’s albums). In 2009, Coty moved across the country to Boone, North Carolina to work for a Masters in Appalachian Studies. She studied the old songs and ballads of Southern old-time music, immersing herself in their sparse, haunted landscapes. Returning to Bellingham, where she now lives, Coty’s carved out a space for herself in the national folk scene as a uniquely versatile singer, an artist whose music resonates with knowledge of our past history and hope for a bright future.
When We Get To Shore was recorded live before a joyous audience at Seattle’s renowned Empty Sea Studios. Recording engineer Michael Connolly has perfected the art of live recording, and it really shows on this album. Joined by fellow Bellingham musicians Aaron Guest (vocals/guitar) and Kat Bula (fiddle/vocals), Coty’s sound is rich and warm, but also intimately alone, unbuffered by studio trickery. The songs run the gamut of her influences, from a Fleetwood Mac cover (“Second Hand News”) to beautiful, thoughtful renditions of traditional songs like “Wedding Dress” and “Handsome Molly.” Coty’s songs feature prominently, like the graceful mourning of “Cannot Deliver,” and the bitter taste of “Fire and Ashes.” The album closes with a song from Bill Monroe and a song from Hazel Dickens, cementing Coty’s love for American roots music. Each song is treated with careful reverence, as Coty draws out its inner essence. It’s the kind of album that makes you wish you’d been there that night, which is the best thing you can say about a great live album.
Video from the LIVE recording session:
Coty Hogue: Fire & Ashes
Coty Hogue: Handsome Molly
08/31/2012 | comments (0)
If you're like me, you're missing the heck out of HBO's medieval epic series Game of Thrones at the moment. Season Two just ended and Season 3 isn't due until March 31, 2012!! You're missing hating on Joffrey Baratheon, pining over the trials and travails of Daenerys Targaryen, and cheering openly for The Imp (Tyrion Lannister) and Rob Stark. And if you've read the books, you're also dreading the possible arrival of the Red Wedding in Season 3 with all your heart (don't google it unless you like HUGE spoilers!). But either way, we've got a long wait ahead of us until the next season comes out on HBO.
Well fret not dear reader, the annals of American folk song have retained a goodly number of horrific, medieval ballads to tide you over until the sexy bloodbath that is Game of Thrones returns. While hunting some of the rarer ballads down, I made sure not to look across the pond for inspiration. The British and Celtic folk traditions have tons of old medieval ballads about courtly intrigue and bloody political gambles, but I wanted to find these here at home in North America. I love that the tales and legends of the Middle Ages still echo in our ears today, handed down carefully from generation to generation, each one hoping to find something in the old songs that could match with their own lives.
So here are a few examples of old ballads in the New World that sound like they could be ripped from the pages of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones.
Ralph Stanley: Little Mathie Groves
This is the all-time classic medieval murder ballad and it's a perfect foil for Game of Thrones motifs in American folk songs. The wife of a nobleman, Lord Arnold (sometimes Lord Daniel), seduces a younger member of the court, Little Mathie Groves. When Lord Arnold discovers this (in other versions, there's some element of courtly intrigue and gossip that lets him know about the tryst), he calls Mathie Grove out of his bed and challenges him to a duel. Little Mathie does well, but not well enough, and is struck down. And in this particularly horrific version from the great American songmaster Ralph Stanley, Lord Arnold kills his wife as well, slicing her head off and kicking it against the wall. It seems that so many murder ballads take place outside in nature, or in the village, but this one is nestled deep in a castle, with the unfortunate events unfolding before everyone's eyes. It's the tabloid-rag of murder ballads, and definitely in keeping with the murderous castle-bound intrigues of Game of Thrones.
On a high, on a high,
on a high holiday,
on the very best day of the year,
little Mathie Grove to the church did go,
The Holy Word to hear.
Some come in all dressed in white,
some in purple and blue,
and then come in Lord Arnold's wife,
the flower among the few.
She looked at him, he looked at her,
the like had never been done,
'til she got up and took his hand,
and bade him come along.
Well they tossed and they turned in the bed all night
'til they lay fast asleep.
when they woke up in the new morn dawn,
Lord Arnold stood at their feet.
He said "Get up, little Mathie Grove,
and put your clothing on.
For it'll never be known in old England
i slade a naked man.""
I shan't get up, I won't get dressed,
I fear so for my life!
For you have got two very short swords,
and me not nary a knife."
"Well yes I've got two very short swords;
they cost me deep in the purse,
and you shall have the better of the two
and I shall take the worse."
"And you may strike the very first blow,
and strike it like a man.
and I shall strike the very next one,
and kill you if I can."
Well Mathie struck the very first blow,
it hurt Lord Arnold sore.
and Arnold struck the very next one,
left Mathie layin' dead in his gore.
He turned his eyes to his wife in her bed,
the rage and the hate saw she.
"Who do you like best now?" he said,
Little Mathie Grove or me?"
Very well do I like your brow," said she,
"very well do I like your chin,
but I like Mathie Grove in all of his gore,
better than you and all your kin.
Well, he took her by the hair of her head
he led her through the hall,
and with his sword cut off her head,
and kicked it against the wall.
Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer: Les Trois Gentilhommes
Sorry to switch to French, but this is one of the best of the bloody old complaintes (ballads) of French Canada. It's still sung today and this version is from one of the best trad bands in Quebec, Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer. An all-male a cappella group, Les Charbonniers are a treasure trove of old songs and wildly inventive male vocal harmonies. The narrative of this ballad fits perfectly with the world of Game of Thrones, where the soldiers of the king (or kings) ride where they please, murdering peasants by the villagefull.
The song itself tells the story of three brothers traveling the countryside. Happening upon a beautiful peasant girl, they attack and rape her. She escapes and alerts the nearest town, where she lives. When the brothers arrive at the town, the local constabulary arrest them and try them for the rape. They sentence all three to hang, but little do they know that the brothers are actually royalty from Paris. Their other brother hears of the sentence and races South from the capitol, whipping his horse bloody. He arrives just in time to see them all hanging and races to cut them down. The two older brothers survive, but the littlest dies from the hanging. So the remaining brothers turn the King's soldiers on the town, burning it to the ground and murdering everyone in sight so that the streets fill up with blood to the level of the horses' flanks.
LES TROIS GENTILHOMMES (translated to English)
There were three gentleman brothers of King Louis' court.
On the road they encountered three beautiful young maidens,
Who they took aside and had their way with.
The youngest brother who molested a girl: You should have repented.
If you pass by the nearby town you will be thrown in jail.
They passed by the town and this is exactly what happened to them.
The youngest one cried and sobbed, saying "I am afraid to die".
His two brothers tried to encourage him, saying:
"Don't cry my brother, we have another brother in King Louis' court.
If he knew what was happening, he'd be here in a flash.
He'd kill the marquis of the town, and burn the countryside.
He would judge the countryside, and judge that all should die."
The jailer was nearby and heard everything they said.
[The jailer to the judges of the town:]
"Listen judges, listen to what the brothers had to say."
Meanwhile, their brother in King Louis' court
Met a poor beggar on the pont de Paris [bridge in Paris].
"Ah, tell me my poor friend, what is the news of the countryside?"
"The news, my gentleman friend? Your three brothers were arrested."
"My poor friend, what is to happen to the prisoners?"
"I think, my gentleman friend, that they will hanged at seven o-clock"
"Tell me, my poor friend, can I make it there by seven o'clock?"
"No, no, no, my gentleman friend, you ride much too slow!"
The brother put his hand on the bridle, and rode faster than the wind.
When he got to the hills, his horse was sweating blood.
When he got to the town, he saw his three brothers hanging from the gallows.
He saved Pierre, he saved Jacques, but for little Jean it was too late.
From the mouth of the little Jean flew a white pigeon.
The older brother blew on his trumpet, and summoned his men.
He said to his soldiers "Dress yourselves all in white.
We are going to pass through the town killing everyone and burning everything."
Women cried out from their windows to all-powerful God:
"For the love of a brother, why kill so many people, so many men, women and children?"
From the four corners of the town, the gutters flowed with blood
From the four corners of the streets, the horses walked in it up to their flanks.
They didn't spare anybody: it is the town of innocents.
Castle By The Sea: Tim Eriksen
I'll confess I picked this one mainly for the castle by the sea references, but really this is a great song that ties into the simmering hatred of the sexes in Game of Thrones. Marriage and love are used as weapons either to cripple an opponent or exploit their weaknesses, and men and women alike revel in a very real battle of the sexes. In traditional American music there are many songs of men murdering their wives and lovers; it's kind of the basic premise of the murder ballad. But here the lover's a little quicker than the man and does him in with bit of swift treachery. This is one of the more cinematic of the old ballads, with the six drowned maidens, the sylvan bower, the castle by the sea, and the generally action-packed narrative. It's also strange that Boston town got slipped into this one. Last I checked there weren't many castles around Boston. Unless there's a Boston in the UK that I don't know about...
Tim Eriksen: Castle by the Sea
(from the excellent album Northern Roots - Live in Namest)
The Castle by the Sea
Arise, O arise, my lady fair,
For you my bride shall be,
And we will dwell in a sylvan bower
In my castle by the sea.
And bring along your marriage fee,
Which you can claim today,
And also take your swiftest steeds,
The milk white and the grey.
The lady mounted her white steed,
He rode the turban grey.
They took the path by the wild sea shore,
Or so I've heard them say.
As she saw the walls of the castle high
That looked so black and cold,
She wished she'd remained in Boston town
With her ten thousand pounds in gold.
He halted by the wild sea shore,
"My bride you shall never be!
For six fair maidens I have drowned here,
The seventh you shall be."
"Take off, take off, your scarlet robes,
And lay them down by me.
They are too rich and too costly
To rot in the briny sea."
"Then turn your face to the water's side,
And your back to yonder tree.
For it is a disgrace for any man
An unclothed woman to see."
He turned his face to the water's side,
And his back to the lofty tree.
The lady took him in her arms,
And flung him into the sea.
"Lie there, lie there, you false young man,
And drown in place of me.
If six fair maidens you drowned here,
Go keep them company."
She then did mount her milk white steed,
And led the turban grey,
And rode until she came to Boston town
Two hours before it was day.
Lord Randall: Jimmie Driftwood
Boy, they sure love poisoning in Game of Thrones. From the opening of the book, the poisoning of Jon Arryn was the first blow in the game of thrones that leads to the total destabalization of the kingdom. And other characters get poisoned too, though I can't say who without a big spoiler alert. Suffice it to say that poisoning is a particularly medieval form of assassination. This great version of the Child ballad "Lord Randall" comes from Ozark Mountain singer (and songwriter! He was famous for writing the "Tennessee Stud" and "The Battle of New Orleans!) Jimmie Driftwood. It's a simple song, for sure, but there's something deeply poignant and sad about the way it captures the last dying hours of Lord Randall as he returns home from courtship. I love how each version of this ballad unveils the guilty party in the last verse as Lord Randall wishes for her death.
"Where have you been a-ridin',
Lord Randall, my son?
Where have you been a-ridin',
My handsome young mon?"
"Been a-ridin' and a-courtin';
Oh, make my bed soon."
Chorus: "I'm a-weary of a-courtin',
And I fain would lie doon.
Heart weary of a-courtin',
And I fain would lie doon."
"What had you for your supper,
Lord Randall, my son?
What had you for your supper,
My handsome young mon?"
"Red lips that were pizen.
Oh, make my bed soon."
"What will you to your sister,
Lord Randall, my son?
What will you to your sister,
My handsome young mon?"
"My trunk full of diamonds.
Oh, make my bed soon."
What will you to your brother,
Lord Randall, my son?
What will you to your brother,
My handsome young mon?"
"My horse and my saddle.
Oh, make my bed soon."
"What will you to your lover,
Lord Randall, my son?
What will you to your lover,
My handsome young mon?"
"A strong rope to hang her.
Oh, make my bed soon."
Nelstone's Hawaiians: Fatal Flower Garden
Kids have it especially hard in Game of Thrones. Much of the books are devoted to the endlessly depressing and bloody plights of the children in the story, especially the wanderings of Arya Stark as she tries to reunite with her family, and the forced escape of Bran Stark (whoops, spoiler alert!). Kids don't have it much better in medeival ballads, and a harrowing example is this old song which has been nicknamed "Fatal Flower Garden", though it also goes by "Sir Hugh" and "It Rained A Mist". It's horrifying from beginning to end and really sets the scene for the abduction and murder of an innocent child. It's also interesting that the murderous woman is here portrayed as a gypsy. She's also been portrayed as a Jew in early versions of the ballad.
It rained, it poured, it rained so hard,
It rained so hard all day,
That all the boys in our school
Came out to toss and play.
They tossed a ball again so high,
Then again, so low;
They tossed it into a flower garden
Where no-one was allowed to go.
Up stepped a gypsy lady,
All dressed in yellow and green;
"Come in, come in, my pretty little boy,
And get your ball again."
"I can't come in, I shan't come in
Without my playmates all;
I'll go to my father and tell him about it,
That'll cause tears to fall."
She first showed him an apple seed,
Then again gold rings,
Then she showed him a diamond,
That enticed him in.
She took him by his lily-white hand,
She led him through the hall;
She put him in an upper room,
Where no-one could hear him call.
"Oh, take these finger rings off my finger,
Smoke them with your breath;
If any of my friends should call for me,
Tell them that I'm at rest."
"Bury the bible at my head,
A testament at my feet;
If my dear mother should call for me,
Tell her that I'm asleep."
"Bury the bible at my feet,
A testament at my head;
If my dear father should call for me,
Tell him that I am dead."
These are just a few examples of old, murderous, medieval songs in American traditional music. What are some other ones you can think of that mesh with the courtly-intrigue and medieval warfare of Game of Thrones?
BUY THE MUSIC PLAYED HERE
Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer's self-titled debut album
Ralph Stanley: A Mother's Prayer
Tim Eriksen: Northern Roots - Live in Namest
Anthology of American Folk Music
08/22/2012 | comments (0)
As a music writer, I get a fair amount of album submissions from hopeful musicians. I listen to them all, or as many as I can, but honestly these days most of my musical finds come from my own research or from friends. That said, every now and then and album comes completely out of the blue to blow me away. Jeffrey Martin's Gold in the Water is a perfect example. I'd never heard of Jeffrey Martin before getting a random email about him, but immediately, on the first listen, I knew this was special. Martin's a marvelous songwriter, effortlessly drawing out fully-fleshed stories and lush natural metaphors from a simple folk music structure. He's an incredibly rare find among today's glut of singer-songwriters: a songwriter whose songs are immediately affecting. These are the kind of songs that can change you. I listened to Gold in the Water over and over, and got the same feeling from his songs that I got from Cahalen Morrison's songwriting. Somehow his songs sound like they're coming out of a great novel, or that they're part of a larger work.
I checked into his background, and unsurprisingly he's a creative writing teacher in Eugene, Oregon. He doesn't tour very much, and his album isn't too widely known, even in the Northwest. But I can't imagine him staying hidden for long. His music is too good! I fired off an email to try and get more understanding of his songs. He wrote back about three songs I'd chosen and added some extra info too on his songwriting process. Enjoy!
Inside the Songs with Jeffrey Martin
How does being a creative writing teacher influence your songwriting (or vice versa)?
Jeffrey Martin: The greatest thing about teaching high school English is that it is impossible not to be constantly humbled by it. Young people are, by nature, testing the waters in all areas of their lives, with every word they say and everything they do. This results in a lot of stupidity, but also in a lot of creativity and genius. I haven’t had much experience teaching at this point, but I’ve already been floored more times than I can remember by what my students have come up with. As we get older we carve out grooves that we like to follow, in our thinking and in how we feel our way through things. I think those grooves are just less defined in teenagers. They are wild and free to try on perspectives that escape older folks entirely. Sometimes this is maddening. Most times, even when it’s maddening, I realize I’m holding on too tightly to the groove I’ve carved out for myself.
The second greatest thing about teaching is that I’m forced to read (and write) constantly. To be immersed in so many words and stories, edits and suggestions, keeps me primed for my own writing.
How do you keep from tapping out creatively, i.e. hitting a block because you're writing so much?
JM: When I was earning my BA in English I realized that you can’t approach creativity like it’s a finite substance. It’s not the oxygen, it’s the act of breathing. Even if there was no oxygen, you’d still make the attempt to breathe, and that’s what writing needs to be. And I suppose, if you were constantly concerned about the levels of oxygen available, you’d begin each new breath with trepidation. But writing is gasping; you have to be gulping things down, heaving, recycling all the time. So I think I just decided that something that carried so much passion and weight in my life as writing does can’t possibly be dependent on something that can be exhausted. On the flipside, I get exhausted often. Creativity can’t run out, but the muscles to wrangle it are muscles just the same as any other. I think it’s okay to lay down the guitar for a while, and the pen. Maybe they need time to rest also. I do a lot of carpentry on the side, and exhausting myself physically with manual labor is a perfect way to let the songwriter section of my brain get some sleep.
Jeffrey Martin: "Stolen from Them"
JM: I was living in Tacoma (WA), on Hilltop, and losing my mind when I wrote this song. I was working days and weekends at a country club, and living alone in this crummy little studio apartment with a hugely slanted floor, like a ship always titled to one side. The neighbor had a dog he wasn’t supposed to have, a big old muddy colored mutt with a bark like a gunshot, and across the street was a halfway house for pregnant young mothers (essentially a depot for late night ambulances). The song came entirely from the first line, something I jotted down in a poem, living in the city feels like crying in the rain / until you learn how to scream everybody looks the same. I stole the guitar part from a thousand different folk singers before me, it’s nothing fancy, just a podium for me to rest my elbows on while I get the words out. Or something like that. I felt swallowed up by concrete and fumes and noise and orange streetlights, and it seemed like the only way to be noticed in all that mess as anything remotely human was to scream out loud at people, or at the world in general. I wanted to get somewhere, to woods, the mountains, where there was no desperation to be noticed. Then the song (as they often do) became something else. It became this call and response between a boy (maybe) and his older wiser self (maybe.) It became a realization that I’m always assuming that I can think up a better outcome than what my life has produced at any given moment. If only I was hopping a train out of the city to the mountains, then I’d have some peace. If only I’d not been so scared to reveal myself to that woman. If only the world didn’t have such ugly corners, then it would be a whole lot easier to believe in God. If only I could be some place where I wouldn’t wish to be in any other. But all of these if only’s are answered by that other voice in my head, the one I should pay more attention to, that reminds me to take a breath, and own my failure, and see the human heart for what it is, fickle.
Jeffrey Martin: Why Can’t I
JM: One night I was sitting in my car outside my girlfriend’s apartment, waiting for her to get home from a party. It was one of those off nights when you just can’t stand the quiet of being alone, and you drive just to move some place, or you browse through shops you’d otherwise not be caught dead in just to feel like you have a mission of some sort. I had a junky old garage-sale guitar in the backseat, all out of tune and missing the low E; but it had this perfect tone for the moment, like every note passed through a soup can, like a radio in another room. The song is just a question to myself: why can’t I just be? Why do I have to look at every instance and determine it to be good or bad, positive or negative? I was struck by the idea that the natural world exists apart from value and moral implication. A leaf falls from a tree, and it just does. It’s blown by the wind, and it just is. I had a rough day, and I pick it apart and dwell on it and trying to extrapolate the reasons for it. I definitely think there is great value in thinking about our lives, our choices; and I’m not trying to be one of those people who claim everything is what it is, and we have no responsibilities and we suffer no consequences. I just think there might be a balance to be had, and sometimes we should just let things be. I have a love-hate (no, not hate, more like love and let’s-just-be-friends) relationship with the song. I like the words, but sometimes it feels hokey to sing. I have this specific idea in my head that it should sound tinny, and old timey, something that would be playing on a scratchy radio on a Sunday afternoon in 1951 while everything is sweaty and metal and dusty. And when I do it live, it never lines up with how it exists in my head. Maybe I could tape a soup can to the mic, and put a pick-up in that junky old guitar.
Jeffrey Martin: Winter Place
JM: This song exists in a very specific time and place. It was written during one of those brief windows of time when that easy feeling comes crashing down through the muck, and it’s wonderful and life giving, but it doesn’t stay for long, and one morning you wake up and it’s hissed away. I love Christmas time. I like the cold and how people’s attitudes change into something more jolly (usually) while they are all bundled up and bouncing down the street. I like coming home after working outside (I was siding houses that winter) and getting warm and clean and buzzed on whiskey. But there is this obvious level of superficiality to Christmas (in the pop culture sense.) We all know everything isn’t so peachy as those jolly songs make us feel. We all know twinkling lights and ribbons and hot cider are just props for a very temporary season. But we embrace it for what it is. And despite the fact that the season is so temporary, and is based on so much fluff, we can still grab hold of such strong and meaningful memories that we carry with us throughout the rest of the year. Your girl dancing to your new guitar diddy while she makes homemade eggnog, for example. So Winter Place feels like a pop song to me. I don’t think anything about it, the lyrics or the melody, is particularly challenging or thought provoking, but that’s okay. We all know what it feels like to hope that it snows so deep we are stuck home from work with someone we love the next day, and that’s all that song is.
How does the natural environment of Eugene, Oregon affect your songs?
JM: Eugene is a beautiful town, and the beach and mountains and rivers and lakes are so easy to access. But nature doesn’t often find its way into my songwriting, at least as a main character. There are archetypes from my boyhood that will forever exist in my songs, mountains and rivers; and they serve as ancient places that I can always count on to bring me back somewhere I got too far from. I think the separation between the city and the wild is a really interesting concept. I think if you spend time in the wild with the city too much in your heart (if that makes sense) then you might as well not have come. And I think if you spend time in the city with the wild too much in your heart, then people will treat you like you shouldn’t be there. And it seems like so much of life is about trying to be courageous enough to claim what we are at our most raw. In the woods, a mirror can be the most terrifying thing. In the city, a mirror is a tool that we use for everything but examining who we really are. I think I’m getting way out there now, and I better bring it back down to the concrete. Yes, without a doubt, nature affects my songs, but more so behind the scenes, in the foundations.
Do you have a new album coming soon? Are you making new songs?
JM: I have a truckload, and a boatload, of new songs. Last year I had the chance to hang out with Martyn Joseph for a bit, and listen to some of his advice. Something he told me was that I should take my time in making albums. Everyone is always so anxious to make an album, to capture the sounds, but, according to Joseph, not enough folks give enough time to shaping their songs on stage before they get in the studio.
I’ve been playing a lot of shows this past year, and will continue to do that through the fall, and I really like how my songs have found a final identity. I’m currently recording an EP in Portland, six or seven songs that I can tour on this fall. And then this winter (January) I’ll be getting to work recording another full length album.
08/13/2012 | comments (0)
When the young pickers in Austin's MilkDrive use the phrase "jazzgrass," they mean it! These are players that came out of the bluegrass tradition looking for more space to move, more places to maneuver, more room to breathe. Their new album, Waves, is as informed by pop songwriting and jazz breaks as it is by Bill Monroe, so don't let the presence of all acoustic instruments and a hefty slice of banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin-driven Americana fool you. While they're not the first group taking bluegrass into chamber ensembles and jazz clubs, they are playing it the hardest, never losing sight of how much fun the music should be!
With their second album, Waves, young Austin jazz-grass pickers MilkDrive are poised to move into the national spotlight. These young road warriors have been grinding pavement for the past few years, bringing their roots music to venues across the United States, and building a solid and engaged fan base. It’s no surprise why they’re winning such grassroots praise: their picking is as tight as a tick, their original songs crackle with energy, and their arrangements bring a high level of complexity to the music. MilkDrive is not what you’d expect from a young band of once-bluegrass musicians. Their songs channel the Beatles and 70s folk-rock as much as The Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, and it’s a testament that they can nail these varied and iconic influences on fully acoustic instruments with minimal production. But don’t mistake these many influences for irreverence to the tradition, for MilkDrive cut their teeth on the classics, but they’re not afraid to plow new ground, and to push the music in new directions.
They came together as precocious kids jamming into the wee hours at the National Old-Time Festival of Weiser, Idaho, and winning awards for their virtuosic instrumentals. Then they cut their teeth in Austin’s ultra-competitive bar scene, and took on the weight of developing their singing and songwriting. Now young lions of jazz-grass, MilkDrive has brought on legendary 7-time Grammy award winning producer Bill VornDick (Jim Lauderdale, Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss) to produce Waves, their sophomore album. Capturing the band’s sophisticated arrangements and fierce musicianship, the album showcases a number of original compositions and features guests Noam Pikelny (of Punch Brothers) and Futureman (of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones). So who are the award-winning instrumentalist members of MilkDrive? Brian Beken leads off on fiddle and main vocals, Noah Jeffries follows on guitar and harmony vocals, with Dennis Ludiker on mandolin and harmony vocals, and Matt Mefford on double bass. On Waves, each band member shines, delivering a one-two bluegrass punch tempered only by the subtlety of the band’s arrangements and musical aesthetic.
Fueled by equal parts tradition and innovation, MilkDrive delivers a distinctive acoustic experience that crosses genres, geographies, and generations.
08/11/2012 | comments (0)
Old Crow Medicine Show, everyone's favorite old-timey roots music band, are back with a brand-new album, Carry Me Back, and it's been getting some wonderful press (You can check out our review of the albumhere on KEXP's Blog)! But they've also added a new member, and though he doesn't appear on the new album, we're incredibly excited to see what he brings to the band. Chance McCoy is one of the brightest lights in old-time music, a renowned fiddler and singer whose debut album made him a well known name in insider old-time circles. He grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, though he was born in Washington DC, and connected with the music after playing in garage and punk bands in the region. Following his solo debut album, he joined the band Old Sledge and cut two incendiary albums of straight-up old-time music before the group disbanded. Just a few months ago, he was snapped up to join Old Crow Medicine Show, playing guitar and fiddle and singing with the band. Old Crow seem stoked to have him, as Critter Fuqua told us: "Chance McCoy, besides being a dude with a great name, is one of the most tasteful and accomplished multi-instrumentalists and singers I have had the honor to play with. He's a natural fit for Old Crow in talent and in spirit, a true brother in arms."
Hearth Music Interview with Chance McCoy of Old Crow Medicine Show
Are you staying in Nashville right now?
Chance McCoy: Yeah. I’m renting a house here and living with another band mate, Critter [Fuqua]. We’re sharing a house together and I’m gonna move down here full time at the end of the summer and rent my own house.
I see. What’s it like living with Critter?
CM: It’s great. It’s been wonderful living with Critter. He’s really funny and easy to get along with and he grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, so we have a similar background too, which is nice.
It’s just an arrangement until you get your own place?
CM: Yeah, I’m gonna try to get my own place here in the end of the summer. But Critter just moved back from Texas, so we both needed a place, so we found a place so we could have something for the summer cuz rehearsals started a couple of weeks ago, so we both moved down here about the middle of May.
So, Critter is actually coming back to the band, right? He had taken a break from the band?
CM: Yeah. He had taken a break from the band. He had been out of the band for 4 years.
What brought him back?
CM: What brought him back? Well, I think it was a timing thing. He was down there in Texas and he’s an alcoholic, so he had gone into treatment and rehab and had to get clean. He’s been clean and sober for a couple of years now, been down in Texas, and then Old Crow was on hiatus for a while, and then Ketch and Critter got back in touch with each other. They started to do some of that Ketch and Critter stuff together, and got the idea of doing the “Old Crow” thing together again and Critter was really, really into doing it. He just wanted to move back and he was in school down in Texas and he was getting an English degree. He was having an okay time in school but I think he really just realized that he really loved being a musician, and really loved being a songwriter, and now he’s clean and sober, there’s a lot to do here in Nashville. He just wanted to come back and be in the band, be here in Nashville doing his thing.
So, what’s the feeling in the band right now when you guys are getting together to rehearse? Is it a good feeling or is there still tension? How’s it going?
CM: There’s no tension at all. It’s awesome; everybody’s having a great time. So that’s a good feeling. We’re just all having a really good time, playing music together. There’s no tension at all, it’s really enjoyable, really fun. I think that’s good. I think they’d been under some tension for a while. It’s a good place to be in right now.
Chance McCoy: Gospel Plow
Well, tell me about joining Old Crow Medicine Show. It’s really exciting. How did that come about for you?
CM: That came out of nowhere. It was totally out of nowhere. I was just getting home from work one day; I was living in Floyd. I was getting home from a really long day and I came home and I checked my email on my phone right before I went to bed and there was an email from Ketch that said, “Hey, this is Ketch from Old Crow Medicine Show and we’re looking for a new member of our band and we’re really interested in you and we want you to come and audition for our band. So, get back to me and let me know what you think.” I took his phone number and called him up the next day and talked to him and he seemed like a really nice guy and he said that they wanted to get Old Crow back together and on the road again. They had a new record coming out and they wanted somebody to join the band as a singer and guitar player and banjo and fiddle too. They were looking for somebody who was steeped in old time music and they found me through Augusta Heritage Center because Ketch and Critter both went to Augusta when they were teenagers. They remembered from their experience there that there were a lot of really great old time musicians who teach there. When they were thinking about people to ask to audition for their band, they went to the Augusta web site and saw who was teaching this year and I was on the roster and then, they started asking around and they heard really good things about me. So they just decided to call me but it was completely out of the blue. I had never even met those guys before.
That’s crazy. You were pretty excited?
CM: Yeah, definitely. It was cool! I came down to Nashville; we set up an audition, and they gave me some pieces to audition with and I learned those pieces... There was 5 other people who auditioned for the part and we had a great time. It was like the audition turned into way more than an audition. We just ended up hanging out all day and playing a bunch of music. We did some recording together. I just felt really good, right off the bat. Then, they called me a couple of days later and said, “We want to give you a job.” That was exciting for sure.
You gotta tell me about this audition. Did it take place in a theater, like you were on stage and they were on chairs?
CM: Yeah, it was a lot more organic than that. They have a studio in Hendersonville, which is their studio. They said, “Come on down to Hendersonville and come down to our studio and audition. We’ll audition and we’ll record some of it, so we can listen back to it.” So I went down there and I rolled up to the studio in a non-descript brick building in the suburbs of Hendersonville. Their manager, Norm, was waiting for me outside and he introduced himself and he said, “Come on inside. The boys are just warming up now.” I could hear, inside the studio, it’s like rock music, it was like garage rock, like electric guitar and drums coming from inside the studio. I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s a session going on right now.” and I opened the door and Ketch had his electric guitar. He was whaling on it with his foot up on the amplifier and Critter was over in the corner beating the drums and they were just going at it, garage rock style, when I came in. There was a really funny scene but I have played garage rock and stuff like that too. It was, “Oh, cool, these guys rock out too.” It was a good feeling and then, we talked for a little while and then we just went upstairs basically and jammed like you would in an old time jam. We sat down, pulled out fiddle, guitar, banjo. Morgan was there with his bass and we just played some tunes. They were like, “Don’t worry about your audition pieces right now, let’s just sit down and play some music.” That’s what we did and then, we ran through some of the audition pieces and it was great! We passed the instruments around too, so I played some guitar and they had me play some fiddle and they had me play some banjo. We jammed for an hour or two, just hanging out jamming, and then we went and got some lunch and we came back, and then we got around mics and we recorded some of the audition pieces. It was fun. It wasn’t nerve wracking at all. It wasn’t high tension and it wasn’t like some auditions when you’re in bands this big, can be pretty business-like. This wasn’t like that at all. And then, after the audition was over, they were just like, “Hey, you want to hang out and help us record some stuff?” I was like, “Sure!” So we just ended hanging out the whole day.
Old Crow Medicine Show w/Chance McCoy (playing guitar next to the bass)
Sounds like the perfect audition. Have Old Crow Medicine Show been influential to you as an Old Time artist?
CM: They haven’t, because I didn’t listen to their music. I, of course, heard some of their songs and they were everywhere. I saw them playing at festivals and I appreciated what they did, but they weren’t influential to me as an old time artist because I was staying away from modern bands. Even the Old Crows, though obviously very traditional and very rooted in old time music; they’re still a contemporary band and all the stuff that I was listening to and being inspired by was old 78s and field recordings. So I wasn’t really that influenced by them, but it’s kind of funny, because, even though I wasn’t influenced by them, we have such a similar take on old time music. But the way I got into old time music, it was something that was really social, and it was something that young people did and it was very energized and very much dance music. I started playing old time music with this band called The Speakeasy Boys, which was a rag-tag bunch of kids that just graduated college that ran their own speakeasy in this college town, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It was just basically a booze fest, selling beer out of a cooler and playing string band music. This band became really popular and we would pack our speakeasy and there would be 100 – 200 college kids there. They were dancing. It was very wild and energetic and then, when I got more into the old time scene, I was disappointed how tame it was in a way, where people just sat down in chairs and it just seemed very stuffy sometimes. When I wanted to do old time music, like perform it, I wanted to stand up and jump around stage and not be inhibited in performing it. I ran into some confrontations with that, where people thought that that was inappropriate, to be playing old time music and to be energizing it and making it a performance. So, it was nice to meet Old Crow and play with them because they totally got the performance aspect of it. For some kinds of old time music, going back to the tradition of minstrelsy, I think the show part of it is a big part of it. I think sometimes people miss that and they think old time music should be some kind of pure Appalachian traditional art form that is not performed. But I think, even if you look historically at it, there’s precedence for that. So, it was cool to meet those guys and play with them. They have the same attitude about performing.
Yeah. The people who recorded old time music in the 20s and 30s, a lot of those guys were hard-core performers, who came out of medicine shows.
CM: Yeah, exactly. That’s what great about Old Crow, it’s “Old Crow Medicine Show”. Right off the bat, they’re already saying, “Hey, this is a show.”
Old Crow Medicine Show w/Chance Mccoy
Right, right. So you got in trouble, you said, when you were playing Old Time? Tell me about that.
CM: Well, yeah. I think you know. Some people just want to be stuffy and some kind of re-enactment of some forgotten style of music, and everything’s got to be by the book and played exactly like it is on old recordings. I was always really young and energetic and the music was my own. I learned it from other people and learned it from old recordings but I played it the way that I play it. Sometimes I want to get into it and have fun and yell a little bit and fuck stuff up. [laughing] So that offends people.
Did you get in trouble in West Virginia or playing outside of West Virginia?
CM: I think outside of West Virginia. The people in West Virginia are completely different about it. There’s not as many strict boundaries. Occasionally, somebody would get upset in West Virginia because I played something too fast or something wasn’t what they considered right. Most of the people in West Virginia, for them it’s just music. They don’t even have boundaries between Bluegrass and Old Time; that doesn’t even exist really. When I first got together with the Speakeasy Boys, they didn’t even know what old time music was, even though that’s what they were playing. They just thought it was bluegrass, they didn’t know really much about it. They just played the old songs. They had a washtub bass and a claw hammer banjo player but they considered themselves a bluegrass band just cuz they’d never really heard of old time music yet, even though that’s what they were playing. That’s funny.
Old Crow Medicine Show w/Chance McCoy on banjo
It must have pissed you off to be lectured about your own music by people who were outside of the tradition, who weren’t from your area.
CM: Yeah. It is kind of annoying but I don’t feel like I have any special claim to the music anymore than anyone else does, just cuz I’m from West Virginia. I just feel grateful that I was included in the scene there, was able to be part of the scene, because that’s such a special thing but I never really got up on a high horse and felt that I had any... That’s exactly the thing that I’ve been fighting against, is people thinking that they have some kind of claim or say against something, because I could do the same thing. I could get up on my pedestal and try to be all-righteous because I’m from West Virginia and be like, “Well, this is how it’s supposed to go.” But, whoever’s playing the music, they’re the one’s have to decide what they’re going to do with it. I feel like nobody has a right to tell anybody else what to do with their music even if it is a traditional music form. I just always thought the only thing that was really important about the old time music scene is that you learned it from other people that were in the scene. So there was always that connection, a healing connection.
You learned from your peers, you learned from people of your generation. Did you ever go back and try and hunt down older players or were you content to learn from your friends?
CM: I was influenced half and half. I definitely learned from older players. I hung out and played with some of the old-timers, like the real old-timers, like Lester McCumbers from West Virginia. A lot of them were passing away about the time that I was getting into the music. Some people felt a real need to go and visit people like Clyde Davenport and Lester McCumbers and go to their houses and hang out with them but I always felt kind of awkward doing that. I wasn’t friends with them really, so it just seemed kind of weird to be going over to their houses but they were around. A lot of the people that I learned from, the older folks, were my parent’s generation... A lot of those people in West Virginia; they weren’t old-old-timers. They weren’t 80 years old but they were in their 50s and 60s and those are the guys that I was really influenced by, but I was also influenced by my own peers a lot too. So, it was sort of a mix. But I didn’t have to go out for anybody too much. I just went to the festivals and everybody was there.
So, do you think that the torch has been passed from the baby boomer, folk-revival generation to the new generation of players, or did the new generation just take over and do it their own way?
CM: I think that there is definitely a torch passing going on. I think, overall, the older generation, our parent’s generation, has been really supportive, and they set the groundwork for us to come in. If they hadn’t been supporting festivals like Clifftop and camps like Augusta, we wouldn’t have had anything to go to or to get into. I know for people like me a huge part of being inspired by the music is to go to these festivals and just see all this great music being played... Just starting out, you can’t even play worth a shit and then you go see a hot jammer of the older generation playing and they're just tearing it up and that’s really inspiring. Without that, I don’t really think there would be a revival... It doesn’t seem to be that much tension between the generations. I think there’s always a little bit of tension between generations but I think, overall, there’s a real kinship there and real support and I think that the young generation has been enabled by the older one to come into the whole thing.
Chance McCoy: Yew Piney Mountain
Well said, well said. Your work has been described as having a punk attitude. What does that mean to you? Have you played actual punk music or do you more have an affinity for DIY punk culture?
CM: No. I definitely have played punk music. When I was growing up in West Virginia, when I was a teenager, I hadn’t heard old time music yet. I hadn’t even really heard bluegrass music yet, and I got hit by the Seattle sound, the grunge sound and then classic rock, so I learned how to play all that music first. And then, I think, just being Generation X, just having an independent attitude and having this underdog attitude, has carried over into my old time music too. So, I think that that’s been a big influence on me, just having that as a musical background and just an attitude. I think my generation just didn’t really give a shit about what was going on in the world, where people were at, and nobody wanted to join modern society. None of our friends wanted to be part of the system, we all wanted to rebel and do our own thing. I think we did in our own way; we eventually got pulled into this hole and now we’re trying to reclaim it with our own voice and our own music. That’s part of what I brought to old time music, is trying to reclaim it as my own music. I am still very much a part of something bigger but not feeling like I have to conform. That’s the non-conformance type of attitude, I think, that comes from punk music. I’m not gonna play it like somebody else. I’m not gonna listen, I’m not necessarily gonna take it if someone comes up and tells me it should be played a certain way, I’m more likely to just say, “Fuck you!” [laughing] And I think that comes with that attitude. To me, it’s not disrespectful, I still have very much respect for where the music’s coming from, I haven’t disrespected that, I just tried to take it as an independent thing and reclaim it. What’s going on here, and I’m sure that it’s the same on the West coast as it is on the East coast is, a lot of these kids are very counter-culture here, as far as the music. The music is very social; it’s not commercial, it’s not commercialized. Some aspects of it are, but for most people, old time music is a completely non-commercial art form, which is great. I think that’s a big part of what punk was, was having a non-commercial style of music.
Right, right. Does it seem a little ironic to you that, in trying to move away from mainstream society that you have adapted something that’s traditionally, a pretty conservative tradition? I mean, this is conservative, Southern culture, so they think.
CM: Well, what I’ve learned a lot about the music is that old time music was sort of the “bad boy” music though too. The moonshine, the drinking, the fights, and everybody knows what happens when you stay up all night playing music and drinking alcohol. It’s a good combination for non-Christian things to happen. [laughing] I think that’s a big part of it. This music is very rough and ready and to me, it doesn’t seem super-conservative as a music form.
Okay. I see. And now, you’re thinking about sticking around Nashville for a while, right? How do you like Nashville?
CM: Nashville’s great! I really like Nashville. I’ve come here and visited a couple of times and sort of have been interested in moving here several times but I didn’t want to try to come here and try to make it, quote, end quote. Now I have an opportunity to come play with this band, it was so easy just to come and do and I feel like, being here in Nashville, even the commercial country music industry’s here. There’s also a lot of other great music going on in Nashville and it’s starting to open up a lot, I think.
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