Since interviewing Rita Hosking about her fascinating family history in California's Cornish mining communities, we've had mining songs on the brain. So we jumped at the chance to invite Brooklyn-based, but Idaho-raised, singer-songwriter Karen Dahlstrom to share the stories behind the songs on her Idaho-mining-country-influenced EP, Gem State. It's a gem of an EP, just five songs, but the stories in the songs leap out of the melodies. We wanted to know more about her inspiration in making these songs and she was happy to share. Check it out:
Inside the Songs with Karen Dahlstrom
"I love old-time and traditional folk music styles, most of which come from the Eastern and Southern US. I've played with many musicians from Virginia and North Carolina, and this music is part of their very bones. Having grown up in Idaho, I admit I was a bit jealous. I wanted to sing songs of my home too, but most folk songs from the West are generally of the cowboy variety from Texas -- a good 1500 miles from where I'm from.
As an exercise, I began writing folk songs that musically drew on the styles of the East that I love, but lyrically reflected my home state. After all, there are mountains, pines and mines in Idaho, too -- they're just different kinds of mountains, pines and mines. State history, family stories and personal experiences served as inspiration, but the songs are primarily fictional.
For example, the song "Galena" was named after an actual mining camp that existed in Idaho during the 1800s, but that's where the facts end. The rest came out of my imagination. The gold, silver and gem mining camps were a free-for-all, and pretty horrible places to be for anyone except wild-eyed young white men getting their first taste of freedom, and I liked the idea of writing a song from their perspective.
Karen Dahlstrom: Galena
"The Miner's Bride" is also fiction, but it was inspired in part by stories of women like "The Poker Bride" -- a Chinese concubine who was owned by an Idaho miner and (as legend has it) lost in a poker game to a rancher. The mining camps, obviously, weren't great places for women or minorities, and I imagine being sent there would feel like a death sentence.
Karen Dahlstrom: The Miner's Bride
"Streets of Pocatello" came from stories my dad told me about the post-war years in the town where he grew up. Pocatello was a pretty rough railroad town and street fighting was a popular sport with some of the men -- including a relative of mine who eventually lost his life in a knife fight. The song's narrator wasn't inspired by the victim, but by the one who did the deed. The title is a little tip of the hat to "The Streets of Laredo," possibly the best cowboy song ever written."
Karen Dahlstrom: Streets of Pocatello
07/14/2012 | comments (0)
We've written about young Newfoundland trad band The Dardanelles before. They were first one of our favorite finds of the 2011 Folk Alliance Conference, then we wrote about the amazing solo album that lead singer Matthew Byrne released. Now they're back with a new album, The Eastern Light, of tunes and songs from this far corner of Eastern Canada, and they're in better shape than ever.
The Eastern Light was produced by Irish guitar king John Doyle, and it's similar to other albums he's produced in the way it couples an honest love and appreciation for tradition with masterfully built arrangements. The album flips back and forth between sets of traditional Newfoundland dance tunes and songs led by lead singer Matthew Byrne. Byrne's in fine form here and his voice has never sounded better. He's got one of the sweetest male voices I've ever heard, a soft tenor that any fan of Irish singing will recognize kinship with, and a gentle touch that really draws out the emotional heart of the old ballads he's singing. The songs are glorious finds, concerned with life and love on the windswept seas off Newfoundland. There's much in this album for any lover of maritime music, including a rousing sea shanty with special guests Alan Doyle and Bob Hallett from Great Big Sea! The tunes are well sourced as well, drawn from the mainstays of Newfoundland fiddle like French Acadian fiddlers Émile Benoit and Rufus Guinchard, but also from Dardanelles' accordion player Aaron Collis' visits with Boyd Cove musician Bernard Newman, who passed away in 2011 with over 90 years of age!
We were curious to find out more about Aaron's playing and influences, and about Newfoundland accordion music in general, so we asked him for some background. Here's what he had to say:
"I grew up in Central Newfoundland in a place called Appleton. My mom played guitar and sang on occasion when I was younger so I wasn't a stranger to music, although traditional music wasn't something that she played. I actually started taking piano lessons with a neighbour when I was eleven and although I continued with the piano, I developed an interest in Newfoundland music after having seen the accordion played at a wedding reception and at other local events. So I saved up some money selling newspapers and bought myself an accordion when I was 12. I learned to play by ear, watching other players whenever I had the chance and listening to recordings.
As in any place, style differs somewhat from player to player, though Newfoundland accordion music is typically rhythmic and punchy. The playing isn't as highly ornamented as that of Irish playing styles, and the tempos of the tunes tend to be faster. I actually use an accordion in the Irish tuning of C#/D on both of our albums but I like to think I've retained characteristics of the Newfoundland style in my playing. Although single row instruments and boxes in tunings such as A/D or G/C are more prevalent, the Irish systems are growing in popularity, mainly in St. John's where there are weekly Irish tune sessions.
I enjoy Vince Collins' playing as well [note: we're huge Vince Collins nerds at Hearth Music]. Some other recommendations I would give you in the same vein as Vince's playing would be The Four Stops, an album which features traditional players from the Northern peninsula and the Labrador Straits, the late Minnie White, and the great single-row player Frank Maher. Geoff Butler's playing was great on Figgy Duff's first few albums as well. I think right now, Daniel Payne and Graham Wells are two players who are raising the bar for accordion players in Newfoundland." [note: Thanks for the tips Aaron!]
Alongside Aaron's hefty accordion playing (Newfoundland accordionists in general have a lot more rhythm than Irish accordionists), fiddler Emilia Bartellas more than holds her own. Her playing is one of the album's centerpieces, and she shines on every track, with a rich tone and strong command of the special rhythms of Newfoundland music. Tom Power on guitar is another key part, obviously influenced by Doyle, but able to draw out beautiful chords along with his powerful backing. Tom's also a broadcaster on CBC Canada who's done some great work promoting Canadian roots music on the air. In fact, he just aired a special internet channel for Canadian roots HERE. Check it out, he's got great taste and wide breadth of knowledge. Bodhran player Richard Klaas rounds out the band's sound nicely, adding a great bass element to the group. With this current lineup, it seems The Dardanelles have found their sound!
The Eastern Light deserves a lot more press and attention, so I hope you'll share this music around if you're touched by it as well. Not only are The Dardanelles perfectly able to communicate the salty soul of Newfoundland music to Celtic music fans, they've also managed to cross over to become one of the best Celtic bands around.
The Dardanelles: Pad's Song
The Dardanelles: McCarthy's
(McCarthy's Double/Kitty Got A Clinkin'/Diane's Happiness)
07/13/2012 | comments (1)
Caitlín Nic Gabhann's been a young master of the Irish concertina buzzing around insider trad circles for some years now, so her much self-assured debut album, Caitlín, doesn't come as much of a surprise to us at Hearth Music. After all, she's toured with Riverdance (as a dancer, actually!), put together a group, NicGaviskey, of next gen powerhouses (including Billy McComiskey's son Sean), and toured the world a couple times. So we know she can play. What's delightful about her debut solo album is not her masterful performances or her consummate knowledge of the tradition–these things are expected of any Irish trad player worth their salt these days (the bar for Irish trad recordings is remarkably high!)– but the gentle joy she takes in the music and the thoughtful presence she brings to her playing. It's an album that can be enjoyed just on the surface for the wide variety of tunes and technique, or on a deeper level through her excellent liner notes and rare tunes sourced from interesting players. Caitlin's also got a very accessible style on the concertina, informed partly by the old school simplicity of County Claire players and the deftly compact virtuosity of concertina great Mícheál O' Raghallaigh. But all insider talk aside, this album is just great fun to listen to and if you're unfamiliar with the tiny concertina–possibly the cutest form of accordion–it's a great introduction to what the instrument can do. This is a wonderful modern album of Irish concertina playing that should sit proudly on the shelf of any fan of Irish traditional music.
PS: Special mention should go to the two lovely waltzes Caitlín includes on the album, a rarity in Irish music unfortunately, and to her stepdancing, which is a welcome treat on a few tracks.
Caitlín Nic Gabhann: The Rookery/Joe Cooley's Morning Dew/The Edenderry Reel
07/12/2012 | comments (0)
We're very excited to be working with our good friend Kevin Brown again, this time to promote his brand new album The Beloved Country! In January of 2011, we helped promote his album, The County Primaries, and were delighted with the rave reviews we got, including Adam Sheets of No Depression who commented "The County Primaries is easily one of the best debut albums of 2010 and it reveals Brown as a singer-songwriter with an eye for detail, an ear for melody, and the perfect voice to tie it together." With The Beloved Country, Brown's extended his winning streak by writing more beautiful, thoughtful, and tastefully arranged songs, each steeped in the rough back-country sounds of Eastern Washington. As a veteran bluegrass DJ and festival producer, Brown knows acoustic roots music inside and out, and it's always a pleasure to watch someone with such great taste play with the tradition.
Kevin Brown - The Beloved Country
Singer-songwriter Kevin Brown makes his home in rural Northeastern Washington state, not far from the farms where two sets of great-grandparents settled a century ago. Living amidst the Ponderosa Pine forests and rivers that spill out of the Selkirk Mountains, it’s not surprising that Landscape and Place play an important part in Kevin’s songs. But the rich natural world of the surroundings is not just a backdrop; it also serves as a metaphor for exploring the landscapes of the heart and soul -- faith, family, love, the passage of time, and the interwoven fabric of earth and humanity. There are always more layers to explore in a well-crafted song.
Kevin released his debut album of originals, The County Primaries, in 2010 to quiet critical acclaim. No Depression called it “easily one of the best debut albums of 2010”. For a songwriter coming into a solo career in his late 40s, Brown’s debut album was surprisingly self-assured. To further complement the songs, Kevin solicited the artwork of internationally-acclaimed artist Katherine Nelson to do the original cover, a relationship which he has continued for his second album The Beloved Country which is being released in 2012. Kevin’s songs and Katherine’s charcoal drawings form a rich partnership which hearkens back to the days when album artwork played an important part in the unique personality of a music project.
For The Beloved Country, Kevin returns to the roots music that has always been his inspiration. His songs on the album paint a pastoral and slightly-out-of-reach reality “Where the names of the rivers run like music / and the names of the mountains roll like stones” (“The Beloved Country”). Kevin’s depth of lyricism is the cornerstone to creating a sense of place that few albums offer. “All I’m saying is I hear the sound of thunder, like a locomotive rolling through the rain,” sings Kevin in “Comfort.” “In the darkness of the night I often wonder / If comfort is not too far away / Comfort is not too far away.” Songs like “Desert Wind” and “I Wonder” combine Kevin’s folk sound with his old love of jazz instrumentals while “I Will Take it With Me When I Go” showcases his connection to bluegrass. Drawing from his many diverse influences, Kevin never loses sight of the core of the album: great song-crafting.
Here's a great video of Kevin's song "Comfort" for your viewing pleasure!
We fell in love with Kevin's album after we heard this track:
"I Will Take it With Me When I Go," Kevin Brown, The Beloved Country
And here's a great one, too!
"I Wonder," Kevin Brown, The Beloved Country
07/11/2012 | comments (0)
The weekend's just about here, and I thought we'd recommend a show on Friday, June 29 at Seattle venue, The Comet. Singer-songwriter Marius Ziska is on the start of his US tour after traveling over from the Faroe Islands. I've been getting interested in the culture of the Faroe Islands recently. First through researching Icelandic traditional music (Icelandic culture reaches down to these islands) and then while watching the new show Whale Wars: Viking Shores. These small islands are located North of Scotland, and are about halfway between Iceland and Denmark (they're part of the Danish Realm, along with Greenland). Faroese is spoken on the islands, one of two remaining Viking languages), and the Faroese people retain a lot of connection with old Nordic culture. Sounds like a fascinating place!
When I heard that a Faroese singer was coming to Seattle, I jumped at the chance to interview him and learn more about the Faroe Islands. Marius (Marius Ziska) is a former-rock singer from the Islands whose new music branches into Americana and country roots territory. He's an excellent songwriter and clearly has a grasp on how to write songs in English that sound as good as what I hear from American singer-songwriters.
Friday, June 29
The Comet, Seattle WA
w/Hooves and Beak, Sam Watts, and The Long Straws
Tickets $8, 21+
Hearth Music Interview with Marius Ziska
Where are you from on the Faroe Islands? Tell me about it! How big are the islands? How big is your home town? What's the natural environment of the islands like?
MARIUS: I am from a small village called Søldarfjørður. About 500 people live here. It's very quiet and i'm surrounded by mountains and a huge sea. It rains a lot here and some parts of the year can be a little tough because of the weather, but all in all its a good and beautiful place to live.
Your bio states that you started out in rock music, but your new music sounds very acoustic-rooted, almost like alt-country or Americana? Are you going through a change in your musical direction?
M: Well it's something that i don't feel is planned very well, I just do what feels right when it comes to music. I think growing up and playing rock music was a lot of fun, but i began writing more folk songs and could not stop. Iit's a whole new universe witch i really enjoy being a part of
How did you get into Americana way out there on the Faroe Islands? Was it hard to get ahold of albums from the US? How did you get started playing this music?
M: I guess I just got tired of playing rock music. I didn't think a lot about where the music came from, but started to discover that I had these songs that really needed to come out. I didn't have a job at the time and I just sat around the house and wrote songs all the time. I think I also started to look more into myself, and instead of being a cool teenager who plays rock, I found out that I had always loved these old folk/americana songs.
I used to hear it on the radio as a kid, and also if you look at the Faroe Islands it's a place full of mountains, and that maybe also inspired me to write these songs.
It was not hard to get ahold of records. As a little kid, I used to listen to my dad's records which would include Bob Dylan, John Lennon, CCR, ELO, Simon & Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix, and so on.
So I think I have always had this music that I play now very close to my heart, and now was the time to let it out.
What's it like to have a US tour coming? Is this your first tour over in the US?Have you been here before? If so, what are some great memories of your last tour?
M: For me, it's great to get the opportunity to play in the USA. It really is a dream come true and a big step in the right direction. I have never been here before, and ever since I was a kid wanted to come here. I just hope this tour goes well so I can come back and play and build up a crowd. I'm am very exited to share all my music with all you guy.
Do you play a lot on the Faroe Islands? What's the music scene like out there?
Yes, I do play quite a bit. Even though there are not many venues to play, there are still really many great bands in the Faroe Islands and the quality is said to be high of faroese bands. The Faroese people are also said to be a singing nation, and almost everyone I know knows how to play an instrument or sing.
I'm very very curious to hear what you think of the new Whale Wars show about the Faroe Islands. I was really impressed by the sustainable whaling practices of the Faroese and thought they came off as very articulate about how the whale meat is part of their diet and part of their culture. What's your opinion on all this? At the moment, it's really brought the Faroe Islands into an international spotlight.
M: Well where should i start :) It is a tradition to hunt and eat whales in the Faroe Islands, and it is done in the most humane way. I personally have never killed a whale or been a part of that, but its something that I have known all my life. If somebody wants to save the whales, I don't want to stand in their way, but for the people who watch whale wars: keep in mind that it is extremely hyped. My opinion on whale wars is that it is extremely hyped and it's a very disrespectful media who doesn't have respect for people. Also keep in mind that it's feeding people with lies and they doing everything they can to make the Faroese people look bad. I'm gonna repeat myself and say, I don't wanna stand in the way of people who wanna save the whales, that is fine by me. What I think is wrong is that Paul Watson and his crew and Animal Planet are putting a lot of efforts into making people look bad. There should be a better way if you really wanted to save the whales.
Tell me about the new album. What's it gonna be like?
The new album is being mixed as we speak, and I'm really happy with the way it sounds. We really worked hard on it, and used a lot of interesting instruments, such as old analog synths like moog and juno 60, pedal steel, horns of different kinds... The goal was to make traditional music with an eclectic vibe.
Who are you touring with on tour? All Faroese musicians?
We are four guys from the Faroe Islands who have been playing music for most of our lives.
Marius Ziska vocals Guitar/Heðin Ziska guitar/Allan Tausen bass and guitar /Brandur Jacobsen Drums Vocals
MARIUS: Walk the Road (from the Masses EP)
06/28/2012 | comments (0)
Banjo master Bill Evans’ new album, In Good Company, brings together a staggering cast of names in bluegrass and American roots music. Names like Tim O’Brien, Laurie Lewis, The Infamous Stringdusters, Joy Kills Sorrow, Darol Anger, Stuart Duncan, Mike Marshall, David Grier, Tristan and Tashina Clarridge, Rob Ickes, and more. A powerhouse guest list like this is a testament to Bill Evans’ tenure in the high-octane world of professional bluegrass for the past 35 years, and also to his influence as a teacher and mentor. Former students Chris Pandolfi (Infamous Stringdusters) and Wes Corbett (Joy Kills Sorrow) bring their bands to bear on the album (other prominent students of Bill’s include Greg Lizst of Crooked Still, Jayme Stone, and Hot Buttered Rum’s Erik Yates), and Bill’s book, Banjo for Dummies, is still the number one banjo tutorial in the world. In addition to mentoring a younger generation, Bill also looked deep into the wisdom of an older generation, studying himself with old-school bluegrass greats like Sonny Osborne and J.D. Crowe. Today, Bill’s seen by many as an ambassador of the banjo, and yet on his new album it’s clear that he gets the most joy from playing with friends (and family–his daughter Corey joins him on the last track). Driven by a love of bluegrass music that crosses generations and genre divisions, Bill Evans’ new album is a love letter to a life in music, all tinged with the firelight of his passion to bring the bluegrass banjo to new audiences.
Bill didn’t set out to make an album with all these friends, but after some wild fun in Berkeley, CA, recording with Anger, Grier, Marshall, and the Clarridges, he started thinking about the kind of album he could make if he invited over everyone with whom he loved playing music. With that, the project went from a modest endeavor to a full-blown extravaganza. The album opens up with “The Distance Between Two Points,” a raging alt-grass instrumental co-written by Bill and his percussionist daughter Corey. Bill’s playing has all the sincerity and authority that you’d expect from his dedication to the instrument. It’s a showcase of his thoughtful, subtle approach to this once-maligned instrument. The second track, “Walk on the Water,” is an all-hands-on-deck collaboration with much-respected pickers The Infamous Stringdusters. Other highlights include Tim O’Brien’s lovely duet with Laurie Lewis on “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” the blazing bluegrass adventure of “Big Chief Sonny,” the beautiful singing and masterful brinksmanship of Joy Kills Sorrow in “On and On,” a Sarah Siskind song, and of course the creatively joyful arrangement of favorite Beatles songs that helps to close out the album. A lifelong fan of the Beatles, Bill’s arrangements here remind us of just how timeless the Fab Four’s original melodies were.
Drifting between generations, the brand-new album from banjo master Bill Evans is a finely-tuned revelation. It’s both explosively virtuosic and also quietly thoughtful, a seeming paradox that actually explains Bill Evans’ playing perfectly.
Check out the lovely official video for "The Distance Between Two Points"
Bill Evans: Big Chief Sonny (feat. Ned Luberecki, David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Matt Flinner, & Missy Raines)
Bill Evans: Follow the Drinking Gourd (feat. Tim O'Brien and Laurie Lewis)
PURCHASE THE ALBUM DIRECTLY FROM BILL EVANS' WEBSITE
...or from Amazon