I get so focused on my own version of folk music (fiddles, banjos, and songs written centuries ago by nameless poets), that I tend to forget that folk music for most people actually refers to a more modern vision of acoustic troubadours. So in honor of this world of folk, here are three artists that have been catching our ears recently.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
2011 re-release. Neverfoehl Records.
Despite being released in 2009 originally, Colorado singer-songwriter Reed Foehl's album, Once an Ocean, sounds as fresh as if it had been released yesterday. Foehl's an obviously gifted songwriter, with a quick ear for the humbly inspiring stories of everyday folks. The album's being re-released in anticipation of Foehl's upcoming full-length, and it's an indicator that Foehl will be a powerful force in the roots music world. The title track is stunningly beautiful and has been on constant repeat at HearthHQ. It weaves an innovative finger-picked guitar melody line with Reed's crystal-clear vocals. I'm a sucker for gently finger-picked guitar songs, but this song takes that archetype a step further with its intricately crafted guitar melody. Nicely done, sir!! Though Reed leads the album, he does bring some friends along to add beautiful touches to the music. Be Good Tanyas members Trish Klein and Frazey Ford are especially welcome, adding delicious harmony vocals and picking. Young indie folk artist Jefferson Hamer co-produces the album, brings a gorgeous song of his own ("Wolves"), and adds some beautiful guitar work to the mix. He's a talent to watch out for too! I'm not familiar with the other guests, but the album feels more like an ensemble album than a solo singer-songwriter leading a band, a welcome change from many of the albums I hear these days. I can't wait for Foehl's upcoming full-length! PS: You can check out an interview with Reed Foehl on No Depression from 2009 here.
Reed Foehl: Once an Ocean
David Newberry: No One Will Remember You
2012. Northern Electric Records.
While other singer-songwriters talk about their storytelling skills and their ability to draw you into a song, Canadian singer David Newberry DELIVERS! His new album, No One Will Remember You, is packed with beautifully crafted songs, the kind of music that has to be made by hand with great care. Coupled with his beautiful voice, and you have quite the package! On the other hand, the songs are frequently overpowered by excessive, and at times needless, production (90s-era drums, screaming guitars, walls of sound), but he's so good that his songwriting and vocals cut through everything. His songs are gently sad, almost wistful, possibly exhausted, really the only emotions we have anymore in a world on the brink. On the title track, he sings "We cut the trees to make the paper / Turn the world inside out, and put it through a press / To teach ourselves that telling stories / Is just the same as getting out there and doing it yourself." Most singer-songwriters would like to shout their views from the mountaintop, but Newberry seems content just to talk about his life and his perspective. It's a refreshingly ego-less perspective that's unfortunately very rare. For the next album, let's just give him an acoustic guitar and set him loose on the road so real people can find his music. David Newberry deserves to be heard!
David Newberry: All of the Apples in the Basket
Anna Coogan: The Wasted Ocean
Seattle singer-songwriter Anna Coogan has a chameleon-like knack for molding her music to a specific genre's sound, and then for transcending that sound. She did this with her earlier album, Glory, in which she blew open the roots-based world of Americana with a sound that felt entirely new. Partly it's her vocals, which have such a sweet ache to them that they fit into most genres easily. But she's also an excellent song crafter, able to build compelling melodies and arrangements that draw you in. For her newest album, The Wasted Ocean, she looks to her East Coast upbringing and the maritime sea shanties she used to hear growing up. Her songs this time around are rife with imagery of the sea, sailors, and the "whalefish." It's not corny at all, and Coogan infuses these old themes with a new life. My only complaint is that her voice is mixed strangely on the album, somehow sounding a bit garbled or muffled. Other than that, this album is a great example of a multi-faceted singer-songwriter able to plumb her own depths to come up with new sounds.
Anna Coogan: Blood on the Sails
05/06/2012 | comments (0)
Over at HearthPR headquarters, we're very excited to be promoting the new EP from roots musician Woody Pines. We've been watching Woody since he was in the Kitchen Syncopators, a legendary busking street jugband from Eugene, OR, that were the shining lights of the West Coast folk scene. They broke up some years ago, and Woody Pines went off to a great solo career interpreting his vision of American roots music: all full of stomp and swing, jump and jive, the kind of music that leaves us tapping our feet, bouncing around in our office chairs, and grinning all the while. It's old-time feel-good music done by a young master who clearly understands that this kind of music was always about having a great time. Enjoy!
Woody Pines: You Gotta Roll EP
You know it when you hear the name: Woody Pines is a roots musician who taps into the rural backwoods of Americana. On his new EP, You Gotta Roll, you’ll hear backroads folk music of the very best kind, inspired by rough street jugbands, neighborhood BBQs, lost 78’s of old blues singers, dusty 45’s of forgotten rockabilly singles, a faint radio signal you can’t trace and can’t stop listening to; the kind of music you have to travel deep into the country to find. Woody’s been playing this music for years, first cutting his teeth with the fabled Kitchen Syncopators, a street-performance jugband from Eugene, Oregon that also included Gill Landry of Old Crow Medicine Show. This beloved crew traveled up and down the West Coast, laying the seeds for a new generation to take on traditional music. Going solo in 2002, Woody released the acclaimed 2009 album, Counting Alligators, and has been enjoying touring in the US and the UK. Now Woody’s back and preparing to drop a full-length album in late summer 2012. You Gotta Roll is an EP teaser designed to showcase new songs and a new sound born of his hot touring band.
He may have gotten his start busking as a jugband on the streets of New Orleans and the Pacific Northwest, but years of hard-traveling and touring, plus guest spots with powerful artists like David Rawling, The Felice Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, and more have honed Woody’s music to a razor’s edge. On You Gotta Roll, Woody and his band rip through five traditional songs from diverse sources. The Dock Boggs classic “Red Rockin’ Chair” gets a somber makeover with acoustic banjo, Leadbelly’s “Ham & Eggs” gets a smooth rockabilly beat, and Hank Williams “Can’t Keep You Off My Mind” and “Treat You Right” from Washington Phillips/Casey Jones both keep the kind of harmonica-fueled swing that made Woody’s name as a street performer. The Woody Pines band includes Zack Pozebanchuck on Upright Bass, Lyon Graulty on Clarinet, Lead Guitar and Vocal Harmonies, Mike Gray on Drums, and Woody on Guitar, Harmonica and Vocals. Throughout, Woody’s vintage vocals lead the band’s hot accompaniment, sounding at times like a reborn Bill Haley. This is roots music done hard and fast, with a jump and jive sound you might have heard in the earliest days of rock ‘n roll. It’s music that hasn’t forgotten its old dancehall roots; the kind of music you’d hear at a crowded rent party, as sweaty dancers crashed about a tiny room. On You Gotta Roll, Woody Pines has taken the music that inspired his wanderlust youth and turned it into a living vision of American roots music today.
Woody Pines: Long Gone Lost John
Woody Pines: Ham & Eggs
05/05/2012 | comments (0)
On their new album, Barn Dance, California roots trio Little Black Train are happy to chug along through the verdant pastures of American roots music. They stop at various way stations to explore songs like hokum number "Old Black Dog", the gospel shouter "Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down", and Western ode "The Bravest Cowboy". Throughout they pick hard and hot, leading off with Kenny Blackwell's crisp, delicious mandolin playing and John Weed's remarkably deft fiddling, with guitarist Stuart Mason laying down rail with his rock-solid accompaniment and driving the train with his vocals. This album's a helluva lot of fun, but what sets it apart is their obvious love of traditional music and their ability to find the long-lost old railway tracks that connect the traditions. Bringing in a funky set of old barndances from Northern Ireland is an especially inspired touch, as it shows a kinship between the melodies of Irish and American music that's all too often overlooked in favor of the songs. Yep, these boys can play and they know their stuff. Slap it on the old Victrola tonight and dance around your living room, this is my kind of music!
Little Black Train: Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down
04/30/2012 | comments (2)
We're very excited to announce that Devon Léger of Hearth Music has started writing for famed radio station KEXP! He'll be writing for the KEXP Blog about world and roots music, probably focusing a fair amount on new music coming out of Africa and North America. It's a huge honor for us to be a part of KEXP, a station that has redefined the role of community radio in the US. From their wonderful in studio videos, to their concerts around town and their ground-breaking expansion into a public space in the Seattle Center, KEXP is leader of the pack!
You can check out Devon's first review for KEXP HERE. It's a review of the new album from blog-turned-label Awesome Tapes from Africa. The artist is Ghanaian kologo player Bola. Great music!
Album Review: Bola – Volume 7
Meanwhile, check out this crazy video from Bola's new album:
04/16/2012 | comments (0)
Though storytelling is one of the most fundamental human activities, it's surprising how rarely you find recordings of storytellers these days. It's such a primal art, and so viscerally engaging, that you'd think there'd be more recordings available, especially in the world of folk and traditional music. Whatever the reason, it's always a joy to discover an album with great storytelling. Veteran blues songwriter Guy Davis delivers on this and more with his new album, The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed with the Blues. It's a loving, often-humorous look at the roots of blues culture in the South that also turns an unflinching eye to the horrific life conditions that birthed the blues. The album is chock-full of stories and blues songs, all delivered effortlessly from an artist who knows and respects the culture. The album comes from Davis' work in the theater and is based on Davis' play of the same name, and the influence of the stage shows throughout. Incorporating sound design to fill out the stories, at times the listener feels like they're in a quiet theater watching the play unfold. It's a neat trick to combine theater, storytelling, African-American folk traditions and country blues into one package. And maybe that's why it's a full 2 CDs in length! But the listener doesn't tire, and I moved into the second disc with just as much enjoyment as the first disc.
The album revolves loosely around the narrative of Fishy Waters' journeys through the South. A traveling hobo/bluesman, Fishy encounters all manner of characters and recounts his many stories as he travels and plays his music. The opening track, "Ramblin' All Over" introduces Fishy's travels in a prototypical country blues style. Original songs that sound like old country blues numbers mix with traditional stories given just enough of a new twist to make them sound fresh. Later tracks delve more deeply into Fishy's character and origins, and just as some of the stories are patterned on old folk tales you might have heard around hobo campfires in the South, other stories seem to come from a more personal level, recounting the many levels of poverty that Fishy encounters, along with powerful characters and friendships. Davis is weaving a lifetime of influences in traditional blues to tell a tale that sounds at first almost stereotypical, but quickly evolves into a fully-fleshed out character. By melding theater, music, and stories, Davis pillages the best of each of these idioms to make a beautiful statement about Southern blues and culture. This is a masterful album that's also a helluva lot of fun to listen to. This is a full immersion experience in the country blues.
Guy Davis: Ramblin' All Over
Guy Davis: Fly Took Stockings (story)
04/02/2012 | comments (0)
One of our favorite albums of 2011 was The Holy Coming of the Storm, by Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. We were proud to help run publicity on it because we believe then (and now) that their music was a game changer. Cahalen and Eli's songs were so tight, so perfectly written, and their arrangements so angular and powerful. We just loved the album. And so did lots of other people. We've been hoping for a chance to get Cahalen to talk about some of his songwriting process and to go over a few of the more beautiful songs from the album to add background. Now here we are! Here's what Cahalen had to say about three of the key songs from his album with Eli West.
Inside the Songs with Cahalen Morrison
"My Lover, Adorned" (written w/and sung by Eli West)
"For me, few novels have such strong imagery like any of those by Cormac McCarthy. The sparse quality of McCarthy's writing allows the reader to do much of the work themselves. The kind of writing I enjoy most, and the kind that comes across in the most powerful way, is the style that McCarthy uses. Four lines of sparse (maybe even dry) prose, followed by a line of poetry that knocks you out of your rhythm. So, you stop, and read it again, letting the subtlety sink in. The whole book [McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses] flows in this way, to me. I was struck by so many one-liners in the book, that I wound up with a sheet of paper, stuck in the back cover, covered in lines and page numbers. A few months after I had finished the book, I went back through, and reread the lines that had stuck out to me before. One passage had especially beautiful imagery, so I decided to expand on it, using one line. 'John Grady stood his saddle upright to the fire and walked out on the prairie and stood listening. He could see the Pumpville watertank against the purple sky. And beside it the horned moon. He could hear the horses cropping grass a hundred yards away. The prairie otherwise lay blue and silent all about.' (p. 42) I used the line in a slightly different context, but still in line with the story, the song ends up being more of a parallel, than being completely true to the story, being that I was also drawing from personal experiences, and weaving the two together."
"I spent a month in Boston, visiting a friend a few years ago, and ended up with a woman on my mind that was out west. This being my first time enduring an east coast, maritime winter, I was quite taken by the complete and utter dreadfulness of the sleet, snow, and wind. And, as it would seem, the combination of longing for love and terrible weather make a good mindset for songwriting. The song ended up being situated upon mother nature keeping this woman away from me, at any expense. This is another song that I borrowed one of my favorite lines for. But, this line came from one of my favorite Tom Waits songs, 'All The World Was Green,' which I used as a whole, unashamedly. I hope he won't mind."
"On God's Rocky Shore"
"For this song, I stuck with the fairly basic model using imagery, song structure and harmonic devices that run deep and common in Old-Time music. There is not necessarily too much glue that holds the verses together, and not really a storyline that the song follows, as each verse is stand-alone, and only ties in subtly to the rest. The title of the record, The Holy Coming of the Storm, comes from the last line of this song. I grew up in Northern New Mexico, and am always in awe of the severity and intensity of what nature does in the desert. This line, 'The creek is rising, on up to the shower, the holy coming of the storm,' is referring to flash floods in the summer, when there is not a cloud in the sky, but all of a sudden, there is a wall of velvety, brown water tearing down the arroyos, wiping out anything in its path. And the storm may or may not show its face in whatever particular canyon you are in. It all seems so counter-intuitive, and definitely speaks to something that is part of the bigger picture. "
NW Friends: Cahalen Morrison will be sharing the stage with Kelly Joe Phelps (another favorite songwriter of ours) this Sunday, March 25, at the Tractor Tavern. Dang! Don't miss it! He's playing Bellingham on Saturday, and Portland next Thursday. WWW.CAHALEN.COM