Having just written about Daytrotter's upcoming Justin Townes Earle / Dawes vinyl split and interviewing founder Sean Moeller, I 'd moved on to other writing projects and wasn't paying a lot of attention when they first announced a large, exclusive Daytrotter session with Mumford & Sons. Plus, I'm that horrible kind of hipster that wears a T-shirt like "I listen to bands that don't even exist", so I rarely listen to roots music groups that are actually hugely popular (Old Crow Medicine Show being my only exception). Plus, I kind of thought they were part of this new movement of poorly played roots music, where the banjo's more of a prop than an actual instrument. But good goddamn I was SO WRONG about them. I wish I could apologize for how wrong I was, so this article will have to be like a kind of apology for my wayward thoughts.
Recorded during their Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour (a really cool project that saw them settling into a town for a full day of music and fun before their evening shows), the Mumford & Sons Daytrotter sounds incredibly relaxed. This only makes the excellent musicianship all the more evident. You can fake it all you want in the studio, but when you kick back for some late night picking with your buddies on a tour bus, you've got to be great to make it sound this good. Cool buddies too! Two of the tracks are covers of Appalachian old-time songs "Little Birdie" and "Angel Band" with renowned banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn. Bringing her on as a stroke of genius, and her swift banjo picking and beautiful singing helps define these two songs. Also joining the session are Rounder records songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff, and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. But the real focus of the albums is the songs. I love Daytrotter, but what I love most about what they do is how they encourage bands to take on adventurous covers. I always feel a little cheated when a session goes up with just the songs on the band's album. I LOVE when an artist on Daytrotter takes a huge leap to cover something really unusual. Case in point, the new Sarah Jarosz session has a crazy cover of Joanna Newsom's classic "Book of Right On". Check that out!
Despite starting off with a song ("Not with Haste") from their new album, Babel, the rest of this session is dedicated to carefully chosen, totally awesome acoustic covers from interesting sources. Bob Dylan's there of course, but with a song I'd never heard, "I Was Young When I Left Home". It's a beautiful folk song, appropriately recorded in 1961 at an informal session at a friend's house and released only much much later via his Bootleg Series vol. 7. I'm no Dylan expert (much more of a neophyte), but I hadn't heard this before. What a great song! Warming my cold heart, Mumford & Sons sweet, mellow cover of " Not in Nottingham" is easily one of my favorite tracks from this session. Anyone who's seen the excellent Disney movie "Robin Hood", remembers this beautiful song, one of the highlights of many-a childhood. I hadn't realized that Roger Miller wrote the songs for this movie, nor that he was the narrator and voice the part of the minstrel rooster. Mumford & Sons follow this Roger Miller song up with another, perhaps better-known, Roger Miller song: "Reincarnation." I'm a totally newbie to Roger Miller's music, but recently fell head-over-heels for his songwriting, at once funny but also touchingly poignant, after hanging out with O'Brien Party of 7, who just recorded the first tribute album of Miller's songs. Check out the interview and article on this album HERE. The penultimate track of the Daytrotter session is a beautiful Guy Clark song, "Partner Nobody Chose", and the final track is perhaps the strongest, an acoustic version of the Bruce Springsteen ballad "Atlantic City".
Bob Dylan's "I Was Young When I Left Home"
Roger Miller's "Not in Nottingham" (if that raccoon chain gang doesn't melt your heart....)
Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City"
It's one thing for Mumford & Sons to fill an album with well written songs, in fact it's what we'd expect. But I kinda think it says more about their songwriting that they're so able to recognize great songs in such unheralded places. And it's certainly a testament to their ability to play American roots music that they can draw from so many sources while still sounding wholly original. Mumford & Sons carry a very real authority with their music, and I don't think I really realized this until I listened to their Daytrotter session. If you haven't already hopped onboard their train, this might be the perfect stop to hitch a ride.
10/02/2012 | comments (0)
HearthPR is so proud to be working with Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac. Both of these artists are preeminent interpreters of traditional Cape Breton music, renowned for their mastery of the traditions as well as their bold innovations. Mary Jane became internationally known through her single, "Sleepy Maggie," with fiddler Ashley MacIsaac on his double-platinum selling album, but she's also one of the few remaining Scots Gaelic singers on the island, and has spent her life learning and spreading this endangered language and its beautiful songs. In fact, the fiddling of Cape Breton can't be understood without understanding the songs because the inherent rolling rhythm of Gaelic informs so many of the old fiddle tunes. Wendy MacIsaac has long been one of the best fiddlers in Cape Breton, a land where it's rumored that a fiddle hangs from nearly every household's wall. She toured with Beolach, a cutting-edge group of young traditional virtuosos and has released a number of acclaimed albums herself. Together, Mary Jane and Wendy have risen above even their own remarkable careers in working together. Their music as a duo is effortlessly sublime, the inevitable next step for the Cape Breton tradition. We're so proud to be a part of this wonderful music!
Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac: Air A' Ghille Tha Mo Rùn/It Is The Lad That I Love
Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac: Yellow Coat
Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac. Seinn.
Seinn (pronounced "shane") reflects the great love and respect that Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac have for Nova Scotia tradition, and for each other. The record achieves a delicate balance between the musical sensibilities of two artists, showcasing traditional and original compositions among the melancholy of Gaelic song and the joy of fiddle tunes. Some of the material was learned from the recordings of older Cape Breton singers and fiddlers, some songs were chosen from existing repertoires, and some were written specifically for this project. The record fuses Roots arrangements with a traditional presentation, capturing the enjoyment and fun that Mary Jane and Wendy have together on and off the stage.
This is a powerful collaboration borne of a long-time friendship and a shared love of Celtic music. Whether it's the mesmerizing Gaelic vocals of Mary Jane, or the superb and true musicianship of Wendy on the fiddle, these ladies have been making their mark with traditional audiences worldwide for over two decades. Mary Jane and Wendy have both been recognized internationally for their solo music careers, and Wendy has been Mary Jane's steadfast comrade in the presentation of her music for many years. It seems only natural that these two impressive talents now come together to create a true musical partnership, which will combine their musical sensibilities, their strong Celtic roots, and their colourful personalities.
On Cape Breton Island, the rich heritage of the region's Highland settlers was kept alive through music, songs, and stories. It was in Nova Scotia, while visiting her grandparents throughout her youth, that Mary Jane fell in love with Scottish Gaelic traditions and song. While enrolled in Saint Francis Xavier University's Celtic Studies program, Mary Jane released her first album, B ho Thir Nan Craobh, a collection of traditional material that introduced her unique singing voice and, then unknown fiddler, Ashley MacIsaac. She has continued to dedicate her musical career to the preservation of Scottish Gaelic songs and has garnered numerous JUNO and ECMA award nominations, critical acclaim, and a worldwide audience for her efforts. Mary Jane's four recordings create a respectful and beautiful framework for ancient Gaelic songs and her spell binding performances make these selections truly come alive.
Wendy is an award-winning fiddler, piano player and step dancer from Creignish, Cape Breton. A born performer, she began appearing publicly at age 5 as a step dancer. At age 12, she began fiddle lessons with Stan Chapman. By age fifteen, Wendy was playing dances all over Cape Breton Island, forming the sound that makes her so recognizable today. With five records to her credit -the most recent "Variations" with her Cape Breton Celtic Supergroup, Beolach she is a favourite with traditional audiences everywhere. Wendy has toured all over the world as a solo performer, and with The Rankins, Mary Jane Lamond, Ashley MacIsaac and Beolach.
Established tradition bearers, both Mary Jane and Wendy are skilful, enthusiastic teachers that are in high demand at festivals worldwide.
09/28/2012 | comments (0)
We've got up an exclusive interview in No Depression with the founder of Daytrotter.com, Sean Moeller. If you don't know, Daytrotter's an amazing resource of live session recordings from a slew of roots music artists. Sean and company put up fresh sessions every day and have developed a financially successful membership model that would make the New York Times turn green with envy. The interview is part of our "Behind the Scenes" web article series, where we interview key people whose work in the roots music business has helped change the industry from the inside out.
Check it out:
Behind the Scenes: Daytrotter's Sean Moeller on new LPs and never compromising your vision
Plus, as an added bonus Sean gave us permission to put up three of our favorite tracks from the Daytrotter archives. So you can listen to Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek), The Barr Brothers covering Blind Willie Johnson, and Scott H. Biram's creepy version of "Omie Wise."
And finally, if you sign up for Daytrotter as a new member (it's $24/year), you can get a free copy of their new vinyl LP: A split 12" between Justin Townes Earle and Dawes. Dang!
09/27/2012 | comments (0)
We're incredibly proud to be working with venerated American old-time ensemble Foghorn Stringband. They've been leading a new roots music revival out of their homebase of Portland, Oregon for over a decade now, and in fact they're the band that turned us on to old-time music. We'd never heard old-time played with such ferocity and power, and it came as a revelation. With their new album, Outshine the Sun, Foghorn Stringband has added a new member to the lineup–Bellingham country singer Reeb Willms–and they're continuing to explore not only Southern old-time music, but also vintage country and even Cajun music. We love that they've been at the forefront of today's best roots musicians for years without ever compromising their vision. They play the music the old way, gathered around one microphone belting out the old tunes and songs they love so much.
Foghorn Stringband. Outshine the Sun.
Foghorn Stringband is the shining gold standard for American stringband music, with seven albums, thousands of shows, over a decade of touring under their belts, and two entirely new generations of old-time musicians following their lead. Through all this, they’ve never let the music grow cold; instead they’ve been steadily proving that American roots music is a never-ending well of inspiration. With their new album, Outshine The Sun, Foghorn Stringband has returned to the forefront of American roots music.
From their origins in Portland, Oregon’s underground roots music scene, the core duo of Foghorn Stringband, Caleb Klauder, whose wistful, keening vocals and rapid-fire mandolin picking have always been the heart of the band, and Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, perhaps the best old-time fiddler of his generation, have spread the old-time stringband gospel all over the world, but they’ve also brought in new influences and inspirations from their many travels and fellow bandmates. Vintage country and honky-tonk became a staple of Foghorn Stringband thanks to Klauder’s intense passion for the music, and frequent visits to Louisiana have inspired the group to bring Cajun songs into the repertoire. As the music has changed, the band has changed and reformed as well. Canadian singer and bassist Nadine Landry, from Québec via the Yukon, joined the band in 2008, bringing a wealth of experience as an internationally touring bluegrass musician. New member, singer and guitarist Reeb Willms, came down from Bellingham with a suitcase of old, vintage country songs and a powerfully beautiful, pure voice born in the farmlands of Washington State.
To produce Outshine the Sun, Foghorn Stringband went back to the source of their music, gathering around a single microphone and a roaring wood stove in Caleb’s Portland, Oregon home. The rainy winter nights pulled them even closer, and if the music sounds both wildly virtuosic and intimately hand-crafted, that’s the kind of paradox on which Foghorn thrives. The songs and tunes on Outshine the Sun come from rare and wonderful sources like old-time masters John Ashby, Dwight Lamb, and The Stripling Brothers, but also from well- known sources like The Carter Family, Charlie Poole, The Stanley Brothers, and Hazel Dickens. Outshine the Sun is a glorious explosion of stringband music, with members trading instruments as quickly as harmony lines. Caleb Klauder is known for his rapid-fire mandolin picking, but is also featured here on fiddle. Sammy Lind is an amazing fiddler, but brings some deft banjo picking to the album, and all four members trade off singing leads and swapping harmonies. Over all, there’s a rough-and-rowdy, hell-for-leather attitude to the album, the same spirit that made Foghorn Stringband an inspiration for multiple generations.
It’s a new Foghorn Stringband these days, but the music is as furiously compelling as ever. For the group that first broke the good news about Southern old-time music to a new generation, the new album is both a return to form and a fresh new start.
Foghorn Stringband: Sweeter than the Flowers
Foghorn Stringband: Indian Ate the Woodchuck
09/19/2012 | comments (0)
For me, indie roots music has been a bit dry recently. Maybe I miss those old "freak folk" days when Joanna Newsom and Alela Diane were making such pretty acoustic roots music, but these days every other indie roots band seems to want to channel the 70s California folk rock sound. Which is fine, don't get me wrong, it just ain't my thing. There are plenty of other reviewers writing about these Fleet-Foxes apostles, so I'm gonna sit back and go after the more acoustic-oriented bands hitting the indie-wavosphere these days. Here are some of my new favorites!
Lost Lander. Drrt.
This is the kind of album I always have trouble reviewing. Because really I just like it a lot. Portland ensemble Lost Lander have great songs, and more importantly great song construction. Their music is catchy and at times lightly informed by acoustic folk and country blues. It's the kind of music that I like humming and singing along too. But to get more specific about why I like it is tricky. I think the key here is that Lost Lander bring together two important elements: great songwriting from Matt Sheehy, a respected Portland singer-songwriter, and a band made up of awesome Portland sidemen and women. Lost Lander the band bring a whole slew of instruments and complex arrangements to the table, bringing a level of intellectualism to the pop-wash of the songs. It's a great combination, and I've found myself totally intrigued by the music of Lost Lander. And the lead songwriter too. Matt Sheehy is a forester for his day job. I thought that meant lumberjack, since this is Portland, OR we're talking about, but forester is a much cooler job. He's a scientist of the forest, studying trees and humping across the wilderness to understand the forest, but a forester is also a rough job spent close to the company of any number of forest crazies in the Oregon wilderness. In medieval times, according to Wikipedia, a forester was also the sheriff of the forest, stopping illegal poaching and organizing armed gangs to hunt down escaped criminals. I imagine nowadays Sheehy has to watch out for pot-growing mafias and survivalists, so it's still a roughneck job for a scientist. My point here is that the music of Matt Sheehy and Lost Lander carries real weight, perhaps even the weight of a dense, Northwest forest. Check them out!
More about Matt Sheehy the Forester:
The Native Sibling. The Tinderbox Sessions.
Why, oh why is The Native Sibling not one of the best known indie roots bands around? They've got it all: gorgeous, honey-drenched vocals, beautiful songs, lush harmonies, stripped back acoustic guitar work, and the kind of salt-air, windswept treeline atmosphere you only get from growing up in Santa Cruz. Well, for one, they should probably release an album! So far we've only got three tracks (that I could find), starting with this February's stunning "Follow Trees" (available HERE for free download). Though they're saying they have an EP coming, they followed their first single with two songs released on Bandcamp from live sessions at Tinderbox Studios in Santa Cruz. Equally stunning, the second song, "Weather Veins," had my heart forever when it unexpectedly slipped into a totally new take on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Evidently The Native Sibling really are siblings–brother and sister duo Ryan and Kaylee Williams. I'm not sure if they tour much, since I don't think they have a website (just Facebook), but I hope they'll drop that EP soon. This is DEFINITELY a group to watch for in the near future!
Hope for Agoldensummer. Life Inside the Body.
2012. Mazarine Records.
Hope for Agoldensummer is the kind of band I don't want to know more about. I just want to listen to their gently floating harmonies and shimmery twangy instruments and imagine them a trio of hippie siblings from Vermont readying their house for the incoming Fall and toiling over jars of preserves from the summer harvest. Reality? They're based out of Atlanta, GA. I didn't want to know that. I was sure it was Vermont. I've actually been following this indie folk band for a while, mainly through my intense, vertiginous love of their old song "Malt Liquor" which I think I listened to about 100 times over the past couple years. Their new album, Life Inside the Body, is full of strange, half-whispered lyrics, lo-fi glockenspiels, and oodles and oodles of vocal harmonies. I always fall flat trying to write about their music because this isn't music for critical listening, this is music for daydreaming. This is the kind of music that should accompany a late summer evening staring up at the stars and wondering if you should try and kiss the sweet lady nestled up next to you. Their new album is full of lo-fi goodies, all done up with bows and delivered with love. It's the kind of music we could all probably use more of.
09/18/2012 | comments (0)
We’re backstage at the Voice Works festival in the bucolic seaside town of Port Townsend, Washington, and I’m about to start an unexpectedly ambitious project: interviewing five members of O’Brien Party of 7. What seems like a simple interview quickly spins into a rowdy dinner-table conversation, as each member of this extended family band spins off the other, interrupting at will and cracking wise in the background. A few months later I’ll be struggling to transcribe this, trying to parse out who said what and which voice belonged to whom. But that’s what it’s like in a family, nothing’s ever quick and easy, and even the simplest interaction can easily roll into chaos.
Of the musical families I’ve interviewed or visited with, the O’Briens are some of the closest and happiest, at least in this moment. They’re about to go on stage to sing a whole repertoire of songs that they’ve recently rediscovered: the songs of country-pop troubadour Roger Miller (you can hear these songs on their debut album, Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller). O’Brien Party of 7 is not one of those family bands that tour the country out of a modified RV; they’re certainly not some kind of gimmicky family band. They’re just a real family that’s found a great way to get together more often to enjoy each other’s music on stage. Backstage now in the giant converted hanger that constitutes this festival’s mainstage, four members gather around a table to talk about the new album. Husband and wife Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore start the conversation, joined by their daughters Lucy and Brigid (pronounced with a hard ‘g’) Moore. After a few words, Rich says “Call your uncle over,” and Tim O’Brien (Mollie and Tim O’Brien are siblings) puts down his iPhone to slide into a chair at the table. We’re missing two members of O’Brien Party of 7: Tim’s two sons Jackson and Joel. “They’re out parking the van,” quips Rich, but really they’re back at their homes in Minneapolis and Asheville. All the kids in the O’Brien families are grown and have left the house, and it’s easy to see how glad Mollie, Rich, and Tim are to have their kids back playing music with them.
I want to know what it was like growing up the children of Grammy-award winning roots musicians like Tim and Mollie O’Brien. Were there lots of great artists coming through the house? Did Mollie and Rich let their daughters listen to whatever they wanted? What was their musical education like? I ask them if they grew up with a lot of music in the house, and Brigid replies “Yeah, all kinds of music.” “We got to grow up—“ Lucy begins, before her father interrupts: “Who’s the best bass player, girls?” and both Lucy and Brigid immediately reply, at the same time and in the sweetest chorus, “JAMES JAMERSON!” “That’s my girls,” Rich replies, beaming proudly. “I knew I had done well when Brigid called me from a music appreciation class in college. And she said, ‘Dad, today we covered soul music and this guy didn’t even mention James Jamerson.’ (the bass player in Motown) I thought, aw, what am I spending my money on this for?” Laughing, Lucy continues, “Yeah, we listened to all kinds of music. We listened to everything that our parents listened to. Old stuff, all different kinds of things.” “Then you started bringing stuff,” Rich says, “like when you started listening to your own music. Ace of Bass…” Ace of Bass, I ask? “Remember them?” Mollie asks me.
I sure do, and I’m a bit surprised our conversation has led down this path. But we’re here to talk about O’Brien Party of 7’s first album, a tribute to country-pop songwriter Roger Miller, so I should be expecting a light dose of irreverence. And how did they get into Roger Miller anyways? Aside from a few major hits, mainly “King of the Road,” he’s not exactly at the forefront of people’s minds these days. I ask Mollie if she grew up listening to Roger Miller, and while she’d heard his music back in the day, she admits to being more of a Streisand fan in her youth. Rich listened to Miller years ago as well, but he doesn’t describe himself as an old-school fan. So how did the idea for the album come about? “We were at a dinner somewhere,” Rich remembers, “and there was a Roger Miller song on and someone, I think Mollie or Tim, said ‘oh maybe we should do some of these tunes, maybe do a whole album of them.’ It kind of morphed from there.” “It was a good place to meet,” Tim adds. “It seemed like everyone was interested in it. It was sort of like ‘how are you going to make a frame with all these divergent tastes?’ It seemed like if we did this we’d have a frame.” “There’s something for everybody in Roger Miller,” says Lucy. “Funny songs, sad songs,” says Brigid. “Really sad songs,” adds Mollie. “Super goofy songs,” says Lucy. “They’re modern too,” adds Tim, “what’s cool about him is that they’re still modern. They’re still quirky and unusual… and they’re unknown, a lot of them.” I wonder out loud if recording and performing so many Roger Miller songs has brought any Roger Miller “super-fans” out of the woodwork. They all laugh, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. “I met his widow,” Tim says. “She came out to a gig. She thought the family band was gonna play. It was the day the record came out and I was playing a show in Nashville, and it was in the paper that this record had just come out, so she came out [to the show]. I got to meet her, she was real nice. She was very excited! She had been out of town, but she got the CD and she listened to it that day.” “Did she like it?” asks Mollie. “ “She really liked it. She really liked the harmonies,” says Tim. “Oh, good” Mollie says, relieved. “It’s funny,” Tim says, “no one’s done a tribute record or a compilation of his. No one’s done a set of his songs other than him.” “Why do you think that is?” Mollie asks. “I don’t know,” Tim replies, “it’s weird.” “He’s kind of an underdog, maybe,” says Lucy. “I mean maybe he wasn’t pigeonholed enough in one category because he did so many different things.” “He was a country singer,” says Tim. “When he hit, country music endorsed him again, but he wasn’t making it in country music, and he was giving it up and going to Hollywood to be an actor… he went to Hollywood and he was on Johnny Carson a lot. He’d just sit on the couch and sing his songs. Johnny Carson really loved him.”
Listening to the album, it’s true that the songs are all over the map. From funny protest song “Guv’ment” to the strange ditty “Hand for the Hog,” Miller’s humorous songs are so well written that they rise above novelty. And the more poignant songs, like “Tall Tall Trees” (sung beautifully by Lucy), or “In the Summertime” are heartfelt pop songs crafted from simple materials and lyrics, but clearly made by the hand of a master songwriter. Honestly, O’Brien Party of 7 is one of the few bands that can pull off the musical diversity that Miller’s songs require. Tim brings an acoustic roots music pedigree to the songs, but Mollie and Rich fill out the showy, Streisand-like swing blues of the more dramatic songs, like “Reincarnation” and “Train of Life.” The stand-out track, no surprise, is Miller’s biggest hit, “King of the Road.” Mollie and Tim trade lead vocals and the whole group joins in to transform his signature song. It’s a triumph, and hopefully a version that would do Miller proud.
As we talk, I start to realize how far apart each family member lives from the other. Tim lives in Nashville, Lucy and Brigid in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, Mollie & Rich in Denver, and Tim’s two sons in Minneapolis and Asheville. How on earth do they manage rehearsals before shows? According to Molly, they’re lucky to get in a rehearsal the day of the gig. “It’s rolling the dice, I tell you,” Rich chuckles. Still, I say that it must be great getting so much family time. At the least, the band’s a great excuse to get together more often, right? “It’s the most time we’ve gotten to spend straight through together,” Lucy says. “Last summer we spent a couple weeks doing the shows and festivals, and we spent time in Nashville to record. It was so much fun, we got to eat dinner together every night. There were a lot of challenges, but we all ended up putting it together.” “The glue is the younger generation,” Rich says. “It really is. The three of us [Tim, Mollie, Rich], well, y’know… The four of you kids, when you get together you’re all so excited to see each other, it just pulls the rest of us together. “Well we all just get along,” says Lucy, “and if we weren’t family, I think we’d still hang out together.” “We all like each other,” says Rich. “Some families can’t get through dinner, y’know, but we got through an album.” “We have a lot of fun,” says Mollie. “That’s the main thing.” I’m sure Roger Miller would have agreed.