CD Review: SW Louisiana's Trail-Blazing Revelers

Language barriers can make it a helluva hard time to really understand a music, so it’s no surprise that most reviewers and music writers think of Cajun music as being something separate than country music. If you listen to the lyrics though, Cajun music is as country as they come. All these old Cajun songs that people think are based on some medieval French ballad are really mostly just made up of phrases about lost women and lost men. Whether they’re lost to the oilfields of East Texas, or lost to the arms of another man, Cajun music is made for drinking beer and trying to forget your latest breakup… by reveling in it. That’s not where new Cajun outfit The Revelers draw their name from, but it could be. Cajuns love to revel in their own culture, and thank god for that.

The Revelers are drawn from the ranks of the Red Stick Ramblers, one of the best young Cajun bands around. But the Ramblers are known as much for pushing the envelope, bringing swing and jazz into the music with a ferocity that’s made them the darlings of roots music festivals everywhere. Now these members of the Ramblers have put together a true Cajun country band in The Revelers. Sure, the accordion rides front and center, and sure most of the songs are in Cajun French, but the first and last thing you hear is the country twang and swamp-pop sizzle of Southwest Louisiana.

The Revelers are coming out of a red-hot scene around Lafayette, Lousiana. A scene known not just for awesome bands (Feufollet, The Givers, Pine Leaf Boys, Cajun Country Revival, Lost Bayou Ramblers) but also for cutting-edge community arts work. Glenn Fields, the Revelers’ drummer, organizes the much-buzzed about Black Pot Festival, a model for community-based roots music festivals. Seems like everyone I know these days is asking “Are you going to Black Pot this year?” And it’s not like the rest of the US hasn’t noticed this scene. Anthony Bourdain recently made the trip out to Southwest Louisiana to take part in a boucherie (hog butchering party) with Linzay Young and Joel Savoy, and the big news here is that The Red Stick Ramblers were just added to the cast of HBO’s New Orleans epic “Treme” as recurring characters. Why is this scene so hot? Because the musicians involved are massively talented and totally committed to making music for fun, rather than for profit. A lot of people could learn from this example.

But back to the album. The Revelers debut full-length is just a hell of a good time. They're a tight band, featuring two fiddlers: Daniel Coolik and Blake Miller (who also plays accordion throughout), with guitarist Chas Justus and bassist Eric Frey, plus drummer Glenn Fields. Opening track “Des Fois” by Miller is a great example of Cajun country music. It’s a remarkable well written song, and big thanks to the digital liner notes for translating the French. “Je me lève dans le matin aves des larmes aux yeux des fois/Des larmes aux yeux quand même je voudrais sourir/Un cigarette et un whiskey me fait sentir mieux/Je crois cette vie va me fair mourir” (I wake up in the morning with tears in my eyes sometimes/Tears in my eyes even though I want to smile/A cigarette and whiskey makes me feel a little better/I believe this life is gonna kill me”). The next two tracks, “If You Ain’t Got Love” and “Cry for You” sound like 70s country, with just the right kind of rhinestone bling. They’re in English too, a relative rarity for the new breed of Cajun musicians. The Revelers also channel some good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, and by old-fashioned, I mean closer to rockabilly than Springsteen. “Kidnapper” is a killer rocker from Jewell and the Rubies, and “Jukebox Blues” is vintage swamp pop from Louisiana songwriter Tommy McLain. Of course, traditional Cajun music pops in, with the great Dennis McGee fiddle tune “Wang Wang Blues” and the classic “La Valse de Cadiens.” Really the songs are as eclectic as they can be, but all are anchored by the unflinching fiddle/accordion chore of Cajun music, and by a remarkable amount of tasty twang.

If you want a litmus test for what’s going on in SW Louisiana these days, try out The Revelers. They’re paving a new path with their old school take on Cajun and Country music.

The Revelers: Des Fois

The Revelers: The Revelers


blog date 10/15/2012  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Chris Brashear's Bluegrass Heart of the Country

HearthPR is proud to be working with Chris Brashear, as he brings effortless folk mastery to his new album, Heart of the Country.  To anyone who knows his career, it should come as no surprise. From Missouri to Italy, Chris Brashear has called many places home, but he’s always traveled with a musical instrument in hand. Skilled on guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and bass, Chris is a highly sought-after musician. From touring as the fiddler for folk duo Robin and Linda Williams, and forming a stunning super-group of bluegrass musicians in Perfect Strangers (featuring Bob Black, an ex-Bill Monroe band member, Jody Stecher, and Peter McLaughlin), Chris Brashear has been at the forefront of American roots music for years. On Heart of the Country, though, what stands out are his beautiful vocals and rock-solid songwriting skills. He sings with the conviction of a true musician and the wisdom of someone who’s seen much of his life on the road.

And these are road stories. Stories of people like the rural dancers in “Mama’s Opry,” the old men remembering their hard pasts in “Time the Perfect Stranger,” and the hazy springtime of a day spent driving through the Midwest in “Hills of Arkansas.”


Listen to "Time the Perfect Stranger"

Listen to "Hills of Arkansas"


To add to Chris’ songwriting and singing, Heart of the Country pulls in a cast of talented musicians, including Tim O’Brien (fiddle, mandolin), Mike Compton (mandolin), Todd Phillips (upright bass), Al Perkins (pedal steel guitar),and Hollis Brashear (harmony vocals). Produced by Grammy Award winner Jim Rooney (Nanci Griffith, Iris DeMent, John Prine), this album is the complete package, and clear proof that Chris Brashear is a musician’s musician, respected by his many peers for his obvious talents.

Heart of the Country at once has the effortless-sounding grace of bluegrass merged with the newness of a songwriter’s gift.

Chris Brashear: Heart of the Country

blog date 10/14/2012  | comments comments (0)

What Does Pete Seeger Mean to You? Folklife Tribute this Sunday

Pete Seeger casts a huge shadow over most of the 20th century's folk movements, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this shadow looms as well over the first decade of the 21st century. At 93 years old, he's enjoying as much fame now as he ever has, and he's been getting dues for his tireless and endless work to promote American roots music. He's seen five generations of Americans love and embrace their own heritage, and he's been at the forefront for all of this! 

This Sunday, October 14, Northwest Folklife is presenting a tribute to Pete Seeger, and also to renowned songwriter Steve Goodman. We're happy to offer a pair of tickets if you're interested in attending (plan to singalong all night!). Just send us an email or leave a comment telling us how Pete Seeger has influenced your life or your music. Tell us what Pete's legacy means to you and how he's changed the way you think about roots music or community music.

WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS to Folklife's Pete Seeger Tribute!
Email to tell us what Pete means to you!
The best comments will be published here and on social media!

MORE INFO about the show:

Tribute Times Two
Anthems of Activism

Pete Seeger and Steve Goodman
Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012,

at the Historic Admiral Theater in West Seattle
benefiting Northwest Folklife

4pm: PETE–The Songs and Times of Pete Seeger
One-man multimedia performance by Seattle banjoist Peter McKee

7pm: Steve Goodman–Facing the Music
Concert by Tom Colwell with special guests and MC'd by Clay Eals

Pete Seeger has played banjo and inspired countless audiences for the past 70 years. For more than half of that time, Peter McKee has been an admirer and student of Seeger’s banjo playing and political activism.

McKee, a Ballard resident and Seattle attorney who has represented disabled people seeking Social Security disability benefits, is co-founder of the Seattle folk band Clallam County. The band has performed throughout Washington state for more than 30 years, including “For Pete’s Sake: Sing,” Seattle’s popular 90th birthday celebration in 2009.

So it is only natural that McKee was inspired to create a one-man, multimedia performance in tribute to Seeger’s music and activism (4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012, at the Historic Admiral Theater). At the core of his interest is Seeger’s unique ability to forge social change through embedding in American and worldwide culture some of the most stirring civil-rights and peace songs of the past century – and getting people to sing them.

“Anyone who ever attended a Seeger concert at the height of Pete’s solo performing days undoubtedly experienced his unique gift and the core of Pete’s life – his ability and his zeal to get complete strangers and reluctant audience members to become part of the night’s event by joining their untrained voices together in singing many of his songs,” McKee says.

McKee is fond of quoting Seeger’s oft-stated entreaty to his audiences: “If you can sing high, take the high tenor line on the chorus. If you sing low, take the chorus’ bass line. And if you are a monotone, grab the center and just hold on!”

At the Oct. 14 Seeger tribute, the audience no doubt will join in with McKee in singing many of Seeger’s best-known tunes, including “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer.” The presentation also will feature vintage video, images and audio recordings evoking some of the most memorable social movements in which Seeger has been involved.

BONUS: Check out this entirely awesome video of Pete Seeger on the Colbert Report!



blog date 10/11/2012  | comments comments (1)

Mumford & Sons Daytrotter Session

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.



blog date 10/02/2012  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac's Cape Breton Roots

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.


Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac: Seinn



blog date 09/28/2012  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Music Daytrotter Interview

We've got up an exclusive interview in No Depression with the founder of Daytrotter.comSean 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!


blog date 09/27/2012  | comments comments (0)