HearthPR: Pharis & Jason Romero's Fretboard Journal Documentary

Pharis & Jason Romero's recent album, A Passing Glimpse, has been blowing up all over the US and Canada (and now the buzz is moving to the UK/Europe). It's not hard to see why, the album is a stunningly beautiful set of new and old songs, performed in with an effortless mastery of the tradition.

The other part of the story is that in addition to being great musicians, the two are also some of the best banjo makers in the world. The Fretboard Journal, a wonderful magazine dedicated to fine instruments and instrument builders, recognized this and sent up a documentary film crew to capture some of the magic in and around their home in the remote town of Horsefly, British Columbia. Led by young filmmaker Matt Miles, the resulting short documentary is truly inspiring. Matt managed to capture the natural beauty of their home, the easy grace of their marriage, and some of the spirit they pour into their music. 

Check it out:


And if you're running short on time, here's a quick music video from Matt's documentary. A deft interpretation of the classic song, "Wild Bill Jones."

blog date 03/01/2012  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Recommends: Festival du Bois, March 3-4, Coquitlam BC


A French-Canadian Festival for the Northwest

March 3-4

Maillardville, Coquitlam, British Columbia

ROAD TRIP! Hearth Music is heading up to Coquitlam, BC, to the tiny community of Maillardville, just outside Vancouver. It's one of our favorite festivals, partly because of our French-Canadian heritage, but mainly for the warm, cozy community vibe and world-class artists this festival attracts. Maillardville has been home to a lively community of French-Canadians for about a hundred years now. They first began arriving around the turn of the century to work the lumber mills of the Fraser River, and further immigrations led to a thriving community in the heart of the Greater Vancouver area. Now this community has diminished a bit, but for Festival du Bois, families come out in force. French is the main language spoken and the tents of the festival echo with accordions, fiddles, guitars, old voyageur songs, and the wonderful smells of French-Canadian home cooking. Women and men gather in the tent kitchens to cook tourtière (Acadian meat pie), poutine, tarte à sucre (sugar pie), and to spread maple syrup over ice for a delicious taffy.

Here are some things we're looking forward to at Festival du Bois:

Quinn & Qristina Bachand: British Columbia has long been a hotbed of young fiddlers, from the Duhks' Tania Elizabeth to any of the fiddlers coming up through the ranks of the Paperboys (Shona Le Mottée, Shannon Saunders, Kendel Carson), and youngsters Quinn & Qristina Bachand are proving once again how vibrant BC's fiddle scene really is. Quinn plays guitar with a youthful fury and a very mature sense of rhythm and accuracy. He's recently been featured as famed fiddler Ashley MacIsaac's guitarist. Qristina draws from a broad base of Celtic fiddle traditions, notably the rhythms of Cape Breton and the lyricism of Ireland. Together these two siblings have been carving out powerful tunes together.

Bon Débarass: Festival du Bois is known for bringing many of the best young Québécois bands out to the West Coast. We've made plenty of friends this way, and this year we're looking forward to the trio Bon Débarras (Good Riddance). Multi-instrumentalists, they remix the rhythms of traditional French-Canadian music with a more cosmopolitan approach. A romping Québécois tune suddenly gives way to a cafe musette, and a Cajun song finds it way back to its ancestral roots. They'll be good fun!

Dejah Leger: OK, so yes this is a bit self-referential since Dejah works for HearthPR, but dang the work she's doing on French-Canadian Crankies ("tournilles" en français) is wonderful. Crankies are hand-sewn/hand-illustrated rolls of fabric or paper that tell a story through shadows as they are unrolled. Much like an old-fashioned movie. Dejah will play and tell the story of each Crankie as it unfurls. She was inspired by the recent visit to Seattle of Anna & Elizabeth, two traditional artists from Virginia. They used the Crankies to tell the stories of old Appalachian ballads, and now Dejah is using the Crankies for French-Canadian ballads. It's so wonderful to be able to see handmade artwork unfold while listening to the music being made at the same time. Dejah will also be playing music from her album, Hand-Sewn Lullabies, an all acoustic set of sleepy time songs.

Jocelyn Pettit: We've written about Jocelyn's fiddle playing before, and how astounding it is that someone so young can have such a mature talent. Here's what we said: "Originally inspired by Cape Breton fiddling (the most rhythmic and powerful form of Celtic fiddling), Jocelyn Pettit has branched far from these roots to embrace not only other Celtic styles (Irish, Scottish), but to write her own compositions... Unlike many fiddlers her age, she controls the tempo of every tune, able to draw emotion out of a slow, grumbling aire and control the high-wire fiddling required of a Scots dance reel. To have made such a daring debut at 15, we will expect many more great tunes from this young woman in the future." And she's only gotten better since then!


Juan Sebastian Larobina: I know little about this artist, but his story is utterly intriguing. Here's the press blurb: Mexican in his heart, Argentinean in his soul and Gaspésien by adoption, Juan Sebastian Larobina’s music brilliantly melds all three traditions to create flamboyant fresh roots music he calls “Latino-Gaspésien.” From Latin rhythms to foot percussion, this accomplished musician sails leisurely between cumbia and jigs, reels and salsa, a La Bolduc song to tango and funk." I can't think of two places more opposed than Mexico and the Gaspé Peninsula. Gaspé is the rocky coastline along the NE of the province of Québec, home to a rugged bunch of Acadian and Québécois settlers. I'm totally intrigued to hear how Juan Sebastian melds these disparate influences.





blog date 02/28/2012  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Music Interview with Laura Viers

We were lucky enough to score an interview with one our favorite indie roots artists, Portland songsmith Laura Veirs. She's just released a wonderful album of folk songs for kids, Tumble Bee. We talked about the darkness inherent in children's music and literature, and how music has affected her own family. She had some pretty interesting things to say! 

A few quotes from Laura:

"We didn’t want to make a dark children’s record, but we didn’t want to avoid darkness altogether."

"Pete Seeger had... a really cool version of “All the Pretty Little Horses” that we kind of used as a model for our version, and that song has some freaky imagery of a lamb dying in a field. Bees and butterflies eating its eyes. Why would you put that on a kids’ record? Well, because that actually happened. Back in the day, we were a farm culture…"

"We’re aiming at a pretty young audience. We’re aiming at the 0 to 6 set. I think that 8-year-olds would think we’re completely dorky and that’s fine by me."

Our interview is posted over in Tiny Mix Tapes:



And here's a neat little sample of Tumble Bee to get your interest up!

Laura Veirs: All the Pretty Little Horses


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

CD Review: Bua's Irish-American Masterpiece

Bua. Down the Green Fields.
2011. self-released.

Sometimes all you really need to say in a review is “Damn, they killed it.”

So I’m happy to say about the new album, Down the Green Fields, from Irish-American traditionalists Bua: Damn, they killed it. Seriously. If you have any interest in the traditional music of Ireland, an emerald sound born of fiddles, pipes, whistles, and a clarity of voice that sounds like the musical equivalent of a crystal clear mountain stream and refreshes just as much, buy this album.

Now, for those of you who have a deep love of Irish trad like I do, here’s a more in-depth review:

From the opening track, a set of two reels (Eddie Moloney’s/Micho Russell’s), the boys in Bua show that they have impeccable taste. Whereas most other young Irish bands would ramp the needle up to 11 [this one goes to 78? -ed], burning through these old reels like a gas guzzling SUV, Bua have the taste to know that by slowing the music down and playing at a relaxed pace they can actually have more of an effect. That’s rare in Irish music today, and shows that these players are totally attuned to the true roots of the music. For how could you dance to Irish music when the meter tops out? The frenetic insanity of a band like Dervish only works because those guys are living gods dropped from Mount Olympus to walk among us and demonstrate the powers of musical perfection. Bua would rather play the music right than show off, and that is something that makes me want to stand up and applaud.

Let me take a moment here to commend Bua’s new fiddler Devin Shepherd. I’m incredibly picky about my Irish fiddlers, and was appalled at the use of crappy unornamented Irish fiddling in the new Sherlock Holmes movie almost to the point of walking out. I don’t want to listen to some classical jackass noodle with Irish tunes. True Irish fiddling is as mercurial as the Irish themselves. It doesn’t trust you, doesn’t welcome you, and won’t be your friend unless you put the time in to truly understand. It’s the kind of music that lulls you into a false sense of security with a seemingly regular sense of rhythm, then shanks you in the back when you’re not looking. Don’t believe me? Go to an Irish trad concert and listen to the audience try to clap along. I guarantee you the clapping will fall apart and become arrhythmic in about 10 seconds. That’s because the Irish are pure geniuses at disguising the true heartbeat of the music. Bua’s fiddler Devin Shepherd understands this, but doesn’t overdo it like Martin Hayes. Instead, he strips the show-off ornaments to a bare minimum and focuses on nailing the perfect rhythm and lilt. His fiddling is everything I wanted to be in an Irish fiddler and I’m now a most devoted fan of his.

Sean Gavin brings a subtle beauty to his fluting, piping, and whistling on the album, and Brian Miller shows himself to be a sensitive and beautiful guitarist as well. I have stacks of albums of purely instrumental Irish music, and these guys could hold their own with the best.

But, for me, the heart of Bua is the traditional singing of Brían Ó hAirt, who has dedicated himself to the sean-nós (old style) Irish song tradition, as well as the Irish sean-nós stepdancing tradition. This old style of stepdance is intimately tied to the tune itself, and this means that O’Hairt has a touch with the old songs that just can’t be faked. His voice has the beautiful fragility of the great Irish singers, and his knowledge of the sources of the tune shows his great respect for the tradition. He’s won awards in sean-nós singing (one of the last bastions of old Irish culture), and is a dedicated teacher as well. Sean-nós singing is an arcane style, almost a spiritual ritual at times, that is judged on the singer’s ability to convey the message of a song and to transfix an audience. It’s something that’s not easy to develop a taste for (believe me, I’ve tried), but when it touches you, it touches you deep. By blending the hypnotic, transcendent elements of sean-nós with a full band, O’Hairt has made this old tradition much more accessible. His singing on “Baba ‘Con Raoi” and “Bó na LeathAdhairce” is one of the album’s highlights. It reminds me at times of the seminal 1989 Dé Danann album The Mist Covered Mountains, which married the fire of five young bucks with the wisdom of some of the sean-nós tradition’s elder statesmen. Honestly, I can think of no higher praise than saying that Bua’s new album, Down the Green Fields, compares favorably with Dé Danann’s The Mist Covered Mountains.

Bua’s rendition of the song “Soldier, Soldier” is another album highlight. The song is based loosely on the melody to the old chesnut tune “Flowers of Edinburgh,” a song I’ve heard way too often in my lifetime. Not only do the instrumentalists in Bua totally redefine this old tune, but Ó hAirt’s singing literally brings tears to my eyes …

Damn, this is a great album.

For any fans of traditional Irish music, Bua’s Down the Green Fields is not only the kind of album that should place the band in the highest echelon of Irish groups, but also a truly admirable example of taste and restraint in a tradition that sometimes loses sight of both. Hat’s off!

Bua: Eddie Moloney's/Micho Russell's

Bua: Baba 'Con Raoi/Bó na Leath-Adhairce


Bua: Down the Green Fields



NOTE: This review first appeared in Driftwood Magazine. Be sure to visit their excellent website to find more great bands. They've taken up the torch left with the passing of Dirty Linen and are doing a marvelous job.

blog date 02/07/2012  | comments comments (1)

HearthPR: Portland Bluegrass Kings Jackstraw

We're pleased as punch to announce that we're currently promoting the new album from Portland bluegrass kings Jackstraw. These guys developed the Northwest old-time roots sound and their new album is a magnificent return to form. Check 'em out:

The muddy Willamette River that runs through Portland, Oregon, may not be as famous as the mighty Mississippi, but it forms the border of a new form of American roots music, informed both by the traditions of the American South and the rainy woods of the Northwest. Portland bluegrass band Jackstraw has been the flagship of this movement since they formed in 1997. They know their bluegrass history and don’t hesitate to pay homage to their heroes, like the Stanley Brothers, but this ain’t your standard bluegrass band. These boys have a cutting edge take on bluegrass picking that they’ve developed over years of touring the United States, and their original songs can sound as much country as old-time.

Jackstraw are currently celebrating the release of their brand-new sixth album, Sunday Never Comes. The album features brand-new member Cory Goldman (Water Tower Bucket Boys) on banjo, and all original material. Principal songwriters Darrin Craig and David Pugh have built new songs drenched in history and dusty nostalgia, and honed from fifteen years of making music together. Jackstraw formed in 1997 when rhythm guitarist Darrin Craig and lead player Jon Neufeld (who also plays in the Decemberists’ side project Black Prairie), met mandolin picker David Pugh and bassist Jesse Withers at Artichoke Music, a Portland guitar store. Six records and 15 years later, the band has toured throughout the United States, playing roadhouses, clubs, listening rooms and festivals. They’ve picked up a reputation over the years for their impeccable musicianship and hard-driving original songs. This is bluegrass that belongs in a dusty honky-tonk, country twang as rooted in Bill Monroe as George Jones, an old sound for a new age.

Jackstraw: Come On Back To Me

Jackstraw: Poor Man



Jackstraw: Sunday Never Comes


blog date 01/27/2012  | comments comments (0)

Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps' Cabinet of Curiosities

The folk music world has always been known for its collection of eccentric personalities, but few folk musicians are more deranged than Peter Stampfel and Baby Gramps. Stampfel's known, of course, as one of the Holy Modal Rounders, a seminal psychedelic folk duo that somehow managed to turn the most mundane of American folk songs into otherworldly trips of the mind. Baby Gramps is a beloved folk music figure in the Northwest and beyond, renowned not only for his huge knowledge of old vaudeville and hokum blues songs, but also for his long, rambling versions of these same songs and his ability to naturally work throat singing into the idiom. Plus his scrotum song has to be heard (and seen) to be believed. Individually, both Stampfel and Gramps have spotty outputs. They're truly best live, and this doesn't always translate to great albums for listening. They're always creative and fascinating, of course, but some of their albums seem a bit too helter-skelter. But somehow bringing these two scatter-brain geniuses together has enabled them to balance each other out, and their 2010 duet album, Outertainment, is a wonderfully insane romp through the trash-strewn back alleys of Americana. It works great, with Gramps gravelly voice switching off with Stampfel's nearly indescribable vocals, and their always-on-the-edge picking somehow teeters along the edge of total collapse without ever falling, kinda like a drunken kung fu master.


Together, Gramps & Stampfel revel in a dumpster-diving collection of the gross and bizarre. "Bar Bar" is a merry little ditty about getting drunk at bars and starting fights, then barfing everywhere, and "The Puppy Song" is a great folk number about the rather disgusting things puppies get up to, and how cute it is. These are the songs they've written, but they've also sourced songs from pretty interesting places. The truly wonderful vaudeville delight "Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga" came to Stampfel from "Leave it to Beaver," evidently. Other songs come to them from Grandpa Jones, a killer sea chanty comes from Laurence Welk, surprisingly, and they've even got an evil cover of "Heigh Ho" from Disney's Snow White. Yow! There's even a crazy version of the all-time classic "Surfin' Bird."

Stampfel and Gramps' duet album is a like a cabinet of curiosities. It's just chock full of strange discoveries and bizarre little oddities. But with characters this interesting, you just can't look away (or stop listening in this case). It's a helluva lot of fun to poke around the dusty cupboards of these guys' brains. This is definitely fractured folk music of the highest order!

Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps: The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga

Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps: Buzzard on the Gut Wagon


blog date 01/20/2012  | comments comments (0)