Now that I'm writing more about African music, I hope to get better connected with record labels so I won't miss out on wonderful releases like this one. Sure, it was released in late 2010 and in blogger's terms that puts this somewhere around Hammurabi's Code in terms of timeliness, but my philosophy is that good music is timeless. This isn't some media-crafted pop music that'll sound dated in a month, this is music made out of love and hope and the desire to have their voices heard. So we're gonna blog about it, damn the consequences!!
Released by indie label Dead Oceans, Kigali y' Izahabu is the only available album from The Good Ones, a trio of street musicians from the war-ravaged nation of Rwanda. And while it's wonderful that people are moving back towards music-making after the violence in Rwanda, we love this music because it's humble, back-porch picking. The kind of music you'd find in Appalachia or in any community where you've come to rely on your neighbors for your lives and livelihood. The album was recorded by American record producer Ian Brennan during a documentary film-making trip to Rwanda where he searched all over looking for music to record. He discovered these three musicians almost by accident, but hearing their voices and their plaintive picking on very battered instruments proved a revelation. And as much as we're not onboard for the whole Americans-can-save-Africa thing (frankly, Americans could learn a lot from many African nations' and peoples' support of the arts), it's impossible not to be won over by this music. The trio sing so beautifully, in somewhat cracked and fractured voices, and the lightly arranged guitarwork provides a great understructure to the music. This is folk music in its purest form.
Lead songwriter Adrien Kazigira writes songs about love, primarily, and mentions that he was inspired by Bob Marley. And like Marley, his songs touch at something deeper. A hope that maybe love can solve some of our problems. His lyrics are simple and direct, but have powerful meaning. "Make some good and leave, because love is late but does not vanish. The things of this earth are nothing and they don't have to put you against the earth. They don't have to put people against each other..." he sings in "Iby' Iyisini Ubusa." Evidently, the songs are written in an "ancient local, Kinyarwanda street dialect of their nation's capital, Kigali," according to the record label. Harmony singer Jeanvier Havugimana weaves in behind Kazigira's voice, almost comforting the music with his gentle harmonies. Guitarist/bassist Stany Hitimana has such a beautifully flowing style on his instruments. As a trio, The Good Ones work wonderfully together, elevating the music beyond its humble origins.
Huge kudos to Dead Oceans for having the guts to release music like this. This album isn't glamorous and isn't meant for indie music heads or national tastemakers. It's just meant to show how much music can mean to us.
The Good Ones: Iby' Iyisini Ubusa
Here's a wonderful video of The Good Ones singing 'Sara' complete with nice footage of Rwanda
BUY THE GOOD ONES ON AMAZON:
06/15/2012 | comments (0)
We first heard The Honey Dewdrops a few years ago at the Folk Alliance conference, and we were immediately captivated by their beautiful harmonies and timeless songwriting. Now we're helping publicize their brand-new album, Silver Lining, and we couldn't be happier to be working with such fine musicians. Though they both trained originally as teachers, we're all lucky that husband and wife duo Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish decided to dedicated themselves to acoustic roots music instead. With their home nestled in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the music of The Honey Dewdrops is subtly infused with the sounds and spirit of Appalachia. It's the kind of music rooted closely to home, but able to travel far and wide. We hope you'll enjoy this album as much as we have!
The Honey Dewdrops: Silver Lining
Sometimes you gotta get away to get it right. Husband and wife duo The Honey Dewdrops did just that in order to record their newest album, Silver Lining. They set up shop on an old farm in Catawba, Virginia, atop a hill that looks east to Roanoke, and invited their best friends over to help tune guitars, craft songs, cook savory meals, keep the creativity flowing, make hot tea, and uncork the wine. The result is a remarkably homey recording that sounds so much larger than the two people at the center of the music. Beautiful harmonies flow together effortlessly, as quick as a second thought, and the acoustic instruments drift along the backroads of the music, between hills clouded with wood smoke. It’s music made in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, beholden not to ancient traditions, but to the spirit of the hills, to the handmade, community music that came before.
Laura Wortman and Kagey Parrish, the husband-wife duo that make up The Honey Dewdrops, represent, viscerally, what most folk musicians aspire towards: they are deeply rooted in their community yet accessible to listeners everywhere. Their sound is transcendent; they write all their own songs and yet no one could ever peg them as just another singer-songwriter couple, not when they’ve embedded a sparse Appalachian clarity on every track. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the many Appalachian old-timey groups around today, but what The Honey Dewdrops have is both timeless and entirely memorable. Like the Appalachian Trail that runs through their backyard, The Honey Dewdrops are one step removed from pure wilderness, and yet they capture a clarity that grabs listeners hard and strong. They are, without doubt, one of the sweetest honey-rich sounds you’ll hear this year.
06/13/2012 | comments (0)
In honor of yet another rainy day in this Seattle "summer," here's a review of two great new albums from the rainy ol' Emerald Isle of Ireland. One post from Devon @ Hearth Music and a guest post from our good friend Dr. Squeeze. Unfortunately, these albums are a bit hard to find in the US. It's a common problem with Irish trad these days, probably brought on by the dearth of media outlets writing about Irish music and the death of American record stores. Best advice to get new Irish trad releases in the US? Start your own blog. It's not that hard; look at us! If we can do it, you can too!
Kevin Crawford: Carrying the Tune
2012. BallyO Records.
This album has exactly what you'd expect from Kevin Crawford: rare and carefully sourced tunes, impeccable playing on the Irish wooden flute and tin whistles, tasteful accompaniment, and a modern edge to an old sound. Crawford's best known as the Irish fluter in all-star ensemble Lunasa, and though a few tracks here have the kind of angular modern arrangements that made Lunasa one of the best and most in-demand Irish trad bands on the planet, most tracks are subtle, tasteful performances of purely traditional music. Carrying the Tune is an all-flute/whistle album, which can get a bit tiring, but Crawford's one of the few who can pull off an album like this and make every track sound refreshing and different. It helps too that he's got John Doyle on guitar. Doyle's got quite the Midas touch in Irish trad today; everything he touches comes out golden. Together Crawford and Doyle are a formidable duo, and if you're a big fat Irish trad nerd like me, I know you're waiting very impatiently for the album from the new super-group The Teetotallers, which features Crawford and Doyle together with Irish fiddle genius Martin Hayes. But until that drops (and until you start your own blog to get a promo copy), we'll have to content ourselves with this album. Actually, rumor has it that this album was intended to be a Teetotallers album, but schedule conflicts kept Hayes from joining Doyle and Crawford. Anyways, we'll take what we can get, and this is certainly more than we expected! The liner notes here track the source of each tune, and the tunes range the gamut of Irish tune families (including two nice waltzes!), so there's a ton of great material here for the budding Irish musician. And throughout there's such a genuine love for the music that it's hard not to fall in love too. In short, this is the kind of masterful album one would expect from Kevin Crawford. --Devon Leger
Kevin Crawford: Queen of May/Tom Dowd's Favourite/Naughton's
You can buy the album via PayPal (in Euros) at Kevin Crawford's Website
Séamus Begly & Oisín Mac Diarmada: Le Chéile (Together)
2012. Musical Ireland.
I just got my hands on the recent CD that features the fiddle/accordion team of Séamus Begley and Oisín Mac Diarmada. I recently wrote a review of another recording with Oisín Mac Diarmanda playing with the Innisfree Ceili Band. This time he teams up with the great Kerry accordion player Séamus Begley and they take us on a wild ride of breakneck reels, jigs, hornpipes, and polkas. As an added bonus, Séamus delights us with a few wonderful songs in his masterful Séan-nos style (un-ornamented songs in Gaelic).
It's just the two of them playing on the recording, except for an occasional singing duet with Séamus and his daughter Méabh Ní Bheaglaoich. Séamus comes from an illustrious musical family with a brother who also plays accordion (Brendan Begley). This recording is the result of two years touring with Oisín's troupe of "Irish Christmas in America." The influences, references and tune names on the CD read like a who's who of great Irish musicians: Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, Ed Reavey, Andy McGann, Michael Coleman for the fiddlers and Finbarr Dwyer, Joe Burke, Johnny O’Leary, and Denis Doody for the box players.
The recording starts of with a set of rollicking slides: "The Scartaglen and Trasna Na dTonnta. This is followed by two reels: Richard Dwyer's and The Hunter's House and then a great song by Séamus: "An tSeanbhean Bhocht" with delightful backup vocals by his daughter. The rest of the CD keeps up the pace and quality with more songs, reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas. Throughout the recording, we feel the excitement and joy these two great musicians have playing together. It feels at times like two great thoroughbreds on a race to the finish, running neck an neck all the way.
I highly recommend this CD. --Dr. Squeeze
[Editor's Note: We've just heard that Séamus Begley has officially joined Oisin's awesome Irish trad band, Téada. Congrats all around, we love seeing two generations come together for good tunes and great parties!]
Séamus Begley & Oisín Mac Diarmada: An tSeanbhean Bhocht
Séamus Begley & Oisín Mac Diarmada: The Boys Of Tandragee/The Eavesdropper/Finbarr Dwyer’s
06/12/2012 | comments (0)
We've been waiting for this to drop for a little while, and we're so excited to share it with you now! Hearth Music got a great interview with rising honky-tonk star J.P. Harris of J.P. Harris & The Tough Choices. He's led a hard-knock life, to say the least, and when he sings about hard work and crazy parties, this guy has lived it all. He's a wonderful storyteller, and at times sounds like a young Kerouac describing his train hopping and cross country adventures. In the interview he talks about his DIY punk roots, his years spent herding sheep with the Navajo, his train hopping techniques, hobo signs, and the dirtiest jobs he's ever done. Check it out:
Published by Tiny Mix Tapes
On what country music means:
"You start to realize when singing a song about life in the country or singing a song about your truck breaking down or your woman leaving you or whatever: These things, they become a lot more tangible when you realize that you’ve been right in the same hard scrabble shoes for a long time. When I get up on a stage and I sing a song about truck-driving, I’ve been the guy on the nasty ice-covered road in a big, three-ton dump truck trying to tug a broken piece of equipment out of a muddy ditch. I feel like it’s given me a much more visceral taste for why people even wrote this music in the first place, why this music is so identifiable to so many people around the country."
On hobo signs:
"There’s a symbol that got widely spread. It’s 2 circles overlapping each other. It means: Never give up. Which means: This is a rough town, you’re gonna have a hard time getting out of here on the trains, but just get to the next town."
On Navajo spirituality:
"In normal white America, black America, or whoever, basically non-indigenous people in this country, you can pick up and change and do whatever you want with your religion, like you change your underwear if you want. You can be a Zen Buddhist this day and then the next day you can decide to be a Universalist. Five years down the road, you can get married and consider converting to Judaism and you split up with your wife and get married to someone else and become Catholic. There isn’t a personal, cultural identity in that deep of a way in any religions in the world that I see, other than in indigenous ones. So, I saw that this is something that these people lived and breathed and it was their full existence from the beginning of their lives to the end of their lives. There was no option or idea of even changing the options about what they believed in. I think that was the heaviest thing I saw. "
06/11/2012 | comments (1)
Summer's finally here at HearthPR HQ, and we're having a tough time staying indoors while the sun is shining all around! But we're so excited to be promoting two albums of beautiful acoustic roots music, and we think these are the perfect albums to play on your car stereo with the windows rolled down. California folk power-trio Coyote Grace should be familiar already, since we promoted their previous album, Ear to the Ground, back in 2010. Their new album is a delightful listen, packed full of memorable songs and enough sassy attitude and heartfelt love to last for days. Sharing this mailing, father-daughter old-time music duo Rafe & Clelia Stefanini are well known in traditional music circles as two generations of master musicians. Now they've brought together some of their favorite old-time tunes and songs for a relaxed album of family music making. They recorded this album in Eunice, Louisiana, and you can feel some of that Southern sunshine seeping into their music.
What blossomed as a sweet relationship between two young people busking on the streets of Seattle has become a powerful trio of roots musicians renowned for their totally engaging live performances and beautiful studio albums. At once both radically progressive and unashamedly nostalgic, Coyote Grace is at the forefront of a growing movement to redefine the meanings of “roots” and “tradition.” Sure they’ve played in bluegrass bands and country revues, but their music and their lives are a process of continual re-invention. They’re not afraid to slip Left Coast politics into a Midwest groove, because the honesty of their message shines through. Whether singing about the complexities of long-term relationships, or the head-spinning fun of barista crushes, they’re singing about each and every one of us, and that’s what makes their music so accessible. They’ve won over crowds across the US touring with The Indigo Girls, and with their newest album, Now Take Flight, they’re sure to win even more friends. Coyote Grace is poised to step into the national spotlight as troubadours of a new folk movement.
Coyote Grace: To the River
Southern old-time music was made to be handed down from generation to generation, and with their new album, Lady on the Green, father-daughter duo Rafe & Clelia Stefanini prove they have the traditions well in hand. Whether trading twin fiddle lines, or sharing harmony vocals, Rafe & Clelia play as only family can, tightly intertwining their music. Born in Italy, fiddler, banjo player, guitar player, and singer Rafe Stefanini came to the United States in the early 1980s, having been inspired by Italian broadcasts of Bonanza and old Westerns to dive into American roots music at an early age. For the next 30 years, he’s been at the head of the Southern old-time music revival, performing in groups with bandmates like Bruce Molsky, Dirk Powell, Carol Elizabeth Jones, Stefan Senders, Beverly Smith, and recording albums for Rounder and County Records. Anyone who plays old-time music seriously has likely gone back to Rafe’s album catalogue to find an old tune, some tips on bowing, or notes on his banjo tunings. Rafe’s solo albums are cited as inspirational sources for a new generation of old-time musicians, and he’s toured the world as an ambassador for the music. In his daughter, Clelia Stefanini, he’s found the perfect bandmate. Now he’s making music as organically as possible, in the way the music was originally intended: as accompaniment to family life. As for Clelia, she grew up traveling to old-time music camps and festivals all over the place since day one. All that exposure to the music and the lifestyle left an undeniable imprint on her. At age 22 she’s come into her own right as a fiddler, guitarist and singer, known for her powerful musicianship and wry sense of humor. She’s followed the music down South, recently settling in the Cajun center of Eunice, Louisiana, and has been at the heart of her own generation’s recent embrace of Southern traditional music. Together, Rafe & Clelia Stefanini are dedicated to celebrating the home-made nature of old-time music.
Rafe & Clelia Stefanini: Whiskey Seller
06/06/2012 | comments (0)
There's something brewing up north right now. We may not get much news about it here in the States, but for over 100 days students and citizens have been marching in Montréal against tuition hikes. The proposed tuition hikes are really just the tip of the iceberg for many of the protesters, a tangible reason to manifest opposition against a government that many feel is outdated and heading in the wrong direction for Québec. Amidst the iconic squares of red cloth pinned to jackets and banners, symbolizing the student strike, and the numerous counts of violence that have broken out on the streets, Montréal seems like a turbulent sea of red right now. In the time since I wrote this article, an inflammatory emergency law has been passed prohibiting all public gatherings in an effort to quell the demonstrations, and of course, has only lead to mass arrests (518 peaceful protesters in one night) and more conflict between the protesters and the government officials. It will be interesting to keep our eyes to the north and see what happens.
Wikipedia Page for the Québec Protests
In the meantime, Le Vent du Nord's Simon Beaudry kindly agreed to an interview (in French) with Hearth Music's Dejah Léger to talk complicated politics, music, and the future of Québec!
Le Vent du Nord Bring the Party
by Dejah Léger
Nobody brings the party like the Québécois. It’s a fact proven over and over by the unwavering and enduring international popularity of traditional groups like La Bottine Souriante, De Temps Antan, and Le Vent du Nord, whose audiences can’t get enough of their infectious joie de vivre. “There were over 630 people in the audience, more than we ever expected for a folk concert in Alaska,” said Simon Beaudry, guitarist extraordinaire of Le Vent Du Nord, speaking in French from a hotel room in Fairbanks of their recent concert promoting their new album Tromper le Temps. “We were taken aback. We sold out of all of our CDs the first night and we still have a show tonight!” However, Le Vent du Nord also brought another kind of party with them, and this Québécois Party is something else entirely. Known as the PQ (Parti Québécois), this party is less about being together and more about being apart.
With a Juno award and over 1,000 international shows to their credit, Le Vent du Nord are one of Québec’s premier and most influential traditional roots ensembles to date, leading the pack of "Boy Bands" that have emerged from Québec in the last ten years. Their newest album, Tromper les Temps, retains all of the characteristics that their public has come to know them for: their tight harmonies and haunting mix of medieval and contemporary sounds; their treasure-trove of Acadian & French-Canadian songs, lovingly dusted off and brought back to life with renewed vigor; their infectious podorythmie and driving energy. But on closer examination, there is an extra layer of unrest that makes this album far more intense than their previous albums—it is driven, not just by the innate power of Québécois. trad music, but by the unwavering belief that Québec should ultimately be a separate country from Canada.
It’s not a new argument—a point which Le Vent du Nord tries to make clear with their opening song, “Lettre à Durham”, in which Lord Durham, who historically tried to sweep Québec under the rug during the merger of Upper and Lower Canada, is taken to task. The song, written by the group’s frontman Nicolas Boulerice, even borrows a line ("les nègres blancs d'Amérique") from the controversial poet Pierre Vallières, who was seen by many as the intellectual leader of the Front de libération du Québec. They bring the argument to the present as they protest Canada’s plan to frack for shale gas in northern Québec, or Radio-Canada’s decision to cease broadcasting the hockey games in French to Québec. Their Facebook profile pictures are red in solidarity with the student protests that have halted Montréal since February. Meaning that, for all the handsome smiles and funny stage antics, these guys mean business.
But here’s the thing: unlike the majority of politically-tinged folk music, Le Vent du Nord has somehow found a way to make their point without being obnoxious. “We do it with a smile, not in a frustrated or enraged way” said Simon. “We enjoy talking about politics but we don’t want to be en chicane (fighting) with anyone.” And when asked if the language barrier dulls the blade of their convictions during international shows, he responded, “No, not all. With our new concert we’re working on introducing songs like 'Lettre à Durham' and 'La soirée du hockey' in English. It doesn’t take long at all, just a quick explanation at the beginning of the songs to let people know about these issues.” Since 70% of their concerts are outside of Québec, the added element of educational diplomacy is going to be an important point as they begin their tour in earnest in autumn 2012. “A lot of people don’t understand Québec,” says Simon. “It’s common to think we’re just Canadians who speak French, but its much, much more than that. Yes, we speak French, but it’s part of a huge culture. We have our own papers, television, music….Pour nous, le Québec est un pays.” Translation: "For us, Québec is a country."
Language plays a critical role in Québec culture and politics. Despite centuries of being surrounded by Anglophones, French is still the dominant language spoken in Québec. It’s not the flowery French we tend to associate with continental France, either—it’s a unique, vibrant, and rich language with a life—and vocabulary—of its own. Throughout the interview my ears strained to parse out Simon’s statements from the slew of Québécois expressions that punctuated his speech. He said things like “clin d'œil humoristique” (a “humorous wink,’ equivalent to our expression “tongue-in-cheek”) and “pieds-au-nez” (“feet to nose”, meaning “thumbing one’s nose”) that left me a little baffled. But although I realized very quickly that I was out of my depth, conducting an interview in a foreign language, passing into English would have defeated much of our purpose. “It’s really important to us to preserve our Francophone culture,” says Simon, then adds, “not just in Québec, either, but the Francophone culture of North America,” giving a nod to the often-overlooked pockets of French speakers within western Canada and the United States who strive to keep their linguistic and cultural identity intact as well. “We’re standing up for your language and culture, too.”
In the ten years since the formation of Le Vent du Nord—and perhaps because of their security in the world of traditional music—this is the first album on which the Boys express their political leanings. This has garnered them more media attention than ever before, and that in itself is a curious statement. For any number of reasons, we are drawn to their message of sovereignty and cultural preservation.
However, equally important to note, in regards to Tromper le Temps, is that interspersed with their flash-point songs are the over-looked tunes and chansons which have given them their long, enduring ride and rabid fan base, as well as provided the inspiration for their title, which translates to “Cheating Time.” On “Toujours Amants” and “Adieu Marie”, Simon retrieves skeletons of songs buried in time and gives them new life with fresh lyrics and melodies; Réjean Brunet steals a moment to marvel at his sleeping children in the tune “Souffle d’ange,” and Olivier Demers sings of timeless love in his heartfelt song “Le Souhait.” While many of the songs and tunes on the album are penned by the Boys, it somehow retains all the sounds of Québecois roots music, both maintaining and furthering the tradition and culture that refuses to lie down. It’s a poignant reminder that for all the reasons why Québec could be a separate country, there is an overwhelming reason why it should be a separate country. And that is: it has a distinct heritage, spirit, and soul that is unique, and this culture can—and should—be preserved in the country of Québec.
--UPDATE: Fred Pellerin, a much-loved storyteller (and traditional musician) just (06/08//2012) declined the National Order of Québec. The article here is in French, but he states "Mon coeur suit mon peuple, et ce peuple n'a pas le coeur à la fête." ("My heart follows my people, and my people's heart is not in this party"). He's doing this in response to the many protests in Quebec that have been pretty brutally attacked by the government. Vive le Quebec!
(Fred Pellerin Declines Invitation to the National Order of Quebec)
To hear tracks and get a tour schedule visit: http://www.leventdunord.com/
Le Vent du Nord: Lettre à Durham
Le Vent du Nord: Toujours amant
Thanks to Dejah Léger for conducting this interview in French with Simon Beaudry, thanks to Simon for his openness and honesty, and thanks to Louis Léger for help translating the French. Hearth Music is a family business and we don't hesitate to proclaim our love for our French-Canadian heritage!