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!
06/04/2012 | comments (0)
HearthPR is so proud to be working with venerable record label Smithsonian Folkways to promote their 10th and final album in the Music of Central Asia series. Featuring master Chinese musician Wu Man in an unprecedented collaboration with Muslim Uyghur musicians from Northern China, music scholars from Tajikistan and the rarely heard songs of the Hui Muslims, this album is a brave, visionary collaboration between historically related cultures.
Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route
Wu Man’s quest to understand the history of the pipa brought her to the Chinese borderlands of the Silk Route, a region of vast expanses of desert, mountains, and grasslands that for millennia have both linked and divided Chinese and Central Asian civilizations. At the heart of Borderlands are the musical traditions of the Uyghurs, whose homeland is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the far northwest of China. Borderlands introduces three outstanding Uyghur musicians–Abdulla Majnun, Sanubar Tursun, and Hesenjan Tursun. Borderlands also features Hui singer Ma Ersa from China’s Northwest Gansu province, and Tajik musicians Abduvali Abdurashidov and Sirojiddin Juraev. As Wu Man says, “The collaborations made my musical fantasy come true. Together with these musicians, we created a new musical voice.”
Check out this fascinating video about the album:
Wu Man & Abdulla Majnun: Chebiyat
Sanubar & Hesenjan Tursun & Wu Man: Kurt Nakshisi (Song of the Kurds)
Please contact Devon at Hearth Music if you'd like to find out more about this music and this fascinating project.
05/23/2012 | comments (0)
Seattle songwriter and busker Ben Fisher has the same kind of starry-eyed enthusiasm a young Dylan must have had around his heroes like Woody Guthrie. I've seen him at shows in Seattle, his focus 100% on the stage where one of his music friends or companions is laying it down. He attends shows almost as much as he plays them, and though he's one of the most recognized characters in our Seattle roots music scene, he's remarkably ego-free when it comes to music. As a songwriter, his songs channel the bleak winters of the Pacific Northwest, and his new EP, Roanoke, is no exception. Whereas his previous album had an infectious youthful innocence that won over all the snarky cynics in Seattle, his new EP is hinting at something deeper and darker. It's a promising artistic progression, so I really wanted to know more about his process in creating the music for the EP. Hearth Music hit him up for the background stories behind our three favorite songs off Roanoke. He had some fascinating answers:
Ben Fisher: Dublin Blues Pt. 2
"I was at a friend's house for dinner during the snow storm we had in January. After we ate, as is customary when I'm at his place, we broke out his laptop and started playing James McMurtry. We're both big fans of McMurtry's songs, and as time goes on, and the beer bottles stack up, we usually start to branch off into other Austin songwriters. Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, etc. He played me the Guy Clark song 'Dublin Blues', which I'd never heard before and I was immediately struck by it. The fact that it totally bowled me over even through shitty laptop speakers is a testament to how good of a song it is. The line "I have been to Fort Worth/and I have been to Spain/and I have been too proud to come in out of the rain" is songwriting at its finest.
I played the song obsessively for the next few days. Then I borrowed a Justin Townes Earle picking pattern and went to work writing about what I'd been up to since a then-recent breakup. I knew that the the first line that hit me, "I'm making a list of things I would tell you if you hadn't let me go" was too long to be a song title, so I made it the refrain. You can look at someone leaving you in many different ways, but at its most basic, a breakup is when the person who you used to talk to the most, you no longer talk to. So (as mentally unhealthy as it sounds) I found myself filling that gap by thinking about things I would talk about if she were still around.
I've noticed a tradition in Americana music where someone will write a great song, and then years later, someone will write a new that's either stylistically or thematically similar and title it after the original. For instance, Bob Dylan's Workingman's Blue #2 after Merle Haggard's Workingman's Blues. I figured Dublin Blues Pt. 2 bears some stylistic similarities to Guy's song, so I titled it after his."
Ben Fisher: Hibernation
I also wrote this one in January. It was 2 AM, the night before I had a big test, and I had been studying on and off, but mostly off. As I've become more interested and invested in my musical career, I've become a little bit disillusioned with my studies. I thought to myself, "Where am I going with this?" and had a line for the first verse.
I made some tea and toast, and pulled a chair into my pantry (my preferred writing location, as strange as that may be), using a shelf as a desk and finished the song in about 10 minutes. The melody and guitar part changed a little bit, but I don't think I changed a single word. I'm pretty bad at editing my lyrics.
Sometimes you have to drop everything, make some tea and toast, and write a song.
I've always been fascinated by history's unsolved mysteries. The story of the lost colony of Roanoke is no exception, and goes like this: in the late 16th century, a group of British colonists sailed to the New World and established a fort on Roanoke Island, in present day Virginia. They quickly ran out of supplies, so a group stayed, and a group sailed back to England. Because of a skirmish that Great Britain found itself involved in with the Spanish Armada, they were unable to return for 3 years. When they did, they found absolutely nothing. The fort was gone, and there was no sign of anyone ever being there. The only thing left was the word "Croatan" carved into a tree. As years passed, there were rumors of blue-eyed Indians being spotted in Virginia, so nowadays, most historians believe that the colonists were either absorbed or attacked by the Croatan tribe.
The first two verses of the song are written from the point of view of a Croatan Indian. I had that first line "I know your mother tongue/And I'll sing along with my broken lungs" in my head for a long time - well before I had the idea to write a song about Roanoke. When I decided to write a song about the lost colony, I realized that those lines fit well with some of the things that happened once explorers started coming to the new world. The "mother tongue" line speaks to the tradition of Native American translators who helped bridge early language and culture gaps with the colonists (although I'm not entirely sure there were translators that early on in America's history - so I hope there aren't any fact checkers out there). The "broken lungs" line ties into the horrific introductions of diseases (smallpox, etc.) passed to the natives, whose immune systems were completely ill-prepared to fight them. I really liked the idea of a old, wise, Native American giving advice to a young and fresh European man before the cultural clashes of the coming centuries.
It took me a while to draw a similarity between that historical event and a personal experience. The parallel that I ended up drawing between the historical and personal aspects of the song was the idea of leaving somewhere, and then coming back to find that things weren't exactly the same as how you'd left them, which is a pretty universally understood notion - and using the example of the lost colony hyperbolizes that idea.