Folk music. The best.
Folk music. The best.
Bob Nelson, Folksinger and archivist of the Pacific Northwest Folklore Society talks about meeting Pete Seeger and his life lived for and with Folk Music in this video. Needless to say, he sure has got quite a few stories to tell. His recollections begin sometime in the 1950’s when he was (at the age of 16) president of the Seattle Folk Singing Society and organised a concert for Seeger. It being the McCarthy area it was no wonder that he himself, like Seeger, aroused the interest of the local FBI branch. He talks about all this and more in a fascinating 38 minute video. A life devoted to Folk music, indeed. They are organising coffee-house type of concerts on a regular basis, a shame I am not living in the Seattle area, so I can only enjoy the info on their website (www.pnwfolklore.org) and some of their videos on their YouTube channel where this video can also be found.
The Second part of my annual music roundup.
Jack White : Did You Hear John Hurt? (from Another Day, Another Time)
The Avett Brothers : That’s How I Got To Memphis (from Another Day, Another Time)
Danny Schmidt : Cries Of Shadows (from Owls)
Bruce Cockburn : Pacing The Cage (from Slice O Life)
The Honey Dewdrops : Loneliest Songs (from Tangled Country)
Joan Shelley : No More Shelter (from Over And Even)
Son Volt : True To Life (Live At The Bottom Line 2/12/96) (from Trace)
The Cowboy Junkies : Misguided Angel (from The Trinity Sessions)
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer : Way Over Yonder in The Minor Key (from Little Blue Egg)
Wait, you think, that can’t be right. Eric Andersen’s I Shall Go Unbounded on a 2015 mix? Damn right you are, it dates from 1966. But with all of my year end mixes they only contains a fraction of new music. I have neither got the time nor the money (yeah, I know we’ve got filesharing nowadays) to listen/buy all the new releases I could be interested in. And I am always discovering both new and old music, so just putting new music on a mix doesn’t really make that much sense to me. I originally intended to make two mixes but as I am, as usual, somewhat short of time this will be the only one , at least for now, as the second part is already pretty much finished so I might upload that at some point.
You can listen to the mix over on my Mixcloud page:
Eric Andersen : I Shall Go Unbounded (from ‘Bout Changes And Things)
Believe it or not, I hadn’t really heard about Eric Andersen until last year, but once I heard Thirsty Boots, I immediately was hooked on his Dylanesque acoustic guitar/harmonica sounds. He certainly wrote brilliant songs judging from the uniformly excellent ones on ‘Bout Changes And Things, and his voice is a bit better than Dylan’s.
Robert Earl Keen : This World Is Not My Home (from Happy Prisoner (The Bluegrass Sessions))
Happy Prisoner without a doubt is my favorite album released in 2015. Why it is ranked so far down in some of the Best Of 2015 lists (e.g. somewhere way down in the 30′ s in No Depression) is absolutely beyond me. Nothing about this album couldn’t be called perfect: Neither the choice of songs (most of them very old or traditionals) or their rough-around-the-edges treatment (take Wayfaring Stranger, doubtlessly recorded hundreds of times, sounds totally fresh and new on here) could possibly have been done better in a Bluegrass context. Genius.
Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer : When I Go (from When I Go)
One or the other of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s releases was always right next to my CD player for most of this year, and I probably listened to their music more than anybody else’s during the course of 2015. Due to Dave Carter’s early passing, they didn’t release too many albums, but every single one of them I own so far enchanted me to the highest degree. Theirs was a sound as gentle as imaginative, yet steeped in age-old traditions and the lyrics where alway astounding and captivating with their own kind of spiritualistic American realism. Their music is as pure and invigorating as a mountain stream.
Eric Bibb : Shingle By Shingle (from An Evenng with Eric Bibb)
Yet another masterful release (recorded in 2002 and released in 2007) by Eric Bibb, an artist I have grown very, very fond of in the past 12 months. This concert shows him only accompanied by a bass player, in fine mood and on top of his game. All he needs to make a release as powerful and convincing as this if you ask me, although he is known not to limit his stylistic expressions and has got an all-encompassing sense of musical openness. Soulful sounds and lyrics, whether they are slightly melancholic (yet hopeful) as on Shingle By Shingle or full of glee as on Lonesome Valley or I Heard The Angels Singing, they are played to perfection in a nevertheless spontaneous way.
Conor Oberst : Four Strong Winds (from Another Day, Another Time)
Four Strong Winds is taken from the mighty fine concert performance inspired by The Coen Brother’s fab Inside Llewyn Davis. This is exactly how I like Mr. Bright Eyes/Desaparecidos like best. Just him, his brittle, still young sounding voice, a few acoustic guitars and background vocals (by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings), and a splendid song (by Canadian Folk/Country legend Ian Tyson). Lovely and melancholic.
Dar Williams : Southern California Wants To Be Western New York (from Mortal City)
A youthful Dar Williams convinces with this simple, affecting Acoustic Folk gem taken from one of her early releases, Mortal City is chock-full of gorgeous and intensively arranged songs, of which Southern California… is just one of my favorite songs.
The Pines : Banks Of The Ohio (from Pasture Folk Songs)
The best of the young-ish Alternative Country/Dark Folk bands to come out of the US in a very long time in my opinion, The Pines don’t disappoint with this brief in between 7-song EP (read my review here). The traditional Banks Of The Ohio has hardly been done more melancholic and lovely than on here and is just one of the 7 (yes, that’s right) highlights on Pasture for me. Their next full-length album is due for release in early February 2016 (again on Red House Records), so watch this space.
Greg Brown : Poor Backslider (from Down In There)
As soon as I heard and saw Greg Brown’s fantastic, spontaneous live rendition of Poor Backslider on the highly recommended Brown documentary Hacklebarney Tunes (available as part of the fine If I had Known CD/DVD compilation) I fell in love with the sad tale of a Hillbilly alcoholic going through all the motions that stem from such a scenario. This is a full-steam version with a fabulous slide guitar by Mr. Bo Ramsey (of course it is fabulous) and a brilliantly told tale straight of the American Heartland – who could do such a song better than Mr. Brown? Nobody, that’s who, if you ask me.
Bill Morrissey : Small Town On The River (from The Essential Collection)
Small Town In The River for me has become one of Bill Morrissey’s signature songs. Like most of his songs it’s a wonderfully melancholic and beautiful tale of things not going too well, this time for a whole town.
Joan Shelley : Something Small (from Electric Ursa)
Read my recent review of Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa here
Dave Rawlings Machine : The Trip (from Nashville Obsolete)
The Trip is by far the most outstanding song on Nashville Obsolete (all of the almost 11 minutes of it). Totally relaxed and brilliantly executed and arranged (naturally I should say, this is a Dave Rawlings/Gillian Welch release after all)
Lucy Kaplansky : Every Grain Of Sand (from A Nod To Bob 2)
Like many songs on A Nod To Bob 2, Every Grain Of Sand made me realise (again) just how good a songwriter Bob Dylan is. Just listen to the lyrics on Every Grain Of Sand, that the stripped-down piano arrangement and Kaplansky’s vocals are quite beautiful does help too of course.
Jorma Kaukonen : San Francisco Bay Blues (from 2003-08-08 The Bottom Line New York City, NY)
Another artist I didn’t really have on my radar until a few months ago. Kaukonen is of course something of a legend, as a member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, but I doubt there are many of both bands releases I would like better than the 35 song, 3 and a half hour set of expertly crafted, acoustic Swinging/Rock’n’Rolling and otherwise infectious Folk/Country-Blues fest that is this 2003 live set. Almost every song’s a hit and the musicianship (with a Mandolin and a slide guitar player accompanying him here) on display here is outstanding.
Jimmy LaFave : Not Dark Yet (from A Nod To Bob 2)
This version of one of the, for me, comparatively few highlights of Dylan’s later career, is outstanding due to its relaxed and wistful mood and the perfect, but not too perfect arrangement. Time for me to delve into LaFave’s other records I guess.
Judy Collins : Bob Dylan’s Dream (from Judy Collins Sings Dylan)
Bob Dylan’s Dream has always been a particular Dylan fave of mine, and this version is one of the best (and certainly the most beautiful) songs on an album that is, in parts, not doing Dylan’s songs justice, as quite a few songs are arranged far too tame and MOR for my taste. That said, there are a few other songs also worth hearing, but this is probably the most successfully realised one.
Donovan : Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do? (from Catch The Wind)
With Donovan being from Scotland, this is a departure from the usual and heavily North American-centric theme of this here blog. But Why Do You Treat me…? sounds suitably Dylanesque and is downright tongue in cheek fun
Out of the batch of new CD’s I bought recently, none has enchanted my quite as much as Joan Shelley’s 2014 album Electric Ursa. Being previously unbeknownst to me, a favourable review of her new album Over And Even attracted my attention to her, a quick listen of Electric Ursa on iTunes quickly made me realise I might be in for something very good. Which Electric Ursa indeed did turn out to be.
Joan Shelley hails from Louisville, KY. I am as yet not too informed on her musical background, but some tracks, especially the utterly fabulous album opener Something Small make me suspect she’s rather from an Independent Rock/Post-Rock background than from a straight Folk or Country one as wouldn’t be totally surprising given where she’s from. Although Folk clearly is the style most prominent in her work, even more so on her new album than on here. Something Small also is the highlight for me on Electric Ursa, it’s full of tension, and the hypnotic, mantra-like chorus of ‘It’s all layed out in front for you to take it’ is just magic. It’s the melodic phrasing and some of the guitar work on many tracks making her work stand out from many of her Folk contemporaries. I don’t even know if she herself would put herself in that musical corner, but the review mentioned above made me believe that.
River Low is turning up the tempo a little bit on here and is a VERY lovely and straightforward piece of acoustic Folk magic – just as I like it.
Moss and Marrow and First Of August both slow things down considerably and are dominated by the hushed sounds of gently strummed acoustic guitars, only sparsely augmented by instruments such as keyboards (Moss And Marrow) and lead guitar (First of August). They also, like many of her songs (on Over And Even as well), remind me a bit of a not-quite-so-dark Low, coupled with some prime Cowboy Junkies. Another comparison coming to mind (mine at least, I’m probably one of only few people still remembering them) mid-90’s alt country band Tarnation, mainly due to the reverb-drenched lead guitar on First Of August.
The short Remedios is a gorgeous instrumental (featuring her choir voice, but no words) and starting off with a lone and lonesome banjo to be accompanied by violin and dreamy keyboard sounds later in the song, giving it a hymnal, pastoral lullaby feeling. Dreamy being the appropriate word anyway to describe her music, all of her songs I so far know (on here and on her new album) possess that late night, sleepy atmosphere I am very much drawn to.
A short album (only about 33 minutes) but one sure to linger in my mind for a very long time.
Magic in its simplicity this is probably my favorite version of Van Zandt’s classic Pancho & Lefty
Derroll Adams (1925 – 2000) was an American Folk Singer, living for most of his life in Europe. He worked extensively with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in the 1950’s and became friends with Donovan.
Having just discovered his work I do not yet know much about him and am not very familar with his music, but this song has a captivating quality I find hard to resist.
Perhaps not one of the songs springing to mind when thinking about The Byrds (although it is somewhat iconic of course), Ballad Of Easy Rider is as short (at just over 2 minutes) as it is brilliant and lovely.
Wonderful, intimate performance of a lovely song, taken from her new-ish album Under Branch & Thorn & Tree.
Most everybody knows Hard Times, and in case you don’t, here’s the skinny. It was written by Stephen (Collins) Foster and published in 1854. The first audio recording of it was released in 1905 (if Wikipedia is right). There have been dozens (probably more like hundreds) of recordings done since by the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith ( I would love to hear Iron & Wine’s, undoubtedly fine, version too, but couldn’t find it anywhere). Of course I don’t know all of them, but I simply cannot imagine there’s one better and more beautiful one than Gillian Welch’s. And Dave Rawlings’, I should add. I always thought it a shame they are referred to simply as Gillian Welch, as his contributions, mainly on the guitar, are crucial to what is making most of their songs so wonderful and good. Hard Times is no exception to this. The typically reduced simple banjo and acoustic guitar arrangement is absolutely befitting a song like Hard Times, not to mention Welch’s unmistakable voice. It’s taken from 2011’s The Harrow & The Harvest. Dave Rawlings Machine’s new album Nashville Obsolete is out on September 18th and most probably one of 2015’s outstanding releases. Rejoice (I certainly am).