I ignored Holly Williams's new album, The Highway, as long as I could. It arrived in a swarm of padded envelopes, among a flurry of other CDs I also didn't listen to right away. The cover photo showed a pretty blond woman, her hair in her face, close up. She looked tired or urgent, or maybe like she was waiting for something, it was hard to tell which. Besides, the idea of an Americana album called The Highway seemed oh so preciously cliche.
I had tried to…Continue
Hang out in Americana circles long enough, and you'll start to hear people toss around phrases like "real country music". More than an ethnocentric down-the-nose judgmnet about fakery, the phrase tends to be employed when describing music that comes from a desire to tell stories about things that matter to real country people, not only those interested in purchasing something from a certain section of a store (or, a certain page on iTunes). Sure, plenty of real country people…Continue
It takes a lot of nerve to imagine you can sing a song better than - or, at least, as well as - Alison Krauss. Let's just start there.
Granted, Aoife O'Donovan wrote "Lay My Burden Down", the song Krauss included on her last Grammy-nominated album with Union Station, Paper Airplane. But Krauss has become famous precisely because she is able to immediately hone in on the essence of a song and sing straight at it. From "The Lucky One" to "Down to the River to Pray",…Continue
The Altamont Theater sits on a small, sleepy sidestreet in the heart of downtown Asheville. It's such a sleepy little street, you'd hardly notice the buskers and sidewalk diners and demonstrators who typically gather right around the corner near Pack Square.
The prorprieters are New York City transplants who met in the theater community up there and thought it might be nice to open a small theater and corresponding company here in the mountain south. They picked an old…Continue
Added by Kim Ruehl on November 8, 2013 at 8:00am — No Comments
To be perfectly honest, I don't know why I started writing this piece about Elliott Smith this week. I was never a big fan, never studied his music very closely. I didn't even like it all that much until I found myself in a relationship with someone who did, who played it all the time. Then his lyrics and lulling, background melodies wandered, painstakingly, subconsciously, into my favor. Apparently.
Meanwhile, a lot of people in my profession have been…Continue
I do these First Listen Reviews every now and then, pulling a couple of CDs at random from the often overwhelming stacks of review copies piling up in my office. Were I to write a full-length well-considered review, I would give the album at least five spins. Often it takes until the fifth time through to really connect with the music at all. This time around, I got lucky and connected with most of it right off the bat. So, without further ado, here are four new albums, all well worth…Continue
Added by Kim Ruehl on October 24, 2013 at 11:30am — No Comments
Originally written for Folk Alley
Sarah Jarosz got started early, releasing stunning albums of imaginative acoustic music before she was so much as out of high school. Of course, it helped that the discs included support from some of the other great mandolinists (her primary instrument) - folks like Sam Bush and Chris Thile, to drop a few names. But the songwriting and the…Continue
The punk kid inside Billy Bragg must have been amused (in some weird way) by the buzzing whirl of Taylor Swift superfans, who dotted the lobby of his Nashville hotel the weekend of this year's Americana Music Association Festival and Conference. He'd come to Nashville to play some music, catch up with old friends, and answer questions in front of a live audience during the conference. He chose a different hotel, no doubt for the peace and quiet of being a few blocks from the AMA's…Continue
It seemed like a good idea at the time, when I was offered a spot on a couple of panels at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) conference. After all, Raleigh is only four hours from where I live in Asheville, NC, and I'd get a couple of days down home between a week at the Americana conference and this one. But now, on the tail end of that questionable decision, I am hanging on by a hair and a shot of espresso.
In the good way, of course.
I've only been…Continue
In years past, I've come to these things with the intention of doing, seeing, and hearing Absolutely Everything. Have worn myself out running from conversation to conversation, venue to venue, hellbent on cramming as much as possible into my ears and eyes, in hopes of cobbling together the most complete picture of the essence of the thing.
This year, my tactic has been: pick one or two things a day, make it to those things, and everything else is gravy.
Robbie Fulks has been making his way through the world as a singer-songwriter for about two decades now. He's dipped his twang in everything from alt-country to a Michael Jackson tribute, and beyond. But, his new album, Gone Away Backward, reaches into more topical territory.
Sure, there's nothing explicitly socio-political about this album, just as there isn't anything explicitly socio-political about the daily lives of the communities about whom Fulks has written…Continue
Originally written for Folk Alley
Alice Gerrard has played with some of folk music's great legends: Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger, Elizabeth Cotten. Her career has spanned a half-century and touched upon the realms of country, bluegrass, and old time, influencing generations of players and songwriters alike. But, it wasn't until this summer that she ever released a solo album of all original…Continue
LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE - There's a Last Time for Everything
Gosh, this record starts out beautiful and dreamy. The opening track, "The Year Will End Again", rests heavily on an acoustic guitar and upper-register piano, some distant swirling, breezy, polyphonic violins, and Roche's voice like a gull riding a blue sky. The disc includes collaborations with Colin Meloy and Mary Chapin Carpenter. As one song gives way to the next, it's clear all the songs are as…Continue
Steve Earle has one of those careers for which it's hard to imagine any up-and-coming artist carrying the torch. He's defied pretty much everything you might expect out of a guy from Texas with a trucker beard, who plays rock and roll through a deep, grumbly twang.
He kicked the liquor habit 19 years ago. He's a proud father of an autistic son who advocates for justice for all people. He digs women's rights and is such an ardent socialist, he's been known to take personal…Continue
When the TV show Nashville left us last season, Juliette Barnes (played swimmingly by Hayden "Save the cheerleader, save the world" Panettiere) was burying her mother and, apparently, swallowing her first welcome dose of reality. Meanwhile, Rayna James (the incredible Connie Britton) was faced with her own reality check in the least cliffhangery of all television cliffhangers.
I mean, come on. They're not going to kill off - or even "maim off," if that's a thing -…Continue
"Folk music" is a funny thing. In the most generalized sense, the phrase refers to the music of the people. In other words, music made by and for the folk. In even other words, all music. As Louis Armstrong said, "I ain't never heard no horse sing a song."
Yet, there are people like me in the world, who get paid to talk about and think about what constitutes "folk music."
Meanwhile, about 54 years ago on the coast of Rhode Island, a fellow named George Wein decided…Continue
After a day of rain and drenched shoes squishing through mud, the second day of this year's Newport Folk Festival was beating with sun. Arriving a little late, I took a seat at the back of the crowd around the Harbor Tent for Sarah Jarosz. Backed by Nathaniel Smith on cello and Alex Hargreaves on fiddle, Jarosz moved through material from across her two already-released albums, as well as a couple of selections from her forthcoming disc - due on Sugar Hill Records Aug. 6. She…Continue
The rain came early and often - a mist to begin, finding its way to a steady spit. I didn't even notice at first, to be honest. I was nestled in the center of a large and solid tent, a few rows back, watching the Milk Carton Kids play one of the first and finest sets of Day One at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
"We've worn our finest suits," joked Joey Ryan after the duo's first song or two. "[We] brought these notes that'll help us put on the most professional show…Continue
Added by Kim Ruehl on July 26, 2013 at 6:39pm — No Comments
Last night, I headed down to our local indie bookseller, Malaprop’s, to hear a talk by the journalist Mark Kurlansky, whose new book Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America is about…well, the title’s pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t feel at liberty to say a whole lot about what the book explores. I can imagine it looks at the separation between white and black culture before Motown Records,…Continue
It's been some time since I pulled from the rising stack of CDs that's been teetering in the back of my office. So, in the interest of sharing some thoughts on new releases, here's the first of what I'm guessing will be a few installments of summertime First Listen reviews:
WILD PONIES - Things That Used to Shine
Before I get to the music, I'll note that the band playing on this disc consists of Doug & Telisha Williams, Ray…