Originally written for the Bluegrass Situation
Greg Brown is what you might call a songwriter’s songwriter. From the blues to old school country, folk and so forth, his music doesn’t fixate on any one style. The songs he writes go where they want to go, say what they want to say so naturally, they start to feel as though they’ve written…Continue
Amy Ray was backstage at the Isis in Asheville, NC, last week, listening to the soundcheck of her opener, a local artist named Lyric. As we got to talking about her new album Goodnight Tender, which dropped on her own Daemon label on Jan. 21, Ray periodically paused mid-sentence to enjoy the muffled funk happening on the other side of the wall.
To most people, it might seem odd to pair a funk and…Continue
Every image of Pete Seeger that's been playing on a reel in my head today - and on videos that seem to be crowding the social media sphere as millions mourn the end of his incredible life - has Pete behind a microphone, looking away, his mouth still shaping the words, but the sound is coming from the dark expanse in front of him. It's a fitting image - the voice of the crowd creating a noise that appears to be emerging from Pete's own mouth. His life's work, after all, was getting…Continue
There are times in the life of a music critic when you see a show or hear an album and all you really want to say is "holy shit." Analysing guitar solos and parsing the energy between people on a stage starts to feel a little like looking for the trapdoor in a magic show. You kind of have to just show up and witness the the part where the guy stands right up on the mic, the force of the melody bending his body back a good ten inches at the top, like his voice is the rock in a big…Continue
I've been thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr., a lot lately. Which makes sense, in a way. After all, this past August was a half-century since Dr. King made his famous "I Have a Dream Speech", one of many made during a day of demonstration for "Jobs and Freedom." Lately, the mainstream media has been focusing on another anniversary - that which marks President Johnson's declaration of a War on Poverty. This only puts Dr. King in my head further, since it was poverty which was…Continue
Originally written for Folk Alley
Since the spring of 1960, Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, NY, has been welcoming folk singers and musicians onto its stage. Among them have been folks as variant as Tom Paxton and John Gorka, Robin and Linda Williams, Anais Mitchell, Greg Brown, Arlo Guthrie, and Tift Merritt. It's the longest continuously running coffee house in the country, and crowds continue to gather there…Continue
Originally written for the Bluegrass Situation
Songwriting takes many forms. Sure, in the realm of Americana music, “songwriting” typically refers to the thing most people do with an acoustic guitar, a voice, and their sense of poetry. But, in many areas of traditional music – folk, bluegrass, classical, jazz – “songwriting” can be a process by which an…Continue
The internet has been buzzing the past day or two over a folksinger gaffe that, in the grand scope of All Things, let's be perfectly honest here, is not really the end of the world.
A little background.
In 1989, a bald, nose-pierced, hairy pitted teenager from Buffalo, NY, put out a demo on a cassette tape. She had been performing in the Buffalo area for years, and had developed a guitar picking style that was unique, for lack of a better word. Many of her songs -…Continue
It's funny that I should have come across Julie Lee only recently, and only through hearing her sing backup for other artists. First for Robby Hecht on YouTube, then behind Rose Cousins at the AMA festival, Lee delivered backing harmonies that were surprising, creative, and woefully heartbreaking. Grante,d both Hecht and Cousins write songs that aren't exactly a barrel of monkeys, but there was something about what Lee was…Continue
My daddy told me and I believe he told me true
The right thing's always the hardest thing to do
Indeed, it's not easy to change your life. Whether you're changing away from addiction, toward an illness your body can't fight, into the welcoming arms of someone who truly loves you (and, consequently, away from all the forces that just keep you around to validate them), and so on. It's complicated and full of layers. Like turning your head - it's not just your…Continue
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.