Rising Appalachia brings traditional folk music into the 21st century. Filthy Dirty South, recorded live at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, N.C., is a great example of what can happen when the boundaries of genre and style are ignored, and raw creativity is allowed to take control.
The band consists of sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith leading with sweet, soulful vocals and playing a variety of strings, Abram Racin on double bass, Imhotep on bass drum and other African drums, Biko Casini on djembe and congas, and Forrest Kelly, who beatboxes on a few tracks and plays washboard. Guest musicians add trumpet, trombone, and cello.
The wide range of instrumentation allows for an equally wide range of sounds. This is not just a folk album. Styles vary across traditional Appalachian, blues, and world fusion. There is a dynamic flexibility shown here — the album bounces back and forth but remains cohesive with a clear direction and the help of strong musicianship.
The opening track, “Mississippi Song”, eases you in, showing off the sisters’ vocal prowess with an acappella number rich in harmony and layering. It is followed by “Filthy Dirty South”, the title track, a blues number that brings in the band with solid percussion. Muted trumpet balances the double bass, creating a silky smooth feel.
Double banjo and double fiddle are at play on the next two tracks, both traditional Appalachian songs. Leah and Chloe demonstrate their fast, clever picking, though at points the notes seem a bit muddled. The second of the two, “Pretty Little Foot”, is remade with an electronic influence on Soul Voices, a collaboration between the sisters and David Block of the Human Experience. as is “Mississippi Song” and the sultry “Take Me Downtown”, another song from this album.
“I’ll Fly Away”, a traditional gospel song that always reminds me of my grandmother, is funked up with bassy beatboxing and congas, and then quickly spins into a high-tempo choir jam, complete with tambourine.
The barn-dancing, foot-stomping “Cumberland Gap” brings the album back to traditional Appalachian sounds, only to be followed shortly by “Zavedi Me Lalino” (translated “Stay With Me Lalino”), a tune Leah and Chloe picked up from the Bisserov Sisters, a Bulgarian trio that collects and performs traditional Bulgarian music. Two of the three closing songs feature African influences, from the Congo and East Africa.
“Occupy”, a jazz-inspired number, mirrors the sisters’ strong activist stance with spoken word. “Occupy Wall Street, occupy your basic rights, occupy the front lines, and when it’s time, stand up to fight.”
Filthy Dirty South is an overall outstanding work of clever musicianship. A tour of world sounds that could be scattered and disjointed is very skilfully executed with a pleasant flow. Leah and Chloe’s vocals are the centerpiece here; though present on every track, they are never overpowering, even over the softest and sweetest notes.
You can pick up the 15 track album, either as a hard copy or download, on cdbaby.com. Watch the live recording of “Cumberland Gap” at Echo Mountain below.
Thandiwe Ogbonna is a music writer gone rogue. Inspired by the love, acceptance, and incredible stories she has encountered on her journeys to and from live music events across the East Coast and Midwest, she has decided to document her experiences and share them with the world. You can read her tales of adventure on her blog, or connect on Facebook or Twitter.