Best Roots Music Photographs of the Week
This week, I’ve simply found the best photographs uploaded to this site and collected them into an entertaining slideshow. Explanations follow:
I caught Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins, and Anais Mitchell on their third stop on a six-week tour that is also promoting voter registration. It was a delighful evening that was over all too soon. Swapping songs and joining together on most of them, it was quickly apparent that they enjoy each other’s company. So much so, that Griffin said they had thrown out their set list and decided to wing it. And wing it they did, in great style, humor and winsomeness. They saved the best till last — Mitchell did “Why We Build the Wall” from Hadestown, her magnificent folk opera that is finally being staged in New York in May. Griffin followed with one of her own great songs, “Mary.” But the highlight was the encore — “Moon River,” which Mitchell had sung off-stage, to herself, a few nights before, and they decided to give it a go together. The Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini standard has just gotten better with age.
Classically-trained singer-songwriter Brooke Waggoner’s first three albums sounded just a touch unfocused to me, as if there were more waiting to get out. Well, on her new one, Sweven, the wait is over, for me at least. She hits it out of the park. The album is gorgeous and literate. Perhaps touring China and working with Jack White helped. Or, maybe it just took this fine new album for me to hear her without illusions. She’s currently on tour and while her three-piece band cannot hope to fully replicate her lush and intriguing orchestrations, they come pretty darn close.
I first met the European duo My bubba last year. Among what seems to be a proliferation of young women duos out there, they are the most charismatic. Think Simon & Garfunkel, with two guitars and two lilting voices. Their new album is due in April and they play SXSW next month. Songs from the last album are on Soundcloud, and they did a Tiny Desk Concert for NPR back in November. So give them a listen, then pre-order Big Bad Good.
Joan Shelley has the purest voice I have ever heard since mid-’60s Joan Baez. Her Over and Even was selected by ND’s critics to be one of 2015’s best. Seeing her again, last week on Mountain Stage, was a pure delight. Shelley is unassumingly brilliant in her approach and delivery. She’ll begin a West Coast tour in April, before heading to Europe. Catch her.
Emily King, from New York’s Lower East Side, has just completed a tour of the West. When she was only 22, she was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Her latest, Switch, was released last year. She’s been awarded the Holly Prize (a tribute to the legacy of Buddy Holly) from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, for recognition as a “all-in songwriter,” whose work exhibits the qualities of Holly’s music: true, great and original.
Lake Street Dive broke big two years ago with Bad Self Portraits, and are looking to build on that success in their new release, Side Pony, on the prestigious Nonesuch label. They also begin touring this month.
The legendary Mavis Staples’ Livin’ on a High Note takes a joyful turn, covering a dozen songs that were written especially for her by Ben Harper, Justin Vernon, Son Little, Neko Case, Nick Cave, tUnE-yArDs, and others. Produced by M. Ward, the disc is a follow-up her 2010 Grammy-winning album You Are Not Alone, which was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. I don’t mean to name drop, but in case you have been living in cave for years, that’s a good place to start.
Lizz Wright is a wonderful vocalist who began singing gospel and playing piano in church as a child, and also became interested in jazz and blues. She attended Houston County High School, where she was heavily involved in choral singing, and received the National Choral Award. While she is nearly as adept at crossing genres as Cassandra Wilson, her forte has become that of a sought-after jazz singer.
Wilco has a space thing going on. Not only is their latest album title Star Wars, they do an inspired acoustic cover of “Space Oddity,” which always brings the house down. Bowie released it in 1969, the same year as that “small step for man.”
Lisa Fischer may not be a household name, but she has been heard in a lot of homes — on the radio, in your car, and live with a band you may have heard, the Rolling Stones. She’s toured with them and appeared on their albums for 25 years. She’s also been performing on her own. Her breakout was in 1991 with So Intense and its Grammy-winning single, “How Can I Ease the Pain.” She’s an electric performer and I love C. Elliott’s pictures of her. Fischer moves about the stage much like the Peruvian vocalist Susanna Baca. Both are one-of-a-kind.
Can we ever get enough of Dave Rawlings? His and Gillian Welch’s tour of Australia and New Zealand, both as the Machine and as the Welch duo, have gone swimmingly. So, I could not pass up a photo taken by our Steve Ford taken at Bangalow. A couple of days ago, the Machine backed Welch in a beatiful in-studio version of “Look at Miss Ohio.”
Grounded in the bluegrass tradition, the Travelin’ McCourys have made their own way, appearing with everyone from Steve Earle to Keller Williams to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. They are currently on tour leading up to DelFest in beayitiful Cumberland, Maryland, over Memorial Day Weekend.
Travis Tritt is country. But as new studs seem to arrive every other week, it leaves less room for those who were once standing in their shoes. So, Tritt, like those before him, becomes an elder statesman, reminding us of those links between Johnny Cash and Jason Aldean, with a little Glenn Frey thrown into the mix.
Jessica Lea Mayfield was born the same year that Lisa Fischer first performed with the Stones, and first began performing in a bluegrass band when she was 8. Since then, she’s recorded three solo albums, some EPs and singles, and made a record last year, with Seth Avett, of Elliott Smith songs. Everything she’s done is impressive, never more so than when I saw her a couple years back in the No Fi Cabin, at the Nelsonville Music Fest.
Angelique Kidjo has been called “Africa’s premier diva” by Time magazine, and was cited by The Guardian as of the 100 most inspiring women in the world. The Grammy Award-winner has recorded 15 albums and has performed all over the world. For neophytes, she’s a good way to begin exploring music outside our borders.
While the photo is a couple of weeks old, I would remiss if I did not include Jenny Lewis and her special guest Jimmy Buffett at her long sold out show at the Ryman on February 6. Lewis and the Watson Twins, along with M. Ward, did a very select tour for the 10th anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat, one of the high points of the last decade. The song was “Handle with Care” and it was Buffett’s first appearance at the Ryman. I had not seen him in over 40 years, since I first knew him as a bar singer in Key West.
Lastly are photos of some old dogs, Bob Shane and The Kingston Trio. In the early 1960s, the folk revival was in full swing and no one was bigger — commercially speaking — than this group of three young, clean-cut, short-haired white boys who often wore short-sleeve vertical striped shirts with chinos. They were the face of folk music to middle America. While the great John Stewart did a stint with the trio, this recent photo is a sentimental choice.
Shane first recorded, at age 23, the late Sinatra masterpiece, “It Was a Very Good Year.” While I had heard the story before, it was just last night that I was at the part in the new Sinatra biography where the story was told again. Sinatra heard the song on the radio one day in his car and thought that he could do something more with it. Not long afterward — with Gordon Jenkins arranging and conducting, and Sinatra calling upon all his vocal powers and the depth of near 50 years of worldly experience — it became an iconic performance. By pure happenstance, a CBS camera crew was there to record the event. Go to YouTube and watch it. After a false start, you see it all: the mastery, the magic, the splendor, the intuitive genius of the greatest male vocalist of the 20th century. All thanks to Bob Shane and The Kingston Trio.