Christmas in July (and August): Roots Releases From David Rawlings to the Kronos Quartet
It’s time for another roundup of notable upcoming releases. A couple you certainly already know about, but the others could easily have slipped your notice. All of them are fascinating.
David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack (August 11)
If Gillian Welch is a duo, David Rawlings is a quintet, and each is remarkable in distinct ways. Where Welch takes tradition and turns it inward, oft times on itself, Rawlings stretches it and lets it take flight. For example, “Airplane” begins with his unmistakable guitar intro, before taking flight from a fickle lover, using strings to open his emotional wings and fly away … if only for the day. Other times, like “Come on Over My House,” you’re invited to a hoedown on a Poor Valley Saturday night.
On this, his third album, in addition to the other Machine members (Welch, Willie Watson, Brittany Haas, and Paul Kowert), special guests include Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor (vocals and fiddle) and Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith, who add organ and drums on a couple of tracks to widen and deepen the sound. But, let’s face it, all you need to know is that it’s a Dave Rawlings record, so you know already how special it’s going to be. And it’ll be on vinyl, too.
The Early Mays- Chase the Sun (August 4)
Several years back when I heard that Rachel Eddy was returning to her native West Virginia after six years of living and working in Europe, I could not wait to hear what she’d do. It did not take her long to come together with Ellen Gozion and Emily Pinkerton, from Western Pennsylvania, to form The Early Mays. Their self-titled first album was selected as the No. 2 Debut Album of 2014 by the national Folk DJ Charts, and Folk Alley’s Cindy Howe said they “bring traditional and original material to spectacular life.” Last year, they won the prestigious Appalachian String Band Music Festival. (which you can read about here.)
While all three swap instruments with ease, what sets this trio apart from other traditional groups is Eddy’s charismatic fiddle and banjo playing and Gozion’s harmonium that acts like an undercurrent that keeps the music grounded and flowing. Standouts include Gozion’s “Amelia” and Elizabeth Cotten’s “Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie.” On both, Gozion’s lead vocals sound like a young Judy Collins. Eddy achingly shines on Arthur Smith’s “Adieu, False Heart” before taking her banjo straight into Richie Stearns’ wandering, hypnotic, minor key “Martin’s Breakdown.” (Rachel and Richie, now that’s a duo I’d like to hear, but this is perhaps the closest we’ll get.) Not to leave Pinkerton out, her pensive vocals on her three insightful originals, “Say-O,” “Evergreen,” and the title track demonstrate how deep this group’s talents go.
Emmylou Harris-Live at the Ryman (August 4)
It has been an outstanding 12 months for Emmylou Harris releases. First was the CD/DVD of The Life & Songs Of Emmylou Harris: An All-Star Concert Celebration, then for Record Store Day her first five Reprise albums were re-issued in a vinyl box set, and in April, 1992’s Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers At The Ryman was released on double vinyl for the first time. Now comes a remastered CD version of that Ryman show with bonus tracks. If those items were not enough, PBS will air her 2017 Ryman reunion show with the Ramblers in August as well. The setlist for the 2017 show was the same as it was in 1992.
Various Artists – Worried Blues
Last Friday, Fat Possum released Worried Blues – a series of ten albums featuring rare and previously out-of-print recordings from 10 towering figures of 20th-century delta blues, including R.L. Burnside, Reverend Gary Davis, Honeyboy Edwards, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Furry Lewis, Little Brother Montgomery, Houston Stackhouse, Bukka White, and Reverend Robert Wilkins. One full album is devoted to each artist, and the recordings are primarily from 1967 to 1972. This is essential stuff and is available in all formats, with a vinyl release in September.
Grammy-winning music historian Elijah Wald said in his notes, “The richness of Mississippi blues derived from the combination of isolated, majority-black regions populated largely by young newcomers from other areas as the Delta swamps were drained at the turn of the 20th century, and these players created quirky, individual styles by mixing older sounds with what they were hearing from neighbors, records, minstrel and vaudeville troupes, and whatever other influences came their way.” You can read the No Depression review here.
The Kronos Quartet – Folk Songs
With the new Offa Rex (Olivia Chaney and the Decemberists) release, you may have missed this one featuring Chaney, Rhiannon Giddens, Sam Amidon, and Natalie Merchant each performing two songs with the Kronos Quartet. This lovely recording most likely came about after the stunning success of Giddens and Amidon performing with Kronos at the 2015 Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. I was there that evening, and it was magical. So is this record.
My Bubba –“Gone” b/w “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
I don’t usually do singles, but My Bubba’s new one is extraordinary. Recorded in Third Man Records’ Blue Room, it is the label’s latest release in its “Blue Series.” Produced by Jack White himself, NPR called the A side “A richer tone than other tunes from this pair, though even with the addition of thunderous, heart-pounding tom-toms, bass, and keyboards the duo haven’t let go of the porcelain-fragile sound of their last record.” But the treasure for me is the “B” side, which is the one song they always do live, but had never recorded. It is stunning in both its simplicity and winsomeness.
The Blue Series: The Story Behind the Color, Volume One
Speaking of the Blue Series, Third Man Records has also just published another book, The Blue Series: The Story Behind the Color, Volume One, complete with photos and stories about many of the recordings. If you, like me, enjoyed the recent books on the classic Verve and Blue Note labels, you will find this one just as fascinating. Perhaps even more so as it is happening now and we are part of it, especially if you’ve seen a show in that performance space bathed in a luscious, otherworldly blue light. The other notable thing about the Blue Series of 45s is they are not available on albums, so these are treasures indeed.
Now, scroll though the photos below, including some taken in Third Man Records’ Blue Room.