Gillian Welch, Sturgill Simpson, Amanda Shires and More Roots Photos of the Month
Thanksgiving is over, December lies ahead with its year-end reviews, assessments, and lists. While I, too, have some to share with our readers next month, it’s a good time to feature some of the outstanding pictures ND’s photographers have taken during the past few weeks. Plus, I feature a first for this column.
Can we ever get enough of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings? Black Friday’s highlight was not standing in some big box store line, it was the release of The Official Revival Bootleg. It’s 21 tracks over two discs, include demos, outtakes, alternate versions, alternate mixes, live and home recordings that preceded Revival.
Even though I had heard many, if not most, of these on bootlegs before, I had a great sense of excitement when I loaded the CDs in my player. These are not rough versions or throwaways rescued from obscurity. They are fully-formed, if usually stripped down, visions of what they had to know was the sound they were looking for. There is a great sense of identity and security in their performances.
As I had hoped, there is also detailed information on each track, handwritten notes, notices, lyrics, and photos. Their reproduced April 1996 calendar is full of interviews, gigs, Dave’s haircut, and on the ninth there is a black vinyl circle on a red background signaling the album’s release. To top it off, Grant Alden did the liner notes.
All in all, a beautiful package. Dylan has his 1966, but Gillian Welch and David Rawlings own 1996. Think of it this way — we get to hear what Emmylou Harris heard when she chose to include “Orphan Girl” on Wrecking Ball. This is exciting stuff, and essential in the mapping of Americana and roots music.
Kirk also captured the quiet effervescence of My Bubba. I, too, recently saw them, driving a couple of hours just to see them do an opening 40-minute set. Sometimes they sing barely above a whisper, but the spell they weave, effortlessly it seems, leaves you a bit light-headed. While their sets vary, they end with the first song they ever sang together, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” You then have to come up for air.
I was not familiar with San Fransisco’s T Sisters until they did the Hillside Album Hour a few years back at MerleFest. It’s time for the world to catch up.
There’s another Amos out there (besides Amos McCoy, and Wally Amos, the famous cookie guy), Amos Lee. His album, Spirit, released at summer’s end, continues his unique mixture of rock, blues, folk, passion and pain which is, lately it seems, somewhat under Americana’s present radar. He begins a tour in February but plays New York’s Beacon this Wednesday night with Lucinda Williams. Catch it if you can.
Whenever I listen to the just-released Mavericks live album, I think of Peter’s great photos of them and Raul Malo. No one captures them so completely, with such fondness. I just put mine away. Same with Charles Bradley, who’s most likely the closest you can get to James Brown. If you never got to see Brown in his heyday, or even if you did, see Bradley.
Peter Dervin and Kirk Stauffer
I cannot recall when ND had two photographers covering a single performance. Kirk Stauffer and Peter Dervin shot Amanda Shires at Tractor Tavern in Seattle. While they posted additional photos on the website, the ones included here are glimpses into how different sets of eyes and perspectives can see the same event. It also captures Shires in her performance splendor: professional and literate. I cannot recommend My Piece of Land and her live performances enough.
Our southwest connection continues her way. This time she’s captured Boz Skaggs, Darlingside, and the Federal Empire. I was not familiar with the latter two until I saw C.’s photos. Darlingside, a quartet from Massachusetts has three recordings out and was named Artist of the Year in 2016 by the Folk Alliance. Their stream of consciousness songs with guitar, violin and cello with multi-tracked vocals are quite affecting. The Federal Empire is an L.A. trio, think Lumineers with some electronic pop.
My Cayamo buddy Boom had the good fortune to catch Sturgill Simpson and James McMurtry recently. Why both are hard to capture, I do not fully understand as my own efforts have fallen short, but Boom does quite a nice job. Sturgill has been touring with a band and horns to capture the undeniable feel of the album, and McMurtry’s new look belies the fires that seem to continue unabated into the abyss of a brave new world order.
Jill recently visited New York where she caught Owen Campbell’s gig at Iridium. Iridium has long been a preeminent jazz club, but over the past few years it has been broadening out, especially with guitarists. Campbell plays a mean acoustic slide and coupled with his bluesy vocals, he’d be striking anywhere. But given he’s from Australia makes you sit up and do a double take. When someone said a couple weeks back about moving to Canada, I countered with, chuck that, let’s do Australia. Campbell is an example why. Jill also caught one of the city’s many street musicians. One from 25 years ago or so still haunts me — at the 14th Street subway station, on a cold December night, a cellist played “Silent Night.”
While I am like many others who like to get up close and personal, Steve’s photo of a full house at a Glen Hansard gig tells us a lot about Hansard’s affect on his fans.
Albert Lee is a good example of why and how Americana was never limited to a single country. Born in England, he’s been instrumental (yes, a pun I know) with not just Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and a host of others, but he also played with the Every Brothers for over 20 years. Long live Albert Lee, a guitarist second to none. Many thanks to Carol.
Mark J. Smith
I am quite taken with Mark’s photo of the nicest couple in music, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams. I interviewed them a couple years back, and there was nothing too obscure for them to chat about. Campbell could take a footnote and make a novel out of it. They are as inspiring as they come.