THROUGH THE LENS: Artists and Fans Find Each Other Via Bandcamp
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings - Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival 2014 - Photo by Peter Dervin
While our attention today will necessarily be focused on the election, if you want to directly support roots musicians there’s another set of choices you should be checking out as you follow the returns today: Bandcamp.
Bandcamp is a conduit, or clearing house of sorts, for artists and labels to get their music directly to the public. Artists and labels, at no cost, upload music to the site and they alone control how it is sold, and for how much.
The biggest benefit to the artist is, after a modest fee, they get all of the proceeds from sales on the site. However, since the pandemic hit Bandcamp has waived that fee for purchases made on the first Friday of each month for 2020. Two more such Fridays remain this year: Nov. 6 (that’s this Friday!) and Dec. 4.
The biggest benefit to the fan is that once you delve into the site you’ll be amazed at how much Bandcamp offers that you cannot get anywhere else, including many live recordings, offered in a variety of lossless formats, not just MP3. If there is a vinyl or CD version, you also get a digital copy. Additionally, you can listen to what’s available at no charge.
For the music featured below, Bandcamp is the only digital platform on which it’s available (though a few may also be had at the artists’ or labels’ websites).
If there is one artist who embodies roots music to its fullest, it has to be Jody Carroll. His textured blues mixed with folk and Americana is dark and haunting. During a chat last week Carroll talked to me about his most recent recordings: “I left Nashville soon after the tornado bound for my family’s home in Yamhill County, Oregon, to help them during the pandemic. I took along a bag of songs and with the aid of a Spire multitrack system I was able to play and record all the instruments, even background vocals. The recording process became intoxicating in the context of the world’s present condition. This triune of albums was grouped together as a loose metaphor for the past (Old Dogs), present (Lost in Time), and future (Promise Land).” Carroll’s previous seven albums are also available.
Fellow ND columnist Chris Griffy recommends Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires’ Reunions: Live at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville. Chris says, “Isbell has gone full-Phish during the pandemic, releasing a new live set at least every other week. This is one to grab. People who weren’t huge fans of Reunions typically complain that it’s overproduced. This one’s just Isbell and Shires in an empty concert hall playing a stripped-down version in full, complete with flubs, dad jokes, and conversations about ‘comfort capos.’ It’s a ‘live’ album in every sense of the word.”
James McMurtry’s Blasted from the Past was recorded live at Austin’s famed Continental Club in 2006. It’s a hard-edged, whiskey soaked cowpunk set. All proceeds go to the Club.
I have written about Sierra Ferrell numerous times, most recently last week, and named her Washington By the Sea as one of the most overlooked albums of 2019. Get primed for her 2021 album on Rounder with her previous work.
ND photographer Todd Gunsher recommends two live albums by Hiss Golden Messenger. Todd, who lives in nearby Raleigh, says, “HGM is part of a beautiful scene of artists, musicians, activists, and community organizers that has developed in Durham, North Carolina. First is a January show from Cat’s Cradle. Last month he released another set, so get both as no songs are repeated. The proceeds from the releases benefit The Durham Public Schools Foundation.”
Joan Shelley recorded Live at the Bomhard last December in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I saw her on that tour and the album is just as mesmerizing as the show. As a bonus, Bonnie Prince Billy makes a special appearance.
Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets’ Live at Haw River Ballroom 27-track live album was recorded in one of the most delightful small towns anywhere: Saxapahaw, North Carolina.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ All the Good Times should be at the top of your list. While the LP and CD versions quickly sold out, the download remains. It’s one of the best albums the year.
Aoife O’Donovan’s April 25th, 2020: An Evening of Songs Performed at Home offers 12 tracks, with only a cello and violin. A highlight is Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” mixed with “a little Schubert.” She has several other recordings available, most notably Live From Black Birch, recorded this summer.
If you like acoustic Richard Thompson as much as I do, then his Bloody Noses is for you.
For the past two month’s First Fridays, Bandcamp has offered, for one day only, compilations titled Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy. These were compilations made up entirely of previously unreleased recordings from a wide assortment of artists, including David Byrne and John Prine. Last month’s offering included 77 tracks for $20.20. You can follow the project here to get notified of new releases.
The Messenger: A Tribute to Ray Wylie Hubbard, offers 18 tracks, including James McMurtry and country legend Bobby Bare.
Bloodshot Records’ Pandemophenia offers 17 unreleased tracks from its artists, including Jon Langford, Ruby Boots, Kelly Hogan, and Robbie Fulks. Bloodshot has many of its releases also available, including some that are out of print by artists before they came to the label, such as The Mekons.
I could go on about other artists, such as Erin Rae, Mandolin Orange, Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin, and recordings from Yep Roc’s 15th Anniversary shindig, but once you delve into the site you’ll be amazed how much Bandcamp offers that you cannot get anywhere else.
Now, the photos from some of the artists mention in today’s column.