Vern & Ray
Vern Williams and Ray Park met in Stockton, CA in the 1950s, but they never knew each other back home in Arkansas, where they grew up just a few miles from each other. Together they forged a fierce and authentic bluegrass sound that became a touchstone for the Northern California bluegrass scene from the late 50s to the mid-70s. They played mountain and country music with a high lonesome sound that echoed the strains of Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe.
Laurie & Kathy
Enter Laurie Lewis and Kathy Kallick, who founded The Good Ol’ Persons and later recorded their first duo collaboration in 1991 titled Together on Kaleidoscope Records, an album they respectfully dedicated to Vern and Ray. Over the years these now-legendary ladies have inspired the California bluegrass scene in carrying the torch originally ignited by Vern and Ray. Their new album Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray is a deep and wonderful tribute that rings with the tones of pure, unadulterated bluegrass music. On it, they are supported by some of the west coast’s finest pickers and sawyers, including Tom Rozum, Patrick Sauber, Keith Little, Annie Staninec, and Sally Van Meter. With extensive liner notes and beautiful packaging, this is a bluegrass record we can heartily recommend. Here is a well-known traditional number and a lovely gospel piece written by Ray Park. Enjoy!
LISTEN: Little Birdie
LISTEN: Happy I’ll Be
MORE ABOUT VERN AND RAY
LISTEN TO VERN AND RAY
Today marks the release date of flutist Hanz Araki’s new record titled Foreign Shore, on Little Sea Records. Recorded at Secret Society in Portland Oregon, and produced by Hanz himself, Foreign Shore is perhaps the most mature and satisfying of his many albums. (My previous review is here.) Some of Portland’s finest trad players support him here, notably Cary Novotny on guitar, with Colleen Raney, Lisa Ornstein, and Eddie Parente, among others.
Fans of modern pure-drop traditional Irish music in the vein of Lunasa or Altan will love this record. Every tune or song found here sounds as smooth as a baby’s behind (without the odor). Hanz Araki has a voice like summertime, and his playing on flute and whistle is absolutely flawless. His family heritage may play a role: his background is part Irish and part Japanese. In fact he comes from a direct line of several generations of shakuhachi flute players, and he is trained in the tradition. No wonder that when we listen, this album sounds natural and true, like it was meant to be.
LISTEN: Crockery Ware / The Sligo Reel
LISTEN: The Herring Song / The Boats of Killaloe
Pilar Diaz, Moira Smiley, Inga Swearingen. Photo: defuriophotography.com
The new record from moira smiley and VOCO hits the streets today. Laughter Out of Tears (Whim Records) is a beautifully transcendant creation that boldly spans Appalachian, Eastern European, and choral traditions with a tasty dash of Moira’s original material and covers from folk stalwarts Woodie Guthrie and Gillan Welch. Having followed and enjoyed Moira’s music for many years, and worked with her on stage and in the studio, I believe that this release represents the full gamut of her passion for uplifting vocal music. But my words are perhaps inadequate to the task of describing these songs, so here are those of Moira herself. At the core of this project lies a crowd-sourced, high-tech concept she calls the Choir of YOU.
Laughter out of Tears
“I’ve had the Choir of YOU idea for a while,” Moira explains, “but it seemed so appropriate for this album for a few reasons: My father died in 2012, I was feeling lost artistically, and communal singing was always a source of strength – a root for me. I write for choirs, and I know how powerful a gathering of voices can be. People could download the tracks from my website, add their own voice by following the guide-tracks and sheet-music I posted there, then email their tracks to me.” She used this process to build five tracks on the album.
Moira’s original songs add a personal touch to the record. “I feel proud of the songwriting too,” she observes. “Songs like Mazurka, Oh Winter and North Country don’t shy away from personal storytelling. To me, they’re the heart of the album.”
LISTEN: North Country
LISTEN: Oh Winter
For Throwback Thursday, Fiddlefreak is time warping back about 4 years to the summer of 2010, when banjo picker Adam Hurt released Earth Tones. A collaboration between Adam and luthier David Hyatt with musician and recording engineer Paul Roberts, this little project has gotten under my skin and refused to let me put anything else into regular rotation. Gourd banjos are sick, no doubt about it, but this music sparkles with hints of West Africa and mesmerizes with relentless loops of oldtimey goodness. Something about this particular gourd banjo in the hands of this young master just takes the gourd to a new place I’ve never heard before. I dunno whose crazy idea it was to make a custom-grown bottle gourd into a two-headed wonder, but it sounds wonderful.
All tracks on Earth Tones feature a fretless gourd banjo handcrafted by David Hyatt of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Adam talks about his unique banjo in the video below. The first tune medley here comes from Buddy Thomas of Lewis County, Kentucky and the second tune from Walter McNew of Rockcastle County, Kentucky via Matt Brown and Mac Benford. Enjoy!
LISTEN: Old Beech Leaves / Sheep and Hogs Walking Through the Pasture
LISTEN: Black Jack Grove
The Native Sibling
Letters Kept to Ourselves
In accord with our recent tendency to cover the occasional non-traditional folk artist, we present another young, modern band making waves in the world of acoustic music. The Santa Cruz-based brother-sister duo of Ryan and Kaylee Williams, calling themselves The Native Sibling, have just released a video for their latest single Here With Me. Their new album Letters Kept to Ourselves will hit the streets on June 24. Ten smoothly arranged tracks from producer Daniel Mendez feature gorgeous harmonies that swim calmly on a sea of warm keys and woody acoustic guitars. Through this record runs a brilliant river of summer song, a stream that is certain to see repeated spins over here at Fiddlefreak World Headquarters.
Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, who was once a nanny for the siblings in their childhood, is cited as an influence on Kaylee Williams’ style. One could not be faulted for recognizing traces of the Mumford sound on Letters as well, although we humbly offer that this new record rings kinder to the ear than either Mumfords or Civil Wars. That’s how we hear it anyway. Recommended!
THE NATIVE SIBLING WEBSITE
The folk music community lost flatpicker Doc Watson two years ago. “Here’s a man who’s carrying the torch of Doc Watson!” I thought, as I spun Bryan Sutton’s brand new release Into My Own (Sugar Hill, April 29). Sutton knows his way around his Martin flattop like no one else… but also like Doc, he has a flair for recycling old folk songs with his own spin. (He combines verses from Handsome Molly with folk classic Been All Around This World, and it works like a charm.) The playlist here is a balance of oldies and new compositions, some of which are his own, played in a smooth style with support from a stellar crew that included lots of familiar names from the top shelf of bluegrassers.
Into My Own
Sutton is known to many for his association with high-profile players such as Ricky Skaggs and Tim O’Brien. He channels other notable flatpickers here: one can hear the tones of Tony Rice and Norman Blake throughout. He sings more than ever, which is a good thing, and plays a nicely lonesome original song on clawhammer banjo called Run Away. From Dawg-style jazz to angelic waltzes to oldtime blues, Into My Own is a record that digs deep into bluegrass roots without succumbing to the banalities of the genre. Recommended!
LISTEN: That’s Where I Belong
BRYAN SUTTON WEBSITE
Willie Watson jamming with the Get Down Boys
Folk Singer Vol. 1
In 2011, after playing with them for almost 15 years, Willie Watson left Old Crow Medicine Show and struck out on his own. His first solo album is set for official release on May 6 on Acony Records, the label started by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, who together produced this album. Folk Singer Vol. 1 is a solo record in the purest sense, with Willie’s high tenor vocals soaring over some very solid guitar and banjo work on songs that run the gamut from old-school blues and ballads to newer compositions from folks like Utah Phillips. He cherry picked some real gems here, songs that I always thought deserved more exposure such as Mexican Cowboy and Rock Salt and Nails. Willie Watson’s sound has a cutting edge that invokes the ancient wails of Clarence Ashley, Dock Bocks and yes, even Bob Dylan‘s early material. He’s getting some well-deserved exposure from mainstream channels like Prairie Home Companion, and if he keeps this up (Vol. 2 anyone?) you’re gonna hear lots more about him in the future. Recommended!