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!
Fiddlefreak first became aware of Jimbo Mathus through his membership in the South Memphis String Band, an acoustic side project for members of the North Mississippi Allstars. Jimbo Mathus is perhaps best known for his leadership (with his ex-wife Katharine Whalen) of the now-defunct Squirrel Nut Zippers, who appeared at many prestigious events, including Prairie Home Companion, the second inauguration of Bill Clinton, and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and were awarded gold and platinum records. After the Zippers fizzled, he returned to his native state of Mississippi and released several solo and band records that tap into the heart of southern delta tradition and the Mississippi Hill Country blues, both electric and acoustic.
His new record is Dark Night of the Soul from Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, on Fat Possum Records. At its most sublime, this record channels the best of The Band, The Dead, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like a soundtrack for the novels of Faulkner and McCarthy, Dark Night leads us down a muddy path into the deepest, rankest, most lonesome recesses of the American South. And as with all blues, we emerge from the river somehow feeling better than when we jumped into those muddy waters. The songs of Jimbo Mathus wear a rough and tumble patina that may keep them off most radio playlists, but by God he puts his heart and soul into his work, and that’s what is missing from so much of modern music.
Tomorrow marks the American street date for Small Town Heroes, the first release from Hurray for the Riffraff on ATO Records (31 March in Europe). If you’re not yet familar with the rising star of Alynda Lee Segarra, here’s your chance to catch up. With twelve new, original songs all written or co-written by Segarra, Small Town Heroes will most certainly break her music out from the streets of New Orleans and onto the world at large. The band includes her longtime right-hand-man on fiddle, Yosi Perlstein, keyboard player Casey McAllister, and two members of the Deslondes: Sam Doores on guitar and Dan Cutler on bass. The HFTRR website displays five previous records (where have you been all my life?), but we endorse Heroes for a rich, tasty slurp of the Americana-gumbo that is Hurray for the Riffraff.
Small Town Heroes
Not unlike Luke Winslow-King (reviewed here), Alynda’s music lives at the crossroads of indie folk, southern blues, and NOLA jazz. After leaving home at an early age to travel the country, the 26-year-old Puerto Rican from the Bronx eventually settled in New Orleans because of the street music scene, she said in a recent interview. Fiddler Yosi Perlstein is a key player in the group, channeling an authentic Appalachian tone that keeps the music happily rooted in old-time Americana. From moody self-inspection to contemporary cultural commentary to down-home fun, Small Town Heroes from Hurray for the Riffraff brings just the right stuff. Fiddlefreak recommended.
Many thanks to Devon at Hearth Music for turning me on to the third album from Calahen Morrison and Eli West. We heartily recommended their first two releases, and this one raises the bar. I’ll Swing My Hammer with Both Hands is the fruit of veteran guidance from producer Tim O’Brien and contributions from crack fiddlers Brittany Haas and Ryan Drickey. It benefits from a balance of original music with old gospel and country material, both songs and instrumentals.
This album shines with the vitality of youth, the poetry of the wide open West, and the down-home fun of mountain music. Bruce Molsky, Tim O’Brien, and other top artists have endorsed these boys. I hope this is where acoustic American bluegrass is going in the 21st century. Because sometimes, in some hands, it feels a bit stale. Oops–did I say that out loud?
The new record from Kris Drever (of Lau) and Éamonn Coyne (of Treacherous Orchestra) was recently released on Compass Records. OK, it was three months ago but Storymap is a real cracker that deserves a listen. If you follow Fiddlefreak at all you know I have a healthy jones for trad music and this record delivers tradition in spades, from two young and very influential players. Orcadian singer Kris Drever plays guitar while Coyne shreds the four-string banjo and tenor guitar. This is a wonderful selection of tunes and songs, played with finesse and soul, and engineered with plenty of warmth and depth. They’ve employed a top-notch crew of session players to make this a full and rewarding listen. Recommended!
Dirk Powell’s fourth solo record is set for official release on February 4 on Sugar Hill Records. Dirk is a guy who has appeared everywhere you want to be if you’re an aspiring sideman in the realm of traditional acoustic Americana. He has worked on various projects with the likes of Jack White, Loretta Lynn, Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, John Doyle, Foghorn Stringband, and many others. And by all accounts, Walking Through Clay is the record that Dirk has always wanted to make. It seamlessly combines elements of Appalachian, Cajun, and southern rock with a modern indie sound that never loses its garage-punk edge.
Like myself, he is the progeny of the Appalachian diaspora, his family having moved north of the Ohio River for work, just as mine did. And much like myself, he seems to have found in oldtime music his own personal antidote for Ohio’s dreary, insipid stripmall-and-freeway landscape. (Read Dirk’s essay here.) I moved south of the river as as soon as I possibly could, following the scent of honesty and grit up into the hills. What is it about being one generation removed from the mountain that makes one long to return? And when you do, do you realize why your parents or grandparents left their homes in the first place? Eventually I moved westward to California, and Dirk has taken root in Louisiana, where he is raising his two daughters.
Walking Through Clay achieves a unique American sound that sounds both timeless and southern. On his website, Powell says he made an effort to keep things unified. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t sound like fusion or a concept, like I’m mixing this with that. I wanted it to feel like it’s my world and my brain and my heart and the actual musical world that I live in, where things are not really separate. It always sounds real.”
Here at Fiddlefreak World Headquarters, we come across lots of young new indie singer-songwriters who make brilliant music. Like housecats doing cute stuff on Youtube, they seem to pop up everywhere you turn. Reviewing their music is something we just don’t usually do. But Leah Abramson‘s music cannot be ignored. When I first heard her new release Late Riser, my head snapped around like a teenage boy watching girls at the beach. I think I hurt my neck.
Late Riser is the second release from Leah Abramson of Vancouver (Canada) and she wrote all of the songs. Apparently she has a background in traditional folk music and connections to that world through other folkies like Rayna Gellert and The Be Good Tanyas. On her new record she achieves a rich, shimmery sound by layering multiple harmony vocals with vintage keyboards that include mellotron, harmonium, and accordion. And the fact that two of her songs address historical tragedies of Canadian history, like good traditional folk music should? Well, that’s just icing on the cake. Enjoy.
Fiddlefreak reviews alt.country, old time, bluegrass, Celtic, blues, and other music of the people, on a purely subjective basis. MP3 samples are provided for preview purposes only and are not downloadable. Please support the artists by buying the music you enjoy. Contact us.