acoustic, banjo, Canadian, country, female singer, male singer, old-time

Pharis & Jason Romero: A Wanderer I’ll Stay

Photo by Mike Melnyk

Photo by Mike Melnyk

If you’re not living under a rock in Greenland, you’re probably aware of Pharis and Jason Romero by now. NPR darlings from Horsefly BC. Makers of gorgeous banjos that are both rustic and refined. Two award-winning duo albums under their belts, and a couple of collaborations before that. Songs that mine the old-time tradition and blur the line between original and public domain. A smooth, vintage sound that could calm a drunken sailor. Or in their case–maybe a crying toddler.

a2424449031_16Their new album A Wanderer I’ll Stay continues to map the musical back roads of old-school acoustic Americana. Two tracks are instrumental compositions that explore the lush sonic landscapes of Jason’s gourd banjos. Their version of Cocaine Blues from Luke Jordan is dark and fun at the same time, and young fiddler Josh Rabie (Water Tower Bucket Boys) contributes nice textural tones here and there. Marc Jenkins plays pedal steel on Billy Mayhew’s It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie (1936), a recycled waltz melody that was played during the British dixieland revival in the 1950s and 1960s in a fast 4/4 tempo. This song was recorded by many others, notably Billie Holliday, Slim Whitman and even John Denver.

Throughout, Jason’s banjos simmer and swirl on a warm sea of vintage flattops, with tight two-part harmonies that can only come from partners that are devoted to the music and each other. More so than previously, the new album A Wanderer I’ll Stay leans confidently into original material while keeping the burnished sheen for which the couple have become known. Recommended!

LISTEN: The Dying Soldier

LISTEN: It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie

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acoustic, banjo, female singer, gospel, old-time, traditional

Anna & Elizabeth

Elizabeth LaPrelle & Anna Roberts-Gevalt

Elizabeth LaPrelle & Anna Roberts-Gevalt

4PAN1TSPBAnna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle just released their second album as a duo, a self-titled collection of spine-tingling mountain ballads and gospel songs. These two amazing young women faithfully evoke the hard life and simple joys of traditional Appalachian music on banjo and guitar, with harmonies that encourage the listener to lean close and absorb every nuance. If like me, you love the pure, unadorned music of the common man, look no further. These songs shimmer like genuine hard-core red-clay diamonds.

LISTEN: Troubles

LISTEN: Soldier and the Lady

And that’s not all–Anna and Elizabeth host a radio variety show, they create and promote the lost art of crankies, and they present school programs. A crankie is a panoramic scene, rolled up inside a box, then hand-cranked so that it scrolls across a viewing screen, to illustrate a ballad song that is simultaneously performed live. In the mid 19th century, they were called moving panoramas, but the term crankie is being used now to refer to this very old art form. Here is a crankie that was hand-sewn by Anna and Elizabeth to illustrate the traditional ballad The Devil’s Nine Questions. (The men here are Jefferson Hamer and Eamon O’Leary, a duo known as the Murphy Beds.)

The Floyd Radio Show is a monthly old-time variety show consisting of radio plays, comedy bits, ads, jingles, and traditional music in its most authentic forms. Each show features some the area’s finest old-time musical acts, from storytelling banjo players to flat-picking guitarists to hard-driving string bands. It’s hosted by Anna and Elizabeth and held at the famous Floyd Country Store, an epicenter of old-time mountain music.

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acoustic, country, female singer, nyckelharpa, singer-songwriter

Annalisa Tornfelt: The Number 8

John Neufeld and Annalisa Tornfelt. Photo by Mary Winzig.

John Neufeld and Annalisa Tornfelt. Photo by Mary Winzig.

Annalisa Tornfelt first came to my attention as the singer for Black Prairie (Portland, Oregon), a folk-rock group that began in 2007 as a side project for members of The Decemberists and has since evolved into an influential force in Portland’s exploding indie music scene. Her new solo album The Number 8 is set for release on March 10 on Woodphone Records. For this project, the Alaska-raised singer used an analog 8-track tape machine to record just herself and her vintage Black Beauty Arch Kraft guitar singing 14 tracks composed by herself (with two co-writes). She worked with Mike Coykendall to record the entire album in 8 hours at Blue Doors Studios in SE Portland. (And yes, she plays her nyckelharpa on the record too!)

The Number 8

“I asked Annalisa to play a few fiddle tunes with me, which soon flipped to her picking up a guitar and singing Hank Williams,” says her Black Prairie bandmate, Chris Funk. “It was simple, but it was stunning… she grabs the all-too-familiar guitar and sings a song and you realize your bandmate and friend has the unique gift and power to make the weight of the world lift for three minutes.”

The Number 8 has a gorgeous, languid feel that ranges from oldtime country to modern indie-folk. There’s nothing here that I wanted to skip over. Each song compels a closer listen and a linger, to be savored like a Sunday morning cup of Stumpy’s at your neighborhood cafe. The Number 8 is a perfect soundtrack for a lazy hipster hang in the city where young people go to retire. Recommended!

LISTEN: Found A Song

LISTEN: Scared You’re Gonna Leave

 

Watch: Tired of Saying Sorry

 

 

 

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acoustic, banjo, bluegrass, country, female singer, fiddle, male singer, mandolin, old-time, traditional

Foghorn Stringband: Devil in the Seat

Foghorn Stringband

Foghorn Stringband

Many are called, but few are chosen. On their new recording Devil in the Seat, Foghorn Stringband proves once again that they are still the Chosen Ones when it comes to down-home, foot-stomping, ass-kickin’ old time music.

Portland, Oregon based Foghorn Stringband has traveled a long and winding road, with several personnel changes along the way, since the days when five guys knocked down mostly fiddle tunes and a few old songs. They were great then too, but since the addition of Nadine Landry (bass and vocals) and Reeb Willms (guitar and vocals) the band has blossomed into a full-blown force of nature that threatens world domination.

cdThe ladies brought in two lovely voices that ring out in close harmony, and their repertoire of obscure old time blues and country is a perfect fit. They also provide a rock-solid rhythm section for the boys to blaze away on fiddles and mandolin. This record was recorded in early December on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Man, these guys have a hard life!

I’ve been writing about old time music for 7 years (I’ve reviewed many Foghorn releases here on Fiddlefreak) and no other existing string band kicks oldtime ass like The Horn. Foghorn Stringband’s new album combines the best qualities of ancient, lonesome oldtime music and the blindingly bright bounce of modern bluegrass. Go toward the light if you want to–but I’ll be cranking up the volume on Devil in the Seat.

LISTEN: Stillhouse

LISTEN: What Will We Do?

FOGHORN WEBSITE

 

 

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acoustic

My Apology Letter

What I Learned About Email Lists

Hello Fiddlefreak fans,

Recently I sent an email about my fan fundraising campaign to a new list I created using addresses I scraped from the lists of the bands I play in: Molly’s Revenge, Story Road, Little Black Train, plus addresses of our customers on our online bandcamp store and subscribers to my music blog Fiddlefreak. I was surprised and embarassed to receive the following email from MailChimp with this scary subject line:

MailChimp Compliance High Abuse Rate Suspension

A recent campaign, “Tradition Kickstarter #1,” generated spam complaints at a rate that exceeded allowable industry thresholds … Noting that an above-threshold rate of spam complaints was returned for the campaign, we do have to ask that the full Stuart Mason Mailing List be removed from the account at this time.

If you wish to provide subscribers with information on another brand or project that you offer, we recommend sending a campaign using the branding that subscribers opted in under that explains the new project, and provides the opportunity to sign up to hear about this new brand separately. Doing so helps to keep customers informed and minimize spam complaints.

Let me be clear: I am big fan of MailChimp and I feel they offer a valuable service at reasonable rates. I appreciate their timely and frank explanation of what happened. I just need to build my new email list one person at a time, and invite each person to opt in.

And so–that’s what this here letter is: a chance for you to opt in to my new Stuart Mason list. I promise to never again promote my own projects on any other list–other than reminding you about my new list, rarely. Please sign up HERE.

I apologize for any inconvenience this email mixup may have caused. Thanks for your support!

Sincerely, Uncle Stu

 

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acoustic, Celtic, female singer, fiddle, flute, Irish, male singer, traditional

The Alt

The-Alt2

The Alt

The Alt

Fiddlefreak doesn’t publish best-of lists–but if we did, we would place The Alt right at the top for 2014. Rabid fans of pure-drop Irish trad may already be aware of this new supertrio, but for the rest of you: wake up! The Alt is one of the best things to happen to the Irish song tradition, ever… and their all-too-few instrumental sets will satisfy the tune hound as well. Comprised of guitar legend John Doyle, flautist Nuala Kennedy, and the amazing Eamon O’Leary, The Alt has released a self-tilted debut album that delivers from start to finish. It seems more often that trad bands will scatter a few ballads among their tunes, like chunks of lamb in a hearty stew. But the Alt have flipped this aesthetic on its head by emphasized the songs. The tunes are grand, don’t get me wrong–but the three-part vocal harmonies on this record shine like new pennies. The intricate interplay of various strings and waterfalls of flute and whistle, on great old songs that connect with the heart of Irish tradition, combine to make this one of the best folk records of 2014. Recommended!

LISTEN: Going For A Soldier Jenny / The Chandelier

LISTEN: The Letter Song

LISTEN/BUY ON BANDCAMP 

 

 

 

 

 

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acoustic, Celtic, female singer, fiddle, Irish, singer-songwriter

Nuala Kennedy: Christmas in the Trenches

Nuala Kennedy

Singer and flutist Nuala Kennedy has released a lovely holiday song just in time for Christmas. When John McCutcheon wrote “Christmas in the Trenches” many years ago, he captured the poignant joy and generous warmth that are so often associated with this season. It commemorates the Christmas truce held during World War 1 in 1914 — the 100th year anniversary of which is this year. The song has been recorded many times, but this version just jumped to number one on the Fiddlefreak charts.

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve, to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. Several meetings ended in the singing of carols.

 

Profits from the 2014 recording will be donated to the Wounded Warriors Fund. Contributions are welcome, and the buyer can name their own price to download the track. Nuala is currently nominated as Top Solo Performer of the Year in the Irish Music Awards.

 

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