Author Archives: Stuart Mason

About Stuart Mason

Stuart Mason is a trout bum who moonlights as a musician, artist, writer, and web designer.

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?




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

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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Filed under acoustic

The Alt


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







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

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

Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick Sing The Songs of Vern & Ray


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








Filed under acoustic, banjo, bluegrass, country, female singer, fiddle, mandolin, traditional

Hanz Araki: Foreign Shore

Hanz Araki

Hanz Araki

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.

Foreign Shore

Foreign Shore

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




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Filed under acoustic, Celtic, flute, Irish, male singer, traditional, whistle

moira smiley and VOCO: Laughter Out of Tears


Pilar Diaz, Moira Smiley, Inga Swearingen. Photo:

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

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


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Filed under accordion, acoustic, banjo, cello, female singer, singer-songwriter