Author Archives: Stuart Mason

About Stuart Mason

Stuart Mason is a musician who performs regularly with Molly's Revenge, Story Road and Little Black Train, and moonlights as an artist, writer, and web designer.

Willie Watson: Folk Singer Vol. 1

Willie Watson jamming with the Get Down Boys

Willie Watson jamming with the Get Down Boys

Folk Singer Vol. 1

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!



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Filed under acoustic, banjo, blues, male singer, old-time, traditional

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

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.

storyHis 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.

BONUS throwback for fans of acoustic blues: check out James Mathus and his Knockdown Society Play Songs for Rosetta (1997) a benefit for the daughter of blues legend Charlie Patton.

LISTEN: Casey Caught the Cannonball

LISTEN: Hawkeye Jordan


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Filed under blues, male singer, rock, singer-songwriter

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes

Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff

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.

LISTEN: End of the Line

LISTEN: I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)


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Filed under acoustic, blues, country, female singer, fiddle, rock, singer-songwriter

Cahalen Morrison and Eli West: Swing My Hammer

Photo by Don Dowell/dowellshots

Photo by Don Dowell/dowellshots

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.

coverLORZThis 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?

LISTEN: Livin’ In America

LISTEN: Down in the Lonesome Draw




Filed under acoustic, banjo, bluegrass, bouzouki, country, dobro, fiddle, male singer, mandolin, old-time, singer-songwriter, traditional