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!
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.
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
JIMBO MATHUS WEBSITE
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)