Author Archives: Stuart Mason

About Stuart Mason

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

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

Adam Hurt: Earth Tones

Adam Hurt

Photo by Craig Evans /

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.

Earth Tones

Earth Tones

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

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Filed under acoustic, banjo, old-time, traditional

The Native Sibling: Letters Kept to Ourselves

The Native Sibling

The Native Sibling

Letters Kept to Ourselves

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!



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Filed under acoustic, country, female singer, male singer, rock

Bryan Sutton: Into My Own

Bryan Sutton

Bryan Sutton

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

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



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