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.
This 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
STREAM THE ALBUM
Filed under acoustic, banjo, bluegrass, bouzouki, country, dobro, fiddle, male singer, mandolin, old-time, singer-songwriter, traditional
Éamonn Coyne and Kris Drever
The new record from Kris Drever (of Lau) and Éamonn Coyne (of Treacherous Orchestra) was recently released on Compass Records. OK, it was three months ago but Storymap is a real cracker that deserves a listen. If you follow Fiddlefreak at all you know I have a healthy jones for trad music and this record delivers tradition in spades, from two young and very influential players. Orcadian singer Kris Drever plays guitar while Coyne shreds the four-string banjo and tenor guitar. This is a wonderful selection of tunes and songs, played with finesse and soul, and engineered with plenty of warmth and depth. They’ve employed a top-notch crew of session players to make this a full and rewarding listen. Recommended!
LISTEN: Marches & Reels
LISTEN: Isle of France
Walking Through Clay
Dirk Powell’s fourth solo record is set for official release on February 4 on Sugar Hill Records. Dirk is a guy who has appeared everywhere you want to be if you’re an aspiring sideman in the realm of traditional acoustic Americana. He has worked on various projects with the likes of Jack White, Loretta Lynn, Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, John Doyle, Foghorn Stringband, and many others. And by all accounts, Walking Through Clay is the record that Dirk has always wanted to make. It seamlessly combines elements of Appalachian, Cajun, and southern rock with a modern indie sound that never loses its garage-punk edge.
Like myself, he is the progeny of the Appalachian diaspora, his family having moved north of the Ohio River for work, just as mine did. And much like myself, he seems to have found in oldtime music his own personal antidote for Ohio’s dreary, insipid stripmall-and-freeway landscape. (Read Dirk’s essay here.) I moved south of the river as as soon as I possibly could, following the scent of honesty and grit up into the hills. What is it about being one generation removed from the mountain that makes one long to return? And when you do, do you realize why your parents or grandparents left their homes in the first place? Eventually I moved westward to California, and Dirk has taken root in Louisiana, where he is raising his two daughters.
Walking Through Clay achieves a unique American sound that sounds both timeless and southern. On his website, Powell says he made an effort to keep things unified. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t sound like fusion or a concept, like I’m mixing this with that. I wanted it to feel like it’s my world and my brain and my heart and the actual musical world that I live in, where things are not really separate. It always sounds real.”
DIRK POWELL WEBSITE
LISTEN: Some Sweet Day
Here at Fiddlefreak World Headquarters, we come across lots of young new indie singer-songwriters who make brilliant music. Like housecats doing cute stuff on Youtube, they seem to pop up everywhere you turn. Reviewing their music is something we just don’t usually do. But Leah Abramson‘s music cannot be ignored. When I first heard her new release Late Riser, my head snapped around like a teenage boy watching girls at the beach. I think I hurt my neck.
Late Riser is the second release from Leah Abramson of Vancouver (Canada) and she wrote all of the songs. Apparently she has a background in traditional folk music and connections to that world through other folkies like Rayna Gellert and The Be Good Tanyas. On her new record she achieves a rich, shimmery sound by layering multiple harmony vocals with vintage keyboards that include mellotron, harmonium, and accordion. And the fact that two of her songs address historical tragedies of Canadian history, like good traditional folk music should? Well, that’s just icing on the cake. Enjoy.
LISTEN: Red River Valley
Photo by David Whitaker/naturephotohub.com
The capercaillie is a big, beautiful bird that looks like a mix of a turkey, a grouse, and a raven. It requires a habitat of old coniferous forests. In Scotland, the population has declined greatly since the 1960s because of deer fencing, predation and lack of suitable habitat. There are believed to be fewer than 2,000 capercaillie left in the wild and it was even named as the bird most likely to become extinct in the UK by 2015. (ref. Wikipedia)
It might be argued that traditional folk music is endangered as well. But not in Scotland. The band Capercaillie just released in the US their 30th anniversary album titled At the Heart of It All, on Compass Records. From ancient Gaelic waulking songs to the UK pop charts, Capercaillie has carried the torch for Scottish music all over the world since they were in their teens. None can top their exquisite meld of tradition and innovation. The band is Karen Matheson (vocals), Donald Shaw (keys ), Charlie McKerron (fiddle), Manus Lunny (guitar), Ewen Vernal (bass), and Michael McGoldrick (flute/pipes). Album guests include vocalists Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes, Darren MacLean, Sineag MacIntyre and Kris Drever (Lau), with Irish banjo legend Gerry O’Connor, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson, fiddler Aidan O’Rourke (also from Lau), percussionist James Mackintosh and jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith. Recommended!
LISTEN: The Jura Wedding Reels
LISTEN: At the Heart of It All
Video courtesy of Peter Simmonds.
Filed under accordion, bagpipes, banjo, bouzouki, Celtic, female singer, fiddle, flute, Scottish, singer-songwriter, traditional, whistle, world
Johnny B.Connolly, Colleen Raney, Sean Earnest. Photo by Steve O’Bryan.
Portland Oregon singer Colleen Raney has a new record hitting the streets tomorrow. Here This is Home features eleven achingly beautiful songs from Ireland and Scotland that explore themes of love, exile, and homecoming. She traveled to Ireland to make her fourth full-length record, and enlisted the skills of Aidan Brennan, Trevor Hutchinson, Johnny B. Connolly, Steve Larkin, Colm O’Caoimh, Dave Hingerty, Aaron Jones, and Hanz Araki.
Here This is Home
With material that culls the best of traditional and contemporary Celtic song, Colleen Raney hits it out of the park on Here This Is Home. Like delicate butterflies, her melodies float as fine as silken thread on a briny ocean breeze. Her perfectly fragile phrasing invokes the homesick heart of the immigrant and the craggy windswept shore of the distant homeland. With this release, all of the trad world will now realize what her many fans on the West Coast already knew: hers is a voice that ranks on par with top singers like Karan Casey (formerly Solas), Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (Altan), and Cathy Jordan (Dervish). Find a quiet spot, listen, and you will be rewarded.
LISTEN: The Granemore Hare
LISTEN: Craigie Hill
I won’t say that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings spawned a whole new genre when they came out with their lovely and unique brand of languid acoustic Americana… but they’ve had a profound influence. The Hems (not Hem, the band, from Brooklyn) are a new Austin-based duo who successfully channel that same sound on their debut release Those Early Years. And it’s a GOOD thing. Their web presence is minimal so far, but here’s their bio from folkalley.com, and some music samples. Enjoy!
Those Early Years
The Hems are an acoustic duo made up of Austin based musicians, Dusty McClellan and Jamie Zanelotti. Dusty, originally from Houston, moved to Austin in 2010 in hopes of finding some musical inspiration. The same year, Jamie moved from her home state of Maryland with similar aspirations. The two started playing together in a roots rock band but shortly realized their love for the sound of the Stanley Brothers, Carter Family, and other classic country acts. Since then, The Hems have had the honor of playing legendary venues around Texas like the Cactus Cafe and Cheatham Street Warehouse, headlining their own shows and opening for Texas acts like James McMurtry and Carolyn Wonderland. They officially showcased at the 2012 Regional South West Folk Alliance and were New Folk Finalists at the 2012 Kerville Folk Festival.
LISTEN: Dogwood Tree
LISTEN: Delaware Line