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.
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!
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.
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.
Last October, a jovial fellow named Matt Kinman showed up at the Goleta Old Time Fiddlers Convention, which happens annually in the second weekend of October near Santa Barbara, CA. A likeable guy with a southern way of talking and unusual upstrum frail on the banjo, he walked away with top awards in banjo, fiddle, and singing categories. Matt recently teamed up with LA fiddler Ben Guzman of Triple Chicken Foot to launch a wonderful documentary video series called The Back Porch of America. In Episode 1, Matt Kinman visits with Mark Newberry, a fifth generation chair maker on Jennings Creek, Tennessee. The episode premiered on Aug. 6 on The Bluegrass Situation.
“So much of what we’re looking at, is people that make things, do things, and live this old way of life,” Guzman said. “There is storytelling that goes on, music that goes on, food that goes on with it, and all these things are a way of life that may be gone if people don’t carry it on.” The first episode in the series tells the story of the Newberry family, who for five generations has made chairs by hand from the trees grown on their farm in Macon County, Tennessee.
I’ve gushed about Väsen before. Forgive me for doing it again, but this trio of Swedish tallboys keeps getting better and better, if that’s possible. Their new record is called Mindset (NorthSide NSD6097).
Superlatives seem inadeqaute to describe the music of Väsen. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen them live, swaying and sawing and smiling as they play off one another, but they inhabit their own planet. A planet defined by traditional Swedish folk melodies and original compositions. A world where jazz, classical, and progressive elements commingle with northern darkness and playful joy.
The word väsen has several meanings: spirit, essence, noise. Mikail Marin plays 5-string viola, Roger Tallroth plays 12-string guitar, and Olov Johansson plays nykelharpa, a bowed, 16-string instrument related to both the hurdy-gurdy and the fiddle. In 1990, Olov became world champion of both the modern chromatic and older historical nyckelharpas at the first-ever Nyckelharpa World Championships at Österbybruk, Sweden. The trio has been performing and recording together ever since. Enjoy!
Chris Coole, Mark Westberg, Tannis Slimmon, David Francey, Darren McMullen, and friend.
Today marks the official release of David Francey’s tenth record titled So Say We All, on Red House Records. Canada’s reigning troubadour of the land and her people has released another winner. This may be his best record yet, perhaps as a result of the stellar support crew he assembled, including Mark Westberg on guitar, percussion, and harmonies; renowned banjo picker Chris Coole (who also plays guitar and dobro here); and Darren McMullen on mandolin, bouzouki, mandola, and piano. The band provides a sympathetic accompaniment to David’s poems of the road, the land, the people, and his own personal demons and angels.
So Say We All
At the age of 45, David Francey began his career as a folk singer after a lifetime of hard labor. Since than he has won three coveted Juno Awards, the equivalent of Grammies in the USA, and has been called “Canada’s best contemporary songwriter” by Sing Out magazine.
Yes, I have broken my own prohibition against reviewing singer-songwriters here on Fiddlefreak. God knows there are plenty of them out there, and bloggers to cover them. But David Francey is the kind of writer who creates instant classics that endure long after we are gone from this earth. Writers like Francey feed the folk tradition like cold clear tributaries feed the river of life.
“The songs on this album seem to me to encompass what proved a very difficult year. From the heights of joy to the depths of grief, the lesson learned was to celebrate every day spent on this side of the soil and to keep marching no matter what comes our way. So say we all.” –David Francey
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