Sylvia Herold is probably the best folksinger you’ve never heard of. This dynamic and sophisticated vocalist, from the East Bay area of San Francisco, is leader of the folk ensemble known as Euphonia. The group also features mandolinist Paul Kotapish, box player Charlie Hancock, and double bassist Chuck Ervin, and guests. Their material ranges from acoustic swing to traditional Celtic, and anything goes in between, but it’s all pretty.
Euphonia’s latest release is The Old Jawbone, which as far as I can tell is their second offering, although Sylvia has other recordings on her website. This record is starting to garner some spins on folk music radio stations here in North America, for good reason. On Jawbone she sings songs from Carole King, Gillian Welch, John Hartford, and Stephen Foster, among others, as well as traditional material. Many of the songs are paired with traditional dance melodies, like this one, which combines the song “Let the Bullgine Run” with the Irish hornpipe “The Peacock’s Feather.” What’s a bullgine, you ask? From her liner notes:
‘Bullgine’ (bull + engine) is slang for locomotive or steam engine. In maritime use, it can describe dockside cargo locomotives, ships powered by steam, and even engines used to hoist anchors. This song may have started life as a train song and morphed into the shanty we know today. We learned our version from English folk singer John Roberts.