Wednesday March 5, 2014
It's almost a cliche within folk music circles to try to argue about what constitutes a folk song. For Baby Boomers, folk music has a social conscience and is often political, always acoustic, and sees its forbears as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. For milennials - the people who are making sure "folk music," whatever that is, remains relevant - a "folk song" tells a story and is made with a kind of grassroots spirit, regardless of if it's electric or acoustic, religious or political, or about completely vague ideas (being young, having ideas, searching). Who's right?
I would argue everyone's right. Folk music is people-centered. Like culture and society, religion, politics, and all the other things that have been topics of folk songs through the years, folk music is what you make of it. It's as useful as you want it to be. It speaks for you and on your behalf, so a culture that's focused on large-scale, dramatic social change (such as what was happening in the U.S. during the 1950s and '60s folk revival) would naturally identify mostly with political folk songs. A culture that's focused on finding its way through a tough economy and unclear expectations (such as is true of many milennials), may identify more with folk songs about uncertainty. So, with many folksingers "crossing over", garnering attention from mainstream critics and audiences, who never seem quite so sure about how to define "folk songs," I thought it was a good time to amend my definition of the phrase. Check out "What Is a Folk Song?" and see what you think.
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A couple of weeks ago, when I shared my picks for artists you need to watch from this year's Folk Alliance International schedule in Kansas City, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West were one of the first outfits that came to mind. Their remarkable dexterity on their instruments and close, intuitive harmonies straddle the line between contemporary and traditional issues. More Louvin Brothers than Welch & Rawlings, their pairing is deceptively simple and remarkably haunting. If you've yet to hear Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, perhaps now is the time to become acquainted. The Seattle-based duo just dropped their third full-length album, I'll Swing My Hammer with Both My Hands, which was produced by folk and bluegrass darling Tim O'Brien. Check out this full profile for more info on that effort and more.
image: promo photo
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of Jolie Holland. From her time with the Be Good Tanyas to her various solo albums, pulled from her early demos. She's an exquisite multi-instrumentalist, able to leap from guitar to violin to piano with equal proficiency. Her melodies are catchy, her lyrics are heavily nuanced and poetic, and her arrangements are surprising, complex, and haunting.
In 2003, Holland signed a deal with Anti- Records - one of the most versatile and remarkably reliable indie labels on the scene, who have backed efforts by everyone from the Milk Carton Kids to Ramblin' Jack and Neko Case. Their overarching genre-defiance is a perfect fit for Holland's impossible-to-pigeonhole songwriting. So, it is with great excitement that I share the news that she will be releasing a new album on Anti- this May 20, titled Dark Wine Sea.
According to a press release:
The album features symphonic swaths of noisy electric guitars and percolating polyrhythms supporting some of the most powerful vocal performances of HOLLAND's career. This combined with some of her most direct and memorable songs make Wine Dark Sea her most joyful and fully realized work to date.
The first single from the disc, "Waiting for the Sun" can be heard via a video on the AV Club website. Check it out, see what you think, and then mark your calendar.
photo: Samir Hussein/Getty Images
Monday February 24, 2014
Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have joined the 2014 lineup for DelFest, which takes place Memorial Day Weekend in Cumberland Maryland. They've joined a lineup that includes String Cheese Incident, Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby with Kentucky Thunder, Yonder Mountain String Band, Hot Rize, Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, and more.
Fleck and Washburn are, of course, married, but have mostly led separate careers. They collaborated on the Sparrow Quartet with Ben Sollee and Casey Driessen, but have only just begun touring together again since the birth of their child. No doubt their collaboration will be well-received during this festival. Tickets and other information are available on the DelFest website.
image courtesy BelaFleck.com