I have to admit, I've been a fan of Melissa Ferrick's music for years. Back around 1995, when I was first exploring the world of singer-songwriters and contemporary folk music, Melissa Ferrick's early recordings were instrumental in drawing me into the form. So, I've followed her career through the years and enjoyed watching her songwriting take all its twists and turns, exploring new themes and avenues, and expanding her horizons along the way. Her live shows have always been invigorating and her records have always piqued my interest.
It's always refreshing to watch an artist grow and change across decades, and Ferrick has never shied away from the opportunity to explore new vistas in her music. Sometimes she hits, other times she misses. Her new album The Truth Is, frankly, is unlikely to go down as one of her finest recordings, but there are still gems among the misses. Check out my full review of The Truth Is or just read up on Melissa Ferrick with this bio and profile, to learn more.
image © MPress Records
Over the past couple of years, the American folk music scene has seen its share of songwriting duos. From the Milk Carton Kids to male-female duos like Shovels + Rope and Birds of Chicago, and beyond, folks seem to be moving away from the 10-person band lineups and closer to a more simplified roster (still striving to achieve as much of a lush sound as possible). Whereas the big bands of three-to-five years ago stretched the imaginations of their songwriters, challenging them to add as many instruments as possible without resulting in utter chaos, singer-songwriter duos have been doing their best to keep it to just two voices and two instruments. Their challenge has been how far two people can push the music within those confines.
And so it is that, with great interest, I turn your ears to a new duo coming out of - where else? - the Boston area. Tall Heights consists of guitarist Tim Harrington and cellist Paul Wright, who have known each other since they were children, but have only been playing together as this duo for a couple of years. Learn more about Tall Heights via my recent interview with them, this brief bio and profile, or a video for the song "Man of Stone" from their album of the same name (out this week).
photo courtesy Crash Avenue
Ever since her 1997 debut, Patty Griffin has become one of the most inspired and influential songwriters of her generation. You'd be hard-pressed to find an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who hasn't been touched by at least one of her songs along the way, and with good reason. Griffin has a skill for not only making a lovely melody bend around hard-hitting lyrics, but for getting inside her songs and delivering the complexity of emotions that's so difficult to nail.
Her latest album, American Kid is the first release of entirely original songs since Griffin dropped Children Running Through back in 2007. Since then, she's been touring, recording, and performing with a number of other artists in collaboration, and apparently picking up a few tricks of the trade along the way. Learn more about how she cultivated this new collection and whether or not it all works, with my full review of Patty Griffin's American Kid.
image © New West Records
Many fans of American and Canadian folk music will probably know about Ruth Moody through the fact that she is one-third of the much-beloved Canadian folk trio the Wailin' Jennys. Before that, she collaborated with members of the Duhks on another much-loved Canadian roots troupe called Scruj MacDuhk. And, she's also got a fledgling solo career that's well worth paying attention to.
Across one EP and now two full-length solo albums (including the very recently released These Wilder Things on Red House Records), Moody has asserted her impulses as a more contemporary Americana-style singer-songwriter. Where the Wailin' Jennys are a decidedly traditionally-influenced trio, Moody's solo work reaches more toward the realm of modern, lushly arranged folk-pop. Learn more about her solo singer-songwriter career with this review of These Wilder Things (which features contributions from the Wailin Jennys, Mark Knopfler, Jerry Douglas, Aoife O'Donovan, and more), or learn more about Moody in general with this introductory bio and profile.
image: Ruth Moody promo photo
Aoife O'Donovan is most likely best-known for being the breathy-voiced frontwoman and singer-songwriter at the helm of progressive bluegrass troupe Crooked Still. She co-founded the group in the summer of 2001 with a peer from the New England Conservatory, a student from MIT and one from the Berklee College of Music. Drawing from those schools' incredible interest in creative innovation, the band started its career almost innately pushing the boundaries of traditional music. But, as time wore on, Crooked Still's members became more and more intwined in other projects, eventually deciding to call a hiatus while they focused on other things.
O'Donovan, for her part, had been collaborating with other songwriters and landing sweet songwriting spots everywhere from an episode of vampire TV show True Blood to a cut on an Alison Krauss album. She dropped a pair of solo EPs, inked a deal with Yep Roc Records, and now has a highly anticipated (at least by me and several other critics) full-length solo album due this June. While we all wait for that to drop, here's a brief introductory bio and profile. Or, visit her website to listen to some tracks from the new album.
image: promo photo
Richie Havens - the folksinger best known for his lengthy set opening Woodstock in 1969 - died this week of a heart attack, at his home in New Jersey, at the age of 72.
Since debuting on the Greenwich Village folk music scene in 1961, Havens earned his place among the giants of the contemporary folk music movement. He dropped eight albums in the 1960s alone, before starting his own record label in the '70s, long before being an independent artist was anything close to the norm. His covers of songs by everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, as well as his original compositions, are some of the most beloved recordings in the craft. He was an ardent activist for peace and environmental issues, setting up an educational organization to teach children about ecology, and donating his celebrity to numerous causes throughout his career.
But, it was Havens' 3-hour Woodstock set which catapulted him onto the national stage and earned him the respect and adoration of generations of musicians. Havens was an inimitable guitar player, blending together styles as disparate as folk, funk, and gospel, moving his music with a soulful foundation and always smooth, honest vocals. Learn more about the life and career of the great Richie Havens with this bio and profile.
image: Richie Havens promo photo
Pickathon - the indie roots music festival which takes place each year outside Portland, Ore., on the lovely Pendarvis Farm - has announced some additions to its 2013 (15th Anniversary) lineup. Ty Segall, the Relatives, and Jessica Pratt will join a remarkable mix of other artists to round out this year's festival. No doubt there will be more lineup announcements to come.
Meanwhile, among this year's participants are Lake Street Dive, Pharis & Jason Romero, Andrew Bird, Feist, D McPherson, the Devil Makes Three, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, Sharon Van Etten, Tift Merritt, Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole, and so much more. For a full list of this year's performers, information on tickets and camping, and more from Pickathon, visit their website at Pickathon.com.
image: Lake Street Dive courtesy Signature Sounds
When you listen to Andrew Duhon's new album The Moorings, you'd hardly believe he wasn't weened on New Orleans soul music. He grew up taking piano lessons but the music didn't really stick right away. It wasn't high school, when a sports injury kept him out of the game long enough to develop an affection for the guitar, that Duhon really found his musical haven. Then, in college, he finally moved from his suburban home in Metairie, Louisiana, to the heart of the French Quarter, and discovered what New Orleans music was all about.
Duhon has a seemingly innate ability to straddle the fence between gritty darkness (think Tom Waits), light insight (think John Prine) and sultry soul (think Ray LaMontagne). The Moorings isn't his first album, but it's certainly the first to drum up a considerable buzz around this great up-and-coming artist. Learn more about Andrew Duhon with this bio and profile, or check out this interview for his thoughts on New Orleans, songwriting, and fly fishing.
image: promo photo
Portland-based indie folk stringband Black Prairie announced today that it has secured dates at two of the finest festivals in the Eastern half of the US - Newport Folk Festival and Bonnaroo 2013. The latter will see them on a special Bluegrass Situation stage, hosted by actor/banjo picker Ed Helms, representing the blog by the same name. (Full disclosure: I've written for that site.)
In addition, they'll be playing the following handful of dates in their homestate of Oregon, including an evening with the Oregon Symphony. You may know Black Prairie as three-fifths of the influential indie folk band the Decemberists, but with their remarkable 2012 release, A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart, they solidified themselves as much more than a side project. Learn more about Black Prairie with this introductory bio and profile, or check them out at one of these dates on tour:
May 1 - Portland, OR Alhambra Theatre
May 3 - Portland, OR May Day Music Fest
June 16 - Bonnaroo (Ed Helms' Bluegrass Situation Stage)
July 19 - North Plains, OR String Summit Festival
July 28 - Newport, RI Newport Folk Festival
Aug 2 - Hood River, OR Springhouse Cellar Winery
Oct 19 - Portland, OR - "Portland's Indies" with the Oregon Symphony
image: Black Prairie promo photo
It seems like it hasn't been often in the folk music world that there's big baby news. But, there have been three big pregnancies lately that I'm aware of - Abigail Washburn and her husband Bela Fleck are expecting sometime later this spring. (Washburn was visibly pregnant during her Asheville show a month or two ago.) Anais Mitchell, on tour now with Jefferson Hamer, will be ending the tour right around the time she's too pregnant to drive around the country anymore.
And, this past weekend, Ani DiFranco gave birth to her second child with her husband, the producer Mike Napolitano. According to a note on Righteous Babe Records' Facebook page:
Welcome Dante DiFranco Napolitano to the world! Ani DiFranco gave birth to to a baby boy in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, April 6. Everybody is healthy and happy.
Never one to slow down for too long, DiFranco appears to be taking much of the year off her rigorous touring schedule, but there are dates accumulating in November. Check out her website for more information. Congratulations to everyone involved, and I hope everyone remains healthy and happy, with lives full of great music!
photo © Mark Dellas