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Folk Music Blog

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In the Immortal Words of Woody Guthrie, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You"

Monday April 7, 2014

It's been nine years since I started building this site for the About.com network, so it is with a bittersweet heart that I now bid it adieu.

When I began working on this site back in 2005, the millennial folk music boom was so brand new, we didn't even know it was really happening yet. But, in the years that have passed since, American folk and roots music have come to dominate so many areas of popular music. I hope whoever finds their way to this site from this day forward will find a plethora of introductory information and great new artists to ease their way into an appreciation of traditional American music. Folk music is one of the most vibrant, versatile, and timeless ways we have to communicate. We've taken folk songs with us through every moment in American history, and I have no doubt we will continue to carry them - or rather seek their help to carry us through.

Of course, I am not leaving the profession of writing about American folk and roots music. You can look for my writing around the web, wherever folk, roots, and Americana music has a home. Or, you can follow me on Twitter (@kimruehl). Cheers, and thank you for nearly a decade of good times and great music.

New Spin on 'Basement Tapes'-era Bob Dylan Songs, from T Bone Burnett and Friends

Thursday March 27, 2014

T Bone BurnettT Bone Burnett is no stranger to high-profile folk-and-Americana-infused projects. From his involvement with O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Nashville, the collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and beyond, Burnett's stamp of approval has catapulted many a musical foray toward instant buzz among people who take these things seriously.

Now, he's teaming up with Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons), Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) to produce a collection of songs pulled from the basement of Bob Dylan's storied career. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Back in 1967, two years after his decision to "go electric" at Newport Folk Festival threw his promising folk music recording career into a chaotic blend of backlash and worldwide megastardom, Dylan holed up with the Band to record what was released nearly a decade later as The Basement Tapes. That album has long been one touted as one of Dylan's finest musical moments, coming as it did, at the apex of the folk-rock revolution. Not to mention, of course, that the musicianship of the Band was unparalleled.

Now, nearly four decades later after the demos that comprised that record were made, this remarkable troupe of new folk music heavies is composing music to go with Basement Tapes-era Dylan lyrics. It'll be released in conjunction with a documentary film set to air on Showtime, titled Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued. No solid release date yet, but it nearly goes without saying that hardcore fans of American folk and rock and roll music will be waiting with bated breath.

image: T Bone Burnett promo photo

Emmylou Harris Memoir Due in 2015

Saturday March 22, 2014

Emmylou HarrisAccording to Billboard Magazine, Emmylou Harris is working on a memoir covering her four decades in the music industry, from her time singing with the late, great Gram Parsons, through her solo career and her innumerable collaborations since. Considering her incredible career, which has won her more than a dozen Grammy Awards and an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Her HoF status notwithstanding, Harris has dabbled in areas of music far beyond the confines of what's popularly considered country music. She has taken up folk songs just as often, has collaborated with everyone from Parsons to Rodney Crowell, Patty Griffin, and beyond. And, next month, she'll re-release her hugely celebrated album Wrecking Ball, this time with a DVD and two additional discs of recorded material.

There are few people in the folk and roots music world who would not count Emmylou Harris as one of the most important singers of the past half-century, so this memoir will no doubt be met with considerable interest and praise. I know I personally look forward to reading it. In the meantime, learn more about Emmylou Harris with this introductory bio and profile, or check out these worthy folk music memoirs.

photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Pickathon Announces Full 2014 Lineup

Wednesday March 19, 2014

Jonathan RichmanYesterday, I shared that Nickel Creek has joined the lineup for the 2014 Pickathon Indie Roots Music Festival in Happy Valley, Ore., just outside of Portland. They're not the only eyebrow-raising band on the lineup this year. They join the legendary X, as well as Jonathan Richman, Jolie Holland, Blind Pilot, Gregory Alan Isakov, Valerie June, Robbie Fulks, Angel Olsen, Della Mae, the Sadies, Mandolin Orange, and many more.

Pickathon will go down this year on August 1-3. I've been several times and consider it one of the finest festivals for folk, roots, and Americana music in the country. The Pendarvis Farm is an exquisite venue, complete with workshop stages, a gorgeous view beyond the mainstage, a mid-woods stage, late night picking circles and parties in the barn. There's a kids' area and a host of responsible methods of maintaining a safe and eco-friendly atmosphere. The best way to get there, for example, is on a bicycle. But they offer a number of shuttles for carpooling and utilizing public transportation. And, not for nothing, the food there tends to be pretty amazing - all locally sourced organic, made-with-love food, not the typical festival fare.

image: Jonathan Richman joins Pickathon 2014, courtesy Vapor Records

Nickel Creek Discography

Tuesday March 18, 2014

Nickel CreekNews broke this week that Nickel Creek would be making an appearance at two of the finest folk and roots music festivals in the land this summer - Pickathon and Newport. (They'll also be at Telluride, which I've never personally been to, but trust everyone who tells me it's one of the best.)

So, in light of those festival announcements, the ongoing news about  Nickel Creek's 25th Anniversary reunion tour, and the album they'll be dropping April 1 on Nonesuch Records (titled, A Dotted Line), now seemed an appropriate time to take a walk down memory lane via a Nickel Creek discography. Granted, the albums included on this list are the five discs still in print - there were two others before they released their hugely popular, self-titled full-length album on Sugar Hill Records in 2000. The trio has been playing together, on and off, since they were eight and eleven years old. Though these five albums are all well worth a good bit of your time, they don't even begin to scratch the surface of what this band can do together after 25 years of collaboration. For that, your best bet is one of the live shows.

At any rate, I've done my best to include a brief review of each as well as a track listing. If you're new to Nickel Creek, or you just need an excuse to remember how great those three artists are together, here's a comprehensive look at Nickel Creek's albums. What's your favorite Nickel Creek album or song? Tell us about it in the comments.

image courtesy Sugar Hill Records

Folk Song History: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

Friday March 14, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ball GameI'm not personally a big fan of the sport of baseball, though I did grow up rooting for the Yankees (don't hold it against me) and watching spring training games near my hometown in Central Florida. I am, however, a great big fan of traditions and cultural habits, so the parts of the baseball game that always pleased me was the food that goes hand-in-hand with it (hot dogs, peanuts, cracker jacks), the seventh inning stretch (one of the few times everyone in any room gets up and stretches together, in any context in the U.S.), and when the pre-recorded organ chords pipe through the speakers telling us all it's time to engage in a good old American sing-along.

That most baseball games include a mass folk song sing-along aside from the National Anthem, seems pretty appropriate. Few things are so enmeshed in American culture than live sports games and folk songs. So where did "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" come from? Who wrote it? How did it become the standard folk song of this particular sport? (No doubt there have been plenty of other baseball songs created through the years.) Learn more with this folk song history of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and regale your fellow sports fans with some trivia next time you're yawning through a slow sixth inning.

photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

What Is a Folk Song?

Wednesday March 5, 2014

banjoIt'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.

image: Getty

Artists to Watch: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

Tuesday March 4, 2014

Cahalen Morrison and Eli WestA 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

New Disc on the Way from Jolie Holland

Wednesday February 26, 2014

Jolie HollandFull 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

DelFest Lineup to Include Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, String Cheese Incident, More

Monday February 24, 2014

Bela Fleck and Abigail WashburnBela 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

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