New York Music Daily

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Tag: americana roots music

A First-Class Americana Roots Triplebill at the Bell House

Jan Bell is not only one of the most distinctly individual voices in Americana music, she’s also an impresario. In addition to her regular Saturday night music series at 68 Jay Street Bar, she books the occasional show at larger venues. Last night at the Bell House featured both the past and future of roots music, from the most rustic, purist oldtime sounds to the avant garde.

When the opening act gets more time onstage than anyone else on the bill, that’s usually a bad omen, but in case of Jackson Lynch and Eli Smith from the Downhill Strugglers, the effect was the opposite: they could have kept going for twice as long and nobody would have wanted them to leave. This oldtime music collective, with their rotating cast of characters, are a time machine: their mission seems to be to go looking for the raw and the intense in rural music from the 1920s and sometimes before then, and bring it back to life. They two switched guitars and fiddles and a banjo in and out and sang on everything except for a stomping, high-energy reel. The word “hallelujah” figured prominently early in the set; as it went on, country blues took centerstage. Over and over again, without mentioning it once, the two drove home the point that most of this music was made for dancing. That, and that all the cross-pollination between black blues and white country was clearing the path for the rock music that would follow in decades to come.

Bell is the rare singer who’s better live than she is in the studio – notwithstanding her glistening, detailed, nuanced vocals on her best and most recent album, Dream of the Miner’s Child. This time out she was joined in exquisitely lush four-part harmonies by bassist Tina Lama, fiddler Rima Fand, banjo player Katy Stone and M Shanghai String Band’s multi-talented Philippa Thompson on mandolin, fiddle, spoons and musial saw. Yorkshire-raised, Brooklyn-based, Bell’s take on Americana has a distinctive British folk flavor: it isn’t hard to imagine how easily she would have blended into a crowd of immigrant miners and their kin dancing around the bonfire somewhere in the Appalachians, 150 years ago. She sees herself as a link in a chain, adding her own blend of vulnerability and indomitability to material that’s been handed down through the ages – as in Trixie Smith’s Mining Camp Blues, a 1920 song that Bell picked up via Alice Gerrard’s version (Gerrard is featured in a duet of that song on Bell’s album).

Maybe because she’s an emigre, departure is a recurrent theme in Bell’s music, often an uneasy and poignant one. Gracefully and plaintively, she led the group through Jean Ritchie’s grim The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore and Darrell Scott’s grimmer You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, then mined the sadness in Loretta Lynn’s Blue Kentucky Girl. A brisk minor-key shufffle made room for a bristling solo from Lama and an acrobatically perfect one on the spoons by Thompson, which wowed the crowd. They wound up the set with a wistful waltz by Bell and then a chilling take of sometime Bell bandmate Karen Dahlstrom’s The Miner’s Bride, a cruelly matter-of-fact account of a mail-order marriage in the old west.

The Wiyos have always had a carnivalesque side, but lately the carnival has gotten a lot darker, in the wake of the band’s recent turn into psychedelic rock with last year’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Twist album. Though they barely got any time onstage, they made the most of it, maxing out the menace with an ominous, atmospheric introduction and then a bitingly jaunty minor-key swing tune. The addition of electric piano to the band is genius, freeing up the guitar to handle more leads and add to the trippy, time-warping surrealism. Frontman Michael Farkas brought his sardonically goodnatured energy and deadpan humor over the irrepressible oldtimey pulse of the band, happily bolstered by both bass and drums this time out. In their Oz world, the Tin Man is a stoner – as a shout-out, the band gave a him an unexpectedly menacing, noirish tango that reminded of Jack Grace’s recent, darker material. A little later, they did much the same in addressing the student loan crisis. As one of New York’s first (and arguably most popular) oldtimey bands, they’ve always had great chops and live shows; it’s just a much fun to see them branching out into new territory. And it was a great bill overall: to see this many first-class Americana roots acts usually requires at least a couple of trips to 68 Jay or the Jalopy.

The Mumbo Gumbo Album Is Back in Print!

Mumbo Gumbo were either five years or twenty years ahead of their time, maybe both. And they were retro back in 1989 when the New York Americana quartet – not to be confused with the California band of the same name – recorded their only album, a cassette-only release, over the course of a marathon two-day, 20-song session. In the years that passed, guitarist/violinist Joe Flood and accordionist Rachelle Garniez would go on to become international touring artists; guitarist George Breakfast, now back in England, still performs, and Mark Ettinger remains as sympatico and eclectic a bassist as ever. And their album is back in print, newly digitized with ten bonus tracks. Much as it’s a charming and revealing look at these artists’ early years, it’s also prophetic: these four were making alt-country, albeit without drums, back when the guys in Wilco were still playing punk rock and the Mumfords were in diapers. And yet, Mumbo Gumbo were looking back, to the hippie folk of John Prine, 70s honkytonk and outlaw country as well as oldtime blues and latin sounds. The album is streaming all the way through at Flood’s Bandcamp page.

It’s amazing how distinctive a singer Garniez had already become at that point. This album only has two of her songs, but they’re the strongest tracks here. Swimming Pool Blue, the first song she ever wrote, is far more direct and dark than the dreamy, mentholated torch-blues version on her Crazy Blood album. And New Dog (called New Dog Blues here) is more coy and trad with its volleys of sly innuendos than the more theatrical recording on her classic 2003 Luckyday cd. She also sings lead on a casually sultry version of  Sway, a Pablo Beltran Ruiz bolero famously covered by Bobby Rydell, as well as Breakfast’s fetching Strollin’ with the Wind

The album opens with Flood’s vividly aphoristic, bluesy I’m in a Hole, which might be a Vietnam reference. His contributions also include the wryly shuffling, Dan Hicks-ish swing tune Good Morning Mr. Afternoon; the sureeal, swaying Keep Listening; the jaunty, latin-flavored My Heart’s an Open Book; the soul-tinged Hard Ain’t It Hard; and the Tex-Mex cheating ballad Night on the Town. Breakfast contributes Foolish Pride, a dead ringer for an early 70s Moe Bandy track; Make Babies, probably a big crowd-pleaser; Invite Her to Dance, a goodnatured waltz; Heaven, which has the suspicious feel of a country gospel parody; and the bluegrass romp Heading for the Hills, among others.

Throughout the album, the vocal harmonies soar, Garniez adds lithe accordion flourishes along with Flood’s casually dexterous fiddle lines and several biting George Breakfast breaks for mandolin – and is that a chorus box he’s playing through, or just a very resonant mando? The album ends on a rather ghoulish bluegrass note with Dead and Gone, foreshadowing the dark acoustic Americana sounds that would start to resonate throughout Brooklyn ten years later.

Cahalen Morrison and Eli West Give Fresh Air to Some Old Sounds

There’s an army of curmudgeous out there who’ll be the first to say, petulantly, that what Cahalen Morrison and Eli West do isn’t bluegrass, or country music. They’re right – it isn’t. What they do is energetic acoustic songs with rock, bluegrass, country, American and British folk influences. They’re sort of an edgier teens counterpart to 70s hippie acoustic gropus like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Aztec Two-Step, putting their own spin on an old sound. Multi-instrumentalist Morrison’s ancestors hail from the Isle of Lewis off the Scottish coast, home to a rich and rugged musical tradition that percolated down to him. If he does it somewhat differently, that’s only to be expected: after all, you can’t keep music in a museum. Our Lady of the Tall Trees, his second album with guitarist Eli West (a name worthy of a Robert Hunter character, huh?) blends the antique vernacular that these guys obviously love so much into a current-day one, both lyrically and musically.

Morrison and West have a warm musical chemistry and add soaring vocal harmonies on several of these songs. Morrison plays several different guitars as well as banjo and mandolin. His mandolin playing, in particular, is sensationally good: when he picks that thing up, he grows fangs. West is a nimble flatpicker whose style draws as much on jamband rock as it does on Americana, although he doesn’t let those uncertain open chords linger too long or slide down the slope into the meh-ness of Dave Matthews and his ilk.

The opening track, Stone to Send, sets the stage, pensive lyrics juxtaposed with the first of many bitingly delicous mandolin interludes. They bring a tricky polyrhythmic edge to an Elizabethan waltz and then add understatedly psychedelic guitar to All I Can Do, a stark, minor key banjo/mandolin tune. Loretta has a casually swaying acoustic Grateful Dead-ly vibe: are the words “play your blue and wailin’ song,” or “play your Boo and Waylon song”?

The title track nicks a well-known John Prine tune for the verse, with similarly surreal lyrics: “She wraps herself in rice and greens and all the other fancy things she bought… supper is served!”

Morrison and West depict a vividly pensive campfire conversation with their guitars on a first-rate version of the traditional western ballad The Poor Cowboy; a little later, they take the bluegrass standard Church Street Blues back to its British folk origins. The lively playing on the country waltz All for the Sake of Day downplays its brooding lyric – it wouldn’t be out of place on the Dead’s Reckoning album.

The next track, Heartland Sea takes the starkly bluesy tune underneath it and gives it wings. There’s also a long, crisply delivered banjo/guitar bluegrass breakdown, and a funny honkytonk song done as Appalachian folk, literally taking the style back to its roots. The album ends with Red Prairie Dawn, a laid-back but spiky instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Pat Metheny album if the guitars were plugged in.

Fans of Chris Thile and his work with the Punch Brothers will love this stuff, although these guys are considerably more roughewn and less polished. Old Deadheads will too. It’s also tempting to say that the Bon Iver crowd might like it, but that might be a stretch, since Morrison and West put plenty of sweat into building a narrative or trying to put an emotion across rather than faking it.

Unexpectedly Edgy Americana from Lindi Ortega

Lindi Ortega hails from Canada, whose government supports the arts, and as a result Canadian artists’ albums typically have superior sonics compared with American recordings made on the fly, DIY, with Protools and a couple of mics haphazardly set up in somebody’s bedroom. Which in the case of Ortega’s new album Cigarettes & Truckstops is important, because producer Colin Linden gets the excellent band behind her to really breathe, as they make their way through a diverse mix of oldschool honkytonk, highway rock, bluegrasss and some surprisingly intense blues. Ortega comes across as more of a rocker who discovered Americana than someone who’s been immersed in it since day one. However, there’s as much Dolly Parton influence as there is Jolie Holland in Ortega’s energetic, occasionally raspy, fluttering melismatic vocals.

The album’s title track has a Gentle of My Mind vibe, but with hushed contemporary alt-country production: brushed drums, tremolo guitars and Rhodes piano – and a Dolly reference that will have her fans cringing. Things get better from there. The Day You Die, a brisk bluegrass shuffle, reminds of Demolition String Band, right down to the biting electric guittar solo. Ortega reverts to a country nocturne vibe with Lead Me On, a sad, resigned ballad with the same tasty acoustic/electric textures as the opening track.

Don’t Wanna Hear It contrasts Ortega’s languid vocals with a big snarling, Link Wray-inspired garage rock arrangement. A Canadian twist on outlaw country, Demons Don’t Get Me Down reminds a bit of Lorraine Leckie, with some bright honkytonk piano handing off to a tasty slide guitar solo. Murder of Crows sounds like it’s going to go down to the delta crossroads until the electric guitars kick in and it turns into a big, murderous blues anthem, like Holly Golightly airing out her pipes, and her band, with big-room production values.

Heaven Has No Vacancy, a creepy, slow, noirish open-tuned slide blues, reminds of John Mellencamp’s self-titled blues album with guitarist Andy York about ten years ago. Once again, the layers of guitars are absolutely exquisite, and in this instance, pretty bloodcurdling (musician credits weren’t included with pre-release downloads). “I’ve got some pain to medicate and I’m all out of pills,” Ortega intones on the next track, High, a stoner take on Jimmy Webb-style countrypolitan: “I ain’t that sane, honey, I just want to fly…I’m not into razorblades so I thought I’d try something new.” And then on the casually stomping song after that, she’s telling a guy not to use crack, or shrooms, or ecstasy – if the effect is to induce a few chuckles. it works. The album ends with the swirly, creepy noir 60s pop charm of Every Mile of the Ride, hinting that Americana may not be Ortega’s ultimate destination. But while she’s doing it, she’s doing it with class: who says Canadians can’t play blues or country music? Lindi Ortega is on US tour right now with Social Distortion.

More Excellent Dark Americana from Frankenpine

Dark Americana/bluegrass band Frankenpine’s 2011 debut The Crooked Mountain ranked in the top thirty albums of the year here last year, which doesn’t do justice to its creepy diversity. Their new one, In That Black Sky – streaming online in its entirety – is just as solid and just as eclectic. Like Bobtownjust reviewed here – this band has several good songwriters who’re fluent in vintage Americana: oldtime Appalachian folk, bluegrass, swing and country blues, to name a few. And Frankenpine likes mysteries.

One of the best tracks is Iron Road, co-written by banjo player Matthew Chase and frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase. She delivers this brisk, biting, minor-key bluegrass tune with a wary, apprehensive edge in her voice and lush harmonies from the rest of the band. It’s a Nashville gothic train ballad, with a surprise ending that makes more sense with repeated listening: it’s obvious that this story isn’t going to end well. Phantom Limb, another dark bluegrass romp has Kim’s vocals plaintively longing for someone who disappeared into the woods, set to a stark backdrop of spiky textures, mandolin hammering home the punch line at the end of a brooding banjo solo. Fine and Fair, written by resonator guitarist/mandolinist Ned P. Rauch, bounces along through the woods with things falling and catching fire. Once again, it’s not clear exactly what happened, but it isn’t good. It builds to a witchy dance and then comes back to a suspenseful interlude held together by violinist Liz B. Rauch.

Opening with ominous harmonium and bells, Tell Me Where You Are, by the Rauches, tells a metaphorically loaded tale of a shipwreck victim searching in vain for her fellow lost soul. Widow Paris, sung by bassist Colin DeHond, is a creepy noir blues about a bereaved bride using voodoo to bring her dead husband back from the grave, Ned’s sonorous resonator solo handing off to Liz’s lively, bracing violin. Another Ned/Liz number, Flood Line, has a bitter oldtime folk feel as a very possibly doomed woman watches the water rise.

DeHond contributes two tracks: Place to Lay My Head, with a couple of surprisingly ornate, artsy, classically-tinged crescendos, and the jaunty, vengeful 99-percenter anthem Mr. Crook: “Nothing, that’s the best we can offer you, unless you want empty packs of cigarettes, hospital bills and credit debts,” the unemployed man tells the rich guy.

There’s also Appaloosa, a stark escape anthem; a surprisingly mellow, airy banjo-and-violin instrumental; and a couple of aphoristic, rustic, Appalachian-flavored Ned Rauch tracks that have the feel of classic hard-times ballads from the 1800s. One of the best albums of the year – just like last year. Oh yeah – just so you know, the Matt & Kim in this band are no relation to any other group by that name. Frankenpine’s next gig is at the Jalopy on Oct 12 at 9:30 PM.

Another Creepy Winner from Bobtown

Among oldtime Americana bands, no one has better original songs than Bobtown. That’s probably because the band has four first-rate songwriters. Between them, percussionist/keyboardist Katherine Etzel, singer Jen McDearman, guitarist Karen Dahlstrom and bassist Fred Stesney blend their voices and instruments in a dark mix of bluegrass, country blues, gospel and other rustic Americana styles alongside new band member and brilliant guitarist/banjoist Alan Lee Backer. Their new album Trouble I Wrought also features cameos by drummers Dave Ciolino-Volano and Charlie Shaw and pedal steel player Mike Nolan along with M Shanghai String Band’s Philippa Thompson’s stark violin, and Dock Oscar Stern’s wry jawharp on one song. The new record expands on the eclectically haunting sound of their brilliant 2010 debut: this time out, they’re a little less stark, a little more lush but just as grim, fixated on death and despair. Consider this stuff antique folk songs for a new century.

On this album, Etzel is the main songwriter. Bobtown’s first album has a number of her songs written in the style of 19th century chain gang chants, and this album opens with one, Mama’s Got the Backbeat – which with different production, could be trip-hop, or gospel-flavored hip-hop. But that’s hardly the only style she works here. Skipping Stone is part banjo-fueled gospel bluegrass, part oldtime hokum blues with jaunty Roulette Sisters-style harmonies: “Today’s precious lover is tomorrow’s tasty bourguignon,” mmmm…

Etzel’s most lavish song here is Burn Your Building Down, a sepulchral grand guignol anthem with swirly violin, banjo and harmonies, building to a towering angst in the same vein as Vespertina. By contrast, her title track clocks in at barely two minutes, its rage semi-concealed in a soaring gospel arrangement over an organ drone. Resurrection Mary is a cheery, harmony-fueled Boswell Sisters-style swing tune…about a murder and a ghost. And Coalville, the lurid tale of a doomed couple now sharing a graveyard, reaches for a plush Nashville gothic ambience.

McDearman seems to specialize in sarcastically cheery, upbeat bluegrass songs. One Public Enemy would have been a perfect fit on one of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass albums (hey Dolly, there’s still time…). And McDearman maxes out the suspense factor in the otherwise very pretty Magilla Lee, as the listener grows closer and closer to finding out what happened as the poor girl waited to die. Dahlstrom contributes only one song here, Battle Creek, but it’s the best one on the album. With her searing gospel wail rising over an ominous minor-key backdrop, she paints a cruel portrait of a farm girl slowly losing it in early Rust Belt-era Michigan. Dahlstrom is no stranger to historically-informed songwriting: her Idaho-themed solo album, Gem State, was one of last year’s most intense releases in any style of music.

Not everything is so overtly bleak. Stesney’s two songs here each work a blackly humorous vein: Live Slow Die Old, which comes across as a mashup of Smog, Flugente and the Mountain Goats, and the irresistibly funny faux-gospel Flood Water Rising, possibly the only country gospel song to namecheck both L. Ron Hubbard and Herbert Hoover. There’s also a deadpan cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper, done as tersely creepy Nashville gothic, Backer’s banjo carrying the hook under the womens’ angelic harmonies, a terse banjo/accordion interlude in place of Buck Dharma’s shredding guitar solo. Like Bobtown’s previous album, this is one of the best of the year. The band’s next gig is Sept 21 at 9 PM on an excellent bill with eclectic alt-country siren Alana Amram & the Rough Gems at Union Hall for $10.

For Larry Stephenson, Bluegrass Is What Really Matters

Here in the northeast, bluegrass is the new blues. Anybody can play the changes – they’re easy. But just like blues, bluegrass is actually very hard to play – with soul, anyway. That doesn’t keep a ton of brand-new wannabes from jumping on the bandwagon every year, since pretty much every bar that has music will book a bluegrass band. That’s a cynical way of looking at it: obviously, there are good bluegrass bands here too (Frankenpine, Jen Larson & Straight Drive, Bobtown and many others), but go down to the Bible Belt and there are tons of them. Singer/mandolinist Larry Stephenson calls Cottontown, Tennessee home, and he’s got a great band – Kevin Richardson on guitar, Kenny Ingram on banjo, Danny Stewart on bass and Aubrey Haynie on fiddle – on his new album What Really Matters. Stephenson gets props for his signature high lonesome voice, which is hardly lonesome or sad here. In fact, his style is more that of a harmony singer than a frontperson, a laid-back, sometimes unselfconsciously gentle delivery that blends in seamlessly with the rest of the band, particularly Stewart, who often sings the low notes as he plays them. Another thing that differentiates Stephenson from all the Bill Monroe worshippers is the diversity of the songs here, mostly originals along with a jaunty backbeat version of Philadelphia Lawyer and some fullscale harmonizing (led by Ingram) on the country gospel standard Jericho Road.

The opening track, My Heart Is on the Mend sets the stage, oldschool style, with rustling, rippling banjo, upbeat bass, some sweet flatpicking from Richardson and an edgy mando break. A couple of tracks blend an artsy Jimmy Webb countrypolitan vibe with traditional instrumentation, notably the title track with its Gentle on My Mind feel and Seashores of Old Mexico, a surreal outlaw tune. The slow ballad You’re Too Easy to Remember is a showcase for Ingram’s gorgeous lead work, contrasting with Haynie’s soaring lead lines, while the scampering, tight instrumental Beartracks is lets Stephenson’s fast fingers go to work – he hands off to Ingram, who hands it back just as fast. There’s also the brisk country gospel tune God Will, a train song, a swinging, ragtimish take of The Blues Don’t Care and a surprise honkytonk number to end the album. If Americana is your thing, all these guys are worth getting to know.

Demolition String Band: Brilliant Country and Bluegrass

Demolition String Band’s new album Gracious Days is a kind of record that doesn’t get made very often anymore. It answers the question of what would happen if two of the most esteemed players on the New York country scene were turned loose in the studio with unlimited instruments and unlimited time, something Varese Vintage apparently decided to do, with delicious results. The production is absolutely gorgeous, many of the songs starting out totally acoustic before the electric instruments come in on a second verse or chorus: it’s a fully realized blend of the band’s electrifying live show along with their passion for old Appalachian songs. The band’s 2002 album Pulling Up Atlantis may represent an iconic moment in underground Americana, but musically speaking, this is the best thing they’ve ever done. The core band members, guitarist/banjoist Boo Reiners and mandolinist/guitarist Elena Skye have never sounded more inspired: Reiners’ effortless flatpicking, soulfully resonant dobro and fiery electric guitar create the album’s obvious highlights, Skye’s mandolin as edgy and contemporary as it is rustic. She’s also taken her vocals to the next level, whether soft and pillowy on the quieter songs, or evoking a raw, emotionally charged intensity on the more oldtimey numbers, her harmonies with Reiners as soulful as ever. This version of the band includes David Mansfield on steel, Mike Santoro on acoustic and electric bass guitar, Catherine Popper on upright and electric bass, Jimi Zhivago on keys, Kenny Soule on drums and Lisa Gutkin on fiddle: the arrangements are devised so that pretty much the whole band gets a chance to contribute to every track.

The album is bookended by a swaying countrypolitan theme by Skye disguised as an oldtimey string band tune. Misfortune, the most antique-sounding of all the tracks here is actually a Skye original, moving stoically from Carter Family plaintiveness to more lush textures with fiddle and a web of electric guitars. Reiners’ Under the Weather is a swaying, Creedence-flavored swamp rock tune and a launching pad for what seems dozens of smartly chosen guitar licks played on dobro and electric.

In the past, this band has covered Madonna: this time around, they tackle the Ramones’ Questioningly, turning it into rueful Social Distortion-esque Americana rock, lit up by a lithe, serpentine Reiners electric guitar solo. Mickey Newbury’s Why You Been Gone So Long gives the band a chance to show off their Bakersfield honkytonk side, with some clever effects on the vocals. Has anyone ever killed a fifth of Thunderbird, as the guy in this song does, and lived to tell the tale?

Dress of Roses, a longtime concert favorite for this band, gets reinvented with an even slower groove than usual, with some wickedly spiky banjo/mandolin interplay followed by a gorgeous Mansfield solo. Reiners gets to show off his wry banjo virtuosity on the lickety-split Boojo Breakdown, while Skye takes a turn of her own on the slower, more romantic Williamsville Ramble: these folks have their country dance tunes down cold.

Their swinging fiddle-and-mandolin version of Hard Ain’t It Hard is a showcase for Skye at her most vivid, while Blaze Foley’s sadly swaying you-done-me-wrong song Alibis is awash in cool guitar licks and an understatedly biting chordal acoustic solo. The band also takes a brisk run through Ola Belle Reed’s Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow (the centerpiece of the band’s brilliant Reed cover album by the same title, from 2006) and takes a stab at the traditional number Old Blue, which they rescue from cheesiness with a joyous acoustic-electric arrangement. If country music is your thing, this is for you. Demolition String Band play the album release show at around 10 PM on March 30 at Rodeo Bar.

Too Trippy

Here’s clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn and band playing the old spiritual Wayfaring Stranger with the Xinjiang Song & Dance Troupe in China during her just-completed “silk road tour” there. More videos here and US and Australian tourdates here.

A New Spin on Some Old Songs

While Brooklyn bluegrass/oldtimey band Tumbling Bones’ ep Risk Not Your Soul reached the top 10 on the Roots Music Report folk chart last year, what they do isn’t museum music. It’s fun oldtime string band stuff by three guys whose passion for it is obviously more than a passing fad. There’s a prejudice against people who might not have grown up playing this kind of music, or might not have grown up where this kind of music originated, and that’s absurd. The trio’s arrangements are original, the energy is unselfconsciously high, and if these guys (guitarists/banjoists Pete Winne and Jake Hoffman and fiddler Sam McDougle) are new to you, they make great party music: exactly what it was meant to be the first time around

The first track is a shambling version of the old spiritual Banks Of Jordan, with lots of percussion and boisterous harmonica – the band leaves no doubt that this was a back-to-Africa anthem in disguise. Their high-energy arrangement of East VA blues is just guitar, shuffling drums and vocal harmonies, while the two fiddle reels here, Sally Johnson (with some especially nice walking bass work on the guitar) and Salt River, trace a line straight back to Ireland. They also do a version of St. Louis Blues with some tasty guitar/banjo textures, and a take on Bill Monroe’s What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul that’s more laid-back slowdance tune than it is haunting.

Since that album came out, they’ve also put out “two singles for streaming” at their Bandcamp, both of which are excellent. Payday at Coal Creek, which they discovered via Pete Steele’s version on the Mountain Music in Kentucky anthology (these guys don’t hesitate to give credit to those who’ve inspired them) is particularly apropros in these depression days since “payday don’t come no more.” The b-side (if you could call it a b-side) is Stone Rag, a swaying fiddle instrumental with the same changes as Salty Dog.

Sam and Pete from Tumbling Bones host a free acoustic night of roots music at Larry Lawrence, 295 Grand St. in Williamsburg the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month at 10 PM.

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