New York Music Daily

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Tag: bluegrass music

Yet Another Great Album from the Old Crow Medicine Show

Is there a band anywhere in the world who are more fun than the Old Crow Medicine Show? In an age of overproduced, digitized-ad-nauseum albums, it’s amazing how the OCMS manages to capture the unhinged energy of their live shows in the studio. No wonder that they’re one of those bands that pretty much everybody loves. Giving them the front page here probably doesn’t mean anything in terms of ramping up their fan base – it just means that this blog isn’t asleep on the job! Their latest album is titled Remedy, streaming at Spotify; as usual, they’re on summer tour.

The new album’s first track is Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: it’s a slinky, banjo-fueled, twisted killler’s tale, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the ending. That capsulizes OCMS’s appeal: killer oldtime Americana chops, funny lyrics, unstoppable energy. The lickety-split fiddle tune 8 Dogs 8 Banjos celebrates all the good things in life, from hot coffee and sweet tea to corn liquor and dirtweed. Although it’s one of the album’s quieter songs, the bittersweetly swaying, accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged Sweet Amarillo is also one of its best.

The band – Kevin Hayes on “guitjo;” Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards and drums; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo and guitar; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and banjo; Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Gill Landry on slide guitar and banjo; and Morgan Jahnig on bass – pick up the pace with the scampering kiss-off anthem Mean Enough World, an acoustic take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. The somber graveside scenario Dearly Departed Friend has a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism: it’s a good companion piece to Lorraine Leckie’s Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. Firewater is a midtempo drinking song with soaring pedal steel, while Brave Boys takes a rapidfire detour into Irish territory.

Doc’s Day is a good-natured, harmonica-fueled country blues tune, setting the stage for the darkly rustic Cumberland River, spiced by some fiery fiddle from McCoy. The band goes back to a brisk Appalachian bounce for Tennessee Bound and then hits a peak on Shit Creek, a punkgrass take on an oldtimey high-water-rising theme. The hobo swing tune Sweet Home could be the Wiyos or for that matter, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album ends on an unexpectedly brooding note with The Warden, which challenges the guy running the prison to look in the mirror and see if he’s really human after all. Brilliant musicianship and tunesmithing, clever wordsmithing, traditionalist chops, and everybody sings. What more could you possibly want on a hot summer night?

 

Marah Reinvents an Amazing Collection of Obscure Pennsylvania Folk Songs

There’s a serious imbalance of folk music in this country: so much of what we hear is from the southern states. But there’s tons of great old songs from the northeast as well, which so often get overlooked. Credit Marah for rediscovering a whole slew of them and presenting them in a ramshackle, aptly high-energy package titled Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, streaming at Spotify. All these songs were originally collected over one hundred years ago by musicologist Henry Shoemaker; this is the first full-length recording based exclusively on the lyrics he collected throughout the region. Marah do here what Wilco did with Woody Guthrie, setting (and sometimes rearranging) the words to a mix of period-perfect folk melodies livened with harder-rocking and sometimes more modern arrangements. The band are going to air them out at Bowery Electric on July 12 at around 10:30; edgy, lyrically-driven, 90s-style alt-country band Butchers Blind open at 9:30 or so.

Marah have earned plenty of props for their meat-and-potatoes, four-on-the-floor rock anthems, but as it turns out they’re just as good at roots music from their home state. There are no sizzling solos or virtuoso moments in these songs: instead, the band seems to be shooting for the sound of a raw, celebratory family band, employing the usual Americana string band instrumentation in addition to dulcimer, glockenspiel, tuba, simple drums and piano along with occasional electric guitar that adds an offcenter psychedelic edge.

The album opens with a joyously swaying one-chord timber-cutting jam of sorts with fiddle, harmonica, banjo and jaw harp: “Prepare for the shanty life before your health declines,” singer David Bielanko insists. A Melody of Rain shuffles along witha brisk 60s pop feel – it’s the least archaic of all the songs here. The album’s hardest-rocking number, An Old Times Plaint offers more than a hint of circus rock, bringing to mind recent adventures in that style by M Shanghai String Band.

With its unabashedly romantic strings, insistent piano and harmonica, the most lushly orchestrated number is Luliana, a wistful love ballad: “If I could be anyone but myself, I would be the one who stands beside her,” the narrator affirms. By contrast, Sing O Muse of the Mountain is another mostly one-chord jam, akin to the White Light White Heat-era Velvets doing a Pennsylvania folk tune.

Glockenspiel and pump organ double each other, a la Springsteen, on Ten Cents at the Gate, which veers unexpectedly from country gospel to eerily phantasmagorical rock. Mountain Minstrelsy has the album’s most regionally-specific lyric set to a warmly catchy midtempo sway. A sad, vividly resigned waltz, The Old Riverman’s Regret looks back nostalgically on 19th century commercial river rafting. The album winds up with a raggedly rustic dance instrumental. There’s also a shambling, punk blues-inflected track and a brief, skeletal stab at a Celtic-tinged anthem. The way the album was recorded – live, in a Millheim, Pennsylvania church with lots of natural reverb – more than suggests that Marah has a great time onstage with these songs.

A Free Show and Two Contrasting Americana Albums by the Howlin’ Brothers

It’s hard to keep up with the Howlin’ Brothers. The trio of bassist Ben Plasse, fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft and guitarist Jared Green are one of those well-loved Americana acts who make a living on the road, but they also make excellent albums. They’ve got a brand-new one out, Trouble, streaming at Spotify and a free outdoor show on July 1 starting around 5 in the parking lot out back of City Winery.

A quick listen to the new one reveals it as both more electric, more intense and darker than the band’s previous material. The album before that is an acoustic ep, the Sun Studio Session, where the band went into the legendary room where Elvis and Johnny Cash and so many other legends recorded and put down four originals, a remake of an earlier tune and a cover of a Sun classic, Carl Perkins’ 1956 single Dixie Fried.

What’s coolest about that tune is that you can hear as much Chuck Berry in it as you can bluegrass – and Craft’s banjo solo is as wild and fun as anything Brandon Seabrook could wail through. There’s also a spare, brooding, piano-driven, Tom Waits-ish version of Tennessee Blues, which originally appeared on the band’s Howl album.

The first of the new tracks, Til I Find You sets lickety-split banjo over a steady bass pulse, with that rich Sun Studios natural reverb on the vocals. True to its title, the slow Troubled Waltz, another banjo tune, has an oldtime Appalachian feel. Take Me Down, fueled by Green’s dobro, works a swaying, dead-of-summer delta blues groove. Charleston Chew, a slightly more modern (if you consider 1954 modern) take on a 1920-style one-chord blues, is the lone electric track here, the slow-burn tone of Green’s guitar contrasting with Craft’s energetic fiddle. Taken as a whole, the ep is a smartly lower-key counterpart to the band’s raucous live show. It’s gonna get hot in the parking lot on Tuesday evening.

Jenny Scheinman Goes Back to Americana With Her Excellent New Album

Jenny Scheinman is best known as one of the great violinists in jazz, both as a bandleader and as a collaborator with guitar great Bill Frisell. But she also writes vivid, lyrical Americana songs. Her latest release, The Littlest Prisoner – streaming at Spotify – harks back to her eclectic, pensive self-titled 2008 album. Producer Tucker Martine, who took such a richly layered approach to Tift Merritt’s Still Not Home, does the very opposite here, matching the spareness of Scheinman’s previous Americana album. Most of the tracks feature just Frisell’s guitar and Brian Blade’s drums. She’s playing the album release show at le Poisson Rouge on June 30 at 7:30 PM; advance tix are $20 and highly recommended.

Wariness and unease counterbalance the summery sway of the music throughout these songs: Scheinman is always watching her back. The opening track, Brother, is a catchy, wary, slowly unwinding ballad in the Lucinda Williams vein, but with better vocals, Scheinman challenging a guy to be as solid and protective as a family member would be.

Run Run Run is not the Velvets classic but a shuffling bluegrass tune that contrasts Frisell’s signature, lingering guitar with Blade’s shuffle beat and Scheinman’s jaunty violin. It makes a good segue with the spare, Appalachian-flavored violin/guitar duet Thirteen Days.

The title track, Scheinman’s dedication to her then-unborn daughter, makes another uneasy juxtaposition between a lithely dancing, funk-flavored tune and a lyric that contemplates the perils of parenthood. By contrast, My Old Man looks back to Linda Ronstadt’s 70s ventures into Americana-tinged hippie-pop, but with purist production values. Likewise, Houston has the feel of a Lowell George ballad, but again with a spiky, sparse arrangement: Scheinman doesn’t waste a note anywhere.

She follows the brief, wistful Debra’s Waltz with Just a Child, a vivid reminiscence of a northern California back-to-the-land hippie upbringing: as she tells it, a bale of cocaine landed offshore there at least once. She winds up the album with the dancing, funky, bluesy violin instrumental Bent Nail and then its best track, the hypnotic, brooding, Velvet Underground-tinged Sacrifice. Once again, Scheinman reasserts that her prowess as an Americana artist matches her achievements in jazz. Fans of Laura Cantrell, Gillian Welch and other top-tier Americana songwriters will love this.

The Infamous Stringdusters Catch Lightning in a Bottle

 

It’s no secret that jambands are at their best onstage. Sure, the Infamous Stringdusters will probably sell busloads of copies of their forthcoming album Let It Go (due out April 1) at shows – a cynic would say that if you’re drunk or stoned enough, you’ll buy anything. But believe it or not, the album actually manages to capture the kind of livewire intensity that the band generates night after night in concert. They’re at Bowery Ballroom on March 27 at 10ish; general admission tix are $23.

The secret to this band’s onstage alchemy lies in the dynamics between Andy Hall’s dobro and Chris Pandolfi’s banjo. Sometimes it’s a tug-of-war, sometimes their snaky lines intertwine and harmonize alongside Andy Falco’s guitars, Jeremy Garrett’s fiddle and Travis Book’s bass. What makes the Stringdusters different from so many of their newgrass brethren is that a lot of their songs, especially on this album, are basically blue-sky rock anthems with acoustic instrumentation. This band doesn’t just recycle a ton of oldtime folk and bluegrass licks: they have their own distinctive style. Case in point: the album’s opening track, I’ll Get Away, where Garrett’s dancing lines give the song a bit of a Celtic tinge. Or the second track, Where the Rivers Run Cold, with Pandolfi’s flurrying, rapidfire, genuinely hard-rocking banjo.

The wary, biting Winds of Change segues out of that, with a stark twin fiddle solo and then some deliciously intense tradeoffs between the dobro and banjo. Rainbows starts out as a gentle folk-pop tune and then picks up with a big anthemic chorus, while Summercamp takes doo-wop rock to the country. The tersely dancing instrumental Middlefork mashes up a country waltz with Mexican folk and the Grateful Dead in acoustic mode

By My Side reverts to an anthemic acoustic highway rock vibe, followed by Colorado, an even mightier, more soaring newgrass anthem. There’s a hint of the Dead classic Franklin’s Tower in the catchy, shuffling Peace of Mind, the fiddle leaping joyously over its steady backdrop. Light and Love offers hints of oldtime country blues, while the album’s closing track, Let It Go is a civil war tune at heart. All of this has an intricate weave of instruments and the kind of incisive, meaningful jamming that usually gets the squeeze when you take a jamband out of their element and stick them in the sterile confines of a studio. The album’s not up at Spotify yet but it ought to be next month because the rest of the band’s studio stuff is there.

Poor Old Shine Put an Original, High-Energy Spin on Classic Americana

It’s a good bet that the popularity of Americana rock band Poor Old Shine has a little something to do with Deer Tick. But while both bands use traditional Americana as a stepping-off point for more rock and pop-oriented sounds, Poor Old Shine are both more punk and more eclectic, with a distinct Irish flavor in places. If you like the idea of O’Death but you find the reality oppressively bleak, Poor Old Shine have anthems for you. Their debut album is streaming at Signature Sounds‘ site; they’re at the Mercury on March 10 at around 11. If you’re going, be sure not to miss noir femme fatale Karla Moheno, who plays her murderously torchy, wickedly lyrical songs beforehand at 10 PM. Advance tix are $10 and since the venue is bothering to sell tickets at all, that’s a sign that the club is expecting a big turnout: you can get them there between 5 and 7 PM Monday-Friday sometime before showdate.

Over a swaying Celtic-tinged bounce, the album’s opening track, Weeds or Wildflowers celebrates living in the moment, banjoist Chris Freeman playing a tune that’s practically baroque under Antonio Alcorn’s plinky mandolin. Behind My Eyes keeps the anthemic Irish feel going, but more mutedly, until the mighty last chorus kicks in. Country Pocket spices up a bouncy, upbeat bluegrss tune with Max Shakun’s piano and more than a hint of a Motown beat – and somehow makes all of it work.

The Ghost Next Door layers elegantly fingerpicked, catchy acoustic guitar and a pensive lyric over lush accordion chords. Punching the Air anchors its hard-hitting, slurry punkgrass pulse with Harrison Goodale’s fuzz bass. A highway rock tune done as bluegrass, Right Now revisits the carpe diem theme: it’s both more gothic and more optimistic, the guys in the band deciding to jump at the opportunity to live on the road. Then they get quiet with Empty Rocking Chair, which is equal parts oldschool soul, John Lennon and Americana pop.

The Hurry All Around builds from a tuneful, oldtime-tinged accordion-and-mandolin pulse and rises to a long, unexpectedly lush, percussive outro: “That automobile made from Pittsburgh steel has taken all the hellos and the goodbyes out of you,” Freeman sings sardonically. The band follows that with the album’s most low-key number, just vocal harmonies and spacious piano with a little guitar ambience. They wind it up with the rousing, ragtime-tinged Tear Down the Stage; if the Band hadn’t approached vintage Americana as tourists, they would have sounded something like this.

The Steel Wheels Bring Their Catchy Acoustic Americana to Joe’s Pub

 

Isn’t it funny how whenever pop music goes completely to hell, classic Americana always makes a comeback? It happened in the 50s before rock took over the airwaves, when regional hitmakers from previously obscure places like Nashville and Nova Scotia broke through to a mass audience. It’s happening now, if on a smaller scale, since the radio airwaves – aside from college and nonprofit radio – have gone completely dead. “The beginning starts at the end,” Steel Wheels frontman Trent Wagler sings at the end of the second verse of his band’s brooding banjo ballad Walk Away, and he’s right. The Steel Wheels perfectly capture the newschool oldtime esthetic, which no doubt has a lot to do with their popularity. They’re at Joe’s Pub on March 9 at 7 PM for $15.

Their latest album, streaming at the band’s site, is titled No More Rain. It’s sort of a slower take on what grasscore jambands like the Infamous Stringdusters are doing, or, for that matter, what the Grateful Dead were doing in an acoustic vein thirty years ago, albeit more song- than jam-oriented. It’s a mix of mostly midtempo anthems and slower ballads that sometimes work an oldtime vernacular, and are sometimes just your basic jangly rock with acoustic instrumentation and rustic arrangements. Eric Brubaker’s fiddle is the usual lead instrument, although Wagler’s elegant guitar flatpicking, Jay Lapp’s banjo and mandolin and Brian Dickel’s bass all figure equally into their tasteful sound. The songs are expansive, with plenty of room for solos that tend to be on the pensive side. And the songwriting is very catchy, drawing on oldtime Appalachian music as well as country gospel, country blues and bluegrass. If the Steel Wheels were based in New York, they’d be a Jalopy band.

With its fire-and-brimstone country gospel vibe, the album’s aphoristic opening track, Walk Away, is its strongest – and it’s the only one that’s in a minor key. The slow waltz Until Summer sounds like the BoDeans but with a fiddle in place of the electric guitars and an upright bass replacing the rock rhythm section, a formula the band works frequently through the rest of the album. The casual syncopation of Kiss Me draws on oldschool soul music, while Go Up and The Race blend equal parts country gospel and Appalachian mountain music into warmly inviting singalongs, the latter with some spot-on three-part vocal harmonies.

Story has a neat handoff from mandolin to fiddle midway through, while So Long, another waltz, sets an unexpectedly gloomy lyric – the guy’s talking about seeing his ex-girlfriend in heaven – to a sunny melody. Whistle is newgrass with a dash of oldtime Britfolk; I Will, the album’s final track, a newgrass take on a hook-driven highway rock anthem. Corinne could be a Sam Llanas ballad, Oh Child the Grateful Dead – with a Burning Spear-style litany of directions that could either make you grin or roll your eyes. And the expansive neo-hobo tale Water’s Edge sounds like a parable of a modern-day drifer finally finding his niche in New Orleans, or Berkeley, or Bloomington maybe. You know the deal. If this is where catchy, easygoing hitmakers are making their home now, it’s a good place.

Della Mae Write Their Own Bluegrass and Oldtime Folk Standards

With their purist chops, lively interplay, lush four-part vocal harmonies and original songwriting that blends the best of decades of oldtime bluegrass and Americana, Della Mae represent everything that’s good about newgrass. Many of the songs on their latest album This World Oft Can Be bring to mind the similarly purist all-female Americana trio, Red Molly. The whole thing is streaming at youtube.

It opens with the upbeat, bouncy Letter from Down the Road, frontwoman Celia Woodsmith’s soaring vocals and Kimber Ludiker’s incisive, tersely direct fiddle front and center – as she does on most of the tracks here, Ludiker stays mostly in the resonant low to midrange of her instrument. The second track, Maybelline (rhymes with “behind,” more or less) picks up the pace with a bit of a Britfolk tinge, Jenni Lyn Gardner’s spiky mandolin and another impactful fiddle solo. Empire takes a turn in a considerably darker direction, a grimly detailed, John Prine-ish portrait of a decaying rust belt town.

Hounds of Heaven sets an apprehensive Nashville gothic mood that never rises: although the old sailor in the tale insists that it’s not his time to go, by the time the third verse kicks in, he’s thinking about drowning. The aphoristic Ain’t No Ash has the feel of an Appalachian classic, with some richly mingling tradeoffs between Ludiker and guitarist Courtney Hartman’s nimble flatpicking as it winds out:

Love is a precious thing, I’m told
Burns just like West Virginia coal
But when the fire dies down, it’s cold
There ain’t no ash will burn

The most chilling number here is Heaven’s Gate, a bitterly ghostly tale that begins with the fiddle mimicking the ominous low resonance of a steel guitar, then eventually goes doublespeed. Is this about a suicide, a murder, or both? Either way, it’s a great story.

Turtle Dove kicks off as a reel and then hits a brisk bluegrass rhythm, with nimbly flatpicked guitar and handoffs to the other instruments down the line – with its sad, symbolic bird imagery, it’s a dead ringer for a classic folk song from the 1820s. A swaying oldschool-style bluegrass tune, Pine Tree explores a vividly rustic southern milieu, lit up by yet another purposeful, emphatic fiddle solo. The band follows that with a slowly waltzing, rather atmospheric ballad, Like Bones.

This World has a brooding, hypnotic Britfolk quality that finally lifts a little as the chorus turns around, a metaphorically-loaded narrative of the perils of growing old…but there’s light at the end of this tunnel. The slow, lingering final track, Some Roads Lead On sounds a lot like the old folk standard Wild Mountain Thyme, but without the syncopation. With just two guitars and some absolutely gorgeous lead and harmony vocals, it evokes Hungrytown at their most bucolic, a good way to end this eclectically original and disarmingly charming album. The band will be on spring tour starting on February 22 at NEU Hall in Chicago.

 

A Tasty Bluegrass/Janglerock/Irish Blend from Chamomile & Whiskey

Central Virginia band Chamomile & Whiskey play a unique mix of newgrass, high-voltage Irish folk music and jangly rock.  Their album Wandering Boots is streaming at their Reverbnation page; they’re at Rock Shop on Jan 24 at 11 PM for a $10 cover,

The album’s opening track, Blue Ridge Girl is a briskly pulsing electric bluegrass tune with incisive mandolin and a surprisingly austere solo from fiddlet Marie Borgman. Dirty Sea veers back and forth between a darkly lively Irish reel with fiddle and whistle, and a backbeat country anthem. It’s cool to hear those sounds together, considering how much of a source one is for the other.

Impressions. another clanging electric bluegrass shuffle, has a similarly gorgeous, lush blend of electric guitars, banjo and fiddle. Long Day works a two-chord Just My Imagination vamp that rises on the chorus with more sweeeping strings, frontman Ryan Lavin channeling mid-60s Dylan with a brooding unease. Buckfast Tuesday is sort of an acoustic You Can’t Always Get What You Want – except that in this crazy tale, the band of burglars does.

The alhum’s title track makes fiery, anthemic punkgrass out of a doomed, minor-key country blues theme. They keep the edgy intensity going with the bitter anthem Sara Beth, which might be about a murder, or just a metaphorical one. Inverness, a purposeful, propulsive train song, sets Lavin’s surreal narrative over eerie, muted, staccato fiddle and more delicious layers of guitar: “Saw your face on a train, over on a seat by the windowpane, you were bettng races on the beads of rain.” he intones, and it just gets more surreal from there. The album winds up with the ominous, minor-key, swaying noir blues Second Lullaby, a booze-drenched singalong. This band has so much going for it: smart original tunesmithing, interesting cross-genre pollination and richly textured sonics that should come across well through Rock Shop’s excellent PA.

Andy Statman’s Superstring Theory – A Wild Americana Summit

Meet the latest newgrass supergroup. This is what happens when you put Andy Statman, Michael Cleveland and Tim O’Brien together in the same room – good grief! Much of this album, Superstring Theory, with Statman as bandleader, is flat-out gorgeous, cutting-edge Americana. Jim Whitney, Statman’s longtime four-string guy holds down the low end with Larry Eagle on drums on a mix of Statman originals plus vocal takes of the droll folk tune Green Green Rocky Road and Richie Valens’ proto-Ramones hit Come On Let’s Go. Statman’s signature sense of humor pervades pretty much everything here when he and the rest of the band aren’t burning down the barn. The instrumentation may be mostly acoustic, but this is not a quiet album.

There are more unexpected treats here than you can shake a stick at. On the opening track, Little Addy, it’s not Statman’s mandolin but Cleveland’s fiddle that ends up taking the dancing tune into funky, practically avant-garde territory.  Statman saves his first series of crazed spirals for Mando at the Flambo after O’Brien’s guitar introduces it as a boogie blues. Careful dynamic shifts move up and down throughout the pretty, midtempo blue-sky ballad For Barbara, followed by The French Press, where O’Brien offers hints of flamenco as Statman blows the roof off with his Djangoesque sprints.

Herman Howe’s Bayou, an exuberant fiddle-driven cajun country waltz, is flat-out gorgeous; O’Brien’s low-register hammer-ons fueling one of the album’s most exquisite interludes. Then they launch into Surfin Slivovitz: Eagle gets the surf beat down cold, Whitney plays genre-perfect broken chords, O’Brien’s electric guitar adds some understatedly moody twang, and Cleveland turns out to be as good a surf player as he is at everything else. Statman, as usual, is the wild card. This song should be a standard.

Waltz for Ari is unexpectedly sad and resigned, all the more so through Statman’s almost tenative picking as it fades down morosely. Then they pick up the pace again with Pale Ale Hop, alternating between a jaunty waltz and a funky Tex-Mex theme. House of the Screaming Babies brings back a wry, bluesy interplay; Statman wails on clarinet on the album’s longest and final track, Brooklyn London Rome. which begins as an oompah waltz, then smooths out with more of a country (or Brooklyn, if you will) flavor, then without warning segues into a smoldering klezmer dance that gives the bandleader a chance to flex his chops. Statman’s next NYC gig is on December 3 at 53 Charles St. just west of Hudson in the west village.

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