New York Music Daily

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Tag: della mae

Red Tail Ring Bring Their Vivid, Evocative Americana to the Rockwood

 

On one hand, Kalamazoo, Michigan duo Red Tail Ring play music that’s rustic and old-fashioned, sometimes ancient-sounding. On the other, just like the folksingers of centuries past, they’re taking old sounds to new places. Fiddler/banjoist Laurel Premo is the more traditional of the two, guitarist Michael Beauchamp bringing the occasional hint of indie rock to his tastefully eclectic playing. Their original songs display a deep immersion in an oldtime vernacular, both musically and lyrically, with tasteful songcraft, tight vocal harmonies, solid playing and evocative narratives. Their music is warm, friendly and convivial, in the spirit of its influences. They’re winding up their current US tour with an 11 PM show at the small room at the Rockwood on March 31.

Premo evokes both the elegant, understatedly sophisticated phrasing of Laura Cantrell as well as the newschool folk of Della Mae on Ohio Turnpike, the uneasy nocturnal travelogue that opens the duo’s album The Heart’s Swift Foot, streaming at Spotify. Beauchamp sings the similarly pensive Katy Came Breezing, Premo’s fiddle adding a hypnotic ambience. Dirt Triangle, also sung by Beauchamp, brings a vacant city lot to life, imagining both its colorful past and an optimistic future when the citizens who claim the title to it decide that “this town’s worth more than cash.” Premo follows that with the album’s practically medieval, otherworldly title track. Then the two join forces for the foot-tapping fiddle/banjo reel In the Broom Straw.

Queen of the West & Other Stories is not the Laura Cantrell hit, but a dobro-fueled chronicle of personalities who’ve passed through Beauchamp’s narrator’s up-and-down life; it’s a Studs Terkel tale of sorts transposed to the Great Plains. Premo’s nature imagery on the wistful waltz A Clearing in the Wild portays an emotionally charged relationship hanging in the balance, while Suffer Every Soul reverts to an ancient Britfolk banjo ambience.

Beauchamp follows that with the goodnatured love ballad Body Like a Bell,  then the sepulchrally atmospheric, minimalist St. James Hospital, which sounds like a sketch for St. James Infirmary: in this particular instance, Beauchamp makes it a cowboy song. The album ends up with a gently resonant waltz and then My Heart’s Own Love, which adds a touch of indie ambiguity amidst the warmly rustic country chords and harmonies.

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.