New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: folk music

Saluting Some Great Women Blues Pioneers

These days, the irrepressible playlisters who put together the Rough Guide compilations have turned to the public domain. With digital music having flatlined as a consumer product a long time ago, one way a record label can survive is to reissue hundred-year-old blues songs that don’t require licensing or royalties. And these Rough Guide oldtime blues playlists are good! Each has lots of music, the greats alongside lesser-known talents. One of the best is the Rough Guide to Blues Women, a twenty-five track mix of guitar, piano and larger-group recordings, mostly from the 1920s, released in 2016 and streaming at Spotify.

There isn’t a lot of obvious material on this one. Among the iconic figures here, Ma Rainey is represented by a proto-dixieland version of Stack O’Lee Blues. Likewise, Bessie Smith’s Careless Love has chattering brass and piano. The Memphis Minnie track here is the lesser-known, upbeat shuffle Frisco Town. Sippie Wallace has a big band behind her in the speakeasy tale Parlor Social DeLuxe, while Victoria Spivey – the sweet-voiced Madonna of the 1920s – closes the album over some tasty stride piano with Hoodoo Man Blues.

For those looking for instrumental flash, check out the neat two-guitar intertwine in Ruth Willis’ Man of My Own, Lottie Kimbrough’s gorgeously chiming Rolling Log Blues, and Mattie Delaney’s elegantly pouncing fretwork in Down the Big Road Blues.

The blues can get pretty grim. Leola Manning’s Arcade Building Moan gruesomely recalls a lethal fire, and Greshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas’ contribute the alllusively grisly Pick Poor Robin Clean.

There’s risque material here too, notably Lucille Bogan’s barrelhouse tune Shave ‘Em Dry. Ida Cox’s Moaning Groaning Blues is somewhat subtler. And Hattie Hart fronts the Memphis Jug Band throughout a jauntily shuffling take of Cocaine Habit Blues, a.k.a. Take a Whiff on Me.

Pearl Dickson’s Little Rock Blues is built around a fleet-fingered, cascading riff, Louisa Johnson channels a brittle unease over thumping piano in By the Moon and Stars, otherwise known as I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down. Hattie Hudson’s surreal, imagistic Black Hand Blues makes a good segue.

There are a handful of ringers on this album. Louis Armstrong is one, with Bertha “Chippie” Hill fronting a piano-trumpet-vocal trio on a steady version of Trouble in Mind. Likewise, Blind Willie McTell backs his wife Kate in what seems an impromptu homemade version of the Prohibition-era relic God Don’t Like It. The version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do here is by Fats Waller, with Sara Martin on the mic. And Irene Scruggs sings over Blind Blake’s sparkling picking on Itching Heel Blues.

A Smart, Defiant, Diverse Debut Album From Americana Tunesmith Cristina Vane

Cristina Vane shifts between a simmering intensity and a low-key, brooding vocal delivery. She’s a strong guitarist with command of a whole bunch of blues styles and writes sharply lyrical, darkly aphoristic songs. Her narratives are cached in allusive, grim rural imagery more than fire-and-brimstone gospel. Her brilliant debut album Nowhere Sounds Lovely – streaming at Bandcamp – covers a lot of ground, stylistically and otherwise.

She opens the record with Blueberry Hill – an original, not the Fats Domino classic, although the first verse of this intricately interwoven, Appalachian-flavored acoustic slide guitar blues is set in New Orleans. The devil tells her to get out, so she heads to New Mexico – and that isn’t any more welcoming:

We got spiders in the bathrooms and there’s snakes in the halls
We got our women in white dresses gonna walk through walls
And this house is haunted, not as much as me
But I could shake these demons, they’re good company

Travelin’ Blues has an easygoing Piedmont-style feel, Tommy Hannum’s dobro lingering over Vane’s nimble fingerpicking, bassist Dow Tomlin and drummer Cactus Moser giving it a, loping groove. By contrast, the stark banjo tune Prayer For the Blind has a midwest gothic fatalism, an endless cycle where “Time passes on old wounds as if they were brand new.”

Badlands is not the famous song by that 70s rock guy who became a hopeless lockdowner apologist, but a searing, allusively grim slide guitar-driven blues original. It could be a sinister account of antedeluvian rural hell…or a thinly disguised pro-freedom anthem. The big guitar payoff at the end is spot-on.

There’s redemptive solitude in the front-porch folk waltz Dreaming of Utah, Hannum’s pedal steel adding a touch of vintage Bob Wills western swing. Vane reaches for a matter-of-factly strutting Memphis soul feel in What Remains and goes back to blues with Heaven Bound Station, a steady stroll with some neat twin-guitar interplay.

She switches to banjo for Will I Ever Be Satisfied, a spare, lonesome-traveler type number. Vane imagines her ideal guy in Dreamboy, a stomping, insistent, similarly simmering blues: turns out she likes the strong silent type. Then she slows things down with the moody, slide guitar-driven Wishing Bone Blues, rising out of a hypnotic, summery resonance

The Driving Song captures a gloomy, desperate rural atmosphere where “The characters around me, border the absurd/It’s a comedy of horrors, and it just keeps getting worse.” Vane winds up the album the triumphant waltz Satisfied Soul, Nate Leath’s fiddle harmonizing with the keening pedal steel. If she hits the road in the free states this summer, she’s going to make a whole lot of fans.

Live Music Calendar for New York City and Brooklyn For April and May 2021

Audiences from Florida to the Dakotas are back to normal while we’re still stuck in lockdown hell. But there’s a growing number of shows here this month, almost all of them outdoors and free. Sorry, no speakeasy shows listed here: we can’t snitch on them!

New listings are being added, sporadically: it couldn’t hurt to bookmark this page and check back in about a week to see what else is on the schedule!

4/4. 11 AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan, trumpeter Giveton Gelin, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by the Wayne Escoffery/Jeremy Pelt Quartet with Dezron Douglas on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, wow, at the south end of the mall in Central Park, enter at 72nd St and go south when you see the Naumburg Bandshell

4/6, 5 PM the Regeneration Quintet – Ras Moshe (saxophones), Matt Lavelle (trumpet),Ayumi Ishito (saxophone), Evan Crane (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) improvise in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/10, 3 PM organist Gail Archer plays a rare program of Russian organ music at St. John Nepomucene church, 411 E 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

4/10, noon AM alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by bassist William Parker’s Trio with Cooper-Moore (on keys?) and Hamid Drake on percussion at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/11, POSTPONED DUE TO THREAT OF RAIN alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan,, bassist Phil Norris, and drummer Robert Lotreck followed at 1:30ish by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leading her Trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums at Summit Rock in Seneca Village in Central Park, enter at 82nd St., follow the noise and look up

4/14, 5:30 PM serious improvisation: Becoming and Return – Daniel Carter (woodwinds/trumpet), Roshni Samlal (tabla), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/15, 7 PM poignant, eclectic, lyrical jazz bassist/composer Pedro Giraudo’s tango quartet at Terraza 7, sug don $10

4/17, 1:30ish saxophonist Chris Potter leads a trio with Joe Martin on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/17, 1:30 PM luminous, visionary vocalist/dancer Luisa Muhr, multi-reed legend Daniel Carter and a posse of many more improvise outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg

4/20, 5:30 PM best show of the month: haunting Middle Eastern jazz with Ensemble Fanaa – Daro Behroozi (saxophone/bBass clarinet), John Murchison (double bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums/percussion) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

4/23, 7 PM noirish, tunefully scruffy pastoral jazz guitarist Tom Csatari leads his pastoral noir Uncivilized band at the Flying Lobster, 144 Union St off Hicks, just over the BQE, outdoors, F to Smith/9th

4/24, 1 PM ish trumpeter Marquis Hill‘s Quartet in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/25, 1 PM ish saxophonist Michael Thomas leads his Quartet with Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Edward Perez on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

4/27, 5:30 PM stoner downtempo grooves with Lateef Beats – Fima Chupakhin (keys), John Merrit (bass), Dan Kurfirst (drums) in Prospect Park near the 11th St. entrance off 7th Ave

5/1, noon saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ Freed Style Free Trio with Rashaan Carter on bass and Chad Taylor on drums followed at 1 ish by sax player Aaron Burnett’s Quartet with Peter Evans on trumpet, Nick Jozwiak on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/2, 1 PM ish intense tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana leads a trio with Pablo Menares on bass and Kush Abadey on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/3-4, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra String Quartet play works from south of the border by Manuel Ponce, Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez at Bryant Park

5/5, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra Percussion ensemble play an all Javier Diaz program in the park at Herald Square. The program repeats on 5/12

5/8, 1 PM ish cellist Marika Hughes‘ New String Quartet with Charlie Burnham on violin, Marvin Sewell on guitar, and Rashaan Carter on bass – hey, they’re all string players! – in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/10-11, 5:30 PM jazz pianist Lee Musiker leads a quintet at Bryant Park

5/15, 1 PM ish powerhouse tenor saxophonist Mark Turner leads a chordless trio with Vicente Archer on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/15, time TBA avant garde chanteuse Jane LeCroy’s new punk cabaret duo project Shelter Puppy outdoors at City Reliquary, 370 Metropolitan Ave off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, free

5/16, 1 PM ish drummer Antonio Sanchez leads a trio with Donny McCaslin on alto sax and Matt Brewer on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/17, 5:30 PM the American Symphony Orchestra brass quartet play works by Tcherepnin, Carlos Chavez, Strauss and others at Bryant Park. The program repeats on 5/19.

5/18, 5:30 PM oboeist Alexandra Knoll leads a wind trio playing an all-French program with works by Poulenc, Francaix and others at Bryant Park

5/22, 1 PM ish tsunami drummer Johnathan Blake leads a wild quartet with Mark Turner and Chris Potter on tenor sax and Dezron Douglas on bass, wow, in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/23-24, 1 PM ish drummer Nasheet Waits leads a high-voltage quartet with Mark Turner and Steve Nelson on tenor sax, and Rashaan Carter on bass in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/29, 1 PM ish alto saxophonist Abraham Burton leads a trio with Dezron Douglas on bass and Eric McPherson on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

5/31, 1 PM ish trumpeter Jason Palmer leads his Quartet with Mark Turner on tenor sax, Edward Perez on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

6/2-4, 1 PM ish pyrotechnic tenor sax player Mark Turner records a live album with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Joe Martin on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

add 6/ 6-8, 1 PM ish saxophonist Darius Jones records a live album with Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums in Central Park on the elevation about a block north of the 81st St. entrance on the west side

A Look Back at Abigail Lapell’s Searing, Brilliant Getaway Album

Abigail Lapell’s 2019 album Getaway – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most brilliantly lyrical, tersely melodic original folk albums of recent years. Her vocals are usually understated, so when she rises to the rafters with righteous wrath, it takes your breath away. Sandy Denny is the obvious influence. Likewise, there’s a smoldering anger here. Abandonment is a persistent theme. This is not music for the faint-hearted but it is an elixir for anyone who’s ever been screwed over. And the tunesmithing, and musicianship, and arrangements, are sharp and purposeful. Time may judge this a classic.

The album’s first track, Gonna Be Leaving begin with Lapell’s warpy, trebly hollowbody blues guitar over Lisa Bozikovic’s stately piano and a vocal line that in classical music would be called a rondo. It sets the stage for the rest of the album: there’s a crushing irony in how the protagonist’s escape foreshadows the antagonist’s subsequent departure.

Ask Me No Questions a brisk waltz with distant echoes of early Fairport Convention. The ending is crushing – it’s too good to spoil. If vindictive is your thing, this is your jam.

Lapell’s circling guitar voicings in Devll in the Deep are nothing short of gorgeous in this otherwise tormentedly crescendoing anthem, Rachael Cardiello’s viola adding bracing bursts of color. Lapell switches to piano for Leningrad, an even more witheringly cynical, wintry ballad: “I come from a better place, but I don’t have far to fall,” she alludes.

With its spare, fingerpicked guitar and fluttering mellotron, Sparrow for a Heart is the closest evocation of Sandy Denny here, Rebecca Hennessey adding somber trumpet. Christine Bougie’s keening lapsteel floats over Lapell’s steady strums in the spirited yet haggard road narrative Halfway to Mexico.

The tricky rhythms and Lapell’s blippy keyboards underscore the surreal milieu of UFO Song: like David Bowie, life on Mars seems to be an improvement…until the narrator here sees the spaceship.

Lapell builds a hypnotic backdrop with her accordion in Runaway, an atmospheric take on oldtime Appalachian folk. Likewise, Down by the Water is a spare, harmony-fueled front-porch folk number.

Lapell’s hammer-on guitar sparkles darkly under the brass section in Little Noise: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Thompson catalog. The album’s final cut is Shape of a Mountain, rocky terrain as metaphor for a defiantly individualist and weatherbeaten heart, set against a starkly resonant full-band backdrop.

Thoughtful, Tuneful Pastoral Sounds From Andrew Rowan and Steven van Betten

Andrew Rowan and Steven van Betten have an attractively melancholy, bucolic chamber pop album, No Branches Without Trees. streaming at Bandcamp. Fans of the quiet side of Elliott Smith, or the early BeeGees, should check this out.

They open with Calico Basin, a wistful pastoral theme for strings. piano and glockenspiel God Given Beauty wouldn’t be out of place on Nick Drake’s first album, although this has more somber orchestration that blends with Rowan’s stark reed organ. The album’s title track is a wistful waltz, strings wafting starkly over van Betten’s delicately fingerpicked guitar.

“Have no fear when they come for you,” is the refrain in the Radiohead-tinged Little Boy: words to aspire to in an era of trace-and-track.

A quaint, fleeting string theme introduces Mining Claim, a brooding waltz that strongly brings to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula score. The narrative for Herrman, set to plaintive strings and guitar, is hauntingly allusive: it appears this Dutch gradeschooler survived the Holocaust, but his siblings may be another story. The album winds up on a similar note with Last Walk Through the Desert: as the strings flutter and shiver, does this guy ever make it out?

Celebrating the Spanish-Language Side of a Great Mexican-American Rock Bandleader

Patricia Vonne has been a fierce advocate for immigrant rights since bursting onto the Americana scene right around the turn of the century. She has an artistic bloodline: her great uncle, Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro, was an acclaimed Mexican poet, and her brother is filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. For those who aren’t already acquainted, a good way to get to know her fiery anthems and poignant ballads is her 2015 career retrospective, Viva Bandolera, streaming at Spotify.

It’s a long record, seventeen tracks. It’s missing one of her best songs, the escape anthem Blood on the Tracks (a title that took a lot of nerve to appropriate, but Vonne validated that hubris). Still, it’s packed with plenty of big concert favorites. Vonne’s richly arranged and orchestrated catalog comprises songs in both English and Spanish, this collection focusing on the Spanish material.

The self-described “blood drenched love song” Traeme Paz (Bring Me Peace) opens the album, Vonne’s wounded, full-throated delivery over a lushy syncopated web of guitars. The similarly aching, swaying minor-key ranchera rock anthem Dulce Refugio (Sweet Refuge) draws on an Aguirre y Fierro poem, Insomnio. Vonne flexes her signature castanets in El Marinero y La Sirena (The Sailor and the Mermaid), looking at the lure of the mermaid archetype from both male and female perspectives.

The album’s bristling, mariachi-rock title track celebrates a female bandit who gets sweet revenge on the Texas Rangers who murdered her husband. The lusciously jangly Qué Maravilla (How Marvelous) may be a love song, but there’s a persistent dark undercurrent. With its spiraling leads and inventive drums, Guitarras y Castañuelas – the title track from Vonne’s second album – is a sultry shout-out to her cultural heritage on both sides of the Atlantic. Lowlit by accordion, violin and a glimmering piano solo, the subtly bolero-tinged (The Orchard of St. Vincent) is a salute to Federico Garcia Lorca.

The one song here that hasn’t stood the test of time is Torera – it’s no less gauche for an armed woman to kill a defenseless animal than it is for a man. Vonne builds a suspenseful Sevillian flamenco atmosphere in La Gitana de Triana (The Triana Gypsy) and follows that with one of her most searing rock anthems, Mujeres Desaparecidas (Missing Women), memorializing the scores of Juarez women abducted and murdered in transnational drug wars.

Echoing with ominous tremolo guitar, the briskly pulsing Fuente Vaqueros (Fountain of the Cowboy), reflects on Lorca’s early years. Vonne follows that with a couple of drinking songs, the crescendoing, reggae-tinged nocturne Fiesta Sangria and the reverb-drenched southwesten gothic anthem Tequileros, a salute to bootleg hooch.

La Lomita de Santa Cruz (The Cross on the Hill) has a similar, moodily twangy energy, a reflection on keeping cultural traditions alive. With its somber trumpet, the breakup ballad Soledad has a towering angst. The last vocal number here, Severina, is Vonne’s tender dedication to her grandmother. One side of Vonne that’s been overlooked is that she also writes great instrumentals, underscored by the album’s closing spaghetti western theme, Mexicali de Chispa (Mexicali Spark), one of several collaborations here with her filmmaker brother.

Fascinating, Rare Choral Music From Georgia

In the Georgian language, zedashe means “jug.” The Republic of Georgia is home to one of the earliest wine-making civilizations, and also a deeply rooted tradition of choral music. So it’s no surprise that one of the country’s most celebrated choirs would call themselves Zedashe. Their latest album Silver Sanctuary is streaming at Bandcamp.

Traditional Georgian music sounds like nothing from the surrounding areas. Much of it is stark yet resonant. It follows neither traditional western, Arabic or other levantine scales or harmony. Zedashe are serious scholars, blending all sorts of large and small-scale songs from across the centuries with new arrangements, some based on musicological fragments they’ve unearthed over the years. Various configurations of the men and women of the ensemble join voices throughout this rather epic 22-track record, occasionally bolstered by drums, panduri and chonguri lute, accordion and bagpipes. Some of the songs feature lyrics in endangered regional languages including Chan and Megrelian.

Irony and hardship permeate this material. Unrequited love is a persistent theme, as are drinking and war. Couples bound for arranged marriages long for their true loves. Fables illustrate age-old human foibles. One of the songs salutes Queen Tamar, a 12th century strongwoman and patron of the arts. Others chronicle struggles against Russian invaders.

The longer, slower numbers tend to be more hypnotic and drony; the shorter, more kinetic ones often feature a lot of call-and-response. There are also a couple of impassioned solo performances.

And in keeping with this month’s theme here, this music is illegal to either perform or witness in most parts of the world. For anyone who missed this past year’s ACDA/NATS/ChorusAmerica webinar, most professional choirs don’t expect to be able to either rehearse or perform (outside of Sweden, Nicaragua, Moscow, or a small county in Idaho, anyway) for the next two years. Isn’t it about time we all raised our voices together against this madness?

Elegant, Rustic, Imaginatively Reinvented Sounds For Lute and Viola Da Gamba

There’s no small irony in that lutenist Ronn McFarlane and viola da gamba player Carolyn Surrick’s new album Fermi’s Paradox – streaming at Spotify – may be closer to the original source of its centuries-old British folk music than anything released by generations of guitar fingerpickers. Many times throughout history, the most ancient becomes avant garde again and this charmingly rustic, nimbly performed mix of classic folk, baroque and original themes is a vivid example.

The duo open with the title cut, an original with echoes of a popular early 60s Bob Dylan acoustic hit, the lute’s plucky, banjo-like tone contrasting with the dark bass washes of the gamba. The two give She Moves Through the Fair an aptly ethereal spaciousness before picking up with a jaunty clip-clop beat.

The album’s third track is a mashup of an ancient Swedish processional of sorts, a spare, elegant Surrick waltz and a briskly strolling Marin Marais work, a contrast the musicians revisit later in the album with another Swedish traditional piece and a 18th century Robert Robinson miniature. Their take of Blackwaterside has unusual syncopation and lively ornamentation, while Dave Shepherd’s The Rose of Raby is much more straightforward, with a clog-dance beat and stark resonance from the gamba.

Daniel’s Chaconne, a solo lute piece by McFarlane, has somber harmonies just off-center enough to make the song’s origin in time a mystery. Trinity Grove, another McFarlane number, is more warmly lilting, yet could easily pass for a traditional tune.

The two musicians parse the baroque repertoire for a pensive Telemann triptych and then a gently elegaic version of John Dowland’s Adew For Master Oliver Cromwell. A Bach transcription of a brief, stately Hans Leo Hassler work offers the duo a launching pad for striking textural contrasts.

Their bluegrassy version of the Allman Brothers’ Little Martha is a hoot. They close the record with a stark Turlough O’Carolan diptych and then a wry blend of Bach and Ave Maria.

The only track which really shouldn’t be on this album – or any other album – is a famous hymn written by a mass murderer. It never ceases to be amazing that the slave trader who wrote it – and killed hundreds, maybe thousands of kidnapped Africans – continues to enjoy the posthumous grace of having his song performed. This blog says enough is enough.

Soprano Meets Bass Reinvent Sephardic Treasures with Passion and Elegance

The new Sephardic Treasures album by the Soprano Meets Bass project – streaming at Spotify – is a gorgeous and expansive take on a very old idea. Classical ensembles have been appropriating ancient Jewish themes for centuries; this album is more eclectic, drawing on tango, flamenco and jazz as well. In general, the music is sleeker than you would expect from a klezmer or tango band playing this material. For those of us who don’t speak Ladino, singer Ana María Ruimonte gives the material much more clarity than most operatically-trained vocalists typically deliver. And she maintains power and edge through many of the melodies’ challenging, rapidfire melismas and ornaments.

This is a long, rewarding album: fifteen songs. Most of them are sad; kings typically do not fare well in them. Minor keys are everywhere, along with the occasional slashing Middle Eastern mode. Bandleader/bassist Alan Lewine puts on a master class in terse, purposeful solos, notably a triumphantly churning facsimile of flamenco guitar playing in a Romany-flavored anthem toward the end of the record.

Some of the songs have a full rhythm section, with Shai Wetzer on drums; others feature lighter percussion by Víctor Monge. Pianist Chano Domínguez, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, flutist Hadar Noiber,  Spanish guitarist Julián Vaquero and violinist Alicia Svigals all punch in purposefully, often with echoes of flamenco or the Balkans, when the vocals drop out, or in response to Ruimonte’s lyrical phrasing. She sings in character, whethe plaintive, pensive – or simply unable to keep a straight face, in a goofy nursery rhyme about a cat. That’s the album’s lone moment of comic relief.

In a handful of songs, she reaches for the rafters with arioso power, especially in a dancing, subtly shifting North African-influenced ballad. There are quieter songs and laments here as well, including one with a spare, hypnotic, almost Indian atmosphere, an almost completely rubato tableau, and a welcome departure into flamenco jazz. What a feast for fans of flamenco, klezmer and classical music alike

Spot-On Protest Songs and Spare, Eclectic Guitar Instrumentals From Austin Legend Matt Smith

Multi-instrumentalist Matt Smith is one of the great guitarists in Americana, among many other things. These days, most importantly, he writes protest songs.

Check out How We Got to Here, a spare, fingerpicked, dobro-infused number from his most recent album Being Human. In under four minutes, he paints a grim picture of recent American history, from the coup d’etat in 2000, up to the lockdown and how social media has paralyzed so many of us when we’re needed most:

We all saw it coming but we’re too self-involved to stand
Against the ones back in the shadows who wait to implement the plan
When they told us this was normal and did not believe the news
We took pictures of our dinnes and proselytized our views

Smith finds optimism in historical rebellions against past tyrannies: let’s hope he’s right.

The rest of the record – streaming at youtube – mirrors Smith’s long career as a bandleader, sideman to the stars and owner of a recording studio, the 6 String Ranch, revered as one of the go-to spots if you really want a vintage Americana sound from across many decades. There’s another great protest song here, Sanctuary, a dusky minor-key Robert Cray-style blues about the xenophobia that South American refugees run up against once they cross the US border.

“Why does it feel like the sky is falling?” Smith asks in the cynical, loping title track. After that, Smith channels a vast range of styles ranging from early 80s Midnight Starr stoner funk, to the Who.

Smith also has a charming all-instrumental solo acoustic album, Parlor – streamin at Spotify – where he plays a beautifully restored heirloom 1890’s Thompson and Odell parlor guitar. Most of the tracks are on the short side, some less than two minutes. Blind Blake-inspired ragtime fingerpicking, Piedmont and delta blues, Yorkshire-style balladry, Indian music, Leo Kottke wizardry, and, improbably, indie rock all figure into Smith’s distinctive, sometimes stark, sometimes opaque compositions.