Archive for the ‘CD/LP reviews’ Category

My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

July 1, 2015

 

Capture

from: http://nehirecords.com:

We are pleased to announce this 3 CD boxed set covering the UK origins of so much of American music. The emigrants sailed from Britain to America with their own music and reached the Appalachian Mountains where due to poor communications and no electricity their music became trapped and developed a life of its own. This much overlooked and historically vital area of American musical development is covered for the first time ever as the beginning of the US/UK musical love affair that continues to this day.

With the full support of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Museum of Appalachia, with the notes being written by world-renowned Folk music scholar Steve Roud, creator of the Roud Folk Song Index.

Featuring a mixture of well-known songs by some of American music’s most celebrated stars and rare versions from some lesser known but equally relevant artists, this release covers all bases, containing 75 numbers recorded in the USA with their origins in the British Isles, encompassing Old- Timey, Blues, Cajun, Bluegrass, Gospel, and Country.

Some of the most famous songs recorded in the USA with origins in the British Isles, encompassing Old-Timey, Blues, Cajun, Bluegrass, Gospel, and Country, by some of American Folk music’s greatest artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Bill Monroe, Blind Blake, Bradley Kincaid, Buell Kazee, Carter Family, Charlie Poole, Chubby Parker, Clarence Ashley, Cliff Carlisle, Darby & Tarlton, Jimmie Davis, Dick Justice, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Frank Hutchison, Gid Tanner, Grayson & Whitter, Kelly Harrell, Leadbelly, Riley Puckett, Roy Harvey, Sam McGhee, Stoneman Family, Tex Ritter, and Uncle Dave Macon, amongst many others. The artists and songs that feature here went on to influence many of the biggest acts of the 20th century – Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin & Nirvana, amongst many others.

These songs have passed from the old nation to the new one where they became standards.

W.K. McNeil

June 24, 2015

index

from http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net and https://scholarworks.iu.edu:

William Kinneth (W. K.) McNeil was a prominent folklorist and historian of Arkansas and Ozark regional folk traditions, especially their folk music and songs, speech, tales, and legends. He published books and articles in both popular and scholarly outlets and produced widely disseminated recordings.

McNeil was also active in producing recordings and writing liner notes. He received acclaim for his box sets such as The Blues: A Smithsonian Collection of Classic Blues Singers (1993) for the Smithsonian Institution and Somewhere in Arkansas: Early Country Music: Recordings from Arkansas, 1928–1932.

Here is an edited excerpt of McNeil’s review of one of the greatest old time LPs.

Back Home in the Blue Ridge: Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell & Oscar Jenkins. Recorded by Charles Faurot & Richard Nevins. Produced by Richard Nevins. (County 723)

Back Home in the Blue Ridge consists of four instrumentals and eight vocal numbers. Most of the tunes presented here are often recorded traditional numbers. There are, however, a few rarely recorded pieces, like the Primitive Baptist hymn “When Sorrow’s Encompass Me Round” which, to me, is the high point of the album.

The main emphasis of Back Home in- the Blue Ridge, however, is on the contrast between the more rhythmic, and probably older, style of fiddling represented by Tommy Jarrell and the mellower, less rhythmic playing of Oscar Jenkins. If’ it can be assumed that the selections on this album are representative of the traditional material found in the sections of northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia where Jarrell, Cockerham and Jenkins live then then folk music repertoire there is composed almost entirely of post-1860 items.

It would, however, be incorrect to assume that such numbers have been in local tradition for the past one-hundred and thirteen years. For example, “Cumberland Gap”  was not known in the region until about 1915 and “Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down” did not “come around” until about 1925. A number of other old songs and fiddle tunes were first introduced to this section during the decade after 1915. Their arrival then was perhaps facilitated by improved roads and transportation.

While one can hear the interplay between Fred Cockerham’s clawhammer banjo and Tommy Jarrell’s fiddle on “Sally Ann” his appreciation would undoubtedly be heightened if he could also see the musicians in action. And we can listen and enjoy the skillful usage of double stops and open string harmonies used by Tommy Jarrell on “old Joe Clark” and “Breaking Up Christmas ” and yet never fully comprehend Jarrell’s technical brilliance or ever achieve the excitement of seeing these feats accomplished. But, given the limitations of a record, this is an outstanding sampling of traditional music and unquestionably one of the best albums of its type on the market today-.

 

 

Classic American Ballads

June 22, 2015

SFW40215

Classic American Ballads from Smithsonian Folkways (CD SFW4021)

from http://www.rambles.net:

The set debuts with the venerable “Banks of the Ohio,” exemplifying the curious truth that in ballads the vilest acts are usually set to lovely waltz melodies. The performers are two giants of American folk, guitar master Doc Watson and bluegrass founder Bill Monroe, and no more need be said, except that as often as I’ve heard this ballad (possibly first on an early Joan Baez record with the Greenbriar Boys) I never tire of it.

In my mind — don’t ask me why — the psychopath-killer’s day job is as a small-town bookkeeper. The final cut is a splendid unaccompanied reading (by Doc Watson’s mother Annie) of another well-known ballad, “The F.F.V.” (aka “Engine 143″ and “Wreck of the C&O”) dating to a fatal accident in Virginia in 1890.

The artists are in part revivalists (e.g., Cisco Houston, Pete Seeger), in part source singers (Pink Anderson, Buck Ramsey), and in another part figures with allegiances in both camps (Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie). Seeger is used to particularly strong effect; his readings of “Blue Mountain Lake” and “Young Charlotte” make clear just how good he could be in the service of purely traditional songs.

On the other hand, Rolf Kahn & Eric Von Schmidt’s “Frankie & Johnny,” in my judgment the least successful track, is overcooked and overlong (6:39). Oddly, the title notwithstanding, this is “Frankie & Albert,” the St. Louis folk ballad on which the 1904 Tin Pan Alley song, which I’ve disliked since I was a kid, was loosely based. The version you want to hear is Mississippi John Hurt’s “Frankie,” which you can find on Volume 1 of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and elsewhere.

Most everything, though, is a delight. Not least is Doug Wallin’s riveting “Naomi Wise,” carried by his voice alone. Bascom Lamar Lunsford weighs in with a welcome, if suitably ominous, reading of “Springfield Mountain,” among the first ballads created on American soil, well known in the latter 18th and 19th centuries but nearly forgotten now. Let it be a warning to all, namely us herpetophobes who shake at the sight even of harmless snakes.

Hermes Nye warms my heart with “Sam Bass,” which has always ranked high on my list of favorite American folk songs. Bruce Buckley delivers a suitably lugubrious “Pearl Bryan,” about a shockingly cruel, much-publicized-at-the-time murder in 1896 Cincinnati. Among the missing is Cisco Houston’s good-humored rendering of “Zebra Dun,” which is done instead by the late Joan O’Bryant, so we’ll have to settle for his way with “Tying a Knot in the Devil’s Tail,” written in 1917 by cowboy versifier Gail Gardner to relate a drunken scrap with Ol’ Scratch in the mountains outside Prescott, Arizona.

The liner booklet provides a rich source of often obscure information about songs, composers and performers. A typo, though, accomplishes some gender switching when we learn that “Cowboy’s Lament/Streets of Laredo” (sung in fine fashion by another, more recent cowpuncher poet, the late Buck Ramsey) was the creation (in 1876) of “cowboy poet Frances [sic] Henry Maynard.” The correct spelling, of course, is Francis, and he preferred to be known as Frank.

Like many vernacular writers, Maynard composed on the template of a pre-existing text, which commenced its career in the 18th-century British Isles as “The Unfortunate Rake” (whose title character is dying not of a gunshot, as the later cowboy, but of venereal disease) before evolving into “Tom Sherman’s Barroom,” “St. James Hospital” and more.

George Mukabi

June 20, 2015

mukabi

from www.elijahwald.com:

GEORGE MUKABI: KENYAN GUITAR MASTER

George Mukabi was probably the finest Kenyan fingerstyle player of the 1950s. His playing is somewhat similar to that of the Congolese greats, but with a distinct local flavor.

According to John Low’s”History of Kenyan Guitar Music: 1945-1980″ (African Music, 1982, 6(2), 17-36), Mukabi was of the Kissa people, and apparently created what became the popular “sukuti” of “Kakamega” guitar style in the early 1950s.

He had heard records of the “Nyasa” Malawian bands and set out to play similar music in a fingerpicking style. His playing was massively popular and influential, affecting urban players like John Mwale (several of whose recordings fill out this CD).

These recordings are from cassettes that were still available in Nairobi in 1990, essentially as “golden oldies” packages. The recording quality is generally quite good, and the music is superb. It is bizarre that none of Mukabi’s material has been released outside Kenya, as he is one of the greatest of the African acoustic players.

No one who loves intricate fingerpicking should be unaware of his work. There is a swing and humor to his singing, and an inventiveness to his accompaniments that makes him well worth an entire album.

To buy this CD, go here.

 

E.T. Mensah

June 17, 2015


MensahBoxCover

from afropop.org and http://www.retroafric.com:

E.T. Mensah & the Tempos: King of Highlife Anthology (RetroAfric 4 CD set, 64 page booklet)

E.T. Mensah ‘The King of Highlife’ is a true legend of African musicthe founding father of that most popular style of dance music, which spread like a bushfire across the African continent and beyond during the 1950s and 60s.
Highlife was the first Pan-African pop music and still survives as the basis for contemporary genres like Afrobeat, afropop, hiplife and is an essential ingredient of earlier forms including Congo rumba, soukous, mbalax and the original Afrobeat.
Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah was a multi-instrumentalist and band leader whose dance band Highlife re-Africanised American swing music, blending it with Caribbean melodies, Latin rhythms and indigenous elements from the musically rich culture of Ghana (then known as The Gold Coast).
Although he had started out on a musical career in the 1930s, E.T. recorded his first 78rpm discs in 1952 and as he later claimed: “When my records came out in 1952 they vibrated into the ears of the listening public in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. It was from this period on that music fans throughout West Africa began to acclaim me as the King of Highlife.” That reputation carried right across the continent, being enjoyed by, and influencing, musicians as far apart as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegambia, Congo and Kenya.

Throughout the 69 songs on the the four CDs of E.T. Mensah & the Tempos: King of Highlife Anthology (RetroAfric), we hear highlife’s appropriation of palm wine guitar lyricism, the clave beat and many arranging ideas from Afro-Latin music, swing jazz, elements of calypso (including a Latin-esque cover of “Sloop John B”), along with hints of rock ‘n’ roll and the new music emerging from the Congo at the time.

We learn in the John Collins’ precise and deeply informed booklet (60 pages long, and fascinating from top to bottom) that E.T.’s band was a constant work in progress. All the dynamics of struggle are there—mass departures, rebellions over pay, scurrying to find new players in time for a crucial gig. Musicians enjoyed a low status in Ghana, especially in the days before its independence, and this bandleader’s ability to keep the gigs and recordings flowing at this quality level, amid so much turnover, testifies to his greatness as much as any musical ability.

There are wonderful stories behind some of the songs—playing “All For You” with Louis Armstrong in 1956; and earning a scold from Kwameh Nkrumah when the celebratory 1957 song “Ghana Freedom Highlife” also praised rivals of the independence movement. (The band had to re-record the song, minus the offending lyrics.)

But mostly what endures here is the music: Its innocence, playfulness and gentle humor remain seductive all these years later. In part, that’s because this music captured so many cultural elements surrounding one of the most exciting moments in African history, when the first African nation earned its independence. As so often in the African story, dramatic history yields powerful and enduring music. Kudos to the folks at RetroAfric for once again documenting a crucial chapter in African music history with definitive thoroughness and style.

Le Grand Kallé

June 14, 2015

index

from http://www.rootsworld.com:

Le Grand Kallé
His Life, His Music: Joseph Kabasele and the Creation of Modern Congolese Music (2 CD set, http://www.sternsmusic.com)

It may be difficult for a contemporary westerner approaching mid-20th century Congolese rumba for the first time to have any real understanding of how this music sent rhythmic shock waves up and down the African continent in the 1950s and 60s. It might take a few spins to recognize that the grooves held so firmly in check under what seem like such polite, non-threatening vocal harmonies are no less radical for their rigidity.

And of course electric guitar bands such as Kabasele’s, as well as OK Jazz, African Fiesta and others ran elegant, fluid, shimmering circles around anyone in American pop music of the same era. Perhaps frustratingly, this music is one of the few things taken from the Congo that hasn’t led to environmental and social catastrophe, civil war or megalomaniacal dictatorships.

Somehow, in the years leading up to the country’s 1960 independence, and the absolute failure of that moment, this sensual, harmonious, dance band music managed to contain all the hopes that nothing else this resource-rich hunk of Central Africa seemed able to hold onto. It was also a product of a burgeoning pre-independence Congolese middle class, and at the music’s forefront was vocalist/bandleader/songwriter Joseph Kabasele, aka Le Grand Kallé.

Kabasele’s obsession with musical forms outside his Catholic household led him, as a teenager in the 1940s, to studios in what was then (before the ouster of the Belgians and a name change to Kinshasa) Leopoldville. Thanks to that city’s reasonably close proximity to the Atlantic, imported records, especially those made by Afro-Cuban sextets, complete with African-derived clave rhythms, filled Kabasele’s ears.

And it was this influence that went on to permeate so much of Congolese pop music, and much of Africa, for decades to come. Kabasele’s voice, as well as his skill for penning songs, earned him his own name and photo on 78s released in the early 1950s; so it was only a matter of time before he attracted musicians whose names still loom large in African pop music history.

Tabu Rey Rochereau, Manu Dibango, and guitar maestro Nicolas Kasanda (Nico) were all members of Kabasele’s African Jazz Orchestre at one time or another. And for the better part of two decades, they cranked out hundreds of sides, traveled the world, and spread rhumba around Africa in much the same way Elvis Presley infected mid-fifties working class North American teenagers with the itch to jack a seemingly speed-induced R&B frenzy into what had been known as hillbilly music.

This collection splits the recordings into those Kabasele made pre-independence with the always evolving version of his original band between 1951 and ’62, while disc two houses cuts done with a completely made-over version of the band (it seems Kabasele was not known for paying band members) between 1964 and 1970. And it is undeniably the first disc, featuring tunes showing the style in its infancy and rawness, which is closer to essential.

Of course, “Independence Cha Cha” is included here, rush-cut when the early hope of Patrice Lumumba, a friend and fan of Kabasele, was still in the air. There is also the 5-minute single version of “African Jazz Mokili Mobimbo,” the band’s spirited announcement that the entire world wants to hear the music of Africa. But elsewhere, we hear the first doses of Nico, and with it, the beginnings of Congolese electric guitar, a style still unmatched in its equal measure of subtlety and body-moving intensity.

While complications brought on from hypertension ultimately took him out at age 52, his band is still arguably the most influential to ever appear on the continent. It, more than independence or forced modernization, truly helped to steer Africa in a different direction.

 

“Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to Do a Few Tunes Between Homicides”

June 11, 2015

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from http://pitchfork.com, http://nodepression.com, http://www.thebluegrasssituation.com, and http://blackgrooves.org:

FOUR REASONS TO DROP A CHUNK OF CHANGE ON “LEAD BELLY: THE SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS COLLECTION” (edited from Eryk Pruitt):

LEADBELLY’S DUET WITH BESSIE SMITH

Whoa. When I first put on this track, I have to say I was plenty revved up at the prospect of a track with Lead Belly singing duet with Bessie Smith. I mean, can you imagine…? What we get instead is Lead Belly singing along with a recording off a 78. We hear him listening to a record the same way we would: singing along with a legend. He is silent, reverent, and touchingly sweet. You can hear the deep respect he holds for Bessie in every breath and it’s amazing.

THE ESSAYS

One of the best parts of the collections are the liner notes. Glossy booklets written by scholars who also like to nerd out. The book has two of such essays. One by Robert Santelli, the Executive Director of the Grammy Museum, and another by Grammy-winning Smithsonian Folkways archivist Jeff Place. The Place essay is very in-depth and compelling and well worth multiple readings. Especially enlightening is the piece “Why He Sang Certain Songs” by his niece Tiny Robinson.

THE WNYC FOLK SONGS OF AMERICA RADIO SHOWS

Lead Belly sits in on two radio shows featuring his music. Lead Belly spent his later years in New York City in the nascent stages of the folk scene. He enjoyed a fine bit of notoriety and appeared on a couple radio programs. These sets on WNYC run six and seven songs, and the second one features the Oleander Quartet.

LINER NOTES

Not only are you getting five CDs with 108 tracks, but each of those tracks are given due diligence in the back half of the book. As you may know, you can buy 20 different Lead Belly albums and get 22 different recordings of “Goodnight Irene” or “Midnight Special.” The liner notes tell you precisely what is unique about the recordings included in the box set, or offer interesting anecdotes of each one. It’s an in-depth, immersive experience.

THE FINAL TRACK

The fifth CD of this set features selections from what are now considered Lead Belly’s “Final Sessions,” which were all recorded in the home of Frederic Ramsey around 1948. These showcase a level of intimacy that is not captured in his Library of Congress and radio sessions, as he performs while talking, laughing, and singing with those in the room.
It’s fitting that the final track on The Smithsonian Folkways Collection isn’t a song, but a brief monologue called “In the World”, based on a half-remembered conversation from long ago. It makes for a fitting epilogue to this monumental box set, primarily because it reveals Lead Belly’s role as an archivist of American music, passing tunes and ideas along from one person to the next, from one generation to the next. “We all gotta get peace together because we’re in the world together,” he muses. “I never heard nothing like it. Now you got it now.”

 

Fifty Essential CDs of Appalachian Music

June 8, 2015

index by Mike Yates (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Fifty Essential CDs of Appalachian Music (see also here)

A. Solo/single group performers.

1.  Jean Ritchie, Ballads from her Appalachian Family Tradition.  Smithsonian-Folkways SFW CD 40145. 
Sixteen Child ballads sung by one of the greatest Appalachian singers.  Cecil Sharp would have loved this!
2.  Frank Proffitt of Reese, NC, Folk-Legacy CD-1. 
A wonderful performer who had a large repertoire of rare and unusual songs and ballads.
3.  The Watson Family, Smithsonian-Folkways CD SF40012. 
First recordings of Doc Watson and his family. 
4 – 5.  Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley.  The Original Folkways Recordings, 1960 – 1962.  CD SF40029/30.
Lovely collection of songs and instrumentals.
6.  Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina.  Smithsonian-Folkways SF CD 40082. 
Lunsford was an important collector/singer who preserved many songs and ballads which would otherwise have disappeared. 
7.  Texas Gladden, Ballad Legacy, Rounder CD 1800. 
Another splendid ballad singer.
8 – 9.  Hobart Smith, Blue Ridge Legacy, Rounder CD 1799 & In Sacred Trust.  The 1963 Fleming Brown Tapes.  Smithsonian-Folkways SFW C 40141. 
Brother of Texas Gladden, this multi-instrumentalist and singer just about sums up all that is good in Appalachian music.
10 – 11.  Roscoe Holcomb.  The High Lonesome Sound, Smithsonian-Folkways SF CD 40104 & An Untamed Sense of Control, Smithsonian-Folkways SFW CD 40144. 
Banjo-player and singer, Roscoe Holcomb first appeared on the double CD set Mountain Music of Kentucky, compiled and annotated by John Cohen (#’s 43 – 44 below).  These two solo albums confirm his status as one of the most outstanding Appalachian performers ever recorded.
12 – 13.  The Hammons Family.  The Traditions of a West Virginia Family and their Friends.  Rounder 1504/05.
A successful attempt by Carl Fleischhauer and Alan Jabbour of the Library of Congress to present a fuller, more rounded, picture of the musical culture of one Appalachian family.
14 – 16.  Dock Boggs.  Country Blues, Complete Early Recordings (1927 – 29), Revenant 205.  Dock Boggs, his Folkways Years, Smithsonian-Folkways SF 40108. 
Three CDs worth of material from the legendary banjo-player/singer who cut twelve sides in 1927 – 29 before vanishing into obscurity.  He was rediscovered some thirty years later, when he was recorded extensively.
17 – 18.  Ernest V Stoneman, The Unsung Father of Country Music, 1925 – 1934.  5- String Productions 5SPH 001. 
Stoneman, along with his family and friends from the area around Galax, VA, recorded dozens of songs and tunes.  This 2 CD selection contains some of the best.
19.  I’m Going Down to North Carolina.  The Complete Recordings of the Red Fox Chasers, 1928 – 31.Tompkins Square TSQ 2219. 
Excellent collection of songs and string band music from one specific region of north- west North Carolina.
20.  Da Costa Waltz’s Southern Broadcasters & Frank Jenkins’ Pilot Mountaineers, Document DOCD-8023. 
Early string bands from the area around Galax, NC.  (See also # 29 below).
21 – 24.  Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers and the Highlanders, JSP 4 CD box set, JSP7734. 
Poole’s music ranged from ancient ballads to more modern pieces, and showed how the music was rapidly changing.
25 – 28.  The Carter Family, 1927 – 1934. JSP 4 CD box set, JSPCD7001.
From the hills of Virginia.  No matter what they played, they were always rooted in their native soil.  One of the most influential groups ever to be recorded.  Their 1935 – 1941 recordings are also available on another 4 CD box set, JSP7708.
29.  Old Time Mountain Music, with Oscar Jenkins, Fred Cockerham & Tommy Jarrell, County CD 2735. 
Three friends who kept their regional music alive.  Jarrell was the son of fiddler Ben Jarrell, who recorded with Da Costa Waltz’s Southern Broadcasters in 1927.  (See # 20 above).

B. Anthologies:

30.  Dark Holler.  Old Love Songs and Ballads Smithsonian-Folkways SFW CD 40159.
Field recordings of singers who learnt their songs from people who sang to Cecil Sharp in 1916.  Also come with a DVD, The End of An Old Song, John Cohen’s portrait of Appalachian singer Dillard Chandler.
31.  High Atmosphere.  Ballads and banjo tunes from Virginia & North Carolina.  Rounder CD 0028. 
Excellent set of field recordings made by John Cohen in 1965.
32 – 38.  Kentucky Mountain Music.  Classic Recordings of the 1920s & 1930s. 
Rare and essential commercial recordings of Kentucky mountain music, together with Alan Lomax’s 1937 Kentucky Library of Congress recordings.
39.  Southern Journey.  Volume 2.  Ballads and Breakdowns, Songs from the Southern Mountains.  Rounder CD 1702.
Good selection of songs, ballads and instrumental tunes.  Other recordings by some of these artists can be found scattered throughout the other 12 CDs in this series.
40.  Music from the Lost Provinces.  Old-Time stringbands from Ashe County, North Carolina and Vicinity.  1927 – 1931.  Old Hat CD-1001. 
Important early recordings by such people as Grayson & Whitter, Frank Blevins, Jack Reedy and The Hill Billies.
41 – 42.  Mountain Music of Kentucky, compiled and annotated by John Cohen.  Smithsonian-Folkways SF CD 40077. 
Great selection of recordings made in 1959.
43 – 44.  The Traditional Music of Beech Mountain.  Volume 1, The Older ballads and Gospel Songs, Folk-Legacy CD-22.  The Traditional Music of Beech Mountain.  Volume 2, The Later Songs and Hymns, Folk-Legacy CD-23. 
Two of the best albums ever made of traditional Appalachian singers and their ballads and songs.
45 – 48.  Meeting’s a Pleasure.  Folk-Songs from the Upper South, Volumes 1 & 2, and Volumes 3 & 4.  Two double CDs.  Musical Traditions MTCD505-6 & MTCD507-8.
Over 130 tracks of material collected in Kentucky & West Virginia, showing a very strong tradition.
49 – 50.  The North Carolina Banjo Collection, Rounder CD 0439/40. 
The banjo entered the Appalachians via Afro/American slaves.  These two CDs show just how much one instrument could influence the various directions that traditional music could take.

The Ragtime Skedaddlers

June 2, 2015

from https://jazzlives.wordpress.com and http://www.ragtimers.org:

The Latest Popular Mandolin and Guitar Music, by The Ragtime Skedaddlers (http://ragtimeskedaddlers.bandcamp.com)

A hundred years ago, ragtime was America’s original popular music, a blend of African-American folk roots with marches and old-world dances. While usually played today as a solo piano music, in their time rags, cakewalks, and marches were often played by string bands consisting of mandolins, banjos, and guitars. Using arrangements published during the ragtime era, the Ragtime Skedaddlers continue the tradition of ragtime string bands.

Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.  This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness.

Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. It is as if Dvorak had been transplanted to a Southern or Middle Western backyard picnic or country dance in 1895 and had immersed himself in sweet harmonies and dance-like motions. The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort.

This CD has a lot going for it. The musicians are talented and well rehearsed. The playlist has a theme (arrangements for mandolin and guitar taken from early publications) and the recorded sound is very good. The liner notes are filled with interesting historical data and minutiae about the composers, the arrangers and the early publications themselves. Quality artwork is featured, including many old photographs. And to top it off, the music is lively and likeable.

The Ragtime Skedaddlers are mandolinists Dennis Pash and Nick Robinson and guitarist Dave Krinkel. With this disc and their previous release (Mandophone CD0901), they have produced perhaps the only high fidelity recordings devoted almost exclusively to these early arrangements of rags and cakewalks for mandolins and guitar.

We are treated to perennial favorites (Peacherine Rag, Eli Green’s Cake Walk, Apple Jack, Chicken Chowder), rare discoveries (A Florida Cracker, Mississippi Bubble, Shiftless Johnson) and other enjoyable selections. To break up the cakewalk theme and add a bit of variety, the Skedaddlers have also included a Brazilian choro (Dengozo), an Indian intermezzo (Silver Heels) and an habañera (Cuban Belles).

Chanteys and Anthems

May 30, 2015

baham35

by Nathan Luna (www.mustrad.org.uk):

Bahamas 1935 – Chanteys and Anthems from Andros and Cat Island (Rounder 1822)

The sweetness of a voice rings out over a deep bass and extraneous fuzz in Round the Bay of Mexico, one of the more charming chanteys heard on Bahamas 1935.  The song is led by Henry Lundy, and bassed by David “Pappie” Pryor.  This song and most of the music found on this CD are products of the sponging days in the Bahamas when sponging crews would spend weeks at a time on the water in small sailboats.  It is primarily group vocal music and contains echoes of many other African-American and Afro-Caribbean vocal group forms, including spirituals, quartet singing, and work songs.

The characteristic style of singing found on most of the songs is known as rhyming.  A lead singer, or rhymer, usually begins the song by establishing the melody.  This melody is then taken up by a group of singers, or sometimes a single bass singer, which utilize multiple tempos, tonal levels, and rhythmic patterns to create a complex song structure over which the lead singer or rhymer can continue to improvise new lyrics or rhymes.

The effect is not far from quartet singing, though the multiple rhythms and tempos make for a generally more complex song style.  Apparently this complex style of singing found its heyday in the early 1900’s when spongers were plentiful and sharply declined with the failure of the sponge industry in the late 1930s.

Lomax, who recorded in 1935, appears to have arrived just before this decline and fortuitously so, in my opinion, for one thing that impressed me about these early recordings was the breadth of rhyming that could be heard when compared to later recordings of Bahamian rhyming, those found on the Rounder release ‘Kneelin Down Inside the Gate’, for instance.

Lomax, in an essay included in the booklet notes, proposes that the particular style of singing employed in Bahamian rhyming music stems from the Bahamian sponger’s connection to the sea.  He writes: “The distinctive effect of multiple tempos [found in the music] …  flows …  from the marriage of Bahamians to the sea and small sailboats.

A sailboat moving through the sea before a good wind moves in several tempos: the lift, plunge and roll of the vessel through the water, and the forward motion of the boat itself, which increases imperceptibly and with an effect of mounting thrill as sails are trimmed and as the breeze picks up.  Other rhythms can be heard in the rapid slatting of ropes against the sail, the slow creaking of the mast and the blocks, and the slide of water along the side and perhaps against the deck.” (more…)

Arkansas at 78 RPM

May 28, 2015

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Arkansas at 78 RPM: Corn Dodgers and Hoss Hair Pullers (Dust-to-Digital DTD-36)

excerpt of review by Mile Yates (www.mustrad.org):

For the traveling recording men of the late 1920s, Arkansas offered enticing pickings.  The region was thronged with vigorous, idiosyncratic stringbands.  This album carries the listener from the hillbilly music craze of the ’20s to the song-based country music of the late ’30s.  Scarcely more than a decade, but a period, in music as in all American life, of galvanic change – Tony Russell

 Actually, unlike the Appalachians and Georgia, Arkansas was, perhaps, just a tad too far away from New York and the other northern cities where the 1920s’ record companies were based.  And so recordings of Arkansas musicians from this period were never too plentiful, which is a pity, because judging by these few examples we can only suggest that, musically speaking, this was indeed a region which carried a rich musical heritage.

During the period 1928 – 30 the musicians had to travel out of the State to make recordings in such cities as Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago or New York, for the Okeh, Vocalion and Victor record companies.

Later, in 1931 – 32, Columbia Records also recorded a handful of Arkansas groups; but it was not until 1937 that the Brunswick – ARC record company sent a recording team to Hot Springs.  By then, of course, the music had begun to change and this fine CD covers both the early string band music that was captured in the late ’20s and early ’30s, together with a few later pieces.

I suppose that as there were so few recordings made of early Arkansas string band music we must expect some overlap with previously issued CDs and, sadly, this is the case here.  In 1995 County Records issued a 2 CD set – Echoes of the Ozarks CD-3506 & CD-3507) – which together contain forty-one cuts, and twelve of these tracks can be found on the Dust-To-Digital set.

But, that does leave us with fourteen tracks which are new to me, all of which, in one way or another, are of great interest.  Actually, it is not surprising to find duplication here, because many of the duplicated tracks are among the best old-timey recording ever made.  I am certain that tracks such as the Morrison Twin Brothers String Band’s Dry and Dusty, Pope’s Arkansas Mountaineers’ Jaw Bone, Luke Highnight & His Ozark Strutters’ Fort Smith Breakdown or the Arkansas Barefoot Boys’ Eighth of January can stand alongside any recordings made during the late 1920s/early 1930s.

Fiddling Bob Larkan’s McLeod’s Reel (also known as Hop High Ladies in the States) is reminiscent of some of the recordings that were made by the Maine fiddler Mellie Dunham and I was not surprised to learn that Bob Larkan was originally from New York.  According to Tony Russell, the high strain of Silver Nail, recorded by Bob Larkan, is related to Scott Skinner’s tune Arthur Seat (or should that be Arthur’s Seat?).

Bob Larkan’s set Paddy, Won’t You Drink Some Good Old Cider, an extremely well-played tune, is also interesting for being the first recording to be made of the piece.  The Georgia musicians Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett later made a better-known recording.

Robinson County, played here by the little known L O Birkhead & R M Lane (although we are told that Lane may not actually be the second fiddler on this track!).  The tune was also recorded by Ted Sharp, Hinman & Sharp, (available on County CD-3506) and these are the only two known early recording; so was it originally a local tune, even though there is no Robinson County in Arkansas?  Drunkard’s Hecups (sic), from the Reaves White County Ramblers, is also of interest in that it is one of only a handful or early recordings where we can hear the fiddle strings being beaten by a pair of straws.

Lonnie Glosson (1908 – 2001) was a competent musician who can be heard on two tracks.  Lonnie’s Fox Chase highlights his ability on the mouthorgan, while Arkansas Hard Luck Blues, a talking-blues, shows that he was also an accomplished guitarist.  Glosson was one of those musicians who continued recording long after the 78’s had become obsolete and he cut several LPs in later life.  Other tracks also show how things were beginning to change.

Dr Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers, led by a country doctor called Henry Harlin Smith, recording a number of sentimental songs and are especially remembered for pieces such as Picture on the Wall and Save My Mother’s Picture from the Sale, but here they can be heard singing a ‘coon’ song Just Give Me the Leavings, which was written by two Afro-Americans, James Weldon Johnson and Bob Cole, in 1904.  Many old-timey bands from this period broke up because there was too little interest in their music.

The Hoss Hair Pullers, on the other hand, became so successful that they were unable to keep up with demand for their public engagements, and so they folded.  Johnson and Cole also composed the song My Castle on the Nile, which was recorded by an obscure group of musicians known as the Wonder State Harmonists.  The Harmonists also recorded a version of another ‘coon’ song, Turnip Greens, which blues singer Bo Carter had previously recorded as Good Old Turnip Greens in 1928.

The group’s leader may have been one William Walden Shepherd (1890 -1979) a banjo-playing member of the Arkansas Bar Association, who practiced in the town of Little Rock.  The group also recorded an up-beat instrumental, Petit Jean Gallop, apparently named after Petit Jean Mountain which can be found in Arkansas’s Conway County.  One other group, George Edgin’s Corn Dodgers with Earl Wright & Brown Rich, give us another song, The Arkansas Hotel, a song recorded variously as All Go Hungry Hash House or Second-Class Hotel by other singers and musicians.

If, like me, you love old-timey music then you will have to get a copy of this album.  The music is superb and Tony Russell’s notes, aided at times by the fieldwork of the late W K McNeil, are both fascinating and faultless.

Tractor Beam

May 25, 2015

from http://www.hearthmusic.com:

Richie Stearns | Rosie Newton. Tractor Beam.
2013. self-released.

I’ve been waiting for this one for a little bit now and it doesn’t disappoint. Rosie Newtown is a truly monster old-time fiddler, and seems to be at the center of a real scene in Ithaca, New York. I first heard her fiddling as part of the New Young Fogies Appalachian compilation album. Not only is she a marvelously dextrous fiddler, pulling a huge variety of syncopated rhythms out of old-time bowing, but she’s also a ferocious fiddler, tearing into a fiddle tune like a lioness tearing into a gazelle.

On Tractor Beam, she’s playing as a duo with songwriter/clawhammer banjo master Richie Stearns. Stearns is justifiably well known for his work with The Horse Flies, an alternative band with strong folk ties that was huge in the 90s. He’s also toured extensively with Natalie MacMaster and Bela Fleck, scored an album for Pete Seeger, and worked with folks as diverse as David Byrne, Tuvan throat singers, and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Tractor Beam is a blend of original and traditional, from a fiddle tune Rosie wrote (“Take It or Leave It”) to three new songs from Stearns (“Ribbons & Bows”, “I Am With You Always”, “Tractor Beam”), even a Townes Van Zandt cover, which Newton sings in her pure ballad style. Her voice is high and soft, and crackles with the fragility of an ice sheet. It’s beautiful singing! Stearns brings an element of worldliness to the music on this album, with a voice tinged by long experience, and a kind of weariness to his singing that draws in the listener.

The traditional material here is rendered impeccably, from the straight-ahead versions of “Say Darling Say” and “Willow Garden” (oh and listen to their harmonies on those songs…..), to the wonderful Clyde Davenport tune “Lost Goose” and the always classic “Trouble in Mind.” Stand-out track “Shirt Tail Boogie” features the lost art of clawhammer fiddling (inspired by the great Fred Cockerham), and it’s great to hear Old Crow Medicine Show alum Willie Watson ripping it up on the last two songs, Ruben’s Train and Hangman’s Reel.

All told, Tractor Beam brings a lot of lift and life to the old traditions.

Peter Was a Fisherman

May 23, 2015

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from http://www.mustrad.org.uk:

Peter was a Fisherman (Rounder CD 1114)

Melville and Frances Herskovits recorded the selections included on Peter was a Fisherman, in 1939 in a village in Trinidad.  The 34 tracks on the CD include a number of song styles ranging from primarily African songs sung in Yoruba to Creole/European quadrille and reel songs.  The range of songs recorded helped Herskovits to theorize a spectrum of African influence in American music, from music with high African content (usually religious music) to music with only trace African content (usually European forms with some African rhythmic sensibilities).

Listening to this collection of songs, I got the feeling that Herskovits was more interested in how the elements of the music fit into his ideas of African retention in the New World than in the experience of the music itself.  While a number of the songs are pleasing to listen to and most are fascinating examples of early Trinidadian musical traditions, I found the songs lacked the energy, the vibrancy, of those found on the Lomax CDs.

This may in part be due to the poor nature of the recording equipment Herskovits used, but I wonder if there isn’t some other explanation for the monotonous and sparse sound of much of the CD.  Perhaps the musicians felt uncomfortable performing for this foreign couple, or in front of a microphone?  Perhaps Herskovits hoped to isolate certain themes in the music and therefore insisted on a simple presentation?  Who can say?

Five of the more historically important songs on the CD are sung in Yoruba by Margaret Buckley, a 70 year old woman who was the daughter of Yoruba speaking parents.  While these songs are undoubtedly interesting, particularly to linguists, the use of Buckley’s son as a single backup drummer results in the loss of much of the rhythmic complexity that might otherwise have been present if the normal three drum orchestra found in most Yoruba music had been used.

Some life can be heard in the sankeys of the Spiritual Baptists, or Shouters, who are the resident Black Protestants of Trinidad.  Sankeys begin as European style hymns and then transition to an African-American musical style know as ‘trumping’, which is a series of rhythmic groans and shouts – hence the name ‘Shouters’ – that can lead to spirit possession.

The Creole/European music forms, which include a number of reels, quadrilles, and carnival songs, seem to survive the poor technical quality of the recordings a bit better than the forms with greater African content, perhaps because they depended less on drums or large groups of voices, which tended to distort the sound.  Ine Ine Katuke, sung in the untranslatable ‘Wild Indian’ tongue, and When Me Baby Born, O are both nice examples of these Creole forms.

You Can’t Beat the Classics

May 20, 2015

Sit in on just about any old-time music session in the Triangle, and sooner or later someone may ask for “Kitchen Girl,” “Over the Waterfall” or another tune handed down from the 1960s by the Hollow Rock String Band.

Based in the Hollow Rock community of Durham, the band recorded two albums that predated and set the stage for the Red Clay Ramblers, founded in 1972. Folklorist and fiddler Alan Jabbour was the source of much Hollow Rock repertoire, which he had learned and recorded in the Virginia home of octogenarian fiddler, Henry Reed.

“You Can’t Beat the Classics” is a 19-track CD featuring a dozen Henry Reed tunes, plus selections from Burl Hammons, Snake Chapman and others. They’re performed by Jabbour, retired director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, master banjoist Ken Perlman and former Red Clay Rambler and Hollow Rock guitarist Jim Watson.

The “classics” here refer to standard old-time gems, such as “Old Joe Clark,” “Hell Among the Yearlings” and “Turkey in the Straw.” With two exceptions, all selections, recorded in Chapel Hill’s Rubber Room studio, are instrumentals. The songs – “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” and “Casey Jones” – are sung by Watson in his distinctively ethereal tenor.

Familiar tunes are given new voicings, while others recorded for the first time may provide fresh repertoire for old-time enthusiasts. Together, they offer harmonious continuity from past to present for all who delight in the old-time way. Jabbour’s informative booklet provides discussions for each tune, along with tunings for banjo and/or fiddle.

To order, send $17.50 to Jim Watson, 132 Justice St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.

Music of Chiapas

May 18, 2015

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from http://www.othermusic.com and folkways.si.edu:

Modern Mayan: The Indian Music of Chiapas, Mexico (Mississippi LP)

When the dense fog of the Aquarian days of self-discovery lifted, many travelers found themselves in faraway places, perhaps with an unopened yurt kit, much more kelp than needed, or nursing a yearlong ayahuasca hangover. Richard Alderson found himself in Chiapas, Mexico, newly emigrated, with a pair of Electro-Voice mics and an incredible knack for finding amazing indigenous music in the highlands.

Alderson, an engineer for ESP-Disk, was behind the boards for many of the label’s finest sessions. Here we find a newly released version of his virtually unheard Folkways release, Modern Mayan: The Indian Music of Chiapas, Mexico, originally issued in the mid’ 70s.

There’s a gripping lyrical quality to this music that’s incessantly mystifying. Guitar and harp strokes entwine with primitive violin sawing creating this fierce emotional tug. When the locals are in the full band fiesta set-up, lazy trombones sag with wasted horn bleats, all sounding very out and very wonderful. This is absolutely devastating stuff, where occasionally homemade rockets are audible passing from left to right channels, all just part of the festivities.

Listening to modern Mayan music poses several problems.  This music grew out of 16th century European foundations on one hand, and on the other it is unlike any other music anywhere.  The European influence has been working continuously in indigenous life and consciousness, from conquest times up to the present, yet there is a strong presence of the ancient Mayan spirit surfacing in the style and rhythms of this music today.
Thus the tonal modulations in this music are simple and repetitive, and the harmonies are rudimentary.  The
rhythms, however, are complex and unrelated to European models or greatly transformed from them.
The intonation, while based on the diatonic scale and peculiarly close to fixed western pitches, is subtley different
from what any western musician would play.
Finally, the context of this music is completely different from the world as we know it,  necessitating the opening of our ears to another place and time.  However, the rewards are great when the borders are crossed musically into this
land of original American art.
See and listen also here.

Africa Gems

May 15, 2015

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from rootsworld.com:

African Gems:
Recordings by Charles Duvelle, Jos Gansemans, Benoit Quersin, David Fanshawe

Sharp Wood Productions (www.swp-records.com)

There was a time when the best place to discover otherworldly musical sound avenues was a well-stocked public or University Library. Filed away by number, musty with disuse, were records that promised an antidote to the radio and whatever indie band was being hyped from magazine racks and record store new arrivals bins.

The great ethnic labels- Folkways, Lyrichord, Nonesuch, Ocora- occupied these shelves, their covers often depicting rural peoples from West Africa to SE Asia plucking what appeared to be string and gourd instruments heretofore unknown, their titles promising ritual, guaranteeing inclusion.

For those of us who dug deep and used our library cards as a means of rescuing these sounds, if only temporarily, from neglect, the world got larger. Notions of what constituted modern, primitive, Avant, poly-rhythmic, psychedelic, or dissonant got tangled and ultimately discarded.

For anyone in the West with more than a passing interest in music, the recordings these labels housed dared us to hear the familiar as the odd, the seemingly strange as music your neighbor might have made. It changed everything. But who were these people? And who managed to find them, much less get them to agree to perform for the outsider with the microphone? African Gems, a compilation sourced from some of the most prolific ethno-musicological work this side of Hugh Tracey, is one answer to that question.

Percussionist and SWP label owner Michael Baird, who has not only reissued over 20 CDs of Tracey’s mid-20th century recordings, but also released some of his own fantastic work along the Zambia/Zimbabwe border, Lesotho and elsewhere, has curated 73 minutes of rural Central African musical hypnosis. From ensembles to duets to one solo piece, this collection is as varied as it is stellar, and it does a fantastic job of reminding listeners of the work Duvelle, Gansemans, Quersin and Fanshawe did. (more…)

From African Twist to Benga

May 9, 2015

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from http://www.singingwells.org/from-african-twist-to-benga:

From African Twist to Benga (Singing Wells CD)

In March 2014, Ketebul Music and The Abubilla Music Foundation came together to record a very special album for Singing Wells. Our goal was to record some of the most important ‘bridge’ artists in Kenya – a group of musicians who have built a connection between the music of their villages and modern music. They were the founders of Benga, the African Twist, Luhyia ‘Omutibo’ and the ‘Yoddeling’ sound adapted by the Kikuyu musicians of the ’60s.

We dedicated six days of studio time at Ketebul Music in Nairobi to record this set of legendary musical artistes, all of whom are now in their 60s and 70s and are critical to Kenyan music history.

We are very proud of this unique album and hope you enjoy listening to the ‘old masters’. Our recordings are particularly poignant as Ochieng Nelly sadly passed away shortly after the making of this album.

Listen here.

Nonesuch Explorer Series

May 7, 2015

 indexedited from BANNING EYRE  (http://rockpaperscissors.biz):


The return of the Nonesuch Explorer Series

In 1975, I was a freshman at Wesleyan University, which had recently begun offering postgraduate studies in ethnomusicology. Although the marketing term “world music” had yet to be invented by a cabal of globally minded London trend setters, we at Wesleyan already had a World Music Hall and a small world-music library.

I used to take vinyl LPs out and copy the best tracks onto cassettes, which I listened to obsessively. This is how I discovered African music, in large measure thanks to the Nonesuch Explorer Series, whose volumes were accumulating year after year on the shelves of Wesleyan’s music library. The entire series, some 91 CDs, is now being re-released, starting with the 12 original Africa volumes and a new Africa compilation.

I was a guitar player, not a percussionist, and though I loved a good African drum blowout as much as the next ’70s college kid, I derived a deeper pleasure from the polyphony of a reed-flute ensemble from Burundi (on the Music from the Heart of Africa Explorer Series volume), a funky, lone lute thrumming away on the savanna of Niger (on West Africa: Drum, Chant & Instrumental Music), or the intertwining, polyrhythmic melodies of the mbiras on what remains my favorite volume, The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People, which was recorded by ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner in 1972.

“In those days,” Berliner told me recently, “the mbira was largely regarded as a toy in this country. The small, Hugh Tracey kalimba had made it here, but it was initially sold by Creative Playthings.” In his book The Soul of Mbira (University of Chicago Press) and on his two Nonesuch Explorer reissues — the other being Shona Mbira Music — Berliner aims to introduce listeners to the stunning subtlety and surprising complexity of traditional Shona music made with the simple mbira.

He also delves into the mbira’s ceremonial importance: far from being a plaything, it has deep spiritual value to the Shona. And as a college student, I fell under its spell. Indeed, nothing so dramatizes the impact these seminal Nonesuch recordings had in the West as the worldwide network of mbira and marimba players that began to emerge in the early ’70s. On the West Coast there are now mbira camps, Shona-music retreats, and popular ensembles who play hybrids of Zimbabwean traditional music.  When you ask veteran American mbira players where they first heard Shona music, the answer almost invariably includes Nonesuch’s Explorer Series.

The Africa volumes were initially released between 1969 and 1983. It was in 1984 that I first attended a concert by King Sunny Adé and his Nigerian juju orchestra. That experience triggered the fascination with contemporary African music that has largely determined the direction of my life and work as a critic and a musician.

 

 

 

Kongo Magni

May 6, 2015

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from rockpaperscissors.biz:

Kongo Magni, by Boubacar Traore ( World Village/Harmonia Mundi CD)

If his compatriot Ali Farka Toure evokes the sun-struck Delta ambiance of John Lee Hooker, Boubacar Traoré has more in common with Robert Johnson’s fatalistic, dark-side-of-moon brand of sorcery. Like a lone troubadour at the crossroads, his storytelling is veiled in a complex, occult shade of indigo rather than plain blue.

His keening voice is at once primal and seductive, steeped in tragedy but starved for life, and he wields his exquisite, kora-inflected guitar like a talisman again fate. But on Kongo Magni Boubacar’s realistic, if pessimistic, view of life and its struggles is finally granted a fragile silver lining.

Although humanity is stalked by war and famine and daily life is marred by petty jealousies, God is nonetheless in his heaven and new children are born to take up the struggle. Accompanied by an empathetic small combo in which accordion and harmonica swirl around earthily resonant kamele ngoni (young person’s harp), balafon (xylophone) and traditional drums, shakers, and other percussion, Boubacar is revealed as philosophical, lyrical, resigned, guardedly hopeful, and gloriously human.

“I have to progress slowly.” There’s no point in running too fast, or planning anything. “I’m 63, but I’m in good shape,” he says with a smile. “Nonetheless, death can strike at any time. Today, I’m a man fulfilled.” He’s flattered by the full houses he still plays to, the book published on him (Mali Blues by Lieve Joris,), not to mention a film (Je chanterai pour toi, by Jacques Sarasin), but his joy is nonetheless hardly excessive. To spend time in his company is to encounter a certain tranquil melancholy.

One of Mali’s most respected singers, Boubacar Traoré is a charming man who is also very modest. Whatever sorrows he suffers, he never speaks of them. Je chanterai pour toi (I’ll sing for you) is the title of one of many songs he has dedicated to his deceased wife Pierrette.

“Dounia Tabolo” – people die but life goes on, he sings in Kongo Magni. Despite the death of loved ones, the desire to live must remain strong, says Boubacar Traoré, thinking of his latest born grand-daughter. Music means nothing unless it is delivering a message, he insists.

The new album reprises themes that have always meant a lot to him, allowing us to understand something of this secretive man. He speaks of the open wounds that fester in our lives: those of jealousy and wars, and the famines and epidemics that they bring. He sings of the bravery of Malian farmers, the lifeblood of the country; he reprises a track written by his older brother for the first anniversary of Malian independence; and sings a traditional song about the hope that children bring to save humanity.
 

 

 

Kante Manfila

May 4, 2015
 from http://www.radioafrica.com, http://www.rootsworld.com, and http://www.independent.co.uk:

Kanté Manfila, one of Africa’s greatest guitarists, will be remembered as the chef d’orchestre of Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, where his collaborations with Salif Keita propelled West African music to the forefront of the African music scene, thanks to songs such as “Mandjou”, “Seydou Bathily”, “Ntoma”, and “Primpin”.

Manfila was born in 1946 in Farabanah near Kankan. He is not of the Mandé griot heritage, as many journalists have assumed, but of the Mandé blacksmith. Such heritage, however, does not preclude the learning of griot instruments, and from the age of eight Manfila began to play the balafon before moving to the acoustic guitar.

Among his relatives are many prominent musicians. His cousins include Kanté Facelli, arguably Guinea’s pre-eminent guitarist and the co-founder Les Ballet Africains, and Sandaly “Balakala” Kanté, the lead guitarist with the Horoya Band and then the 22 Band. He is also related to, and often confused with, Kanté “Soba” Manfila, the lead singer of Balla et ses Balladins, and Manfila “Dabadou” Kanté, the lead singer of Keletigui et ses Tambourinis.

When he was 14 he moved to Abidjan, thus avoiding the Cultural Revolution of Sékou Touré’s Guinea. His musicianship developed rapidly and he formed his own orchestra at an early age. With them he released several singles on the local Djima label in the late 1960s. In 1972 he moved to Bamako where he joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel as the lead singer and lead guitarist.

Shortly after, Salif Keita left the Super Rail Band and joined the group. There was much talk of potential rivalry between the two singers, but this was far from the truth. Recognising and respecting each other’s talents created a deep bond, and the two worked closely together on the arrangements and lyrics of songs.

Les Ambassadeurs du Motel become the chief rival of the Super Rail Band, and only a popularity competition could decide who was the best in the eyes of the public. Hence, the Malian government asked that each group write a song to promote the new literacy campaign and then perform it at a concert where the audience would decide the winner.

The result from Manfila and Salif was “Kibaru”, a 26 minute opus. On the night of the performance, and what a gig that would have been, both bands were declared winners. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel enjoyed a great popularity thereafter in Bamako, and released many recordings.

In 1990 he  revisited Guinea with the German producer Günter Gretz to record the  Kankan Blues (PAM, 1991), which returned to the acoustic guitar sèche (“dry guitar”) style of his youth. They also made N’na Niwale (1994) back in Paris, and returned to Guinea for Back to Faranbah (1998).  These three acoustic recordings are highly recommended.  One is reviewed below.

Kante Manfila
Back to Farabanah
Popular African Music (via Stern’s http://www.sternsmusic.com)

This seductive and highly recommended album is the third recording in a series exploring the early musical influences of this Guinean guitar legend. Three songs on the album were recorded at the Tabou nightclub in Kan Kan, only a couple hundred miles upriver from the Malian capitol of Bamako, where Kante hit the big time in the mid to late 70’s with Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs Internationale before moving on to Abidjan and then Paris. From there, the crew drove to Kante’s home village of Farabanah, where eight other tracks were laid in a very rustic setting.

This is a beautiful recording, well-engineered, warm and intimate and yet very clean. There is a sense of ease and contentment in the recordings and yet an incredible depth and subtle tension. New generation Guinean guitarist Djessou Mory Kante lends his artistry. The only electric instrument in the mix is the bass of Sekou Diabate. A trio of female singers provides the standard backup verses on the non-instrumental songs behind Kante’s dry, earthy lead vocals.

Here is Kante Manfila’s classic arrangement of “Toubaka” (Kante Manfila-guitar, Salif Keita-vocals)

 

 

Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78rpm Era

April 30, 2015

 

from http://brickbatbooks.blogspot.com and http://www.allmusic.com:

Excavated Shellac: Strings – Guitar, Oud, Tar, Violin and More from the 78rpm Era (Dust-To-Digital)

Jonathan Ward, a young 78rpm collector and music researcher, has amassed an absolutely incredible collection of rare 78rpm records from around the world. Generally sharing these through his well-known blog, Excavated Shellac, Ward’s one-of-a-kind collection is showcased for the first time on Dust-to-Digital’s vinyl imprint, Parlortone.

None of these tracks have appeared prior to this release, either on Excavated Shellac or on any CD or LP compilation. The Excavated Shellac archives are hosted on WFMU’s Free Music Archive, and are essentially an (inter)national treasure. This LP features 14 outstanding compositions from the four corners of the world played on stringed instruments and recorded and released 78rpm records circa 1920-1950.

Featuring fiddles, shamisen, charango, Paraguyan harp, Indian vina, Lebanese oud, Persian violin, Vietnamese moon guitar, and more. All previously-unreleased, carefully transferred and mastered and presented with detailed liner-notes. Pressed on high-quality vinyl, with a full-color cover featuring 78rpm record sleeve graphics, and an insert of extensive liner notes and photos.

It’s hard to believe anyone managed to find all of the 78s from which the recordings are sourced, let alone compile them into one reissue. More impressive than the rarity, however, is the quality of the performances, as well as their eclectic variety. Most of them do share a somewhat somber, melancholic feel sometimes verging on piety, in the melodies, vocals (for those pieces that feature them), and ways in which the instruments are played.

But the fierce emotion and passion underlying the execution is both undeniable and moving. Despite the age of the original discs, the sound is about as good as it can be with such relatively ancient material with which to work, and the annotation thorough and accessible.

Bush Taxi Mali

April 27, 2015

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edited review from Ryan Thomas Skinner:
Bush Taxi Mali: Field Recordings from Mali (2004, recorded and assembled by Tucker Martine, Sublime Frequencies CD, SF012)

Listening, we hear tired footsteps shuffling over sand and gravel amid the chirping, cooing, and crowing of crickets, pigeons, and roosters. Then we notice the sounds of a mande lute (ngoni) and xylophone (bala) lightly exploring their registers before locking into an accompaniment. Behind them, only the crickets remain. This is how Tucker Martine’s evocative collection of West African field recordings, Bush Taxi Mali, begins.

The album represents Martine’s aural encounter with Mali, a landlocked sub- Saharan country that is home to a wide array of acoustic and electric music traditions, a handful of which are featured on the disc’s fourteen tracks. Yet, Bush Taxi Mali is more than a generic compilation of Malian music; it is also an exploration of the sounds that texture everyday life in Mali.

In “Mopti Niger Walking,” we follow Martine on an afternoon stroll through a raucous riverine marketplace, a wandering that gently fades into the contrapuntal string duet, “Segou,” a version of the classic Mande hunter’s praise song “Kulanjan.” (A later track titled “Kaira” is actually the Mande griot standard “kayira.”) Here, Martine suggests the significant role that sound (musical or otherwise) plays in structuring a sense of place.

Elsewhere, he evokes sound’s equal capacity to displace, momentarily setting the listener adrift in anonymous spaces of auditory possibility. This is most apparent in “Bambaran Wedding celebration” where distorted song and amplified feedback mix with a cacophony of drums, only to give way to a full minute of eerie, almost otherworldly sounds (likely rendered in the studio), conveying the raw acoustic shadow of the outdoor festivities Martine observes.

On track 2, “Radio Bamako,” Martine offers the listener a taste of Mali’s low- fidelity urban airwaves. Track 3 features a solo performance on the banjo-like ngoni in the southern town of Kéla. Track 4, “Fouta Djallon,” is a reference to Guinea’s Fulbe heartland, Fuuta Jalloo; here Martine travels north to Mopti, where he captures the haunting melodies of the Fulbe lute or tambin. Back in Kéla on track 5, “Autorail” presents the voice of Aminata Diabaté singing a lover’s lament in the Mande griot style (jeliya).

And so the CD unfolds. The resulting pastiche is an eloquent compilation of storied moments—each personably related by Martine in the liner notes—that still manage to tell a traveler’s tale as a whole.

 

Music from Saharan Cellphones

April 22, 2015

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by Chris Kirkley (from http://sahelsounds.com and afropop.org):

Music from Saharan Cellphones is a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Saharan desert.

In much of West Africa, cellphones are are used as all purpose multimedia devices. In lieu of personal computers and high speed internet, the knockoff cellphones house portable music collections, playback songs on tinny built in speakers, and swap files in a very literal peer to peer Bluetooth wireless transfer.

The songs chosen for the compilation were some of the highlights — music that is immensely popular on the unofficial mp3/cellphone network from Abidjan to Bamako to Algiers, but have limited or no commercial release. They’re also songs that tend towards this new world of self production — Fruity Loops, home studios, synthesizers, and Autotune.

The “Music from Saharan Cell Phones” compilation was this idea that I had when I was doing field recordings. I noticed that there was a lot of other music that people were listening to on their cell phones. West African people use their cell phones like people use their iPods, or iPhones, or iTunes – it’s a way to store and trade your digital mp3s. I noticed that people were listening on their phones to stuff that I had never heard before – crazy stuff, with drum machines, Autotune…

All this really contemporary music that I couldn’t find anything about. You couldn’t Google it- it didn’t exist on the Internet.  Sometimes people didn’t know who the composers were on the music, they just had these unidentified mp3s on their phones. So I started collecting mp3s from people’s cell phones and I brought that back to the states. Over the next couple years, I worked on tracking down a some of my favorite tracks that I collected, finding out who made those songs, contacting them, licensing them, and putting together a compilation. (more…)

Old Time Music of the Wild West

April 18, 2015

markrex

from http://www.cdbaby.com:

Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West by Mark Gardner & Rex Rideout

Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout are today’s premier performers and interpreters of the historic music of the American West. Gardner, in addition to his music, is a prolific historian and writer focusing on the 19th-century Western experience.

From the well known fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveller” to obscure pieces such as “Capt. Jinks of the Horse Marines,” Gardner and Rideout’s “Frontier Favorites: Old-Time Music of the Wild West” offers a variety of historic popular music rarely heard on one release. A wide selection of period instruments were used in the recording: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, bones, and even jawbone!

Review of “Frontier Favorites” by  Jon Chandler:

With Frontier Favorites, Rideout and his musical cohort Mark Gardner have created a stylistically accurate period piece filled with 21 tunes that are historically exact, yet can be appreciated by contemporary sensibilities. Sound, composition, instrumental technique and vocal technique – each is absolutely perfect, a dramatic tribute to our frontier legacy. In essence, the songs of the American Frontier are brought to life in exactly the form they would have been heard a century and a half ago.

It is eerily accurate, performed with skill and devotion by musical historians who could easily be transported to 1850 and not be found out! Mark Gardner and Rex Rideout have done more than just record the tunes of the American Frontier. They have recreated the music through exacting research combined with impressive musical ability. What they bring to the listener is the prototype for Country, Americana, Western and Folk music; before Nashville, before Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Uncle Dave Macon. Its instrumentation was portable and nearly primitive, with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and bones taking center stage in an era when guitars were a rarity.


The music on this disc is precisely what your ancestors heard, what they danced to. It encompasses the songs they sang and the tunes they hummed. It’s a musical journey to the mid-19th century that transcends cultural nostalgia; this music is realistic enough in style and content to have been played and sung in its exact form on the Western frontier.
This is an essential recording for those who seek to understand the roots of America’s music. It is rollicking, it is exhilarating, and most of all, it is real.

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song

April 16, 2015

 

PapaCharlie

from edited review by Patrick Byrket (http://blackgrooves.org):

Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song: Celebrating The Music of “Papa” Charlie Jackson (Document Records DOCD 7010)

If you have ever wondered about when and where the blues began, this new CD might give you a better idea.  Papa Charlie Done Sung That Song is a great collection of one of the first major stars in the genre of blues.

Before delving into the CD, please allow a little bit of history on Papa Charlie Jackson.  He was born William Henry Jackson in 1885 in New Orleans.

Jackson, who originally performed in minstrel and medicine shows, played a number of instruments including banjo, guitar, and the ukulele. He was also one of the first musicians during that time to have a double career in jazz and blues.  In the mid-1920s he moved to Chicago where he began “busking” at the famous Maxwell Street Market.  In 1924, he started his recording career as “Charlie Jackson” on the Paramount label and had released over 70 sides by 1936.  His career did suffer during the onset of the Great Depression, and he died in Chicago in 1938.

This two CD set, accompanied by a 16 page booklet that has a great biography of Papa Charlie by Jas Obrecht, is a wonderful tribute to one of the pioneers of the blues. The project is the brainchild of Cary Moskovitz. Moskovitz is joined by Jen Maurer, Adam Tanner, Dom Flemons, and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton to perform new interpretations of 15 songs by Papa Charlie–accompanied with various combinations of six-string and tenor banjo, piano, guitar, bass, fiddle, and other instruments.

The second CD presents Papa Charlie Jackson’s original recordings of the same 15 songs, expertly remastered.  The contrast between the two CDs is nothing but outstanding.  To be able to hear the love and the care that contemporary musicians give to the songs is almost like being back in the 1920s, while the remastered versions of Papa Charlie’s recordings are so clear you might think he is still playing his songs on a street corner somewhere.

 

 

KENYA AND BACK AGAIN

April 15, 2015

masengo

from http://www.elijahwald.com:
KENYA AND BACK AGAIN by JEAN-BOSCO MWENDA

AND EDOUARD MASENGO

(CD available from Elijah Wald)  i

Jean-Bosco Mwenda (known later in life as Mwenda Wa Bayeke) was the
most famous and influential of the virtuoso fingerstyle guitarists who

flourished  in Southeastern Congo, near the Zambian border, in the 1950s.

His first recording, “Masanga,” was imitated throughout sub-Saharan Africa,
and he went on to make more than 200 records, both in the Congo and during
a stay of over a year inNairobi, Kenya, as well as performing in Europe and at
the Newport Folk Festival.

In the late 1950s, both Jean-Bosco and his cousin Edouard Masengo went to
Nairobi, where there was a more active music scene. Bosco got a radio job
advertising a headache remedy, Aspro, but after a little over a year he decided
to go home to Lubumbashi (at that time Elizabethville).

Masengo stayed in Nairobi, where he remained a popular performer through
the 1960s. As a result, although in the Congo he was not considered as important
a figure as Bosco or Losta Abelo, Masengo is far more popular in Kenya.

His style is lighter than Bosco’s, and his guitar work less virtuosic, but there is a
lovely lilt to his singing, and he prided himself on his varied repertoire. The interview
that finishes this CD, apparently recorded in Kenya in the early 1960s, finds him
singing such oddities as “Paper Doll” and a Swahili “Jamaica Farewell” along with
his own compositions.

The other tracks are largely Kenyan commercial recordings from 1959-1960
(I have assigned credits by ear, and welcome corrections). The last three Bosco
tracks are from a tape he had in his home, recorded I believe in the late 1970s,
and I recorded the last pre-interview Masengo track in 1990. Overall, the sound
on these recordings is much cleaner than on the Radio Zaire 78s.

To buy this CD, go here.

Ngoma: the Early Years

April 12, 2015

L2RhdGEvd2ViL250YW1hL3dlYi9udGFtYS9pbWFnZXMvc3Rvcmllcy9yZXZpZXdzL25nb20xY3YuanBnNgoma, the Early Years , 1948-1960 (Popular African Music CD):

from www.uni-hildesheim.de and www.allmusic.com:

The liner notes tell a fascinating story of a family of Greek import-export traders who started at mines in the then-Belgian Congo, and branched out to open up the Ngoma label in the mid-1940s. Ngoma may have been the very first label recording early Congolese artists, and the label’s unusual push to promote and distribute its music was apparently fundamental in Zairian/Congolese rumba becoming a pan-African sound more than a national one.

The master tapes were lost in a pressing plant fire, and a pristine vinyl collection destroyed in Kinshasa, so the songs here were transferred from old discs, and the sound quality is fairly rough and very compressed. More important, this music is very much pre-full-band-rumba-phase that took off with Franco and others in the mid-’50s, so there aren’t any flashy rave-ups.

It’s dominated by lilting acoustic guitars backing singers, with the Cuban influences pretty implicit. If anything, it sounds like a parallel to pre-electric band pop stages, like mento in Jamaica, or pre-Mighty Sparrow calypso in Trinidad (Some rural Cuban styles would probably fit the profile, too).

The disc is bookended by two versions of Congolese legend Wendo’s “Marie-Louise”: the 1948 track plaintive with guitar, the 1958 one with a full band in cha cha mode. Camille Mokoko contributes two strong songs — “Ekoko Bata” is an ad for Bata shoes — and the first taste of light electric guitar surfaces on “Yen Vavanga,” by Manuel D’Oliveira. There are faint traces of the Franco sound-to-come here, and “Njila Ya Ndolo” features Antoine Moundanda’s high-pitched voice, answering group harmonies, and introducing what sounds like a marimba. (more…)

FRED COCKERHAM CD

April 8, 2015

index

A RE-POST (WITH MORE INFO)

from countysales.com:

FRED COCKERHAM “Sunny Home In Dixie” (FC-2014, $ 13.50)
A fine old-time fiddler and fretless banjo player
in his day, Cockerham taught and encouraged many
younger musicians who have helped popularize the
Round Peak style of old time music.
Although Cockerham was past his prime when these recordings
were made, there is enough of interest in the 24 songs
and tunes to make this a welcome release for Fred’s many
friends. The tunes included make up a good part of his
repertoire, with such Round Peak favorites as TEMPY, CHILLY
WINDS, LEE COUNTY BLUES, JACK OF DIAMONDS, OLD
JIMMY SUTTON, and 8th OF JANUARY.
Cockerham was most likely in his prime in the 1940s, and
interestingly picked up some songs and tunes that were not of the
Round Peak variety, such as NATURAL BRIDGE BLUES (most
likely learned from Tommy Magness, fiddler for the very popular
Roy Hall’s band).
And, as was common among local musicians, he
borrowed from the popular Bluegrass bands of the day,
in this case HEAD OVER HEELS IN LOVE, which he
called “I’M GOING ACROSS THE OCEAN”.
The material on this disc ranges from somewhat rough and
choppy (MOLLY PUT THE KETTLE ON) to a smooth
and solid rendering of JOHN BROWN’S DREAM.
Some of the pieces were taken from live recordings.
Various musicians are heard here adding their accom-
paniment: these include Clay Buckner, Doug Hill, Mike
Fishback and Nowell Creadick.

Storyville Stringband

April 2, 2015

1010

edited review by Seva Benet (http://sevavenet.com):

The Storyville Stringband of New Orleans: My Bayou Home (cdbaby.com)

When one thinks of a string band performing jazz what will readily come to mind will probably be an ensemble modeled after a Django Reinhardt band. There is, however, an exciting string jazz ensemble that predates the Hot-clubs: the New Orleans string bands that were swinging hot when Louis Armstrong was still in short pants.

Edmond “Doc” Souchon’s band, the 6 7/8 string band of New Orleans. formed around 1911 and modeled itself after the string bands the members heard around New Orleans, especially around the Storyville district where Armstrong delivered coal, sold papers and got his first professional gig subbing for Joe “King” Oliver.

The Storyville Stringband has been picking its way into the 21st century carrying a torch that was reduced to embers after the passing of Souchon in the late 1960’s.  On their 2nd CD “My Bayou Home”, the Storyville Stringband plays all acoustic mostly vintage string instruments including a 1929 National triolian steel guitar, a 1937 Gibson L7, a 2011 Deering V-6 Senator 6 string banjo, a 1927 Vega Little wonder banjo mandolin, a 1930 Martin, 1937 National triolian tenor guitar, violin, mandolin, and upright bass.

The CD was recorded live in two sessions featuring different configurations of the above instrumentation with half the songs featuring a four piece combo of bass, rhythm guitar, mandolin or violin, and lead acoustic guitar or “Hawaiian” style slide. The other half of the CD features, instead of mandolin and violin, a mandolin banjo and/or a tenor guitar. Also, the 6 string banjo is featured on two songs.

“My Bayou Home” is a collection of mostly original tunes that delve deep into New Orleans traditional roots music. Though any one of these songs would be perfect for a complete jazz ensemble, they are presented here in two configurations of string ensembles loosely modeled after the early string bands of New Orleans (most notably the exciting 6 7/8 string band).
“My Bayou Home” includes instrumental and vocal songs tastefully influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, Ragtime (there are three rags here), traditional spiritual hymns (the George Lewis inspired title track), New Orleans string bands (with a vocal feature by the rhythm guitarist John Parker whose grandfather was the leader and founder of the 6 7/8 string band), a celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans (aptly titled “Celebrate!” and building on the popular latin cinquillo rhythm) as well as two Hawaiian numbers, including the popular Louis Armstrong hit “Song of the Islands.”

Louisiana Cajun and Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings

March 30, 2015

louisiana-cajun-and-creole-music-the-newport-field-recordings-150x150

from http://www.offbeat.com:

Louisiana Cajun & Creole Music: The Newport Field Recordings (Rounder Records)

The Newport Folk Foundation played a pivotal role in the resurgence of Cajun-Creole music when its future looked bleak. At the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, a performance by a Cajun trio that included Dewey Balfa turned out to be a turning point when an audience of 17,000 gave them a thunderous, standing ovation. Since local popular opinion had scoffed at the idea of Cajun musicians playing out-of-state beforehand, the response came as a welcome surprise.

Balfa would go on to become a cultural spokesperson, urging his fellow Cajuns to be proud of their music. Cajun-Creole bands were booked in successive years; Adam and Cyprien Landreneau in ’65, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Canray Fontenot in ’66 and Les Frères Balfa in ’67.

Between 1964 and 1967, the Foundation’s folklorist emeritus Ralph Rinzler visited Louisiana and made these field recordings of the aforementioned plus Austin Pitre and the Evangeline Playboys, ballad singer/fiddler Edius Naquin, and a trio consisting of Isom Fontenot, Preston Manuel and Aubrey DeVille.

Now, in its third generation of reissue, both volumes of Rounder’s historical Louisiana Cajun French Music are combined into one epic, 27-track disc. Though that fact is omitted from the physical packaging, it is mentioned in the vastly expanded liner notes, an 84-page PDF document embedded in the disc. Incidentally, be prepared to spend some time digesting the document’s articles, interviews and lyric translations.

Many of the tunes heard here are sonic signatures of their respective performers, such as the Balfa Brothers’ “Parlez-nous à boire,” Canray Fontenot’s “Bonsoir, Moreau” and Austin Pitre’s “Les flames d’Enfer.” Armed with quality equipment, Rinzler certainly captured the best of his subjects. The performances are often gut- wrenchingly powerful and highly emotive, causing them to resonate within the soul some six decades later.

Acadian All Star Special

March 27, 2015

from http://www.bear-family.com:

Acadian All Star Special, 3-CD boxed set (LP-size) with 80-page-hardcover Book, 78 tracks, playing time 209:50.
A roots music classic from Bear Family! The dawn of modern Cajun music! Records so rare that just a few copies exist of most of them! Very few of these recordings ever reissued on 45, LP, or CD until now! Songs include the original version of ‘Diggy Liggy Lo’ plus ‘Big Texas’…the song that Hank Williams adapted into ‘Jambalaya’.
This was a set years in the making. It took ages to figure out exactly how many classic Cajun recordings had been made by legendary record producer J.D. Miller in the 1940s and ’50s, and then it took even longer to find them and painstakingly restore the sound. Finally, Cajun music expert Lyle Ferbrache tried to track down as many of the survivors and relatives as possible for the extensive book. But it was well worth the wait! The result is a classic roots music collection done as only Bear Family can do it!
From 1946 to 1959, J.D. Miller released all forms of French language records, from the beautiful fiddle and guitar records of Oran ‘Doc’Guidry and Leroy ‘Happy Fats’ Leblanc to the raucous recordings of Robert Bertrand and the Lake Charles Playboys. Many very rare recordings are reissued here for the first time, and those include the first recordings of Jimmy Newman. Also included are such rarities as ‘War Widow Waltz’ by LauraBroussard, Terry Clement’s original version of ‘DiggyLiggy Lo’, and Papa Cairo’s ‘Big Texas’, the song that Hank Williams adapted into the one Cajun song everyone knows, ‘Jambalaya’. This is a marvelous part of American music that came close to being lost for all time!

Folk and the Roots of American Music

March 24, 2015

Folk1

 Troubadours: Folk and the Roots of American Music (Bear Family, four 3-disc volumes)

Reviewed by Ed Ward (addictedtonoise.com):

As a longtime folkie, my curiosity was piqued by this latest collection, which covers the American folk scene from the earliest songwriters to pass themselves off as folk (or, to be fair, to be passed off that way by their record companies), through, well, through I’m not sure what. To call the overriding concept of this collection, if there is one,  “eccentric” would be an understatement. I was fairly close to the ‘60s folk scene in New York as a teenaged fan, and quite frankly I don’t recognize its picture here, which makes me wonder about the rest of the project.

The first three discs take us from pioneers like the Carter Family (who actually composed most of their own songs, sometimes to traditional tunes) and Lead Belly (whose famous “Good Night Irene” turned out to have been written by a professional songwriter in Cincinnati in the late 19th century) through the political folksong movement epitomized by Woody Guthrie and the Almanac Singers, who included Pete Seeger.

The story then continues through the early 1950s, the Weavers (who also included Pete Seeger), and the earliest pop-folk group, the Tarriers. The next trio surveys, on its first disc, the collegiate groups like the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and so on, and then moves on to two discs of the New York scene of the early ‘60s, via Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, Tim Hardin, and others. So far, mostly so good, although I was kind of shocked that the infamous graffito on Minetta Lane (“Tim Hardin is a bad boy”) in front of which so many folkies were photographed, isn’t even alluded to.

The next three discs show the folk scare in full flower, and the early days of folk-rock. Disc 7 is devoted to three performers, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Buffy Ste-Marie. Then it’s on to a survey of Boston’s scene, and, on Disc 9, something labeled “The East Coast” that, well, starts to make less sense. The Lovin Spoonful, Tim Rose, and…Jim Croce? Melanie? (more…)

New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949

March 19, 2015

seva-venet-revisiting--300x300

(http://www.offbeat.com):

Seva Venet, Revisiting New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949 (Threadhead Records)

In addition to playing hundreds of gigs in his 15 years in the Crescent City, guitarist/banjoist Seva Venet has done some serious study of the early string bands of New Orleans.

Like the mandolin orchestras which used to populate the land, this is a nearly extinct genre: How often today do you hear, for instance, a quartet of mandolin, fiddle, banjo and upright bass playing ragtime and early jazz?

For this listener, the disc is most exciting when it touches on music that’s tangential to what we usually consider the prime elements that made up early jazz. These include “El Zopilote Mojado” (a Mexican Polka), which clarinetist James Evans, violinist Matt Rhody and Venet pull off with a superb brio; and the medley of “Creole Belles/Aloha Oe/My Bucket’s Got a Hole in it.”

It’s great fun to hear “Belles” played with a tango rhythm (as it undoubtedly could’ve been back in the day) and to realize that “Aloha Oe” (the “Saints” of Hawaiian music) was part of the New Orleans mix in 1884.

This disc also presents Seva’s reimagining of what a quadrille might have sounded like by an 1880s New Orleans string band—an ambitious undertaking. By taking on this project, Venet has delved into areas where not many musicologists have wandered (though at the same time he gives credit to those who’ve done important research).

Fifteen pages of notes accompany the CD, and Emilie Rhys’ beautiful translation of a photo of an old-time trio into her singular ink-drawing style is the icing on this cake.

The Mississippi

March 17, 2015

CMJN de base

from http://www.redlick.com:

THE MISSISSIPPI (2CD), Accords Croises (AC156/57)

Big Jack Johnson, Zion Harmonizers, Spider John Koerner, Leo Welch, Kermit Ruffins, L. C. Ulmer, Rebirth Brass Band, Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, Magnolia Sisters, Little Freddie King, Como Fife And Drum Band, South Memphis String Band and more…

The Mississippi River flows from the Great Lakes region all the way to the Gulf Of Mexico and passes through a wide variety of cities, towns and rural communities, In doing so, it interacts with a whole cornucopia of people and, by extension, has influenced, and continues to influence, many musical styles and idioms.

Across this massively impressive 28 track compilation, the extent of this musical variety is given full expression. It includes representative, as well as wonderfully impressive and enjoyable, slices of many of the divergent styles that have made up American music for generations. Furthermore, the offerings are almost all of a relatively recent vintage, demonstrating that the musical traditions that evolved around the Mississippi over many years continue to be vibrant and relevant to this day. Incorporated herein are tremendous examples of delta blues, Cajun and zydeco, New Orleans jazz, gospel, folk, swamp pop and much more besides.

The set gets off to a thumping start with an electric blues number (and near-Howlin’ Wolf pastiche) about Hurricane Katrina from Big Jack Johnson And The Cornlickers. Some other corking inclusions that dedicated Red Lickers may already be familiar with are the North Mississippi gospel blues sides from both Leo Welch and Reverend John Wilkins (both courtesy of Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess albums), contemporary juke blues from Big A &  The All-Stars (from Broke & Hungry’s superb We Juke Up In Here) and the contemporary delta blues of Little Freddie King (from Messin’ Around The House on Madewright) and Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes (Broke & Hungry).

Moving beyond blues related numbers, other highlights can be found anywhere you look. Kermit Ruffins Treme Mardi Gras is an enlivening stew of New Orleans jazz, funk, rap, soul and rock and is guaranteed to get your butt rockin’, as will the Rebirth Brass Band’s more traditional, but no less lively, New Orleans street jazz on I Like It Like That. Mixing traditional folk with Cajun, Cedric Watson’s La Vieille Chanson de Mardi Gras is another up-tempo number that hits the spot every time.

On the quieter and more reflective numbers, Afrissippi’s Nduumandii/Hands Off That Girl beautifully blends Mississippi delta blues stylings with African blues patterns across six gorgeous minutes. The Jones Sisters acapella gospel  singing on Talk With Jesus and The Magnolia Sisters old-time Cajun harmonies on L’Annee de Cinquante – Sept are both subtle delights that end far too soon.

The oldest track included here, both in terms of the musical traditions and the date of recording, is the Como Fife And Drum Band’s on Punky Tony (recorded in  in 1967 and previously available on the sensational George Mitchell Collection, a 7CD set on Fat Possum). The atmosphere evoked by this spine-chilling music encourages reflections on the Mississippi’s influence on the creation and operation of the slave trade so many years ago.

And rounding off this special offering is the packaging, set within a nice hardback book format is a 28 page booklet that provides (in English and French) a short introduction to the concept of the set and short informative individual portraits of each featured artist.

Devil in the Seat

March 13, 2015

index

from http://www.hearthmusic.com:
The Foghorn Stringband
Devil in the Seat

The Foghorn Stringband is the present day shining gold standard for American string band music, with eight albums, thousands of shows, over a decade of touring under their belts, and an entirely new generation of old-time musicians following their lead. Through all this, they’ve never let the music grow cold; instead they’ve been steadily proving that American roots music is a never-ending well of inspiration.

The music of The Foghorn Stringband today, as heard on their new album Devil In The Seat, revolves around four master musicians: Portland, Oregon-based Caleb Klauder (vocals, mandolin, fiddle) and Reeb Willms (vocals, guitar), and Yukon-based Nadine Landry (vocals, upright bass) and Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind (vocals, fiddle, banjo).

Each member of The Foghorn Stringband comes not only from a different part of the American roots music spectrum, but leads the pack in their field as well. Caleb Klauder’s wistful, keening vocals and rapid-fire mandolin picking are as influenced by Southern roots music as much as by his upbringing in Washington State.

Also from Washington, Reeb Willms grew up in the state’s Eastern farmlands singing hard-bitten honky-tonk with her family. Nadine Landry’s roots lie in the rural backroads of Acadian Québec, but she cut her teeth as one of the best bluegrass bassists in Western Canada. Minnesotan Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, simply put, is one of the best old-time fiddlers of his generation and has a voice that sounds like it’s coming from an old 78.

Onstage, The Foghorn Stringband gather around one microphone, balancing their music on the fly, and playing with an intense, fiery abandon. To make their new album, Devil in the Seat, the band retreated to the island paradise of Kauai, where, surrounded by coconut palms, beachside views and margaritas, they blazed through a set of old favorites and new discoveries.

The music on Devil in the Seat reaches from roots in Appalachia, like Clyde Davenport’s fiddle tune “Lost Gal,” the old square dance song “Stillhouse,” or “Mining Camp Blues” which comes from their friend Alice Gerrard, all the way to the early neon lights of Nashville (“90 Miles an Hour” from Hank Snow). It touches on old gospel (“Longing for A Home” from The Cooke Duet), newly composed fiddle tunes (“Jailbreak”), even British folk (“What Will We Do”). Throughout, the honest intensity of the music remains the trademark of The Foghorn Stringband. They see no reason to polish this music, or to deviate from the roots which first inspired them.

To Foghorn, this music is as relevant today as it was a century ago. They see themselves not as revivalists, but as curators and ardent fans, and their music is a celebration of these roots.  From their origins in Portland Oregon’s underground roots music scene in the late 90s and early 00s, when members of today’s hot bands like The Decemberists and Blind Pilot were gathering to explore the roots of American folk music, The Foghorn Stringband have spread the old-time string band gospel all over the world.

Along the way, they’ve brought in influences and inspirations from their many travels and late-night jam sessions. Old-time square dance tunes now rub shoulders with Cajun waltzes, vintage honky-tonk songs, and pre-bluegrass picking. This is the kind of bubbling musical brew which first intoxicated the American mainstream in the days when “country music” was just being invented.

Allen Bros. on JSP

March 8, 2015

By the early 1920’s, already professional musicians, they settled in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga would feature in a number of their titles to the extent they were dubbed the Chattanooga Boys.

In Chattanooga the Allen’s got on radio once or twice a week – a bonus because radio was then the most effective form of publicity. The result was lucrative bookings as far afield as Georgia. They also performed for medicine shows – the musicians gathered a receptive audience for the show owner to exploit.

The Allen’s seem to have entered the recording studio fairly seamlessly and they had decent record sales. They recorded regularly – most years twice or more. Their sales were sufficient for them to continue to record well into the 1930’s – many musicians were discarded because of the depression.

The Allen Brothers were the first of the brothers groups that cut popular Country records in the late 1920s and 30s. The were followed by other blues-based brother acts like the Callahans, Sheltons and Delmores. The Allen Brothers created a unique sound based on fast-paced, upbeat blues and ragtime influenced songs. Their bawdy, humorous good-time lyrics, mixed with up-tempo renditions and Lee Allen’s delightful kazoo leads are reminiscent of the early jug bands. They were one of the first Country groups to base their sound on the blues and ragtime styles found in African-American groups. In fact the Allens’ second recording for Columbia was mistaken for an African-American group and release on Columbia’s “race” label, used only for African-American groups!

See also here.

Dan Gellert DVD/CD

March 6, 2015

gellert-8-1024x422

by Geff Crawford (http://www.cbaontheweb.org):


There’s a wonderful new CD/DVD set of Dan Gellert, old-time fiddler and banjo player, put out by the Old-Time Tiki Parlour (http://oldtimetikiparlour.com/) based in Los Angeles. Dan’s fiddle and banjo style make him one of the premier old-time musicians around. I recommend this set at the highest level, whether you are already an old-time musician or fan, or just want to experience the music played at its best. I believe that Dan’s recordings are limited besides this one—two cassette albums, one with Brad Leftwich (“A Moment In Time”) and the other with his band Shoofly (“Forked Deer”), plus a CD of Dan called “Waitin’ On The Break Of Day”.

Just to get the details out of the way, this set is an audio CD of 19 fiddle and banjo tunes and songs, and a video DVD of Dan playing the tunes for all the world to see. The price is $25, with the usual disclaimer about my having any connection or financial benefit. Here are the tunes, half on banjo and half on fiddle, and yes, I know 19 is an odd number:

John Henry / Poor Rosy / Pretty Little Shoes / The Cuckoo / Nancy Dalton / Old Jimmy Sutton / Midnight / Fall On My Knees / Black-Eyed Suzy / Eph Got A Coon / Railroad Through The Rocky Mountains / Reuben / Shaking Down The Acorns / Cora Dye / Big Tennessee / Sail Away Ladies / The Girl I Left Behind Me / I’ll Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms / Raleigh & Spencer

One might ask why one would want a video of the same tunes that are on the audio CD. My answer is a long one. First, Dan’s style is iconic, masterful, and beautiful, and therefore possibly a mystery to anyone wanting to use it improve his/her own playing. The combination of audio and video gives a potential leg up to understanding that mystery.

Second, this is a wonderfully produced, recorded, and videoed set that has excellent audio and visual quality, greater than recordings or films of past (sometimes LONG past) players available online or elsewhere. The quote from Dan about how to play like he does is, “Listen to the same dead guys that I listened to.” That’s not always easy when old technology gets in the way—this set eliminates those problems. Third, Dan’s rhythm and bluesy style come across powerfully when you can actually watch him play and watch him love the music he’s making.

Order here.

1865: Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War

March 3, 2015
Anonymous 4 & Bruce Molsky
Anonymous 4 and special guest Bruce Molsky commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War with songs that were in the air in the year 1865. It includes ballads and choruses originally intended for the stage and the parlor, as well as songs and instrumental tunes from the hills and back roads of America. They portray the highly emotional, personal stories of soldiers, widows and others who lived through one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

1865 — subtitled Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War — is the third release in what’s become an Americana triptych from Anonymous 4 (less anonymously, Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek).This time around, they’re joined by an excellent old-time musician, Bruce Molsky, who sings and plays fiddle, banjo and guitar.

It’s an organic collaboration, but the combination also evokes a specific dynamic: women tending the homefront, men on the battlefield. And as in their two previous releases of American songs, American Angels and Gloryland, the singing is gorgeous, with deep, sweet feeling. By the time “Abide with Me” and “Shall We Gather at the River” roll around at the close of this album, it’s quite possible you’ll be sniffling.

One hundred and 50 years on, there are still a few songs whose tunes and ideas remain familiar, including Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” published in 1854, and Robert Lowry’s 1864 “Shall We Gather at the River?” Another, the 1861 love song “Aura Lee,” found new life in another context altogether, as the melody for one of Elvis Presley’s biggest hits, “Love Me Tender.” But some have largely receded from popular memory; if some of today’s alt-folkies are looking for “new” material, there’s plenty here.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate how important singing was during the Civil War, not just for those waiting back home but to the fighting men as well. Songwriters raced to churn out thousands of new tunes and publishers created small booklets of lyrics, called “songsters,” that soldiers and civilians could carry in their pockets. Some were abolitionist songs, some were Southern and in many, words were switched out to favor one side or the other.

But as Anonymous 4 mention in their liner notes, there are many wartime accounts of opposing soldiers, in their camps pitched across a battlefield or river from each other, trading songs back and forth in succession and even raising their voices together. In the present days of deep rifts and political enmities — hard times, to be sure — it’s good to remember what has the power to bind us together.

String Band Music from the Seychelles Islands

February 28, 2015

Seychelles

from www.mustrad.org:

Seychelles 1 : Dances et Romances de l’Ancienne France (Kamtole des Isles Seychelles) (Ocora 558 534).

Who could ever have expected to discover that some of the most exciting dance music ever recorded was still being played among the Creole population of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean?

To say I was gobsmacked on first hearing is the understatement of the decade.  Only subsequent research revealed that the performers were formally constituted as the Anse Boileau Kamtole Band, and were still (twenty years ago, at any rate) performing regularly in a hotel context for tourists, in tandem with a female quadrille demonstration team.

It is hardly surprising that this fact was played down in the sleevenotes to the Ocora issue, for the music is so old at its core that such a revelation would have been simply redundant.  Fiddles, guitars, banjo-mandolin and bass drum with cymbal are overlaid with the most rhythmically-inventive triangle ever, the complex playing being all the more admirable for the performer simultaneously calling the dance instructions.

The notes suggested that in the past (the featured items were made in 1977) the ‘accordeon’ (for which read ‘melodeon’), ‘which is becoming ever rarer [on the island]’, had formerly been an integral part of the music.  Recordings made slightly later, and released on Anse Boileau Kantole Band : Seychelles – Musique Traditionelle (Palm, no number) and Souvenir of Seychelles Camtole Music Introducing The Anse Boileau Camtole Band (Dasco DAS 006), restore the instrument and what a great addition it proves to be. This is essentially archaic dance music, originally performed in England and thence throughout the European continent during the eighteenth century, filtered through the vernacular tradition and transformed beyond all recognition into something truly spectacular.

Listen here.

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Anna and Elizabeth

February 24, 2015

4PAN1TSPB

http://freedirtrecords.com:

ANNA ROBERTS-GEVALT and ELIZABETH LAPRELLE are based in Southwest Virginia. They met, coming at traditional Appalachian music from different directions.  Anna was in a touring old-time band.  Elizabeth was singing ballads in far-away states.

They came together  to create a different kind of show: one that used theater and stories to show people what they love about old tunes and ballads.  They also knew that keeping the music in the mountains–playing in their communities, playing for schools–was part of the job. With that, they set about making crankies, and learning stories, and trading songs and tunes.

Anna & Elizabeth honor Appalachian artistry and shed new light upon tradition. They have made their most compelling work to date in their new self-titled album on Free Dirt Records.

A collection of 16 traditional songs thoughtfully gathered and interpreted, the album guides listeners through the duo’s intense personal connection with each song, for an experience that is as warm and intimate as their one-of-a-kind live performances.

Soaring through rousing old-time dance numbers, haunting Appalachian ballads and lilting lullabies, Anna & Elizabeth showcases the incredible vocal capabilities of both LaPrelle and Roberts-Gevalt, and shimmers with breathtaking moments of harmony, all laid atop masterfully executed instrumentals. A record equally as invigorating as it is contemplative, Anna & Elizabeth allows for the prolific talents of these two young women to shine brighter than ever before.

Bob Walters

February 17, 2015

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from http://mofiddledance.org and http://missourifiddling.blogspot.com:

Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters is little-known outside Missouri Valley fiddle circles, but that’s about to change with the new release of eighty of Bob’s best tunes on “Bob Walters, The Champion: Classic Missouri Valley Fiddling from Dwight Lamb’s Collection.”

Long before the days of the iPod or even the portable tape recorder, Dwight Lamb was collecting recordings from Bob Walters on wire recorders, reel-to-reels, or whatever the latest technology might be. Now we’re lucky to have his amazing collection of Bob Walters recordings cherry-picked into this giant two-CD set which demonstrates both Mr. Walters’ mastery of the instrument and his breadth of repetoire. The set includes reels, waltzes, polkas and quadrilles, and even a few more rare birds, and tunes are sourced all the way from Kentucky to Canada and beyond.

Standouts include some familiar tunes like Bill Cheatum and Dusty Miller, along with contest favorites like The Inimitable Reel and Friendship Waltz, as well as less commonly known gems like the masterful Silver Lake Quadrille and The Prodigal Son. Instrumentation includes plenty of solo fiddle and guitar/fiddle, as well as Goldie Walters’ stellar pump organ playing and a few featuring Dwight playing along on his accordion.

Walters is a seminal figure in Midwestern fiddling whose influence on the tradition was considerable during the 1940 and 50s, the heyday of agricultural broadcasting in the Central states.  Walters, a Nebraska native, performed over numerous radio stations in the region and was widely admired and imitated by such well-known performers as Cyril Stinnett, Lonnie Robertson and Dwight Lamb.

The recordings, most dating to the 1950s, are from Dwight Lamb’s personal collection.  The Walters and Lamb families were close friends when Dwight was growing up and he became Walters protege, ultimately learning much of his repertoire.  If you liked the two recordings of Dwight released by Rounder (Hell Agin the Barn Door and Joseph Won A Coated Fiddle) then this album will be of great interest.  Incidentally, Mark Wilson, who produced Dwight’s CDs and many other great recordings in the North American Traditions Series, had a hand in this work.  Included on the CD is an extensive set of notes by Mark in PDF format.

Bob Walters appeared on two cassettes issued by the Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association and figured prominently on the U of MO Press two-record LP The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory.  All of these recordings are out-of-print, so this new release of Walters music is of particular importance.  It is worth noting that transcriptions of Walters’ music outnumber all others in R. P. Christeson’s two volumes of The Old Time Fiddlers Repertory.

To order write to Missouri Valley Music, 511 South Pleasant, Canton, South Dakota 57013 or send an email to missourivalleymusic@sio.midco.net.  The CD set costs $20, including postage.

Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country – Box Set

February 8, 2015

 

from http://valcourrecords.com:

It’s Valcour’s 27th release and our most massive undertaking to date: a landmark, limited edition project to celebrate our tenth year in business along with the Alan Lomax Centennial!

Producers Joel Savoy and Josh Caffery have collaborated to create Rediscovering Lomax in Evangeline Country, a one-of-a-kind collection of recordings featuring Louisiana artists performing fresh takes on a unique series of folk songs—both French and English—archived in Louisiana in the 1930s by the late Alan and John Lomax.

The collection features 24 tracks by an incredible group of artists, including Michael Doucet, Marc Broussard, Wayne Toups, Zachary Richard, Tiffany Lamson, Steve Riley, Ann Savoy, Dirk Powell, Roddie Romero, Cedric Watson, David Greely, Joel Savoy, Kelli Jones-Savoy, Wilson Savoy, Anna Laura Edmiston, Kristi Guillory, Joshua Caffery, Claire Caffery, Barry Ancelet, Carl Brazell, Megan Brown and Aurora Nealand.

While individual EPs will become available in stores each quarter, the limited edition full box set will be available exclusively on the Valcour website through the end 2015 as long as supplies last. Purchases of the box set include printed liner notes, a collector’s box for holding the CDs and liner notes and advance access to each release before retailers and radio stations. Digital liner notes will be available for free download on this page starting on March 31st.

If you order the box set, we will ship the box, liners and the first EP, Good Men, Bad Men, to you before March 31, and you will receive a new EP in the mail each quarter during 2015 until you have the full set of four discs. Subsequent EPs will include (in no particular order) Dancing and Seduction, Love and Death and Good Women, Bad Women.

Learn more about the book that inspired this project, Joshua Caffery’s Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordingshere.

25 Years of Real World Records

January 14, 2015

rw25

Real World 25 (3 CD retrospective set, 28 page booklet containing the story of 25 Years of Real World Records, and a collection of Real World Tales with contributions from musicians, producers, designer and managers),  Real World Records

edited from afropop.org:

Real World Records turns 25 this year. That any record label dedicated to global sounds has survived this long is impressive; many others have gone by the wayside or changed course.  Real World 25, a threeCD compilation drawing from the label’s more than 200 releases, offers an expansive tour of this history with music ranging from Thomas Mapfumo,  Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hukwe Zawose, Remmy Ongala. Papa Wemba, and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Looking at Real World’s African releases, a number of things stand out—starting with the label’s trademark diversity. Real World shepherded Congolese vocal star Papa Wemba through his most successful experimental phase, when he wrestled to become an artist in his own right, unconstrained by the fierce conformity of Congolese pop.

Aside from Remmy Ongala, Real World brought to light acts that few of us might ever have heard about otherwise. I’m thinking of the northern Mozambique folk-pop band Eyuphuro, or Kenya’s idiosyncratic maestro Ayub Ogada, the transfixing sonic textures of Tanzania’s Hukwe Zawose and family, or Somalia’s legendary (at least in Somalia) singer Maryam Mursal, all of whom produced classic, enduring releases for Real World.

The label has also released works by recognized African icons, including Thomas Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe. Real World’s 2006 Mapfumo release Rise Up may be the most important album of the singer’s years in exile from Zimbabwe. “What an extraordinary artist,” says Jones. “Talk about people of political significance, artists who are worldchanging—Thomas Mapfumo is exactly that.” Of course, political impact is not a requirement for Real World either—just a nice plus. And Mapfumo certainly passes the passion test.

Looking back on 25 years, Real World’s veteran director Amanda Jones sees vividly how the landscape has changed. Back then, international music releases mostly came from what she calls “library labels” like Ocora and Le Chant du Monde in France, or Lyrichord and Nonesuch Explorer in the U.S., all of which tended to focus on traditions. The idea of specializing in contemporary international music was just dawning, especially in the U.S.

Today, with the Internet and YouTube, Jones sees “a great democratizing of access to the music.” But these developments have raised a new set of problems for aspiring global artists—namely, distinguishing yourself amid a vast ocean of offerings.

SAM AMIDON

January 5, 2015

from NYTimes:

SAM AMIDON“Lily-O” (Nonesuch CD)

The final track on “Lily-O,” a hauntingly beautiful new album by the folk singer Sam Amidon, begins in resonant quiet, with the droning overtones of what sounds like a Tibetan singing bowl. Soon, you’re aware of an electric guitar blended into the mix, followed by a more clearly articulated acoustic guitar part, in lilting cadence.

Mr. Amidon’s calm, self-contained voice arrives a minute into the song — “Devotion,” an Appalachian shape-note hymn composed in 1818, based on poetry written in England a century earlier. The lyrics welcome death as a doorway, turning in earnest toward eternity, and Mr. Amidon sings them evenly, building each new phrase upon the last.

“Lily-O” is the second of Mr. Amidon’s albums released by Nonesuch, and like its predecessor “Bright Sunny South,” it consists mainly of reframed traditional songs. Mr. Amidon again plays banjo, fiddle and guitar, all with plain-spoken grace; his rhythm partners are the bassist Shahzad Ismaily and the drummer Chris Vatalaro. Mr. Amidon’s singing is unforced but sturdy, and possibly playing with your notions of guilelessness.

Whatever has happened to bring American folk song back into style, it rests on some ideal of rough-hewed authenticity. So it’s a meaningful subversion that Mr. Amidon works with the producer Valgeir Sigurdsson, who recorded the album in his studio in Iceland, and the guitarist Bill Frisell, whose vision of Americana runs heartfelt but not hidebound.

The album could easily have been credited as an Amidon-Frisell collaboration, rather than a solo album, for all of its silvery sheen and echoing filigree. But Mr. Amidon owns the liberties taken with these songs: the title track, which begins a cappella and ends in a semiabstract swirl; “Blue Mountains,” with its brittle rhythm programming; “Walkin’ Boss,” with its clatter-boom beat and pedal delay. His version of “Groundhog,” a frisky tune associated with Doc Watson, turns ruminative, almost sinister.

But another song from the Watson repertory, the elegy “Your Long Journey,” brings out the album’s most moving performance. Mr. Amidon sings in a muted voice, trusting the lyrics to make their own impression. The song arrives near the album’s close, so its heavenward glance doubles as a seamless transition.

NATE CHINEN, Oct 2014

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

December 28, 2014

Child-Ballads-Cover1-150x150from npr.org:

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, “Child Ballads” (Wilderland Records)

Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer are 30-something songwriters who have released an album of seven Child ballads. They reworked many of the songs, using the multiple versions of lyrics from the books as raw material. They felt free to create their own melodies because Francis James Child specified only words, not music.

“That’s a much different process than when you’re given a single version of a song, maybe it’s a source recording [or] some old version,” Hamer says. “But you have this one text which you have to treat like the holy grail, but with the Child ballads you have choices.”

They substituted phrases, cut verses and even made new ones up.

For us, we were able to kind of pick and choose between these different versions,” Mitchell says.

The young songwriters’ choices were guided by their desire to make the stories clear to modern American audiences. So they updated archaic phrases like “tirled at the pin,” which means knocking at the door, to something more familiar.

“Especially for our American listeners, we didn’t want to throw up a roadblock for them so that then they’re like, ‘What’s that mean?’ And they miss the whole stanza,” she says.

The most dramatic revision they made was to “Tam Lin,” an epic ballad that clocks in at nearly seven minutes and has 27 verses. It’s the story of a young maiden who gets pregnant by a woodland shape-shifter named Tam Lin. As he morphs from one fearsome creature to the next, his lover has to hold on to him until he finally becomes human.

Hamer and Mitchell decided to axe the back story about a fairy queen who kidnaps and curses Tam Lin.

“If you take that away, you perhaps increase the sort of surreal psychological subtext,” Hamer says. “Maybe you even strengthen the metaphor for endurance of love through adversity.”

“I’m sure both of us have felt the kind of trepidation that anyone rolling up their sleeves with this material feels,” Mitchell says. “Like, are we going to mess it up in some way?”

 

Going Down to Raleigh

December 26, 2014

Going Down to Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998 (PineCone CD)

from http://www.pinecone.org and http://www.blueridgenow.com:

Going Down to Raleigh: Stringband Music in the North Carolina Piedmont 1976-1998 is a collection of field recordings that highlight the distinctive music traditions of the Piedmont region, including fiddlers, banjo players and other instrumentalists and singers who learned their music from family and friends. The 2-CD anthology includes full liner notes and documentary photos of the musicians. Listen to some samples from Going Down to Raleigh.

Musicians featured in the collection are: Virgil Craven, Lauchlin Shaw, A.C. Overton, Leonard Eubanks, Marvin Gaster, Beth Hartness, Rich Hartness, Jack Jones, Smith McInnis, Robert Mitchener, Fred Olson, Gerry Overton, Evelyn Shaw, Joe Thompson, Odell Thompson, Wade Yates, Glen Glass and Wayne Martin. These artists were recorded in the field by Bob Carlin, Barry Poss, and Wayne Martin.

The richness of musical traditions of the eastern and central North Carolina Piedmont comes into sharper focus when these musicians are heard together. Fiddle and banjo music have long established histories in the region, as evident from the particular tunes played, the instrumental and singing styles employed, and from the stories about where and how the pieces were learned.

None of the people  co-producer Wayne Martin recorded were playing music professionally and that was something they had no aspirations to do. Martin did what he could to get their music out to a wider audience, but convincing them it was worth the effort was a tall order.

“What I misinterpreted was their eagerness to promote themselves,” Martin says. “They weren’t at all interested. I remember finishing a recording with Lauchlin Shaw, and he was pleased with it. But it was never as important to him as it was to me to get a CD of his music out there. So not as many CDs as I’d hoped for came to pass. And this project was an attempt to bring them together in one place.”

The good part about that modesty is that it keeps the music real. Raw as it is, the music on “Going Down To Raleigh” sounds truly grounded in real life. But the downside of that modesty is that it makes the music easier to ignore. Martin can get downright evangelical about that.

“I’m not sure North Carolina knows itself that well,” he says. “I feel like more needs to be done to encourage us to embrace our own music and traditions. Not to glorify so much as know and understand. There’s a lot more to it: a historical context and economy that preceded what we have now and shaped this area. I’m doing my little part to get one piece out there so people can have more information.”

Lost Newport Treasures

December 13, 2014

CDimages_Newport-cover-sm

from http://www.multiculturalmedia.com:

Over 40 years since they were recorded and 20 years since the recordings surfaced, 18 historic performances from the 1968-‘70 Newport Folk Festivals are finally available. Unlike the vinyl LPs of the 1960s or even the shiny CDs of the 1990s, however, this release is entirely digital download only. Lost Newport Treasures on Multicultural Media’s Rootstock Recordings label is available as an entire album with liner notes or as individual tracks from iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, Rhapsody and many other digital download sites.

The tapes of the complete 1968-70 festivals were discovered in a closet at event producer Festival Productions’ Manhattan offices in 1990. Greenberg was hired to log and evaluate the performances by Alcazar Records, of Waterbury, Vermont, which hoped to release several Newport compilations. Alcazar went out of business, however, before the project could be completed, and the release languished until Multicultural Media, excited by the collection’s musical and historical value, acquired permission to release it.

Lost Newport Treasures includes a rare, solo, acoustic performance by Chicago electric blues “father,” Muddy Waters. Mississippi Delta bluesman, Son House, Waters’ mentor and one of the legendary artists from the 1930s rediscovered in the 1960s, also provides a track. Sleepy John Estes, Jesse Fuller, Brownie McGhee, and Sonny Terry furnish other compelling examples of acoustic, country blues and related styles.

The Cook County Singers–a large, church group from Chicago–deliver a stirring example of African American shape note singing, while an a capella hymn from Doc Watson, Fred Price, and Clint Howard’s reflects the traditional singing of many white Southern Baptist churches.

The New Lost City Ramblers’ “In the Pines” represents bluegrass as it was emerging from old-time roots to become the genre performed here by first-generation masters Don Reno, Bill Harrell and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, and Mac (“The Voice with a Heart”) Wiseman.

Congolese Mwenda Jean Bosco and Kentuckian Ike Everly (father of rock-and-rollers Don and Phil) provide examples of distinct yet related fingerpicking guitar styles, while a whaling ballad from Scottish singer and weaver Norman Kennedy exemplifies one of the important sources of American vernacular music.

A children’s song from one-time radio and vaudeville performer Sam Hinton and a topical song by Folk Revival patriarch Pete Seeger round out Lost Newport Treasures.

The Newport Folk Festival turned 50 in 2009 (with a few hiatuses) and continues to present a wide range of American music. Yet the 1960s festivals remain unsurpassed in their combination of authentic vernacular musicians, revivalists, and popularizers. Many Newport performances from the first half of the 1960s have been available on several recordings and films. But the late ‘60s have been less well-documented, until now.

The on-line release of Lost Newport Treasures provides a testimonial to the timelessness of music that continues to inspire and delight even in a medium that would be unrecognizable to many of these Newport artists.

Kasse Mady Diabate

November 22, 2014

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from http://www.theguardian.com and http://www.kassemadydiabatemusic.com:

The Manding Empire was founded in the 13th Century by the emperor Sunjata. It swept from one end of West Africa to the other, from Casamance on the Atlantic coast all the way to Burkina Faso, thousands of miles to the east. Sunjata used a hitherto unheard of weapon to bind all his disparate peoples together: music. Music became a formidable political tool and turned the hereditary Manding musicians or djelis (griots) into a powerful caste.

Today, having survived centuries of change and turmoil, that caste is still flourishing. Drawing on themes as old as the Empire itself and melodies learned in childhood, the modern griots still mediate for social order. It explains how an artist such as Kassé Mady Diabaté can rise to such a degree of excellence and become a national treasure in Mali.

 Kassé Mady was born in 1949 in the village Kéla. His aunt was the great griotte Siramori Diabaté, while his grandfather was known as ‘Jeli Fama’, which means ‘The Great Griot’, thanks to the gripping quality of his voice. When Kassé Mady was 7 years old (a significant age in Manding culture), the elders of the family, including Siramori, realised that he had inherited his grandfather’s vocal genius. They schooled him and encouraged him, until he was able to launch his own career. He would go on to play a role in the most innovative moments in Malian music over the next five decades, first in his own country and later with landmark international collaborations.

 In 1970 he became lead singer of the Orchestre Régional Super Mandé de Kangaba. Kassé Mady’s remarkable singing won the group the national Biennale music competition in the Malian capital Bamako. The festival had been set up by the government, as part of a Cultural Authenticity initiative across all of the newly independent West African states, encouraging musicians to return to their cultural heritage.

In 1988 Kassé Mady left Mali and the Badema National behind and moved to Paris, where he recorded his first solo album for the Senegalese record producer Ibrahima Sylla. He spent the next ten years in Paris, recording Fode, then Kéla Tradition, an acoustic album of Kéla jeli songs.

Moving back to Mali in the late 1990s, several collaborations followed, many of which have become landmark recordings: Songhai 2, the album he made with the flamenco group Ketama and Toumani Diabaté, and Koulandjan, on which he collaborated with Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabaté, an album which was famously cited by Barack Obama as one of his favourite albums of all time. Both of these albums were produced by Joe Boyd and released on his Hannibal label. Collaborations with Toumani Diabaté continued and he starred in Toumani’s Symmetric Orchestra and Afrocubism projects, both recorded by World Circuit.

Now he has gone back to his roots, with some crucial outside help. This is an immaculately recorded, intimate set in which Kassé Mady is backed by a classy acoustic band of n’goni, balafon and kora (from the celebrated Ballaké Sissoko). The ancient African instruments are joined, sometimes surprisingly, by delicate cello work from producer Vincent Segal.

Listen here.

IN THE FIELD BEHIND THE STAGE

November 19, 2014

from oldbluerecords.com:

IN THE FIELD BEHIND THE STAGE – RECORDINGS FROM GALAX OLD FIDDLERS CONVENTIONS – 1967 & 2010    OLD BLUE CD-708

Larry Richardon And The Blue Ridge BoysAt first glance, the cover photo may look like an RV convention. But die-hard Old-Time and Bluegrass fans know that every year in early August, the nooks and crannies of this crowded field are a hotbed of the best traditional music you’ll ever hope to hear. Though many inspirational performances occur on the stage of the Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Virginia, some of the finest musical gems can be heard behind the stage, in this maze of RVs, cars and tarps. This CD captures some of those magical performances played in 1967 and 2010. As you listen, you’ll notice that the quality, talent and musicianship have remained consistently high throughout this 33-year span.

The Greater Galax area has long been a hot-bed of great rural music. In the 1920s musicians like Ernest Stoneman; his brother, George; the (original!) Hillbillies; Wade, Fields and Crockett Ward; Ben Jarrell; Frank and Oscar Jenkins; to name just a few, traveled afar to Richmond, Indiana, Asheville, New York, Bristol to record. Even the Carter Family falls within that 60 mile radius circle. Many of these musicians played at the early Galax Old Fiddlers Conventions and are certainly one of the reasons that those contests got off to standing room only starts.

It was just as easy in the 1960s to go to the Galax and hear equally great musicians; even sometimes the musicians who got started in1920s.  Clark Kessinger, who recorded over 70 fiddle tunes for Brunswick between 1928 and 1930, is on everyone’s top five list of old time fiddlers. In the ‘60s whenever I asked a Texas fiddler where they got their tunes, they would mention Clark. He started fiddling again in the 1960s; his band took home the blue ribbon at the 1965 Galax convention. And he got the fiddle blue ribbon in 1970 when he was 74 years old! Buddy Pendleton was second and Otis Burris, Joey’s grandfather, third.

The three 1967 fiddlers, Leake Caudle, Oscar Jenkins and John Ashby, are sadly gone. The sixteen 2010 fiddlers, Eddie Bond, Bill Birchfield, Joey Burris, Andy Edmonds, Jerry Correll, Billy Hurt Jr., Corrina Logston, T.J. Lundy, Buddy Pendleton, Adrian Shepherd-Powell, Kilby Spencer, Kirk Sutphin and Betty Vornbrock, happily continue to make powerful, compelling music.

The bands heard here are equally important.  Their drive, tightness and imagination are necessary ingredients of every winning performance. The 34 tracks on OB 708 work out to over 73 minutes of music.  34 tracks; 16 different fiddlers – ages 20s to 70-plus; 39 different musicians!  If Clark were alive today, he would say something like: “Great job!  I’d enjoy playing with – or against – any of you.”


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