The extent of my knowledge about traditional English folk is extremely limited. It just about starts and ends with Fairport Convention and subsequent albums by Richard Thompson. There’s something about that subgenre of folk that I find just too precious and self-conscious.
But something struck me as different when it comes to the songs of Nancy Wallace. Perhaps it was the artwork of the new record or perhaps it was the fact that it’s distributed by the unusually diverse (and divisive) Southern label. Either way listen to “Sleeping Sickness” off of Old Stories to hear how Ms. Wallace bridges the gap between tradition and the modern world of folk. Lots more info here.
The Concrete Blond song “Joey” should probably be left well enough alone. It’s such a heart-rending song that I think it can only been done justice by the cigarette and whiskey ravaged voice of lead singer Johnette Napolitano. To try to make it into a song with beautiful harmonies and gently strummed guitars is really missing the point. The women in Sometymes Why (members of Uncle Earl, the Mammals, and Crooked Still) may have a fine record on their hands but it’s hard be too excited after hearing this song.
The new record, Your Heart Is A Glorious Machine, out in March on Signature Sounds.
Can.Ky.Ree. are a strange combination of French pop, Arabian gypsy folk and American folk. I wrote about them first here in a series called “My Chicago Underground”. They have just released a new record titled In This Light We Are Nothing But Gorgeous. Check out the two songs below and see why this band is one of the most interesting in Chicago.
The band’s next show will be their record release party in Chicago at Fulton Loft on Jan. 31.
Buy it here or in person at the Reckless on Milwaukee Ave.
With a stroke of his pen (10 original songs), a flourish of pedal steel, and high lonesome tenor voice Ben Kweller has fired a shot across the bow of the americana community. In an 11 day studio session Kweller, who has flirted with countrified rock in the past but more often than not channeled either the Stones or Big Star, has suddenly struck a claim as being the most important new voice in a genre that is always flirting with extinction, irrelevance, or at the very least musical complacency.
With cover art that hints at Sweetheart At The Rodeo and a sound like the dry earth of Kweller’s new adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, Changing Horses is both a change of pace and a return to his roots. Kweller says it best here:
I recorded this album called Changing Horses. I grew up in a small east-Texas town called Greenville where my whole childhood was spent playing in creeks, bass fishing, shooting bb guns, thinking about girls and listening to Garth. After the Beatles and before Nirvana, country music was the soundtrack to my life. That music shaped who I am. My albums which tend to be diverse, usually have one or two cuts on them that are rootsy-americana-folkie-whatever-the-fuck ya wanna call it. This album focuses in on that one side of me.
The short song “Things I Like To Do” with its prominent pedal steel and simple lyrics about small town life and the allure of Texas (vs. NYC) pretty much sums up the new direction in Kweller’s music and life. You can order the record here and be entered into some kind of fancy contest thingy.
I had some stuff ready to post today. Good stuff too. There was even some well-written, descriptive prose from me about said stuff. But late last night I stumbled across a song from the forthcoming record by Justin Townes Earle. And here we are.
“Mama’s Eyes”, from Midnight At The Movies, looks headlong into Justin’s family affairs. It addresses the ways in which in Justin’s case the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even if the tree is old and gnarled. But it also (as the song title alludes to) points to the importance of his mother in his life and his subsequent well being. I can’t say that the new record will match his debut on the strength of just one song, but the Bloodshot folks are pretty excited about this one and that’s some pretty good track record, right there.
Midnight At The Movies is out on March 9th but I’m sure I’ll have an update, more from the record, and a pre-order page in the weeks to come. So stay tuned.
I don’t think of Chicago as a honky-tonk city. But perhaps it should be as we have such crappy weather, an abundance of dive bars and a history of once being a Western cow town. Chicago’s own True Historians play some pretty righteous honky-tonk. The lead vocalist has a nice nasally Buddy Holly delivery and the musicians are mostly made up of top notch players from Texas.
The band has just released their debut self-titled record and it’s just what you might expect from a group of hard drinkin’ Texans. Buy it here.
For someone who literally has never tried an illicit drug before I’m always fascinated by songs that add drugs to the mix. Ted Russell Kamp’s new record Poor Man’s Paradise is due out in the US on Feb. 17 and features one such song. “Old Folks Blues” includes a litany of things that are bad for you and then some. But it also deals with some of the consequences of the choices the protagonist made.
Ted Russell Kamp is skilled multi-instrumentalist but he is also well known as the bassist in Shooter Jennings band. So you can imagine that he’s been exposed to a ton of great music. In the liner notes Kamp describes the recording process this way, “recorded in Ted’s living room, the Shooter Jennings tour bus & countless hotel rooms across America”. You can hear that on the diverse styles of music represented on the new record. Here’s “Old Folks Blues”, buy Poor Man’s Paradisehere.
You’ve gotta wonder sometimes where the next generation of folk musicians are going to come from. Who, of that younger generation, really cares about the deep roots of folk music? Well, Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers is a good place to start. These youngsters call Boston their home (fitting since for decades much of the great folk music has come out of New England). More astute observers of the neo-trad movement than I have proclaimed these Berklee School Of Music students as the future of the sound. They mix Appalachian roots music with Scandinavian folk and rhythms from around the world.
I suspect these songs are just demos, they are a little rough around the edges, but you can clearly tell that the musicianship and the wealth of musical ideas are present. If you’re lucky enough to be attending this years Folk Alliance you’ll have a chance to see them live.
I was impressed by and wrote about the last Sarah Borges record. It was fairly straight forward and slightly on the raw side which I liked. I didn’t think she had an outstanding voice or the best songs. But I respected her ballsy presentation of a guitar wielding woman fronted band. The promise from that last record doesn’t seem to have been played out on her latest. The new record is called The Stars Are Out and is due out March 24 on Sugarhill Records.
Perhaps I’m having a jaded, seen it all, heard it all, kind of morning but it just seems like all the passion from the first record has been sucked out and replaced with smoothed and rounded edges. Here’s an atmospheric reverb laced ballad from “The Stars Are Out”. Decide for yourself.
Indie 103.1 in LA is gone. In their announcement they state that they no longer wanted to play the “game”.
Due to these challenges, Indie 103.1 was recently faced with only one option — to play the corporate radio game.
We have decided not to play that game any longer. Rather than changing the sound, spirit, and soul of what has made Indie 103.1 great Indie 103.1 will bid farewell to the terrestrial airwaves and take an alternative course.
Implying that of late their programming was influenced by pay-to-play. Some are clamoring for it to come back. But given the fact that they admitted to abandoning any semblance of “indieness” why should we care?
If people want true indie they could stream WFMU, download any number of podcasts or simply visit blogs and create their own playlist. Am I being cold in thinking that the station doesn’t matter and should be gone? Was it really all that and a bag of chips?
This all reminds me of one of the best modern day songs concerning nostalgia for the way radio used to be. Doesn’t this song by Antsy McClain just nail it on the head and give you goosebumps down the back of your neck?
I didn’t know much about Chris Gaffney. But from what I’d heard he was the epitome of the unsung roots rock musician. What I do know is that whenever I heard his signature mix of roots, country, tex-mex and blues music I was impressed. He died this past April of liver cancer (LA Times obit here). Now all his friends have gotten together and recorded a tribute record to his songs that’s out in March on Yep Roc. Dave Alvin was one of the driving forces behind the record and it’s quite a bunch of guys he rounded up to contribute and that’s as much a testament to Gaffney’s skill, humanity, and friendship as anything else. Artists include Joe Ely, Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Alejandro Escovedo, Big Sandy, Tom Russell, Calexico and Los Lobos.
The record has a great flow with each artist putting a different spin on a Chris Gaffney song. There are some rockers, some country soul, plenty of latin-tinged rock and a few honky-tonk numbers. Of course it’s the honky-tonk we’ll concern ourselves with this (and every) Friday. In particular Robbie Fulks’ rendition of “King Of The Blues”.
Here’s a little song from Sandman The Rappin’ Cowboy’s new record Rough Notes From Otter Cove out now on Bicycle Records. Sandman is Chris Sand a westerner who grew up on an Indian reservation in Western Montana. His music combines old school hip hop, folk and western cowboy motifs.
“Addie Paul” describes a fleeting and unfulfilled romance in the age of Facebook, Twitter and the like where we continually connect and reconnect with people from our past. We hope and romanticize that these people from our past will somehow come back into our lives and change them for the better. But we all lost touch for a reason and perhaps we can’t/shouldn’t ever go back
You can buy it here. This should tide you over until tomorrow’s big honky-tonk Friday post.
“25 Mexicans” is a song of border crossings, illegal immigration, and the living conditions of Mexican Nationals that strikes up thoughts of Woody Guthrie, John Prine and Tom Russell. As performed by Phil Lee it shares both the cadence and the lyrical themes of some of those great singer-songwriters. It’s a pretty amazing song and one that adds to the great week of music we’ve had already on Songs:Illinois (here and here).
Phil Lee is an unsung “real” country artist from Nashville. He’s had two previous critically acclaimed records. The new one, So Long, Its Been Good To Know You, was released towards the end of 2008 and rocketed to #1 on the Euro Americana Charts where it sits to this day. From the two songs below you can hear how he effectively mixes folk, rhythm and blues, blue-eyed soul and country.
It’d be sooo great if other established artists used some of their pull to expose people to deserving but less popular bands. Willie Nelson has always been very gracious that way sharing the spotlight any number of different ways. Now he has collaborated with the great trad band Asleep At The Wheel on his upcoming record Willie and the Wheel.
Now I haven’t followed Willie Nelson’s career very closely of late. Still I’m guessing I would have gotten a kick out of all his recent genre jumping. But don’t you think that his return to the music of his childhood sounds just great? Isn’t this where and when he truly belongs. His voice sounds very strong and is a perfect accompaniment to Asleep At The Wheel’s jazzy western swing.
I had a post all lined up for this morning, but then found this new song from the forthcoming Anti- Records release of A Stranger Here by Ramblin Jack Elliott. Here’s a contemporary of Bob Dylan’s who took a different path. Instead of co-opting his music for the marketplace Ramblin’ Jack Elliott remained true to his rural folk blues roots.
On his new record produced by Joe Henry the sound is altered slightly with weird atmospherics and creepy percussion added to the mix. Joe Henry always brings his own lush sound to a recording project and the same is true on A Stranger Here. I’m not sure what Anti- hopes to achieve commercially with their current roster of Betty LaVette, William Elliott Whitmore, and Mavis Staples but I like the direction they’re going in.
There appears to be a new song from Ana Egge’s upcoming release. This song recently appeared on Ana’s website. A quick perusal of her back catalog confirms that this song has not appeared before and thus may be the first thing we’ve heard off of her upcoming album Road To My Love.
“New Tattoo” is as lush and sensual a sound as I’ve heard from Ana and the whistling and romantic horns are a nice addition (as always). Ana’s got a February residency at The Living Room on Tuesdays starting on Feb 3. On the 17th the residency will turn into a full fledged record release party.
Can you call The Resentments a supergroup when the bulk of the population doesn’t know of a single soul in the band? In the world of Americana roots music you can. Whether these guys are household names or not, the band’s musical pedigree (besides being made up of a bunch of mutts) is very high. Comprised of “Scrappy” Jud Newcomb, Stephen Bruton, John Dee Graham, Bruce Hughes and John Chipman, this band can seem a little schizophrenic on record depending on who is singing and the style of song being played but their live show is renowned in Austin. At one point culminating in their even being named the best bar band in America.
“What Love Can Do” is the Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson inspired “pop” single replete with squeezebox and mandolin. Buy the new record Roselighthere.
There have only been a handful of timers in 4 years that I have not posted an mp3 along with a post. Today’s post joins that short list. And that’s only because I couldn’t get clearance to post the title track from Diana Jones’Better Times Will Come due out in April on Proper American.
When I first wrote about Diana Jones’ music back in 2007 I had no idea at the time that it would stick with me for so long and affect me so much. Her voice is a study in regret and her music blends all the best of old time folk, gospel and blues. On the new record she’s joined by guests Mary Gauthier, Betty Elders and Nanci Griffith. You can listen to a stream of this song on her Sonicbids page here. It’s just about the perfect tonic for these times we’re in.
Here’s a video of Diana and band performing “Better Times Will Come” at the Station Inn in Nashville:
This will probably be my first and last iPhone App Review. I first downloaded the APR (American Public Radio) Public Radio Tuner about 2 weeks ago. What a mess it was. Great idea (streaming radio on the iPhone), but bad, nearly impossible implementation. However the wonder of the iPhone and its App Store being what it is today there was an update and now I’m completely hooked.
The tuner allows you to listen to streams of any APR station (and there’s a bunch). With 3G this means you could listen while driving, in the airport, or in the comfort of your living room with an audio cord hooked up to your stereo. You can let the iPhone Radio Tuner search for all the local stations within 50 miles, or search by state or call letter. At the moment I’ve favorited WWOZ, WXPN, WETS, WUMB, KDHX and a few more (but not KRCW! bah humbug on them!). What would you listen to if you had your drothers and the constraints of geography wasn’t a concern?
When something like this comes along one can really start to see which direction convergence and the digital world will take over the next few years. And it’s not hard drive based or even Blu Ray video for that matter. Here’s all the pertinent info.
Trekky Records is based in Ashville, NC as is the band Butterflies. You can hear the local influences on the song “Mind Games”. “Mind Games” is ostensibly an indie rock song but it adds a little local color with a lovely lilting fiddle intro.
Nothing’s Personal is the new record from Butterflies. It came out on November 18 and it’d be a shame if it got lost in the Christmas shuffle of box sets and ridiculously bad major label product.
Glad you found me at my new url. Songs:Illinois is committed to writing about music that is under-appreciated and unique. I've found that the music I write about shares a couple of traits. And they are: lyrical integrity, musically diverse, and written/performed by compelling characters.
Most songs found here are free and legal and have been provided by either the artist or label. If for some reason you'd like to have a song removed, please email me at cbonnell (at) gmail.com.