Strictly Roots Top 5 at 5 Countdown – w/e 04/5/14

Hey everyone, hope you have had a good weekend, whether it was the long one here in the UK, or a regular-sized one wherever else you have been. Apologies for the lack of chart last week, hopefully this one can make up for it. We have music from right here in Bristol, as well as Newcastle, England, and all over the United States this week, so why don’t we get started with a hotdog and a nail.

Boxcar Joe Strouzer – Hotdog And A Nail

Boxcar Joe is an awesomely talented blues harp player, guitarist and singer originally from Newcastle, England, but now making his home in Bristol (via London and New Orleans). I’ve been lucky enough to see him play live a few times lately, and was impressed by the honesty, humour and verve in his playing and his songs, most of which he has written about his adventures in different locations. He’s recently put a series of videos out on his Youtube page, and made them available as free downloads. I highly recommend you check them out!

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Elizabeth Mitchell & Friends – Baby Born Today

Elizabeth Mitchell is a singer and performer who makes, amongst other things, music of various types for children. This song is taken from her recent Christmas album, The Sounding Joy, and I found it by scooting around on YouTube. I was interested by the closeness, rawness and unusualness of the song and its arrangement, which is a ‘shout’ – a traditional part of the allnight Watch Night services which are a part of certain Christmas Eve traditions. Great song and a well-shot video, see what you think of this.

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Sierra Hull – Daybreak In Dixie

Did I ever tell you how much I love Sierra Hull? Well I do, a lot. Here she is stomping a mudhole on Daybreak In Dixie, live at Music City Roots. Sierra really has accomplished a great deal in her time in the music business, and continues to have success with her blend of musicality, drive and wonderful live presence. This is a great example of what her and her band do. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I do!

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Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra – High Speed Train

Returning back to these shores, and the fantastic Rob Heron and his Tea Pad Orchestra. Based in Newcastle, the band specialise in a very good blend of old time, swing, string band music. They’ve recently released their new video, for High Speed Train, which was filmed on the Tanfield Railway, which dates from 1725, and is lifted from their new album, Talk About Weather. I love how the different parts of their music intertwines, and how the individual instruments are able to show off, mix and blend. Check it out and see what you think!

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Dan Tyminski – The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn

And we’ll finish off this week with the masterful Dan Tyminski. A track taken from the Transatlantic Sessions TV show, and one of Dan’s most well-known songs. Who can argue with the timing, phrasing and overall control on this song? And the backing band helps out a little I guess. As ever, look up the songs and the artists I’ve included in the run down, and let me know in the comments what you think and if there is anyone you’d like to see included in future charts. As ever, many thanks, and y’all come, now.

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Lands End – The Border Sessions – Review

Interesting and expansive music from Lands End, a young five piece, the members of which represent five instruments, three countries, and an interesting mix of musical traditions.

The band revolve around the fulcrum of Sore Fingers, where they met and first performed. The annual workshop-cum-festival has seen the development of many a group within the UK and beyond, and after Lands End’s debut at the event, they have not looked back. The group’s members, Paddy Kiernan (banjo), Richie Foley (mandolin), Hubert Murray (guitar and vocals), Sam Rose (bass, guitar) and Bruno Pichler (dobro) originally made their homes in cities across Ireland, England and Germany, and indeed, ‘Lands End’ hints at the fact that each member comes from a different geographical location.

With influence from bluegrass, the band’s sound is not afraid to take in Irish and Baltic music, and perform sets of original material alongside versions of well-known tunes from America and Europe. They have put together an EP of songs available on Bandcamp and CD which feature the fiddle of Sam Draper, who is currently studying in Boston.

The Leadbelly song Out On The Western Plain struts and swings, and the Irish feel to the boys’ bluegrass is immediately obvious, especially in the lifting, lilting fiddle and mandolin. The lead vocals are especially strong, and the storytelling is handled with seriousness and poise as well as good humour. That the band know their licks is an understatement, and the playing is as good as the band’s origins would suggest.

There’s a definite swagger to be found throughout The Border Sessions, a sound of a band happy to be playing and picking, and the enthusiasm is infectious on cuts like Sunstreet, where the sound ventures slightly West, with influences from old time swing and cowboy music, and Hubert somewhat coming close to a modern-day Jimmie Rodgers (minus the yodelling, for now). The backing is once again firm and robust, with some exceptional dobro and fiddle touches. Equally, the flowing instrumental Salt Spring brings the bands dynamism into play, with the different sounds playing off each other, with a whole achieved which is the addition of all the parts and more.

The boys’ take on Wild Bill Jones is full of life, bringing the perennial bad man ballad into some serious modern territory. A strong sense of beat and rhythm pervades, as is a willingness to put themselves fully into the singing and playing. Lands End are proof not only of the power of the traditions that they tap into, but the ease with which the music is adapted and brought into the hands of the musicians who treat them with the respect they deserve.

Closer Run Buddy Run is another from the pen of Hugh Murray, whose songwriting ability is well rounded for one so young. The entire EP is highly professional, of a very high quality and sets their path for some very exciting times to come. I look forward to hearing more from this talented group in the future.

 

 

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Strictly Roots Top 5 At 5 Countdown – w/e 20/04/14

Hope everyone has enjoyed the long Easter break, I was lucky enough to catch some amazing music at Bristol’s Stagfest. It’s time for another collection of 5 great roots tracks, this week gleaned from the US, Ireland and, for the first time, Wales. It’s the usual blend of traditional styles from different locations, so I hope that you enjoy it. Let’s go.

 

Fernhill – Grey Cock

It is great to include long-running Welsh band, Fernhill, and their take on the traditional Grey Cock, from their 2003 album Hynt. The band have always combined many different styles into their repertoire, for example on this song, which includes both Welsh and English lyrics. They take in folk, jazz and hip hop on their many different songs, and a wide band membership has allowed their music to grow and develop over the years. This track is the band at their best.

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Tony Rice Unit featuring Alison Krauss – St James Hospital

Sliding back over to some United States traditions, we take in the great Tony Rice, taking on St James Hospital from back in 1988. Tony is one of the most popular and influential guitarists in American music, whose career has spanned over 30 years. He played with David Grisman in the 1970s, and has played in many different styles. He has been very sick over the past couple of years, so I wish all the best to Tony, and celebrate him here with this great song.

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We Banjo 3 – Live

We Banjo 3 are a multi-talented banjo band from Ireland, who, as their name suggest, play banjo music. But they don’t stick to any one style, blending the tenor and five-string versions of the instrument. Their album of last year, Roots Of The Banjo tree has garnered a lot of support for the guys, and they have been touring around the world, playing at festivals and events all year long. This is a video they recorded for BBC Northern Ireland in February 2013.

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Lands End – Out On The Western Plain

Another great Irish band that I found recently is Lands End, a six-piece who play bluegrass and Irish music, with hints of jazz, world and other styles. They play with verve and great timing, and have perfected the knack of playing together, but allowing ther personalities to still shine through. They have a release on Bandcamp, so make sure you check it out and give them your support. This track really does show them off at their best.

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Brother Claude Ely – There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down

Wanted to finish off with this one, the amazing Claude Ely doing his signature Ain’t No Grave. I love the juxtaposition between the religious overtones of the song, and the exuberant delivery and accompaniment. Another song which has been versioned many times, perhaps most famously by Johnny Cash. Thanks for tuning in, once again support the artists and the music if you do enjoy listening, and I’ll be back for more next week.

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Strictly Roots Top 5 at 5 Countdown – w/e 13/04/14

Another week gone by, another one just starting. Right here at Strictly Roots, that means only one thing, time for another dip into the ocean of traditonal and roots music from across the pond and across the world. This week we have some classic music, some new music, and lots of just good music. What better way to start this week’s list, than with a stone-cold classic piece of bluegrass heaven.

Flatt & Scruggs – Salty Dog Blues

Lester & Earl, along witht their Foggy Mountain Boys, were one of the most popular and widely recognised bluegrass groups, from their conception after Flatt and Scruggs left tBill Monroe’s band in 1948 until 1970. Of course we all know Earl’s contribution to bluegrass and music as a whole, but Lester’s singing and guitar playing are not to be forgotten, either. I don’t know the exact provenance of this number, but it has been performed by many different artists, but none with the panache and abandon of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys.

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The Grascals – American Pickers (featuring Dierks Bentley and Mike Wolfe)

I recently reviewed the Grascals’ latest record, When I Get My Pay, over at Music Existence. It’s a really nice record, full of great songs and great singing. I was especially impressed by this one, which features Nashville singer Dierks Bentley and antique picker Mike Wolfe. It nicely sums up their sound, their sense of humour, and their take on the music and culture with which they surround themselves. Do check out the video, the album and my review on it, and, as with all the music here, if you like it, pick it up!

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Carlene Carter – Troublesome Waters

I also had a listen to the new Carlene Carter record Carter Girl (the review is forthcoming on PopMatters), and it too is a wonderful record, full of love, and life, and fire, and some great songs which Carlene has gathered from her own work and that of her family (there are songs which A. P. Carter collected, Maybelle wrote, June wrote, and Helen wrote), all delivered with a great sense of grace, but with a lot of fun and heart as well. Troublesome Waters was recorded for the album with Willie Nelson. I couldn’t find that version, but here is a great live take with Mickey Raphael at last year’s Farm Aid.

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Noam Pikelny (and Friends) – Wheel Hoss

One of my other recent ramblings was into the most recent Noam Pickelny album. It’s a really interesting collection of tunes, and gives a real sense of what Noam can do. This is a great video of him and his band playing at last year’s FreshGrass. Take a look at those fingers – amazing!

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Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers – Ain’t Nothin In Ramblin

I was recently listening to some archive shows from the Woodsongs Radio programme, and chanced to hear Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers, a fantastic band from the Cincinnati area, who play a blend of bluegrass, old time and traditional styles. I was struck by the timing and energy of the band on the different songs they played on the show, and this one (recorded at another Woodsongs event) is just a treat. They take Memphis Minnie’s Ain’t Nothin In Ramblin, and give it their own stamp. Just great, don’t you agree? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Swingbillies – Hillbilly & Western Swing On Modern/Colonial/Flair 1947-1952 – Review

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Time for something a little different on Strictly Roots. Instead of a new album, I want to go back and take a look at a compilation which came out back in 2003, a compilation which brings together some fantastic hillbilly and western swing music from the formative years after WWII. The Modern, Colonial and Flair labels where affiliated enterprises run by the Bihari brothers in Los Angeles, which dealt in blues and r&b, making occasional inroads into the country and hillbilly fields. A select number of tracks captured on Swingbillies were released, but many remain unissued by any of the labels in the fold. The compilation, issued by the long-standing Ace label, contains tracks from a wide range of artists, many of whom went onto become major stars in the 1950s and ’60s. The tracks capture the sounds of the period from Louisiana, Texas and California.

The album concentrates on a small range of artists of the time, which clusters of songs from Jimmie Dolan and his Texas Ramblers, Homer Clemens and his Texas Swingbillies and Rocky Morgan and his Tripe R Boys, with interjections from other bands and their leaders. As with many collections of music of this time, the musical and cultural continuum and exchange which they contain is of most note, in an era before set boundaries where either applied or enforced. Music labelled ‘hillbilly’, ‘country’ and ‘swing’ interacted in both artists’ choices and listeners’ minds. The music itself in simple, direct and has a lonesome (in the main) beauty and subtlety to it.

The album contains a great deal of both entertaining and historically interesting music, highlighting the creative and cultural exchange which was at least implicitly (if not always explicitly acknowledged) occurring at the time. Jimmie Dolan’s I Knew That You Were Foolin’ All Along provides a benchmark for the swing sound, but still has a beguiling hillbillyness to it, simultaneously incorporating a drum shuffle and chours-verse-break structure from the world of jazz. Rocky Morgan’s You Can’t Rope A Steer In A Taxi provides a spiky, driving backing to a comical number which shows the full range of his band’s sound – country, jazz, big band and swing in one package, but One Million Railroad Ties From Home (Dolan again) favours, the walking, doleful side, which can perhaps more easily be labelled ‘country’. (Here, as everywhere, genre titles are a guide, and nothing more.)

Both vocal numbers, like the fun, uptempo High Geared Daddy, by Tommy Little And The Sunshine Rangers, and some of the instrumentals and pieces for dance show influence of the blues in their timing and phrasing. Amongst these pieces are Holiday For Guitar (Jimmy Bryant And The Sons Of The Saddle) – where it is easy to see how pieces like this influenced others in turn, the funky, chugging Dust Road Boogie (Jack Tucker and Dusty Rhodes), and the almost surf-esque Pine Club Boogie (Louie Hooks and his Rhythm Five).

Although the music on Swingbillies is of a type, and the songs, in the main have similar forms, they do exhibit a great range of styles, from the humour and lightness of Turn That Gun Around (Rocky Morgan), to the more traditional maudlin topics of loss and heartbreak (Just You Wait And See, Chuck Guillory And His Rhythm Boys). Trusting You (Bill Woods) is as archetypal Western Swing in its form and lyrics as you could find, whilst The Honey Jump (Jody Webb And His Round Up Boys) blends r&b, jazz and swing, and Boogie Barn Dance (Jimmy Bryant) shows the dynamism of these bands which set trends for a generation.

The roots of rockabilly and rock & roll can be found throughout Swingbillies, especially on moments like Lover Boy (Ted Shelton And His Bryan County Boys), which very neatly preshadows the transition between the jazz-influenced breaks and their disappearance in later forms. The collection is rounded off by a very different version of T For Texas from Jimmie Dolan, and the Cajun-influenced Kooche Kooche (Papa Cairo And His Boys).

Swingbillies is an important historical record, of time, place, trends and society. It is also filled with fun, dynamic music that makes you move, makes you dance, and makes you think.

Strictly Roots Top 5 At 5 Countdown – w/e 06/04/14

As the weekend rolls around to the week once more, that can only mean one thing, it must be time for the Monday Top 5. I hope you have had a good weekend, we have something a little special for you this week. I have begun work on an exciting new research project, in association with Beacon. As such, I have been thinking a lot about traditional songs, and their geographic and cultural migrations. So, I wanted to bring a few of them to you on the countdown. Five songs which you may recognise, albeit in a slightly different form.

 

Deana Carter – The Cuckoo Bird

More widely known as a (more or less) mainstream country artist, Deana does a fine version of the Cuckoo, for the soundtrack to the Songcatcher movie of 2000. The song has been noted and recorded in a number of forms, from its origins in Britain to the US, and this is but one example of the continuation of the tradition.

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Eliza Carthy – Worcester City

Taken from Eliza’s 2002 Anglicana work, this is another English song which migrated to the States, turning up as (amongst other songs) Little Glass Of Wine (as recorded by the Stanley Brothers). This robust version details the lovers’ downfall in full, taking you deep inside the situation, in a way that only traditional songs can do, but with a thoroughly modern presentation.

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Jimmy Martin – The Knoxville Girl

Here, the King does The Knoxville Girl, a song widely attested throughout the South, with obvious localization. Known in England as The Oxford Girl, and Ireland as The Wexford Girl  and telling a mostly similar story, the song is full of rich imagery of one poor young man’s downfall. The song has as rich a history as that which it envokes, and appears in a number of different versions, with differing lyrics and locations.

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Texas Gladden – The House Carpenter

Another well-known ballad, this song has had a variety of names and appellations in its journeys across time and space, appearing as The House Carpenter, The Daemon Lover, James Harris, and a multitude of other denotations. Texas’ version is as haunting as they come, highlighting the joy and terror of unaccompanied singing of this type, as well as the implicit horror of the story. As I said, there are many different versions of this song, do why not put yours in the comments below?

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Michael Martin Murphey – The Streets Of Laredo

Consistently one of the best and most popular performers of cowboy country music, Michael Martin has been writing and recording music since the 1960s, in a variety of bands and as a solo artist. Here, he takes on The Streets Of Laredo, or, The Cowboy’s Lament, another song dating back to England, and a tale of an altogether more terrible end. I don’t want to give the game away, you’ll just have to check out my Beacon project!

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Hope you enjoyed this week’s chart, and have a good week. Y’all come, now!

 

Lizzie Weber – Lizzie Weber Review

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Lizzie Weber’s debut self-titled album demonstrates the strength and passion of both her songwriting and her voice. Lizzie hails from St Louis, a city with strong musical roots, and Lizzie’s own background in folk and acoustic music has influenced her own transition into a professional musician.

Whilst it may be easy to find touching points (Beth Orton, Norah Jones), Lizzie’s style and delivery is very much her own, and her influences are felt, but not too heavily relied upon. The rasping guitar intro of California drops straight into the lilting arrangement, and Lizzie’s voice comes front and centre, never really leaving your attention throughout the whole record. For the entire course of the album, her vocals are concentrated at the centre of often lush arrangements, often flowing in and out of the music which accompanies them.

Both Lighthouse, and the entire album, is more beguiling than is perhaps immediately obvious – sure, the voice is what stands out, but the songs on the record creep up on you, with their sympathetic arrangements and accompaniments. Safe Distance is set back, sweeping and removed, revealing the intimacy in the isolated and simple vocals. The feeling is one of loneliness mixed with hope, on a song which is soft and deliberately put together, but shows a strength which unites the entire collection.

This Time Around has an understatedly epic intro, with lifting strings drawing you into the song and the story. The performer is faithful to the songs on Lizzie Weber, putting effort in and getting good results out, with a serious tone, but one which is not overdone. The beautiful and slightly more rootsy Catastrophe revolves around an effective saxophone line and shuffling drums, which Lizzie’s voice effortlessly floats over.

The album is full of intimate settings, which allow not only the singer, but also the songs themselves to communicate directly with the listener. Weber’s voice brings to mind Kate Bush and Taylor Swift (although not at the same time), and the work is emotional, gutsy, direct, and effecting, if slightly one-dimensional in that it does tend to stick at one tempo a lot of the time (an exception being the pacier, Latin twist of Sorry Days), but as a collection it hangs together, and works together well.

Lizzie Weber is a confessional record, but one that is very well-handled, never straying into the over-dramatic, but instead homing in on a sound which is personal, powerful, and, at times, perfect.