Monday, April 21, 2014

Bluegrass and country: Rhonda Vincent

Rhonda Vincent grew up in the heartland of North America, in Missouri, surrounded by music and diving into it herself as soon as she could..

"Every day when I got home from school, my father and grandfather were waiting, and we'd sing 'til dinner. After dinner other friends came around and we literally played every night of my life while I was growing up," Rhonda Vincent recalls. Though she did sometimes miss taking part in school activities when she got to be a teenager, "music was so important to me -- it really was a way of life. School was just something I did, I had to do, but I'd be thinking okay, now that's over for the day and I can run home and get to the music," she says.

It’s a love that’s lasted, taking Vincent through time playing with her family band, the Sally Mountain Show, to early solo albums in bluegrass, through several years in Nashville working on a career in mainstream country music. It was bluegrass that called her though, back to what has become an award winning career, a joyful embrace of the music she loves, and a commitment to making America’s heartland music in a way that is distinctively her own.

All that comes through on her album Only Me. “There are six bluegrass songs and six country songs on the album, ” she says. The idea of this way to present the songs, and which songs to choose, came together when Vincent was asked to sing at a tribute to country icon George Jones at the Grand Ole Opry. “They asked everyone to sing a George Jones song, so I picked When the Grass Grows Over Me. As I’m singing this, I’m thinking how cool it would be to do a traditional country music project -- I love these old songs and I don’t hear anybody singing them, and I’d love to record them.

“We had already started on a bluegrass project so I thought, maybe we could merge these. You know, it was kind of a gamble,” she continues, “but I felt it was an illustration I’d been wanting to make for some time.” Going back to her days growing up in northern Missouri with the Sally Mountain Show, Vincent was at home with the music of bluegrass musicians including Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin and equally at home with the songs of country stars such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

Before that performance at the Opry, Vincent was singing country music classics as part of her appearances on The Country Family Reunion Show, and had been including several in her bluegrass touring gigs. "Beneath Still Waters, just because of that appearance on The Country Family Reunion, became our most requested song --at our shows we‘ve just started doing it no matter what, because if we don’t people will just start yelling it out.” That is one of the songs on the country disc of Only Me, along with with the fast paced Drivin’ Nails and the honky tonk classic Bright Lights & Country Music. “I find that these songs are still new for a lot of people,” Vincent says. She is also finding that these listeners, as well as those who have loved these country standards for decades, are embracing the ways Vincent makes these songs her own.

You might think to find country legend Willie Nelson sitting in on one of the country songs, but instead, Vincent asked him to take a bluegrass turn as her duet partner on the title track of the album. Members of Diamond Rio and singer Daryle Singletary join in as guests, and for each group of six songs, Vincent chose a different set of band members. “My road band, ny regular guys, they could’ve easily played all the country songs,” Vincent says, “but I wanted to make more of a distinction, so I got different musicians for that.” Her road band, including fiddler Hunter Berry, Josh Williams on acoustic guitar and Aaron McDaris on banjo with Vincent herself on mandolin handles the bluegrass side of things . On the country songs, musicians include Carl Jackson on acoustic guitar, Tim Crouch on fiddles, and Catherine Marx on piano.

It is Vincent’s voice and vision which focus the material, though. She sees bluegrass and country both as parts of the music of the heart of America. “When I came back to bluegrass after being in country music for several years, I didn’t know how people would take me,” Vincent says, and at that time she herself was wondering if music was really her future. “We did some shows opening for George Jones,” she says, “and when we came off stage people came up said we love your country music. And I thought --wow! because that’s exactky how I see it.”

That encouragement not only called her on to a career that gives her joy, carries on family tradition, and has seen her and her band members win the recognition of dozens of top level awards, it fanned the spark which would years on turn into the class project that is Only Me. From her early days with the Sally Mountain Show to her current career as an internationally touring musician at the top of her game, Vincent has seen connections between bluegrass and country music, and the things their audiences hold in common. The music Vincent makes is music from the heart and heartland of America. As she was putting together Only Me it seemed the right time and the right way for her to point up and share these connections on record. “This is an illustration I’ve ben wanting to make for some time,” she says again. “Whether I sing with a banjo or with pedal steel, it’s still -- only me.” You couldn’t ask for a better guide to connecting with and celebrating the connections between the soul of country and the heart of bluegrass.

You may also wish to

keep up with Rhonda Vincent’s tour schedule at her web site
and connect with her FaceBook page where she often shares personal notes and thoughts from the road

you may also wish to see
Sunday Mornin Singin’
Rhonda Vincent: Beautiful Star
Julie Fowlis: Every Story

photograph courtesy of the artist

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Music and quiet

Silence: the exterior sort is often inpiration for creative work, and the interior sort is that, too, and is also part of creation itself

So it might seem a paradox that music is very often a gateway to silence. However, when you think about it, really think about and feel music -- and especially if you are a musician yourself -- you’ll come to know that music arises out of silence. It’s not just, hey, we begin! music is, if it’s really good, continuing of and sharing of the inspiration and conversation that begin with that interior quiet. That’s a thought which sounds like another paradox even as I write it, but that makes it no less true.

That idea of creativity arises from silence -- sometimes long quiet, sometimes just the beat of a breath between observation and connection -- works with other sorts of creativity, as well. The dancer in the moment before the dance, the chef at the moment of connecing ideas are also there in that silence. As I write this it is National Poetry Month in the US, so I invite you to think about how this might apply in that area. A recent trip to spend time with the paintings of the Glasgow Boys at Kelvingrove in Glasgow had me reflecting on how this works with visual art as well, especially, for example, the two very different paintings of the Victorian scene in Stirling Station and the evocation of druids in Bringing in the Mistletoe.

Musicians paint their pictures on silence, as the saying goes.

Music to go along with these ideas

Cathie Ryan: The Farthest Wave
Kathy Mattea: Calling Me Home
Hanneke Cassel: For Reasons Unseen

and this Eddi Reader: Wild Mountainside

You may also wish to see
Music, meditation, creation
Cathie Ryan: teaching tradition
music, silence, and spiritual journey

Photograph of a wild mountainside in Ireland is by Kerry Dexter, and is copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Scotland's Music: A Tapestry of Scotland's Music Abroad

Weaving a tapestry, piecing a quilt, finding threads that pull through and ties that bind: these ideas turn up as often in descriptions of music as they do in speaking of textiles. In the project Scottish Diaspora: Music & The Song the two arts have come to together.

Across the centuries and across the years, across continents and miles people from Scotland have settled, bringing with them the love of their native land and making Burns night suppers in India. Highland games in Australia, and Gaelic speaking towns in Atlantic Canada. These folk also brought their music with them, handed it on, and used it to tell stories of the lives they made in new places.

The arts community of Prestonpans in Scotland decided to ask people from these far flung Scottish heritage communities to tell their stories through cloth and thread, embroidering them into blocks which will form a large and ever growing tapestry. The folk at Greentrax Recordings began gathering music that shared the ideas of finding life in new lands while leaving and still loving Scotland. The result is a two disc recording that spans, poetically enough, opening with the song Scots Abroad, sung by The McCalmans, and drawing the music to a close with Brian McNeill’s take in The Rovin’ Dies Hard.

As the music winds between these two songs, you will find songs of yearning, songs of leaving, the occasional song of return, songs of new lives in Canada, in Australia, in England, the flavors of Scottish music mixed with aboriginal stories, Spanish rhythms, beats from India, and thoughts on the working life in England. There are farewell songs in English and in Gaelic, and songs of exploration and remembering in both languages as well. Among the voices telling these stories are Jean Redpath, Dick Gaughan, Donnie Munro, Margaret Stewart, The Cast, Rua, Salsa Celtica, Ali Mills, Fiona J. Mackenzie, and Stan Rogers. Standout tracks include Munro’s Strangers to the Pine, Mairi MacInnes on Carry Me Across the Ocean, Siobhan Miller with River of Steel, and Natalie Mac Master’s Glencoe Dance Set. All the songs and tunes are well worth your time to listen, though. Taken together, they make an engaging tapestry all their own.

In the liner notes you may learn a bit about each song, and see photographs of some of the completed tapestry blocks. You may see images of several more parts of the tapestry by following this link.

Photograph is by Kerry Dexter and is copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

You may also wish to see
The Scottish Book Trust’s Project Stories of Home
Julie Fowlis: Every Story
Scotland's music: Capercaillie: At the Heart of It All

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Listening to Ireland: Patrick season

Ireland: it is a twenty first century country, to be sure, and yet... the music and the stories, the legends and the landscapes, reach back across time to connect, to share to create, to reassure, to inspire. The music and the stories reach across the world, too, to new landscapes where Ireland’s far flung sons and daughters have made their homes, and to places where the sound of the music is the only connection.

During the spring of the year, Patrick season, folk often turn thoughts and hearts especially to those connections and to the music of Ireland. Here along the Music Road Irish music and the people who make it are a subject of conversation and reflection often, as are those Irish landscapes; you’ll find upwards of three hundred stories on these ideas in our archives.

For your Patrick season enjoyment, here are several to explore

Tommy Sands is from Rostrevor in County Down, just along the border with the Republic. He knows both dark and light sides, both the political side of recent Irish history and how it plays out in day to day life. To hear ways these make part of his music, take a listen to his albums Let the Circle Be Wide and Arising from the Troubles.

Cathie Ryan is first generation Irish American, and has lived long in both countries. Landscape, legend, and story all play their parts in the music she writes herself and what she sources from traditional and contemporary song. Hear this in her recordings Through Wind and Rain and The Farthest Wave.

The four members of T With the Maggies each have careers as members of other ensembles and collaborations. When the four women, who knew each other growing up in Donegal before their music took them along differing paths, got together to create an album, they made a project through which you may hear the wind and water, rugged mountains and hidden glens and crashing waves and tales and history that form Ireland’s far northwest. Learn more about this recording from T With the Maggies.

One of the Maggies on that album is Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, singer, fiddle player, and songwriter who is also founding member of the band Altan. They have traveled the world with their music and collaborated with symphony orchestras and American country superstars. Home in Donegal is where they made their album Poison Glen, which they chose to name after an especially lovely spot in their native county. Take a listen to fiery fiddling, graceful singing, and class act ensemble work on Poison Glen.

Mary Black does not always -- or even often -- choose music from Irish tradition. The native Dubliner is brilliant and hearing the stories and poetry, the threads that connect and pull through, in the work of contemporary songwriters, though. Many of her choices are songwriters from Ireland, but whatever she chooses, Black puts her own graceful and very Irish stamp upon it, and adds to the ongoing tradition of class act songs and singers in Ireland. Hear this in Twenty Five Years Twenty Five Songs.

There is more, of course, much more, to the music of Ireland, and I’ve more recordings and conversations with artists waiting in the wings to share with you -- and a book or two in the works as well. Keep in touch here along the Music Road to know more about all that.

Photograph of hillside in Louth, Republic of Ireland, is by Kerry Dexter and is copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

You may also wish to see
Women of Ireland: Music
Learning about Irish Music: a bouquet of albums
Julie Fowlis and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh: Dual

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Celtic Connections 2014

by Kerry Dexter

Celtic Connections: each year in January, this major music festival fires up concert halls. clubs, theaters, and other performance spaces across the city center of Glasgow with music that includes both the Celtic side of things and music that reaches out into the connections of music across the world.

Through the hundreds of gigs on offer, it is always an individual journey of what music to take in. Several highlights of the 2014 edition of Celtic Connections for me included

Hearing classical violinist Nicola Benedetti talk about -- and play -- collaborations with Scottish musicians including Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, andJulie Fowlis, which they have been working on for an album that native Scot Benedetti plans to release this summer

Seeing fiddler Duncan Chisholm bring his straight from the Highlands of Scotland music to the stage of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall that same evening, and knowing he was part of the opening concert at the first Celtic Connections festival twenty one years back

It wouldn’t be Celtic Connections -- or Scotland -- without the pipes. One of my favourite pipers this year was James Duncan Mackenzie, playing both traditional music and his own compositions as part of a concert at The Mitchell, and sharing stories of the tunes with a lively wit

Speaking of lively wit, that was as much in play as was world class music and dance as Cherish the Ladies with bandleader Joanie Madden

brought the heritage of Ireland to the stage of the Royal Concert Hall, to the delight of a sold out house. Among the guests was singer and songwriterCathie Ryan, who along with Madden and guitarist Mary Coogan was part of the group’s first appearance at Celtic Connections twenty years ago.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter. They were made with permission of the festival, the artists, and the venues involved, and are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

There will be more to come of windows into the sights and sounds of Celtic Connections 2014 here along the Music Road. You might also like to see

Celtic connections: twenty years of extraordinary music
Cherish the Ladies: storytellers in music
Celtic Connections 2013: Images

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Julie Fowlis: Every Story

Funny stories, lighthearted ones, sad tales and mystical ones, stories from friends and strangers, from landscape, from history, stories of love and joy, peace and challenge, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves: telling stories is the way we share and connect and understand who we are and the way we live. These stories are told through word and gesture, through images that are direct and those which hold mystery, through tone and voice and melody and harmony -- though music.

Those are ideas which are at the heart of Gach Sgeul - Every Story from Julie Fowlis. Fowlis sings in Scottish Gaelic. If you are thinking wait, that’s not a language I know, have no worries,you will hear stories in the music Fowlis and her musical friends make.

That is one of the gifts Fowlis shares with others you meet here along the music road: she connects stories that come from centuries ago to stories we tell and lives we live today. There are feelings of love and sorrow, laughter, friendship, joy, questions asked of life which may indeed have been framed in different ways and in different languages but remain the threads that connect us each to the other, and to those who lived before.

Fowlis is from North Uist in the Western Isles off the north coast of Scotland. There she grew up hearing songs from tradition bearers of Gaelic song alongside chart hits on the radio. The Western Isles are also a place where English and Scottish Gaelic live along side each other as languages of day to day life, and a place were songs and stories, as Fowlis writes in the liner notes for Gach Sgeul, “are... signposts telling us where, and who, we have come from.”

The stories Fowlis tells through these songs range from the tale of a woman who encounters the water horse, a creature of myth, and begs him to allow her to go home safely an unharmed in the song whose title in English becomes Love Let Me Home to My Mother. There’s a a lively dance of puirt a buel, mouth music, called Danns’ a Luidegan Odhar, whose words do not make a lot of sense in Gaelic or English but whose rhythm and melody will linger in your mind and have you imagining dancers stepping along, and perhaps trying out a few steps of your own.

Do Chalum, a spare, economical lament for a well loved brother, is a piece which Fowlis gives grace by understatement. There is a poem of love, choice, and loss by one of Scotland’s most well known writers, Sorley Maclean, become a song set to a melody composed by Donald Shaw, whose music you have met here along the music road before. The tales wind and intertwine through more songs, lullabyes, dance music, a song in praise of Clan Donald of Skye, some of them pieces Fowlis has knows since those days growing up in North Uist and others research in music archives and the gifts of other musicians have brought to her door. They are songs and stories, Fowlis finds, “ that help us shape our identity and give us a sense of belonging. They make us laugh, move us to tears, and give us moral guidance.”

To conclude the recording, the mystery of the Western Isles -- and other parts of Scotland and the world -- comes into play with two songs Fowlis has chosen based on ancient tales about the lives of seals and how they connect, perhaps, to human kind. Through it all, Fowlis sings with a natural storyteller’s grace and intelligence, varying her choices to suit the stories and melodies, respecting tradition while adding her own part to it.

In this she is well supported and partnered by regular band mates Eamon Doorley on guitar and bouzouki-guitar, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, and Tony Byrne on guitar, and guests including Donald Shaw, Michael McGoldrick, Karen Matheson, and the women who make up RANT, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl, and Sara-Jane Summers. aside: In case you are still wondering about Scottish Gaelic, Fowlis offer lyric and brief stories of the songs in both Gaelic and English in the liner notes booklet.

Photographs of Julie Fowlis at Celtic Connections 2014 are by Kerry Dexter. They were made with permission of the artist, the festival, and the venues involved. They are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.

You may also wish to see
Brave the movie, Julie Fowlis, and music
Julie Fowlis: Live at Perthsire Amber
Dual: Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

music of love

Love is the substance of all music, when you stop to think about it. Songs of love gone wrong and gone right in all sorts of ways, love for land, home, country, family, children, friends, love of tradition and family that keeps the music going on, and music that may not speak directly of these things but is brought into being by them. As I write this it is a time of year when love is celebrated especially. Here’s music to go along with celebrating all these sorts of love.

Romantic love is the substance of Someone Like You, sung by award winning country, folk, and Americana artist Emmylou Harris. A few of my favorite lines are
I never wasted a minute of my time
Every road I ever took led me to your side

Robert Burns, Scotland’s bard, wrote of aspects of love from romantic to bawdy to friendship. John Anderson My Jo finds the poet considering love that lasts across the years. Fellow Scot Eddi Reader does a fine and thoughtful job with it

Love between parents and children is the subject of December Child from Gretchen Peters and Mo Níon Ó from Cathie Ryan

Celebration of the many gifts of friendship is what Carrie Newcomer considers in The Gathering of Spirits
there’s a gathering of spirits
there’s a festival of friends
and we’ll take up where we left off
when we all meet again

Sharing love for land and home place is well told in At the Heart of It All from Capercaillie.
At the heart of it all
Is a calling to this land...

At times, love is shown with no words at at all. Molly Mason’s composition The Snowstorm is music of that sort I especially commend to you.

Blessing is a deep form of love, and so I will draw this to a close by suggesting that you take a listen to Cathie Ryan’s choice of a song of blessing, May the Road Rise to Meet You

Each of these artists well knows how to write and to interpret all sorts of love songs, so I commend to you the albums on which this music appears, and their other works, as well. At this season of love, also, I wish you love, joy, and peace -- and great music..

Did you notice the heart in the photograph? I saw it in the reflection whilst at a gig at the Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland. This photograph is copyrighted, and I thank you for respecting this.

you may also wish to see
music and mystery
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

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