Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ireland's Music: The Alt

Knocknarea, near Sligo in the west of Ireland, is a place of history marked by stones and tombs going back to the Neolithic Age. It is a place of legend and story, going back, perhaps, beyond that. It is also a place of connection and friendship, qualities much in evidence when three Irish musicians gathered near there to rehearse for what would become a new collaboration. They named they decided to name their band and the first recording they would create after a glen on the side of the mountain which is called The Alt. I

t is not that John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary were looking for extra things to do: each has a lively career in solo work, in bands, and in teaching. When Kennedy and Doyle crossed paths on Cape Breton Island at the Celtic Colours Festival, though, they found a musical connection they wanted to explore further, and soon added O’Leary to the mix. Each of the three is an accomplished singer. Kennedy plays whistles and flutes. Doyle and O’Leary are both guitarists and play bouzouki. All of them are rooted in the music of Ireland, and have deep knowledge of songs and tunes of their native country, and each has experience of living and traveling in other lands.

All of these things play into the music they chose to record together. Though each is an accomplished writer of song and tune, they decided for their first album together to focus on music from the tradition. Each brought music to their gatherings, songs and tunes with story and melody that spoke to and of the traditions of the music of Ireland and to qualities of life, connection, and story that speak across time as well. There are love songs of varied sorts, songs of travel and of change, despair and hope, a touch of wry humor, and through it all, really fine stories well told. There is journey in the words and in the melodies as well, from quiet to rollicking, from rhythms to dance or tap your foot along to ones to lean in and listen closely. Songs include Finn Waterside, Willie Angler (also known as The Banks of the Bann), The Eighteenth of June, Lovely Nancy, Cha Tig Mor mo Bhean Dhachaigh sung in Scottish Gaelic, a nod to Kennedy’s longtime residence in Edinburgh), and One Morning in May.

Trading lead and harmony singing, lead lines and backup on their instruments, Doyle, Kennedy, and O’Leary create music which is at once intricate, delicate, strong, and straightforward. Begun in the shadow of Knocknarea in the west of Ireland and brought to recorded form in a quiet cabin the Appalachian Mountains of the southern United States,The Alt holds history, melody and stories well told, and the heart of friendship in the sharing of them all.

You may also wish to see
Shadow and Light: Irish Music from John Doyle
 music and journey

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Music for an Easter Weekend

Two meditative pieces which go well with the contemplative nature of Easter weekend, though neither of them have precisely to do with Easter itself.

Classical violinist Nicola Benedetti plays The Lark Ascending, which she has recorded on her album Fantasie.

Julie Fowlis sings the lament/song in praise of Calum, called Do Chalum. She has recorded this on her album Gach Sgeul / Every Story.

you may also wish to see
Scotland's Music: Julie Fowlis: Every Story more about this album
Scotland's Music: Nicola Benedetti: Homecoming -- A Scottish Fantasy a different album from Nicola Benedetti, on which Julie Fowlis also appears
Lessons from an Old Lament thoughts on an Irish song often sung at this season

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Music & Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer Continues

Songs come to musicians in all sorts of ways, and they make notes and shape ideas and work out words and melody in all sorts of ways. “If you line up eleven songwriters and ask them their process, they’ll give you eleven different ways,” says Carrie Newcomer. “For me there’s there’s kind of literary bent to it, I guess, where I do a lot of poetry writing, and short stories, and essays. From those pieces, songs emerge.”

She isn’t thinking about the songs while she is immersed in other sorts of writing, though, not directly. It is, rather, the ideas and characters and flow of things she is working on -- or working out.

“I might have to write the whole essay to get tot he one line that starts a song,” she says. “Also, a lot of it is how I process -- people say I’m pretty prolific, as a songwriter, but I think it’s just how I process my world, and my life. So I’m always writing, and I do a lot of poetry.

“Once I have the poem or the essay or maybe even a series of poems,” she continues,”I have all this language, and all these ideas I’ve been musing with -- it’s like I have this whole palette of stuff to work with, and I’ve thinking about it, mulling the idea over. Then when I go to write the song I might have some language I’ve been thinking through, but the words and the music happen together.”

What has also happened recently is the publication of Newcomer’s first book, called A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays. It is a companion piece to her album A Permeable Life. Newcomer turned to community funding for this recording, and at first was going to put together a small collection of poems to thank those who had helped make the album possible. “I had started a blog and begun posting some of my poems, so there was some interest in seeing a collection, so I thought I was going to put together a few poems that people might see as having a connection to songs,” she says. “But as I was doing that and we started sending them out, the response I was getting was really wonderful, really heartwarming, and we decided -- actually, my husband really encouraged me, he said you know, let’s just release this as a companion piece to the new album. So I said, yeah, sure, let’s do that!” Newcomer says, laughing.

”I’m used to putting out albums, and there’s a certain kind of thing that happens whenever you put out an album, or a song.You’re taking a certain kind of risk -- whenever you put yourself out there artistically, there’s certain kind of vulnerability to it. I’ve done enough albums now that I’m expecting it -- that doesn’t mean it gets any easier, it’s just that you’re familiar with it,” she says. “ But I had never put out that kind of art work before.”

There are thirteen essays and twenty six poems in the book. It is not necessary to know Newcomer’s work as a musician, or to have heard the songs on the album A Permeable Life, to appreciate what she’s doing as a poet and essayist, though the ways she tells stories and the ideas she choose to emphasize, and the language she chooses, do cross points and paths across the two projects. There are some pieces which relate directly to songs, and some which do not, or for which the connection is less clear. What is clear, however, is that Newcomer’s gift for observation, for including details of the natural world, and now and then bringing in her wry sense of humor come through whichever art she is practicing. So, too, does her gift for making the personal universal, and the thread of finding the sacred in the ordinary. In the essay called In the Sitka Pines, for example, an experience of the wilderness of Alaska an learning about Alaskan salmon forms the gateway into thoughts on transformation, in a piece that’s slightly longer than a page and all the more powerful -- and all the more leaving room to draw the reader in -- for its brevity.

Transformation, the idea of thresholds, and the practice of being present are threads which run through the songs on the album A Permeable Life and in differing ways through the material in the book A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays as well. The poem To a Titmouse finds transformation anchored in connection to an encounter on a snowy walk; Dharamsala, a poem begun after an experience while visiting India, suggests presence, connection, thresholds, and the possibility of transformation as well -- all done through an account of a procession and those watching it.

As a songwriter and singer, Newcomer has command of her tools and uses them to invite community, reflection, and the asking of good questions about life, faith, and change. These too are present in what she creates with her essays and poetry.

Countless prayer flags lifted in the mist
It was like music,
Light and fleeting,
LIngering in the quiet,
Filling the world with longing
And our own good intentions.

~excerpt from Dharamsala copyright Carrie Newcomer

You may also wish to see
Music and Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer
India to Indiana in song and image
Ireland's Music: The Small Hours: Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Ireland's Music: Cara Dillon: A Thousand Hearts

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bluegrass to Bach to Blues: Savannah Music Festival

Swing jazz to Suor Angelica, Hot Club of Cowtown to Brooklyn Rider’s chamber music, Lunasa from Ireland, Lucinda Williams from Louisiana, Kayhan Kalor from Persia, ring shout, gospel, Brazilan soul, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Bach, Sor, blues to bluegrass to Borodin: all these are but a taste of wht is going on at the Savannah Music Festival, which runs this year from 19 March through 4 April, in historic venues across the city’s center and riverfront.

It is Georgia’s largest music festival, and has become one of the world’s most respected cross genre music festivals. There are ten world class chamber music concerts on this years schedule, a schedule which benefits from co-artistic director Daniel Hope’s world renown prowess as a player himself -- he’s a violinist -- as well as the festival’s record of presenting one of a kind collaborations in historic venues well suited for listening to the nuances of classical performance.

Those same venues, which include the Johnny Mercer Theatre, Temple Mickve Israel, the Charles H. Morris Center, the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, and the Ships of the Sea North Garden, are also welcoming platforms for the soul deep musical styles of the Heritage Blues Orchestra and the local Georgia traditions of gospel and ring shout from the McIntosh County Shouters. The rowdy, rootsy folk rock of the duo Shovels and Rope find a home in these places too, as does the Voice of Cuba Orchestra’s Latin Dance Party and the Atlanta symphony Orchestra’s program including Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. Always highly anticipated, too, are finale gigs from the festival’s two innovative music education seminars, Swing Central Jazz and Acoustic Music Seminar, both which see young musicians from around the country creating at the highest level.

Lunasa brings in pipes, whistles, fiddle and flutes from Ireland, while South Africa meets the American South in a bill pairing up songwriter and singer Vusi Mahasela’s songs of his homeland and its struggles with the Appalachian and old time background of Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus. Mavis Staples brings her six decades of experience in gospel and soul music, Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester add their own spin to classic bluegrass, and Rosanne Cash weaves deft stories of life, love, and he American south in her poetic lyrics and graceful voice.

With that line up -- and it is only part of what takes place -- it is no wonder that audiences comes to Savannah from across the world to be present at these concerts. Bluegrass kicks things off this year, with the highly regarded Balsam Range making their Savannah Music Festival debut on the first evening and the closing day of the event offering an afternoon of classical piano, and evening gig by singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, and a late night dance party hosted by DakhaBraka, a world music band from Ukraine know for their ability to engage audiences with their unexpected melodies and rhythms. In between, more than one hundred performances take place in intimate venues across Savannah’s historic district

At this writing, several concerts are sold out, but there are many good seats left for other gigs. Find out more at the festival’s web site.

Photographs: Kayhan Kalhor by Ali Boustan, Brooklyn Rider and Dirk Powell courtesy of the artists and the festival

You may also wish to see
American South in Song: Rosanne Cash
The festival’s radio show from Georgia Public Broadcasting
Celtic Connections: seeing music

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ireland's Music: Cara Dillon: A Thousand Hearts

Finding songs to record is, for Irish singer Cara Dillon, rather like a journey -- a journey through time and ideas, words and melody, through songs from the traditions of Ireland, contemporary song, and at times music she and her husband and musical partner Sam Lakeman write themselves. They have learned to take their time with things, with letting the music and the ideas take them on journeys, and find the best ways to put their own stamp on them as they share the music with their audiences.

As they were considering the songs that make up the collection they have gathered for A Thousand Hearts they were struck by by a thread of hearts and passion which run through the stories told. Not that the pieces are all romantic love songs -- there are those, but alongside them songs of longing, regret, choices, change, faith, mystery, love for land, emigration, and humor -- all things which encompass and are encompassed by love. So they came to the title A Thousand Hearts.

Dillon often crosses the borders of musical styles in her work, but it is to Irish tradition that she returns as the base for her understanding of and respect for music.

“I’m from a very small town in County Derry, in the northwest of Ireland,” Dillon says, “ and basically where I’m from music, traditional music, is a way of life. Everyone is encouraged from when they’re knee high to play an instrument and to sing. to learn the local songs of the town there, Dungiven, and the local history and the legends of the town.”

It was to memories of music she learned while growing up that Dillon and Lakeman returned for several pieces on the album. My Donald is one such: it is the story of a woman thinking of her man, who works on the sea following the whale. In Dillon’s introspective treatment, it seems as though the listener is hearing the woman’s tale directly -- set off by an instrumental bit at the end which both allows Dillon’s gifted backing musicians to show their chops and suggests thoughts of those stormy and distant seas the sailor might traversing.

The Shores of Lough Bran finds Dillon giving a thoughtful take on an emigration song, which in a way resonates with her choice of Shawn Colvin’s modern day song of another sort of leaving, a love affair which is, as you might gather from its title, going to end: Shotgun Down the Avalanche. Lough Bran is, in fact, a much more hopeful and upbeat song, which makes sense, but both speak of longing and change -- as does River Run, another contemporary piece written in memory of one who died at a young age. River Run, Dillon’s voice is backed by Lakeman alone on piano, offers a quiet meditation on grief and change done with just the right degree of understatement.

All of which may make the album sound a bit grim; it’s not, not at all. There are upbeat songs, for one thing: the cheery story and melody of Jacket So Blue, the wry humor of Eighteen Years Old are two.

Speaking of love, and hope, and hearts: two of the strongest songs on the album -- though all of them are keepers -- treat of these things in differing musical and lyrical ways, but yet the threads of love, hope, choice and change resonate through them as well. Bright Morning Star Arising, from Canadian musician Ruth Moody, suggests that idea of hope and change -- for the better, this time -- through both title and lyric, and Dillon has found that when she does it in concert, people in her audiences are singing along with the choruses. Taímse Im’ Choladh. which Dillon sings in Irish, is an aisling, a dream song, in which Ireland (or Scotland, the song is known there are well) appears in a dream in the person of a beautiful woman urging the dreamer to rise and help her.

Whatever the source of the song they are working on at the time, “we always try to keep the song at the forefront of what we do, myself and Sam,” Dillon says, “because we both have such a great respect for the tradition. The way we describe it to each other at times is like finding a really beautiful gemstone and trying to find the right setting for it, so that it’s the focus of everyone's attention. The setting is just as important for it to be seen. We work on the songs a lot, and sometimes people come up after the show and say, is that a traditional song, or a song that you’ve written? And to me, that’s quite a big compliment.”

Gorgeous voice, thoughtful phrasing, backing players who add their own gifts to the telling of the stories: with A Thousand Hearts Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman have indeed met the challenges they set themselves. Take a listen; take more than one. Each song is a gem which reveals another facet as listenings unfold.

Photograph of Cara Dillon by Kerry Dexter, made at the Celtic Connections Festival with permission of the artist, the festival and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

Note: the links from the title will take you to AmazonUK, where you may learn more and from which readers in the US and elsewhere in the world as well as the UK may order, if desired. At this writing, the music is not available directly from US sources. Music Road is an affiliate of Amazon both US and UK. This does not influence coverage in any way.

You may also wish to see
Ireland's music: Cara Dillon: Lass of Glenshee
Julie Fowlis: Every Story
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Explore the Elements

Rhythm, tone, melody, cadence, word choice, story telling, heritage: those are the sort of elements we most often discuss here along the music road. For the moment, though, I invite you to take a look at images that evoke the physical elements of earth, water, air, and fire -- which of course have their place in the stories of music, as well. This is in response to a challenge set by Thomas CookUK. Further down you will find about how you could respond to this challenge yourself -- and a few ideas of music to go along.

Rather than grandeur, I chose intimacy to frame these elements. Winter in Cooley, in Ireland, suggests intimacy to me, and always welcomes me home.

Earth: the rock of this mountain is millions of years old; mist rises anew each winter morning

Air: what does this have to do with air? look closely and you will see the snowflakes falling...

Water: there are many peaceful scenes of the waterside in this place, and rolling waves as well - and there are times when the wind down from the mountains meets up with the waves, producing this

Fire: mysterious and welcoming one in the same -- and welcome after winter snow, mist, and water

One of the requirements from Thomas CookUK is that five other writers be nominated to take on this challenge. Whether they choose to explore the elements or not, I think you will find their ideas and images of interest.

Jessie at Journey to Scotland
Corey at Irish Fireside
Irene at More Time to Travel
Vera at A Traveler’s Library
Shannon at Leap Little Frog

and the challenge itself, should you wish to join in: details at Thomas CookUK

Music ideas to go along
Shadow and Light: Irish Music from John Doyle
Music and Mystery: Conversation with Carrie Newcomer
Listening to Ireland: Patrick season

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Best Music 2014

Music is about story, told through words and notes, rhythm and harmony and tone and timbre and all these things together. It is about journeys real and spiritual and imaginary. It is about connection, conversation, exploration, discovery, and trust. Take a listen to this music, the best music of 2014.

Music is conversation: conversation between artist and audience, between musicians, between those who listen and think and create music all along the way from early idea to performance to recording. Matt and Shannon Heaton decided to focus on conversation as dialogue in the songs they chose and created for the album Tell You in Earnest You will find songs from the Celtic tradition adjusted a bit, contemporary covers, a very funny original piece with an ideas from the tradition as its spark. There’s a song with a motorbike in it and a song from Thailand. Murder ballads to love songs, stories told in, well, conversation, it’s a fine project well worth your listening for the stories alone. You’ll also enjoy fine singing and great harmony work, as well as Matt’s skill on guitar and Shannon’s on flute.

Nicola Benedetti is a classical violinist, a musician in demand by concert halls across the world for her art. A musician who loves challenging herself, she is known for her mastery of music from Shostakovich to Taverner to film composer Korngold. Benendetti is also a Scot. While her musical path took her in a different direction than the jigs and reels and ballads and Burns songs of her native country, she’s always loved them.Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy finds Benedetti pairing the Scottish Fantasy of Max Bruch -- a classical piece which draws on tunes of Scotland’s tradition and which gives the subtitle to the album -- with sets of music from Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns and tunes by iconic fiddle player James Scott Skinner along with a set of Gaelic puirt a beul and tunes, music by contemporary Scottish folk musician Phil Cunningham, a ballad from the Gaelic tradition, and to close things out, the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond. Benedetti is not alone in her journey: for the Bruch and other sections she is joined by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The folk music finds her joining up with talented players including Phil Cunningham on accordion, Aly Bain on fiddle, Eamon Doorley on bouzouki, Duncan Chisholm on fiddle, Tony Byrne on guitar, James Macintosh on percussion, Michael McGoldrick on flute, Ewan Vernal on double bass, and Julie Fowlis on vocals and whistles. Every bit of it is brilliantly done, a true exploration of the music and of musicians joining together to add colors and ideas in service of tradition and collaboration. “This album comes from a very deep. personal place,” Benedetti has said, and that passion shows through clearly in service to the music.

The idea of being present to what moves you and calls your attention -- those things that led Benedetti to choose that sort of project -- are very present in Carrie Newcomer’s most recent recording A Permeable Life as well. Newcomer is a poet of the American heartland, drawing on the landscapes and stories of her native Indiana as well as what she brings of those to her world wide travels with her music. “Finding the sacred in the every day, that is one of the themes that draws me,” Newcomer says, “that, and being present, really present in each moment. On this album, too, there’s the idea of thresholds.” You will find those ideas spun out in the moment of bringing a cup of water to a friend, in the many meanings left by an empty chair, in thoughts on a rainy afternoon spent putting up dill beans and spiced peach jam, in a promise made on shifting light of an autumn morning, in connections and hope found in a night drive home through along a snowy road. Newcomer knows what she’s talking about; she knows how to ask good questions; she has a poet’s sense of image, and a thoughtful, beautiful way of singing as well.

Julie Fowlis also has the gift of telling story and making connection through the tools of music. I her case there’s an added element: she sings most often in Scottish Gaelic, a language that’s not widely spoken even in Scotland. Fowlis grew up with it the Outer Hebrides, and found herself increasingly drawn to learning the stories people who spoke this language told. Her interest and her passion, and her understanding come through on Gach Sgeul / Every Story. There are tunes for dance, stories of legend, work songs, traveling songs, songs of connection and kinship and place. You’ll understand, even if you do not understand the words. Fowlis is joined on the album by members of her regular touring band Eamon Doorley, Tony Byrne, and Duncan Chisholm, as well as guests including Donald Shaw and Sarah-Jane Summers.

Cara Dillon also knows well how to express story in song. Her album A Thousand Hearts includes a range of songs in English and Irish that consider aspects of love and connection. from sadness to laughter to romance to questions to trust. There are songs from the tradition -- Dillon is from Northern Ireland -- as well as contemporary pieces. Her voice anchors and guides a team of talented backing musicians to illuminate stories including The Shores of Lough Bran, My Donald, and Bright Morning Star.

Rosanne Cash has a story of journeys to tell on her recording The River & The Thread. A family connection -- the restoration of her father’s house by Arkansas State University -- drew Cash, long resident in New York, back to the south, to travels through Alabama, Mississippi, and back to Memphis where she was born. In her songs onThe River & The Thread there are people and places, stories and melodies, as haunting and as true, as real and as imagined as you may find along the deep back roads of the American south, in the past and yet today. The Long Way Home, Tell Heaven, Money Road: with titles like that, you know you have to listen. Along the way, Cash will take you on travels through words and through music, paying respect to the sources while adding her own visions. Listen...

It’s a hard road, but it fits your shoes
Son of rhythm, brother of the blues...

Lizzy Hoyt draws on landscape and family in her music, as well. In her case that’s the landscape of Alberta, in western Canada, and of Ireland, from whence her family came. An award winning songwriter, step dancer, and player of fiddle, harp, and mandolin, Hoyt focuses these talents in New Lady On the Prairie with a title song which honors the journey of emigration her great aunt made. There’s the fast paced song from French Canada, V’la l’bon vent, and from the Celtic tradition The , and original pieces which stand up alongside these. Hoyt is a singer of clarity and precision who brings these tunes to vibrant life, as she does with fiddle tunes including the original piece Jubilee Reel as well. She also takes on the often overworked song Danny Boy, giving it an understated treatment that well serves the song and adds her own stamp to it. Joining Hoyt are several musicians whose names will be familiar if you have walked the music road here before including John Reischman, Christine Hanson, and Jeremiah McDade.

The stories Christine Albert has to tell on Everything's Beautiful Now are ones of loss, change, hope, and resilience. The title track takes its words and them from things Christine’s mother in law spoke of to her in her last hours. Reflecting on this, and on other losses of friends and family in recent years. Albert has written and chosen a group of songs that recognizes pain in such changes as well as the joy and hope that come along the way through them. Austin, Texas based Albert has a a warm, inviting way with singing as well as writing: all these together make the recording one that reveals more to reflect on and enjoy with each listening.

Tony Duncan and Darrin Yazzie come from the west, too -- the southwest, of the United States. They are of the First Peoples, Apache and Navajo respectively. Tony plays flutes and Darrin is a guitarist. Drawing on Native stories and legends, the landscapes of the southwest, the rhythms and moves Tony experiences as a traditional hoop dancer, and the lives of their families for inspiration, for Singing Lights they have created a dozen pieces of instrumental music which invites both engagement and contemplation. Coyote, Dances, Singing Lights, Together We Danced, Sedona Sunrise, Nakai (Whippoorwill), Where the Wind Blows: the title themselves offer an invitation to enter this dialogue among flute, guitar, landscape, and spirit.

Engagement and contemplation are two aspects of what Hanneke Cassel offers on her album Dot the Dragons Eyes as well. Her instrument is the fiddle, and her style is that of Scotland with touches of Cape Breton and Americana now and then -- a thoroughly respectful and focused and original take on Scottish tradition, you might say. Time in China with her music led her to compose and name the title track; there’s a set of tunes from the tradition, a tunes dedicated to young people she met in Kenya, and all manner of other creative takes on the traditions of Scotland’s fiddle heritage, including The Captain, Jig for Christina, The Marathon (for Boston), and Lissa and Corey/The Sunrise.

You might guess from title of Claire Lynch’s album Holiday! that is has a seasonal winter theme. That is so, but odds are you’ll want to keep it playing at other times of year too. Lynch’s graceful, gentle yet strong soprano is a natural fit to give holiday chestnuts including Home for the Holidays, White Christmas, and Scarlet Ribbons a fresh sparkle, and this time out her band members step forward to sing lead on two songs as well, to good effect --check out Snow Day and the Hanukah song In the Window. Lynch is a gifted songwriter as well, and that talent plays in to Holiday! also. Rooted in bluegrass but equally at home in folk, swing, and country, Claire Lynch and her band offer a gathering of songs which may well become a seasonal classic.

Jerry Douglas delved deep into the roots of Americana, country, and folk with his project called Earls of Leicester. It is a tribute of sorts to bluegrass icons Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, done by a dream team band of American roots musicians comprising Tim O’Brien, Charlie Cushman, Shawn Camp, Barry Bales, and Douglas. “Flatt and Scruggs were the major influence on me when I was growing up,” Douglas says. “I was around seven year old when I first saw them... It had a huge impact on me. I remember the warmth of the auditorium, I remember the smell of the popcorn, I remember the outfits they were wearing. It’s all very vivid to me, and it’s still influencing me fifty years later.” The band takes on fourteen classics from the Flatt and Scruggs songbag, some well known, some a bit less well remembered, and infuse each of them with new energy and timeless respect for tradition. They also make a showcase as do Benedetti and friends, above, for the varied ways top notch musicians with their own careers can collaborate to brilliant effect.

Kyle Carey names the music she does Gaelic Americana. On her album North Star she draws on the American folk songbag for style with her song Casey Jones Whistle Blow, a song of dreams for a better day, and a slightly eerie song connecting Ireland and the American west and immigration called Wind Through Casper. Northern Lights, North Star, Winter Fever, June Day -- many of Carey’s original songs have to do with change, and coming to terms with that. She holds a storyteller’s line and gift in the singing of these as well as the writing, leaving space of the listener to make his or her own way into the stories. There’s also a fine cover of Across the Great Divide, and a lovely take on Sios Dhan an Abhainn/ Down to the River to Pray which Carey sings in Scottish Gaelic. Musicians who support Carey on the project include many whose names will be know if you walked along the music road before, among them Seamus Eagan, Katie McNally, and Natalie Haas.

Emily Smith is a musician who connects present day and tradition in her work as well. She is from the southwest of Scotland, and often chooses and writes songs with a connection to her home ground. Smith finds that this deep connection to landscape and history sparks ideas as she follows her career as an internationally touring musician, as well. For her album Echoes she has chosen songs ranging from the traditional ballads My Darling Boy and The Twa Sisters to the contemporary song John o’ Dreams. Jamie McClennan, Kris Drever, and Jerry Dougals are among those who sit in with Smith, whose warm, inviting voice and gift for phrasing draw the listener in to the journey.

The Alt is a project of John Doyle, Eamon O’Leary, and Nuala Kennedy each have more than enough to do with other musical involvements, but the three decided they really liked what they came up with when played together, too, and this recording is a result. It is quite a bit like sitting in on a session of an evening with three very talented and creative friends. Each of them sings, Doyle plays guitar, mandola, and bouzouki, O’Leary plays guitar and bouzouki, and Kennedy plays whistles and flutes. It’s an inviting combination of talents, well matched and met as they move among murder ballads, love songs, quiet tunes and lively ones, fine trading of lead voicing and graceful support on harmonies, through track including. The Geese in the Bog/Covering the Ground, One Morning in May, and Lovely Nancy.

Song and story, connection and conversation through music, have been part of Mary Black’s life since she was growing up in Dublin, long before she became internationally respected for her fine voice and fine song selection. You’ll find out more about that background should you read her memoir, for whichDown the Crooked Road (The Soundtrack) is, as it says a soundtrack -- of sorts. It’s a generous eighteen tracks, including many songs you may know well and several you may not have thought of for a time. As Black herself mentions it would not have been possible to include all the songs she mentioned in the book in one album, so if you know her work well, it is interesting to see what she did choose. If you are not familiar with Mary Black, this could be an excellent starting point, and certainly it makes a fine companion to reading the book. Among the songs included are Faith in Fate, Past the Point of Rescue, Colcannon (with the Black Family), Carolina Rua, I Live Not Where I Love, and Who Knows Where the Time Goes.

You could consider Chris Smither’s two disc set Still on the Levee a soundtrack of sorts, too: the twenty four track project is issued to celebrate Smither’s five decades of a life in music as a songwriters and touring musician. Long resident in New England, he returned to his native New Orleans to record new versions of some of his favorite songs. Fifty years on the road or not, Smither is in fine voice and guitar (and his trademark tapping foot) as he travels through Leave the Light On, Song About Rosalie, Another Way to Find You, and other selections that weave blues, folk, American, and country into stories that show why artists including Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris have chosen to cover his songs and sing them nightly on the road. Smither does too: fifty years on, he can still be found playing his music from Portland to Boston, from Amsterdam to London. It’s a story well told, and still in the telling.

Note: some of these artists and albums you have met here before along the music road; others you will meet in future. Most of the links here take you Amazon US or UK, where, in most cases, you will be able to hear excerpts from the music. Music Road is an Amazon affiliate: if you purchase anything on your visit after following one of these links, your price does not increase but Music Road will receive a small commission, which helps keep this small business going. Thank you for that!

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