Category: Folk Music

Helga is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter, who hails from the central Swedish province of Dalarna, known for its deep forests. Living in a remote cabin with just a guitar for company has given her songwriting a rather unique sense of introspection. The Swedish folk/rock singer/songwriter’s forthcoming EP Nebulous as she says in press notes feature songs that are “a musical translation of her inner and physical world.” Helga adds “I personally love reverb-drenched music and sounds, drawing inspiration from my dream world and Swedish folk music.”

“In The Wilderness,” the melancholy and atmospheric first single from Nebulous is centered around layers upon layers of shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, propulsive drumming and Helga’s gorgeous yet mournful vocals. While the song sonically and tonally brings JOVM mainstay Holy Wars to mind, the song thematically focuses on the state of an environment (and natural world) that’s under increasing threat of permanent destruction from humanity’s greed, indifference, stupidity and myopia. Arguably, one of the heavier songs of the up-and-coming singer/songwriter’s growing catalog, the song features an arena rock-like hook, revealing an ambitious songwriter, who’s adept at making the personal universal and vice versa. “Clearly Trump’s environmental policy is alarming, leading this world to the path of destruction. We currently live under capitalist insanity,” Helga fumes in press notes. “Mankind’s insatiable greed is slowly destroying this planet. We perceive ourselves as separate from nature and dominant over it and it’s incredibly sad. When will we realise that we are a part of the natural world, and not superior to it? An overwhelming feeling of sadness is washing over me. Sometimes I wish Carl Sagan were still with us today. I’m sure he would have many great things to say.”

Pale Mara is an indie duo comprised of Lee Godleski and Allison Robinson and from the “Bird,” the first single off their forthcoming self-titled album, which is slated for a December 14, 2018 release, the duo specialize in an old timey sort of sound that brings to mind 70s AM rock — in particular, “Bird” recalls The Carpenters and Carole King among others. However, they do so without being a mere time period-based mimicry; in fact, underneath the autumnal vibes and careful attention to craft there’s a quietly self-assured sense of purpose that set it apart.

New Video: The Moody Sounds and Visuals for Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir’s “Up in Arms”

Blake Brown is a Denver, CO-based singer/songwriter, who after participating in a number of collaborative projects, founded Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir in 2013 with the idea that it’d give him the flexibility of playing solo while collaborating with a revolving cast of friends, who could play whenever they were able to do so; in fact, the revolving cast behind The American Dust Choir has featured members of The Fray, The Films and Tennis. However, after three EPs and countless live shows, the band has settled on a permanent lineup featuring Brown, his wife Tiffany Brown, and longtime friends Jason Legler, Adam Blake, and Trent Nelson.  

The Joe Richmond-produced Long Way Home, Blake Brown and The American Dust Choir’s full-length debut was released earlier this year and the album while further cementing the band’s reputation for a sound that meshes indie rock with folk/Americana paired with complex melodies and heartfelt lyrics based around experiences within Brown’s personal life — in particular, heartbreak, deception, reflection, growing up and becoming adult and so on. Adding to a growing profile, the band kicked off the release of their debut with an official SXSW showcase, in which they opened for Keith Urban. 

“Up in Arms,” Long Way Home’s latest single is a twangy bit of indie rock that nods at Fleetwood Mac and 70s AM rock, complete with a rousingly anthemic hook and some impressive guitar work and while being unhurried, the track manages to be tinged with the bittersweet memories and experiences within a relationship; in fact, the recently released video is shot with superimposed double exposures, meant to evoke the duality between the inner and outer worlds of its protagonists. 

Sarah Beatty is a Hamilton, ON-based singer/songwriter, who cites a rather diverse array of influences including Hank WIlliams III, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Sarah Harmer, Sue Foley, The Beastie Boys, G. Love and Special Sauce, Chopin, Led Zeppelin, Sinead O’Connor, Ani DiFranco, Loudon Wainwright III, The Grateful Dead, The Flaming Lips, Handel, Tony Rice and Doc Watson, among a lengthy list. Her forthcoming sophomore full-length effort Bandit Queen is slated for release on February 3, and the album is a connect album based around the life of a renowned 19th century bank robber and horse thief Belle Starr. As Beatty explains in press notes: ” “When I read about Belle Starr, the fabled bank heist mastermind turned horse thief, she grabbed my attention immediately. And from that original inspiration, I began imagining and contemplating all kinds of stories that rarely get told about women, even in the 21st century. Each of the songs on this record tells a different story, and as a collection they become the spine of a whole other adventure.”

While Beatty’s vocals remind me a bit of a more soulful Joni Mitchell, the song possesses a quiet, self-assured swagger, while portraying its subject with a profound understanding and empathy; in some way, the Bandit Queen at the core of the song is seen as a post-modern hero. As Beatty explained about the song  “There are all kinds of mythologies telling people who they are and who they aren’t. With this song, I wanted to invite the dark parts into the storyline and inspire listeners to be their whole, real, bodacious, outlawed selves” — or perhaps to be embrace their inner “Nasty Woman.” And in many ways, it’s a subtly punk leaning version of contemporary folk. In this incredibly fraught and uncertain political environment such a message seems particular fitting. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the release of her 2014 full-length debut, Rooms With Walls and Windows, the currently New York-based singer/songwriter Julie Byrne received attention nationally for the sort of thoughtful and personal songwriting and lyricism that nodded at the work of Joni Mitchell and others. And although it has taken two years to write and record, Byrne’s highly-anticipated and soon-to-be released full-length sophomore effort Not Even Happiness will likely further her burgeoning reputation for thoughtful  and personal songwriting, and in the case of the new album, the material draws from both the commonplace aspects of life and a series of recollections of her nomadic travels. Songs on the album talk about bustling roadside diners, staring at the stars over the desert, the wildflowers of the California coast, the mysteries and frustrations of love  and so on. But interestingly enough, Byrne’s new album has her subtly expanding upon her sound, pairing unusual guitar tunings and fingerpicked melodies with additional, atmospheric instrumentation and electronics; in fact, as you’ll hear on the hauntingly beautiful and hushed single “I Live Now As a Singer,” the material can nod more towards the hushed and dramatic electro pop of Majical Cloudz as Byrne’s gorgeous and tender vocals are paired with undulating and atmospheric electronics. “Follow My Voice” pairs gently fingerpicked guitar, gently atmospheric electronics and strings with Byrne’s haunting vocals. I may not frequently write about traditional singer/songwriters here; but by far Bryne is a beguiling and lovely presence, who possesses an uncanny ability to write songs that have a gentle and thoughtful heart.

You can catch Byrne live as she’ll be performing two of what I hope will be more live sets. Check out tour dates below.

 

TOUR DATES:

Live Concert Review: Xylouris White with Marissa Anderson at National Sawdust

November 11, 2016

 

Those who know me the best know that I lead an insanely full life. I commute back and forth between my apartment in Queens and my full-time day job as an Acquisitions Editor at a downtown Manhattan-based book publisher, run this site on the side as a mostly full-time effort, participate in a radio segment that airs Fridays on Norway’s P4 Radio and on occasion I even have time for a social life. And if I had a 40-hour day, I’d probably squeeze in even more that I’d need to do or would like to do! As you can imagine, with all of those various and competing obligations it can be difficult to spend some time to actually sit down and write in a way that I’d like; but as a wise man once rhymed “the hustle don’t sleep.”

Last month, I was at one of Williamsburg’s newest and most intimate venues, National Sawdust to catch the highly-acclaimed duo Xylouris White along with the incredibly talented Northern California-born, Portland, OR-based guitarist Marisa Anderson. Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site over the past month or two, you may recall that Xylouris White is comprised of Comprised of Melbourne, Australia-born, New York-based drummer Jim White, who’s best known as a member of the internationally acclaimed instrumental rock act Dirty Three and for collaborating with an incredible list of equally renowned artists including PJ Harvey, Nina Nastasia, Cat Power, Bill Callahan a.k.a. Smog and others; and beloved Crete-born vocalist and laouto player Giorgos Xylouris, best known as the frontman of Xylouris Ensemble and the son of legendary vocalist and lyra player Psarantonis Xylouris. The duo’s collaboration together can trace its origins back to the early 90s when the renowned Cretan vocalist and laouto player was touring through Australia in the early 90s. At the time, White was a member of Melbourne, Australia-based avant garde rock band Venom P. Stinger, when he met and befriended the younger Xylouris. When White along with bandmates Warren Ellis (violin and bass) and Mick Turner (guitar and bass) formed The Dirty Three, Giorgios Xylouris would collaborate with the band whenever he and his Ensemble were in town. Interestingly enough, the members of The Dirty Three have publicly cited Psarantonis and Giorgios Xylouris as being major influences on their sound and approach.

Although White and Xylouris have known each other for more than 20 years, it wasn’t until 2013 when they decided that should collaborate together, and it was accelerated when White played with both Psarandonis and Giorgios Xylouris at an All Tomrorow’s Parties Festival, curated by Nick Cave. Unsurprisingly, the duo’s long-held mutual admiration has deeply influenced how they write and perform music – and in some way, it sounds as though the duo is dancing, as at any given point they could be accompanying or leading each other and at any given moment and their live sound reflects that same mischievous fluidity while drawing simultaneously from both contemporary and ancient folk; in fact, during their National Sawdust, Giorgios Xylouris sang the lyrics of a song based around a 14th century love poem in his native Greek and the although the majority of the audience didn’t understand the words, we could understand the ache and longing within the song, punctuated by White’s jazz-like drumming. Several other ballads throughout their set evoked the imagery of herders and farmers singing around campfires with friends and family, before passing on the instrument to the next person.

While watching the duo playing “Black Peak” off their recently released Black Peak album, the stomping and rollicking song took on an improvisational and jazz-like feel as you can see both musicians practically having a non-verbal conversation with each other – in which at any given point White or Xylouris will say to the other “now, it’s your turn.” “Hey Musicians,” took on a wildly, mischievous, almost danceable feel; in fact, off to the corner of the room, I saw a few people dancing and stomping about with a joyous ecstasy while the rest of the crowd was enraptured by the old pros, doing their thing with an effortlessly cool, self-assuredness while walking a tightrope between an elegantly simple beauty and a muscular forcefulness.

Northern California-born, songwriter and composer Marissa Anderson is a classically trained guitarist, who dropped out of college at 19 to walk across the country and eventually settle in Portland, OR, where she’s currently based. Interestingly, Anderson is a classically trained guitarist, who has honed her skills playing in country, jazz and circus bands, collaborating with Beth Ditto, Sharon Van Etten, Circus Des Yeux and others, and has written the scores to a number of short films.  With the release of her first solo efforts – namely, her 2009 debut The Golden Hour, 2011’s Mercury and 2013’s Traditional and Public Domain Songs Anderson has developed a reputation for a sound that channels the entire history of guitar-based music and stretches the boundaries of tradition, as many of her compositions are not only based upon the landscape of American music but attempt to re-imagine them as her work possesses elements of minimalism, electronic music, drone, 20th Century Classical Music, blues, jazz, gospel, country, folk and Americana – often simultaneously.

Anderson’s latest effort Into the Light has Anderson leaving the Appalachian folk and Delta blues that first won her attention from the likes of Billboard, Rolling Stone, NPR, Spin Magazine, Pitchfork and Wire among others – with Into The Light landing on Spin Magazine’s best of 2016 and her split LP with Tashi Dorji being named one of the best experimental records of 2015 by Pitchfork and The Out Door. Anderson’s latest effort Into the Light, has the composer and songwriting leaving Appalachia and the Delta Blues – with the album’s ten compositions written as though they were the soundtrack of an imaginary sci-fi/western in which she tells the story of a lost visitor wandering the Sonoran Desert. And as a result, the material on the album is naturally cinematic and anachronistic in a similar fashion to the night’s headliner – in the sense that the material manages to feel both contemporary and yet timeless.

Adding to a growing national and international profile, Anderson has made appearances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Sweden’s Gagnef Festival, Fano Free Folk Festival, Le Guess Who and the Festival of Endless Gratitude, as well as opening for the renowned duo Xylouris White during their brief East Coast tour, a tour which also included a stop at National Sawdust last month.  Accompanying herself with only her guitar, Anderson’s set further cemented her reputation for material that went across both the breadth and length of American music – briefly touching upon early Delta blues, folk, murder ballads and country but a with a uniquely earthy and post-modernist take, while being deeply contemplative. She’s been known to perform a version of “House Carpenter,” a title given to most American derivatives of the British folk song “Demon Lover,” a song roughly about a woman, who takes up a lover, has an affair and leaves her husband and kid – only to discover that she’s fallen in love with a demon/Satan; however, Anderson’s rendition, as she explained before she played it was meant to consider the woman’s perspective, which not only humanizes the song’s main character, but manages to be pensive and lonely in a similar fashion to “Make Sure My Grave Is Kept Clean.” Interestingly, Anderson has frequently played a medley of both songs – and it shouldn’t be surprising as the narrators of both songs wind up dead and in some way plead for forgiveness, understanding, empathy through the years.

The material off Into the Light manages to evoke natural phenomenon – a song inspired by Anderson’s time in the desert, observing harshly swirling and howling winds can make you picture people huddling in from dust storms or sitting around a fire, just listening and thinking. It was a song that possessed an elegant and deceptive simplicity. And the entire time the crowd was enraptured by this woman playing instrumental compositions that could burrow deep into the earth, yearn and arch themselves heavenward or just focus on the simple joys of being happy and existing in a particular place in time. Simply put it was a fascinating night of old pros capturing a crowd and taking them in challenging, new sonic and thematic directions.

Kadhja Bonet is a Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and classically trained multi-instrumentalist — she plays guitar, flute, violin and viola — who has at the start of her recording career has been both private and mysterious, insisting that her audience convene with her on imaginative and musical planes instead of through associations with any particular scene, venue or sound. And in fact, “Nobody Other,” the first single off her forthcoming full-length debut The Visitor sounds as though it were quietly released in the late 60s or early 1970s as Bonet accompanies her stunningly gorgeous vocals with gently strummed guitar, an ethereal flute line along with soaring organs in a sweet love song that evokes walking hand-in-hand with a lover through a fall leaf strewn park and waking from a pleasant dream while nodding at folk, psych folk and jazz. Sonically, the song features an uncommonly unfussy and unadorned production that puts the focus on an elegantly simple arrangement and Bonet’s gorgeous vocals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains to a family of teachers and educations, Julia Jacklin originally thought she would follow a similar path as a social worker; however, the young Jacklin chanced upon a documentary about Britney Spears  while on a family vacation that changed the course of her life. As Jacklin mentions in press notes “By the time Britney was 12, she’d achieved a lot. I remember thinking ‘Shit what I have done with my life? I haven’t achieved anything.’ So I was like ‘Mum, as soon as we get home from this holiday, I need to get singing lessons.”

As the story goes, classical singing lessons were the only kind a young Jacklin could take in the area, but she took to it; however, by the time she was in her teens the lack of her own personal expression and she quickly joined a high school band, in which she spent time singing Avril Lavigne and Evanescence covers. And as you can imagine, she was quickly hooked — and recognized that music was something she should consider.

Recognizing you have to take a creative path and figuring out which path it should be often comes about in a series of epiphanies and serendipitous events. Jacklin’s second major epiphany came after she had finished high school. While traveling through South America, she ran into high school friend and future collaborator Liz Hughes. Bonding over a love of indie, Appalachian folk trio Mountain Man, the duo started a band together, initially with Jacklin singing the songs that Hughes wrote. “I would just sing,” Jacklin explained in press notes. “But as I got my confidence I started playing guitar and writing songs. I wouldn’t be doing music now if it wasn’t for Liz or that band. I never knew it was something I could do.”

Recorded in New Zealand’s Sitting Room Studios with Ben Edwards, best known for his work with Marlon Williams, Aldous Harding and Nadia Reid, Jacklin’s forthcoming full-length debut Don’t Let The Kids Win is indebted to the influence of Fiona Apple, Anna Calvi while drawing heavily from folk, alt-country and classic country as you’ll hear on the album’s first single “Leadlight,” a single I recently stumbled on while writing about another single. And if you can imagine it, I stopped what I was doing at my cluttered desk and was immediately moved by the ancient ache in this young singer/songwriter’s voice  — an ache of lost and squandered chances, terrible decisions, lost loves and longing that manages to be both a bittersweet lament that has its narrator seemingly saying “how did I fuck that all up — again?” and the wisp of a smile over the fact that life is often embittering, messy and enchanting. Such wisdom in someone so young — the singer/songwriter is only 25 — is a rarity and with a voice that hints at Patsy Cline and others, I think we’ll be hearing quite a bit from Jacklin.

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