Tag: folk

Larry & Joe is an acclaimed folk duo that performs a unique fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk featuring harp, banjo, cuatro, fiddle, maracas, guitar, upright bass and whatever else they could fit in their tour van. The duo features:

  • Joe Troop, a North Carolina-based Grammy-nominated bluegrass and old-time musician, who spent over a decade in South America with his acclaimed “latingrass” band Che Apalache. With the pandemic, Troop got stranded in his old stomping grounds and as a result, his primary project was forced into hiatus. Troop shifted into action, working with asylum seeking migrants. 
  • Larry Bellorín, a Monagas, Venezuela-born, North Carolina-based Llanera music legend, and asylum-seeking migrant. Bellorín has worked various construction jobs to make ends meet, and writes and performs music in whatever spare time allowed.

Currently based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Troop and Bellorín are versatile multi-instrumentalists and singer/songwriters on a mission to prove that music has no borders and that music is the universal language. Their work is a distinct blend of their musical and cultural inheritances and traditions paired with storytelling about the ways that music and social movements coalesce. 

The duo’s latest single is an ebullient rendition of “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” one of the most beloved and oft-covered Latin holiday songs ever written. The duo’s rendition features a bilingual intro and break, and lyrics mostly sung in Spanish, as well as a playful and dexterous nod to “Here Comes Santa Claus” on the violin. The song also adds some instrumentation to the arrangement that aren’t on the most known versions — including banjo and others. “Mi Burrito Sabanero” further cements the duo’s boundary busting sound and approach rooted in a deep empathy, playfulness and a much-needed sweet, kindness, while offering something for everyone to enjoy.

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Deriving their name from the Nahuatl for The Mockingbirds, the Richmond, CA-based Los Cenzontles (pronounced senn-SONT-less) — is an acclaimed touring and recording band and nonprofit cultural arts academy for kids. Over their three-plus decade history, the recording and touring outfit has dug deep into cultural traditions, creating a vibrant, contemporary sound infused with the gutsy soul of Mexico’s rural roots, releasing over 30 albums. 

The collective have supported those albums with tours across the US, Europe, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. And they’ve collaborated with an eclectic array of acclaimed, internationally recognized artists including The Chieftains, Los Lobos, Los Tigres del Norte, Ry Cooder, David Hidalgo, Linda Ronstadt, Taj Mahal and a lengthy list of others. 

Their core members also serve as the programming staff and teachers of Los Cenzontles Academy, where they have been passing on musical traditions to new generations and inviting their students to perform with them on stage and participate in production projects since 1994. 

The Richmond-based outfit’s remarkable 33rd album,  Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano was released earlier this month. The album sees the collective collaborating with son jarocho masters Grupo Mono Blanco and Cuban cuatro master Kiki Valera to create material that meshes Cuban Son cubano with Son jarocho from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Last month, I wrote about the Mono Blanco-penned album track “Matanga,” a virtuosic and shimmering mesh of Mexican folk and Cuban folk cultures built around an arrangement that features Cuban congas; Zapeteado de tarima, a percussive drum-like instrument that you tap your feet on; quijada, a percussive instrument made from the jawbone of a donkey, cow, horse or mule that’s cleaned of tissue and dried out, so that the loose teeth rattle when struck with a fist; jarocho jarana, an eight-stringed guitar-meets-mandolin-like instrument with the strings in five courses — usually arranged in two outer strings with three double-courses in between; requinto, a smaller, higher-pitched version of a guitar, and used throughout much of Latin America; cuatro cubano, another mandolin-meets-guitar-like instrument that can be single-stringed, double coursed or tripled coursed paired with Mano Blanco’s soulful delivery singing lyrics that tackle the universal themes of love and loss. 

“Matanga” was rooted in a unfussy production that captures remarkable musicianship and old-fashioned craftsmanship with the immediacy, familiarity and playfulness of a bunch of friends jamming together on the porch on a Sunday afternoon, playing the beloved old songs and finding something new every single time.

Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano‘s latest single “Como un Perro” is a slow-burning and shimmering ballad that meshes both Cuban and Mexican folk traditions that sounds like the salsa, meringue and bachata ballads I grew up listening to in Corona, Queens, NYC — while being rooted in soulful, earnest performances and virtuosic playing.

New Video: Clementine Valentine Shares Haunting “The Rope”

Kiwi-based sibling duo Clementine and Valentine Nixon have had music and performing embedded in their lineage: Traveling musicians and performers go back hundreds of years on their maternal side — and was documented on recordings such as 1968’s The Traveling Stewarts. As children, the Nixon Sisters were taught to sing traditional balladry by their grandmother, the daughter of revered Traveller musician Davie Stewart, who was recorded by Alan Lomax.

Professionally, the sibling duo have made a career our of music that draws from that nomadic family heritage and conjures a series of contrasts: ancient and modern, beauty and brokenness, the ritual and the fleeting and more. Raised itinerantly between New Zealand and Hong Kong, the Kiwi-based sibling duo cut their teeth performing in renegade gallery spaces and rogue music venues across Hong Kong’s abandoned industrial section, eventually amassing both national and international attention with their acclaimed experimental noise and futuristic noise pop project Purple Pilgrims.

Their Purple Pilgrim material was frequently self-produced and released through a series of labels including beloved Kiwi label Flying Nun Records. With their latest project Clementine Valentine, Clementine and Valentine Nixon write, record and perform with a fusion of their birth names. Sonically, the project sees the sibling duo refining their craft into a more fully realized and sophisticated sound than ever before.

Their Randall Dunn-produced Clementine Valentine full-length debut The Coin That Broke the Fountain Floor is slated for an August 25, 2023 release through Flying Nun Records. The album reportedly marks a pivotal moment in the pair’s creative evolution: The material sees them transposing their keyboard-and-guitar driven demos to cello, pedal steel, 12 string guitar and a collection of vintage synthesizers. Matt Chamberlain, who has worked with David BowieLana Del Rey and Fiona Apple contributed percussion for the recording sessions.

The result is material that’s lush, shimmering and softly orchestral while being an accumulation of songcraft that has stretched back generations within their family.

Last month, I wrote about album single “Time and Tide,” a single built around the duo’s gorgeous and expressive vocal range, soaring hooks and choruses, dramatic percussion, strummed guitar and atmospheric synths. Sonically nodding at Kate Bush, “Time and Tide” aims for the celestial and the timeless, while being one of the more optimistic-leaning songs of their career to date.

“We thought we were only capable of writing sad songs — but found optimism creeping in during the writing of this album,” Clementine and Valentine Nixon explain. “Without ruining the mystery, ‘Time and Tide’ is about the release that comes in too brief moments of relinquishing overthinking, fret and regret. It’s coloured with melancholy, but cheerful by our measure.” 

The Coin That Broke the Fountain Floor‘s second and latest single “The Rope” is a haunting siren song that pulls the listener in, much like the old Greek myths — but whether it’s to safety or your demise is ultimately up to the listener. The Nixon’s sisters’ unncaily breathtaking harmonies ethereally float over a sparse arrangement of their vocals, strummed guitar and gentle percussion. Unlike it’s immediate predecessor, “The Rope” is clearly informed and inspired by a deep understanding and love of folk tradition.

“The rope acts as a motif to connect us to our ancestors – we wanted it to feel as though it could be both ancient and of now,” the Nixon Sisters explain. “A feeling we call ‘ancient futurism’ – something we’ve been chasing in our songs for years now. We were reaching for a feeling simultaneously sinister and comforting as, to us, so many ancient songs are.   

“We’ve always listened to a lot of new music, but the core of our creative expression has always come directly from our deep familial folk music traditions. This is something that has not always been easily identifiable, perhaps due to the fact that we’ve never been interested in making ‘folk revival music’ — there’s no finger picking on any of our family records. The folk element in our songs is on a DNA level, stretching back beyond the 1960s wave that folk music is commonly associated with.   

Having felt for a long time that pop, and (more importantly to us) lo-fi or bedroom produced music, to now be the true music of the people (accessible to all) — we finally decided we wanted to use more acoustic and ‘traditional’ instrumentation to express this feeling of modernising relics.   Although our personal tradition of using an excess of synthesizers is still very much present all over this album, ‘The Rope’ is very stripped back for us and tells the story of our family music in a way we never have before.”

Directed by PICTVRE — the directorial and creative duo of Veronica Crockford-Pound and Joseph Griffen — the gorgeously cinematic, black and white visual for “The Rope” is inspired by 1960s noveau vague film — in particular Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi/noir Alphaville and Ingmar Bergman’s psychological drama Persona.

New Video: Montréal’s Alex Nicol Shares Hauntingly Bittersweet “Hollywood”

Alex Nicol is a rising Montréal-based singer/songwriter, who spent five year period playing in a number of different projects, including Hoan, an act that released their critically applauded EP Modern Phase back in 2017.

Nicol stepped out into the spotlight as a solo artist with the release of his full-length debut 2020’s All For Nada. All For Nada featured “Trust,” a slow-burning and gauzy song built around the Montréal-based artist’s achingly plaintive falsetto, shimmering guitars, a supple bass line and a soaring hook. And while the song reminded me of Canadian freak folk outfit Loving, the song as Nicol explained in press notes “is about whatever meaning the listener finds in it. For me, it’s about doing laundry (appreciating mundane tasks), honouring old traditions, striving to be a more ecological person, the realities of climate change on everyday life. . . ”

All For Nada‘s long anticipated follow-up Been A Long Year Vol. 1 EP was released last month. The EP’s last single, the bittersweet sigh “Hollywood” is built around a haunting arrangement featuring strummed acoustic guitar, twinkling keys and gently padded drumming paired with the Canadian artist’s achingly tender falsetto expressing the tension of unrealized dreams and aspirations — and a begrudgingly uneasy acceptance of the present. Certainly, if you’re in a creative field you’ve felt this deeply and have acknowledged in your life. But there’s also a deeper — and infinitely more positive — acknowledgment at the core of the song: that the narrator has actually accomplished something and has come a very long way to do so.

“Lyrically, ‘Hollywood’ is a reflective song in which I begrudgingly accept that I have failed to find success yet, with Hollywood symbolizing the fame-in-youth narrative that, because I am no longer young, I will never be able to claim,” the Montréal-based singer/songwriter explains. “But if the verses are where I list all the things I will never do, in the choruses I remind myself of all that nourishes me at home, and how far I have come. I have always considered myself a late bloomer, and Hollywood ends optimistically: me and the great blue sky, and all the opportunity that it conveys. Hollywood is a signpost in my path as a musician, marking the end of my youth, in which I was ravaged by self-doubt, and the beginning of my next chapter, in which the sky’s the limit.”

Directed by Alexander Maxim Seltzer, the accompanying video for “Hollywood” is shot on grainy camcorder cassette tape, and follows Nicols at Niagara Falls imitating seagulls, then at a what appears to be a Montréal-based arcade — by himself. The video ends with Nicol going to a low-budget wax museum, where the celebrities don’t quite look right. The video ends with Nicol pretending to be interviewed by a wax figure Jimmy Fallon, which further emphasizes the feeling of unfulfilled dreams and aspirations.

New Audio: Berlin’s KAYAM Shares Dreamy “Omens”

Berlin-based sibling duo KAYAM — Kim (vocals, Celtic Harp) and Mike Rauss (vocals, guitar, loops) — have had a multicultural upbringing with stints residing in England, Germany and Israel, and understandably those experiences have influenced the duo’s eclectic and continually expanding sound and approach, which they’ve dubbed “Falafel Pop,” a playful and affectionate reference to the fusion of styles that defines their work — and a reference to their love of chickpeas.

The sibling duo’s sophomore album Omens was released earlier this year, and it features album title track “Omens,” a gorgeous and dreamy bit of folk built around looping and lush finger plucked guitar, twinkling harp and the sibling’s breathtakingly beautiful harmonies. Sonically, “Omens” reminds me quite a bit of Loving‘s gorgeous If I Am Only My Thoughts.