Thursday, September 28, 2006

Timeless: Jim Post

Many of the riders on this Bus are, like me, Boomers, and the music of the 1960s and 1970s hold a special place in our collective memories.

One of the anthems of the protest movement was a song entitled "Reach Out Of The Darkness". You may recall the song which was performed by a duo that went by the name of Friend and Lover and made the top ten charts in 1968. Friend and Lover was singer/songwriter Jim Post and his wife Cathy Conn. The duo, and marriage, broke up after several recordings that never attained the popularity of "Reach Out Of The Darkness". Jim Post started his career as a member of the 60s folk group The Rum Runners. After the demise of Friend and Lover he continued writing and performing on the folk circuit throughout the Midwest. His songs have always been poignant essays on the world around us. Post has a keen eye and the ability to voice his views on politics, pollution, corruption, whatever seems out of sorts.

In the 1990s Jim Post took to the stage in a one man play as Mark Twain. His plays combine the words of America's greatest humorist with Post's well-crafted songs and have received excellent reviews across the country. Post and his second wife, Janet, have written several children's educational books and recorded an educational CD for young children.

The songs I have included here are from his 1979 live album, "Magic". The songs were topical when the album was released, unfortunately they are still relevant. Maybe even more than when they were first written.

Jim Post - Let The Sun Shine.mp3

Jim Post - I Want To Go Back To California.mp3

Jim Post - Get Off, Lay Back.mp3

Jim Post's timeless music of the past few decades, as well as all of his new works are available HERE. For more info on Jim Post's play "Mark Twain and the Laughing River" and his CDs, Children's books, and concert schedule visit

Now play "Get Off, Lay Back" one more time.
Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Steve Gillette

While I'm on the subject of a songwriters songwriter, Steve Gillette is a name you may or may not be familiar with even though he has been writing and playing music for over 40 years. Gillette grew up in Southern California in a musical household. In high school he got ahold of a banjo and a copy of Pete Seeger's book on banjo. He played bluegrass in a band on the campus of UCLA. Eventually he switched to the guitar and to folk music. He met up with Tom Campbell and began writing music. In 1966 they got their first big break when Canadian folkies, Ian & Sylvia, recorded their song "Darcy Farrow". Gillette turned to music full time, touring with the duo Bud & Travis as a supporting musician and later with Judy Henske. In 1967 he recorded and released his first solo album which never made the hit he expected. During the 1970s he recorded a string of albums, one with Emmylou Harris' backup band, one produced by Graham Nash, while all received critical acclaim especially from other musicians, none brought stardom. In more recent years he has toured and recorded with his wife, Cindy Mangsen.

Although he never achieved stardom as a performer, Steve Gillette is one of the finest songwriters of the later folk era. His songs have been recorded by Ian & Sylvia, Gordon Lightfoot, Garth Brooks, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, and Kenny Rogers. With his smooth, comforting voice and superb writing skills it has always been a mystery to me why he never made it in a commercial way. Perhaps it is better that he didn't get picked up by a major label in the sixties. If one looks back at most of the over-produced, commercialized folk-pop albums of the period, perhaps we are better off with the unadulterated music of this true folk icon.

Steve Gillette - Always a Train in My Dreams.mp3

Steve Gillette - Grapes on the Vine.mp3

Steve Gillette - A Little Bit of Solitude.mp3

These cuts are from the 1992 release "The Ways of the World". Steve Gillette's CDs, solo and with Cindy Mangsen are available from Compass Rose Music. The duo's "Live in Concert" and their latest release "Being There" are outstanding recordings.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong

Yesterday's post of Steve Goodman had me singing many of his songs to myself all day long. It also got me to wandering through my vinyl collection for related treasures. I was lost in old vinyl while listening to Goodman's "You Better Get It While You Can" and the subject of today's post became clear.

Carl Martin was retired and living in Chicagoland when Steve Goodman convinced him to get together with his old partners Ted Bogan and Howard Armstrong and join Goodman in the studio. The resulting album, "Jessie's Jig", long one of my favorites, introduced a new generation to a band that had already entertained a few generations.

I've posted about Martin, Bogan & Armstrong before but their story deserves a second look. Carl Martin, as Steve Goodman points out, was Born in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. It was in the 1930s that he first joined forces with Bogan and Armstrong. Although they united and reunited many times as The Four Keys (with bass player, Bill Ballinger), The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, and the Wandering Troubadours, Martin Bogan & Armstrong were popular throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. They made their way to Chicago sometime in the 1940s where they recorded some.

The trio played anywhere they could earn a few dollars. They are most often referred to as an excellent example of the African-American string bands of the pre-war era, but they were much more than that. In order to make a living playing music they had to be able to play all of the popular music of the day. They played jazz, pop, country, blues, ragtime, whatever the occasion called for. Carl Martin had even learned to sing in different languages and dialects.

The band stopped playing together in the late 1940s only to be resurrected in 1970. Carl Martin Died in 1979 and Ted Bogan died just a few years ago. Howard Armstrong recorded a CD, "Louie Bluie" (available from Blue Suit Records) in 1995 at the age of 86.

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong recorded three albums during the 1970s. "Barnyard Dance", on Chicago's Flying Fish Records, is one of my all time favorites, unfortunately it is out of print. "That Old Gang of Mine", also on Flying Fish Records (now part of the Rounder Group), has been reissued on CD and is available from Rounder Records. Of course they also recorded an album with Steve Goodman entitled "Jessie's Jig" on Goodman's own Red Pajamas Records, now part of John Prine's Oh Boy! label, and available from Music Fans Direct. Like Steve Goodman's albums, no collection is complete without some Martin, Bogan & Armstrong.

Steve Goodman - You Better Get It While You Can.mp3

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong - Let's Give a Party.mp3

Martin, Bogan & Armstrong - Yes Pappy Yes.mp3

Monday, September 25, 2006

Chicago Shorty

During the 1970s Chicago was the center of folk music in the United States. The Windy City was alive with musicians plying their trade at the little clubs that sprouted in the Old Town area. The most famous of these clubs was the Earl of Old Town on Wells Street. The Earl was a cozy nightclub owned by Earl J.J. Pionke that featured live music every night of the week. The audience was a mix of locals and other musicians who were there for the music. Some of the regulars on the stage at the Earl included Steve Goodman, Fred Holstein, Bonnie Koloc, Jim Post, and a host of others.

Steve Goodman was a student at Lake Forest College when he started playing for a living. It was 1969, he had just married Nancy Pruter and was writing commercial jingles to pay the bills when he was diagnosed with leukemia.

In 1971 the artists of the Earl issued a locally produced album entitled "Gathering at the Earl of Old Town" on which Goodman first appeared on record. Later in 1971, Goodman was playing at another little Chicago club called the Quiet Knight as the opening act for Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson was impressed enough with Goodman that he intoduced him to Paul Anka who recorded a few demo tapes and signed him to Buddah Records. Once again opening at the Quiet Knight, this time for Arlo Guthrie, Goodman asked Guthrie for his opinon of a song he had recently written. Arlo Guthrie liked "The City of New Orleans" enough to ask Goodman for permission to record it. The song became a hit in 1972 and provided Goodman with enough money to make music his career.

Steve Goodman was always active at the Old Town School of Folk Music and it was there that he met and mentored another folksinger by the name of John Prine. The two would remain good friends and collaborators. Goodman and Prine had written a spoof on the typical country song entitled "You Never Even Call Me By My Name", which was recorded by David Allen Coe in 1974 and hit the country charts. Goodman wrote many songs about his hometown of Chicago, including two songs for the long-suffering Chicago Cubs; "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" and "Go, Cubs, Go". Steve Goodman also saved a piece of stringband history when he convinced Martin, Bogan & Armstrong to join him on one of his albums and then to renew their own careers and begin recording again.

A songwriters songwriter, Goodman never found commercial success with his own recordings, although all recieved critical acclaim. He was a tremendous influence on other singer-songwriters.

Leukemia took Steve Goodman at the age of 36 on September 20, 1984. Goodman's ashes are buried under home plate at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

Steve Goodman - Somebody Else's Troubles.mp3

Steve Goodman - Six Hours Ahead Of The Sun.mp3

Steve Goodman - I Ain't Heard You Play No Blues.mp3

These cuts are from Steve Goodman's 1972 LP "Somebody Else's Troubles".
All of Steve Goodman's recordings are still available thanks to John Prine's Oh Boy Records. Buy them at

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Autumn: The second festival season

Well, it's officially autumn and the start of the second festival season of the year. I am especially excited about the National Folk Festival making it's home in Richmond for the second of three years. Three days of outstanding traditional music, traditional arts, and plenty of good food, beer, and wine along the Richmond riverfront. As always, admission is reasonable - FREE!

Last week the weather cooled off a bit. One could stand still outdoors without breaking a sweat. But Mother Nature was just teasing us, today the mercury was back in the 90s(F)and the humidity was not far behind. Hopefully it will cool down just a bit for the festival and the Virginia State Fair. Then I'll be looking forward to the fall rains filling the rivers again for some good paddling before it gets too cold.

Why don't we ease ourselves back into the workweek with a couple of songs by Clarence (Tom) Ashley and Tex Logan. The first features some mighty fine Autoharp and the second, some equally fine banjo.

Clarence Ashley & Tex Logan - May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister.mp3

Clarence Ashley & Tex Logan - Cluck Old Hen.mp3

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dulcimer Professor: David Schnaufer

Regular riders on the Bus know that I have a special affection for the more obscure instruments. The other day we heard some wonderful dulcimer music from Nettie Presnell. The dulcimer, like the Autoharp, is one of those instruments that one can learn to play a song on in a couple of hours. This feature is both a blessing and a curse. Both were designed to be affordable, easy to learn instruments, sold at a time when music was a homemade. Both were popular at homes in the rural Appalachians, although neither gained a very wide appeal.

While it's true that anyone can make music with a dulcimer within minutes of picking one up, it takes a lifetime to master.

David Schnaufer was one of the few to truly master this nearly-forgotten instrument. Schnaufer was born and raised along the Gulf Coast in Texas. As a kid he played harmonica and jaw harp while listening to the hard-core country music of Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Bob Wills. He had no ambitions to be a professional musician until he attended a four night series of concerts by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris at Houston’s Liberty Hall. After that experience he knew he had to play something with strings. He tried both the Autoharp and guitar without success. Then one day in an Austin music shop he found a beautiful sounding dulcimer and bought it.

David learned to play and experiment with styles and strums. After ten months of intense practice he entered the National Dulcimer Championships at Winfield, Kansas. He won first place! He moved to West Virginia and studied Old Time music under some of the best practitioners for four years. His next move was to Nashville, where he came to be a popular session man, recording with a wide range of artists. David Schnaufer's magical dulcimer appears on albums by Cyndi Lauper, Johnny & June Carter Cash, Mark O'Connor, and The Judds. He was one of only four musicians invited to play at the 25th wedding anniversary of June and Johnny Cash (The other three were Charley Pride, Bill Monroe and Norman Blake).

His knowledge of the dulcimer also gained him notoriety. He published papers with the Tennessee Historical Society and in 1995 joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music as Adjunct Associate Professor of Dulcimer where he headed a program of historical research as well as musicianship.

David Schnaufer died this past August at the age of 53, after a battle with cancer.
What he accomplished, both musically and culturally, as a champion of this obscure American instrument is amazing.

David Schnaufer - Here Comes The Sun.mp3

David Schnaufer - San Antonio Rose.mp3

David Schnaufer - Blue Moon Of Kentucky.mp3

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The 1970s: It was all about the 'grass, man

The 1970s were a period of change brought on by the turmoil of the sixties. A lot of folks were looking for a less commercial, less corporate-dictated lifestyle. The "back-to-the-land" movement was underway thanks to publications such as Mother Earth News.

The 1970s also saw consolidation in the ownership of radio stations (albeit, not near as destructive as the consolidation of recent years) and the buyout of many of the smaller, independent record labels by the majors. Bluegrass filled a need for natural, homegrown music free of corporate hype and meddling. It was during the 1970s that bluegrass festivals just seemed to spring up in any open field. It was a worldwide movement, too. The Country Gents toured and recorded a double album live in Japan, plenty of others toured Europe.

One might argue that this was bluegrass music's heyday. That is debatable, but it was a sort of coming of age party for the music, a global introduction to a new crop of loyal fans.

R. C. Harris and Blue Denim - Applejack.mp3

Country Cooking - Barrel of Fun.mp3

R.C. Harris played with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the early 1970s, He formed Blue Denim in 1973. This cut is from the 1978 LP "Grass Won't Grow On A Busy Street" with guest artists Bobby Hicks, Del McCoury and Herschel Sizemore. R.C. Harris turned to commercial country music for the past few decades. He has released a new CD this year entitled "Comin' Back To Bluegrass". Buy it at County Sales.

Country Cooking had a long string of LPs on the Rounder label. For a list of available CDs visit Rounder Records

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tell her lies and feed her candy

From the dripping-sweet songs of new found love to crying-in-my-beer-cause-you-done-me-wrong honky tonk tunes, the relationship between a man and a woman has been the subject of song ever since the dawn of civilization.

Here are a couple of bits of mountain wisdom on the subject.

Jim & Jesse - Tell Her Lies And Feed Her Candy.mp3

Bluegrass Playboys - Naggin' Wife Blues.mp3

I apologize if this weeks posts seem short and disconnected. I'm still working lots of overtime and fighting off a tough chest cold.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Dulcimer: Edd Presnell

The Appalachian Dulcimer, also known as the mountain, lap or fretted dulcimer, is one of those instruments, like the Autoharp, that never seemed to make it beyond a sort of cult following. After a year of unsuccessful accordion lessons that my grandmother insisted I take when I was 10 or 11 years old and 3 months of guitar lessons that did not have me playing like Jimi Hendrix, I had just about come to the realization that my musical talent was as a listener. On a kayaking trip in West Virginia when I was 15 I spied a dulcimer on the wall of a little country store. Now, the dulcimer is one of those instruments that some folks call the "idiot's instruments", as they are easy to make music without a lot of study. I figured that I was just the idiot to give it a try.

It's believed that the earliest forms of the mountain dulcimer were first made by German settlers in Pennsylvania during the 1780s. They were possibly patterned after the long, thin, rectangular zithers such as the German scheitholt. During the 1800s the dulcimer appeared in various shapes and sizes throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The dulcimer never did gain the popularity and widespread use that the fiddle and banjo enjoyed.

Actually, not much is known about the dulcimer's use in early rural music. A lot of what is known comes from the great Kentucky singer, and folklorist, Jean Ritchie. In fact it was Jean that introduced a generation to this obscure instrument through her concerts and recordings. Today David Schnaufer is the undisputed master of the mountain dulcimer, yet he and his instrument remain the specialty of a small group of aficionados.

Edd Presnell (1917–1994) of Avery County, North Carolina was one of the most respected of dulcimer luthiers. Edd was a wood turner when he married Nettie Hicks, daughter of dulcimer builder, Ben Hicks. Edd made his first dulcimer in 1936, patterned after one of Ben Hicks’ dulcimers. Over the years Edd Presnell refined his instruments and even today an original Presnell dulcimer is a sought-after treasure.

During the summer of 1956, early revival artists Paul Clayton, Diane Hamilton and Liam Clancy made a collecting trip through parts of Virginia and North Carolina. On that historic recording journey, the young revivalists found such great rural artists as Piedmont guitarist Etta Baker, the Kossoy Sisters, and Edd and Nettie Presnell. The long out-of-print LP has been reissued this year on CD. "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" is a collection of great music that inspired the Library of Congress to follow up with recordings of many of the artists featured.

Here are two cuts from "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" with Nettie playing one of Edd's dulcimers. Unfortunately Nettie does not get recognition on the album's liner notes. She is simply listed as Mrs. Edd Presnell.

Mrs. Edd Presnell - Shady Grove.mp3

Mrs. Edd Presnell - Sally Goodin.mp3

Buy "Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians" at

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Easin' back to work with the Cater Family

The start of another work week. This past weekend seems to have blown by in a flash, and to top it off, I seem to have come down with and end-of-summer cold.

I'll keep this post short so I can make myself a medicinal Hot Toddy and relax in my rockin' chair.

Let's start the week off with a couple of songs from A.P., Sara, and Mother Maybelle.

Carter Family - Don't Forget This Song.mp3

Carter Family - It'll Aggravate Your Soul.mp3

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The end of a long week

It's been a hectic week. I've been working some long hours, leaving the house before dawn and returning just in time to eat and post something here each night before hitting the sack, just to get up and do it all again the next day.

There was a time when I looked forward to working overtime. The more, the better. The money was good and I figured that if I was working all of the time, I couldn't blow all that hard earned cash at the pub. Now that I'm older I relish my time off. In fact, if I didn't have to eat, I wouldn't work at all!

As our kids are now leaving the nest, my wife and I have thought about converting another bus and returning to our pre-children gypsy lifestyle. Right now, the image of parking the bus beside a mountain stream, without any deadlines or schedules, is a mighty powerful dream. We still have a couple years before we will be able to consider such a move, but on weeks such as this one that image keeps me going.

For all you hard-working folks...

Kingston Trio - Greenback Dollar.mp3

Kingston Trio - Hard Travelin'.mp3

Rooftop Singers - Walk Right In.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Double Decker String Band

This has been a great year for new releases in both the Old time and Bluegrass fields. I, for one am glad to see this new interest in Old Time music.

I'd venture to bet that most of the riders on the Bus are familiar with the Double Decker String Band. Bill Schmidt, Craig Johnson, Bruce Hutton and John Beam have been playing some of the best revival string band music since 1977. The Double Decker String Band has a long string of albums on a long list of labels, unfortunately most of them are out-of-print now. This year they released "The Rest Is Yet To Come" on Tim Brown's 5-String Productions.

The Double Decker String Band learned the old tunes from 78s by such artists as the Georgia Yellow Hammers, Carter Brothers and Son, and the Alabama Shieks. Even though Old Time music was nearly extinct as many live radio shows featuring it faded off the airwaves in the 1950s and '60s, bands such as the Highwoods String Band, the New Lost City Ramblers, and the Double Decker String Band were gathering a new following. The Double Decker String Band has been consistent favorites at festivals over the years. It has been a few years since they entered the studio for a new recording. "The Rest Is Yet To Come" is the long awaited new album from a band that has upheld the tradition for the past thirty years.

Double Decker String Band - Lawdy, Lawdy Blues.mp3

Double Decker String Band - Who's Been Giving You Corn.mp3

Buy "The Rest Is Yet To Come" at 5-String Productions, CD Baby, Elderly, or County Sales

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Canadian Grass: Hard Ryde

If I wasn't already familiar with the great bluegrass of Hard Ryde, I might overlook their latest CD on the shelves of my local record store. The cover is a photo of five men standing on the fire escape of a urban brick building with the title "Expressed" sprawled on the building graffiti style. Even the list of band members, Doug de Boer, Nick McDonald, Wayne Ferguson, Rich Koop, and David Jack, would have one wondering if the CD was misplaced on the shelves. Come to think of it, they've got a theme going on with these CD covers. At first glance, none of them look like a typical Bluegrass CD.

Then again, Ontario's Hard Ryde is, and is not, your typical Bluegrass band. Hard Ryde has been collecting an impressive array of awards since their inception in 1997. Just last week the band was voted as the Showcase band at the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival at Brunswick, Maine. The band has been winning a slew of individual and collective awards at the Central Canadian Bluegrass Awards for years. With precise instrumentation and tight harmonies, Hard Ryde has proven just how well Bluegrass travels.

Visit their website,, and download a few cuts from their newest CD, Expressed, along with cuts from their previous CDs. I think you'll find that Bluegrass is thriving in the North.

Hard Ryde - Lonesome Road.mp3
(A great showcase of the superb talents of each member)

Hard Ryde - One Tear.mp3

Buy a copy of Expressed here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Before the harmonica: Quills

Long before Honer's harmonica was widely available in the southern states the quills were the bluesman's pocketable instrument. Quills are sections of cane reeds cut to various lengths and lashed together. The tone of each cane is determined by it's length and diameter. The lower end is left closed by a cane node and the player blows across the open top to produce a note. If this description sounds familiar it is because the quills are the North American cousin to the panpipes of Peru and Bolivia.

The quills are often referred to in oral histories but few written accounts exist. There are some mentioned in early plantation slave documents dating from the late 1700s and some mention of their use in New Orleans in the 1800s. Considering how popular the quills were, according to oral history, it's odd that there isn't much written about them. Recordings are even more rare. Alan Lomax recorded a few examples during his field recording trips to the South.

One of the few artist to have some commercial recording success playing the quills was Henry (Ragtime Texas) Thomas. Thomas was born in Big Sandy, Texas, in 1874. One of nine children born to freed slaves who sharecropped on a cotton plantation in northeast Texas, Henry Thomas learned to hate sharecropping at an early age and left home to make his living as a rambling musician. He hopped a freight to his freedom and made a living playing his music on the trains of the Texas & Pacific and the Katy Lines between Dallas and Chicago. Between 1927 and 1929 Thomas recorded twenty-three sides for the Vocalion label in Chicago.

Henry Thomas had a significant influence on music of another generation. His recording "Bull Doze Blues" was retooled by Canned Heat as "Going Up The Country" featured in the movie "Easy Rider". His "Fishing Blues" was beautifully recorded by Taj Mahal in 1969, and "Honey Won't You Allow Me One More Chance?" was revised and covered by Bob Dylan on his "Freewheelin'" LP in 1962.

It is a shame that the quills have fallen from favor, they have such a joyous sound.

Henry Thomas - Old Country Stomp.mp3

Henry Thomas - Fishing Blues.mp3

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Last Night I had The Strangest Dream

September 11, 2006
A solemn anniversary.

Only one song came to my mind as I sat to write this post.

The Chad Mitchell Trio took a few more risks than most other folkies of the 1960s by openly speaking out about the current events of the time.

One song has, unfortunately, remained topical.

Chad Mitchell Trio - Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Making Connections: Evan Duby

This week the Old Blue Bus has taken a few backroads and featured some wonderful new talent. Let's end the week with another up-and-coming artist whom deserves much wider exposure.

Manhattan born singer/songwriter, Evan Duby was raised on the thought provoking music of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and other masters of intimate, character study songs. As a young man trying to find his place in this world he wandered from New York to Boston and now resides in Stamford, Connecticut. His songs are an artful look into the hearts and minds of characters searching for answers to the complex questions of love and life.

Evan has recently completed a four cut EP entitled Bridge & Tunnel that he has made available for free download here. Give Evan Duby a listen, I think you'll be hearing more from this promising singer/songwriter in the future.

Evan Duby - Separate Ways

Evan Duby - Words

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New Lost City Ramblers: a strut and a stomp

I've featured some works of the New Lost City Ramblers here in the past. Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley (Paley left the band and was replaced by Tracy Schwartz in 1962) were the most popular of the young string bands to come out of the Folk Revival Movement of the 1960s.

NLCR built their repertoire by listening to the old Hillbilly and Blues 78's of the 1920s and '30s. Similar to how Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are building their repertoire by listening to the rock albums of the 1960s. The distinctive sound of the New Lost City Ramblers made them favorites of the festival and coffeehouse circuits and produced a long string of records on the Folkways label.

Today I've picked two tunes that just seemed to hit the spot for that mid-week hump.

NLCR - Smoketown Strut.mp3

NLCR - Jackson Stomp.mp3

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Update: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals - Stop The Bus!

"Stop the bus and turn the radio up high"

There's something about those lyrics...

A couple of months ago we were introduced to Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, the incredibly talented group of young folks from the wilds of Vermont. Grace and the group have been listening to and learning from those classic LPs in her parent’s attic when they aren't on the road. They have captured the feeling and energy of the great, classic rock bands of the '60s and '70s, and made it their own with well crafted arrangements, powerful songwriting, and, of course, young Miss Potter's phenomenal vocals.

The band seems to be paralleling the development of the music they play and love. Their first CD, Original Soul, was deeply rooted in the blues with soulful songs and sparse but powerful instrumentation, as was the classic rock music itself. The second CD, Nothing But The Water, built on the basis of Original Soul and blended in some of the sounds, feeling, and awe that was present in those classic albums of Led Zepplin, Traffic, King Crimson, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, et al., that defined a generation. Grace and the Nocturnals have continued to evolve in the nearly two years since their last studio release. Their skills as songwriters and arrangers, already sharp and mature beyond their years, are being honed to a fine edge.

If you don't have either of Grace Potter & the Noctunals CDs you can order them at indie911, CD Baby, Homegrown Music, Plan 9 Music, and your local record store.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Easin' back to the work week: Brooklyn Dreaming

Well, back to work after a long weekend here in the U.S.

Labor day is the unofficial end of the summer vacation season and a reminder that fall and winter are fast approaching. I'm having some trouble getting motivated to get back to the daily grind and figured I wasn't alone in those feelings. Let's ease ourselves back to our cubicle existence with something to conjure up more pleasant surroundings.

At first listen I thought it somehow odd that a band from Brooklyn, New York could create such beautiful, peaceful music. Hem is a Brooklyn-based combo of; Sally Ellyson (vocals), Dan Messe (piano, accordion, celeste, glockenspiel), Gary Maurer (guitar, mandolin), and Steve Curtis (guitar, mandolin, banjo, back-up vocals) who make up the core of the band. The current recording/touring band also includes Mark Brotter (Drums, Percussion), Bob Hoffnar (Pedal Steel Guitar, Dobro), George Rush (Bass), Heather Zimmerman (Violin), and Dawn Landes (Harmony Vocals, Glockenspiel).

Light and soothing, their music is a "Countrypolitan" mix that borrows from many genres, and masterfully crafts them into dreamy, peaceful orchestrations. Sally Ellyson's vocals float so easy on the ears throughout each cut, ranging from soft and lilting to powerful and always full of emotion. The soft, pleasing sounds of their new CD Funnel Cloud entice vivid images of peaceful plains and serene streamside. The arrangements are soft and easy on first listen, but with each play I find the music much more complex and well crafted. The CD's most pop-leaning cut is "Not California," a compelling tale of displaced lovers that was featured earlier this year on NPR's All Songs Considered. "The Pills Stopped Working" is a rollicking Honky Tonk tune that would be right at home on the juke box in any bar. On the title cut, "Funnel Cloud", Sally Ellyson describes a beautiful, pastoral scene just before a tornado hits. Her beautiful voice paints a clear picture in one's mind. "Old Adam" features some fine, bluesy slide guitar and wonderful harmonies. All told, a very peaceful, rewarding CD for those times when one needs to slip out of the drudgery of the work-a-day world.

Perhaps it's not so strange that a band from Brooklyn, New York would create such beautiful, flowing music after all.

Hem - "He Came to Meet Me"

Streaming Windows Media

Streaming Real Audio

Hem - "Not California"

Streaming Windows Media

Streaming Real Audio

Hem's new CD, Funnel Cloud will be available in better record stores today, Sept. 5th. Or buy it on-line here.