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Wayne Henderson

Wayne Henderson doesn’t have any albums out. I’m afraid you have to go see him play live. He also makes some of the best guitars around.

Happy Traum – I Walk The Road Again

I Walk the Road Again’ is a breathtaking collection of bittersweet country-folk and blues tunes. …the effort boasts brilliant arrangements of a host of old favorites from Happy’s voluminous repertoire. A low-key masterpiece, this album demonstrates that it’s not the pace that matters so much as the road itself. It’s a road we’re glad to see Happy Traum walking so well again

It’s an old album from 2005. Did you know they are still doing shows? Their schedule is available in their web page.

Moonsville Collective – Heavy Howl

Even on their more upbeat tracks, there’s a shot of melancholy running through Moonsville Collective’s Heavy Howl. Moonsville Collective is a California-based, seven-piece Americana group—including two generations of the same family—playing the sort of music that one might expect hill folk to play, but with the occasional harder edge.
Heavy Howl showcases some excellent playing. Mandolin player Matthew McQueen, in particular, has some incredible moments, like on the instrumental “Chickens Hate Heat.” His nimble work is a highlight on a track where most players (all of whom are quite wonderful) get a moment in the spotlight on this old-school, wildly lively song. McQueen’s mandolin line on the chugging road song, “End Of The Line” is especially lovely. The opening track, “Blue Money Grove” features some acrobatic mandolin playing. The song is dark, urgent, threatening, and heavy. Mandolin and fiddle swirl like autumn leaves on a sidewalk, elegant and fluid. Vocalists Corey Adams and Ryan Welch make some fine, husky harmonies. It’s a must listen.
Songs on Heavy Howl range from the old school jam session of “Chickens Hate Heat,” to the very modern Americana feeling of “Rollin’ In Paradise.” Banjos chug along under chunky guitars, and Corey Adams’s voice is gritty and right. It sounds much like a Blitzen Trapper song, if a bit slight lyrically. Heavier, lyrically, is the appealing “Chicago,” a yearning story of the hope of building a life together (“We can start a family and build a home” is repeated and heart tugging). It’s an honest, lovely song, with subtle drum rolls all the way through thanks to drummer Drew Martin’s effective playing. You can’t help but hope things work out for the couple in the song, because they certainly didn’t for the sad narrator of “Nowheresville.” Doomed relationships, life passing by, it’s all here and heartfelt. The production is wonderful: careworn vocals, a spacious piano sound of simple ringing chords. It’s all spare and quite moving.
The charmer “Big Jimmy” feels like an ancient song catapulted to modernity. The harmonies are sublime on this character study and the chorus is frightfully catchy. “Cow And The Cream” is an elegy about a fading way of life: farming. The lonesome harmonies and sad fiddle (Sean Kibler’s playing is spot on and perfectly melancholic) make the track evocative.
Heavy Howl is a satisfyingly rootsy, sometimes twangy album. Moonsville Collective have made a timeless record that, while dipping toes into different branches of the Americana stream, find that the waters all flow from the same place. It’s an album steeped in a rich history of American music, with just enough variation to keep things lively.

Stray Birds – Best Medicine

Sounding in passing a little bit like Nickel Creek blended with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Stray Birds are one of the folk- and bluegrass-influenced string bands reshaping the sound and feel of modern Americana, grounded in traditional elements recast in a 21st century light. Comprised of classically trained multi-instrumentalists Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and Charlie Muench, and featuring two distinct and fully complementary songwriters in de Vitry and Craven, and highlighted by gorgeous harmonies (all three sing), Stray Birds have enough melodic pop DNA to feel fresh and new even as they also sound at times like they’re from a previous century. Best Medicine is the trio’s second full-length, following 2012’s critically acclaimed and self-titled Stray Birds (the group released an EP of covers, Echo Sessions, in between in 2013). All but two of the dozen songs here were written by either de Vitry or Craven, and if de Vitry is the more strikingly literary of the two, Craven‘s songs are every bit as graceful and sturdy. One of the covers, a version of the traditional “Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet,” here just called “Who’s Gonna Shoe,” is a clear highlight, as is de Vitry‘s “Best Medicine,” “The Bells,” and “Black Hills,” while Craven‘s “Stolen Love” and “Simple Man” are wonderful pieces, both timeless and graceful. The two songwriters did write one of the songs here together, the lovely and delicate “Feathers & Bones,” a piece that shows the quiet strengths of both.

Seth Avett and Jessica Lea – Sing Elliott Smith

On listening to Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, fans of the deeply introspective singer/songwriter who died in 2003 may be relieved to discover that the progressive folk and indie rock pair makes the songs the stars of this collection; it’s not an album of reinvention or updating but of reverence. Though Smith often double-tracked his voice or much more rarely had guest backing vocalists, the male-female duo approach does make these songs less profoundly solitary, particularly compared to the first half of his solo output. However, their objective was doubtfully to try to match the haunting, intensely moving quality of Smith‘s recordings, but rather to maintain the emotional essence of his songs. With a 12-song selection reaching across Smith‘s entire seven-album output (including the two posthumous releases of original material), the sequencing of the album is first-rate, mixing source albums, tempos, and energy, keeping the selection from getting too sullen, even in context of such melancholic material. Some of their versions are very loyal, with only minor changes to tempo or arrangements, such as their fully acoustic “Fond Farewell” [sic]. “Let’s Get Lost,” off of the posthumously released From a Basement on the Hill, is a nearly identical redo with Avett on lead vocals. Alternately, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” a McCartney-esque acoustic ditty from Smith‘s fifth album, Figure 8, is fleshed out to a fully arranged rock band, with strings joining the denouement. Perhaps thankfully, perhaps surprisingly, “Pitseleh” is the only song that gets the banjo treatment, played by Seth‘s Avett Brothers bandmate and brother, Scott Avett, though it’s performed subtly. The brooding revenge fantasy “Roman Candle” from Smith‘s 1994 debut is brightened by jangly guitar, feedback, and drums, with the plot slightly altered by Mayfield being the one to sing “I want to hurt him, I want to give him pain.” The slight twang of both artists sits nicely on these tunes, especially their stripped-down “Ballad of Big Nothing.” If there’s a takeaway from this project, it’s likely about Smith rather than the performers here: the power of his songwriting bursts through the arrangements. The experience of this album is to have listened to an Elliott Smith record and not an Avett project or to anyone else — a testament to Smith, certainly, but also to Avett and Mayfield‘s tasteful if fail-safe renditions.

 

Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete

Nashville Obsolete is the second solo outing for ace guitarist and producer David Rawlings, who for nearly two decades has shared the load with creative partner Gillian Welch to become one of folk and country music’s most celebrated duos. Like 2009’s Friend of a Friend, this seven-song mini-album is billed under the Dave Rawlings Machine banner and features a small ensemble that sees Rawlings and Welch swapping roles in what has become their familiar format. His reedy tenor voice that usually melts so effortlessly with Welch’s takes the lead here on a set of melancholic songs that channel tones of Bob Dylan and Neil Young through the Dust Bowl filter that has become his bailiwick. With Welch and former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson supporting him on guitar and harmonies, the group also includes Punch Brothers’ Paul Kowert on double bass. Beautifully captured on tape with the mix of spontaneity and professionalism expected from a Rawlings/Welch performance, Nashville Obsolete has something of a brooding grandeur to it with standouts like “Short Haired Women” and the meandering, 11-minute “The Trip” feeling bigger and deeper than the small group of players producing them. Aside from some of the added instrumental ornamentations — which are all quite tasteful — this neo-traditional country with a noir bent is familiar territory for Rawlings, and the album files pretty easily into the existing body of work he’s made with Welch, regardless of which one of them is at the front mike. More uptempo songs like “The Last Pharaoh” and “Candy” keep things from becoming overly downcast and the album ends on a high note with “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home),” a song that mixes dazzling three-part harmonies with a bit of the latent rock spirit that always seems to be buzzing at the edge of Rawlings’ periphery.

3hattrio – Dark Desert Night

Dark Desert Night cover art

3 hat trio declare on their web site ‘Rare and endangered American Desert Music’ well it’s certainly rare, but not meaning nearing extinction, more in the sense of exceptional. This brand of music I could listen to all day long, and in case you’re 3 hat trio album coverwondering it comes with a cutting edge both new and sharp. The musical melange 3 hat trio cooks up includes traditions and influences spanning the distances between the Caribbean and the American West, along the way adding the inventions of jazz, blues and classical. To experience their sound you could do no better than their latest album ‘Dark Desert Night’.
Returning to the American Desert Music theme, 3 hat trio aim to reflect the natural world of their homeland and the cultural traditions of the generations who’ve worked and lived on the deserts of the American southwest. Well I’d say they’ve pretty much hit it. From the minute the haunting ‘Get Back Home’ opens there’s no doubting the originality and imagination at work, they add their touch to the multi-varied English folk song retitled as ‘Carry Me Away’, going forward there’s the hypnotic ‘Tammy’s Sister’, the depths of ‘Off The Map’ and for sombre wondering ‘Sand Storm’
Within each song lives a compelling timbre, evocative vocal and a hypnotic hook to the eloquent melodies.The wide open spaces of this music coupled with its rhythmic poetry made me think that van Vliet  and Morrison would love this.

Billy Strings & Don Julin – Fiddle Tune X

If you were present at the 2014 Folk Alliance Conference, you probably heard an intriguing name whispered about from showroom to showroom, session to session — that of a young man named Billy Strings.
Like the unholy child of Pantera and Tony Rice, Strings and his mandolin-toting cohort Don Julin wowed crowds at the Kansas City-based conference with their high-flying act of steel string virtuosity.
Now, The Sitch is pleased to premiere this dynamic duo’s explosive new record Fiddle Tune X, a collection of live recordings and studio sessions that show off Strings’ bourbon-barrel vocals and speed metal guitar licks.
“The majority of this album was recorded with a single microphone placed between the musicians. The balance of vocals and instruments was controlled by the actual acoustic blend augmented by working the distance from the microphone,” Strings tells The Sitch.
“Basically, the musicians would step a bit closer to the microphone for the lead vocal and instrumental breaks. This type of recording cannot be remixed or rebalanced so the performance in the balance is all performed live in real time. A second microphone was used to capture the room ambience of each location. Vintage-style microphones and electronics were used whenever possible to add to the old-school recording approach. Upon careful listening, you will hear a variety of distortions and noises, ranging from mechanical and electronic noises to audience comments and traffic sounds, and we feel that all of this adds to the realness of the recording.”

Noam Pikelny – Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe

On this, a track-by-track recreation of Kenny Baker’s 1977 album Plays Bill Monroe, Pikelny offers up what is a weird, muddled carbon copy-cum-tribute to the bygone days of bluegrass. That might sound critical, but I don’t mean it to be. After all, folk musicians have been cribbing material from their predecessors for as long back as anyone can remember, ranging from the alt-country explosion of the 1990s that began with Uncle Tupelo covering an old Carter Family tune all the way back to 1927 with record producer Ralph Peer convincing A.P. Carter himself to rejigger old religious songs. So, it is nothing new to steal the old.
But these examples and, indeed, most musical appropriations, are usually fairly suppressed or implicit, covered over by rewriting or celebratory fist-bumping with the past. (Exhibit A for the latter: Kid Rock’s bizarre Skynyrd-citing “All Summer Long”.) So what makes Noam Pikelny’s Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe so odd is its straightforwardness—a roots artist picking one album, just one—and just, well, doing it again. (Of course, it’s not so simple, but more on that later.) The other thing that raises an eyebrow is this album’s insistence on lineage, which presumes a weird, handing down of the bluegrass flame from mandolinist Monroe to fiddler Baker to banjo player Pikelny.
On the one hand, it’s a gutsy move claiming direct descent from Bill Monroe, who is more legitimately the father of a music genre than anyone else in history (his backing band was called the Blue Grass Boys). But on the other hand, what seems like a bold assertion is less unwarranted than you might think; Pikelny, after all, is the banjo player for the Punch Brothers, who are widely considered without peer in the bluegrass world today. Some might even go so far as to claim that Pikelny, save for Béla Fleck and a handful of others, is one of the best banjo players alive.
Despite all the critical haggling, I’ve managed so far to avoid the real question at hand: Is this album worth listening to or not? It’s hard to say. In a real way, the comparison of these albums is an issue of apples-and-oranges. The fiddle and the banjo, despite such a musical kinship, are still vastly different instruments with vastly different roles in a traditional bluegrass setting. To say that a banjo player is somehow certifiably better than a fiddler is nonsense; in the same way, that is also true of these albums. But the comparison is also problematic on a deeper level—for a reason that the casual listener will not take note of. That comparison deals with technique and execution.
For example, it’s hard to imagine that Baker had much trouble (if any) pulling together Plays Bill Monroe—it helps to know here that Baker was a member of the Blue Grass Boys and had been performing those songs with Monroe himself for almost two decades. Leap forward a quarter century to Noam Pikelny’s album, which sounds, with its clear-cut fidelity to the 1977 original, like it must have been a breeze to cut in the studio. Quite nearly the opposite is true. For Pikelny, the album was an immense challenge to piece together; tunes that come easily on the fiddle can be a nightmare on the banjo. So if you peek just under the surface of the music, you can hear Pikelny wrestling with tradition, both figuratively and literally, as he tries to coax unusual progressions out of his instrument, pushing against boundaries that have long boxed in the banjo, as he tries to trace the intricate melodies blazed by Baker.
The discerning listener will locate where Pikelny falls short. “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz”, for instance, is a tough song to carry on the banjo; the twang, however, soft and sensible, is caustic in this setting, no match at all for the long, sweet notes procured by Baker on his fiddle. Look also at “Fiddler’s Pastime”. As fun as Pikelny’s version may be, Baker makes it abundantly clear why the tune has that name. But that’s far from a universal struggle. On tunes like “Big Sandy River” and “Road to Columbus”, there are moments where you can hear Pikelny transcend the limits of his instrument, and it’s really something to admire. But transcendence and apples and oranges aside, this is a lovely, delightful album, which, in a world full of artists jumping on the roots music bandwagon, is about as honest and heartfelt as it gets.

Drew Emmitt – Long Road

When attempting to pay homage to a 20-year span of time on the road, it’s best to bring all your friends along.  Drew Emmitt, the lead singer and mandolin player from the great ‘90s (and ‘00s) jam band Leftover Salmon, has assembled an all-star bluegrass guest list for his album of road tales and triumphs.  Long Road, his third solo release, features musicians from the Infamous String Dusters, the String Cheese Incident, Alison Brown (Allison Krauss), John Cowan (Sam Bush, New Grass Revival), Stuart Duncan (Dolly Partin, George Strait), Ronnie McCoury (Del’s son), Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan) and the former drummer for Leftover Salmon, Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit).  Recruiting some of the greats in today’s bluegrass scene reiterates the notion of collaboration that usually accompanies the road.
Long Road pays respect to Emmitt’s 25 years on the road with allegorical tunes made for endless summer days and warm summer nights.  Fluid bluegrass banjo picking by Chris Pandolfini and the seamless mandolin background instrumentation and solos by Emmitt give the compositions layer after layer of thick, priceless twang.
Among the eight original songs (some of which are co-written with Cowan or Jim Lauderdale) are three covers.  While some might question the decision to include Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home”, the theme certainly fits the rest of the album.  Its reggae undertones are echoed a couple tracks later with Emmitt’s “Beat of the World”.  The wah-heavy guitar chks oversimplify the jamming springboard, but the high-paced record also might beg for some relaxed tracks like these.  The other two cover songs better fit the rugged Southern rocker seasoned with road experience.  Van Morrison’s “Gypsy in My Soul” is a soulful, calypso-drenched bluegrass ballad.  The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Take the Highway” offers a better jumping point for bluegrass-backed jam rock.  Tyler Grant’s electric slide guitar solo offers the perfect building and release of tension, and then Emmitt enters on electric guitar.  The soloists converge into a “Layla”-esque moment of Southern rock bliss.  Stuart Duncan contrasts his sound with each soloist in a stellar combination of strings.
Emmitt’s new compositions sound like time-treasured bluegrass classics, as track after track has effortless quick-picking and fiddle-charged power-grass.  The title track sets its pace on high after an initial mandolin-led warm up.  “Lord you know I’ve been so many places / At least I know I have a longer view,” begin Emmitt’s smooth, twanged vocals.  The frenetic pace alone is impressive. Each string soloist brings with him a precise, fervent plucking, bowing, or strumming.  As the windup for the refrain hits, four-part vocal harmonies churn out the catchy line, “On this long road back to you”.  The final song, “River’s Risin’”, is another original fast-grass number that makes use of Emmitt’s blending vocal abilities.  The man’s voice melts with others’ well.  After about four minutes of a straight-forward grass jam laced with foreboding, funk-infused Hammond B3 organ, the instruments slyly wind down, suggesting the end of the song and album.  Pandolfini gears his banjo into double time for a bluegrass breakdown of sorts.  As though with a second, fuller wind, the band rushes into the energetic second half of the song.  Before the B3 signals a fading out, a final “risin’” lingers just long enough on the sound palate.  Although the CD’s road has run its course, Emmitt’s road is clearly hitting its stride.

Older album from 2008, but still worthy. This gentleman is one of the founders of Leftover Salmon.