Cahoone readies for first full-band tour in 5 years!
We’re very excited to announce that Sera Cahoone is heading out on tour this September! This past year has seen her touring with the likes of Tift Merrit, Son Volt and Gregory Alan Isakov but now she’s ready to strike out on with her full band in tow to support From Where I Started.
We had some wonderful press for the album including the NPR First Listen Stephen Thompson wrote up here and CBC’s First Play here. This fantastic interview on Uproxx, a glowing No Depression review, this piece on LGTBQNation referencing the interview Cahoone had with Jewly Hight for NPR’s Songs We Love, Elle Magazine’s ’10 Best New Songs’ of March and a great American Songwriter piece. Beyond that Sera’s album received high praise from the Bluegrass Situation, Saving Country Music, Curve Magazine, KEXP, Paste, The Seattle Times, Seattle Magazine, Seattle Metropolitan, Seattle Weekly and a ton more.
The world of American roots music is no stranger to Seattle songwriter Sera Cahoone. Even though her last three albums were on Sub Pop Records and she spent years at the top of the indie charts, she’s always had a streak of Americana that ran through her music, a love of the humble folk song that bolstered her art. She’s returning now to these earliest influences with her new album, From Where I Started (to be released March 24, 2017). Growing up, Cahoone first found her voice in Colorado dive bars, backing up old blues musicians at age 12 on the drums. Her father, a Rocky Mountain dynamite salesman, took the family along to mining conferences and old honky-tonks in the state. The sounds she heard there—the twang of country crooners, cowboy boots on peanut shells—have stayed with her all the way to Seattle, where she lives now, and the seminal indie rock bands she’s been a part of in the city (Carissa’s Weird, Band of Horses).
To make From Where I Started, her first new album since 2012’s Dear Creek Canyon, Cahoone traveled south to Portland to work with producer John Askew (Neko Case, Laura Gibson, Alela Diane). Askew brought together key Portland musicians like Rob Berger (Iron and Wine, Lucinda Williams), Dave Depper (Death Cab For Cutie) and Annalisa Tornfelt (Black Prairie) with Cahoone’s Seattle bandmates – Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan, Amy Ray) and Jason Kardong (Son Volt, Jay Farrar). The band lays a deep bedrock beneath Cahoone’s songs, supporting her arcing vocals and innovative guitar and banjo playing. The album is driven by a strong rhythmic sensibility, owed to Cahoone’s background as a drummer for indie rock bands. “A lot of my songs start as a beat, I add guitar, then lyrics at the end,” she says. “When I write songs I usually sit at my drum kit playing both drums and guitar at the same time.”
From Where I Started plays on the rougher, darker edges of the traditional love song. Like any good country album, the songs here deal with love and loss, but Cahoone also knows how to surround loss with hope, to temper a sad song with a turn in the major key. The optimism of the love song “Up To Me,” buoyed by fingerpicked guitar and banjo, gives way to the weary resignation of “Taken Its Toll,” with its plaintive pedal steel and echoing vocal harmonies. “Ladybug,” is a poignant song that followed the tragic death of Cahoone’s cousin Tawnee.
From Where I Startedrepresents a refocusing for Sera Cahoone. It positions her as a songwriter beholden to the old country sounds she grew up with, a songwriter who’s always been able to deftly translate a personal perspective into a universal view. It’s an album about falling in and out of love, finding new hope, and learning that the best way to move forward is to remember whereyou began.
‘I’ve just recorded an album with an American band,’ said Olivia Chaney, introducing a new song on her support slot for Shirley Collins at the Barbicanearlier this year. I remember hearing that remark and thinking it’ll be interesting to hear her in a band context with some transatlantic backing.
What I didn’t expect (although it would be entirely possible to work it out) was that she’d just recorded an album with The Decemberists. In case you don’t know, they are a very popular Grammy-nominated American indie rock band from Portland, Oregon. They’ve recorded seven acclaimed albums including 2011’s The King Is Dead – which reached No. 1 in the U.S. Billboard 200 chart.
To give you an idea of the scale of the contrast, Olivia has just over 1,500 followers on Spotify, The Decemberists more than 275,000. Don’t take that as a criticism, in my book Chaney should have much, much more than that…
Her debut album from 2015, The Longest River is a masterpiece, lauded by FRUK’s David Kidman as ‘eminently treasurable’, and receiving rave reviews in The Independent and The Guardian, alongside many others. So Chaney is definitely not an unequal partner here, albeit an emerging rather than an established artist.
The collaboration came about when Decemberists’ singer, guitarist and lead songwriter Colin Meloy opened a conversation with Olivia on Twitter. Like anyone with ears to please, Colin was a fan of Olivia’s debut, and the tweet exchange led to a support slot for Chaney on The Decemberists’ tour. It was during a late night conversation that Colin suggested, “Have you ever thought of having a backing group? We’ll be your Albion Dance Band.” It turned out to be the king of offers…
The fact that Meloy knew about No Roses by Shirley Collins and the Albion Dance Bandin the first place gives you an indication of his (and the band’s) deep love for British folk rock. And that he saw Chaney in the same mould as Collins demonstrates his appreciation of her as a major talent.
The offer came good and so good. The resulting collaboration The Queen of Hearts is a towering, majestic work. It is effortlessly confident, an album that shifts from pleasure to pleasure – a consistent collection superbly arranged and played. Produced and recorded by Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Neko Case) alongside Colin Meloy, it is at turns a nostalgic nod to the great British folk-rock albums of the late 60s and 70s but equally assured in a fresh, contemporary way.
The material is largely traditional, and much of it familiar to folk audiences. The Queen of Hearts, which opens the album, was learnt from Martin Carthy and versions have been recently recorded by The Unthanks and Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker.Willie o’Winsbury is about as familiar as it gets – only last year Jim Moray offered his own beguiling version, William of Barbary. So you might wonder if we need more interpretations of these trad songs. But they are sung so beautifully by Chaney, and The Decemberists bring fresh life to these age-old tales that familiarity is never an issue.
And what’s great is that (hopefully) these songs will get a much wider airing and appreciation because of their inclusion here. And it’s not just ballads that get The Decemberists treatment, a set of Morris tunes, Constant Billy (Oddington) / I’ll Go Enlist (Sherborne), has been deftly arranged by The Decemberists’ accordionist Jenny Conlee. True to their word, they sound like Prospect Before Us-vintage Albion Band. It’s two minutes of absolute, unexpected bliss.
The album is firmly in the rock end of folk often with electric guitar, drums, bass and hammond organ backing, augmented by harpsichord, accordion and violin. Sheepcrook and Black Dog positively rocks with fuzzy electric guitar a la Zeppelin’s No Quarter over which Chaney soars like Trembling Bell’s Lavinia Blackwell. Sheepcrook pushes the band into wyrd new realms, sounding like psychedelic folk legends The Trees.
The song segues into To Make You Stay making an eight-and-a-half minute psych-folk epic. Colin takes the lead vocals on this, the final track, a cover of the Lal Watersonmasterpiece from the album Bright Phoebus. And Colin is clearly having a blast singing this obscure but brilliant song. He also takes the lead on Blackleg Miner which owes much to the Steeley Span version but sounding much fresher and more upbeat here.
Another cover is a heart-stopping The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face sung by Chaney, which lays the ghost of the Roberta Flack-emoted version, with hints of the traditional Cruel Mother taking Ewan McColl’s standard back to its folk roots.
I really hope that this album is taken to heart by long-term folk fans on this side of the Atlantic because it’s nothing short of a love letter to the music and traditions we adore. The performances are passionate rather than studious, rawkus rather than reverential.
Joe Boyd, another American with a deep love for British folk (and a catalyst to the invention of British folk rock) is a fellow admirer of Chaney. ‘I’ve only heard Olivia a few times,’ says Joe. ‘But that’s enough to make me a fan.’
In his acclaimed account of his life in the music industry, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s, Boyd writes, ‘Why does England hate its own folk music?… In England, the mere thought of a morris dance team or an unaccompanied ballad singer send most natives running for cover.’ It’s an attitude I’m sure FRUK readers and listeners are only too familiar with, although it’s unlikely to be a perspective we share!
Boyd later shares an anecdote about American blues legend Taj Mahal who came to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Radio 2 Folk Awards, positively lapping up a performance by The Watersons, The Copper Family and various folk royalty. The unaccompanied harmonies on the traditional Thousands or More so enthralled Taj that he rose to his feet and joined in the chorus. ‘…his grin testified to the pleasure that evening’s music gave him,’ writes Boyd. ‘Perhaps it’s easier for foreigners.’
That thought might explain the alchemy of Offa Rex. Chaney is undoubtedly one of the freshest and most exciting talents of the British folk scene, but teamed up with The Decemberists might just mean this music goes mainstream (please!). Anyone who’s seen or heard her knows that Chaney is cool, and I don’t believe that The Decemberists are on a mission to make British folk cool. I think they had no idea it wasn’t ‘cool’ in the first place.
“Awake” is the first music video from Philadelphia based singer/songwriter Chad Jenkins’ solo record: VIDEO.
After graduating the University of the Arts, Jenkins abruptly stopped playing music altogether and pursued a career in television as a cameraman and producer. Some of his broadcast credits include: Hoarding Buried Alive, Entertainment Tonight, Yahoo! 365 Nights of Concerts, and the Oprah Winfrey Network. Following the death of his mother and nearly a decade removed from performing music, Jenkins wrote and produced the record: VIDEO, which includes the song and accompanying music video: ‘Awake’.
The next music video off this record is for the track: ‘Every Night of the Week’ and will be available end of summer 2017.
Tony Joe White is a genre unto himself. Sure, there are other artists who can approximate White‘s
rich gumbo of blues, rock, country, and bayou atmosphere, but almost 50
years after “Polk Salad Annie” made his name, you can still tell one of
his records from its first few moments. 2016’s Rain Crow confirms White hasn’t lost his step in the recording studio. Produced by his son Jody White, Rain Crow is lean, dark, and tough; the bass and drums (Steve Forrest and Bryan Owings) are implacable and just a bit ominous, like the sound of horses galloping in the distance, while the flinty report of White‘s guitar sketches out the framework of the melodies and lets the listener’s imagination do the rest. White‘s best music has always had more than one foot in the blues, and Rain Crow often recalls the hypnotic backwoods juke joint sounds of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, built on a groove that travels as far and as deep as it needs to go. And White the storyteller is in great form on Rain Crow,
from the tricky family tale of “The Middle of Nowhere” and the spooky
happenings of “Conjure Child” to “Hoochie Woman”‘s celebration of a
woman who knows what to do with spice and shrimp. As for White‘s singing, that’s where evaluating Rain Crow gets a bit complicated. These days, White‘s
voice is a swampy croak that lacks the strength of his signature
recordings of the ’60s and ’70s, and occasionally he’s just hard to
hear. But if White
isn’t much of a singer at the age of 72, his half-sung, half-mumbled
vocals work unexpectedly well in context, suggesting some aging
swampland griot, and they suit the late-night vibe of the material
better than a stronger performance might. Rain Crow doesn’t blaze many new trails for Tony Joe White,
but it leaves no doubt that he’s still the king of his own swampy
sound, and he’s not getting older, he’s getting deeper.
As a professional musician and proud student of
the American songbook, Trapper Schoepp is acutely aware of clichés. That’s not
to say he shuns them completely, of course, just that when he uses them he does
so knowingly, and so he readily admits that his latest album, Rangers & Valentines, out April 1 on Xtra Mile Recordings, is founded on
a big one. “They always say that songwriters who come off their first few years
of touring are going to make their road album,” Schoepp says, “and yeah, this
is a road album.”
Not that the songs are all literally about Schoepp’s experiences. Recorded
after years on the road behind Run Engine
Run, his 2012 album for the Los Angeles indie label SideOneDummy, Rangers & Valentines compiles
stories about men and women “who are on the road and on the move,” Schoepp
says. Along the way they endure chaos, war, natural disasters and other
Jack Ingram left the country mainstream after 2009’s Big Dreams & High Hopes,
an album that failed to deliver on either despite two singles that
became hits. Despite “That’s a Man” and “Barefoot and Crazy” cresting
into the Country Top 20, the album sealed his fate in Nashville, so he
wound up wandering the Americana back roads before resurfacing in 2016
with Midnight Motel on Rounder. The very title of Midnight Motel suggests a bleary pit stop, a place where you stay when you’re waylaid from your planned path. That sensibility infuses Midnight Motel,
a record that lingers upon the unplanned moments, moving slowly through
a series of laments and fireside tales, including a spoken salute to
the late Merle Haggard. This isn’t a sentimental story: it’s about a promoter who tried to run a game on Hag and Ingram. Such sly humor is a good indication of the sensibility behind Midnight Motel,
a record whose heart lies in the tattered corners and slower numbers
but also surfaces on ragged singalongs and the easy-rolling numbers that
give the album a lift. Midnight Motel is an album that asserts Ingram‘s
strengths as a songwriter — nothing here has an eye on the charts but
they’re all accessible, waiting for the right bit of polish — but the
charm of the record is how he leaves loose ends hanging, suggesting that
his story began long before this album and will continue long
From the first notes, I was hooked” – Suze Uttal, No Depression
“Sometimes a band can just appear out of nowhere and make a sound so agreeable and enticing it almost seems like they’re the product of some divine destiny. Driftwood offers an ideal example of that phenomenon” – Country Standard Time
When most people think of upstate New York, they either imagine bucolic landscapes or working-class towns. As natives of Binghamton, the members of Driftwood hail from a working town, but play music rooted in the land, leaning alternately into folk, old-time, country, punk, and rock, depending on their personal moods and their songs’ needs.
“It’s sometimes tough to keep any sort of focus on style or sound when you have three different songwriters,” guitarist Dan Forsyth concedes. “But it also allows us to branch out and explore in ways other bands don’t. Also, I think it’s important, as a band, to ask ourselves ‘Is this a good next step?” Describing the Driftwood sound, banjo player Joe Kollar offers, “I consider our sound to be more of an attitude and an approach – the result of all of our influences in a completely open musical forum where the only stipulation is to use bluegrass instruments and create it from the heart.”
That’s as close to being pinned down as Driftwood ever gets. Such has always been the case for artists blurring and blending genre lines in order to innovate. Yes, they wield old-time instruments, but they do so with a punk-rock ethos. “I do not know much about punk music, but I do know that it gives me a feeling of tearing into something without inhibition,” violinist Claire Byrne says, adding, “Old-time music has the same feeling for me. The music was a release for people living extremely hard lives in harsh conditions. In this way, the two styles of music are very similar: It’s digging in and making a statement. It’s rocking out and feeling totally reborn through the song.”
Driftwood has been digging in and rocking out since their 2005 formation, playing an average of 150 shows a year. “In the beginning, we hit the road constantly with an all-or-nothing attitude,” Forsyth confides. “We were doing it with a lot of passion, but had no thoughts about long-term sustainability. Life outside of the band was minimal. One thing that I think we started to notice was, when you’re always in it, you have no perspective and you start to lose yourself in a weird way.”
As such, gigging and traveling that much can’t help but influence and inform the band, individually and collectively. In the past, they used the stage to work out arrangements of new songs. For City Lights, they used the studio. “Keeping this kind of touring schedule, we have thought of recording albums as a sort of secondary thing and considered ourselves a ‘live’ band. We learn so much on the road and this kind of work has always felt productive,” Forsyth explains. “It wasn’t until this last album that we took some time off to learn more about being in the studio. We wanted to take our time and record on our own terms.”
According to Byrne, their own terms included “taking a step forward with the production and the arrangements.” Kollar tacks “learning” on, for good measure, while Forsyth adds “good songs and bigger arrangements, and sounds than we had not previously achieved.”
Even though they come from different directions, the three founding members – along with bassist Joey Arcuri – tend to end up at the same place. That unity, as well as the joy derived from playing together, can be heard throughout City Lights.
As further evidence of their compatibility, both Forsyth and Byrne tag “Skin and Bone” as the head of the album. It’s a Kollar composition that he says “came from a reflection I had of myself and life on the road, in general. It touches on trying to keep perspective, forging ahead, and embracing the future.” Clearly, that’s a state of mind they can all relate to.
The heart of the album, though, is a toss up with Forsyth choosing the romance of “Too Afraid,” Byrne picking the nostalgia of “The Waves,” and Kollar tapping the excitement of the title track. That disparity may be because, in their decade together, the musicians have all undergone monumental life changes. They have come into their own… together. Forsyth is now a husband and father; Byrne is now a recorded songwriter. “Generally speaking, there’s a maturity to us now,” Kollar explains. “We have a bit of experience doing what we do and the music reflects that point of view. The song subjects, our playing/singing abilities, our recording abilities, and our relationships have all matured.”
Forsyth picks up the thread, “We have all learned an unbelievable amount of patience and teamwork strategy. Our band is close: Everyone knows a lot about each other. We travel in very tight quarters constantly and are always up on what’s happening in each others’ lives. I think this has really enabled us to express ourselves, individually and as a group, but also to understand each other and others in so many ways.”
Having joined Driftwood when she was 21, Byrne has spent her whole adult life in the band “learning to play and sing in a group, learning the art of performance, and, of course, learning who I am and what my purpose(s) in life are. I think you can hear those changes from the first record to the last one.” Because City Lights marks her songwriting debut, she feels like her personal growth is on full display. “Rather than just listening to my harmonies and fiddle playing, you now have lyrics, as well. I think the songs I have on this record reflect a woman going through a great shift in her life, settling down a bit, and reflecting on the many different ways that affects me and my relationships with others.”
As the sole woman of the band, Byrne puts a clearly different spin on things. “Sometimes, instead of thinking about adding a feminine perspective, I actually spend time thinking about how to make myself fit in with the guys and, therefore, dumbing down my femininity a bit,” she says. “With my songwriting, though, there is no hiding it. I’m talking about things from a woman’s perspective that many other women will be able to relate to easier than they would if a man was writing and singing about the same topics.”
One topic the three songwriters all agree on is home. In their own ways, they each love and reflect their hard-scrabble hometown. “Growing up in the Chenango Bridge/Binghamton area, I never really thought about it being an economically depressed town. To me, it was a perfect balance of rivers, woods, campfires, street signs, factories, and city lights,” Kollar says, referencing the new album’s title. “Now, I know a little more about it being a post-industrial town, but still I see it as a diamond in the rough. I relate to the sort of underdog/uphill feel of the town.”
Byrne adds, “I think coming from a place such as Binghamton makes us very raw. We are a reflection of where we grew up. There isn’t really anything fancy about us – we aren’t the ‘hippest’ group out there, as far as fashion goes – but we are certainly very real. What you see is what you get.”
Freakwater‘s messed-up but glorious harmonies have always been the key to their sound, and if they suggested the lost members of the Carter Family far gone on cheap booze on 1995’s Feels Like the Third Time,
they still sound essentially the same way 21 years down the line, which
only points to the bent timelessness of their body of work. 2016’s Scheherazade may be the first album in over a decade from Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean,
but the dour yet perceptive storytelling of their lyrics and the wobbly
sincerity of their vocals suggest no more than a few months passed
between 2005’s Thinking of You and this set. From the grim abuse of “What the People Want” to the homey but troubling visions of “Ghost Song,” Freakwater
leave no doubt they’re still living in the same fallen world that’s
always been their home, and they evoke a difficult past and a similarly
blighted present while facing it all with the quirky grin of a confirmed
cynic. Freakwater themselves haven’t changed, but Scheherazade does find them working with a different supporting cast; while their previous albums were all cut in Chicago, Scheherazade was recorded in Freakwater‘s native Louisville, Kentucky, with a team of players that includes Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three, James Elkington from Tweedy and Eleventh Dream Day, and Evan Patterson of Young Widows on guitar, as well as Freakwater‘s longtime bassist David Wayne Gay.
The arrangements have more of a dreamlike lean than the more
Appalachian approach of their earlier work, but ultimately the music
serves the songs and vocal performances on Scheherazade, and does so beautifully. Scheherazade isn’t exactly the Feel Good Album of 2016, but being lost and forsaken with Freakwater is a more satisfying experience than feeling perky with most other acts, and Scheherazade is a brilliant reminder of what Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean do so strikingly well.
Tom Brosseau’s unique tenor is instantly recognizable, and it imbues his
songs with a palpable feeling of loss, regret and nostalgia. His
phrasing, the emotional quiver in his voice and the bare-bones
production evoke the feeling of a late-night, working-class living room
with friends sharing their most intimate secrets.
“On their new album Innocent Road, Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms stake a
claim as two of the finest traditional musicians in America. Their
sound is a throwback to the heyday of rural American dance-hall music.”