The debut album from Appalachian songwriter VIVIAN LEVA has been released today on Free Dirt Records (Dori Freeman, Anna & Elizabeth). Leva taps into the bitter-cold veins of old country songwriting, harkening back to the mountain music she was born into. Let me know if you’d like a hard copy and didn’t receive one!
VIVIAN LEVA’S VOICE IS THE SOUND OF LIVING TRADITION. Raised by parents who absorbed ancient tunes and ballads during visits to legendary old-time musicians, Leva grew up steeped in the Appalachian and country music of her Lexington, VA home. On TIME IS EVERYTHING (coming spring 2018), her label debut, Leva earns a spot in the lineage of great neo-traditional songwriters like Gillian Welch and Sarah Jarosz. And much like these singers, Leva finds inspiration in the past without being stifled by it.
“a young artist but a mature storyteller, finding inspiration in the likes of Gillian Welch and Kitty Wells.”
“age-old country aesthetics delivered with a new voice that feels mightily compelling, the simplicity of the composition belying the evocativeness that lingers long after it’s departed.”
–Gold Flake Paint
“offers rich playing (lots of good fiddling) with a focus on Leva’s songs, but even more so her terrific voice, which never falters.”
–The Vinyl District
Though still in college, Leva’s musical roots run deep. She grew up going to fiddle festivals with her parents, both acclaimed roots musicians themselves who perform as the duo Jones and Leva. Her father, James, is a respected multi-instrumentalist who learned knee-to-knee from old-time legends like Tommy Jarrell and Doug Wallin, while her mother, Carol Elizabeth, picked up bygone songs from a now lost generation of singers and recorded with the pioneering bluegrass duo Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Leva soaked up this influence at a young age, and, at age 9, began penning songs and performing with her father at venues like the prestigious Carter Family Fold.
Traditional American music was an early influence on her songwriting. Her time at music festivals (she’s never missed a Clifftop) regularly landed her in jams with roots music heavyweights like Dirk Powell, Caleb Klauder, and Pharis & Jason Romero. “The biggest part of traditional music has always been the community,” she says. “It’s really special that you can travel almost anywhere and share tunes with a group of people that you’ve never met.” In this spirit, she joined The Onlies, a young stringband that won the coveted traditional band competition at the 2017 Clifftop festival in West Virginia. Add to this performance resumé teaching stints at The Swannanoa Gathering, The Big Sur Fiddle Camp, and Centrum’s “Voice Works” and her roots music bonafides are obvious, but it’s Leva’s songwriting that’ll bowl you over.
The sonic and lyrical palette of Time Is Everything, which was recorded at Joseph DeJarnette’s Studio 808A in Floyd, VA, is influenced in equal parts by classic storytellers like Kitty Wells and Texas Gladden, the harmony singing of the Stanley and Everly Brothers, and the pop sensibilities of Mandolin Orange. Leva’s writing effortlessly shifts between archaic ballads, classic country and honky tonk, and the best of contemporary Americana. For her first solo record, she enlisted the talents of multi-instrumentalist RILEY CALCAGNO (The Onlies) as well as other top notch collaborators (Jack Devereux, Eric Robertson, Nick Falk, and Joseph “Joebass” DeJarnette) to add fiddle, banjo, pedal steel, and percussion to the album’s tastefully minimal production, imbuing each story of love and heartbreak with a hearty emotional punch.
The album’s title didn’t come easily until she noticed a lyrical through-line: the passing of time. “The phrase ‘Time Is Everything’ encompasses the main theme of all of the songs,” she says. “It’s really about how everything in a situation can seem right but it all comes down to timing. That’s especially true in a relationship.” The tasteful Americana rendition of the title track, a co-write with musical partner Riley Calcagno, exemplifies this ephemeral longing. However, stories of wandering eyes or missed connections also show up in the straight-ahead honky tonk of “Why Don’t You Introduce Me As Your Darling,” the country shuffle of “Bottom of the Glass” (a song she wrote at age 14), and the old-time stringband-influenced “No Forever.”
The album features eight originals plus a cover of Paul Burch’s plaintive waltz “Last Of My Kind,” and a re-composed version of Virginia ballad singer Texas Gladden’s “Cold Mountains” with a new chorus written by Leva and Calcagno.
For Leva, the kernel of a song often appears spontaneously—a story from a TV show, a new guitar tuning. “If I specifically sit down to write something, I usually don’t like it. But I play around with different starting places.” Once the scene is set, however, the song is often complete in less than an hour. “It’s always hard to express real feelings without being overly sentimental, to balance a specific story and the universal.” Rest assured, this album strikes the balance perfectly.
It’s rare to find such a mature and confident voice in a young artist—someone whose music springs so organically from a grassroots connection to the traditional music community in which she was raised. Time Is Everything is indeed a bold statement from this rising star of deeply rooted American music. Vivian Leva is a voice that deserves to be listened to in the coming years.
Recommended If You Like: The Head and the Heart, Lumineers, Fleet Foxes, Vance Joy
… And I’m too afraid to be alone
At its core, attraction is a wondrous thing. How many stimuli have that kind of physical and emotional control over the individual? To be moved so vividly by someone else that your behavior changes in their presence; to feel that strongly about another human being; it’s natural, and yet it often feels totally unnatural. Attraction is as powerful as it is beautiful, an overwhelming sensation that Driftwood capture perfectly in their new song “Too Afraid.”
Oh am I falling for your lies again Falling for your lies again
But you look so damn good
If I look into your eyes again Look into your eyes again
Well it feels like going home
Listen: “Too Afraid” – Driftwood
City Lights – Driftwood
.A song about falling uncontrollably hard for someone else, “Too Afraid” focuses on the fatal attraction experience: “Sometimes there are women that strike your fancy to the point where you lose a bit of yourself,” explains Joe Kollar (vocals/banjo).
It’s also easy to lose oneself in Driftwood’s music. The band pulls upon a pastiche of warm American roots and folk influences, landing somewhere in-between The Head and the Heart and The Lumineers in terms of sound, while offering a fresh, if not timeless perspective on the individual experience through harmonious music and lyrics. The group’s instrumental arrangement – which consists of Dan Forsyth on guitar and vocals, Joe Kollar on banjo and vocals, Claire Byrne on fiddle and vocals, and Joey Arcuri on bass – might be considered ‘traditional,’ but they wield their instruments with polished grace. In a music landscape where electric so frequently replaces acoustic instrumentation, Driftwood’s music provides an anchor to a past that is still very much the present.
“Too Afraid” opens with a sweetly seductive interaction between fiddle and bass, where the fiddle plays a hypnotic, repeating arpeggio sequence over punctuated bass hits. The combined effort is light, yet incredibly evocative: In a sense, it’s the perfect backdrop for a personal story. “Oh am I falling for your lies again,” sings Kollar as the verse opens. His words are raw and humble, his demeanor vulnerable as he places this interest over himself. That elevation of another, and the subsequent submission and reduction of oneself, becomes especially resounding in the chorus and second verse:
But I’m too afraid
Yes I’m too afraid to be alone
You talk like you should be my friend Talk like you should be my friend So tell me what it is that you want
Oh am I losing all my lines again I’m losing all my lines again But you look so fucking good
In his explanation of this song, Kollar notes that “Too Afraid” is, for him, about “the power of a beautiful woman,” but the song is obviously so much more than that. “I’m too afraid to be alone,” he sings. Sometimes we know something is bad for us, but we want it anyway. Loneliness is one of the hardest to cope with – so perhaps that special someone isn’t right for you, but at least it’s something. Rather than explore the intricacies of that mess, Driftwood stick to the surface and leave the diving to the listener.
“I think everyone knows someone (close or distant) that makes them weak in the knees and maybe act differently as a result,” says Kollar. Those who have known love, and perhaps more so those who have known a truly fatalattraction, can easily relate to Driftwood’s lilting melodies and uncertain, scrambling lyrics. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how confident you might appear. Every Samson has his Delilah.
‘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.
Grew up in Maine. Lives in Texas. Writes songs. Makes records. Travels around. Tries to be good.
Slaid Cleaves lives with his wife of 21 years, Karen Cleaves, in the Hill Country outside Austin, Texas. While Karen books the shows, the flights, the hotels, and the rental cars; designs, orders and sells the CDs and T-shirts, pays the band, updates the web site, answers fan questions, does the taxes and makes dinner, Slaid writes his little songs (and fixes things around the house). They travel around the world together while Slaid plays for fans far and wide and gets all the glory. If it wasn’t for Karen, Slaid would be carrying all he owned in a shoe box, scrounging around for a happy hour gig.
SLAID CLEAVES – ‘GHOST ON THE CAR RADIO’ (OUT JUNE 23 on CANDY HOUSE MEDIA,
both on CD and on 140 grms vinyl)
Now twenty-five years into his storied career, Cleaves’ songwriting has never been more potent than on his new album ‘Ghost on the Car Radio,’ out June 23.
‘Ghost on the Car Radio’ is Cleaves’ first release since 2013’s ‘Still Fighting the War,” which was praised as “one of the year’s best albums” by American Songwriter and “carefully crafted…songs about the struggles of the heart in hard times” by the Wall Street Journal. The New York Daily News called his music “a treasure hidden in plain sight,” while the Austin Chronicle declared, “there are few contemporaries that compare. He’s become a master craftsman on the order of Guy Clark and John Prine.”
Described as “terse, clear and heartfelt” (NPR Fresh Air), Cleaves speaks to timeless truths in his songs. “I’m not an innovator. I’m more of a keeper of the flame,” he says.
“I think of songs as the whiskey of writing. Distilled down to the essence, powerful, concentrated, immediate. You can take it all in and really feel it in just seconds,” says Slaid Cleaves.
We’re excited to be working with Charlie Whitten, whose new EP Playwright is coming out August 25th. The whole thing is phenomenal, a quick 4-song EP showcasing a moment in time for the young songwriter. The songwriting on each of these tracks is wonderful and points to Whitten’s budding brilliance but the up-tempo, jaunty, pining of “Since She’s Gone”, with it’s duality of heart-break and acceptance is really impressive.
Whitten grew up in Charlotte, NC and was born in Charleston, WV. He’s released a few pieces under his own name but says he “enjoys being sideman just as much as a singer-songwriter.” Pretty obvious that he enjoys it when you can catch Charlie playing guitar for Jake McMullen and Becca Mancari, and while he just returned from touring for two months with Andrew Combs as his bass player. He’s also played and sang with Molly Parden, Erin Rae McKaskle, Caleb Groh, Chrome Pony, and his current side project, Stationwagon; a band of tall songwriters and friends featuring Mark Fredson, Pete Lindberg, Andrew Hunt, Brett Resnick. You can hear bits a pieces from his heroes Jim Croce, Don McLean and Harry Nilsson in his songs. There’s a bit of Rayland Baxter in his arrangements as well.
Sweat flies and floorboards tremble – Union Duke is a Toronto folk quintet with an explosive live show. Bridging soulful indie rock with bluegrass and country, the group belts out soaring harmonies with three, four and even five voices. The songs are irresistible, the perfect fit for the heatwave of the dance hall or the cool breeze of the park. These five guys have been making a commotion in one way or another since they were kids, and years of making music together have brought them to this: a heartbreak of twang and a bootshake of rock and roll. Union Duke is two fifths city, two fifths country, and one fifth whiskey.
For their third record, Golden Days, Union Duke recorded live off the floor to capture the raw, joyful energy of their concerts. Then they brought in Grammy award-winning mix engineer Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Basia Bulat, Timbre Timber) to bring the mixes to life. Golden Days will take you back to your warmest memories: nights by the lake, passing a bottle around the fire, or singing with your friends at the top of your lungs. It also looks forward, reaching for those long, lazy summer days that will keep you going through the winter. It’s a record of pain and struggle, lessons learned – and of laughter between friends, tenderness between lovers. One minute you’re following banjo music rambling down a country lane. The next minute you feel the pulse and pound of the amplifiers.
The band works hard, travelling back and forth across the country playing to fans young and old from coast to coast. They’ve played sold out shows where crowds know all the words. They’ve performed at countless festivals including TURF, Mariposa, and Summerfolk, topping the list of must-see acts. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and they leave every audience smiling – maybe the golden days aren’t so distant after all.
We are very excited to announce that The Reasonant Rogues music video for ‘Long Way to Galway’ premiered today on The Boot! The song was inspired by a train trip the duo took through Eastern Europe and eventually all the way to Galway.
American folk music has always had a populist perspective, a vision of music made by the people, for the people. Asheville, North Carolina roots band The Resonant Rogues know this well, for they’ve traveled the byways and highways of America, even crossed the water to Europe and the Mediterranean with instruments and songs in tow. Anchored by the songwriting duo Sparrow and Keith Smith, the Rogues have shared songs with train-hoppers in New Orleans, busked on the streets of Budapest, learned Turkish Romani dance in Istanbul, and marched in protest in the hills of Appalachia. Throughout, the stories they’ve heard and the people they’ve met have fueled their music, which abounds with influences like Eastern European Romani brass bands, New Orleans street jazz, old-time stringbands, Woody Guthrie anti-fascist folk, French jazz manouche, and Middle Eastern rhythms. It’s not easy to pull off such a bold combination of genres, but The Resonant Rogues learned this music in person from the people who created it, so they have a tie to each tradition and a working knowledge of what this music means to the ordinary people that make this music every day. It’s a tintype view on the modern world, a cracked image that reflects the past through a prism of the future.
When Maria Quiles (vocals and guitar) and Rory Cloud (vocals and guitar) met in 2011, both were adrift. Maria had quit her job, given up her San Francisco apartment, and moved in with her uncle in order to pursue music full-time. Rory had left behind a stable schedule of gigs and music lessons in Southern California to seek a new music community elsewhere. He eventually wound up living out of his Toyota Corolla in San Francisco, where he first heard Maria at an open mic. “As a lead guitar player, I could immediately hear myself in her songs.” Rory remembers.
Several years of touring and spending nearly every day together allowed Quiles & Cloud to develop a unique sound—one that is characterized by soulful melodies, close harmonies, and interweaving guitar lines that owe as much to jazz and classical music as to folk and bluegrass. The addition of Oscar Westesson (upright bass) in 2013 pushed them even further as songwriters, resulting in darker, more complex, and more dissonant arrangements.
Their sound has struck a chord with audiences all over the country. Folk Alley has lauded the group’s “continued ability to combine subtle precision with stark grit and creative exploration.” Acoustic Guitar has called them “a compelling new voice on the Americana scene.” Quiles & Cloud have now played hundreds of shows, won the 2014 FreshGrass Duo Award, and caught the attention of GRAMMY Award-winning banjo player Alison Brown—who produced their third album SHAKE ME NOW, which comes out on Compass Records 3/17/17.
SHAKE ME NOW is stripped-down, yet dense. There are musical and lyrical traces of the blues, bluegrass, folk, rock, soul, and classical music. Their songwriting stands out on the title track, “Shake Me Now” as well as the upbeat and hopeful “One My Way Tonight”. In addition to their original songs, there are reinterpreted versions of the traditional blues number “Deep Ellum Blues”, the traditional folk tune “Worried Man Blues”, and Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”. One gets the feeling of being on a widescreen road trip through America’s past and present, with multiple eras and traditions folding in upon each other. The result sounds familiar and roadworn, yet completely new—a quality that Quiles & Cloud share with some of American music’s greatest innovators.
Quiles & Cloud have already traveled far. As they see it, though, this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey—one of exploring connection, deepening their partnership, and examining the threads that tie us all together.
I think we can all accept that there are not enough women in the music scene at the moment. Being an all female outfit can often been seen as a gimmick, but in reality it’s anything but. Let me introduce you to all female Wildwood Kin, an Exeter based indie-Americana act. The trio recently released their latest single ‘Warrior Daughter’. It’s taken from their forthcoming EP, produced by Jamie Evans (Mexicolas) and mixed by Brad Spence (Radiohead, Coldplay, Alt J). There’s a distinct Alt J feel to ‘Warrior Daughter’ in the instrumental. Fast and detailed but not overdone, the music has a rustic feel that combines perfectly with the smooth vocals that seem to melt together. Lyrically, the song is bold and empowering. ‘Warrior Daughter’ feels fresh faced and original, it’s easy to like and leaves you feeling like you’ve struck on something wonderful in discovering Wildwood Kin. The trio consists of sisters Beth and Emillie Key and cousin Meghann Loney. This probably accounts for how well their voices blend into each other. 2015 saw the band release their Salt Of The Earth EP and subsequently receive BBC radio play, and the rest of 2016 sees them continue their non-stop touring schedule. Like a snowball accumulating energy, Wildwood Kin seems like a rather unstoppable force.