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.
As spring flashes in, this album heralds the season with astonishing power. Lisa Knapp has long been a fascinating folk artist: an ex-raver and Radio 2 folk award-winner who makes traditional songs sing, even as she experiments wildly with the sounds and textures around them. On her third album, Knapp takes 12 tracks on dazzling, occasionally frightening journeys. Hooting owls and Radio Ballad-like descriptions of rituals give opener The Night Before May a sinister edge, while Staines Morris’s thundering rhythms are full of lust, earth and glee (aided by a mischievous cameo by Current 93’s David Tibet). A tender, sparse duet with long-time folk-lover Graham Coxon, Searching for Lambs is another highlight, while Knapp’s voice throughout is a relevation, both pure and wild, springing free. Cuckoos, whirring clocks and buzzing flies add extra layers to this fascinating soundworld, on an album overflowing with warmth, light and waywardness.
Lisa Knapp was hailed as one of Brit folk’s brightest new young stars when she appeared as if from nowhere with her stirring, passionate debut album, Wild and Undaunted, in 2007. Yet by then Knapp was already over 30 and married with a small daughter, having discovered folk music relatively late after spending her teenage years going to raves and dancing to hip-hop records. A distant relative of Boris Karloff, she was raised in South London by a single mother, took violin lessons as a child, and played in the school orchestra. She discovered folk music in her early 20s after discovering Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, Shirley Collins and the Waterboys through a friend’s parents’ record collection, and started attending the Court Sessions folk club in Balham, South London. She also started trawling second-hand record shops for old folk records, dug out her old violin from the loft, had lessons from Peter Cooper and joined the folk club’s local house band. She became immersed in the London-Irish session scene and, inspired by hearing Irish “sean nos” singers, started singing floor spots in folk clubs. Successful spots at Redditch Folk Festival encouraged her to take her music more seriously. She was contemplating a professional career when diagnosed with a non-functioning pituitary adenoma. After various scans, specialists decided only to operate if the tumor grew. Around the same time, Knapp met Gerry Diver, a versatile Irish musician who’d previously played with the band Sin E. Knapp sang two songs, “The Blacksmith” and “Bonnie at Morn” on Diver’s solo album, Diversions, in 2002. They married and in 2003 their daughter Bonnie was born. The combination of motherhood and health worries put her music career on hold again until producer Youth heard her version of “The Blacksmith” and asked if he could remix it to include a compilation album he was working on called What the Folk.
On the back of it Youth asked her to record an album of contemporary songs, but Knapp had been totally immersed in English traditional music since attending a residential course in Gloucestershire run by Chris Wood and had her own ideas: she wanted to make an album of traditional songs. With Gerry Diver as co-producer, engineer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, the end result was the Wild and Undaunted album. Predominantly comprising traditional English material, with a couple of original songs of her own, the album had an immediate impact and a series of enthusiastic reviews. Knapp’s unusually charged singing was redolent of old singers like Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs, yet the modern arrangements and subtle use of technology also hit a chord with young audiences. Equally impassioned live performances fronting a trio and switching from fiddle to banjo and autoharp enhanced her reputation further.
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.
Baiman’s new album is an incisive critique of persistent sexism in America
We’re really excited to have the title track from Rachel Baiman’s new album up on NPR! Jewly Hight and Baiman sat down to discuss the influences on “Shame”, from John Hartford to Texas’ efforts to completely defund Planned Parenthood to Baiman’s jarring political awakening. You can head over here to read the full interview and check out the single.
Speaking to the track Jewly sums it up perfectly saying “”Shame,” the title track of [Baiman’s] upcoming album, captures the spirit of wry truth-telling that she’s cultivated in some of her latest work. A jaunty banjo figure bobs above a strolling folk-rock groove and sets a playful tone, while her lyrics, delivered with reedy, willful nonchalance, critique the merging of religious, moral and political influence.”
More Info On Rachel Baiman’s “Shame” In many ways, Shame, the new album from 27-year-old Nashville Americana songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Baiman, is an exploration of growing up female in America. “I wasn’t necessarily trying to write songs that would be easy to listen to”, Baiman says of the project, “I wanted to write about reality, in all of it’s terror and beauty.” From the title track about abortion politics, to love, sex, and abuse in relationships, to classism and inequality in her re-write of Andy Irvine’s working class anthem “Never Tire of the Road,” the album is ambitious in its scope, yet remains cohesive through Baiman’s personal perspective. Despite the serious subject matter, the overall feeling of the album remains light, with the tongue-in-cheek “Getting Ready to Start (Getting Ready)” and feel-good anthem “Let them Go To Heaven”. A departure from her stripped-down work with progressive folk duo 10 String Symphony, Shame is lush and varied in instrumentation and musical texture. Inspired in equal parts by John Hartford and Courtney Barnett, Baiman’s influences span a wide range, but years spent playing traditional music shine through in the album’s firmly rooted sound. For recording and production, Baiman turned to the talents of Mandolin Orange‘s Andrew Marlin. “At the time that I was writing the music for this record, I was listening to all North Carolina-made albums, including Mandolin Orange and the album Andrew produced for Josh Oliver (Oliver is also featured heavily on Shame).” Shortly after reaching out to Marlin, Baiman traveled to Chapel Hill, NC for three intensive days in the studio. “The energy was amazing,” Baiman says. “It became clear that we were making something really special that needed to be finished.”
The plight of women in traditional ballads is often quite dark. Originally, these ballads dealt with the hard realities of everyday life in the old ages, but as time drew on, the narratives fractured and blurred, and the result is that many ballads today read like strange dreams. Bizarre delusions where the women come to brutal ends, passive victims of random violence from young men. When young New England ballad singer, Lindsay Straw, set out to record her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind, she decided to dig deep to find other, more uplifting, narratives of women in traditional song. With help from Club Passim’s Iguana Grant, which provides funds to young traditional musicians, she began discovering that there were many more ballads to be found in which women played a larger, more triumphant role. “It basically started with one song, “Geordie”, and me thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if there are more traditional songs like this where the woman saves the day,’ Straw explains. “There’s definitely some relativism and context to be kept in mind – what might be a win in 1800’s folksong terms might not be a win to most women today! But within the songs, all the women triumph in some form, either by saving themselves by outsmarting their male counterpart(s), saving their lover or sister, establishing their own careers and independent lives, or making an honest man out of the erstwhile lover (or taking revenge!).” Sourcing these old songs from artists like British folk singers June Tabor and Frankie Armstrong, Scottish traveller Lizzie Higgins, and a host of dusty songbooks, Straw weaves these different narrative threads into a tapestry that shows the power of women in traditional Celtic song, dating back hundreds of years.
Ballads have been a source of inspiration for Lindsay Straw since her childhood in Montana, but she truly grew into the art while studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There she began to tie together the threads of the traditions she was most passionate about: English, Scottish, Irish and American songcraft. She also founded a young Celtic trad band at the college, The Ivy Leaf, which she draws from to fill out the music on her new album, The Fairest Flower of Womankind. In addition to her own sensitive, agile accompaniment on guitar and bouzouki, Straw is joined by members of The Ivy Leaf, Daniel Accardi (fiddle), Armand Aromin (fiddle), and Benedict Gagliardi (concertina, harmonica), plus renowned Maine guitarist Owen Marshall (The Press House). Throughout, Straw’s tender vocals and careful arrangements draw out the inner depths of these old songs, telling tales of women from beyond the ages. A ballad needs commitment to be told, a belief in the importance of its story. Straw proves that these stories ring with inspiration even today.
I use the title ‘singer-songwriter’, not as a descriptor of a songwriter who sings his own songs, but because this exceptional collection brings to mind that short, golden time during the early 70s when the Singer-Songwriter ruled – before the noisy boys in band pushed to the fore and pushed him/her off the front of the stage. It was a time when The Song was all, a rich time of thoughtful, introverted, often mysterious, always personal braids of melody, lyrics and voice knitted into a perfect tapestry – or more precisely, Tapestry. All that was needed was a wooden guitar, a voice and now and again a simpatico band of musicians. Upwey gets its title from the Victorian country location where Hunt recorded with Matt Walker. There’s simpatico right there. Walker’s steady hand on the tiller guides the entire album organically down a deep and willow-hung river – the whole thing has a gypsy jam feeling, an informality reminiscent of (yet not as tightly wound as) Astral Weeks. The band – Grant Cummerford on bass, Ash Davies on drums, Kris Schubert on occasional piano and Hammond and Alex Burkoy on violin – play like they have grown up with these six beautiful songs….
FestiTrad New Festival in St. Gabriel, Québec April 7-9, 2017
HearthPR is proud to be working with the new French-Canadian traditional festival, FestiTrad, now in its second year! From April 7-9, 2017, some of the best Québécois roots artists will gather in the beautifully rustic small town of St. Gabriel, a lakeside town nestled deep in the heartland of Québec’s music traditions: the Lanaudière valley. Just 90 minutes from Montréal, FestiTrad is a comfortable journey North from New England and the perfect way to discover the irrepressible joyfulness of Québécois music. FestiTrad will showcase some of the most influential Québécois artists, like De Temps Antan, Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer, André Marchand & Grey Larsen, and more, and will also include a day of workshops with the artists, a dance, a jam, and daily concerts. The family-friendly venue is located indoors and the surrounding area offers plentiful activities and beautiful scenery. Come experience the chaleur of Quebec’s rich musical tradition in the heart of Lanaudière!
Musiques à Bouches – This group is the perfect example of French-Canadian chansons à réponses (call-and-response songs). Taking their repertoire from elder singers from Québec to France, the harmony of these old songs is driven by traditional foot percussion (podorhymie). This new album won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Vocal Group! LISTEN: https://musiqueabouches.bandcamp.com/album/jusquaux-oreilles
OgalO – This new band, formed in Joliette, the center for traditional music in Québec, takes its cues from the old sources, as well as from their far-spread interests in jazz, world, Irish, Latin, and more! LISTEN: https://ogalotrad.bandcamp.com/
FestiTrad – Festee-TRAD
St. Gabriel – St. (= Saint, but pronounced like “Sand” without the D.) Gawb-RIEL
Québec – KAY-beck
Québécois – Kay-beck-QWAH
André Brunet – AwnDRAY BrooNAY
Musiques à Bouches – MooZEEK ah Boosh
Rayna Gellert grew up in a musical family, and has spent most of her life immersed in the sounds of rural stringband music, heartfelt gospel songs, and old ballads. After honing her fiddle skills playing at jam sessions and square dances, Rayna fell into a life of traveling and performing. Her fiddle albums are widely celebrated in the old-time music community, and she has recorded with a host of musicians in a variety of styles – including Robyn Hitchcock, Tyler Ramsey, Sara Watkins, Loudon Wainwright III, John Paul Jones, and Abigail Washburn. From 2003 through 2008, Rayna was a member of the acclaimed stringband Uncle Earl, with whom she released two albums on Rounder Records and toured like mad. In 2010, she met songwriter Scott Miller, and they began performing and recording together. In 2012, Rayna released her first vocal album, Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds, on StorySound Records. She lives in Swannanoa, North Carolina.
It’s taken Rayna Gellert some time to follow up on that album, though, but this new seven-tracker, Workin’s Too Hard, has clearly been worth the wait.
While accepting the importance of her role in conserving and protecting the old-time tradition, Rayna didn’t want to fall into the same trap as her father in becoming obsessed with traditional music to the exclusion of finding her own voice. “Eventually I realised that my job is to play music I love, which is bigger than protecting any one concept of tradition. I realised I was an artist, and I wanted to claim that.” The light-bulb moment came with the creation of the Old Light album, where Rayna showed that deep immersion in our musical past can bring a collision between cultural and personal memory, giving rise to a new tradition of her own devising. As evidenced in the disc’s title song, where her imagination is triggered by the memory of lyric snippets from a 1937 Kentucky field recording. One of the disc’s standout tracks for me is the wistful waltzer River Town, where the collision of heartbreaking personal memories is at its most haunting. It’s one of two songs which turn out to be jointly penned by Rayna Gellert and her co-producer Kieran Kane – the other being Grey Bird, which draws additionally on traditional lyrics for its expression of timeless yearning. Strike The Bells poignantly explores old age, and both complements and contrasts with Perry, which simply but powerfully distills the essence of a universal truth.
Perry is the disc’s other major triumph in a whole disc of high points, and, coincidentally, it’s one of only two songs to include the sound of the fiddle in its instrumental backing. Here, it’s joined by just a lone piano in a distinctive departure from the muted, largely guitar-and-soft-keys-based scoring of the rest of the record. Its primitive, yet slightly eerie retro signature sound owes much to the low-key, intensely live real-time feel of the recording (all credit due to engineer Charles Yingling) and the empathic playing of long-time musical friends Kai Welch, Jamie Dick and Kieran Kane. As well as three of Rayna’s own compositions and the two aforementioned co-writes, the album also contains two traditional songs, Oh Lovin’ Babe and I’m Bound For The Promised Land; the former is given a mysterious, almost reverential aura with gentle supporting vocal harmonies, whereas the latter, rather intriguingly, comes across like darkly grungy and surprisingly dirty rockabilly and sports a raw, grinding fiddle solo.
Workin’s Too Hard is a warmly inclusive and rather special record, with a feeling of back porch intimacy that at times recalls (but nowhere apes) Gillian Welch’s landmark Revival sessions. But Rayna’s vision has its own unique perspective and atmosphere. The distinctive and memorable music and songwriting on Workin’s Too Hard sure left me wanting much more, and I do hope Rayna can get it all together again soon.
The first thing you really need to know about me is that even my closest friends sometimes refer to me as a robot, and they don’t mean it in a good way. Another well worn description is “Walking Quaalude”. The general consensus is that I don’t have emotions. This, of course, is far from true. But the reality is that emotionally things tend to register for me a little too late; at the end of the day or once the fight is over. So the proverbial weight doesn’t really hit until the girl is already gone and it’s too late to say goodbye. Or whatever. That being said, the only real way to move forward when emotion finally catches up with reality is to write it all down privately and pour over it painstakingly so that one day, hopefully, it turns into a song. And that’s pretty much where all my songs come from.
As far as backstory goes, I guess the day that I was kicked out of choir was the day I decided that I definitely wanted to be a singer. I’d toyed around with the idea before that, but the moment the professor took me aside and told me that in all her years of teaching I was the worst singer she had ever heard, I don’t know, something inside clicked. I started a rock band immediately and that was what I did for awhile. I wasn’t initially all that interested in folk music; At least not until I first heard Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan. That just changed everything; everything about the way I thought about music and the way I approached songwriting. I’d even go so far as to say that there’s a piece of that album in every song I’ve written since. You may not hear it, but I hear it.
And that’s kind of all you need to know. I mean, a timeline of every project and event wouldn’t really be that interesting, or necessary save for maybe the other two Nicholas Rowe albums; The Forgotten Sons of Steel River (2011) and It’s Christmastime Again (2012). Then of course there’s the hiatus that started in 2013 when my twin daughters were born. I’ve been using that time away to process things though, and in my slow, distanced, methodical way I’ve been writing it all down privately, pouring over it painstakingly…