This video series adds to the Rainey Day Fund’s mission to amplify marginalized voices within the roots music community.
HUDSON VALLEY, New York — In partnership with Beehive Productions, the nonprofitRainey Day Fund today launched the Rainey Day Recordings, a series of live videos showcasing artists the Fund believes should be heard. The first installment features Amythyst Kiah, to be followed up in coming months with performances by Natalia Zukerman, Giri & Uma Peters, and others. In the current conversations regarding the rampant gender disparities at play in country music, rarely do other marginalized voices earn even a mention. However, if the system is to be disrupted or dismantled, change must be inter-sectional rather than incremental, including artists of color, artists with disabilities, artists within the LGBTQ+ community, and others who add to the rich fabric of roots music. For, to paraphrase Pete Seeger, we’re stronger when we rise together. That’s where the Rainey Day Fund comes in. Named after Ma Rainey — the queer, Black “Mother of the Blues” — the Rainey Day Fund provides assistance to performers through its two main components: a micro-grant fund and a suite of professional services — each available to minority artists at key moments in their careers. The Rainey Day Fund does not have an open application process. Instead, it relies on a number of advisors in the music industry to recommend artists for consideration. The organization does, however, have an open donation policy. The current goal is to raise $25,000 to finance the yearlong video series and an additional $25,000 for the micro-grant program. If you would like to donate either financial resources or professional services to support a Rainey Day musician, or for more information about the fund, please contact Kelly McCartney, email@example.com The Rainey Day Fund is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit project of TKDubs Productions Ltd. https://www.raineydayfund.org/https://www.beehivepro.com/
Fire Up The Tesla For a Midnight Drive Along Ventura Highway.
Normally if the first song on an album doesn’t ‘grab my attention’ I swiftly move on to the next one in the pile; but sometimes the artist involved is too important to me for me to be so flippant; and Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina certainly falls into that camp…… especially as this is his debut solo album! Why the reticence on my behalf? Well as the owner of three rocking Crazy Horse albums, numerous Neil Young ones featuring this legendary drummer who also plays one of my favourite albums of all time; Ian McNabb’s Merseybeast……the first track Lullabies and subsequently Your Life is My Life Too which swiftly follows the 22 second opener were absolutely nothing like what I expected at all. But; why can’t Molina record what the Hell he likes after sitting at the back of the stage for half a century? That second song, and pretty much everything that follows is as smooth as silk and full to the brim with gorgeous overdubbed harmonies on a song that sounds like it could be a lost track from Sunflower or Surf’s Up or Sunflower by the Beach Boys. It’s having those albums in the back of my mind which is how I actually got my head around LOVE & INSPIRATION, the songs here are quite enigmatic and very ‘West Coast’ with every song perfectly created to compliment Molina’s effortless singing style All 11 songs are self-penned and show a dormant talent finally allowed to flourish; with Too Young To Know and Follow That Star both sounding like they were from some starry eyed Lo-Fi Alt, Country band rather than a man who has tread the boards at every major festival and stadium known to man. While listening over the last couple of days words like ‘cinematic’, ‘ethereal’ and ‘delicate’ spring to mind whenever I’ve heard It’s Gonna Be Alright and especially You Wear an Angel’s Wings; yet each has a lot going on the background as does the nearest there is to a ‘rocker’ here, the co-write with Sir Ian McNabb; Dance on The Wind but only in as much as it’s a luxuriously soft-rocker. Oh man! Now Summer has arrived LOVE & INSPIRATION has already elbowed out a couple of albums due for review, as I’ve fallen head over heals in love with this album; which brings me to my Favourite Track here, Hopelessly In Love With You, which feels like a gentle cuddle and just needs a film soundtrack to attach itself too for it to be a major hit. As I said at the start, this probably won’t be what you would expect from the Crazy Horse drummer; but if you can get past your preconceptions this album really is the gift that keeps on giving.
Jim Allen Where The Sunshine Bit You Hardcover Records
A Simply Crafted Set of Complex Rootsy Songs.
This is another of those album’s that arrive with a note saying ‘you reviewed my pal’s album, and I thought you’d like mine too.’ While nothing like his friend Bob Hillman; I could easily understand why he thought I’d like his music right from the get go; the jaunty Roots-Rockin’ opening track All The Way Down; featuring Allen’s rough and ready voice and a joyfully tight band. In the nicest possible way; I’ve heard a lot worse from much more famous singer-songwriters. In his self-depreciating Press Release Allen says “I’m 51 years old now; I’m not trying to become the next big anything. I made this album because I was compelled to” and that certainly comes across in the beautiful, yet melancholic pictures he paints in your head with Waiting For Lydia and The Day After Tomorrow, which kind of made me think of one of David Olney’s early albums; but I forget which one …. not that it really matters. While never quite what I would call ‘Folk’ Jim Allen writes from the heart and thankfully the catch-all title of Roots Music fits perfectly for these gentle yet occasionally perplexing songs like Leave It To Uncle Henry and Wedding of the Dead; but perhaps I’m getting jaded and trying to read to much into a couple of catchy songs. My first thoughts for a Favourite Song was going to be the last track High, which has a neat Gospel type chorus and beat; but I’m now going to give this wonderful accolade to the sweet back-porch Country-Blues of The Day After Tomorrow, which is just one of those songs that makes you tap your fingers and smile ……. what’s better than that? Allen admits that ‘A combination of aesthetic values and more importantly ‘financial reasons’, meant he and his bandmates cut Where the Sunshine Bit You live in the studio in two days. No overdubs, no separation, not even any headphones — everything bleeding into everything, just like nature intended, and the only thing missing from this simply-crafted set of songs is Allen introducing them with a 1-2-3-4….. but you can’t have everything, can you? Sometimes simplicity is all you really need in musicland; and here Jim Allen has created quite a complex set of songs, but makes them sound so simple.
Joy Williams Front Porch Sensibility/Thirty Tigers
A Modern Day Classic That Weaves a Colourful Tapestry of Emotions.
When I received this CD last week the name Joy Williams was familiar; but I couldn’t quite place a face to the name, so it’s sat in the pile on the desk waiting for an opportunity to go into the office CD player. Time has been of the essence, so it wasn’t until today when I was heading for the hills to clear my head, that it went into the car alongside two others I felt could be worth a listen. Suffice to say the other two are still unheard and I’ve rushed home to write about Joy Williams’ second solo release ………. since leaving the Civil Wars. DOH! Of course that’s where I knew her name from and it only took thirty seconds of opening track Canary for the penny to drop. What a way to start a new record; haunting, ethereal and crystal clear production all combine with some really imaginative lyrics to not just pull at your heartstrings but stir your Soul too. In theory this type of music shouldn’t be the perfect accompaniment for a car journey; but songs like When Does a Heart Move On and Hotel St. Cecelia felt like old friends giving me a hug; although they were actually strangers meeting me for the first time. For an acoustic album that errs on the side of American Folk with an acoustic Country edge there’s not just a lot going on the words of each song; but the emotions that they create defy the simplicity of Kenneth Patengale’s production. Several songs here are quite stunning; and even breathtaking the first time that you hear them (occasionally the second and third time too) with The Trouble With Wanting and When Creation Was Young both sounding like I will need to sit with my headphones on to get the very best out of them, as they are sure to unravel even more as time dictates. First and foremost you will be swept away by Joy William’s pearlescent voice, which when she reaches for the high notes doesn’t as much ‘hit them’ as catch them and caress them into submission …… which I’ve only ever heard opera singers do before. Being as contrary as I am, I try to avoid title tracks or singles as my Favourite Song; but here you can’t get past Front Porch as the one and only Favourite as it will just sweep you away as it has me (I repeated it 7 times at one stage; like a lovesick teenager!). It’s one of those songs that will mean something different to everyone who hears it; and they won’t all be wrong; just not necessarily correct with their personal interpretation ….. that’s how great a song it is. The album is neatly tied up with the short and sweet closing song Look How Far We’ve Come; which is the nearest to a Country song that’s here and even then it has a gorgeous Gospel edge to it if you listen carefully. I’m a ‘man of a certain age’ and I ‘get it’, in the exact same way that I ‘got’ Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ and Carole King’s ‘Tapestry’ nearly half a century ago; and it’s no stretch of the imagination to compare this album to those two Classics in my opinion; but what I fear is that there could/will be a lot of pretentious twaddle in reviews by the hard-line Feminist Movement when they hear Front Porch. Yep; there is a definite femininity to each song here and pulled together they create an album that women of all ages will love and cherish and try to decipher; but trust me…….. music loving men will cherish these songs just as much.
The Stars Have Aligned For The Chameleon of Americana.
For the second time this week I’ve been listening to an album by an artist that sounds unlike anything they’ve recorded previously; which is a) challenging and b) a very good thing. When posting a single, earlier this year from from Josh Ritter’s 10th album FEVER BREAKS I described him as a chameleon; and now I’m immersed in the whole album I can’t think of a better word to describe his career and this actual set of songs. First and foremost; these songs are both stereotypical Josh Ritter and the very heart and soul of what we know as Americana. The punchy and almost American Gothic The Ground Don’t Want Me opens proceedings like a rusty Camero……. stinging words that are only matched by a pedal-steel; alongside a neat toe-tapping beat from the singer and his band. Oddly enough it’s a song that will sit comfortably in a Honky-Tonk and a Theatre; which is quite some achievement. Next up is the single That Ole Black Magic, which we loved earlier in the year and sitting alongside it’s peers it still sounds full of piss n vinegar; and Ritter has already shown the Hip Kids how to put the Alt. into Country and we are only two songs in! Mercifully not everything is quite so Fast n Furious; Josh slows things down in a manner that’s not a million miles away from the style Dylan perfected on Nashville Skyline; The Torch Committee tells a very dark tale that is sadly as relevant today as it was when set in the 1950’s; All Some Kind of Dream is as dark as it’s sad as Josh sings of today’s American attitude to immigration and compares it to his country’s forefathers…….. and it’s well worth seeking out. Perhaps Jason Isbell’s production brings out something special in Ritter’s storytelling via these varied arrangements; but I’d never have known he had his stamp on this album if I hadn’t been force fed it via the Press Release, as Ritter’s mature storytelling on A New Man and On The Water would have risen to the surface regardless of whoever was twiddling the knobs in the control room. As is my won’t I must now select a Favourite Song and that’s been far from easy, as nearly every song here has it’s merits, with the lonesome Silverblade being as good a Country song as I’ve ever heard from this songwriter; and then there’s the delightfully sensitive Blazing Highways Home which is clever, articulate and humble in equal measures; but I’m going back to I Still Love You (Now and Then) which is the type of Love Song that Americana Music does better than any other genre; and Ritter manages to capture the emotions that linger after a breakup better than most; and if I say it’s in the mould of Guy Clark’s latter-day songs; that should be praise enough. Josh Ritter has been around a long time time, grafting away on the circuit and only releasing albums when he felt the material was strong enough; and it’s quite possible that the stars have finally aligned for him on this rather wonderful album.
Ben Bedford The Hermit’s Spyglass Cavalier Recordings
Idiosyncratic Guitar and Folk Songs That Paint Vivid Pictures In Your Head.
It would be all too easy for me to skip past this album as I am being inundated with Review albums from the great and the good in the musical world; as even though he’s a Kerrville New Folk Winner Ben Bedford is highly unlikely to headline Coachella or Glastonbury and is even less likely to win a Grammy; but even on one cursory, background listen you instantly sense you are in the presence of a very special singer-songwriter indeed. With hindsight I think it’s Bedford’s idiosyncratic guitar playing that really caught my attention last week; but then again his cracked and worn voice; from years as a lonely troubadour I’m sure is the type that only a Mother or me could love too. Then of course there are Ben Bedford’s songs; starting with Morning Rise a Folk Song from the Tom Paxton end of the spectrum, and so simple yet prophetic I found myself taking a deep breath so as not to miss a word or note. For one man, a guitar and no fancy post-production wizardry Ben Bedford surely can capture your attention with the beautiful and melancholic vivid vivid pictures he paints in your head with the dark Little Falcon and Coyotes as well as the introspective Morning Conversations too; which is quite some achievement. Back to Bedford’s guitar playing; for someone who isn’t Richard Thompson or indeed Bert Jansch on the beautiful instrumentals Thunderstorm and Quiet on the Green Hill he manages to captivate and intrigue without ever singing a word. I’m trickily undecided regarding my choice of Favourite Song here as I rather like Moon and March End a whole lot, but it is just edged out by Morning Coffee; another very simple idea and concept but one that I, you and everyone around us will associate with; so that’s the one. Is this Americana? I guess so as Ben Bedford is American and these are American stories; albeit with more than a cursory nod in the direction of some of the 1960’s British Folk Singers that were inspired by the likes of Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and later Guy Clark. Expect to see Ben Bedford in a Coffee House, pub backroom near you or perhaps even a tent at Glastonbury, go check him out if you can…… you won’t be disappointed.
There is something to be said about getting inspiration from traveling to specific locales. And when you’re an artist, sensitive to the spiritual vibrations resonating from within certain spaces where the emotions have run high, you can — hopefully — tap into that energy and gain insight and revelation to events, people, and feelings from another time. Imagine an author writing about a haunted house while staying inside a supposedly haunted house. Or a painter working on his art while setting up in the very same spots where Vincent Van Gogh created some of his iconic paintings. It is thought by some that some spaces soak up the emotions and thoughts of the beings that resided there, just waiting for the correct energy to show up, to release them from within their patient waiting, to bring light to their darkness. Different places have different emanating energies. There is a lot of spiritual energy residing in the canyons and rocky plains of New Mexico. A lot of history, a lot of ghosts to inhabit those wide open spaces and wide screen horizons. Now imagine a group of musicians and songwriters traveling along the Trail of Tears, a pilgrimage of sorts, to write and record songs influenced by Native American culture, specifically the feelings of loss, abandonment, and cruelty brought on by “civilization.” There is a kinship here between this album and Mary Gauthier’s Rifles and Rosary Beads, another album about hard truths with no easy answers. This is Buffalo Blood, an album by Neilson Hubbard, Dean Owens, Joshua Britt, Audrey Spillman, and James DeMain whose work together on this fine collection of songs and sounds are exemplary to say the least. These songs were written in the dry heat of the desert canyons of New Mexico, on Georgia O’Keefe’s aptly named Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, in the shadows of historic La Plaza Blanca. If you listen closely, you can hear the occasional bird or the shifting of the wind caught on these recordings as they were all recorded outside in these haunting, beautiful, stark places. What they have crafted here is new folk songs utilizing guitar, mandolin, and some excellent percussion, tied to haunting vocals, and thrilling, spot-on whistling. That’s right, I said whistling. And this ain’t no Spaghetti Western rip-off, either, this is true blue, dyed in the wool, horseback riding, deep in the canyons type of whistling where the echo bounces back at you and hits you in your gut. The real deal. Just like the percussion on this album, probably my favorite ingredient on the whole thing. You don’t need a standard drum kit when you have percussion this simple, strong, decisive. The beat of the drums here is the backbone of the continent. The majestic chanting is the spirits of the land given voice. It’s difficult to find a favorite song here. “Ten Killer Ferry Lake” is ghostly wails amidst wind on the rocks (I’m thinking this one was recorded at night, under a multitude of stars, you can hear the sand being blown into the mics. I hope this was recorded like this, even if not, I’m going to continue to imagine it was, because it just feels so right.) “Reservations” concerns itself with the plight of the modern day descendants of those who walked the Trail of Tears, pulling no punches with its language: “White men wanted everything, white men never listened to us, now our way of life is gone… ” and “Many things were said, treaties signed and broken, buffalo days are dead and gone… ” “Comanche Moon” picks up where that song left us, not exactly bitter, but not broken either. “Buffalo Thunder” begins with whistling wind and a far off desert storm before harmonized wordless chanting and ominous whistling disappears into the reverb. But my favorite song here might just be “Daughter of the Sun,” a desert fable dressed in a simple, heartfelt melody. This one reads as if it’s as old as the hills it was recorded in, a true testament to the musicians involved. I’m loving the focus given to these songs, the stark detail, the willingness of the musicians and production team to leave themselves emotionally open to the experiences required to bring this album to life.
Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz Riverland Red Beet Records
A Homage, a Concept and Plenty of Love For the Mississippi Delta
I don’t know if it’s as romantic living along the River Mississippi as it seems to those of us who live hundreds or thousands of miles away; but apart from Nashville City, if there’s one thing that evokes the flavour of Americana Music it surely must be this beautiful and deeply troubled area. Which all brings us to the latest offering from Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thom Jutz; songwriters deluxe and who have pieced together this rather charming Concept Album (eek!) about the river and its history plus the people who live and work along and around it. The Charming River City; full of warm harmonies and intricate fretwork opens the story; and while it is specifically about someone arriving Natchez the sentiment and characters could easily be about any lonely person getting off a bus or train to start a new and scary life somewhere new and alone. For a ‘concept album’ each individual song really does stand on its own merits; and transcend the original narrative. There are sad tales galore; Old Tom T and Brother Will; which could easily be something from one of the first two Band albums; and most noticeably Uneasy Does It too. When you sit back and wallow in these wonderful stories you will find there’s a lot to learn as the clever stories unfold. the jaunty Southern Mule takes on a glorious meander, and Drowned and Washed Away tells the harrowing story of a flood in 1927 but who knew about General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to change the world by taking Vicksburg which are re-told in a most effective manner in Down Along the River? I guess each of the three songwriters have their very own style; but it’s not easy to tell who wrote what just be listening to the songs; which is something I especially admire on a recording like this. Obviously this is a work that needs and deserves to be heard in solitude so you can pick up on the glorious detail and nuances in songs like It Might Be Hollywood and the charming King of the Keelboat Men; about a man called Mike Fink. But where to go for a Favourite Song? The stark and thoughtful In the Presence of the River is definitely a cornerstone that the concept is built around, as I guess is Mississippi Magic which starts as wonderfully heartfelt story told over a gently strummed guitar; then leads into a fresh take on a story by ‘Bootleg Preacher’ Will D Campbell about the interracial problems this region had had for hundreds of years and still, sadly lives and breathes in 2019. I’m selecting the third in what I feel is this trilogy, Mississippi, Rest My Soul which closes the story in the finest of manners. There’s not a lot else to say; this is a fascinating concept about something I think of, The Mississippi in all its glory as the Central pillar of Americana.
If I’m being perfectly honest, and I try to be when it comes to music…..I’ve never ‘got’ David Crosby or, indeed Crosby, Still & Nash.
I sort of understand and why people love the sound he and they create; but it was never for me…..and believe me, I’ve tried hard over the years in my quest to be one of the intellectual ‘cool kids’.
So, it was with great interest that I slid this disc into the car stereo last weekend.
Hmmmmmmmmmmm….. opening song Glory certainly wasn’t what I was expecting in the slightest. Crosby’s ultra-smooth and leathery voice opens the song; but slowly immerses itself into a multi-layered and, it has to be said succulent 5 minutes of slick pop music that truly is a band effort as Michael, Becca and Michelle from Lighthouse Band seamlessly take over events.
It’s only when I eventually read the accompanying Press Release that I discovered this was meant to be a Lighthouse Band project when they entered the studio, and it’s only latterly evolved into a Crosby release, which makes sense when you wallow in the semi-mystical Vagrants of Venice which follows and most of the album, truth be told with Crosby being an integral, but minor part.
On one level HERE IF YOU LISTEN is very easy on the ears; ‘too easy’ perhaps as the arrangements sometimes overshadow Crosby’s unique voice and what he is trying to say in the lyrics on Your Own Ride and probably I Am No Artist too.
From the notes I see that two inclusions are re-crafted versions of recently discovered demos from Crosby’s back catalogue; and to some degree 1974 and 1967 probably should have stayed in the past as they sound a bit too clever for their own good.
Balanced On a Pin has captured my attention, even if the lyrics are a bit too intellectual for the likes of me; it still sounds more like what I’d hoped to hear on a David Crosby album; as does Other Half Rule which sadly only has Crosby providing harmonies to Michael League on lead vocals; but it does have gentle echoes albeit a modern take on CS&N from decades ago.
For a ‘Favourite Track’ I’m going for Janet; possibly because the piano arrangement; and the song itself have a slightly late night Jazzy feel to them, even though it’s actually Michelle Willis and Michael League on lead vocals as opposed to the man whose name adorns the album cover.
Then quaintly the album closes with David and the three members of Lighthouse Band crooning Joni’s Woodstock in a style more akin to the Mike Sammes Singers than anyone I can remember playing the legendary Rock Music Festival!
If this hadn’t been a David Crosby release I doubt I would have initially got past track #3 before packing this away for the Oxfam shop; but a David Crosby release has to be given due accord; and I have; but after nearly half a century of trying I still don’t ‘get’ the Reverence that people hold him in. This is the type of background music that works perfectly well on a Sunday morning when you are leisurely reading the newspapers; but there’s nothing here that will change the political landscape that ‘The Cros’ so vehemently rallies against on Social Media, nor does it stand up against anything I’ve ever heard from 200 singer-songwriters who would probably list him as a Major Influence. Discuss.
Texas-Songwriter Thrills with a Lush Sonic Palette
Foxhole Prayers is Texas based songwriter Vanessa Peters’ twelfth album, somewhat reminiscent to my ears of the Sundays with its lush guitars and tightly focused rhythms and better than average songwriting. The production also reminds me of another album I reviewed earlier this year, New York Howl by London Plane. I like the way that Foxhole Prayers harkens back to the latter part of the last century for sonic inspiration without sounding dated or derivative.
Ms’ Peters’ voice is clear and entrancing; her songs poppy yet rollicking, smart and confident with a thrilling and spot-on production. You can tell that Peters spends time editing her lyrics, there is no over-fancy wordplay going on here. Don’t try to impress me with “Oh look at how clever this line is,” I’d rather hear a simple truth, a stanza that fits the song — It’s rock ‘n’ roll, not poetry, and I think that Peters gets that. These songs are solid and fully formed. Take “Lucky” for instance, which is a pleasant pop song with a fun, catchy chorus, guaranteed to get stuck in your head for days.
“Before it Falls Apart” and “This Riddle” bring enough personal touches to the details to add interest. A personal favourite for me from this album is “What You Can’t Outrun” with its ambient backing and backwards guitar solo that ends the album on a darker note. And I would like to note that the guitar textures on this album are extremely well done, bell-like and chimey at times, to an approaching maelstrom when needed. I find myself listening to the guitar just as much as to the lyrics when attempting to define what these songs are really about.
I’ll also mention three of the other songs here, “Carnival Barker,” “Just One of Them,” and “Trolls,” which are relevant for today’s darker political climate. I’m pleased that so many artists are voicing up about the world they find themselves in today. Taking a stand while trying to make a living playing music and — essentially, trying to please everyone — is no easy task. The fact that Peters does so without sounding heavy-handed, letting the songs breathe instead of forcing the message upon them, is admirable.
Review courtesy the American Magpie aka Roy Peak esq.