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Welcome to the Folk & Trad Blog!

This is a space to celebrate music that is at the cutting edge as well as that which is carrying the torch for the tradition.

Artists: if you have music you would like to be considered for review, or have another idea to pitch, please see the contact page for submission guidelines.

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Instruments for Sale!!! (Martin D, Breedlove Mando, Schultz PVC Eb whistle, Washburn 5 string banjo)

My life seems to be in upheaval mode and I have some gear I need to move to make way for some new stuff or just some extra cash and posting here seemed like a good way to consolidate everything and post a bunch of pics. Selling to finance a 2nd bouzouki (already have one on order so not interested in trades for bouzoukis probably!) which will be tuned a bit lower to suit my voice better and to finance an Orchestra model Martin as I am sick of Dreads! No longer interested in stringed instruments trades (ok if you have a deal on a good zouk I might consider it but I found a guitar). Open to negotiation on all of these prices. Due to CITES restrictions; stringed instruments are for sale in US only!

2010 Martin DC-15E: I got this a few years back used from Elderly instruments. Last model year for the 15E series before they went back to 15M. Martin had been using mahogany and/or sapele in the early 2000s, don’t know which this is! Very Good condition with usual scratches and dings plus some finish wear used but not abused, structurally sound and set up seems good. Fishman active pick-up system and tuner works fine but needs new battery. OHSC has some exterior wear but interior is clean. $1000 includes FedEx 2day shipping; cash pick-up price $950.

 

 

 

 

 

2008 (Pre Buy-Out!) US made Breedlove Quartz KO Mandolin With Extras: It absolutely breaks my heart to part with this mando as I am the original owner and it is in Near Mint condition. These are no longer being made in the US I bought it new in ’08 and have certainly played it but the instrument itself is one small ding by the soundhole away from being mint (see photos, discoloration is shadow and not on the instrument!). Solid spruce and flamed maple your chance to own a rare, beautiful, unavailable, US made mandolin at a good price. Extras are; 3 sets of D’addario EXP74s, Shubb mando/banjo capo, and super comfy neotech strap. OHSC has some exterior wear interior is clean. SOLD

 

 

 

 

 

Glenn Schultz PVC Weasel Eb: This is one of the last ones Glenn made before he passed in ’05, I bought it new from the Irish Flute Store it was part of an ex-stock Glenn’s daughter sold to then-owner Doc Jones. Everything you would expect from a whistle like this. Exterior has some scratches and there is a small chip on the bell (which I forgot to photo and post originally!) but plays perfectly with a sweet, slightly breathy tone. It’s a nice whistle but I don’t play it much and would prefer a more trad style whistle of good quality and lesser cost so I’m interested in partial trades for Ebs such as Freeman tweaked, Dixon Trad, etc. Due to the rarity of this item and the unavailability I am asking that you SOLD.

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Washburn B-11 5 String Banjo with Extras: My mom got this a few years ago thinking she might re-learn to play it as she played a bit in college. She played it a couple times and I tried it for a bit as well but its sat in a closet since then and is pretty much unplayed in Like New Condition with some discoloration on the head (don’t know what it is or how it got there but it definitely isn’t play wear!) being the only imperfection. OHSC is mint extras are Pete Seeger banjo tutorial and an assortment of fingerpicks. SOLD.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Kendálin’s Rising

The music on this second album from Portland, OR folk fusion band Kendálin comes from diverse sources; from traditional Celtic, American, Middle Eastern, and Nordic music to contemporary folk as well as original music. It would be easy to think that a band this size, a nonet, with such diverse influences would have a hard time creating an individual, cohesive sound but Kendálin has done just that. One of the stand-out aspects of this album is the approach to arranging; all of the instrumentalists get a chance to shine, even the bass gets a couple of solos, and the vocal harmonies have a very rich choral sound. The first/title track, an original composed by four of the band members, belies what is to come; a soaring melody line with a pure soprano voice taking the lead and the band providing rich vocal harmonies. “Polska Upstairs”, written by Väsen’s Nickelharpa player Olav Johansson, is a very nice instrumental track where the melody gets traded between flutes and fiddles before climaxing into a full band sound driven by a powerful percussion section. “Don’t Carry It All”, written by The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy, brings a touch of contemporary folk into the mix with edgy alto vocals providing a nice contrast to the cleaner soprano singer on title track. “Border Crossing/Tolka Polka” takes us towards eastern sounds to start off, with an original tune from multi-instrumentalist Bryan Owens the track is introduced on octave mandolin with clarinet coming in on melody while the bowed upright bass provides a foreboding backdrop. This becomes a more upbeat melody traded between fiddle and clarinet before bringing it back to Celtic lands with Donál Lunny’s “Tolka Polka”. The stand-out track here is “Mouth Music” a rousing approach to this Puirt à beul, which listeners might recognize from Dolores Keane and John Faulkner’s classic 1979 album Broken Hearted I’ll Wander, with big harmonies and more driving percussion it is a powerful take on a Scottish traditional classic. This album does fall victim to one of the issues that can arise with this type of band, since the music comes from many different sources and the musicians come from different backgrounds there are spaces where it sounds as if the lead player hasn’t spent enough time with the particular style to play it really convincingly. To the ears of this Irish flute player this is most evident on the flute solo on the second tune in track two; “Francie and the Birds”, a lovely Celtic style tune by fiddler Rachel Bowen. While the player is obviously proficient at the instrument and it’s clear they’ve made an attempt to play this in the style of the tune, the tone, phrasing, and ornamentation aren’t quite consistent with the flute playing traditions of the style this tune was composed in. Another place where this album falls a little bit short is that it lacks focus. There is some very good material executed well in a unique style but a listener might be a bit confused as to what kind of band this is and the influences that come to the top are perhaps a bit more classical and contemporary than serious folkys might hope for. All in all this is a solid effort and very enjoyable album from a unique group!

Kendálin is a Portland based nine piece folk fusion group; Rising is their second album and is available for purchase here and streaming here.

Two 2017 Albums That (Folk) Rocked My World.

In my last post I talked about what folk music is; now I’d like to talk a bit about two recent albums that challenged my own perceptions of the genre. There was a time when I was younger, I was a bit of a purist, and the word “rock” next to “folk” was not something that interested me. Tastes evolve and people change, over the last few years I’ve become a lot more open minded than I was when in college and only listening to Irish trad. Now when I see folk rock I think “I like folk rock” and will check it out. That being said both of the albums I’d like to highlight here, The World We Built by The Wild Reeds and Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes, don’t really fit too well into preexisting categories and really take their own direction. These are exactly the type of works I’d really like this space to be about, those that find their own voice to create something that challenges what “folk music” means to create something unique and beautiful.

There is a lot of great music available these days, so much so, that most of us have become a bit jaded with it all, myself included. Despite that, I still have a voracious appetite for new music and love discovering new sounds. With so much music available it’s incredibly rare for me to find something that immediately does it for me, especially something that holds up to repeat listening. Back in April when The Wild Reeds, a 5 piece band from LA led by three great singers and multi-instrumentalists Sharon Silva, Mackenzie Howe, and Kinsey Lee and supported on bass and drums respectively by Nick Phakpiseth and Nick Jones, released The World We Built they started to get a lot of press.

After finding myself on their website multiple times I finally did something that would send shock waves through my being; I clicked play on the video for the first single “Only Songs”. I was pretty much floored, it was like I was a teenager again discovering a new band, I was hooked. It’s hard to say what it was that really got me, maybe is was the chunky, distorted electric guitar intro or the hint of the harmonium in the background or Mackenzie’s edgy country tinged voice which is kind of like Lucinda Williams crossed with Gillain Welch, but more likely it was the lyrics. I too feel that “The only thing that saves me are these songs I sing baby…”, as I am a pro musician myself that has been my experience. Everything that everyone said I should want and strive for never held a candle to the music; it was always more important than money, some fancy job, some relationship, etc. A sentiment so close to my heart at the fore of this album was a big deal to me; I ordered a copy the next day and tweeted out how excited I was to have discovered this and even put in the tweet #NewFavoriteBand. I totally expected to eat my words on that hashtag, but you know what? Here it is 4 months later and I’m listening to this album right now and if I wasn’t writing I would be singing along so that hyperbolic hashtag actually turned out to be truth.

This is an incredible work detailing the struggles the people in the band have faced to get where they are now; the hardship and sacrifices musicians have to face to get somewhere and the love that holds it all together. Every track on this album is a winner so it’s hard to narrow it down, apart from the one I already mentioned (“Only Songs”) I’d also say “Everything Looks Better (In Hindsight)”, “Fix You Up”, “Back to Earth”, “Capable”, and “Fruition” are my highlights. Perhaps the biggest peak for me is in the song “Capable” when Sharon proclaims “I’m capable of so much more than you people give me credit for and I just need to show it” and then shreds on a lead guitar solo. I think this is the takeaway for the album here; the songs here are a testimony to the strength each of us has inside us and the fact that it often takes facing incredible hardship to realize we contain that strength.

Where The World We Built is an album that imparts it’s messages fairly succinctly and speaks directly to the heart; Crack-Up is a much more cerebral work and is, pardon the pun, a difficult nut to crack. Somehow I missed out on Fleet Foxes before, I don’t know how or why but I didn’t really hear of them until they were getting back together around the end of last year. They broke up in 2013 when the drummer left the band, you probably know him as Father John Misty now, and have reformed recently (with 3 different drummers taking turns on the album here). I was hearing interesting things about Crack-Up, like people calling it prog folk which is of interest to me, so when it became available to stream on NPR I took advantage. When I did there was only one thing that occurred to me; this is the album I have been wanting to listen to on so many different occasions. Honestly I had been longing for something like this, an album that in itself was almost a drug, something that listening to will cause new ideas and new perspectives to take shape.

It was a while before I could get a copy, didn’t have the cash to spend, but eventually I managed to afford one. It hasn’t disappointed! This is the type of work that may change your life; something that explores uncharted and forgotten territories, that invents it’s own rules as it goes along and isn’t afraid to break them later. A big, expansive orchestral work that seems a little bit different every time you listen to it. What so excited me about this work is that I haven’t really heard anything like it from other modern groups (maybe there’s stuff out there that I just haven’t discovered!), an experimental, progressive folk album that leads one on a journey of introspection and challenges the listener to find meaning in a deconstructed landscape filled with ambient noises. At one point I saw it alluded to that this is a concept album, I haven’t been able to confirm this anywhere, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It seems as if the concept is a sense of unease as the result of new knowledge, a way of looking at the world that causes a sense of cognitive dissonance because one now sees things as they are, not as the way one wanted them to be. (This would make some sense, the front-man Robin Pecknold did spend his years off at Columbia University.) The edge of madness that enlightenment will take a person to, the sense of losing it when in reality everything becomes much clearer and it’s the old way of being which seems so crazy.

Despite being big and complex, there are plenty of airy, harmonious chorus-y sections (which I understand is what the old Fleet Foxes are best known for, haven’t had the ability to explore their back catalogue yet) that will stick in your head, like the opening to the first single “Third of May / Ōdaigahara”. However, don’t let the opening fool you, this is an almost 9 minute epic that will take you on a journey. The lyrics in the song “Cassius-” bring to mind great imagery and the soaring melody line is pretty damn catchy. This album explores other musical influences, Robin Pecknold stated in an interview on the podcast Song Explorer that “Mearcstapa” takes influences from, among others, Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Touré. The track “On Another Ocean (January / June)” has a particularly modal jazz feel to me in the dorian section at the beginning, the open voicing in the piano chords and parallel movement is very reminiscent of Coltrane Quartet-era McCoy Tyner. The sense of cognitive dissonance is heightened in the tracks “Fool’s Errand” and “I Should See Memphis” both of which end with nearly a minute of ambient sound that creates the feel of a sub-plot climaxing. This album forced me to make changes in my own life, it is on another level itself and by listening I could only strive to achieve that level personally.

This is what truly great music can accomplish; it can change our lives for the better and bring clarity to things that can be difficult to figure out. Music can lift us up and bring us together; I think both of these albums can do these things even if they do so in very different ways. Hearing both of these made me re-think my approach to my own music; they both pushed me to the realization the best folk sub-genre for my original music is indie and that I should separate this from the Irish trad. Two important revelations that have much bigger ramifications than just what it says on my website.

If I had come across either of these albums maybe 5-10 years ago (obviously they didn’t exist but let’s pretend) I may have not even given them a chance because they wouldn’t have been “traditional” enough. Great music transcends boxes which is why labeling things as “folk” or whatever can be limiting. Yet, as big an umbrella as the folk genre is I came to the conclusion that this music is, as Willie Dixon said about the blues, truth. There is a lot of truth on both of these albums, whether it is outspoken like on The World We Built or presented more elusively like on Crack-Up, so the fact that neither of these albums may fit perfectly in the “folk” box becomes less important than the fact that they authentically relate the human experience. That is what folk music, “the music of the people”, is supposed to do; be a tonic for the difficulties we all face and help us all realize that my struggle is not so different from your struggle.

 

 

What is Folk Music?

Believe it or not I find myself wondering this from time to time and I can never really figure it out. Inevitably, I’m reminded of this quote by Louie Armstrong “all music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song,” there is a certain logic here; any music made by folk is folk music. However, in the modern musical landscape things are labeled, and while I’m typically opposed to labels, it is somewhat necessary to accurately define music as it is. For instance, if you like to listen to folk music and you bought an album that was labeled folk but turned out to be something stylistically very different, let’s say hip-hop (although there is a case to be made that hip-hop is a folk form), you may not be that happy. While you probably aren’t anti-hip-hop, you didn’t spend your hard earned cash thinking you were getting a hip-hop album and would probably want a refund. So, as fans and musicians we need to know what we are getting/producing, so what is folk music?

Is folk music the “music of the [common] people” as we often hear it described? Is it music made by musicians with no formal training? Is it acoustic music sung in an unaffected way? Is it songs that tell a story? Is it music that’s been passed down through different generations through an aural process? Along those lines, do folk songs have to go through the “folk process”? I believe it can be any one of those things but is there something that makes “folk music” quintessentially folk music?

Since this is a folk and trad(itional music, for anyone who didn’t know) blog let’s take a moment to consider tradition in all of this. Traditional music is a bit easier to define in some ways but quickly runs into some of the same problems; it absolutely is music that has been passed down through generations aurally. It exists in a style that has been influenced by the common people of the culture it comes from. The problems arise when we consider new compositions; is a tune composed by someone like (Irish fiddler) Tommy Peoples  written in a traditional style, traditional? Does it have to go through the folk process to become traditional? If it has gone through the folk process and most people forget that Tommy Peoples composed it does it then become “traditional”? We run into the same questions if we define folk music in the same way as trad music. For instance, I didn’t know that “This Land Is Your Land” was written by Woody Guthrie until I was in my 20s, such is the ubiquity of this song within American life, so it absolutely is a folk song. But, was it a folk song when Woody wrote it? Or, did it have to go through the folk process, and become so ubiquitous in American life that many people have no idea of the original composer, before we could call it a folk song? Such is the problem that arises by only defining folk music by music that has gone through the folk process.

So if folk music is, but isn’t just, music that has gone through the folk process is it the music of the common people then? This myth is quite easy to debunk in the modern era. Folk music isn’t the music that the average working person is making or listening to anymore. Folk music exists as a community that has been marginalized by a for profit music industry; it is no longer the music that the average person is making. Yes, every now and then we get our day in the sun and become relevant again, we are in the midst of a folk revival now which is fantastic, but it will exist whether it is in vogue or on the fringes. It is my sincere hope that every generation will produce links in the chain so that this music survives, but it is not the music of the common people anymore. “The people” are listening to pop, rock, hip-hop, etc. they aren’t listening to folk anymore in a general sense. So if we define folk music as “the music of the people” what we call folk now isn’t folk and things that aren’t called folk are folk. So, while this once was the “music of the people” it isn’t anymore; so does that mean the music “the people” are listening to is folk? See, I told you it could be argued that hip-hop is a folk form; I mean it is music that “the people” came up with and initially did it themselves with no formal training.

Since we have argued away another definition of folk; are we at a point when we call it music that people are doing themselves with little or no formal training? By this definition, not only the hip-hop movement would need to be defined as folk, but the punk and indie movements need to be as well. However nobody is defining these musics as folk even if each one can be traced back to a folk form or idea. I think punk can be traced directly to folk, and the indie concept certainly has roots in punk (the idea of it, not the musical style), and of course hip-hop is a continuation of the blues. So, here are musical forms created by people that had little or no training who did it themselves with the equipment they could afford but we don’t call it folk. On the flip side of this, the music I play is folk but I have formal training. So what about style?

I think the idea that folk music needs to be sung in an unaffected way is a myth invented by Alan Lomax in the mid 20th century. To prove this, I point to European traditional forms that were around long before Lomax recorded them. I have a lot of background in Irish traditional music and if you’ve ever listened to sean-nós (which means “old style” in Irish) song you know the idea that folk song has always been unornamented and unaffected is ridiculous. One of the stylistic definitions of sean-nós is heavy ornamentation! While it has become common in contemporary folk to sing in a plain way this concept itself is only something that one person decided was a feature of folk music and has been perpetuated for the past 60 years. If you spend time listening to Lomax’s own field recordings this concept would quickly fold in on itself (Lomax did incredibly important work, this isn’t meant to disparage that rather to point out a flaw with some of his concepts.) The same can be said for any argument that folk music is musically simple. I can think of at least two operatic works within the folk music world, Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell and Cabaret of Souls by Richard Thompson (only available at his live shows), which immediately contradicts this point. Well then, is it acoustic music? I could point to so many folk artists that have incorporated electric guitars, some even coming from traditional backgrounds, and electronic elements as to not need to waste anytime with a counter-argument. Yes, folk music is often acoustic but not exclusively at least not since Dylan’s infamous 1965 performance at the Newport Folk Festival.

OK then, it must be music that tells a story, right? Once again it is a “yes but also no” answer; there are plenty of folk songs that tells stories. However there are also so many songs that are considered “folk” that are completely abstract or impressionistic and dreamy in a lyrical sense that do not convey a concrete “story”. Have you ever listened to someone like Nick Drake? Plenty of his songs are dreamy or entirely abstract, no one is trying to say he wasn’t a folk artist are they? There are plenty of other artists that have created works that aren’t pure story, in fact there are entire sub-genres of folk that hardly ever have concrete stories i.e. psych, prog, freak, etc. So what is folk music?

I started off here questioning certain defining aspects of what we call folk music. None of them are exclusive, in fact there is probably “folk music” that doesn’t fit into any of these descriptions that is still considered folk. So where does that leave us as appreciators and players of folk music? Is this genre we love so much just some BS that some music industry person invented to get us to buy records? I think there is another yes and no answer here. In spite of all of this, I think there is a connecting factor, something that is quintessentially folk music. This itself is a quite plain concept, it is real music made by real people about real life emotions and experiences; Willie Dixon used to say “the blues is the truth” I believe this concept applies to the wider concept of folk music in general (the blues is, after all, a folk form). These may be presented in fictional stories, or conveyed through abstraction and metaphor, but the person relating it is telling you the truth. This is, I believe, more important than ever before in our post-truth world and the fact that we are seeing another folk music revival shows hope for the future.

 

 

 

What is this Blog and How did it Come to Be?

Anyone reading this who is also an independent musician will have heard it, and possibly had it confirmed first hand, you can’t make a living just playing music these days. Is it true? For an artist with only a small following the answer is yes. I’ve been working towards the goal of making a living from music for the past 10 years and have gigged all over the place pretty frequently and you know what? I’ve never really made enough money to live off of. Now, a lot of this was done in the Irish trad music world which has it’s own quirks and ways of operating, which isn’t the point of this post, a few years ago I decided to really work on my songwriting, something I’ve always liked to do but never had much confidence in. So that is all well and good and I’m working towards building a following and all that good stuff etc. etc. But you know what? I still can’t make a living off of these things combined and it has been incredibly difficult for me to get booked into the worst gigs in town as a solo artist (not that I’d waste my time with them at this point, I can get a few people to come out and have played lesser slots in decent venues so why go backwards?)

A while ago my mom got me a gift, it was a bit of a back handed gift, a book about working towards success in your 20s. Being 28 now I figured I should at least give it a chance while it was still relevant even if I don’t generally like reading this type of thing. While there is a lot in this book I don’t agree with, especially for me as a musician, it does tell you to ask yourself some probing questions. One of these questions was along the lines of, what do you like to do that you would do anyway even if nobody paid you? Apart from the obvious answer, play music, I jokingly thought to myself ‘will anybody pay me to smoke pot [don’t forget I’m in OR, it’s legal AF here] and listen to music all day?’ Then I started thinking; there is a way for me to get a whole bunch of new music for free (always good cause I don’t have a lot to spend and am months behind on getting new releases from my favorite artists) all I have to do is review it.

I had contemplated this before, I enjoy writing and any type of writing done regularly helps my songwriting chops, like when there was a local publication looking for music reviewers recently. I had reached out and never heard anything back so I moved on. Then I re-visited the idea after reading that passage in the aforementioned book and said f*** it I can start my blog (which I have also thought about in the past) to do this. Another thing you indie artists will know is that one of the best things you can possibly do for your music career is network with other artists; what better way to do that than to offer them free publicity? Plus, it gives me an opportunity to raise my own profile in my community, discover a whole bunch of new music for free and keep my writing skills sharp. Sounds like a win win win situation amiright? So that’s what inspired this blog, I don’t expect to make any money from it directly but all of these things are stepping stones to becoming more successful as a musician.

Now a bit about what I am planning on doing here; yes I will be posting about my own experiences, thoughts and impressions as a folk and trad musician but this is really more about chronicling new music discoveries and helping other artists promote themselves. So if you got music you’d like to submit for review get in touch and I’ll give it a listen. My intention with reviews is to post noteworthy music, reviews will be critical in some cases but I think I will refrain from posting bad reviews. There are a million and one people looking to shoot down every artist out there and I’d prefer not to be part of that negative chorus, the point here is to encourage other artists to grow and improve rather than to discourage them. Plus, I think this day in age when there is so much music out there and so many people talking about it; giving bad reviews only serves to alienate others and make me look like a bad guy while still giving publicity to something I don’t like! Anyway, I hope readers enjoy this content and I look forward to getting some music to review.