All posts filed under: Saturday Music

Semi-regular Saturday updates – to break out of the more serious posts on other days of the week – on musical events, musicians and bands that catch my ear. Think of Paul Krugman’s “Friday Night Music” blog posts…without the PhD in Economics (not to mention the Nobel Prize).

Saturday Music: Mavis Staples

There is no better musical artist to celebrate during The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend than American icon and national treasure Mavis Staples. Her reach and impact as a once-in-a-generation artist has been astounding. Staples is a member of both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy Award winner, a Kennedy Center honoree, and a recipient of the National Arts Lifetime Achievement Award. As someone who began singing during the civil rights movement and marched with Dr. King, her longevity in the spotlight is a testament to her magnificent talent. Mavis Staples performed at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and sang at President Barack Obama’s White House. And she’s still going strong. “At a time when most artists begin to wind down, Staples ramped things up, releasing a trio of critically acclaimed albums in her 70’s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy that prompted Pitchfork to rave that ‘her voice has only gained texture and power over the years’ and People to proclaim that she ‘provides the comfort …

Saturday Music: Red Molly

“Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme.” One of the all-time great lyrics. And the inspiration for Red Molly, a talented Americana/folk group that features smart songs, tight 3-part harmonies, and an infectious spirit. I’ve always appreciated how this band moves easily between country, blues, folk, and bluegrass, incorporating and weaving pieces from all those various strains—and more—into their music. Red Molly’s website notes that their “innovative instrumentation is suited for roots-rock and heartful ballads alike,” and “the alchemy of their personalities onstage draws even back row listeners into a sense of intimacy.” I can vouch for that last description, as their onstage alchemy also draws in viewers on the internet. With a little bit of luck, I had the good fortune last evening to catch their live-streamed show from the famous Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. The band’s bio page provides the basics about these talented musicians. Dobro player Abbie Gardner’s songs and performance “have the punch of rhythm and blues.” On guitar and tambourine, Laurie MacAllister “draws inspiration from classic folk and …

Saturday Music: Amythyst Kiah

Amythyst Kiah has burst on the roots music scene in recent years with her powerful vocals and insightful songwriting. The native Tennessean is a self-described “Southern Gothic” singer of “alt-country blues” who has been receiving rave reviews and is nominated for a 2020 Grammy in the Best American Roots Song category for her spell-binding “Black Myself.” Our Native Daughters is the name of Kiah’s recent collaboration with 2017 MacArthur Fellow Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell (from Birds of Chicago). Early last year the supergroup delivered a full-length album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, produced by Giddens and Dirk Powell. “Polly Ann’s Hammer” is a Kiah/Allison Russell song that reimagines the old John Henry tune from the point of view of his wife, and it certainly is one of the album’s standouts. “Black Myself,” the opening track, grabs the listener right from the beginning and is described by NPR as “the simmering defiance of self-respect in the face of racism.” In the liner notes to the album, Kiah writes about “Black Myself” in saying, …

Saturday Music: Joe Bonamassa

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I was listening to a live performance by blues guitarist  Joe Bonamassa from Madison, Wisconsin, on the SiriusXM B.B. King’s Bluesville channel. In between songs, Bonamassa recounted a story from the band’s current tour, noting that they had recently found themselves with a rare couple of days off while staying in nearby Chicago. Instead of going to their customary Days Inn, the band decided to treat themselves to two nights at the Four Seasons. Bonamassa said the accommodations were just what you’d expect from a luxury, four-star hotel, with the only downside being the 1200 “yuppies” who were attending a financial convention in the hotel. He ran into a group of these young, well-paid professionals at the elevator, and with his “street person” appearance and guitar case in hand, he became an instant target for a bully who clearly had more money than brains. Here’s how Bonamassa told of the interaction: Yuppie Bully: “Hi. What’s in the case?” Bonamassa: “‘It’s a guitar,’ I replied. ‘I wasn’t going to tell him that …

Saturday Music: Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull has been playing music professionally since before she reached her teens. Her debut on the Grand Ole Opry came at age 10, she brought her exceptional mandolin skills to Carnegie Hall at age 12, had her first deal with Rounder Records at age 13, and at age 17 became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. As a 20-year-old, Hull played the White House. The way I best remember how young she was when she burst on the music scene is from her performance at the Merlefest music festival in 2012. When introducing the band, she noted that the bass player was a good musician, but he was also “the only one of us old enough to rent a van.” I’ve heard Hull play over the years at both the Merlefest and Red Wing festivals, and she’s always had the chops to play amazing bluegrass and traditional music. Her first album post-Berklee hinted at new directions, but it wasn’t until 2017’s Weighted Mind (produced by …

Saturday Music: Kate Rusby

It was about 15 years ago when I first heard the beautiful vocals of English folksinger and songwriter Kate Rusby. I was walking through a small shop in the U.K., and the album that was playing on the shop’s sound system was her 2003 offering, Underneath the Stars. I walked out—with a copy of the CD in my bag—as a new fan, and I’ve been enjoying Rusby’s forward-looking traditional folk stylings ever since. Late last month, Rusby released a new album of Christmas music, Holly Head, which features tunes ranging from the traditional Lu Lay to the quirky Hippo for Christmas to Christina Rossetti’s classic Bleak Mid-Winter (Yorkshire). For non-seasonal offerings, check out her 2019 performance of Benjamin Bowmaneer at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. In addition to her vocal stylings, Rusby is also an excellent songwriter. Her work is covered by other artists, such as the international vocal group VOCES8 with their beautiful arrangement of Underneath the Stars. (VOCES8’s recent holiday concert in Georgetown was the subject of an earlier post this month.) From her breakout recordings in 1999 all the way …

Saturday Music: Robin Bullock

‘Tis the season to begin thinking about finding and supporting some excellent holiday music. When you tire of the endless, dreary Christmas muzak, I suggest you set up a winter solstice playlist or take in a concert by Robin Bullock to alleviate your pain. For years I’ve been a regular at Bullock’s Celtic Holiday Concert sponsored by the Institute of Musical Traditions, and I’ll be there again next week for the 2019 performance. Set for Monday, December 9th at St. Mark’s in Rockville, the concert also includes, besides Bullock, the world-class folk instrumentalist Ken Kolodner on fiddle and hammered dulcimer, along with U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker. Bullock is a master of the acoustic guitar, cittern, and mandolin, where he blends “…the ancient melodies of the Celtic lands, their vigorous American descendants, and the masterworks of the Baroque and Renaissance eras into one powerful musical vision. The 17th-century harp tunes of legendary Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan, the spirited jigs and reels of rural Ireland, the haunting ballads of the southern Appalachians and the …