All posts tagged: Acoustic Music

Saturday Soundtrack: Doc Watson’s Deep River Blues

Heading into the week of Thanksgiving, I began considering music focused on thankfulness. Livingston Taylor’s short and lovely Thank You Song came to mind, but then I shifted my gaze and thought about musicians I am thankful to have had in my life. After a short mental inventory, I quickly came to the conclusion that one individual captured my ear in high school, and — fifty years later — remains there today to still give me pleasure. Because a part of Thanksgiving is paying tribute to those who came before, I present this as my thank you for the life and music of the inimitable Doc Watson. Doc passed away at age 89 in 2012 just a month after I saw him at his signature MerleFest music festival. That long life was filled with milestones. This blind singer and guitarist from Deep Gap, North Carolina became well known in what he laughingly called the early 1960s ‘folk scare.” Doc saw his career take off again in the early 1970s when he was featured on the …

Saturday Soundtrack: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

A friend and former colleague sent me the link to a story in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine entitled How Gillian Welch and David Rawlings Hold Onto Optimism. Author Hanif Abdurraqib writes beautiful prose with the soul of a poet as he describes how the two musicians “discover a new emotional urgency in songs about the slow, challenging, beautiful heat of living.” It is a story perfect for this week in America. I have loved the aching, soulful music of Welch and Rawlings for more than two decades. No one has captured, for me, the essence of their deceptively simple yet oh so deep style better than Abdurraquib does in this new profile. Near the beginning of his essay, he writes, “I saw them in Virginia in the fall of 2018 at an outdoor show that was intermittently stormy. A crowd of a few hundred people descended on a wide field, our feet sinking into the muddy grass. About halfway into their set, they gave a performance of the song “Hard Times” that has …

Saturday Soundtrack: Roots music for ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night

Happy Halloween! If you grew up with the Monster Mash and decided — based on that small sample size — that there were no decent Halloween songs, I’m here to set the record straight. The really grim and scary songs were all hiding out in the roots music bin, just as the great, old folktales were ones that really hit the mark when it came to ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night. The Folklore Center at the Library of Congress had a blog post a few years ago entitled Ghost Stories in Song for Halloween. The first tune recommended was Jean Ritchie singing The Unquiet Grave, “which is both a tender love song and a frank conversation with a ghost.” Writing about Ritchie’s version, the liner notes suggest that the song… “…is notable for its exhibition of several universal popular beliefs, including a talking ghost, the idea that excessive grief on the part of mourners disturbs the peace of the dead, the troth plight that binds lovers even after death …

Saturday Soundtrack: Paradise

Music is a language that helps us process loss. Throughout 2020, Americans have had to call on that language time and again as more than 223,000 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives to COVID.  Overall, “25% of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household was laid off or lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak, with 15% saying this happened to them personally.” On top of this health and economic crisis, we are facing the potential loss of our democracy to minority rule. So many have suffered personal losses during this year, holes in their lives that shake their soul. For those who find nurture in roots, country, folk, and acoustic music, the death of singer/songwriter John Prine to COVID early in the pandemic still creates a void that is difficult to fill. But we try. Thankfully, music provides a way to remember lives and process loss. For this Saturday Soundtrack, I want to focus on the remembrance of a song that, in itself, is about loss: John Prine’s Paradise, …

Steel Wheels 2015

Saturday Soundtrack: The Steel Wheels

I first became aware of The Steel Wheels somewhere around 2008. I had picked up a CD of the Shenandoah Valley-based band on one of our Thanksgiving trips to Staunton and was introduced to and intrigued by the unique voice and careful songcraft of lead singer and songwriter Trent Wagler. But it was at Merlefest in 2012 that the band pushed their way into the front part of my brain, and, I suspect, the brains of thousands of other music fans as well. After one of the main acts wrapped up their show, as I wrote at the time, a number of attendees were exiting the main stage area on the first night of the festival. Suddenly, The Steel Wheels began singing their powerful Rain in the Valley on a small side stage. And like bees flowing to honey, those leaving stopped, turned around, and were glued to their seats through a spirited 30-minute set. As expected, later TSW shows throughout the weekend were packed, as word spread fast. And just like that, they quickly …

Saturday Soundtrack: Mark O’Connor

The 15th anniversary issue of Fretboard Journal* landed in my mailbox this week, just in time to reacquaint me with an old friend: Mark O’Connor. It was a welcome reunion. First, because I discovered that O’Connor — one of the most inventive string musicians of this era — has returned to playing guitar, after a twenty year break that was required by the pain of bursitis and tendonitis. Then I also found his Improvising Toward Democracy solo fiddle pieces on the internet. As he tell his listeners, “I am recording an improvisation on my violin each day, until our country is safe from the clutches of Trumpism, Cultism, Conspiratorialism, Racism and Authoritarianism. I will record a new violin improvisation each day as a form of a sincere musical prayer until Biden/Harris are voted in to the White House ensuring that Americans will retain our hard-fought democracy. I have been given a musical gift, so I will use this in service to my country and our Republic each day now. When I improvise in this manner …

Saturday Soundtrack: Matt Flinner

Matt Flinner is the top-shelf mandolinist and composer not enough people know. At least not in the way that music fans know that force of nature Chris Thile, or the Energizer Bunny clone Sam Bush, or the genre-bending trail-blazer David Grisman. But musicians have long been aware of this quiet master, who, in the words of the Associated Press, “blurs the lines between jazz and bluegrass, traditional and avant-garde” with the best of them. Flinner’s website bio showcases just how in-demand he is as a musician. “Multi-instrumentalist Matt Flinner has made a career out of playing acoustic music in new ways. Starting out as a banjo prodigy who was playing bluegrass festivals before he entered his teens, Flinner later took up the mandolin, won the National Banjo Contest at Winfield Kansas in 1990, and took the mandolin award there the following year. Since then, he has become recognized as one of the premiere mandolinists as well as one of the finest new acoustic/roots music composers today. He has toured and recorded with a wide variety …

Saturday Soundtrack: Mandolin Orange

I first heard the North Carolina folk duo Mandolin Orange at the 2014 Red Wing Roots Music Festival and was instantly smitten. I wrote then that singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz “crafted songs that were  simple yet compelling.” Over the years the band has continued to produce warm, intimate music even as they became more widely known and played larger venues such as Red Rocks in Colorado and The Ryman in Nashville. Their most recent studio project, Tides of a Teardrop, debuted at #1 on four different Billboard charts ( Heatseekers, Folk / Americana, Current Country Albums and Bluegrass) with Top 10 entries on 5 additional charts. Clearly, Mandolin Orange has a passionate following. When asked about the band’s unusual name, Emily told an interviewer in 2015, “It’s basically a play on Mandarin Orange, but when we first started playing, Andrew had this little beater, a mandolin that was orange, and I think one day we just sort of thought of that and it stuck.” Let’s begin our look at their music from those earlier years with the …

Saturday Soundtrack: The acoustic side of Chris Stapleton

Readers who follow country music know the singer, songwriter, and guitarist Chris Stapleton. But I enjoy seeing those from other genres hearing his “brown liquor” voice for the first time and recognizing both a unique talent and a kindred spirit with whatever type of music they love.* Born into a Kentucky coal-mining family, Stapleton absorbed a variety of musical influences growing up, including from the incomparable Aretha Franklin who he described as “the greatest singer that ever lived.” That tells you right from the beginning that his tastes are excellent and his standards high. Stapleton toiled in the Nashville song-writing business for more than a decade while also fronting one of my favorite bluegrass bands, The SteelDrivers, from 2007 to 2010. In 2015 he broke through as a solo performer with the award-winning album Traveller, was featured at the 2015 CMA Awards show in a breakout live performance with Justin Timberlake, and hasn’t looked back. Stapleton’s voice is a treasure, but his songwriting and guitar playing are also top notch. In this edition of the …

Saturday Soundtrack: Duets

I love a good country or folk duet, so when several came up yesterday on my Pandora station, I just assumed that it was a Saturday Soundtrack sign from God…and I decided to listen to her. Living in Tennessee in the 1960s and 70s, it was easy to hear some of the classic country duet acts on the radio and see them on Nashville’s numerous country music television shows. George and Tammy singing Golden Ring was perfect, because it was a song that matched their tumultuous relationship. Dolly and Porter were big during those years, before Dolly left the partnership some forty-six years ago to become a force of nature all on her own. And of course, at the top of the heap was that duet of country royalty, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. So let’s dive in, beginning with the Johnny Cash tune I Still Miss Someone which I’ve always enjoyed. It is a classic “I’m lonely and miss you” song that Emmylou Harris has recorded in both solo and duet versions. Emmylou …