All posts tagged: Acoustic Music

Remembering the Innocents

Last evening a sold-out Georgetown crowd was treated to a sumptuous musical feast of the season by the English-based VOCES8 ensemble. The “impeccable quality of tone and balance” that has been recognized by Gramophone and many others was on full display in the splendid acoustics of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. The program was varied, reaching back to the music of Tómas Luis de Victoria, Michael Praetorius, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Benjamin Britten, while also reaching forward to contemporary composers Jonathan Rathbone, Jonathan Dove, and David Pickthall, among others. For me, the evening’s highlight was the moving Philip Stopford setting of the Coventry Carol, the traditional English carol dating from the 16th century. Stopford’s Lully, Lulla, Lullay—filmed by VOCES8 earlier this year in St. Stephen’s Walbrook Church, London—is as haunting and beautiful on film as it was in the live performance last evening. Soprano Eleonore Cockerham’s soft, clear, yet ethereal voice is a treasure. The subject of the carol—the massacre of the innocent male children of Bethlehem by King Herod’s army following the birth …

Saturday Music: Molly Tuttle

Roots music. The name suggests an adherence to tradition and a reverence for the elders. While there is much truth in that characterization, roots genres such as old time, blues, bluegrass and Americana are continually refreshed with exciting and talented young performers. These are musicians who show a mastery of the traditional styles that goes well beyond their years while also probing the opportunities beyond the traditions. Thinking of musicians I have long admired, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Alison Krauss, and Bryan Sutton all were—at one point—young bluegrass whippersnappers who pushed those boundaries and set new standards of excellence. Heck, Chris Thile—at the ripe old age of 38 who has been playing like, forever, and is the host of public radio’s Live From Here—long ago graduated from the amazing kid mandolinist stage of his life to being just the amazingly talented musician who has unbelievable chops and musical ears. Thankfully, gifted young roots music performers keep turning up. People like Molly Tuttle, the exceptionally talented 26-year-old guitar flatpicker who has recently released a debut …

Saturday Music: My Favorite Buskers

One thing I miss in my gap year is the morning commute. That may sound strange, but I do miss the interactions with fellow travelers. I miss the friendly conversation around music, politics, and coffee during my stop at Filter coffeehouse. I miss the 30 minute routine I established twice each day to sit on the train and read. And I miss the opportunity to hear street musicians—or buskers—on a daily basis. These performers put themselves out there for all to see and hear amidst all types of weather. The 30-to-90 seconds (or occasionally more) I was typically within earshot invariably brightened my day. As noted in Wikipedia, the term busking was first used “in the English language around the middle 1860s in Great Britain. The verb to busk, from the word busker, comes from the Spanish root word buscar, with the meaning ‘to seek.’ It was used for many street acts, and title of a famous Spanish book about one of them, El Buscón.” Thankfully, I still see buskers some days in Silver Spring …

Saturday Music: Al Petteway and Amy White

Acoustic duo Al Petteway and Amy White will celebrate 25 years of music together at a special Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT) concert on Saturday evening, November 23rd. Favorites of the IMT crowd (and former Washington, DC-area residents before a move to the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina), these are musicians sure to fill the room at St. Marks in Rockville, the main IMT concert venue where I’ve heard them live through the years. Al and Amy’s music is eclectic yet uniformly lovely on the ears. Petteway is an award-winning fingerstyle guitarist (voted one of the Top 50 Guitarists of all time by the readers of Acoustic Guitar Magazine) while Amy is a composer and singer who is no slouch on the instrumental chops as well. Their repertoire has been described as “original, traditional, contemporary Celtic- and Appalachian-influenced music with occasional nods to Blues, New Age, and Jazz.” That about sums it up. Al and Amy have provided music for the soundtrack for several Ken Burns documentaries, most notably The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. …

Saturday Music: Dolly Parton

Few people—much less entertainers and celebrities—can bring together blue and red Americans, straight and gay communities, grandmothers and granddaughters, rich and poor. Dolly Parton bridges those divides, and more. As Dolly celebrates her 50th anniversary on the Grand Ole Opry this year, NBC will be airing a two-hour celebration of the occasion on November 26th. With a new podcast called “Dolly Parton’s America” and a new Netflix series, Dolly is everywhere. At a time when the marginalization of women in country music is being called out more and more forcefully, it is important to realize that Dolly’s been in that fight for half a century. And often winning it, always very much on her own terms. Growing up near Nashville in the 1960s, I was first introduced to Dolly and her exceptional gifts through the Porter Wagoner TV show where she was featured as the “girl singer.” But she had higher aspirations, and over the course of 50 years has earned the affection so many bestow upon her. She is well known as an entertainer, …

Saturday Music: Courtney Marie Andrews

In the summer of 2018, I had the chance to hear alt-country singer Courtney Marie Andrews live at a small venue in Washington, DC. Andrews was touring to showcase her just released album May Your Kindness Remain, and I was impressed by the honesty of the lyrics, the soulful power of her vocals, and—perhaps most importantly—the defiance in the songs. It was a defiance that pushed back against melancholy. Against the struggles we all face. The acoustic version of Took You Up is a good example of her work. And the lyrics of May Your Kindness Remain speak to the connectivity she finds with people while living the life of the road musician. You’re a good woman, and a good friend You’ve got a good heart, even when it’s busted and bent Lipstick and perfume, underground queen Wearing loneliness like a costume, for the whole world to see And if your money runs out, and your good looks fade May your kindness remain . . . The richest of people aren’t rich with houses, cars, or fame No, they’re …

Saturday Music: Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas

Last Monday evening, Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas brought their extraordinary musical partnership to Washington for a large and appreciative crowd at the Institute of Musical Traditions. This is the 20th year Fraser and Haas have played together, and the anniversary gave the duo the excuse to return to their back catalog. And it is a masterful body of work, beginning with the album where I first heard them—their inaugural CD Fire & Grace, a project that turned heads worldwide with its exquisite musicianship and clear sense of joy. Steeped in different backgrounds— Alasdair from the roots world of Scottish fiddle and Natalie from the classical halls of Julliard—these amazing musicians responded to each other and to each intricate twist and turn of the music for a delightful two hours. It was art as a life-giving force. And they clearly had fun, recognizing the unique nature of the evening’s setting when they played the “appropriate for Washington” reel Little Donald in the Pigpen. Haas’s percussive use of the cello underpinned the magnificent …