All posts tagged: Folk Music

Recovered songs, recovered stories

Folk songs often bring us to the intersection of place, history, and memory. In certain cases, digging into those songs gives us a chance to recover the true stories, long-hidden, from our past, bringing a reckoning with the history that did happen and a reimagining for our collective future. Recently, The Bitter Southerner posted a thoughtful article which examines how the popular folk tune Swannanoa Tunnel was taken from the wrongfully convicted black community in Western North Carolina. Forced to build the railroad tunnel as convict labor during the Jim Crow era, those convicts originally wrote the tune in the “hammer song” tradition of John Henry. Somebody Died, Babe: A Musical Cover-up of Racism, Violence, and Greed shows how the song was reshaped and romanticized into an English-based folk tune in the 1920s – 1960s to appeal to white audiences. As the site notes, “Beneath the popular folk song…and beneath the railroad tracks that run through Western North Carolina, is a story of blood, greed, and obfuscation. As our nation reckons with systematic racial violence, …

Kate Rusby

The forward-looking folk stylings of 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 …

Blowing the Doors Off the Joint

“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” is the theme of this week’s AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington, where some 70 documentaries will be shown in theatres across the city over five days.  To get myself in shape, I spent Sunday and Monday watching two documentaries that are not part of the festival but are currently playing in the area. One tried — and only partially succeeded — in reaching the standards suggested by the theme. The other is a masterpiece simply because it captures a treasure at the height of her powers.  As one reviewer phrased it, “She blew the doors off the joint.” But let’s start with the less-satisfying of the two. Echo in the Canyon, currently playing at the E Street Cinema, is a documentary about the legendary Laurel Canyon music scene in Los Angeles from the mid-1960s. The film focuses on the music of The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas and the Papas, and the hook is a 2015 tribute concert from current-day fans Jakob Dylan (Bob’s …

Good Roots Music On the Web

Even on vacation I can’t spend all my time enjoying the beauty of the river.  So I went online this morning and came across one new roots music blog and was reminded of another old favorite.  I thought I’d share them with you. The new find is called Fiddlefreak Folk Music Blog, written by a musician and artist on the west coast named Stuart Mason.  I found his recent post on singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz to be a great introduction to someone who seems worth checking out – just as his blog promised.  Visit the site and see if you find some new music that’s worth exploring. The old favorite is the website No Depression, which is the online version of the late and lamented magazine of the same name.  (The title is taken from the 1930s Carter Family tune, They’ll Be No Depression in Heaven, which could be just as appropriate in 2009.)   No Depression was a great magazine covering the broad area called Americana, alt-country, or roots music.  That tradition is bravely carried …

Searching the Internet and Finding…October Belongs to Baseball

This is another one of my “I was searching the Internet and found something I had to share” posts.  On the InterSportsWire (motto:  “Because there aren’t enough sports blogs”) there’s this beautiful post entitled October Belongs to Baseball which has a “great sports folk song about the mystical aura of baseball.”  The song is by Sam Baker.  Click on the link to October Belongs to Baseball to see this video and give yourself a treat. More to come… DJB