This Ain’t No Mouse Music – On DVD

mouse music2The acclaimed documentary This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, the story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records, screened in theatres to rave reviews.

Chris Strachwitz is a detective of sounds, an archaeologist of the deep American music, music with roots that strike straight into the country’s heartland.  He is the guiding force behind the legendary Arhoolie Records, producing albums that the Rolling Stones and many others played the grooves right off.  Since 1960, Strachwitz has been recording the authentic pulses of the great American music, throbbing away in the backwoods of the nation.  With tape-recorder in hand, Strachwitz traveled to plantations and prisons, roadhouses and whorehouses, churches and bayou juke joints.  He returned with recordings that would revolutionize the sound of popular music.

For his mammoth pioneering contribution to the preservation of American music culture, Strachwitz was honored at The Americana Honors and Awards in Nashville in 2013.  By sheer coincidence, I had seen the movie on the flight from Australia to the U.S. for that event (Qantas Airlines obviously has pretty good music tastes) and it was a terrific insight.  Believe it or not, a day or two later, Strachwitz and a companion asked me for directions in Nashville.  When I mentioned that his movie was on board an Australian airline flight, Chris was extremely bemused given the effort required to get the movie enough deserved attention in his homeland.
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KELLY WILLIS & BRUCE ROBISON DECLARE 2014 OUR YEAR

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison Will Release Their Second Duets Album

Our Year

May 27 2014 Premium/Thirty Tigers Records

 

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The previous release by Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison was the classy 2013 Cheater’s Game. 

The two Texans fell in love while harmonizing together, though it took them until last year to release their first officially billed joint effort (not counting four children).  Cheater’s Game was very well received, including two 2013 Americana Music Association Award nominations (Best Album and Best Duo/Group).  I was lucky enough to see them perform their jaunty cover of Dave Alvin’s  “Border Radio” at the Awards Show at The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville TN.

After the success of Cheater’s Game, Willis and Robison felt the wind at their backs.  They were eager to return to the studio and Our Year is the result.  “With this album, we feel like we’re completing the picture” Willis says.  “These songs have been poking us on the shoulder, dying to be heard.  We just didn’t feel like we were done.  We had more to say.”

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Melody Pool Plays Melbourne

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Melody Pool Live Shows in Melbourne March 2014

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Melody in Nashville

I’ve seen Melody Pool perform a couple of time so far, both in 2013.  The first was supporting Californian duo The Milk Carton Kids at The Thornbury Theatre (June) and the other was a set in Nashville TN in September during the Americana Honors and Conference festival (under the “Sounds Australia” banner).  Very impressive outings I thought, on the back of her well-received debut release The Hurting Scene. 

After releasing the album independently, Melody signed to Mushroom Music Publishing and Liberation Music who re-released The Hurting Scene in July 2013.  She toured other Australian venues with The Milk Carton Kids, who then invited Melody to tour Europe.

I must get me a copy of that album (not too sure why I haven’t, now I come to think about it).  I’ve listened to a few tracks and liked what I heard.  Her strong guest spot on Lachlan Bryant’s Black Coffee has piqued my interest further.

Now Melody is touring Melbourne and Regional Victoria in March 2014, including an appearance at the Port Fairy Folk Festival (7 to 10th) and seven other shows already announced.  All dates are in the header or you can find them here.

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Elephant Revival – These Changing Skies

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Elephant Revival – These Changing Skies
Released on March 17 2014

 

How do you rate a good music festival?

Well I’ve got one measure – you fly from Melbourne, Australia to the 2013 Americana festival in Nashville TN, intent of seeing Elephant Revival and you don’t get to, because there are so many other great shows on at the same time in different venues around that city.  That’s what I call a good event.  So I have some unfinished business with Elephant Revival.  This is what I missed out on:

But good news cometh – a new record These Changing Skies on the Thirty Tigers label!

20140124-161104.jpgElephant Revival formed on the banks of Spring Creek in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and then relocated to Nederland, Colorado in 2006.  They loved one another’s sense of shared values and the way that their disparate musical influences began to form a more cohesive tapestry the more they played together.  “It really is a natural confluence of our elemental influences,” says bassist/multi-instrumentalist Dango Rose.  Those elemental influences extend beyond the musical to a world view that is expressed not only through the music, but in their lyrics.  That world view is connecting with fans: the band is a favourite at festivals such as Telluride and Old Settlers.

For a band of five individuals, all of whom contribute songs, there is a consistency in expressing those shared values.  As well as Rose, there is Bonnie Paine, one of the band’s three primary vocalists and multi-instrumentalist, singer/guitarist Daniel Rodriguez, singer/banjoist/multi-instrumentalist Sage Cook and fiddle player Bridget Law.  Rose explains “As a band, we really, truly support one another.  We’ve weathered the tribulations that come with getting in a van and being in tight quarters with the same five people, but we really have created this space where we feel safe with one another.”

Adding his talents to the “natural confluence” was producer Ryan Hadlock (The Lumineers, Johnny Flynn, Gossip), who recorded the band at his Bear Creek Studios in Woodinville, Washington.  “It was an amazing space to record in, a big barn with amazing acoustics,” says Rodriguez.  He adds, “The band is so tight knit that it took a couple of days for everything to gel with Ryan, but once it did, it worked beautifully.  He’s so sonically gifted and really captured things in the right way.  The proof is in the music.  We’re very proud of this album.”

Elephant Revival took its name from a news item that Rose had read where two elephants that had lived together for 15 years were separated by zookeepers.  Within days, both had passed.  The idea that one should recognize and celebrate the unseen connections of spirit that flows between all things on this Earth animates all the band does. These Changing Skies sounds like not only great music, but a testament to the power of love and community.

I will be awaiting the release of this album with great anticipation.  Unfinished business, after all.  You never know, they may well be invited back to the Americana festival in 2014?

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Elephant Revival UK & Ireland Tour

January 2014

Fri 24th           The Old Fruitmarket, GLASGOW (Celtic Connections Festival)
Tue 28th         Raheen House Hotel, Clonmel, Co, Tipperary, IRELAND
Wed 29th        Garter Lane Theatre, Waterford, IRELAND
Fri 31st            Royal Native Oyster Stores, Whitstable, KENT

February 2014
Sat 1st           The Gulbenkian, University of Kent, CANTERBURY
Sun 2nd         The Lexington, LONDON

Best Music Experiences – USA Trip 2013

I’ve just returned to Australia from five weeks in the USA with (long-suffering) friends, attending the Americana Music Conference and Awards, the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  As well there were gigs elsewhere along the journey.  I visited the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and California.

I have already offered my favourite gigs for the trip – see previous entry.  As well as a host of specific performances, there were a number of other experiences that were forever memorable on the trip.  Here are my top picks.

8. Paul Kelly – Film, Interview and Songs – Nashville TN

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Emma Swift interviews Paul Kelly

The recent documentary on Paul Kelly, Stories Of Me, was screening at the Nashville Public Library, along with an interview and a short live performance from Kelly.  The film was excellent (I had not seen it before) and it filled in a lot of gaps for me about this iconic Australian.  Journalist and performer Emma Swift conducted the interview and there were a few familiar faces in the audience – Damian Howard, Anne McCue and Kim Richey.  Paul sang three songs from his most recent album Spring and Fall.

The event provided us with an opportunity to examine the impressive Nashville Public Library as well.

7. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Day #3 – San Francisco CA

It was my first Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  It took a while to get used to the layout of Golden Gate Park, how to manage the large crowds and get good vantage points and getting to and from each day.  But on day 3 it clicked in beautifully.

One song from the impressive The Deep Dark Woods on the way in, with sets from the exciting duo Shovels and Rope and favourites Kane, Welch and Kaplin to follow.  Ryan Bingham was a revelation with a solo and acoustic set that I have enthused about in my Best Gigs post.  A Kate McGarrigle tribute was next with Martha Wainwright, Sloan Wainwright, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Maria Muldaur, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III.  All the gang joined in for a fitting finale.  A quick peek at Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey on the way out.  An action-packed day of musical highlights.

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Martha Wainwright and Maria Muldaur

6. Wide Open Bluegrass Festival (Overall) – Raleigh NC

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At the Red Hat Amphitheatre

The two-day Wide Open Bluegrass Festival that I attended was an eye-opener.  It was only a part of the World Of Bluegrass event which spread over five days, but our two days there were difficult enough to take in – there was:

  • the Awards show on the Thursday night
  • sixteen prime performances at the Red Hat Amphitheatre during the day and night on Friday and Saturday .
  • over fifty bands playing free street events within a few blocks of each other and the Red Hat
  • artist workshops and industry stalls
  • almost two hundred performances at the Bluegrass Ramble at various venues around the city
  • street stalls and impromptu jamming everywhere
  • everything within easy walking

It was pretty challenging to choose what to do and who to see.  But challenging in a really nice way.  The level of musicianship was stunning as was the sheer depth of talent in this one music genre.  Simply thrilling to have a first look of such an event.

5. Bishop Al Green’s Church Service – Memphis TN

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Bishop A.L. Green aka Mr Al Green.

This man today lead the service for 90 minutes – preaching, singing and bringing joy and laughter.  A twenty-odd choir, a full electric band – keys, guitar, drums, base and bongos, as well as a grand piano and three other preachers.

When Al sang “Amazing Grace”, I was so moved – never have I heard the song in such an emotion-charged setting, sung with skill, beauty and elegance.  Never I believe will I hear that tune again with such emotional resonance.  During the plate collection, he sang “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and I was a true believer.  So uplifting.  So optimistic.  So soothing.

At the end of the ceremony, many went up for a blessing – he put his hand on their head and then prayed and sang, other preachers gathered around in case the recipient might fall in a trance-like state.

What an experience and we were lucky that Bishop Green was in Memphis and led the whole service. Praise The Lord.

4. Rodney Crowell Session – Nashville TN

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The Country Music Hall of Fame

As part of Americanafest, there was an interview with Rodney Crowell at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Auditorium.

I say an interview but it was just Crowell taking questions from the audience and playing whatever songs fitted in with the conversation flow.  When, in response to an enquiry about the songwriting craft, Crowell mentioned his experiences with Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, I knew we were in for a special experience.

The questions from the assembled were pretty good and we learned an enormous amount – the high standards of Clark and Van Zandt, the perspiration and commitment to songwriting, the influence of the death of his mother on his superb The Houston Kid.  He played the last track he wrote for that album, one that he penned after a dream in which his mother and father said to him that he needed something else to finish the album – that song was “I Know Love Is All I Need”.  You could hear a pin drop.

He also played a new song, I think called “These Houston Blues”, quite a departure from his work with Emmylou Harris on Old Yellow Moon.  The hour and a bit went in a flash – heady stuff.

3. Wayne Jackson Tour Of Stax Museum – Memphis TN
I have waxed lyrical about our experience with Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns and his lovely wife Amy.  A personal tour of Stax Museum and a visit to their home.  Just search “Wayne Jackson” on the home page and you’ll find all the details.  Unforgettable.

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Wayne Jackson in front of The Memphis Horns Exhibit – Stax Museum

2. Americana Music Association Conference and Awards – Nashville TN

This one is pretty simple choice.  In a little over two hours, we witnessed at the Ryman Auditorium:

  • Performances by Delbert McClinton, Holly Williams, John Fullbright, Shovels and Rope, Lennon and Maisy Stella, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, Richard Thompson, JD McPherson, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Milk Carton Kids, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Robert Hunter, Dr John, Dan Auerbach
  • An encore featuring all the above plus Tift Merritt, Joy Williams and Roseanne Cash
  • Lifetime Achievement Awards presented to Hank Williams, Robert Hunter, Chris Strachwitz and Dr John
  • Presenters Jerry Douglas, Ken Burns, Billy Bragg, Chip Esten, Ry Cooder, Nicki Bluhm, Bob Harris, Alejandro Escovedo, Langhorne Slim, Sam Bush, Wilco pair John Stirratt and Pat Sansone,
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The American Honors and Awards finale

1. Americana Music Association Honors and Awards (Overall) – Nashville TN

I’ve already mentioned parts of the Americana Music Conference – the Paul Kelly and Rodney Crowell sessions, as well as the Honors and Awards ceremony.  Three of the great side shows were “Best Gig” performances by John Fullbright, Bear’s Den and Lucinda Williams (see Best Gigs post).  On top of these were:

  • numerous wonderful night-time Showcase performances at various venues around Nashville
  • the Conference sessions featuring some exceptional artists and insights into industry issues
  • other captivating side gigs during the day – the Downtown Presbyterian Church and the Bluebird Cafe
  • Sounds Australia had two key events which exposed many great Australian artists and provided a touch of home
  • all in the beautiful city of Nashville where are lots of other music-related activities

So many highlights.  So many acts not able to be seen because of constant schedule clashes.

An amazing event.

Best Gigs – USA Trip 2013

I’ve just returned to Australia from five weeks in the USA with (long-suffering) friends, attending the Americana Music Conference and Awards, the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  As well there were gigs elsewhere along the journey. I visited the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and California.  I saw performances in Clarksdale MS, Memphis TN, Nashville TN, Raleigh NC, Austin TX and San Francisco CA.

I estimate that I saw over 100 different performances. What were the best ones?

10. The Infamous Stringdusters – Wide Open Bluegrass Festival – Raleigh North Carolina

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The last night in the Red Hat Amphitheatre.  This bluegrass outfit from Nashville released their first album in 2007.  They were on the Americana Conference bill a week before in their hometown but I couldn’t get to see them.

Unlike most bluegrass acts at Wide Open, the Stringdusters have a dobro player which suits my sensibilities.  Four lead singers, aforementioned dobro, banjo, guitar, fiddle and double bass.  Players with persuasive prowess.  Great jamming – absorbing and captivating.  The real ‘grass deal but with Americana cross-over for broader appeal.

9. John Fullbright – Cannery Ballroom – Nashville Tennessee

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John Fullbright

John Fullbright’s recent solo debut From the Ground Up blew me away this year.  He performed one song at the Americana Awards the night before – “Jericho” with gusto and passion.  Tonight he was playing at the Cannery Ballroom, a large venue and we were able to go right up front.
He plays with a sense of urgency and purpose.  A guitar malfunction in the middle of the opening song did not faze him – he simply moved to keyboards.

Most of the material I heard was new to me, a sign of an artist on the move, never wanting to stand still.  A fellow punter in the crowd told me of Fullbright performing a number of times at his house  – I learned a lot from him.  Apparently legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb was playing elsewhere in town and Fullbright dedicated a song to him, indicating that he rather be elsewhere to see Webb perform.

An emerging, forthright and serious artist.

8. Punch Brothers – Wide Open Bluegrass Festival – Raleigh North Carolina

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The second and final night of the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival.

A balmy and still evening. The Del McCoury band had just finished a set and the Punch Brothers were stunningly different.

Mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile assembled this all-star quintet.  Many of the band seem to have had classical training as it is infused in all their material.  A fascinating, talented and unpredictable outfit.  Recorded output started in 2008.

Be prepared to be challenged.

7. Bear’s Den Downtown Presbyterian Church Nashville Tennessee

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Bear’s Den

Jenny and I got to the church as the first act on the bill Black Prairie started.  Bear’s Den were next.

Bear’s Den is a three-piece from London, beautiful harmonies – two guitars, one acoustic and one electric (or banjo) and the drummer (who also sometimes played bass at the same time!).   I had no preconceptions about the band and I was captivated by their vocals, songwriting and banter.  The sound in the large, square, flat-topped church was brilliant.  Also, having a gig in a church has one huge advantage – no noisy bar and people talk only in whispers. It is all about the music.

I saw the band again that evening at the Mercy Lounge and was fortunate enough to see them on my return to Melbourne.  One EP has been released and another about to become available.  They had driven fifteen hours to make the church gig and they were out of their feet.  It didn’t show.  A delightful surprise.

6. Calexico – Slim’s – San Francisco

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Joey Burns – Calexico

My third live viewing of this band did not disappoint.

Calexico had played at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival that day, finishing just before 7.  The band spent a lot of time sound-checking (presumably they had no other time to do it) and by 10.15 they launched into “Pepita”.  To say their performance was a sheer joy is an understatement.  Much of their set comprised about seven songs from their most recent New-Orleans-recorded release Algiers which is a fine addition to the band’s impressive discography.

Favourites such as “Alone Again Or” and “Not Even Stevie Nicks” were well received.  By the time they completed a rousing encore with “Guero Canelo”, the assembled were very content.

An excellent support set from Robert Ellis as well.

5. Peter Rowan – Raleigh Convention Centre – Wide Open Bluegrass Festival – Raleigh NC

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Peter Rowan and Michael Cleveland

 

Rowan had an eight piece line-up behind him with a very strong communal and familial feeling.  In fact it wouldn’t surprise if he hadn’t assembled the players from the hotel lobby – beautiful players all.

Michael Cleveland was absolutely stellar on the violin – you might like to check him out (see right).  He has won the Best Bluegrass Violinist Award nine times.

The forty-five minute set was over in what seemed a flash.  There’s a calm and a simplicity about this man with a glorious history.  I later chatted with his mandolin player Chris and collected Rowan’s excellent new CD Old School.

4. Ryan Bingham – Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival – San Francisco

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Ryan Bingham

Ryan Bingham is now based in L.A. His career is on a strong upward trajectory.

An Oscar-winning song for the movie Crazy Heart, the prestigious “Artist Of The Year” award from the Americana Music Association, an impressive and growing discography.   Today it was Just him and a fiddle player which provided a nice variation as I had last seen him with a full band in Austin.

It was a slow and moving set – just the guitar, fiddle and harmonica.  He evoked the spirit of Woody Guthrie.

An excellent set, one which convinced me that he is a roots music star in the making.

3. Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express – The Make Out Room San Francisco California

prophetWhat a great performance we saw that night.  Chuck was in brilliant form – his band the Mission Express was on fire.

After some pretty mellow music over some of our trip (at Hardly Strictly and Wide Open Bluegrass Festivals), it was thrilling to get a high-octane rock show and even more so for me to see an artist that I have followed for many years but never had the opportunity to see live.

A privilege to be there.  Another punter told me he had seen Prophet about twenty times and this was the pinnacle performance.  Peter Case was a special guest.

The Mission Express comprised James DePrato on guitar, Kevin White (bass) Stephanie Finch (keyboard and vocals – nice version of “Different Drum”) and Vincente Rodriguez (drums).  (The “Mission Express” is a bus line that runs through Chuck’s neighbourhood).

2. The Black Lillies – Levitt Shell – Memphis Tennessee

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Levitt Shell

 

Now for me and my companions, The Black Lillies’ performance was a revelation, above and beyond our high expectations.

Since picking up the band’s excellent 100 Miles Of Wreckage, I have been a big fan and enjoyed their follow-up release Runaway Freeway Blues which enhances their reputation.  When I discovered they were playing in Memphis in September we made sure our trip itinerary was altered to see them play.

Sensational. I have waxed lyrical about this band previously on this site – see previous entries.  This night we got to see Levitt Shell where Elvis Presley first performed professionally.  An outdoor venue with a gentle grassy slope for universal viewing.  It was a balmy night and we managed to get a park bench right up the front. The mood was festive, families on rugs and much dancing. The band performed their distinctive alternative country material with flair.  And it was free.

1. Lucinda Williams – 3rd and Lindsley – Nashville Tennessee

20131024-115138.jpgI think I have seen Lucinda live about four times to date.  But nothing came close to what I witnessed this night.

The gig was centred around the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of her third and self-titled album, one of my absolute favourites.  The band was much the same as on her last tour of Australia – Stuart Mathis on guitarist (awesome), Butch Norton on drums and David Sutton bass.

The sound was a good as I have ever heard.  Lucinda was relaxed and her voice strong and true – the great songs just kept coming, from her album aforementioned and others – she showcased a new song “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.  Jim Lauderdale guested on many of the songs.  A cover of Gregg Allman’s “I’ll Make My Cross again” was excellent and the blistering band building to the encore Neil Young’s “Rocking In The Free World”.

The support act The Kenneth Brian Band were really interesting (“country-fried rock n roll”).  The table we were on provided us with some interesting discussions at first and some revelry later.

A joy. The best concert I have seen this year.  The best sound.  The audience rapturous and adoring.  It was a stunning night and perfect way to close the Americana Conference and Awards.

Americana Music Association Festival, Conference, Honors & Awards Makes Local and Global Impact

With events ranging from intimate showcases to insightful panels to a sold-out, nationally broadcast awards show, the Americana Music Association’s annual Festival, Conference and Honors & Awards drew thousands to Nashville to explore the past, present and future of roots music.

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