Define ‘folk’ as you will. The term, with its divergent meanings and connotations and applications, has lost its ability to capture a contemporary “genre” in the strictest sense of the word. But as an essence, a philosophy, an outlook, it is still vital. It is still alive when musicians (or anybody, for that matter) share their songs or their stories or themselves with one another. Folk is about sublimating the human condition into art, plain and simple. And though the traveling bards may be working at Guitar Center and the hootenannies relegated to places that serve $6 Pabst, the urge to share, to trade, and to express keeps the folk tradition alive. Compilations are, perhaps, the closest thing the digital realm has to embodying the folk ethos. The artists join hands, so to speak, and share one, maybe two songs apiece. It’s like being around a campfire or in Washington Square Park, minus the whole live human thing. Any reader of this blog knows that compilations have been vital in the transmission of contemporary folk and psych music and, to me, it makes perfect, natural sense. Folk was never about headliners, it was about equal billing.
Curated by Buck Curran of Arborea, Leaves of Life will be released June 23rd on Borne Recordings. All proceeds benefit the UN’s Food Aid Agency, World Food Programme, and human rights advocacy monitors, Not On Our Watch. There will also be a digital version of the album with Bonus Tracks by Jozef Van Wissem, Plains, Denise Dill, and Laurent Brondel, so be sure to pick up a copy and hear some great songs.
[ First Listen ] Silver Summit – “Oaks”
Leaves of Life Track List
1. Alela Diane with Mariee Sioux, “The Cuckoo”
2. Rio en Medio and Israel Cilio, “Mary”
3. Fern Knight, “Our Mountain the Mother”
4. Marissa Nadler and Black Hole Infinity, “Dead Wives Club”
5. Devendra Banhart, “Hotel St. Sebastian (demo)”
6. Arborea, “Son of the Moon, Daughter of the Sun”
7. Micah Blue Smaldone, “The Clearing”
8. Larkin Grimm, “The Butcher”
9. Mi and Lau, “The Funeral, The Pray”
10. Mica Jones, “Best Life”
11. Starless and Bible Black, “All the Finest Beams”
12. Cursillistas, “Mothers Taught”
13. Silver Summit, “Oaks”
14. Big Blood, “Sick With Information”
15. Eric Carbonara, “Sundown at Parakeet Park”
16. David Garland, “Splinter Heart”
17. Magic Leaves, “Lasso Reason”
18. Citay, “Little Kingdom”
19. Ora Cogan featuring Anni Rossi, “My Belle”
Alela Diane’s new record, To Be Still, is set to come out February 17th on Rough Trade in the USA, Names in the UK, and Fargo Records in Europe.
To Be Still is the follow-up to Alela Diane’s critically-acclaimed 2006 debut The Pirate’s Gospel. That record brought the Nevada city, CA-reared musician a dedicated following across the globe (especially in Europe, where she recently finished a tour of mid-sized concert halls). Considering that early copies of The Pirate’s Gospel were given away to friends in hand-sewn covers just a few years ago, this is not only quite a leap, but a well-deserved one.
To Be Still was created throughout 2007 & 2008. “It began in Portland, OR and was finished in scatters between tours at my dad’s home studio in Nevada City, CA,” Alela says. “I wanted to record this collection of songs using arrangements which would represent them in their finest form. These songs requested more instrumental filigree than those on The Pirate’s Gospel. It was challenging to delicately yet purposefully incorporate instrumentation into songs that I was so used to singing by myself. I was determined to make it work, because I wanted percussion! I wanted to hear the lonesome bow of the violin! I heard many harmonies in my head, and so I set out to capture them.”
Our good friends Buck and Shanti Curran of Arborea are putting together an incredible benefit CD for the African Relief Project and World Food Program… this is NOT to be missed. Incredible lineup, all around.
“Hi everybody, Shanti and I have been busy organizing and curating a compilation cd of some of our very favorite folks. The tentative release date for the comp is March 21st, 2009 and will be released on our label Borne Recordings/Acuarela (U.S. distribution through Darla Records). All proceeds are going to be donated to World Food Program (United Nations agency) to help with special and Very important relief operations and emergencies in places such as Darfur region of Sudan,Uganda, and the Congo. The confirmed lineup is – Marissa Nadler & Black Hole Infinity, Devendra Banhart, Mi and Lau, Fern Knight, Rio en Medio, Larkin Grimm, Arborea, Alela Diane, Mica Jones, Big Blood, Micah Blue Smaldone, Cursillistas, Magic Leaves, The Plains, Starless and Bible Black, David Garland, Ora Cogan, Eric Carbonara, Jozef Van Wissem, and Silver Summit. Also, our friend Lyndsay recently introduced us to an intense and beautiful film called War Dance, about 3 children from the Acholi tribe in Uganda. Music is a very important part of their lives.”
Admittedly, I have no idea who or what Headless Heroes is. A new band with a cryptically sparse website? Perhaps. Names Records has just released a new song from the mystery band featuring a great contribution from one of my favorite contemporary female singer-songwriters, Alela Diane. It’s a cover of the Linda Perhacs classic “(Hey Now) Who Really Cares?”, I know that for darn sure. Aside from that, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. For now, enjoy the tune. And don’t miss Alela performing with Will Oldham at the Big Sur Benefit in two weeks!
UPDATE from HEADLESS HEROES (mystery solved…)
“Alela actually lent her vocal talents to a studio project under the name of Headless Heroes which consists of several musicians (Josh Klinghoffer, Joey Waronker, Woodrow Jackson III, Gus Seyffert, and Leo Abrahams) that recorded an album of covers together. The album was produced by Hugo Nicolson.
The Album titled ‘The Silence of Love’ will be released in November ’08 on Names Records (UK) and Fargo Records (for the rest of Europe). In the states the album will be released in May ’09 via the Headless Heroes record label.”
If you’re already going to be attending the Festival in the Forest that we’re putting on with (((folkYEAH))), DO. NOT. MISS. the amazing show that’s occuring the same weekend, just a mile down the street, the day after the Festival concludes. Definitely make the vision quest down to the Henry Miller Library on Sunday, September 28!
Dazed & Confused Digital have released this little film of Alela Diane being interviewed and playing an exclusive session featuring ‘The Rifle’, ‘White as Diamonds’, and ‘To Be Still’ – the latter two are not yet avalable on record!
Ah, Green Man Festival, why do you mock me? Why do you willingly choose, year after year, to lift your sodden fingers to smear remorse on my penniless face? You know I can’t afford to fly to you (or take the time off work)!
Sigh. Yet again, the Green Man Festival of England is providing more sleepless-night fodder as Pentangle announced today that they will be headlining the yearly gathering. I’m talking original lineup here, folks: Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Jacqui McShee, Danny Thompson and Terry Cox. Yikes. Not to mention the fact that Iron & Wine, Howlin’ Rain, Alela Diane, Caribou, and dozens of others are performing too, all in the bucolic eden of South Wales. I’ll probably be sitting in traffic while Bert Jansch is melting faces with a rendition of “The Snows.”
Naturalismo: Nevada City has produced some of folk music’s most promising artists. Describe the city’s cultural climate and what, if anything, you think has played a hand in fostering the city’s prolific artistic output?
Mariee Sioux: I actually feel that the there is a definite lack of culture present in the area. I don’t think that it lacks the arts in anyway but it isn’t a very diverse place. In that way I think I was always kind of made to search out some culture and really dig deep to find some connections to roots and things….But I do think that there is a strong sense of community that is always very open and loving to its inhabitants. There are also some alternative schooling options, but I think some of them are struggling these days with funding, so I’m not sure how that realm is doing right now…I think that a lot of very creative people did move there in the 60-80′s and perhaps created a very artistic environment, but I don’t think it was a hippie town or anything extreme like that. There is a pretty conservative weird side to the area as well which perhaps gets very overlooked, my mom worked for the health department for years and the public schools wouldn’t let her teach sex ed to 8th graders or have condoms at the highschools..things like that are kinda weird there and not so open or liberal.
N: What kind of relationship did you have with fellow Nevada City…ites Alela Diane and Joanna Newsom? Did your relationships with them help foster your growth as a musician?
MS: Alela and I have been childhood friends since I was about 3 or so. But our parents knew each other since before we were born. I think we were always around our parents’ bands, or our dads jamming together at our houses, so it was a pretty natural thing being surrounded by music with her, though I never played with them or even really thought about ever playing guitar. We would spend many a weekend at bluegrass festivals together being weird little girls. Joanna is a wonderful being, I just remember going to some poetry readings she did in high school, pounding her chest and speaking crazy words… and being aw inspired by her gut wrenched energies, words, and ability to really break out of every box that was happening at the time (even before her songwriting I think)…yeah I would say they both have truly inspired me in different ways.
N: The imagery you evoke in your lyrics seems rooted heavily in the wind, the trees, the dust, the grass, the animals, and the air – the language of our world. Humanity seems intrinsically trapped in a paradox of consciousness. Beneath our chaotic shield of “self,” exists the same stillness, the same simplicity as a tree or rock; yet, we feel separate, above, different from the Earth that exists around us. Does art – or, more specifically, music – allow us to transcend the illusion of duality and once again speak the tongue of the universe, the earth?
MS: Hmmmm…wow. What a way to put it ! I feel like the only way I can only answer that is by saying read through some of my lyrics…because singing these songs explains it better than me just typing on the keyboard…I think there is something heavily natural and also supernatural about the musical world….like when you listen to some old old recordings of some indigenous singing its like a boulder just fell in your stomach and literally makes me feel like I have no body. I think it used to be a completely natural thing to have music be magic and medicine in all cultures around the world….
N: It’s never wise to generalize, but it seems like most music today – mainstream or otherwise – lacks any kind of attention span. Like the oral storytelling traditions of many Native American tribes, your songs seem free of the restrictions of structure: roaming, curious, free-spirited. Have the oral traditions of Native American culture influenced your songwriting?
MS: Well,to be honest I don’t really know. I never really grew up engulfed in native culture or anything, my mother was always open about it close with it but in her own way, her family was never very into their roots, and for that I think I feel perhaps even more of a connection to it… the lack of it being present in our family anymore really really is a heaviness I think about a lot.
N: Many of your songs reference ancestry and family – both your own, and those of animals. What role did your family play in your musical education and inspiration?
MS: It’s kind of the same situation again…my family played the role of being open loving parents. And my father was always playing music and still does. They also really love to live off the land as much as they can. They were organic farmers for most of my life growing up, though now its just enough for themselves instead of a career. My dad always gathers mushrooms throughout the year and hunts and fishes his own game, and my mom tends lovingly to her flower beds. They love working with the earth and growing things and i think that always really effected me to feel a strong connection with dirt and the earth and inspecting plants and little bugs and things. Making connections from my little ands and body with those things around me…
N: I don’t mean to be too esoteric, but I’ve often felt it to be true – especially on your record. Do you believe that certain instruments embody the spirit or “essence” of certain animals or elements of nature? Do you personally feel an affinity with any particular animal or spirit?
MS: Hmmmmm….well I don’t think thats a stretch or anything…I know that certain sounds can hit my hard in my gut…I don’t know if i relate really to any particular animal or spirit…I think you can always tell when there is a purity perhaps behind the person/soul that is playing it…
N: With Faces in the Rocks behind you, have you been working on any new material as of late? Are there any plans in the woodworks for the next record? If so, how’s the recording process been going?
MS: I have been continuing to write write write…I’m always writing, not always songs, but just trying to stay focused on that… though it tends to work better when no on the road in a van with other people all the time…There have been no new recordings yet, but I’m just trying to keep going on some new songs i have and play them a lot live and by myself …and hope that some more come on their own…..Oh I think I am going to record a Cure song “Lovesong” though for a tribute album coming out on Manimal Vinyl later this year???
N: Faces in the Rocks features many musical contributions from family and friends, like the amazing Gentle Thunder; who were the contributors on Faces in the Rocks, and do you think you’ll continue expanding the sonic palette of your next album?
MS: I loved playing with everyone on the album. Lets see, there was my dad on mandolin, Gentle Thunder on Flutes and percussion, Jonathan Hischke on bass, and some singing contributors…such as my dad, Dana (who recorded the album), and Jeremiah Conte and GT…..They were so so so giving and lovely and super chill !!! The songs where there are flutes, me and Gentle Thunder recorded live together with me singing and playing the guitar live with her in a little sound proof room…we would just jam it out live till there was a take we thought was the right one and then worked on that overlaying things over so that the kinda power was there in the first layer….I do think that the next batch of songs will be different, and not have all the same instruments. I don’t really know yet, going to let it happen on its own when the time comes !!
N: What artists have you been listening to recently?
MS: Well,In the van out here in France we have been listening to a lot of Low. Our van driver really loves them and I have been truly enjoying it as well….we’ve listened to a lot of Ethiopiques and…jammed some old Neil Young, some of our friends’ old bands from Nevada City such as “Black Bear” and “O Cross” which me and Alela were really freaking out about since we loved and still love them and had a seriously nostalgic moment in the van….
N: I’ve read before that you never intended on being a musician, that your primary means of expression had always been poetry. Who or what encouraged you to pick up the guitar, and how do you think music can supplement or enhance the spoken/written word?
MS: I honestly don’t know what made up pick up the guitar and be like… oh I think I’ll play this thing…i think a lot of my friends weere kinda playing music with each other and were REALLY into their bands they liked in high school and stuff like that. So all of that was pretty invigorating musically…I think it was also when me and my two best gal friends Jaime and Abby were trying to start a girl band called Gale Music…we wrote some songs together and played one live show..haha.. It was seriously fun and I think pretty much opened the doors into songwriting for me…I think music and words are always floating or sitting waiting for us to find them or help move them in some sort of direction…I don’t think there is a format that needs to be followed for “music” ever… I think people need to do what feels right always, and always be true to their heart…I love spoken word and poetry and I love music….so hmmm i guess of course !!!?
[download] “Two Tongues” from Faces in the Rocks (Grassroots)
If you’re currently at, or are planning on making the voyage to, the South by Southwest (or SXSW in hipster vernacular) music festival be sure to check out the Leafy Green showcases. Spread out over multiple nights and venues, Leafy Green is bringing the heat:Akron/Family, Alela Diane, The Dodo’s, Jay Reatard, Vashti Bunyan, and many others.
Happy Monday folks! Last night started off like any other night…that is, if every night I went to go see two of contemporary music’s most engaging and promising young musicians, as well as one of folk’s most enduring and idiosyncratic and unwitting legends. So, yeah. It was a special night. As I arrived at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, the aroma of warm cookies and coffee told me that I was in for a treat. I sauntered around for a bit, nibbled on a cookie, and gawked at McCabe’s mind-bogglingly immense collection of folk instruments; everything from banjars (a guitar in banjo’s clothing) to lutes to cellos to harp guitars found their place alongside ethnic percussion and thumb pianos at this mecca of all things acoustic.
By the time Matteah Baim kicked off the night’s music I was already all hopped up on coffee, cigarettes, and cookies: a perfect storm of stimulants. Her set was woefully brief, but the ethereal aural atmosphere she created left me wishing that I had come to McCabe’s hopped up on a lot more than sucrose. I had never seen Matteah perform. The melancholy dance of two electric guitars, drenched in reverb and delay, left my eyes transfixed on the stage until her final song concluded.
While Alela Diane was setting up, the audience was given about fifteen minutes to use the restrooms, buy more food, or step outside to smoke a joint. While I was unfortunately ill-equipped for the latter, I did bump into Devendra Banhart and chatted for a bit before we were called back for Alela’s set. And what a set it was. Alela, joined on stage by her clearly cool, long-haired father, started off her set with “Tired Feet” which is, coincidentally, the first song on her debut LP. Her father’s acoustic accompaniment (nylon string guitar, mandolin) added a dazzling new layer to the songs that I had come to know so well from the record as sparse solo affairs. Her voice knocked me on my ass. After a set that consisted largely of new material (which she told me after her set would probably be released this fall) and a DUET with Michael Hurley, the audience at McCabe’s was abuzz. I don’t think many of the people in attendance had heard Alela’s music before, but afterwards the din of Alela-chatter was impossible to avoid. CD’s were flying off the merch table.
Then, finally, what everyone was waiting for: Doc Snock himself, Michael Hurley. As always, he puttered onto the stage in a state of quasi-bemused aloofness, looking at the rapt crowd as if perpetually surprised that people had come to see him play. When he began playing his songs, it was clear that his dexterity on the fretboard has not diminished whatsoever. It was a beautiful mix of old songs, as well as new: fan favorite Sweedeedee, I Paint a Design, The Tea Song, and You’ll Never Go to Heaven just to name a few. The master was in perfect form: spinning yarns, cracking jokes, and unspooling songs with a carefree insouciance rare in most performers, young or old.