Archive for August, 2009

Used: Bombadil & R.E.M.

Posted in Bombadil, R.E.M. on August 10, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

There is no better way to kill some time on a lazy afternoon than browsing through your local used record store. I used to spend hours (and hundreds of dollars) going through stacks of used discs when I was in college. My time (and budget) are a little more limited these days, but I still love to check out the local shop when I get a chance.

Luckily, Knoxville has several great places to find new old music. My first stop is always The Disc Exchange, the store that always lands on the top of any local “best of” polls. If I don’t find anything there, I can always move on to McKay’s. This place is essentially a giant warehouse filled with used junk, and a few gems. Books, CD’s, video games, movies, iPods… you name it, they sell it. I’ve also told you before about the $1 bin at the local Cat’s Music. There are more than a few places to find some pre-loved music in this town.
Now that I have a record player set up in the house, I’ve also been discovering some of the local shops that actually sell “records.” Lost & Found Records and Basement Records are the two I’ve stumbled upon so far, but if anyone knows of any others please let me know.
The purpose of all of that is to say that I had some time to kill this past Thursday and was able to unearth a couple of worthy additions to my collection.
First was A Buzz, A Buzz, the first full-length effort from the North Carolina collective known as Bombadil. Like their new album, Tarpits and Canyonlands (reviewed here), this record is full of musically whimsical and often lyrically dark compositions. This band is stylistically unique and instantly captivating. Both of their albums come with high recommendations.
Here’s one from A Buzz, A Buzz that showcases the light/dark dynamic that they pull off so well. It’s a lighthearted tune about self-mutilation called “Johnny.”
Bombadil: Johnny (Buy Album)

I also came one step closer to completing my R.E.M. vinyl collection when I found a copy of their debut album Murmur. R.E.M. is my all time favorite band, but I was still just a child when they started releasing albums. I didn’t discover them until much later. Consequently, my entire R.E.M. library has always been on CD.

Now that I have the means to play them, I have made it my personal mission to own the band’s entire catalogue (especially the early, IRS recordings) on vinyl. That’s how most fans first experienced their music, and that’s how I want to experience it now. Of course, Murmur is an all time classic and a record that I’m glad to hear again for the first time.
R.E.M.: Radio Free Europe (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Earthly Treasures

Posted in Scott Miller, youtube on August 8, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

No Commentary needed for this one… I give you Scott Miller.

Childsplayers: Aoife O’Donovan & Lissa Schneckenburger

Posted in Aoife O'Donovan, Crooked Still, Lissa Schneckenberger on August 6, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

On Tuesday, I told you about Childsplay, a group primarily composed of musicians united by the fact that they all play violins crafted by the same man… Bob Childs. I also promised to share with you some music from a couple of the musicians involved in the project. That’s why we’re here today.


We’ll start today with Aoife O’Donovan. O’Donovan (in the center of the picture above, wearing glasses) is the voice of Childsplay, but is most widely known as the vocalist for the contemporary bluegrass band Crooked Still. She actually founded the band in 2001 when she was asked to assemble a group for a concert at the New England Conservatory of Music.

The band has made quite a name for itself over the last decade by bringing their own unique sound to traditional stringband music. Their sound is defined by unique instrumentation that, in the early days of the band, often consisted of only banjo, cello, and double bass. A recent line-up change added Brittany Haas on fiddle and Tristan Clarridge on cello to go along with original members O’Donovan, bassist Corey DiMario, and banjo virtuoso Greg Liszt.

Here are two tracks from Cooked Still. The first is Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” the lead track from their 2006 album Shaken By a Low Sound. It showcases the band in its original configuration of bass, banjo, cello, and vocals to stunning effect. I’m also sharing the traditional “Tell Her to Come Back Home” from 2008’s Still Crooked. This showcases the band in it’s current incarnation and lets the fiddles run a bit. Tim O’Brien provides guest vocals.
Crooked Still: Can’t You Hear Me Calling (Buy Album)
Crooked Still: Tell Her to Come Back Home (Buy Album)

The second artist I’d like to share today is fiddle player Lissa Schneckenburger. Like O’Donovan, Schneckenburger is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and a member of Childsplay.

Schneckenburger hails from Maine and has been playing the fiddle since she was six years old and is now an accomplished singer/songwriter and a true student of the instrument she wields. Her primary influences come from the traditional music of New England and the Canadian coast. She recently spent time digging through the music archives of the University of Maine to try to rediscover some forgotten tunes of the region. In 2008 Schneckenberger released a collection of those forgotten ballads called Song. She is currently working on a follow-up collection of old time fiddle tunes called Dance.
I was first introduced to Schneckenburger’s music in 2005 when I received a copy of her self-titled release. I immediately fell in love with an instrumental track from the album called “Melissa without the Me/Eric’s Birthday.” I played it constantly on Americana Crossroads at the time, and I’d like to share it with you here. I’m also sharing one called “Like the Snow” from her 2001 album Different Game (with thanks to Cover Lay Down for introducing me to the tune).
Lissa Schneckenburger: Melissa without the Me/Eric’s Birthday (Buy Album)
Lissa Schneckenburger: Like the Snow (Buy Album)
Just for fun… here’s some YouTube goodness from both artists…

Prine the Plumber

Posted in John Prine on August 5, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Had a plumber come to my house yesterday to fix a couple of leaks in the kitchen. His assistant bore an uncanny resemblance to John Prine.

That’s really my only reason for posting this today.
John Prine: Grandpa was a Carpenter (Buy Album)

Childsplay: Waiting for the Dawn

Posted in Aoife O'Donovan, Childsplay, Lissa Schneckenberger, youtube on August 4, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Bob Childs is a craftsman. Whether making music himself, or making instruments for other musicians… Childs takes to his task with care. He knows that a well crafted instrument is essential to creating a well crafted tune. That’s because Bob Childs is a master luthier (maker of stringed instruments). He’s been building violins for over three decades and has been playing them for even longer.

A brief history…
Childs began playing the violin as a teenager in Maine. Whenever his instrument was in need of repair, he would take it to local luthier Ivie Mann. Mann, who was 70 at the time, developed a friendship with the young Childs and offered to take him on as his first ever student. Childs continued to learn from Mann and others until he was able to set up a luthier shop of his own. His instruments are now in high demand have been played by a wide range of musicians from symphony performers to international fiddle champions.
In 1986, Childs received an invitation to perform with a group of seven violinists in Washington DC. Childs welcomed the opportunity to get out of his workshop and perform with one of his own instruments. He accepted the invitation. Only after he said yes, did Childs learn that the assembled musicians who had issued the invitation all played instruments he had built.
Childsplay was born.
These days, Childsplay’s cast of players can include as many as two dozen professional musicians at any given time. On the band’s fifth studio recording Waiting for the Dawn, no fewer than fourteen fiddlers form the core of a powerhouse ensemble, and blend their considerable skills and diverse influences to create a stunning collection of contemporary fiddle classics.
The music itself comes from the Emerald Isles of Ireland, the foothills of the Appalachians, the frigid Canadian Coast, and even the American pop charts. Original tunes from various band members sit side by side with traditional fare from around the globe and compositions from Steve Earle (“Christmas in Washington”), U2 (“Mothers of the Disappeared”) , and Elvis Presley (“Love Me Tender”). The result is a musical world tour that incorporates a wide range of sounds and styles. Somehow, they all blend seamlessly together.
Of course, the credit for that is due largely to the players themselves. The band boasts world class fiddlers and violinists who specialize in varying disciplines from all over the globe.
Just to name a few…
Hanneke Cassel is a former U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champ with a degree from Berklee College of Music. Shelia Falls-Keohane won the All-Ireland Fiddling Championship at age fifteen and is now a part of the music faculty at Wheaton College. Bonnie Bewick is a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and has soloed with the Boston Pops. Lissa Schneckenberger is an accomplished folk singer/songwriter and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music (more on her later this week). Bob Childs plays on the album as well.
Irish and Scottish fiddle champs, symphony members, master luthiers, singer/songwriters… and that’s not even half the band.
This recording also marks the first time Childsplay has incorporated vocals on an album. To lend a voice to the music Childs turned to Aoife O’Donovan from contemporary bluegrass group Crooked Still (more on them later this week too…). O’Donovan is a solid choice here and sounds just as much at home on the traditional “Sweet Sunny South” as she does on Bono’s “Mothers of the Disappeared.” Her soaring voice is the perfect counterpoint to the instruments that surround it.
As for the band’s namesake and raison d’ĂȘtre Bob Childs… he is the only member of the ensemble who does not make his living as professional musician. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t keep busy. Childs still produces around six violins a year from his workshop in Cambridge, MA… spending roughly 200 hours constructing each piece. He also travels with Childsplay to various shows and festivals and will occasionally use the group to put on educational workshops to expose school children to violin and fiddle music. With those two endeavors, Childs ensures that there will always be a new generation of his instruments to play, and a new generation of artists to play them.
To illustrate Childsplays’ unique sound, I’m going to share with you the opening track from Waiting for the Dawn called, “Rattling Roaring Willie/The High Drive.” The song is a medley of a traditional Canadian folk song and a Scottish reel.
I’m also going to share a youtube video I found that features a medley of U2’s “Mothers of the Disappeared” with an original song from Hanneke Cassel called “Evenstar.” Cassel is featured on the violin in this video with O’Donovan on lead vocals.
You can find out more about Childsplay at childsplay.org.
Childsplay: Rattling Roaring Willie/The High Drive (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Abigail Washburn on the Blue Plate Special

Posted in Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, The Sparrow Quartet, youtube on August 1, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

Here’s a clip I found of Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet performing onWDVX’s Blue Plate Special. The Blue Plate Special is a live performance that takes place every weekday at noon in downtown Knoxville. The shows are always free to the public and are broadcast live on WDVX and WDVX.com. You can see a full schedule and link to more videos on the Blue Plate Special page at WDVX.com.

The Sparrow Quartet is Abigail Washburn on banjo and vocals, Bela Fleck on banjo, Casey Driessen on violin, and Ben Sollee on Cello.