This new release from New Mexico, the self-professed “land of enchantment”, is sure to get you dancing. Acoustic trio, Lone Piñon’s second album, (literally translated Happy Days), is a fiesta of music that pays homage to the borderland’s cultural roots. The band members hail from different geographic, cultural, and musical backgrounds but have come together since 2012 to revive the New Mexican Chicano string band style. According to the band’s bio, they “bring a devoted and explosive musicianship to Northern New Mexican… and Mexican music”.
It’s a challenge not to clap, tap, or sway along with these rhythms. Catchy melodies abound, the vocal harmonies sung in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl. The instruments also sing: violin, accordion, guitar, guitarrón, and upright bass. Multiple themes recur and duel. Some are upbeat and some are dark and mesmerising. Some songs sound like soundtracks, some a wedding jig, some a square dance.
The opening instrumental track, “El Borrachito”, is a celebratory introduction and heralds the party to follow. Another fifteen tracks of dance music and crooning ballads demonstrate Lone Piñon’s complex repertoire.
Standout tracks are: “Estas Lindas Flores”, a duet of vocals and accordion in a jolly hoedown; “El Querreque”, a toe-tapper in huapango style; and “La Llorona”, alternating brisk fiddle and doleful lament that tells a clear narrative with or without lyrics.
Listening to this album highlights the pleasure to be derived from cross-cultural relationships. These Días Felices are uplifting.
Amelia Romano – New Perspectives (indie release, 2017)
American harpist Amelia Romano plays a mix of instrumentals and songs on New Perspectives, scheduled for release later this month. I was drawn to her instrumentals, which is where she shows her talent as a harp player and composer.
Romano’s music combines blues, jazz, classical and Latin American music elements like joropo from Venezuela, Argentine tango and Mexican-style bolero. She likes to explore unpredictable rhythms from Latin America, a region with a remarkable harp tradition, although she breaks stereotypes by playing what is normally a man’s instrument.
Amelia Romano enjoys using her beautiful cobalt blue harp to extract new sounds, textures and also as an attractive visual element.
With New Perspectives, Amelia Romano shows great potential as a genre-defying composer and arranger.
The musical landscape of American music overflows with cool. From Blind Lemon Jefferson to Woody Guthrie, from Ella Fitzgerald to Hank Williams, from Miles Davis to Chuck Berry, from Aaron Copland to Jimi Hendrix, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Jessye Norman, the music of the United States has flowed freely. And that cool has spread far and wide as the likes of Aerosmith, Chicago and Bruce Springsteen have circled the globe many time over and continue to do so.
Without lapsing into some creepy American exceptionalism, we’ve reveled in the sounds of R. Carlos Nakai, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Mahalia Jackson and the list just goes on and on.
But here’s the thing – musically we’ve never lived in a vacuum. The general attitude of US audiences has been if it’s cool, we want it. In the early 1970s Ravi Shankar brought his Concert for Bangladesh to the US and the American audience was so enthralled by the sounds they applauded the group’s warm-up. Okay, the audience’s naiveté is amusing, but the point is we wanted this music.
Having been to a Buena Vista Social Club concert, I can attest that if anyone took my seat I would have clawed their eyes out, as I expect most others who have fallen hard for those rich, warm sounds out of Cuba. The same could be said of the concert featuring L. Subramaniam, his son Ambi Subramaniam and Mahesh Krishnamurthy. Think about it, how many times do you think you heard the Spanish summer song “Macarena” by Los del Rio or “Gangnam Style” by South Korea’s Psy?
In 1986, Paul Simon introduced audiences to South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his Graceland album and later in 1990 gave audiences a taste of Afro-Brazilian musicians like Grupo Cultural Olodum, Milton Nascimento and Nana Vasconcelos on his release of Rhythm of the Saints. By-the-way, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is currently on tour and will have upcoming concert dates in the US in February and March of 2017.
Bill Frisell let us into the goodness of Sidiki Camara, Vinicius Cantuaria, Christos Govetas, Greg Leisz and Jenny Scheinman with the The Intercontinentals. There are countless other examples of collaborations of American musicians with artists from around the world. We’ve been inundated by bits of bhangra, African, Indian, Celtic and every other genre under the sun in our popular music, movies and advertising.
I’m not sure how any movie soundtrack makes it without the sly addition of tabla or frame drum these days. Again, if it’s cool we want it. We need it. Let’s face it we’re the fat kid and there’s a whole lot of musical cake out there to eat. And the good thing is that we are all the better for it.
But what if all this musical collaborative goodness from around the world is coming to an end for US audiences? Let’s just forego the conversation about the President Trump’s plan to completely gut government funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities. There’s something more sinister afoot.
Recently, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi has been forced to cancel US tour dates because he was denied a visa from the US Embassy in Harare. Speculation has it could be the US’s ongoing wrangling with President Mugabe’s administration or a summit of Sudanese, Somalian and Libyan musicians that coincides with Mr. Mtukudzi’s concert. Also, the Beijing Chinese Orchestra is reported to have cancelled a February concert in Seattle after 22 musicians were denied entry visas by the US government. With the current climate, the powers that be and the sheer force of will to dismantle any and all of President Obama’s actions by the hard-nosed hard asses in charge, can Cuba’s musicians be far behind in the denied visa category? And, which musicians will be next?
I want to be optimistic and say that US audiences won’t go for this, but already the cancelled concerts of Mr. Mtukudzi and the Beijing Chinese Orchestra have already slipped past our collective radar. It is quite possible that there is a whole host of foreign musicians and performers who have been denied visas and those concerts have gone quietly into the night and simply disappeared. Let’s face it this is not the most up-front and honest of administrations. But what is even more worrying is the idea of musicians, artists and performers simply passing up coming to the US entirely. What if we’ve become just too much of a hassle? What if facing a populace of angry, shouting, red-faced, gun-toting, wall-building nuts just isn’t worth it? So then what? What happens when our cool openness for whatever is around the musical corner is gone?
Don’t get me wrong I still think there’s a place for the sweet little square dance or the shit-kicking hoedown, but I don’t think we can live on it alone. I don’t think I’d want to.
The album Porcupine Meat by Bobby Rush (Rounder Records) is the winner of Best Traditional Blues at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.
The other finalists were:
Can’t Shake This Feeling – Lurrie Bell (Delmark Records)
Live At The Greek Theatre – Joe Bonamassa (J&R Adventures)
Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II) – Luther Dickinson (New West Records)
The Soul Of Jimmie Rodgers – Vasti Jackson (VJM)
Widely recognized as the world’s top ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro (shee-ma-BOO-koo-roh) is internationally renowned for lightening-fast fingers and revolutionary playing techniques. He views the ukulele as an “untapped source of music with unlimited potential.” Jake’s virtuosity defies label or category. Playing jazz, blues, funk, classical music, bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and rock, Jake’s mission is to show everyone that the ukulele is capable of so much more than only the traditional Hawaiian music many associate it with.
Jake was born November 3, 1976 in Honolulu, Hawaii. At just four years of age, Jake’s mother gave him his first ukulele lesson. “When I played my first chord I was hooked,” says Jake, “I fell in love with the instrument.” That love grew into a deep passion to create and innovate. Experimenting with various techniques allows Jake to create sounds never thought possible on the tiny four-string, two-octave instrument.
A spectacular showman, his performances captivate audiences with intricate strumming and plucking, electrifying high-energy grooves and smooth, melodic ballads. His covers of tunes by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are interpretations that have dazzled and delighted audiences worldwide.
From a modest beginning performing at a local Honolulu café, Jake has gone on to play famous venues such as the House of Blues and The Knitting Factory (Los Angeles), The Birchmere (Alexandria, VA), Tipitina’s (New Orleans), Joe’s Pub and B.B. King’s Nightclub (New York City), The Bumbershoot Festival (Seattle), The Fuji Rock Festival (Japan) and many others. Occasional tours with Jimmy Buffett since 2005 have given Jake the experience of a lifetime, regularly exposing his virtuosity and amazing stage presence to crowds of over 50,000.
Jake toured with Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (2002, 2005, 2006) and recorded on the band’s Little Worlds (2003) album. Jake is also featured on Ziggy Marley’s Grammy Award winning album Love is My Religion (2006) and contributed to the soundtrack of the Jimmy Buffett-produced film, Hoot. This was a rewarding experience for Jake and gave him the confidence to score the Japanese independent film Hula Girl.
The album Travels came out in 2015. The recording featured original compositions by Jake as well as modern interpretations of cherished Hawaiian standards and two 1970s’ pop hits, “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, and “Low Rider” by War.
Also in 2015, Jake returned home to Honolulu to participate in the world premiere of Campanella, the first-ever concerto written for the ukulele. The piece was composed by Dr. Byron Yasui for Jake to perform with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. “It was a great moment for the ukulele, because it was the first time that the ukulele was presented as a classical instrument,” said Jake. “It was, by far, the most difficult piece of music I have ever performed.”
In early 2016, Jake released Live In Japan (Hitchhike Records/eOne), a two-CD set featuring career-spanning musical pieces, including a 10-minute classic reworking of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
A few months later, Jake released Nashville Sessions (2016), his first album of all original songs. what was conceived as studio jams evolved into beautifully structured compositions. The lineup incliuded Nolan Verner on bass and Evan Hutchings on drums.
Dr. John, or Mac Rebennack as known to friends and family, stands alongside of Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino as one of New Orleans’ all-time distinctive voices. He was born in New Orleans on November 21st of 1940.
His very colorful musical career began in the 1950s when he wrote and played guitar on some of the greatest records to come out of the Crescent City, including recordings by Professor Longhair, Art Neville, Joe Tex and Frankie Ford.
During the 1950s and 60s, he worked as an R&B session man. A notorious gun incident forced the artist to give up the guitar and concentrate on organ and piano. Further trouble at home sent Dr. John west in the 1960s, where he continued to be in demand as a session musician, playing on records by Sonny and Cher, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin to name a few.
He also launched his solo career, developing the charismatic persona of Dr. John The Night Tripper. Adorned with voodoo charms and regalia, a legend was born with his breakthrough 1968 album Gris-Gris, which established his unique blend of voodoo mysticism, funk, rhythm & blues, psychedelic rock and Creole roots.
Several of his many career highlights include the masterful album The Sun, Moon & Herbs in 1971 which included cameos from Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger and 1973’s In the Right Place, which contained the chart hits “Right Place Wrong Time” and “Such A Night.”
Dr. John garnered Grammy award wins in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2000. He has also received five other nominations over the years. In 2004, his musical love letter to the city of New Orleans, N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or d’Udda, was awarded the prestigious Académie Charles Cros 57ème Palmarès award in France. It was the first time since the 1970s that an artist from North America received the award.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the storm passed but the situation worsened, Dr. John responded in the way he knows best: musically. Dr. John and his band headed into a studio in upstate New York to record a seven-track EP dedicated to the Crescent City. Sippiana Hericane was released by Blue Note Records and all the proceeds from the CD sales were divided equally between the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and the Voice of the Wetlands.
The EP’s centerpiece, a four-part suite “Wade: Hurricane Suite” is book-ended by “Clean Water,” a song composed by Dr. John’s good friend and New Orleans songwriter Bobby Charles, and a version of Dr. John’s “Sweet Home New Orleans” with new lyrics penned by his wife and songwriting partner Cat Yellen. A brief reprise of “Clean Water” ends the EP.
The following is a statement from Dr. John on the devastation of his hometown of New Orleans: “I love New Orleans. I love the people, its food, its culture, the music and the lifestyle. New Orleans is the best of everything. I’m saddened and angered by what has happened. If anybody in the government would’ve done something about the disappearing wetlands for the past fifty years, then this probably wouldn’t have been as bad.
The federal, state and local governments have known for a long time that certain things needed to be done to protect New Orleans. The levees should’ve been able to deal with this assault. Now a high price will be paid for neglecting the needs of the city and its people. It makes me think of what my friend Reverend Goat just told me, ‘Let me say this before it goes any further. New Orleans didn’t die of natural causes, she was murdered.’ Everyone should donate what they can to the relief effort.”
Mercernary, released in 2006, was an idea that came from Dr. John’s daughter Tina, who pointed out that “Personality,” a 1946 hit for Johnny Mercer, would be a perfect fit for her dad’s down-home style. In fact, Tina suggested, why not do a whole album of songs written or popularized this giant of American popular music? That got Mac thinking. Mercer was a fellow Southerner and workaholic—the Savannah-born artist wrote the words, music or both to a good 1,500 songs, a remarkable number of them classics, as well as spending decades as a performer.
“I just loved the way Johnny sold that song Personality,” Mac said. “It was so much out of the old burlesque thing, and you could tell he knew that stuff, and he always appeared to me to have that Southern something about him. He just hit the lines in songs that was like the real McGillicuddy. He was a great singer, a great A&R man, a producer, and he even started Capitol Records. So we started looking at some Mercer stuff.”
After running the idea past Blue Note and getting an enthusiastic response, Dr. John got down to business, poring over Mercer’s massive songbook. “I wanted to pull as many of the ones that people weren’t as familiar with, but it was impossible,” he added. “One thing about Johnny Mercer’s stuff is that even the songs that aren’t that well known are well known from something.”
One of the biggest challenges Dr. John faced was coming up with an original that would both sum up the album’s personality and sit comfortably among his interpretations of Mercer’s songs. “My tribute to Johnny Mercer,” he said, “is ‘I Ain’t No Johnny Mercer,’ which I ain’t. But I took a lot of words from a lot of his songs that I would have never thought to use. I never in my life would’ve thought to use a word like ‘apoplexy’ in a song. I took some lines from ‘Pardon My Southern Accent’ and messed that up, too. Even took my favorite word he used in ‘Moon River’—‘my huckleberry friend.” But what I tried to do was take some Johnny Mercerisms, and just do them the way I would do them to make a little riff at Johnny, with him and about myself. I figured if I’m coppin’ on Johnny Mercer, I might as well cop on myself while I’m doing it. I may not be as good of a mercenary as Johnny Mercer was, but, whatever way you wanna break it down, I’m a mercenary in my own right.”
Mercernary was recorded at New Orleans’ Piety Street Studio in the spring of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina hit. The facility, located in the Bywater (once referred to by locals as the Upper Ninth Ward), escaped serious damage, and it’s back in business now. Despite these and other pockets of activity, says Rebennack, “Every time I go back, I get weirded out by how little or nothing is going on. Sippiana Hericane was a labor of shock. This record was a regulation recording, and I hope it’ll do something in some way to help New Orleans.”
In 2008 Dr. John signed a multi-record agreement with the Savoy Label Group’s 429 Records. His first release under 429 Records was titled The City That Care Forgot, dedicated to Dr. John’s beloved New Orleans. The album features guest artists Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco and Terence Blanchard.
In 2016, producer Don Was led a tribute concert to Dr. John at New Orleans’ historic Saenger Theatre. The resulting 2-CD live album, The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac and his Music, featured guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, John Fogarty, and Mavis Staples, along with New Orleans stars including Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux.
After a half century of creating music for others and himself, Dr. John continues to compose, arrange, produce and perform with passion.
Bruce Molsky is one of the most influential old time fiddlers in the United States. Molsky is also an outstanding guitarist, banjoist and singer. His music incorporates the mountain sounds of Appalachia, the energy of blues and the rhythms of traditional African music.
Bruce has performed and recorded with acclaimed musicians such as Martin Hayes, Darol Anger, Alasdair Fraser, the Waverly Consort and Mike Seeger.
His acclaimed solo recording Poor Man’s Troubles (Rounder) has become a standard for old time music enthusiasts everywhere.
Bruce has been featured on the popular A Prairie Home Companion public radio show and as a guest artist on recordings with Darol Anger and the early music ensemble Hesperus, among many others. He toured the U.K. with internationally renowned fiddler Kevin Burke and others on the Fiddles of Fire tour. Bruce is also an accompanist with the percussive dance ensemble Footworks.
Influential old time musicians Tommy Jarrell and Albert Hash were two of Bruce’s mentors in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he first learned to play. Thanks in part to time spent with these old masters, Bruce has earned numerous awards at fiddle and banjo contests around the southern United States.
Bruce is a highly in demand fiddle and banjo teacher, and teaches his own intensive fiddle workshop program throughout the United States. He is a regular instructor at Augusta Heritage Center, Jay Ungar & Molly Mason’s Ashokan Music Camp, Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle Camp and others.
Blue Highway fuses tradition with progress to create their own unique and timeless style. Having played roles in bluegrass music’s most influential acts such as Alison Krauss and Union Station, Larry Sparks, Doyle Lawson and Ricky Skaggs, the members of Blue Highway — Tim Stafford (guitar, vocals), Wayne Taylor (lead vocals, bass), Shawn Lane (tenor vocals, guitar, mandolin, fiddle), Rob Ickes (Dobro, Scheerhorn acoustic slide guitar), and Jason Burleson (banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass vocals) — refuse to rest on their past accomplishments. Instead, they forge forward, carefully balancing tradition with innovation, continually contributing to the depth and breadth of a flowing bluegrass river. Skaggs himself provided the accolade, “//Blue Highway is writing their own history in bluegrass: fresh, but as old as the hills//.”
Blue Highway’s eighth album, Through The Window Of A Train was self-produced by the band and recorded at Maggard Sound Studios in Big Stone Gap,Virginia, and features 12 songs, all written or co-written by Blue Highway’s five accomplished songwriters – composers whose songs have been recorded by bluegrass staples Ronnie Bowman, Mountain Heart, the aforementioned Skaggs, and others.
The recording showcases Blue Highway at their songwriting, instrumental, and vocal peak. With a nod to family, tradition and travel on the album’s title track, the account of a fading cowboy on “My Ropin’ Days Are Done,” the characterizations of wars past and current on “Homeless Man” and “Two Soldiers,” and through the virtuosic picking on the instrumental “The North Cove,” Blue Highway simultaneously deliver the past, present, and future of bluegrass.
In January of 2010 Rounder Records released Some Day: The Fifteenth Anniversary Collection. The CD is a collection of the best of their Rounder recordings, one cut from a Rob Ickes solo album, and 3 new selections including “Bleeding for a Little Piece of Mind,” which was co-written by Tim Stafford and Darrell Scott and also features Scott on lead vocals.
Yo-Yo Ma was born to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age 4 and soon moved with his family to New York, where he spent most of his formative years. Later, his principal teacher was Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School. He sought out a traditional liberal arts education to expand upon his conservatory training, graduating from Harvard University in 1976. He plays two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.
Yo-Yo Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras throughout the world and his recital and chamber music activities. He draws inspiration from a wide circle of collaborators, creating programs with such artists as Emanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Pamela Frank, Jeffrey Kahane, Kayhan Kalhor, Ton Koopman, Jaime Laredo, Bobby McFerrin, Edgar Meyer, Mark Morris, Mark O’Connor, the late Isaac Stern, Kathryn Stott, Wu Man, Wu Tong and David Zinman. Each of these collaborations is fueled by the artists’ interactions, often extending the boundaries of a particular genre.
One of Ma’s goals is the exploration of music as a means of communication, and as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas, across a range of cultures throughout the world. To that end, he has taken time to immerse himself in subjects as diverse as native Chinese music with its distinctive instruments and the music of the Kalahari bush people in Africa.
Taking this interest even further, Ma established the Silk Road Project to promote the study of the cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. By examining the flow of ideas throughout this vast area, the Project seeks to illuminate the heritages of the Silk Road countries and identify the voices that represent these traditions today.
Yo-Yo Ma is strongly committed to educational programs that not only bring young audiences into contact with music but also allow them to participate in its creation. While touring, he takes time whenever possible to conduct master classes as well as more informal programs for students-musicians and non-musicians alike.
In 2004, Ma won his 15th Grammy for Obrigado Brazil, his best-selling release that celebrates the music of Brazil. The success of that recording and a subsequent international tour inspired a sequel disc, released in 2004, entitled Obrigado Brazil Live in Concert, which went on to win a Latin Grammy.
Yo-Yo Ma formed The Silk Road Ensemble in 2000. It is a collective of internationally renowned performers and composers from more than 20 countries. Many of the musicians first came together under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma at a workshop at Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts in 2000. Since then. in various configurations. Ensemble artists have collaborated on a diverse range of musical and multimedia projects, presenting innovative performances that spring from Eastern and Western traditions and contemporary musical crossroads. The Silk Road Ensemble has recorded several albums and performed to critical acclaim throughout Asia. Europe and North America.
The Silk Road Project acts as an umbrella organization and common resource for a range of cultural and educational programs, participating in more than a dozen festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2002. To learn more, visit the Silk Road Project website at silkroadproject.org.
In 2011, Yo-Yo Ma participated in the acclaimed The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a collaboration that brought together four string virtuosos: Yo-Yo Ma, fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile. The cross-genre album combined classical, jazz and American roots music. A DVD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions Live followed in 2012.
Yo-Yo Ma’s classical music discography is quite extensive. An enormous boxed set titled Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside the Box contains 90 CDs that include his classical works as well as the albums focused on tango, the music of Brazil and other traditions.