One of the reasons I was an avid reader of the original print edition of ND was to discover new folks of whom I was unaware and who piqued my interest. A couple weeks back I asked some ND contributors who they thought was about to break out, is deserving of wider attention, or has simply been flying too long under the radar. I think you'll find what we came up with rewarding.
Despite having been in a successful band, Paper Bird, and having released two solo albums, including the ambitious second one where she took classic songs about women by male rock gods and rewrote them from the woman’s viewpoint, Esme Patterson's breakthrough moment seemed to be the 2015 AmericanaFest, when “Dearly Departed” (written and recorded with Shakey Graves) was nominated for Song of the Year.
With that under her belt, she went back into the studio. So when her We Were Wild album came out last summer it seemed to me that she shook off that folky niceness with the opening track, amping it up with clanging guitars and stuff. But I also noticed that she had not abandoned the basic structure of the songs, and, unlike a lot of folks, did not obscure the song itself with its energetic arrangement.
I saw that opening track, like the album cover, as an act of defiance as well as a certain duality, the tamed juxtaposed with a wild sense of self-determination. She concurred with that assessment when we sat down for a chat after a one-off gig last week before she and the band head out on a tour opening for Lucero. She went further in describing the album (which is quite affecting) as a personal statement, asserting her independence. However, after the election the album’s songs and her presentation of them has become a symbol of a fierce social and political insurgency.
Nowhere was this more apparent during the band’s last song of that night, when they turned it up even more. They weren't thrashing around CBGB-style, exactly, but there was a critical sense of controlled and extended chaos. It reached a crescendo when Patterson openly challenged her own physical presence by throwing off her silvery wig to reveal a three-week-old buzz cut. As if to say, to paraphrase Kasey Chambers, “I ain’t no pretty little girl.”
And if that is not enough, Patterson has also gotten the NPR Music stamp of approval as she and the band have just recorded a Tiny Desk Concert. It hasn't yet gone public, but be on the lookout for that one. Pick up her records and catch her and the band live. You will not regret it.
Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys
This one comes courtesy of Carol Graham from Scotland. Carol caught them at this year’s Celtic Connections and was quite taken with them. Having seen them a bunch of times during the past two years, I heartily concur.
NPR and Mountain Stage named Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys one of the best live performances of 2016. Here is what Mountain Stage’s Joni Deutsch had to say about this alt bluegrass band when they stole the show’s 32nd birthday bash that also featured Josh Ritter, Amy Helm, and the Cactus Blossoms: “[They] made 500 audience members swoon. Sure, the Flatbellys perform the old-fashioned way, gathering around a single microphone as they did for their 2015 release Ionia, but the band's music comes out of an original spring, and it's definitely not afraid to let its folk flag fly ... showcas[ing] Lindsay Lou Rilko's sultry tones, Mark Lavengood's frenetic dobro skills, and what should be a satisfying career to come.”
They are a treat and, having hung out with them at MerleFest as well as Mountain Stage, they are as nice a group of talented musicians as you are likely to come across. Plus, they are good friends with the traditional duo I am quite fond of, Red Tail Ring, with whom they recorded a vinyl/digital EP as the New Roots Exchange. They have released two albums and individual band members have three others.
This one’s courtesy of Boom Baker:
I was initially attracted to Americana singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault when I read a review of his current album Salt as Wolves that mentioned one of my favorite guitar accompanists, Bo Ramsey. Ramsey coproduced and played on this album, referencing North Mississippi hill country blues artist Jessie Mae Hemphill. Hill country artists like Hemphill, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough have long fascinated me with their trance-like sound. I love the accompaniment of Bo Ramsey (Greg Brown and Lucinda Williams), who can play a single note that will color a song with a thousand points of aural delight. Foucault's hypnotic sound is reminiscent of both Hemphill and John Lee Hooker. Of his current album, Foucault said he “plumbs the implications of a life spent looking for the Real, in a series of epistolary songs that locate the transcendent moment or its seeking, the love we don’t understand, the thing that is lost when a great spirit dies.”
I became a bigger fan after seeing him perform my hometown of Spokane, Washington, last May. He played a 15-song set for a very appreciative audience. Foucault, with his longtime touring partner, Billy Conway, on drums, played songs from Salt as Wolves as well as from his back catalog. The venue is very intimate, and it felt like we were all sitting comfortably in Foucault’s mountain cabin living room with a fire in the fireplace, beverages all around, and a feeling of community sharing some superb singing and songwriting.
Playing mostly a 1950s Sears Silvertone electric guitar (no kidding) with a 5-watt Skylark amp, he sat for most of the evening, which spawned an inviting and gracious vibe that connected with his audience. He also played a vintage Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar and slide. When doing Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee,” he tore it up with his slide work. Conway had a sparse drum kit consisting of a homemade suitcase kick drum, a low-boy hi-hat cymbal, a snare, and tom drums. Foucault says that they “tour with minimal equipment so they play with what they can carry into the club in one trip.” But don’t let this minimalist setup fool you; they put on a wonderful show with plenty of diversity in style, from a sweet whisper to a thunderous blues tune. Foucault’s influences include not only hill country blues but also John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and John Lee Hooker.
Foucault has decided to take it easy with minimal touring this spring. It’s a plan he calls “Stay Home and Go Broke.” He will tour a little more this summer, playing festivals from the Orkney Islands (off the north coast of Scotland) to Salmon Arm (British Columbia), the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Northwestern Montana) to Red Ants Pants (Sulphur Springs, Montana) and Jam in the Trees (Black Mountain, NC). If he is performing near you I highly recommend catching his show. Foucault’s songs have been featured on the television series Nashville and Sons of Anarchy. His songs were also performed by Don Henley on Henley’s last tour.
This one’s courtesy of Chris Griffy, who is a writer/photographer with AXS and ND:
Every year at AmericanaFest, there are a couple of acts that come out of nowhere as buzz acts. If the scuttle I heard both from fans and fellow journalists at and after AmericanaFest 2016 is any indicator, this year's buzz artist will be Yola Carter. As part of the AMA UK delegation at AmericanaFest 2016, Carter played several small sets around town in addition to her official showcase, and left new fans in the wake of each.
My first exposure to Carter came at the AMA UK's Bootleg BBQ. Like most multi-act showcases, attendees wandered in and out, milling about, chatting, and catching a bit of whatever act was on stage. Until Carter took the stage. From the moment her Mavis Staples-meets-Dolly Parton voice rang out, the crowd fell silent. Milling people gathered closer. Conversations halted. All eyes were glued to the stage and a budding Americana superstar was born before our eyes.
So far, Carter has only graced us with one EP of solo work, Orphan Offering, released in December. If she can keep the momentum going with a solid full-length debut, Carter is a future Americana Emerging Artist of the Year candidate.
This one was suggested by C. Elliott, frequent contibutor to this column, and as I have seen them several times, I fully agree:
River Whyless is a four-piece band formed in Boone, North Carolina, in 2006 (then called Do it to Julia), and includes Ryan O'Keefe (vocals, guitar), Halli Anderson (vocals, violin), Daniel Shearin (bass, vocals), and Alex McWalters (drums). They have two albums under their belt: A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door (2012) and We All the Light (2016).
After graduating from Appalachian State University, they moved to Asheville and have played numerous festivals, relentlessly toured the Southeast, worked odd jobs, built a home studio, lost a van, bought a new one, and toured the Southeast again, where they are well-known and highly regarded.
Their music has been called folk, nature-pop, and baroque pop. Utah writer Scott Stroud describes them as “an eclectic fusion of retirees, back-to-the-land hippies, tourists, and natives to the region ... , blending American and international influences into a dreamy, spiritual mixture ... combining bluegrass-inflected harmonies with gorgeously adventurous fiddle-playing and guitar to create a distinctive vibe that will ring familiar bells without sounding quite like any of them.”
But they will not remain “emerging” for long, as on February 15 the rest of the country will see what the fuss is all about when they kick off an ambitious 10-week tour. It begins in Kentucky, and takes them from New York City to the West Coast with many stops in between. It that were not enough, they’ll also drop by SXSW, and in the summer, Bonnaroo.
They also did an NPR Tiny Desk Concert last year. During the next few months they will undoubtedly be playing somewhere near you, so after checking out that Desk Concert, I am sure you’ll want to get out of the house and catch them live.
Kater is the youngest of this group. Of African-Caribbean descent, she grew up in Toronto and is a recent graduate of Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia, where she studied Appalachian music in all its forms and variations. Even before college she was steeped in the tradition due to her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music. However, she’s not been immune to other influences; some have noted that she has as much in common with Kendrick Lamar as she does Pete Seeger.
Her second album, Nine Pin, was not only warmly received, it was included on some notable best lists for 2016. The album also was honored by her home country, receiving the Canadian Folk Music Award for “Pushing the Boundaries” for its unwavering look at the problems and issues facing minorities.
Among her many appearances last year was AmericanaFest and IBMA. This year, before she heads to the UK for a tour, she’ll play several times at the International Folk Alliance Conference next week, and on the 24th she’ll perform with Dom Flemons and Blind Boy Paxton in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In her review of Nine Pin, ND’s Rachel Cholst described the album as “unlike anything you'll hear this year.” It's what I’ll call primitive avant-garde. Just catch her and call it whatever you want. I think you will be amazed.
Now, scroll through the photos of these fine artists.