Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival Preview

It can be fairly said, that what we consider today to be the Bluegrass style of music spent its formative years in Baltimore, MD. Still, somehow, Bluegrass isn't the first thing to come to mind when people are asked about Baltimore; the home of America’s national anthem, where Edgar Allen Poe sloughed of the mortal coil, and where Babe Ruth first swung a bat.

Many of the components of Bluegrass are at home in Baltimore. In fact, the form is firmly rooted and for many years revolved around the Charm City. Meaning, one of Baltimore’s best secrets is its deep bluegrass roots. Even the name “Banjo” was coined there. It was used the first time in an advertisement for the plucky off-shoot of the original African instrument produced in downtown Baltimore.

It's fitting that in its third year, The Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, being held in Druid Hill Park on April 25th, is reclaiming some of that history.

Though this year's lineup is a mighty one; besides the wondrous location, what makes Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival special is founders Phil Chorney and Jordan August’s desire to “...put on bluegrass for everyone to see, whether it was on the porch, at a show, or a bigger party.”  Mission accomplished gentlemen.

Photo: http://www.travelinmccourys.com/

Listen to a Bluegrass station on the radio, web, or even satellite radio for a little while and you’ll hear The Travelin’ McCourys at least twice. With brothers Ronnie and Rob McCoury (Sons of the great Del McCoury) at the helm, they are almost constantly on tour playing a mix traditional and progressive bluegrass with the same fire and dedication as their father.

Here's an introduction for you:

Photo: http://www.thewoodbros.com/

If you haven’t heard The Wood Brothers, you need to because this is a band for everybody. It’s Americana and it's blues, but also the kind of music that stuns a crowd. The band, on tour following the release of their new Album The Muse, is anchored by Oliver and Chris Wood - brothers who didn’t start their careers out together, but have found a deep synergy that is almost palpable. Very quickly into a set, you’ll hear your thoughts and feelings dragged out, hear how you wanted to say it, and think “so it’s not just me then...” Then your feet start tapping, and at some point in their show, you’ll just stand there thinking “holy sh..”

Take a listen to the Wood Brothers:

Photo: http://www.seldomscene.com/

Where do you start with a group like The Seldom Scene? How about two fun facts?
Founded in 1971, by a mathematician, a physician, a graphic artist, and a cartographer for National Gepgraphic. The Mathematician and banjo payer, Ben Eldridge, has been there the whole time.
The Seldom Scene began their epic run in Bethesda, MD with a progressive form of bluegrass that was reaching huge popularity in the late 70’s. The thing was, each of the founding members had a day job and had agreed to not tour and only play on the weekends. That said, they still managed to release 7 albums in the first 5 years. Fast forward to today, and you’ll see a large change in membership but no loss in enthusiasm, values or talent. Very few bands today can capture the magic of bluegrass’ traditional roots while still balancing in the progressive sound like the Scene.

After all that talk of traditionalism and roots, here’s a more progressive track from the album SCENEchronized - "A hundred and Ten in the Shade"

Photo: http://crisjacobs.com/

Baltimore based Singer/Songwriter Cris Jacobs should be on your Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival must see list. He began his career fronting the band The Bridge, but has embarked on a solo career that seems to have set him free. He’s recently been tapped by Steve Winwood for a tour, is beginning his second live album, and has written for bands like Audie Blaylock and Redline. At last year’s Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, he appeared on stage  more than he was off stage, between his own set and jamming with other bands. To say he is a local favorite is an understatement to be sure. Pop over to his CrisJacobs.com site for a free download of his acoustic sessions.

Here is Cris Jacobs on a local Baltimore webcast Listen In with Ellen Cherry with "Station Blues"

Photo: The Bumper Jacksons

This is going to be a fun set. The DC based The Bumper Jackson's won "Best Traditional Folk Band" at the 2013 and 2014 Washington Area Music Awards, and play a revived form of swingy jazz that will have the crowd dancing in no time. Their sound harkens back to the roots of jazz, the jump of the 20’s and they’re not afraid of the kazoo either. They are undeniably talented and for sure a must see at the festival. you can preview and buy their album Sweet Mama, Sweet Daddy, Come In on BumperJacksons.Bandcamp.com

Here they are playing the enigmatic "Darkness on the Delta" at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country

Photo: Jeff Coon
Grand Ole Ditch formed in 2012 and is making a second (and very well deserved) appearance at Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Last year they won the battle of the bands and opened the festival. This year, they didn’t need to fight for a spot. Why? Because they’re just that good. The sound is the iconic and traditional sound of the Appalachians. The energy is a can of Red Bull mixed with Mountain Dew and rocket fuel. This set is a can’t miss. Seeing Grand Ole Ditch live is like finding $20 in a coat pocket from last fall: Totally unexpected and makes you very happy. Grand Ole Ditch has appeared with The Travelin’ McCoury’s, The Seldom Scene, The Steep Canyon Rangers.

Here’s a quick sample of Grand Ole Ditch with "Foolish Pride"

Photo: Facebook

Charm City Junction is aptly named. The quartet was formed in Baltimore in January 2014, and here meets the styles of Roots Americana, Irish/Celtic, Bluegrass and old-timey goodness. The world got a sample of the band at last year’s Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival inadvertently as several of the members were repeatedly called to the stage to jam with other bands throughout the day. The band’s sound is smooth and polished and you can tell that the four young members have very long careers ahead of them. Talent runs deep with this group and you really shouldn't miss them.

Check out "Torn Jacket/Come West Along the Road"

Photo: http://www.letitiavansant.com/

Letita VanSant
Community Activism, Social Justice, and Environmental Awareness. Most singer songwriters have some sort of pedigree that informed and lead them to their appreciation for a certain sound. Leticia VanSant was working for various non profits, supporting noble causes, prior to becoming a musician. According to her bio, it took a while for her to even think of herself as a musician, and it was not until she returned to her hometown of Baltimore that she even sang in public. One listen to her work will convince you that it was worth the wait. Her lyrics are touching, her voice is beautiful and heartfelt, and her music altogether refreshing. While her day job is working at a “peace and social justice lobby group in Washington, DC.”, thankfully, we music fans get the off-hours.

Take a good listen to Letitia and her band, The Bonafides, as they play "Step in Line"

Photo: http://www.chesterriverrunoff.com/

Hailing from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Chester River Runoff originally started playing together in order to learn their instruments. They debuted in 2004 and have been playing festivals and clubs ever since. They put on a great show with huge harmonies and tons of energy. When they mount the stage be ready for high energy, deep roots, original songs, and enough enthusiasm to spread around to the whole crowd.

Here is Chester River Runoff playing an helluva cover of the classic bluegrass tune "Shady Grove"

Photo: https://themanlydeeds.bandcamp.com

This is folk music, kids. Since 2006 The Manly Deeds have been bringing the sounds of Appalachia mixed with American roots, and maybe a little honky-tonk to the streets of Baltimore. Their self titled album, released in July 2014, was recorded in barn from the 1800s and really pulls you in. The added “Found Instruments” (like a saw) added a huge sense of authenticity to the style of the very mountains they were in during recording, and the addition of new member, banjoist Jacob Panic, really pushes the band’s sound over the top.

You can listen to the full album at TheManlyDeeds.com

Photo: Facebook

Fans of bluesy- foot stomping -American rock rejoice! Your band will soon be arriving at the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Founded in 2007, The Herd of Mainstreet have released two albums, toured nationally, opened, head lined, and undoubtedly rocked their audiences at every turn. Baltimore really gave birth to a great one here. The Herd of Main Street will have the crowd on their feet in no time and everyone is going to need a break afterwards.

They say not to believe everything you read on the internet, so here you go. The Herd of Mainstreet playing "Black Horse"

You simply can’t call the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival a fledgling festival anymore. The 2014 festival was, in a word, outstanding. It drew acts like Jerry Douglas, Noam Pikelny and Friends (with Aoife O’Donovan no less), Sierra Hull, and local favorite Cris Jacobs, to name a few. Not only did they find a seamless blend of hometown talent and national acts - but they drew a massive crowd and are now even sponsored by the venerable Del Fest. Thanks to the tireless work and deep love of the form brought to the table by the founders, Phil Chorney and Jordan August, and there amazing staff, Baltimore is once again home to something wonderful. Don’t miss out on your chance to experience 12 hours of truly outstanding music.

The Festival runs from 10:00am to 10:00pm, April 25th, and tickets are still available!

Head over to CharmCityBluegrass.com for more information

Monday, April 20, 2015

Song Dogs Exlusive Premiere: "Sun In The Valley" **limited time download**

Philadelphia Americana Rockers Song Dogs are finally ready to present their next best work, Heartlands.  Over two years since the Bill Moriarty produced Wild Country, the band is poised and proud of their newest effort.  The self-produced album contains songs ranging from several years to a few months old. This collection, or more so, this atlas of songs speaks to the "people and places in [their] lives."  The band continues as a shared experience, rather than Mike Southerton's or Sam Conver's band. With each member sharing writing duties, it's a storytelling session amongst great friends.  Likewise, the band now features five vocalists throughout Heartlands with Mariama O'Brien and Emily Southerton each making their lead vocalist debut.

To give a taste of the new album, Song Dogs have leaked "Sun In The Valley" to Root Down In The Shadow to share with readers as a free download.  The album will be on hand at their release party at Franky Bradley's this Saturday night.  Joining Song Dogs are Philadelphia eclectic guitar-hounds The Rivals and Arden, DE rising stars Can You Canoe.

"Sun In The Valley" was a Wild Country casualty, but rose like a phoenix as the center-piece of this new album. Featuring Mike Southerton on vocals, the band is joined on fiddle by virtuoso Sarah Larsen. Also written by Mike Southerton, it is based on a story of a friend going through some tough times; switching perspective allows Southerton to reconcile his own life by understanding others.

See Song Dogs this Saturday at Franky Bradley's!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Haunt The House / Amanda Glasser / Anna Coogan - "Non-Local Night" at Bourban and Branch Recap

photos by Dan McGurk

Haunt The House / Amanda Glasser / Anna Coogan 

Last Tuesday, rising folk stars Haunt The House came to town for their first Philly show. Tagging along to Bourbon and Branch were two more out-of-towners; Amanda Glasser and Anna Coogan.

Haunt the House

Anna Coogan
Anna Coogan

Anna Coogan, the veteran of the line-up, was up first at the always interesting Bourbon and Branch.  The gritty songstress was ready for her set no matter what, even if it meant disobeying doctors' orders after a recent broken bone.

The best/most ironic part of her set was the ease with which she was able to switch back and forth between love songs and break-up songs.  She explained this may have to do with the break up songs, such as "Cricket Sea", being mostly about the man she eventually married.   However, there was that extra oomph of grit and passion on the love songs.  Before turning over the reins to the next artist, she left the crowd seeking more with some brand new tunes, including "Meteor."

Amanda Glasser

Amanda Glasser

Amanda Glasser was next to the Bourbon and Branch stage.  A Baltimore native, Amanda spent
some time in the Philly for med school and was excited to be back in Philly, but not as excited as she was to enjoy the Baltimore "local" beer Natty Boh from the Green Room.

Amanda Glasser, who opted to play her guitar instead of continuing med school, impressed the crowd.  She also had break-up songs in her "sad-mode," but for the final song she switched to "angry-mode" for her newest and most passionate track, "Surgery."

RIYL:  Chelsea Sue Allen
(recommended if you like)

Amanda Glasser - Live at Bourbon and Branch

Haunt The House

For any band, their first show in Philly is always a difficult one.  The Philadelphia music fan is a spoiled breed having numerous venues to choose from on any given night.  Despite, the meager crowd, the sky is the limit for this folk-trio.  With a Newport Folk Fest slot on the horizon, the band is touring in support of Jack Rabbit Jones, an album with a great folk-pedigree.  The album was recorded, engineered, and influenced by The Low Anthem's Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky at the Columbus Theatre, plus mastered by Machines with Magnets who have done many Root Down In The Shadow favorites such as Brown Bird, Deer Tick, and Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons, plus Philly favorite Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's eponymous debut.  Their sound is reminiscent of other folk-sters such as Blind Pilot and Head and the Heart.

The set started off with stellar renditions of Jack Rabbit Jones' first two tracks, future-hits "Mosquito Coast" and "Little Bird."  Not being limited to JRJ, the third track was the haunting "Vampyre" from Rural Introspection Study Group, including a crisp extrapolation of The Animals "House of the Rising Sun."  One song that was wonderfully true to the album was "Jealous Vow" (see video clip below); while overall the band was fantastic to see.  Will Houlihan, Amato Zinno, and Bessie Bessin have a bright future together as Haunt the House.

The set wasn't all straight-forward album renditions, or even as expected. Hearing the album for the first few times, I half-expected harmonium based on the Miller/Prystowsky-Low Anthem influence, but I was surprised to see Bessie Bessin with an accordion instead.  Also differing from the album was the lack of mandolin.  The set list also showcased other highlights new & old. Will Houlihan had a whistle intro on "Raven" that Tarantino could get into, and  "Jesus" was another solid new tune with a bit of an "Amazing Grace" twist.  

Haunt The House - Jealous Vow (clip) Live at Bourbon & Branch

Haunt The House - Bourbon & Branch 3-17-2015 setlist
Philadelphia, PA
         song                             Album
1.  "Mosquito"              Jack Rabbit Jones
2.  "Little Bird"             Jack Rabbit Jones
3.  "Vampyre"              Rural Introspection Study Group
4.  "Hymnal"
5.  "Raven"                   brand-new/unreleased original
6.  "Black Butte"           Jack Rabbit Jones
7.  "Jealous Vow"          Jack Rabbit Jones
8.  "Pity Creek Ravine" Jack Rabbit Jones
9.  "Emerson"               Jack Rabbit Jones
10.  "Knife of Love"     Jack Rabbit Jones
11. "Jesus"                     unreleased original
12. "Arrow"                   Jack Rabbit Jones

Sympathy and the Lion, Kettle Pot Black, Cardinal Arms at Fleisher Art Memorial - Show Recap March 21, 2015

John Shavel of Sympathy and the Lion - Photo by Kettle Pot Tracks
Fleisher Art Memorial - Philadelphia, PA

Photo By Dan McGurk
Spring is upon us here in Philadelphia.  It's time to start exploring again and shaking off those winter blues.  What better way to celebrate than by going to check out a venue and band for the first time?  I thought it was a great idea, so off I went to Fleisher Art Memorial for an afternoon show with Sympathy and the Lion.

Fleisher Art Memorial at first glance appears to be your standard gallery with classes and community space, but it also has a 19th century church connected to it where they occasionally host some shows!  For this Sunday's show in the front of the old church, the bands were tucked neatly in the choir chambers with fans at arm's reach sitting comfortably in the small pews.

Photo By Kettle Pot Tracks
Cardinal Arms, the musical arm of artist/poet/song-writer Bevan McShea was first to delight fans.  With a black acoustic guitar and a soft, Ben Gibbard-ish vibe, Bevan comforted the fans in a cathartic way that an afternoon-at-a-church allows.  McShea was completely relaxed in front of the mic, even while mixing in some new songs, seemingly getting some emotional relief himself.

Photo By Dan McGurk
Kettle Pot Black was next and Mike Batchelor played the set solo with his booming voice and guitar.  He talked a lot about his songs, with some about his mom, some his wife and kids, but regardless of muse he clearly likes to write songs that are fun to play back.  While he described his style as "screaming some and singing a few," it's a stark contrast to Mike Batchelor the friend; with an aggressive guitar style and vocal parts booming, it's a complete 180 from his personal laid back style.   

John Shavel of Sympathy and the Lion - Photo by Dan McGurk
Sympathy and the Lion, the Lancaster duo of Michael Burke and John Shavel, wrapped up the afternoon.  The self-described art-folk sound was a perfect way to forget winter, and really everything else for that matter.
Mike Burke's vocals and John Shavel on cello were such a lovely mix.  More so, the special combined harmony of the duo was another wonderful sound all together, reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel where they were completely unique but together created a hallmark sound.

The band was a delight, as they put on a showcase of their work, including several songs from the 2015 "demo" Remnants.  Throughout the set, I repeatedly found myself thinking about where I'd like to see the band next and which other recent soul-cleansing bands, such as Haunt the House and Max GarcĂ­a Conover, to have on this dreamy line-up.

Photo By Kettle Pot Tracks

The next show at Fleisher Art Memorial is 5/2 with Julia Ranier for her album release party.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Kevin Killen has been hard at work at Philadelphia's Cambridge Sound Studios lately laying down some new tracks. To give us a tease of what he's been working on, here's the brand new video for "Streets of Sorrow", a cover originally by the Pogues.

Kevin Killen - "Streets of Sorrow" (Pogues cover)
Streets of Sorrow from Kevin Killen on Vimeo.

Kevin Killen plays tonight at the Root Down In The Shadow - Living Room Show. Follow us on Twitter @RootDownPhilly for more infomation as we're working on getting a live stream together of the at-capacity show.