Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Celtic CDs
Metroland Holiday Gift Guide-12/5/11
By Glenn Weiser
As the number of CDs on retail racks dwindles as inexorably as the
daylight hours at this time of year, it’s ever more difficult to find
the right gift disc for the roots-music fan. That’s why I’ve
been prowling around the electronic ethers of the Web, scoping out prime
releases in the folk, blues, bluegrass and Celtic music genres for you.
Here’s my hot list.
The earliest blues song we know of is “Joe Turner’s Blues,”
heard in New Orleans in 1890. That and other traditional Crescent City
tunes are performed on Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton Play the Blues
(Warner Bros.). This pairing of the Nawlins trumpet virtuoso and the
British guitar god represents the origins and evolution of the blues,
respectively. Here they’re backed by a Dixieland combo consisting of
clarinet, trombone, piano, banjo, bass, drums,keyboards, and second
trumpet. Taj Mahal guests on two sweet tracks.
Along with the late William Clarke, harmonica ace Rod
Piazza was a protégé of Kansas. City bluesman George Smith, and
subsequently an architect of the West Coast swing sound.
Another fine CD to consider is Piazza’s latest, Almighty Dollar (Delta
Groove Productions). For this outing, Piazza, hailed by Downbeat
magazine as “a superior diatonic and chromatic
harmonica player with style,” is joined by guitarist Rusty Zinn, fellow
harp player Johnny Dyer, bassists Norm Gonzalez on electric and Hank Van
Sickle on upright, and sax man Jonny Viau.
For bluegrasasers, Grammy winner Alison Krauss and Union Station have
PaperAirplane, their first record together since 2004. Krauss’
mellifluous vocals, rather than her fiddle
playing, are center-stage here, and while the album breaks no new
ground, the picking is flawless
and the song choice satisfying. Dan Tyminski sings lead on three tracks,
and Dobro king Jerry
Douglas contributes peerless twanging. For more hillbilly jazz, local
heroes the Gibson Brothers
live up to their laurels as 2010 IMBA winners with their new disc, Help
My Brother (Compass
Records). Framed by their masterful close harmony singing, the songs
look at family, lives gone
wrong, and the need for love. The brothers also serve up fine covers of
Jim and Jesse and the
How many Celtic bands can draw a crowd of a quarter-million?
The Irish group Dervish
did at the Rock in Rio festival. Originally formed to record the richly
music of their native County Sligo, they pushed on to earn supergroup
status. Live at Johnny
Fox’s (Emtee Music) is taken from a 1996 show at Glencullen, near
Dublin, where the sextet
fire off swirling dance tunes and sing Ireland’s mournful songs, here
often performed in Gaelic.
Ireland alone has a musical instrument for a national symbol. Masters of
the Irish Harp, an
anthology of leading Irish harpers, includes the playing of Grammy
winners and Riverdance
troupe members who have entertained U.S. presidents. The music here
spans up to five centuries;
harp tunes by the Baroque-era bard Turlough O’Carolan are mingled with
jigs and reels and even
a 21st-century composition for harp, flute and trumpet. This one’s a
Next year marks the centennial of Woody Guthrie’s birth. Note
of Hope—A Celebration
of Woody Guthrie (429 Records) offers unpublished lyrics by the Dustbowl
balladeer set to
music by Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Lou Reed, Madeline Peyroux, Pete
Triscka, and others. Readings of Guthrie’s critically acclaimed prose
are included, most
notably by Studs Terkel. While it’s unlikely to be the occasion’s sole
tribute to Guthrie, it will
nonetheless be hard to beat.
Gillian Welch and longtime musical partner David Rawlings
ended an eight-year
songwriting hiatus this summer with The Harrow and the Harvest (Acony
Records). The two
reportedly spent considerable time tweaking their old-time-flavored
material, and critics have
lauded the 10-track, sparely textured album as some of their best work.
With its dark Appalachian
themes of heartbreak and tragedy, this is must-have Welch.
See the article on
the Metroland website
List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser
©2011 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.