Not too often does a new album from a unknown group jump to the top of the stack. Several of us listened separately but around the same time, and excitedly reported to each other the same news No Fool For Trying offers one good song after another. Selections present good energy, interesting topics, and catchy melodies. Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac are Madison Violet.
Both singers are from small Scottish towns in Canada, but their style is not Celtic. At least, not yet. Each album so far as been different from the one before it. The first was apparently more on the pop-rock side produced by John Reynolds (U-2, Damien Dempsey) as was the second, which was alt-country. On “No Fool…” the singers went a different direction and are backed by old time banjo, fiddle, mandolin and upright bass. The resulting sound is not Appalachian however, the playing is refined and the overall sound is more contemporary.
“Lauralee” and the album’s title song will probably get the most play, but “The Woodshop” will catch your interest. Brenley’s brother was the 52nd homicide in Toronto and the song describes her father carefully building a tiny coffin for his son’s cremated remains. The song is not morbid in any way, but it does capture and portray the truth about one family’s angst. The rest of the songs are more positive; the whole album is solid.
Booker (Bukka) White is not only Tom Rush’s hero; Eric Bibb admires him as well, and has named his new solo album after the folk-blues legend. Actually, the album is not entirely solo, as harmonica whiz Grant Dermody accompanies Eric on some selections. Though there are some songs from tradition, most are Bibb originals and continue to show off his infectious groove.
“The Sunrise Blues” will resonate if you have little in your life to celebrate; “One Soul To Save” speaks to those who would be overjoyed just to have freedom. “One Soul…” is inspired by the James McBride book “Song Yet Sung” about slaves in Maryland risking everything. The song has a bit of a double meaning, serving as an inspiration to any of us who may need a push to make a big and needed move.
Eric may also inspire you to read more after you hear “Turning Pages” The album’s highlight may be the low key “Rocking Chair.” The song describes a man building a chair to overcome lonliness, only to witness the reason for his despair return to sit in that chair. You’ll have to listen to the song for yourself to learn what happens next.
Eric Bibb continues to be our most literate and motovational blues singer. You will find one of his concerts a true gift.
Classical guitar star, Sharon Isbin’s, new album crosses over to folk and the whole world noticed. Journey to the New World won a 2010 Grammy in the Classical category: “Best Instrumentalist without an Orchestra.” Mark O’Connor produced the album and wrote a suite in which he accompanies her on violin. Several short pieces challenge Isbin in playing a reel, a rag, and a blues. These selections come easy to O’Connor, but Isbin stays with him.
She also tackles several traditional ballads including “The Drunken Sailor.” Joan Baez sings two songs and is the subject of an instrumental tribute. Sharon plays versions of many Baez classics, and the finale offers a spirited medley which is the stand out on the album.
Other selections are a bit serious, even stiff, and if you’re looking for drive you would be better off with a player like Tommy Emmanuel. Still, this album relflects lots of preparation and may convince a classical music lover to consider turning towards folk, and if we’re lucky, Folk Alley.
JOHN McCUTCHEON ~ Untold
John McCutcheon continues to be one of our best spokespersons and offers several talents – many which reveal themselves again on Untold. This is a double album with one disc dedicated to stories and the other to songs. The stories were recorded at a national storyteller’s festival and you can tell that John’s musical abilities back up the tales well, and provided something extra which other non-musical storytellers couldn’t offer.
Though John can command an audience for hours with his insight and his wit, Folk Alley will focus on the disc with the songs. “Sara Tucholsky” is a true story about a little girl in a softball game who became injured rounding the bases, even though she hit a home run. What happened next to allow the run to count is a dramatic lesson for all of us to pull together, including the opposition.
Some of the songs are a bit too deliberate, describing the incident instead of reflecting upon it. Mostly however, John does offer “headturners,” and the standout is a song called “Different.” We hear a father rationalizing about right and wrong until the young daugher catches on to his exceptions for the excuses that they really are. How do you explain to the innocent child that “Tell your uncle I’m not home” is not a lie? “That’s different,” sings John, as we all turn red.
John McCutcheon plays guitar, fiddle, banjo, hammered dulcimer, and sings. He is a domineering speaker, and an uncompromising writer. We are lucky to have him among us.