In an era when female singer-songwriters are ever more ubiquitous, Shawn Colvin stands out as a singular and enduring talent. Her songs are slow-release works of craft and catharsis that become treasured, lifetime companions for their listeners. As a storyteller, Colvin is both keen and warm-hearted, leavening even the toughest tales with tenderness, empathy, and a searing sense of humor. In the 19 years since the release of her debut album, Colvin has won three Grammy Awards, released eight albums, maintained a non-stop national and international touring schedule, appeared on countless television and radio programs, had her songs featured in major motion pictures, and created a remarkable cannon of work.
One of the most innovative and exquisite guitarists on the planet. Eric Clapton declared ‘Sonny is one of the greatest musicians alive.’ We think so as well. He’s got a great band who totally let it rip.
Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Sam Bush doesn’t seem old enough to be a musical legend. And he’s not. But he is. Alternately known as the King of Telluride and the King of Newgrass, Bush has been honored by the Americana Music Association and the International Bluegrass Music Association.’It’s overwhelming and humbling,’ Bush says of his lifetime achievement award from the AMA. ‘It goes along with the title cut of my new album, Circles Around Me, which basically says, how in the hell did we get this far? In my brain I’m still 17, but I look in the mirror and I’m 57.’But honors are not what drive him. ‘I didn’t get into music to win awards,’ he says. ‘I’m just now starting to get somewhere. I love to play and the older I get the more I love it. And I love new things.’ Among those new things are the growing group of mandolin players that identify Bush as their musical role model in much the same way he idolized Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns.’If I’ve been cited as an influence, then I’m really flattered because I still have my influences that I look up to,’ Bush says. ‘I’m glad that I’m in there somewhere.’ He’s being humble, of course. Bush has helped to expand the horizons of bluegrass music, fusing it with jazz, rock, blues, funk and other styles. He’s the co-founder of the genre-bending New Grass Revival and an in-demand musician who has played with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Bela Fleck to Charlie Haden, Lyle Lovett and Garth Brooks. And though Bush is best known for jaw-dropping skills on the mandolin, he is also a three time national junior fiddle champion and Grammy award winning vocalist. ‘In the acoustic world, I’ve been pretty lucky to play with almost every one of my heroes. I’ve gotten to play with Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, I’ve been to the mountain,’ says Bush with a smile. But his greatest contribution may be his impact on the future. ‘I’m secure with what I can do and I know what I can’t do,’ he says. ‘You just have to stand there and applaud the great young talent. ‘Chris Thile, Wayne Benson, Shawn Lane, Matt Flinner, Ronnie McCoury, Mike Marshall’they play in ways that I can’t play,’ he says of today’s younger generation of mandolin players. ‘I’m hoping to be around for is the next generation that comes along after that group. That’s going to be something. The music keeps evolving. Circles Around Me, Bush’s seventh solo album and sixth with Sugar Hill, is an aurally inspiring mix of bluegrass favorites and complementary new songs. ‘I don’t know why, but it felt right at this moment in my life to go back and revisit some things that I’ve loved all my life, which is bluegrass and, unapologetically, newgrass,’ says Bush. ‘After all these years of experimenting ‘and there’s experimentation on this record too ‘I’ve come full circle.’ Produced by Bush, the 14-song set includes appearances by Del McCoury, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and New Grass Revival co-founder Courtney Johnson (posthumously). The album also employs the phenomenal talent of Bush’s band: Scott Vestal, Stephen Mougin, Byron House and Chris Brown.
Our name says it all: Acousticana plays American roots music on acoustic instruments. We take the best of the American songbook and filter it through varied musical influences to create a sound that’s both respectful of tradition and refreshingly new and inventive. Add a healthy dose of original songs, tight harmonies, an impressive array of acoustic instruments, and a commitment to creative arrangements and vivid performances, and you get a musical gumbo guaranteed to please. Don’t be fooled by the name. Three Tall Pines is an award winning quartet ‘playing bluegrass and Americana from the heart of New England. Though their faces are young, the group’s timeless originals and interpretations of traditional songs persuade listeners that bygone eras were just a short while ago. Impressive instrumentalists in their own right, they transcend their diverse musical backgrounds to achieve soulful harmonies and sensitive performances that draw audiences in and leave plenty of space for the story to shine through. Recently the band has caught the eye of many critics in their first few years together. Recently named 2011 Bluegrass Band of the Year in by the Motif Arts Magazine and winner of the Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival band competition, securing them a slot on the main stage in 2012.
Justin Townes Earle is an anomaly. He’s tall as the day is long, all angles and elbows and a hard stare, both welcoming and deadly serious. He’s Nashville North, all set up in lower Manhattan now, just like his hero Woody Guthrie, with twang and charm intact. That hard working earnestness has paid off, to say the least. Justin won the Best New and Emerging Artist at the 2009 Americana Music Awards. His record, Midnight at the Movies, was named one of the best records of last year by Amazon, received four stars in Rolling Stone and found a sweet spot in the blackened hearts of fans and critics alike. GQ Magazine named him one of the 25 best dressed men in the world in 2010. He also appeared on HBO’s Treme with his dad, troubadour Steve Earle, on whose Grammy Award-winning Townes record Justin also guests. The aforementioned Woody Guthrie once said, ‘Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.’ On Harlem River Blues, Justin chose the simple route. The record’s not a wall of sound produced to the rafters. It’s rockin’ and reelin’ at times, sweet and slow at others’and it’s great. Like good fried chicken, a well-cut suit and a handmade guitar, there’s heaven to be found in the beautifully crafted simpler things. Compared to the much-lauded Midnight at the Movies, Harlem River Blues is more mature and increasingly nuanced, while still embracing the raw voice and clean sound of previous standout tracks like ‘Mama’s Eyes.’ Harlem River Blues kicks off hot with the title track’s choir of backing singers and electric guitar, slow dances through a decrepit tenement on ‘One More Night in Brooklyn,’ and swings ?ÿ la Jerry Lee Lewis on ‘Move Over Mama.’ ‘Working for the MTA’ is a modern day railway ballad, embracing the labor movement in classic folk singer style over some heartbreaking pedal steel from Calexico’s Paul Niehaus. With percussive guitar, killer standup bass lines by Bryn Davies and a guest appearance from Jason Isbell, this record hums along like a 6 train jumpin’ the tracks and heading straight for the Tennessee state line.
Silhouette is the highly anticipated new album from Catherine MacLellan. The record captures her best qualities effortlessly – stitching together elegantly woven songs with her memorable blend of heartfelt and powerfully introspective lyrics and catchy melodies. Recorded largely at a secluded cabin in rural Prince Edward Island. MacLellan brought together a band of longtime friends and musical collaborators with producer David Baxter to craft the 14 track album that Canada’s Exclaim magazine has touted as being ‘a near-hour-long album devoid of filler’a testimony to MacLellan’s ascent to greatness.’ Indeed, the subtle yet steadfast strength of the album is undoubtedly the understated power of MacLellan’s songwriting and performance on the largely acoustic-driven songs. Her sweet tones weft gracefully throughout pensive and internalized lyrics that ponder in the most elegant terms the most relatable of internal dilemmas – balancing work and family, love blooming and fading away, and evaluating one’s own personal strength. Throughout the 14 tracks on Silhouette, it’s felt that you’re listening to the voice of an every-woman with a gift for expressing with poise the most personal of internal conflicts.
In many ways this is my first album,’ Brett Dennen says of his newest record, Loverboy. In these last two years I’ve really been thinking, if this is what I want to do then I have to do it in a way that keeps me healthy and happy. I need to take care of my body with nutrition and exercise. I need to take time off, even if I don’t want to, and actually appreciate and enjoy it. And I want to bring all of that balance to my fans. That’s what this record is really about. I want people to put on Loverboy and feel good. I want to make people dance!’
He is the consummate performer and one of the most respected artists of his generation. Always a sell out
Bruce Cockburn has always been a restless spirit. Over the course of four decades, the celebrated Canadian artist has travelled to the corners of the earth out of humanitarian concerns’often to trouble spots experiencing events that have led to some of his most memorable songs. Going up against chaos, even if it involves grave risks, can be necessary to get closer to the truth. ‘My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,” laughs Cockburn. ‘I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.’ Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn’s 31st album, is his latest adventurous collection of songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery. The album, primarily acoustic yet rhythmically savvy, is rich in Cockburn’s characteristic blend of folk, blues, jazz and rock. As usual, many of the new compositions come from his travels and spending time in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, jotting down his typically detailed observations about the human experience.
If American old-time music is about taking earlier, simpler ways of life and music-making as one’s model, Abigail Washburn has proven herself to be a bracing revelation to that tradition. She’a singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based clawhammer banjo player’is every bit as interested in the present and the future as she is in the past, and every bit as attuned to the global as she is to the local. She pairs venerable folk elements with far-flung sounds, and the results feel both strangely familiar and unlike anything anybody’s ever heard before. To put it another way, she changes what seems possible. Believe it or not, you won’t find any songs in Chinese on City of Refuge. What you will find, tucked in among picked and sung modal melodies, are some songs with catchy hooks and grooves. ‘Burn Through’ is one of them; Washburn even punctuates a line of the chorus with a playful pop nonsense phrase: ‘Hey, hey, hey.’ The song’s sentiment is as uplifting as its sound: ‘It’s really supposed to be a song that makes a person feel powerful listening to it, that there’s a lot of possibilities’