A world renown guitarist and singer from Brazil who reinvents popular songs with Afro Latin beats, a woman who frames songs of ranch life in the grit of Texas, a trio of Mixtec expats from Mexico who bring their music to a wider world, a trio of New England musicians who weave together Americana and Celtic folk traditions, a fiddle player from the land of Hans Christian Andersen who tells intricate tales through his instrument, and a singer and songwriter who has lived in places as varied as Chicago and Cornwall and sets her stories in vivid landscapes of the imagination: wherever travels may take you this season, you will find good companions in the ideas these artists share.
Badi Assad is the Brazilian guitarist. As a student she excelled in classical guitar before heading to equal success in jazz and worldbeat music. Her latest recording is called Hatched, a title she came up with to recognize that many of the songs she interprets are sourced from rising musicians, among them Skrillex, Mumford and Sons, Lorde, and Hozier, songs, she says, which touched her with their depth and possibilities. Assad herself has thus far enjoyed a twenty year career of world touring, top charting albums in more than a dozen countries, and projects including composing, acting, and collaborating with artists including her older brothers, who perform as the acclaimed classical Duo Assad. There are several of her own compositions on Hatched as well, including a collaboration with with her brother Sergio called Spirit Dog and an original love ballad called Vejo voce aqui. You may be taken with the beauty of Assad’s singing and rightly so, but hear her guitar as well. To create the connections that run through her song choices, that is where she began. “I wanted something organic“ she says. “I transcribed all the songs to the guitar and started an arrangement from there.” You don’t have to know the songs she chose — Hozier’s Sedated, Mumford & Sons Little lion man, The Hanging Tree from the Hunger Games soundtrack among them — to appreciate the connection and creativity present. “I don’t make music that’s pure entertainment, that’s a flash in the pan, that doesn’t reflect who I am,” Assad says. “And I’m always open to things that challenge me, that give the world an opportunity to go where I am going.” Follow along and see what you learn.
“Music, diversity, and service,” are the qualities that led retired musician JIm Pugh (he has worked with BB King, Van Morrison, and Etta James among others) to seek out Los Tres Amigos Snuviko for recording by his Little Village Foundation. It wasn’t an easy journey: the three men, Juan Hernandez on guitar, Alberto Lopez on violin and Jacobo Martinez on bass, speak little English or Spanish. They are Mixtec, from the Oaxaca region of Mexico, living now as part of the substantial Mixtec community in California. Their music is as unique as their native language, with tonalities and rhythms that may sound unfamiliar. Members of the community hear the stories in these instrumental pieces, though. Listen along and see if you do too, as they play tunes which go with parts of a wedding, ones used at community dances, ones honoring the rabbit, said to be the wisest animal in Mixtec lore, and others just designated as happy tunes. Liner notes are in both English and Spanish and Juan gives a spoken introduction at the start of the disc so you will hear what the languages sounds like. The band’s name and the album’s title in English is The Three Friends from Where the Clouds Descend.
Sarah Pierce’s landscape is Texas. She grew up in the western part of the state and lives now in the hill country north of Austin. She brings her songwriter’s imagination and her honey and smoke voice to stories framed in ranch life and landscape on her album Barbed Wire. It is, she says, an album that has been “a long time coming. I think this is my most honest writing and surely the closest I have ever come to having what I imagine become reality.” Raised in rural west Texas and singing to the cattle on her family’s ranch after she was kicked out school choir for singing too low, Pierce’s interest in music has been lifelong. A glance at the titles of the baker’s dozen of songs she offers on Barbed Wire give the clue that these are tales framed in real life and landscape of the American West: Saddle Up, Barbed Wire, I’m the Daughter of a Cowboy’s Wife, Lightning, Wild Ones, and Mackerel Sky among them. They are stories worth the listening, and Pierce’s voice is one that will linger in your mind as well.
The top class vocal harmonies , fine lead singing, and instrumental conversations among members of the band Low Lily will linger in your mind too.For their recording called Low Lily Liz Simmons takes lead on House Carpenter, a driving reworking of the of the many layered traditional ballad. Lissa Schneckburger, the fiddle player of the group (Simmons handles rhythm guitar) is both lead singer and songwriter for This Girl’s Not Mine, a song which bridges past and present in word and melody, with a fiddle break in the middle and touches of trombone from Fred Simmons to add contemporary backing to Schneckenburger’s voice. Flynn Cohen, mandolinist, guitarist, and singer, is the third member of Low Lily. His instrumental Northern Spy offers a fascinating conversation between his mandolin and Schneckbuger’s fiddle, with Simmons on guitar and Corey DiMario on double bass anchoring the sound. These New England based musicians, each with solo credits and supporting work with top names in folk, American and Celtic music to their credit, really know what they are doing. Take a listen to this recording (there are three more tracks, each as good as these above) and look for chances to see Low Lilly live in your travels.
When Harald Haugaard started out with violin study with classical music. He kept finding himself drawn to the melodies and stories of Denmark’s folk traditions, though, so much so that when he was at university he convinced the head of the school to allow him to follow that path — and along the way opened the door for a folk music course of study there. Listeners from both folk and classical backgrounds will find much to like about Haugaard’s latest recording Lys og Forfald. There is quiet precision in some tracks, lively rhythm in others, invitation to meditate and to dance, to appreciate the clear lead of Haugaard’s fiddle and the conversations with fellow players as well. He had thought this would be a rather dark album, but as he began to think and to compose the music, he found “that what was important to me was the beauty and light to be found in endings, in solitude, in autumn,” he says. Calling on old friends as well as past and present band members, he offers quiet reflection in the tune September, a celebration of the connection found through music in in Sostre og Brodre/Sisters and Brothers, a story of journey, adventure, challenge in Skye Havnen. The idea of light and decay, Lys og Forfald, became the centerpiece of Haugaard’s thinking and in many ways draws the themes together. The solace of wild spaces, looking back and forward at other musical journeys also form part of the story. He bring things to a close playing his fiddle solo on Morgen/Morning. Lys og Forfald offers a journey well worth taking more than once.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sarah McQuaid knows about journeys and about places of the imagination too. She was born in Spain, grew up in Chicago, lived for a time in Ireland, and these last years has been based in Cornwall in the southwest of England. One of the things she does there is read stories to her son and daughter. While reading Arthur Ransome’s tales to them, images and ideas stayed in her mind, things she’d later use to spark three of the songs on her latest recording Walking Into White. The title track carries the story of two children lost in a fog on the moor to speak to uncertainty and faith in spare yet compelling ways. In a different way, so does another song inspired by Ransome’s work, called Where the Wind Decides to Blow. “It’s all going brilliantly until the blizzard arrives…like so many things that seem like great fun until you discover you’re not in control of the situation and it suddenly gets a bit scary,” McQuaid says. Many of the fourteen pieces on the collection have to do with different ways of facing uncertainty and how you might get through, framed with economy in poetic and accessible images. McQuaid has a musical vision of journey and trust to share, and a fine voice with which to do so. For this recording she enlisted Adam Pierce and Jerome Backofen, producers who come from musical backgrounds outside the folk world, to help create her sonic ideas. Through words and voice and arrangement, with Walking Into White McQuaid has created a collection which may open new new ideas for you on thinking about travel and sense of place.
Photographs by and courtesy of Alexandra Latypova, Albert Bridge, and Curtis Mac Newton
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