Exploring through music: whether your plans include a microtrip nearby, a walk in the neighborhood, or staying safe at home, that’s a good way to travel. take a trip. Travel through the work of artists who explore roots and branches of US history, community, and landscape in ways that may make you sing along — and ways that will make you think, too.
Songs of Our Native Daughters certainly meets both those aspects. It is a marker, if you will, of the resilience of Black women in past and present. There are stories of slavery times, and recent ones; each resonates with musicality, creativity, and insight. Rhiannon Giddens often focuses her music on o stories drawn from the roots of Black history and she at first thought to create a project to do with the minstrel history of the banjo.
When she got together with fellow banjo players Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell at producer Dirk Powell’s studio in Louisiana, though, they found wider views of history calling them to reinterpret older tunes and texts and create new ones. You will hear excellent banjo picking and fine singing going on. You will also hear stories of, and told with, courage and honesty.
Eliza Gilkyson knows more than a bit about how to write thoughtful lyrics and melodies which invite singing along. The Austin based two time Grammy nominee’s album 2020 contains a number of those sorts of songs. Whatever the tempo or musical style, both her storyteller’s voice and her storyteller’s words invite close listening.
She wrote most of the material for this album before its namesake year began, Stories of climate change, political division, and the search for courage are not new subjects for Gilkyson;s music, nor for roots music itself. In this year her songs are all the more resonant, however, and the threads of hope, connection, and commitment to peace which she weaves through them all the more vital.
Eileen Ivers grew up the daughter of Irish immigrants in the Bronx in New York. Though she has strong roots and connections in Irish music. she’s also ventured far beyond that, from early days when she first put down her acoustic fiddle to try out an electric one to recent use of looping and other ways to add to to her top class fiddle playing.
On her album Scatter the Light, she mixes and melds song and tune from the roots and branches of her experiences, writing songs that she recruits fine singers to embody, and having that world class Irish fiddle playing sit alongside her skills in jazz, blues, and other genres, as well. Family, faith, gratitude, resilience, hope, and even Ivers‘s love of science (she has a degree in math) come into play, mixing things up in ways not unlike her career, and similar to the the mix and match cultures of her native Bronx, too.
Cindy Cashdollar knows about maintaining a strong identity through varied musical and geographic landscapes, too. She grew up in the musical crossroads of Woodstock, New York where her family name (yes, it’s her real one) goes back generations. Her love for slide and steel guitar took her to Nashville, though, and eventually to Austin, Texas, for longtime membership with the roots rock/western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
Since leaving the band to pursue wider ranges of music, she’s added her fire and steel sound to projects by Bob Dylan, Marcia Ball, Rory Block, Van Morrison, and many others. It had ben quite a time since Cashdollar had made an album of her own, though. She decided it was time. Waltz for Abilene includes the heretofore unrecorded title track as well as a dozen markers from across her work. Collaborating with some of the artisits she’s worked with, Cashdollar takes a slide, dobro, and steel journey through American roots music, from country rock to blues, gospel to Texas swing, and back again. It’s a journey well worth the taking.
Jud Caswell’s home is in Maine. That’s where he chose to record his album Live at the Seagull Shop. The songs and tunes include pieces inspired by Maine’s landscape and seasons, a family story or two, a political song, a dash of humour, and a few Celtic songs and tunes thrown in for good measure. Caswell is a fine singer and an excellent player.
In recent years the award winning musician has stayed close to home to tend to his young family. Live at the Seagull Shop proves it has been a fruitful creative time.
Singer and songwriter Carrie Newcomer loves to tour — she’s taken her music all across the United Stae as well as to India, Kenya, Germany, the UK, and places beyond — and she loves spending time at her home in the woods in central Indiana.
Walking in those woods grounds her when she returns from the road, she has said. Those walks have also offered reflective time and inspiration for much of her music. Carrie Newcomer Live at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre with Friends is a fine place to here a good sampling that. Drawing from across her recorded work for this live show, Newcomer offered songs that tell of the Indiana rocks called geodes, a train ride she took in Germany, driving home through the Indiana snow, a story from the history of the Ohio Valley, as well as ever with Newcomer, calls to see beyond the day to day, to look for deeper meanings to see the sacred in the ordinary.
American routes and American roots: whether you journey through geography or imagination, the work of these musicians will offer you new ways to explore. Take some time with them. You will be well rewarded.
Photograph of Our Native Daughters by Terri Faset; photograph of Eliza Gilkyson by Phillip Rosenthal; photograph of Cindy Cashdollar by Chuck Holley; photograph of Jud Caswell courtesy of the artist; photograph of Carrie Newcomer by Jim Krause
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