Thursday, April 23, 2015

Local Folk Spotlight: Providence, RI

This Saturday on Local Folk we celebrate the release of Axis Mundi, the final studio album from Rhode Island duo Brown Bird, by spotlighting the flourishing music scene of Providence, RI.

Brown Bird founder David Lamb released albums as far back as 2003, but it was not until the summer of 2008 when a chance encounter with MorganEve Swain led to full blown partnership musically and otherwise(the two would eventually marry). Together the pair organically wove elements of folk, psych rock, Balkan and gypsy grooves, while touring and recording relentlessly. That process was abruptly cut short in May of 2013 when Lamb was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, to which he would eventually succumb in April of 2014. A year later, the final recordings (many of which were undertaken during Lamb’s treatment) are being released as the album Axis Mundi, named for the place where heaven and earth meet.

If 2008 was the genesis of Brown Bird’s wildly inventive sound, it was also a breakout year for another Providence group that insistently pushed past folk-rock labels. That year The Low Anthem released their third album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, which would eventually be picked up by Nonesuch Records leading to performances at festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Austin City Limits.

Although currently touring less, members Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky, and Bryan Minto, continue to channel the group’s DIY ethos (the band would famously dumpster dive for cereal boxes to hand cut and silk screen for their first CD covers) with the opening of the Columbus Theater and Cooperative . The theater, originally built in 1926, had fallen into disrepair by the mid-2000s. Following extensive rehabilitation it was opened under the direction of the co-op in 2012. Since then it has been critical in raising the profile of Providence artists as well as showcasing performers like Charles Bradley, Juliana Hatfield, and Hurray For the Riff Raff. Says Columbus programming manager Tom Weyman, “We want the Columbus to be the bloody beating heart of Providence's music scene, unpolished, where art is created and performed, and where musicians are inspired to do their best work.”

Following the breakout success of groups like The Low Anthem and Brown Bird, there has been a rise in the regional and national profile of Providence artists like Joe Fletcher (recently departed to Nashville), The Silks, Smith&Weeden, and many more. Tune in this Saturday to Local Folk to hear just a few examples of the artists who have contributed to this rise as well as those who are positioned to continue building the city’s reputation in New England and beyond.

The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Then and Now April 21st, 2015: Cowboy Junkies

Every weekday at 8 PM is Then and Now with Brendan Hogan. This is when Brendan plays a set of songs back to back from the same artist emphasizing the beginning and the current status of their career. Tonight he will be playing "Walkin' After Midnight" and "We Are The Selfish Ones" from Cowboy Junkies.

Margo Timmins, Alan Anton, Peter Timmins and Michael Timmins founded Cowboy Junkies in Toronto in 1985. They released their debut record, Whites Off Earth Now!!--produced by Peter Moore and recorded in their family garage--the following year. The band gained notoriety, however, this their 1988 sophomore release, The Trinity Session, recorded on a single microphone at The Church of The Holy Trinity in Toronto.

Walkin' After Midnight: The Trinity Session is comprised of a mixture of covers and original material. "Walkin' After Midnight" is a cover of the song performed by Patsy Cline and written by Donn Hecht and Alan Block. The songs on The Trinity Session were inspired by the music the band heard while The South on the U.S. leg of their Whites Off Earth Now!! tour. It was producer Peter Moore who suggested recording in the church because of the natural reverb in the building. The band referred to themselves as The Timmins Family Singers and said that they were recording a Christmas Special in order to gain access to the building.

We Are The Selfish Ones: "We Are The Selfish Ones" is taken from Volume 4: The Wilderness of The Nomad Series, box set from 2012. The Nomad Series is a four disc box set spanning an eighteen month cycle between 2010 and 2012 . Each disc displays a different style of the group, Volume 1, Renmin Park, shows their experimental side, Volume 2: Demons is comprised of all Vic Chesnutt covers, Volume 3: Sing In My Meadow is more fun and boisterous and The Wilderness serves as the introspective, atmospheric one.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Daily Dylan April 17th, 2015: "Tears of Rage", "On The Road Again", "Forever Young (Live)"

Every day at 5:30 PM Albert highlights songs spanning Bob Dylan's career from deep cuts to collaborations, to recent recordings. Today he is featuring "Tears of Rage", "On The Road Again", and "Forever Young (Live)" from The Last Waltz. 

Tears of Rage: "Tears of Rage"--melody by Richard Manuel and lyrics by Bob Dylan--was recorded both by The Band on Music From Big Pink  and Bob Dylan and The Band on The Basement Tapes. Considered one of the most celebrated tracks from The Basement Tapes, it was in fact first recorded in 1967 during rehearsals at Big Pink, The Band's house in Upstate New York with The Band backing Dylan on lead vocals. This version of the song was widely bootlegged but wasn't officially released until The Basement Tapes in 1975. The non-Dylan version with Richard Manuel on lead vocals, however, was featured on The Band's Music From Big Pink in 1968. The song has since been recorded by various artists including Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Gene Clark.

On The Road Again: Produced by Tom Wilson--the famed produced who also worked with such acts as The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, and Simon and Garfunkel among others--and recorded in January, 1965, "On The Road Again" is featured on the electric first side of Dylan's fifth studio album, Bringing It All Back Home. The record is separated into two sides: the electric side and the acoustic side. On the whole Bringing It All Back Home, continued to distance Dylan from the folk community as on the electric side he had a rock band backing him and the second song featured more personal lyrics than the protest songs he was known for. It was also the first of Dylan's albums to break the Billboard Top 10, peaking at number 6.

Forever Young (Live): This track originally was featured on Dylan's 1974 album, Planet Waves, in both a slow and a fast version. The record--Dylan's fourteenth--was also a collaboration with The Band and was supported by a reunion tour beginning a few weeks before its release. It was originally slated to be titled Ceremonies of The Horsemen, a callback to the track "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" off of Bringing It All Back Home, but Dylan chose to change the title at the last minute, delaying the album's release. This version is a live recording, on November 25th, 1976, from what was supposed to be The Band's final show. Other guest performers included Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, The Staple Singers, Neil Young, Bobby Charles, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Martin Scorsese filmed the concert for a documentary of the same name, which came out in 1978.

Friday, April 10, 2015

In-Studio Performance: Claudia Russell and Bruce Kaplan

Husband and wife duo Claudia Russell and Bruce Kaplan celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary just a few days ago. "This is our Silver Anniversary" Russell joked when they stopped by the station for an in-studio session and interview with Dave on April 10th, performing a set that included "You Are The Light", a song that they had meant to perform at their wedding. The two met when their individual bands booked a gig at the same club and entered into not only a life partnership, but a musical partnership as well. "Most couples argue about money and the house, we argue about song keys," Kaplan laughed.

The first song in their set was "Pirate Girls", coincidentally the opening track on their latest album All Our Luck Is Changing. It describes an intimate friendship between two young girls prior to one moving away--painting a picture of large backyards and summer days spent outside until dark. Both are images from Russell's childhood, though not describing a single friendship of hers but bits and pieces from many, "a conglomeration, like bringing different bits of clay together". Kaplan, who co-wrote the song--stated that though he only wrote two lines, he did have two close friends who moved away in his childhood and that feeling is what the song evokes for him. 

"This song is arguably a jig," Kaplan said as the duo launched into their second tune "Follow Your Tail Lights Home", also from All Our Luck Is Changing. Peter Case, whom Kaplan had known since 1979. Russell had taken two of his songwriting classes as well. Describing the process they said, "Peter is kind of a beatnik... he always gives 110%." 

Russell and Kaplan closed out the set with "I Remember The Wind". They perform at The Linden Tree Coffeehouse in Wakefield tomorrow, April 11th, and Club Passim at 3:30 PM Sunday, April 12th. More information can be found at 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

In-Studio Performance: Session Americana 3/31

Local folk-rock super-group Session Americana are no strangers to the WUMB studio. The band includes members of New England outfits  Maybe Baby, Treat Her Right, Chauncey, Resophonics, Face To Face, The Funky White Honkies and Morphine among others. The whole group currently consists of Billy Beard, Ry Cavanaugh, Dinty Child, Jim Fitting, Jon Bistline, Kimon Kirk, Laura Cortese, Dietrich Strause, Jefferson Hamer, Alec Spiegelman, Adam Moss, Anais Mitchell, Zachariah Hickman, Charlie Rose, Duke Levine, Eliza Carthy and Jennifer Kimball. The original lineup—Sean Staples, Cortese, Child, Beard, Fitting, Bistline, Hamer, Kirk, and Cavanaugh—formed in 2004 at Toad in Cambridge, the band facing each other around a table with a single microphone in the center, a tradition they continue.

The entirety of Session Americana was represented in-studio at WUMB on March 31st by four of its members; Ry Cavanaugh, Jim Fitting, Laura Cortese, and Dinty Child. They kicked off their set with “All For You”—a co-write between Cavanaugh and Dietrich Strauss—from their latest record Pack Up The Circus featuring Cavanaugh on vocals, Fitting on harmonica, Cortese on fiddle and vocals and Child on accordion. 

Pack Up The Circus, the band’s 9th overall release, was created partially utilizing the recent phenomenon of online crowd-funding campaigns. The band self-funded the album as much as they could before turning to crowd-funding—which they see more as pre-sales than anything else—recording the majority of it in three days. It also features many guest performers who had toured with the band members in the last few years. 

Anais Mitchell who had worked with the band off and on for five years or so, and was the first person to bring the band to perform out of town when they opened for her and served as the “shepherd” of the group, guiding them along and finding the ability to mesh all of the “strong personalities in the room”.

Pack Up The Circus is currently available. More information on Session Americana can be found at

Friday, March 27, 2015

In-Studio Performance: Markus James, March 26th, 2015.

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Markus James, known for his West African-influenced blues stopped by the studio to chat with Dave on March 26th, before heading over to his show at Johnny D's later that night. James grew up in the Washington DC area where his first musical influence, when he was just four years old, was an old blind man playing the blues on the sidewalk. As an adult James made R&B and Rock music in Northern California, but it was on his 1994 trip to Mali that his current style began to develop. Since then he has studied, written and recorded with many Malian musicians including the "Malian Bluesman" Ali Farka Toure.

With him on percussion was Marlon Green, a drummer who toured with John Lee Hooker during the last year and a half of Hooker's life. Green approached the percussion for each song in a very unique style. Rather than using actual drums Green alternated between playing his knees, a stool, and even an upside down recycling bin. James played a gourd banjo he had  built himself from a gourd, deer hide, and even Indian camel bone using a blue-glass slide on his pinky.

Markus James latest record, Head For the Hills was released on September 30th of last year and is currently available.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Remembering John Renbourn

John Renbourn was a beautiful and gentle man. His guitar playing was one of the foundations of the English Finger Style. First as a soloist, then with American Dorris Henderson, Renbourn worked the folk clubs of the U.K. In Glasgow he met Bert Jansch and things clicked. First as a duo and then as the foundation of the legendary band Pentangle. Following the breakup of that group, he often toured with his own John Renbourn Group and later Ship of Fools which included both Steve Tilston and Maggie Boyle. His recordings were eclectic, ranging from American Blues and Old Time Country to Medieval music styles.

John Renbourn passed away today at age 70. He was both a master and an innovator. He is missed.

-Dave Palmater

Friday, March 20, 2015

Celebrating Women In Music: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sunday, March 8th was International Women's Day, an entire day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women across the globe. Here at WUMB we are celebrating the contributions of women in music for the entire month of March. Today we highlight American recording artist, singer, guitarist and songwriter, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Rosetta Nubin Tharpe was one of gospel music’s first superstars, the first gospel performer to record for a major record label, and an early crossover artist from gospel to secular music. Tharpe has been cited as an influence by countless musicians, including Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.. She is credited with bringing gospel music into the mainstream in the 1930s and 1940s. She toured until her death in 1973.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was born Rosetta Nubin on March 20, 1915, in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Although the identity of her father is unknown, Tharpe's mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was a singer, mandolin player and evangelist preacher for the Church of God in Christ. The church encouraged musical expression in worship and allowed women to preach. With the support of her mother, Tharpe began singing and playing the guitar from a very young age. She could sing and keep on pitch and hold a melody – unusual for someone so young - and on guitar she played individual notes, melodies, and riffs instead of just strumming chords.

Tharpe began performing onstage with her mother from the age of four, playing the guitar and singing "Jesus Is on the Main Line." By age six, she had joined her mother as a regular performer in a traveling evangelical troupe. Billed as a "singing and guitar playing miracle," Tharpe accompanied her mother in sermons and performances in front of audiences all across the American South.

In the mid-1920's, Tharpe and her mother settled in Chicago, Illinois, where the duo continued to perform religious concerts in a church on 40th Street while occasionally traveling to perform at churches throughout the country. As a result, Tharpe developed considerable fame as a musical prodigy, standing out in an era when prominent black female guitarists remained very rare; blues legend Memphis Minnie was the only such performer to enjoy national fame at the time.

In 1934, at the age of 19, Rosetta Tharpe married a preacher named Thomas Thorpe, who had accompanied her and her mother on many of their tours. Although the marriage only lasted a short time, she decided to incorporate a version of her first husband's surname into her stage name, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which she would use for the rest of her career.

In 1938, Tharpe moved to New York City, where she signed with Decca Records. On October 31 of that year, she recorded four songs for Decca: "Rock Me," "That's All," "The Man and I" and "The Lonesome Road." The first gospel songs ever recorded for Decca, all four of these recordings became instant hits, establishing Tharpe as one of the nation's first commercially successful gospel singer.

Then, on December 23, 1938, Tharpe performed in John Hammond's famous Spirituals to Swing Concert at Carnegie Hall. Her performance was controversial and revolutionary in several respects. Performing gospel music in front of secular audiences and alongside blues and jazz musicians was highly unusual, and within conservative religious circles the mere fact of a woman performing guitar music was frowned upon. Musically, Tharpe's unique guitar style blended melody-driven urban blues with traditional folk arrangements and incorporated a syncopated swing sound that is one of the first clear precursors of rock and roll. The performance awed the Carnegie Hall audience. Later Tharpe gained even more notoriety by performing regularly with jazz legend Cab Calloway at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.

During the early 1940s, Tharpe continued to fuse the worlds of religious gospel music with more secular sounds, producing music that defied easy classification. Accompanied by Lucky Millinder's orchestra, she recorded such secular hits as "Shout Sister Shout," "That's All" and "I Want a Tall Skinny Papa." "That's All" was the first record on which Tharpe played the electric guitar; a sound that would have an influence on such later players as Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
Tharpe kept up a grueling tour schedule, performing her gospel music in churches as well as playing secular clubs. One highlight was a weeklong stint on stage at New York's famous Café Society before racially mixed crowds. Tharpe's considerable crossover appeal was demonstrated during World War II when she became one of only two African American gospel artists to be asked to record "V-Discs" (the "V" stood for "victory") for American troops overseas.

In the mid-1940s, Tharpe scored another musical breakthrough by teaming up with blues pianist Sammy Price to record music featuring an unprecedented combination of piano, guitar, and gospel singing. The duo's two most famous tracks, recorded in 1944, were "Strange Things Happening Every Day" and "Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread." However, in the face of intense criticism from the religious community, who viewed her jazzy collaborations with Price as the devil's music, Tharpe returned to recording more Christian music later in the 1940s. In 1947, she formed a duet with fellow gospel singer Marie Knight to record such spiritual traditional gospel songs as "Oh When I Come to the End of My Journey," "Stretch Out" and "Up Above My Head" ("I Hear Music in the Air").

Tharpe married again in July of 1951.The ceremony at a stadium in Washington, D.C., attended by some 25,000 paying audience members, featured a gospel performance by Tharpe in her wedding dress and finished with a massive fireworks display.

In 1953, Tharpe and Knight deviated from the gospel genre to record a secular blues album. The experiment proved disastrous. Not only was the album a commercial failure, it also earned both artists widespread condemnation from the religious community that had provided their most loyal fan base. Tharpe and Knight parted ways shortly after the album's release and neither ever recovered her previous popularity. Tharpe spent the remaining two decades of her career touring Europe and the United States, primarily playing gospel music.
Though she had a much lower profile during these years, Tharpe enjoyed several late-career highlights, including an acclaimed 1960 performance with James Cleveland at the Apollo in Harlem and a 1967 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

While on a European blues tour with Muddy Waters in 1970, Tharpe suddenly fell ill and returned to the United States. She suffered a stroke shortly after her return and, due to complications from diabetes, had to have a leg amputated. Despite her health woes, Tharpe continued to perform regularly for several more years. In October 1973, however, she suffered a second stroke and passed away days later, on October 9, 1973, at the age of 58, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
One of the most celebrated musicians of all time, Sister Rosetta Tharpe enjoyed a celebrity in the 1940s rarely attained by gospel musicians before or since.

Ira Tucker Jr., the son of the legendary gospel singer Ira Tucker of the Dixie Hummingbirds, put it simply: "She was a rock star."

More than just popular, Tharpe was also groundbreaking, profoundly impacting American music history by pioneering the guitar technique that would eventually evolve into the rock and roll style played by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Eric Clapton. However, despite her great popularity and influence on music history, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was first and foremost a gospel musician who shared her spirituality with all those who listened to her music. Her epitaph reads, "She would sing until you cried and then she would sing until you danced for joy. She helped to keep the church alive and the saints rejoicing."