Thursday, March 5, 2015

Folk Alliance International 2015: Lainey Jones and The Lively Spirits

Folk Alliance International is a non-profit organization that sponsors an industry conference for the folk music industry every year, attended by artists, record companies, manufacturers, music publishers, music support services, presenters, managers and agents. This year marks the second year that the conference takes place in Kansas City, Missouri. With a membership of over 2,000 people Folk Alliance is among the top five largest conferences in North America. Thursday, February 19th, was the second day of the conference and one of the best acts that night was a band called Laney Jones and The Lively Spirits.
                Laney Jones and The Lively Spirits were a band that I stumbled upon completely accidentally. And am I sure glad that I did. Though Jones and her band—Matthew Tonner, Curtis Seligson, and Alex Shames—are from Florida, they are not without local ties. Jones landed at Berklee College of Music in 2013 where she studied until, in typical Berklee fashion, she left to tour with her own band.  Since then she has  been busy touring up and down the East Coast. Recently she made her debut on national TV as part of Great Performances on PBS. She performed her track “Broken Hearts” as part of a masterclass with Alison Krauss. Her style is an even blend of the old and the new, Pop meets Americana, some Brandi Carlile and some Patty Griffin with a little bit of Sara Bareilles thrown in for good measure. She performed a selection of songs from her self-produced 2014 debut Golden Road, as well as from her upcoming new record, due out in 2015.

                Laney Jones and The Lively Spirits will even be making a pit stop in Cambridge at The Lizard Lounge on March 5th

Folk Alliance International 2015: Midwest Music Foundation Showcase

Folk Alliance International is a non-profit organization that sponsors an industry conference for the folk music industry every year, attended by artists, record companies, manufacturers, music publishers, music support services, presenters, managers and agents. This year marks the second year that the conference takes place in Kansas City, Missouri. With a membership of over 2,000 people Folk Alliance is among the top five largest conferences in North America.
                One of the best showcases of the night was that of the Midwest Music Foundation, an educational arts organization that unites performer and audience and fills a health care
gap for Kansas City musicians. Kansas City musicians, Nate Allen and David George, took turns alternating playing songs one at a time rather than each doing separate complete sets, which was an atypical showcasing technique but was successful given the variation in the musicians’ performance styles.
                Nate Allen, a Eugene, Oregon native who has been in Kansas City long enough to “almost call [him]self a local” is one half of the folk-punk duo Destroy Nate Allen. His other half, his wife, Tessa, was not with him on that evening. Allen’s voice has a Ben-Gibbard quality popular with indie kids and teen girls worldwide, combined with quirky lyrics such as, “Green Day changed my life in ‘94” from his 2010 song “Small Town” and his DIY attitude—most of his music has been self-released—and eccentric vibe made for a charming performance overall.

               David George had been playing with John Fogerty since 2012 but left recently to pursue a solo career. He said that while playing for John Fogerty he played him a song, and Fogerty said, “You wrote that song? That’s a great song” and those were the words of encouragement he needed. That song, “Good Man Gone” is about  two-month period of time in which he lived with four women, in their closet, until they kicked him out. Now under the name of David George and A Crooked Mile, George plans to release three singles and a full album by the end of the year. 

Black History Month at WUMB: :Lead Belly

The month of February is Black History month, and to celebrate it here at WUMB we are highlighting artists who have shaped the history of music over time. Today we highlight blues and folk musician, Lead Belly.
                Huddie William Ledbetter, better known by his stage name “Lead Belly”, was born the younger of two children in Louisiana, until moving to Bowie County, Texas at the age of five. By his early teens he was already performing in Shreveport, Louisiana where he began to develop his individual style of vocals and on guitar. In his early twenties he left his family to hit the road to make a living as a musician. It was in 1912 that he wrote the song, “The Titanic”, on what would become his signature instrument, the twelve string guitar. The song tells the story of a black man being denied passage on The Titanic because of his race, based on an actual experience of Lead Belly’s—though not on The Titanic.
                Lead Belly found himself in trouble with the law on numerous occasions, sentenced to time on a chain gang, as well as being sentenced to jail time multiple times, and it is believed that he acquired the name Lead Belly during one of his sentences.  In 1930 he was sentenced to time in Angola Prison Farm in Louisiana. Three years into Lead Belly’s sentence John Lomax and his son Alan, travelling folklorists, visited the prison and discovered Lead Belly’s musical talent. They recorded him for the first time in 1933. The next year the Lomaxes returned and recorded more than a hundred of Lead Belly’s songs including “Goodnight Irene”. It was the Lomaxes who wrote the petition to the governor that allowed Lead Belly to be released from prison.
                Lead Belly became well-known after performing at a smoker at a meeting for The Modern Language Association at Bryn Mawr College, where he became known as the “singing convict” who had sung his way out of prison. The publicity he received led to his being the subject of one of Time Magazine’s earliest March of Time newsreels. One week later Lead Belly found himself recording with the American Record Corporation recording over 40 sides, though only five were ever released. John Lomax became his manager, with whom he parted on bad terms. Lead Belly then went to New York and performed two shows a day at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in a live recreation of his Time Life newsreel. From there he went on to find success playing for folk audiences.
                In 1939 Lead Belly was imprisoned again for assaulting a man in Manhattan. Alan Lomax came to his aid this time, dropping out of graduate school to raise money for Lead Belly’s legal expenses. The relationship between Lead Belly and the younger Lomax allowed him to appear on nation-wide radio show Back Where I Come From, to become a fixture in the folk scene befriending the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and to become the first American country blues musician to be successful in Europe.

While on tour in in France in 1949 Lead Belly was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. John Lomax had died earlier that year, and it was to him that Lead Belly dedicated his final performance at the University of Texas at Austin. He passed away in New York in December of 1949. Since his passing Lead Belly’s music has been covered by musicians ranging from Elvis Presley to Nirvana. 

Black History Month at WUMB: Bessie Smith

The month of February is Black History month, and to celebrate it here at WUMB we are highlighting artists who have shaped the history of music over time. Today we highlight Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.
On April 15th, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee Bessie Smith was born. After the passing of both of her parents, Smith and her siblings were raised by their oldest sister, Viola. To earn money for the family Smith and her brother Andrew busked on the street—he played guitar and she sang and danced. Another of her brothers, Clarence, was in a performance troupe that also included Ma Rainey. Smith joined the troupe in 1912 first as a dancer and later as a singer.
It was at Atlanta’s 81 Theater that Smith’s career really took off, developing her own act and making a name for herself on the East Coast and in The South. Frank Walker saw her perform and signed her to Columbia Records. Her first recording featured “Downhearted Blues” as well as “Gulf Coast Blues” quickly became a hit turning Smith into a headlining act—touring year round—and the highest paid African American entertainer of the time. She ultimately made 160 recordings for the Columbia accompanied by musicians such as Charlie Green, Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson and others. In addition to her recording career Bessie Smith also appeared on Broadway in the musical Pansy, and the film St. Louis Blues.

On September 26, 1937 Bessie Smith passed away of injuries sustained in a fatal car accident. Over 7,000 people attended her funeral, yet despite this fact she was buried without a headstone until Janis Joplin gave her one in 1970. Since her death three of Smith’s songs have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame; “Downhearted Blues”, “St. Louis Blues”, and “Empty Bed Blues”. “Downhearted Blues” is held in particular esteem, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll, as well as being included in the Songs of The Century by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry of America. Bessie Smith inspired works of literature by J.D. Salinger and Edward Albee as well as a musical by Angelo Parra. An HBO film entitled Bessie and starring Queen Latifah will premiere on the network this spring. 

Black History Month at WUMB: Elizabeth Cotten

The month of February is Black History month, and to celebrate it here at WUMB we are highlighting artists who have shaped the history of music over time. Today we highlight folk and blues songwriter, musician and singer, Elizabeth Cotten.
Elizabeth Cotten was born Elizabeth Nevills, the youngest of five children, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1893. She started her musical career by playing her brother’s banjo, then saving her money to buy a guitar at the age of 11. Naturally left-handed,  Cotten taught herself to play guitar using a right-handed guitar and holding it upside down. She then played the melody with her thumb and the bass line with her fingers, inventing a style now known as “Cotten Picking”. She married Frank Cotten at the age of seventeen, gave birth to their child and subsequently retired from playing music for the next twenty-five years.
While working in a department store Cotten met composer Ruth Seeger of the musical Seeger family and went to work as the caretaker for the Seeger children and a maid for the family. It was due to the influence of the Seegers that she rediscovered her love of the guitar. Mike Seeger recorded Cotten in the late 1950’s, creating the foundation for her album Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar.

She started her touring career playing with Mike Seeger and then went on to play with the likes of Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, and John Lee Hooker, as well as performing at the Newport Folk Festival. She won the 1984 Grammy Award for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” for her album Elizabeth Cotten Live and in 1989 was included in the photo documentary I Dream A World, depicting the 75 most influential African American Women . Her songs have been covered by artists including but not limited to Taj Mahal, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Doc Watson, Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.

Black History Month at WUMB: Nina Simone

The month of February is Black History month, and to celebrate it here at WUMB we are highlighting artists who have shaped the history of music over time. Today we highlight the “High Priestess of Soul”, singer, civil rights activist, arranger, songwriter and pianist, Nina Simone.
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in 1933, Simone was the sixth of what would be eight children in Tryon, North Carolina. Simone began playing piano at the age of three, and gave her first concert at twelve years old. This concert would later inspire her to join the Civil Rights Movement. Her parents had been sitting in the front row of the audience and were forced to move to the back so that white people could have their seats. Simone refused to play until they were allowed to return to the front row. Simone’s mother, Mary Kate Waymon, worked as a maid and her employer, upon discovering how talented Mary Kate’s daughter was, paid for Simone’s piano lessons. A scholarship fund was also set up in the town to pay for Simone’s education at Allen High School for Girls in Asheville, North Carolina. After graduating from Allen High School for Girls Simone auditioned for the Curtis Institute but was not accepted, a decision that she believed to be based on her race. So she moved to New York and attended Julliard instead.
In order to pay for private lessons Simone performed in Atlantic City and it was there that she adopted the name Nina Simone. A boyfriend had given her the nickname niƱa, meaning girl, so she took the first name of Nina. Simone came from the French actress Simone Signoret who she had seen in the film Casque D’or. It was while performing in small clubs that Simone recorded her only Top 20 hit, “I Loves You, Porgy” from the musical Porgy and Bess and her debut album Little Girl Blue. Unfortunately she sold the rights to the record for $3,000 and therefore never profited from the album sales. In 1961 Simone married Andrew Stroud, a New York police detective, who would later become her manager.
It was in 1964, after switching her record distributer from Colpix to Dutch Phillips, that she released Nina Simone in Concert. This album which featured tracks such as, “Old Jim Crow” and “Mississippi Goddam”, was her first to openly address racial inequality in America. As a Civil Rights Activist Simone spoke and performed at multiple Civil Rights meetings including but not limited to  the Selma To Montgomery Marches. On April 7th, 1968, three days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, she performed at the Westbury Music Fair. Her entire performance was dedicated to Dr. King, and she performed the song that Gene Taylor, her bassist, had written immediately after receiving the news of his death, “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”. She also converted the unfinished play, To Be Young, Gifted and Black by the late Lorraine Hansberry, who contributed greatly to Simone’s political and social ideologies, into a into a Civil Rights Song, along with composer, poet, musician and playwright, Weldon Irvine. The song was later covered by Aretha Franklin and Donny Hathaway.
Simone flew to Barbados in 1970 without telling Stroud, her manager at that time, that she was leaving. Upon her return it was brought to her attention that, due to unpaid taxes in protest of The Vietnam War, there was a warrant for her arrest. She returned to Barbados where she stayed for a period of time, then moving to Liberia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and France where she settled in 1992. Her autobiography, I Put A Spell On You was recorded that same year. She died of breast cancer a year later and her ashes were scattered across numerous African countries.  She has been cited as an inspiration to artists including John Lennon, Emile Sande, Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave, Amanda Palmer, Van Morrison, Lana Del Rey, Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and many more.


Black History Month at WUMB: Robert Johnson

                The month of February is Black History month, and to celebrate it here at WUMB we are highlighting artists who have shaped the history of music over time. Today we highlight master of the Blues, Robert Johnson.
Robert Johnson , was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on May 8th, 1911 though as a musician he moved  everywhere from the Mississippi Delta, to Memphis,  Arkansas. Along with fellow blues musicians such as Henry Townsend and Johnny Shines he also brought his music to Indiana, Chicago, Kentucky, Texas, Canada and New York.
Johnson’s first ever recording session was with famed producer, Don Law—who would be the only person to produce Johnson’s recordings, in Room 414 of The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas on November 23rd, 1936. He played sixteen songs over the course of the three-day session, including “Terraplane Blues”, “Come On In My Kitchen” and others, along with alternate versions for most of the tracks. In 1937 Johnson and Law got together for a second session, this time in the Dallas Warner Brothers building. These proved to be his only recording sessions as he passed away on August 16, 1938. He was twenty-seven.
Now known as the Master of The Blues, Johnson was known in his lifetime for his ability to play various styles and allegedly could learn songs by ear. He was also known for his unique voice which Eric Clapton describes as, “the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice”. His guitar has often been described as the “second voice” in his songs and on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 2010 “500 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” Johnson ranked at number five.

Though Robert Johnson was not commercially popular in his lifetime, in 1961 Columbia Records released a compilation of his records entitled King of The Delta Blues Singers which allowed his music to be heard by larger audiences and his influence has spread to genres beyond The Blues. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has  included four of his songs—“Love In Vain”, “Sweet Home Chicago”, “Hellhound On My Trail”, and “Cross Road Blues”, on their list of 500 songs that have influence Rock and Roll. He has also won two posthumous Grammy Awards, the first in 1990 for “Best Historical Album” garnered by The Complete Recordings, a collection of everything he ever recorded, and the second was a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. Today his legacy lives on and his music has been immortalized in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. More information can be found at 

In-Studio Performance: Patrick Coman, January 23rd, 2015.

WUMB’s very own Patrick Coman, host of Local Folk,(Saturdays from Noon to 2PM) switched sides of the mic on January 23rd to perform tracks from his brand new album Reds & Blues for Dominick’s weekly Local Spotlight. In addition to being a musician and the host of Local Folk, Coman serves as the organizer of the For The Sake of The Song series, a concert series featuring bands and songwriters performing either the music of or music inspired by their favorite artists. It was through this series that Reds & Blues really came together, particularly in the almost-title track “Red Diamond Blues”—inspired by Bob Dylan and The Band’s The Basement Tapes—with which he started the set.
                Being such a fixture in the Boston music scene it would  be reasonable to assume that Patrick Coman is a Boston native. This, however, is not the case. His journey began in Oklahoma and made a stop in Berlin before landing him in Boston, his home of the last five years. He chronicles this trip in the song “Foreign Tongue”—influenced by Tom Petty’s Wildflowers—written during his move to Boston.  When asked about living in such different locations he said, “I met a girl and followed her around”. Coman then finished the set with “My Baby’s Been Good To Me” written for that same girl.

                The Reds & Blues CD release party will be at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge on January 24th. Coman and will play two sets;  one of his own songs followed by a cover-set featuring music from the seven albums that influenced the record. More information at