Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Three Weeks to Folk Christmas

Photo: Nice to see Larry back after his months working in Florida

Where did the year go?

We may all be asking that question. The older you get the more often you ask the question. Let us see if we can help relieve the problem of what to buy a spouse, friend, brother, sister and anyone else you can think of.

Here are the supposed top eleven folk albums of the year. According to Stereo Subversion.

1. Laura Gibson, Beasts of Seasons
I have a feeling this will inspire some controversy. However, simply put (and played in this case), Laura Gibson has crafted one of the year’s best albums. Beasts of Seasons never sets out to shock, startle, or aggressively grab you; rather it is an exercise in subtleness that succeeds with staggering achievements. From the somber opening of “Shadows on Parade” Gibson’s latest album paints detailed aural portraits composed around the gentle plucking of a nylon stringed guitar and gracefully ragged vocals. A sprinkling of found sounds fills out the album along with dramatic atmospheric swells of sound, and Gibson’s honest and emotive songwriting keeps listeners hanging on every word.

2. Joker’s Daughter, The Last Laugh
If someone told me at the close of last year that one of 2009’s best folk albums would be an album produced by Danger Mouse, I don’t know if I would have believed them. But here we are and the duo of Helena Costas and Danger Mouse has proven to be a superior pairing. Engaging with Arthurian legend, various folk tropes, and pop music inspired studio techniques, this album manages to span various genres while firmly maintaining an anchor in folk music. From the steady groove of the album opener “Worm’s Head” to the whimsical, at times almost carnival-esque “The Goblin’s Run,” The Last Laugh manages to both surprise and impress, while providing the year’s most unexpected collaborations.

3. Port O’Brien, Threadbare
Muting many of their more overt rock aesthetics, Port O’Brien are back with their third full-length installment. Eschewing much of their more light-hearted material, Threadbare explores a much darker and more sobering sound. This latest album sees Port O’Brien expanding their musical vocabulary, especially evident in the swelling dynamics of “Calm Me Down” and the dramatic pairing of vocals and strings on “Next Season”.

4. Alela Diane, To Be Still
At times you almost have to wonder if Alela Diane is directly channeling Joan Baez’ voice, a comparison I’m sure she is already tired of hearing, but a pertinent one none the less. To Be Still, from its opener to the closing “Lady Divine,” is a hauntingly beautiful album. Austere vocals, beautiful arrangements, and an organic and refreshing approach to music define Diane’s most recent effort. “White As Diamonds” aptly displays Diane’s wealth of talent as her vocals lead an inventive approach to the subtle polyrhythms entrenched in the folk medium.

5. Taken By Trees, East of Eden
Taken By Trees, a.k.a. Victoria Bergsman is picking up exactly where she left off with Open Field, that is mixing her unique vocal timbre with astutely arranged song structures and an interesting cover thrown in for good measure. Leaving behind her jolly rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Bergsman this time around is giving Animal Collective a bit of a re-vamp (or in this case a de-vamp) bringing a whimsical twist to “My Boys.” The rest of the album reflects the unique recording environment these songs were captured in, with the entire album being recorded in Pakistan.

6. Shelley Short, A Cave, A Canoo
Bringing another dose of her stripped down, bare bones, largely acoustic song treatment, Shelley Short has crafted another gem of an album. Featuring a subtly obscured optimism in her bouncing vocals, Short speaks directly to the listener via her acute narratives and skillful manipulation of vocal melody. There is a quiet, wistful quality to her voice that lends her songs a depth of feeling not easily achieved with minimal accompaniment, and these songs resound with originality and importance.

7. Ah Holly Faml’y, Reservoir
Continuing a fine tradition of folk-influenced artists hailing from Portland, Ah Holly Faml’y bring us a multi-layered album that becomes more rewarding with each listen. Boasting eight gifted musicians, Ah Holly Faml’y composes intricate detail oriented chamber-folk, rich in dynamic expression and aural textures, featuring lilting strings interacting with the breathy vocals of Jeremy Faulkner.

8. A Hawk & A Hacksaw, Delivrance
No one said anything about this being an American folk list, and while A Hawk & A Hacksaw may hail from New Mexico, that is about as American as their music gets. Taking a healthy dose of influence from Eastern European and Baltic music, Delivrance offers a collection of songs driven by truly astounding musicianship with fiddle, accordion, brass, and percussion pursuing breakneck tempos, off-kilter timings and complex melodies, all the while offering a culturally diverse sound.

9. Frank Fairfield, Frank Fairfield
Here is a bit of a new one. Having just released his debut full-length this year, Frank Fairfield comes directly from the folds of days long since past. Only amassing a mere 23 years of life experience, Fairfield plays banjo, guitar, and fiddle with a grace and skill most can only imagine. His repertoire consists entirely of traditional American tunes such as “John Hardy” and “Cumberland Gap” played with an intensity and urgency these songs have not felt in years. A gritty, raw, and authentic representation of American roots music at its best.

10. Vic Chesnutt, At The Cut
Never one to play the complacent or indifferent musician, Vic Chesnutt woefully sighs his way through beautifully simplistic melodies driven by words that could weigh down Atlas himself. This album may strike more than just a few minor chords, but all to astounding and riveting effect. Arrangements sculpt emotions into sounds with the aide of members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fugazi, making this album one of the year’s best regardless of genres.

11. The Dodos- Time To Die
Coming in with the furthest leaning rock flavor, The Dodos skillfully pair daft finger-picking with hypnotic vocal phrases and unrelenting percussion. Time To Die continues to display The Dodos ability to turn well-composed songs into fantastic albums, with each song playing an important role in the album as a whole. It doesn’t hurt that the album was produced by Phil Ek either.

Story Teller Wanted

I am looking for a story teller to share the platform with me in August 2010. About thirty minutes of Columbus/ Ohio history content with a little humor. Contact me on 614 846 9049.

This is a paid gig

A Message from Halfway Home.

OK - glad to see you've all survived that whole Thanksgiving thing. Just think of it as a dress rehearsal for the really prolonged holiday madness with family coming up in December. Maybe we all developed some survival strategies that will serve us well later on this month when coping with relatives you only see once a year. While excessive alcohol consumption is a personal favorite of many, there are some obvious downsides, like the hangovers or those annoying former drinkers who become those self-appointed designated drivers who keep trying to get you to join them at their next self-improvement seminar/pep rally while your trying to judge whether or not you can survive jumping out of a moving car as he slows down for the next light.

But we digress......

If you really want to take a break form the holiday madness we've got a brilliant idea - come to Areopagitica Books (3510 North High St in Clintonville) this coming Saturday (Dec 5th) for an evening of music with Halfway Home. We are playing from 7:00 to 9:00. You will have an evening of music and fun with the band, and if you're a smart shopper you'll buy a bunch of our cd's - they fit very nicely in most stockings and gift baskets. Beyond the obvious choice of a Halfway Home cd, there are shelves full of great book values for you to peruse at Areopagitica. They also have gift certificates available if you can't decide between the crock-pot road-kill cooking recipe book or that nicely bound book of Greek poetry. There truly is something for everyone at Areopagitica, and you get to deal with Doug & Rebecca - two of the finest people you will ever meet.

This is our last gig of 2009. It's been a remarkable year for Halfway Home - we have had lots of opportunities to play for some wonderful music fans, and have made some new friends along the way. Thanks for a great ride in 2009; we're looking forward to more big things in 2010!!!!

See you soon,

Patti, Brian, Mike, Pat & Renilda



The Hard Tackers in Portsmouth Ohio

If you fancy a drive to Portsmouth, around a two hours drive, The Hard Tackers are at the Port City Festival of River, Canal and Maritime Music. A Southern Ohio Folk Alliance event. They are on at 9pm.

January Coffee House From Victoria Parks.

The Gipson & Fitz Trio with Rachel Frank performs January 30 for the Folkside Coffeehouse. The Gipson & Fitz Trio entertains audiences with an original blend of Bluegrass, Americana, Folk, and Southern Rock. Brant Gipson lends his voice, acoustic guitar, and banjo to an inspiring body of sound consisting of striking lyrics, strong vocals, and bold melodies. Mark Fitzharris adds his unique vocal ability and his exceptional guitar and mandolin playing to create the fully developed sound of Gipson & Fitz. Bassist, Billy Cory has now joined Gipson & Fitz on stage. Whether plucking, slapping or bowing, Billy’s upright bass playing punches through to the heart of the most skeptical music fans. The trio has grown with the ongoing evolution of their genre while maintaining the purity of its roots. The strong songwriting and vocal skills within the group, along with a vigorous passion for the art of music drive the Gipson & Fitz Trio to continually strive for new sounds to please audiences of all ages. They are no strangers to the stage, having appeared in various projects, the most notable of which were “Uncle Sam’s Dream Machine” (www.USDM.com), the “Uptown Elephant Company” and the “Teeny Tucker Band” (www.ttuckerblues.com). As previous members of these groups, they played many different venues in amny states and have shared the stage with legendary artists such as Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Dylan, Rusted Root, B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Bo Diddley Jr., and Buddy Guy.

If you enjoy discovering lively new original tunes and rediscovering classics in a new light then be sure to check out the Gipson & Fitz Trio January 30th at the Folkside Coffeehouse. We will be treated to the fantastic fiddling of Rachel Frank as this trio becomes a quartet for this extra special performance! Doors open at 7PM with the featured performance at 9PM at Areopagitica Bookstore, 3510 N. High Street, Columbus. Suggested Donation is $5, $4 for CFMS members, plus a can of food for the Mid-Ohio Fook Bank.

Bass Players. Can You Do This?

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