Monday, July 06, 2015

Road Trip Music: Americana from Alabama to Fur Peace

The winding roads of New England, the quiet places of the deep south, the welcoming towns of the midwest, the expanse of prairies north and south, the high desert, the coasts east, west, south and north -- it is a time for road trips and explorations. There is music to go along.

Amy Black lives in Boston these days, but her family roots go deep into northern Alabama. That is a musical connection she has been exploring of late. Her recording The Muscle Shoals Sessions finds her delving into the rootsy, southern, bluesy, old time aura that rises from north Alabam’, forging creative covers of music from Sam Cooke and Dan Penn among others, and adding her own songs to the mix. Black is well equipped to do this, with a voice that holds hints of Bonnie Raitt and Etta James yet remains uniquely her own, and with a creative imagination that recasts Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody and the Black Keys’ Tighten Up in ways that completely fit the roots infused story Black is telling. Those are standout tracks; so are Black’s own Please Don’t Give Up On Me and Cooke’s Bring It On Home. Really, though, each of the dozen tracks is a keeper.

Rock, blues, country, Zydeco, Cajun, and Creole -- Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have been working on a musical mix of these genres for more than two decades now, with an accent on the Cajun southern Louisiana roots they come from, The title of their album Voyageurs is well chosen, as many of the songs settings and images have to do with travel, and the driving pulse of their style and of the music itself connects and suggests movement, travel, and dance along the way. Old friend and new band member Kevin Wimmer adds his fiddle to the band this time out, joining in with Riley’s accordion, Sam Broussard’s guitar, Brazos Huval’s bass, and Kevin Dugas’s percussion. The men trade leads and backing on instruments and voice through a range of original and traditional music that’ll have you traveling down to Cajun country in no time. There is music from the tradition, original songs and tunes from Riley and Wimmer, and covers of music from Canray Fontenot and Boozoo Chavis among others. Standout cuts include Au Revoir Grand Mamou, Plus Creux, La Danse de Mardi Gras, and Malcolm’s Reel, but once you begin to listen to Voyageurs chances are you’ll not stop.

Further West is the name Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, who as a duo go by the name Hungrytown, chose for their third release. In part that’s because they have been doing quite a bit of traveling, taking their Americana based songs from their base in Vermont on tours through North America, Europe, and New Zealand. The title is also a nod to the fact that the songs, many with music written by the duo and lyrics by Hall, reference travels both physical and those which may not be measured by physical distance. The title song is just such a piece, one with references open to many understandings. Other cuts to note are the duo’s fine a capella take on Woody Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty and the originals Hard Way to learn and Don’t Cross That Mountain.

Jorma Kaukonen has done more than a bit of traveling in his time, time which has included growing up in the Washington DC area and making his way west to California, where he became a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, and later, of Hot Tuna, with which he still tours. Along the way he received Grammy nominations and was named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and founded the Fur Peace Ranch, a concert and workshop venue and art gallery in Ohio. All the while, in addition to touring with Hot Tuna and teaching at Fur Peace, he has continued to put out stellar solo albums as well. It seems no surprise, then, that his 2015 solo recording is called Ain't in No Hurry.

Blues and country, soul and a hint of jazz with a touch of rock lingering on, and flavors of musics from other parts of the world as well: more than fifty years into his musical adventure, Kaukonen knows well how to frame his musicianship as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with a distinctive and unique sound and point of view. You will find that well presented in the eleven tracks of Ain't in No Hurry. There’s Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me, a piece derived from and unfinished song by Woody Guthrie which melds gospel, folk, and country; there’s the depression era song Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, a cover of A.P. Carter’s Sweet Fern, and Kaukonen’s own Seasons in the Field, a reflective look at time and change which closes the album. Those are standouts. It is an album, though, well worth your time to let unfold through all the tracks as Kaukonen has sequenced them. “At this point in time perhaps I should be in more of a hurry,” he writes in the liner notes, “but for me it’s more important that each piece fits in the right place at the right time. The songs you hear on this album cover a lot of ground for me. Some are very old, some quite new. From where I came from to where I am is all here.”

Origins and travels, journeys of music, place, and imagination -- wherever your travels take you, these recordings will make good companions.

This is the first in a series of music of North American roads. In between stories of music and musicians of Ireland and Scotland and about creative practice, stay tuned for more such adventures in the coming months.

Photograph courtesy of James Wilkinson. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Tab Benoit’s take on Louisiana in music at a Traveler’s Library
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Road Trip Music in Alabama: bluegrass, faith, and architecture

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