Monday, November 23, 2015

Road Trip Music: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving across America: it is a season of gathering in, of hope, of reflection, of family -- and of exploration and landscape and travel as well. Music is always part of this. Here are three recordings to go along and perhaps open up new ideas for you.

Midnight Special, Goodnight Irene, In the Pines, Stewball, House of the Rising Sun, Pick a Bale of Cotton: chances are, you know these songs. Whether you’ve heard them from rock stars, blues musicians, country singers, folk storytellers or schoolteachers. Chances are too that the reason they and you know these songs today is because of Huddie Ledbetter -- Lead Belly. From prison inmate to in demand artist in the folk music revival, from a childhood in the deep south to stages in New York City and Europe, he became, as Eric Bibb writes in the liner notes of Lead Belly's Gold, “the most famous Black folksinger ever, bringing the attention of millions to the power of African American song, well outside the boundaries of his own community.” Lead Belly, Bibb continues, “...owes this extraordinary status to his uncanny talent for bridging gaps.“ That’s a talent Bibb and his collaborator on Lead Belly's Gold, JJ Millteau, share in their individual careers, and that they each bring to their appreciation and understanding of the sixteen tracks they’ve chosen for this project. They open with Grey Goose, which could among other things be seen as a poetic allegory for immigration and refugee issues. Bibb’s melodic voice with an edge of growl works well on this and other cuts, in fine counterpoint to Milteau’s bluesy with a helping of jazz and folk harmonica lines. Where Did You Sleep Last Night, a folk/blues song from the deep south also known as In the Pines, is one of the many songs Lead Belly learned from southern blues and folk tradition and made his own. Milteau and Bibb put their own stamp on it as well. There’s a fine combination of When That Train Comes Along and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. An original by Bibb, When I Get to Dallas, stands in good company with the older songs. The first eleven songs are live recordings from a performance before a small audience at The Sunset in Paris. The last five, among them Stewball and Titanic, are studio recordings. Bibb and Milteau conclude the disc with another original song from Bibb, which finds Lead Belly musing on his life and legacy, called, appropriately enough, Swimmin’ in a River of Song.

Dulcie Taylor knows about that river of song. In her recording Dulcie Taylor and Friends: Wind Over Stone she offers songs touching on love, family, travel, changes, time, courage, and other things, all done with lyrics which combine a clear poetic sense with a clear down to earth sense of connection and communication. Most are written or co written by Taylor, who sings the lead on many of them in a fine soprano. She also has the confidence and good will to step aside and share the spotlight with her equally talented friends and longtime musical collaborators. Tony Recuipido and George Nauful each have songs on the collection and they take the lead voice on those, with Taylor adding harmony. The California based songwriter, whose songs could fit in with Americana, folk, country, and other sorts of playlists, is a fine guitarist, as well. At this Thanksgiving season, you might want to listen out especially for her songs When the Cherokee Roamed and Not Here, Not Today.

Songs with story are and long have been a hallmark of Kathy Kallick’s work. A moving force in the west coast and national bluegrass scene, her work is rooted in bluegrass, but contains much to appeal to lovers of all forms of good acoustic music. Foxhounds leads listeners on a journey from the title track, inspired by a time when Kallick sat with bluegrass icon Bill Monroe listening to his foxhounds run to the closing song, In Texas, a spare and visual evocation of a journey that didn’t turn out the way it might have, inspired by a conversation Kallick had with her daughter. Along the way are other fine originals from Kallick including My Montana Home and Snowflakes, fiddle player Annie Staninec steps into lead singing on a pair of high energy songs, there is a Bill Monroe tune and there’s a song from not so bluegrass musician Richard Thompson. Through the journey Kallick and her fine band -- in addition to Kallick herself on guitar and vocals, and Staninec on fiddle and vocals, Cary Black is on acoustic bass and vocals, Greg Booth ads vocals along with banjo and dobro, and Tom Bekeny sings and plays mandolin -- Foxhounds is a fine and thoughtfully sequenced work that that calls in past, present, and future of bluegrass, one of the forms of American music to celebrate at this Thanksgiving season. .

Music to celebrate the season and for listening all the year around. blues, folk, Americana, country, and bluegrass: vibrant parts of America’s soundtrack. Take a listen and see what you find.

Top and bottom photos by Kerry Dexter, center photo by and courtesy of Skitter Photo. Thank you for respecting copyright

You may also wish to see these stories:
It would not be Thanksgiving around my house without the music of Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Read about their albums that work especially well for this season: Music for Thanksgiving
Music of the First Peoples is appropriate to the season, too, as is music inspired by sharing with family. read about two albums which embrace these ideas: Autumn and Thanksgiving listening
Saint Andrew’s Day is on the way: Scotland’s Music: A Saint Andrew’s Day Tapestry at Wandering Educators
Advent is approaching too. A story for that: First week in Advent: music and journey

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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