New Release Rack: Annie & the Hedonists’ “Tonal Indulgence”

November 17th, 2015, 12:00 pm by Greg


Review by Glenn Weiser

Tonal Indulgence
Annie & the Hedonists, 2015

With their fourth CD, Tonal Indulgence, local favorites Annie & the Hedonists have shown us again that they are the ultimate acoustic music cover band. The quartet, consisting of Annie Rosen on lead vocals, husband John Rosen on guitar, Peter Davis on piano, clarinet, banjo, and tenor guitar, and Don Young on upright bass and guitar, eschews writing originals in favor of well-chosen songs in a mix of genres. And with all their combined talents, you can see why they don’t stick to any one style.

The Hedonists’ new release contains 17 songs encompassing swing, string band music, hokum blues, contemporary folk and gospel. The kick-off track, blues chanteuse Trixie Smith’s 1922 “My Daddy Rocks Me,” was the first song to use the phrase “rock and roll.” It opens with Davis’ clarinet playing slinky melodic lines over a slow, sensual shuffle groove before Annie enters with her sultry alto to tout her man’s staying power. Hazel Dickens’ “My Heart’s Own Love,” evokes the Appalachians with Davis’ five-string banjo and guest artist Jay Ungar’s fiddling. The traditional ballad “The Water Is Wide” receives a languid swing treatment as Annie and daughter Hannah Rosen harmonize over a jazzy chord line, vaulting the old folk classic forward into the 1940s.

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Concerts Celebrate the Centennial of Songcatcher Alan Lomax

November 4th, 2015, 11:00 am by Greg
Alan Lomax (far left) recording with musicians for “American Patchwork”

Alan Lomax (far left) recording with musicians for “American Patchwork”

Folklorist, songfinder, author, radio personality, ethnomusicologist, oral historian, activist, filmmaker, concert producer, recording artist, scholar, archivist, lecturer — Alan Lomax was all of these things… and more.

Lomax was born in Texas in 1915, and with his father, John, and on his own, recorded a vast treasure trove of American folk music for the Library of Congress as well as a wide variety of record labels. Again, with his father and individually, Lomax published a series of highly influential printed collections, including “American Ballads and Folk Songs,” “Folk Song U.S.A.” and the seminal 1960 volume, “The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language.”

This month around Greater Nippertown, there are two big concerts scheduled to celebrate the centennial of Alan Lomax’s birth and his great musical legacy:

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LIVE: Howard Fishman Quintet @ Caffe Lena, 10/3/15

October 16th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg
Scott Barkan, Howard Fishman, Andrae Murchison and Andy Cotton

Scott Barkan, Howard Fishman, Andrae Murchison and Andy Cotton

Review and photographs by Rudy Lu

The Basement Tapes are a series of recordings made in 1967 after Bob Dylan had gone on tour with what was to become the Band and was convalescing in Woodstock. The series of recordings are considered legendary and a turning point in the history of rock, as Dylan turned away from the increasingly serious and complex explorational tendencies of the music of the time to focus on the basic and traditional origins of the music that has now been labeled as Americana.

This was documented in a book by well known author Greil Marcus titled “The Old Weird America.”

The celebration of the music can either be celebrated reverentially and academically by reproducing the songs note for note, or simply in the spirit of good friends recording casual music. Howard Fishman and his band chose the latter during their recent two-night stand at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs.

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LIVE: MaryLeigh Roohan @ Caffe Lena, 9/6/15

October 5th, 2015, 3:00 pm by Greg


Photographs and video by Timothy Reidy

Singer-songwriter and Saratoga native MaryLeigh Roohan took the hallowed stage at Caffe Lena last month for a homecoming concert that served as the CD release party for her new five-song EP, Living Alone.

NOTE: MaryLeigh Roohan will be playing at the opening concert of the season at Mother’s Wine Emporium at RPI’s Student Union in Troy on Saturday (October 10) with fellow Saratogians Better By Morning. Showtime is 8pm; admission is free.

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LIVE: The Down Hill Strugglers @ Caffe Lena, 9/11/15

September 29th, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg
The Downhill Strugglers

The Down Hill Strugglers

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Joe Deuel

From Bob Dylan to Ani DiFranco to Sawyer Fredericks, Caffe Lena has acted as launching pad for singer-songwriters for more than a half century now. But another part of the Caffe’s mission is keeping alive the traditional folk music of the past and presenting it to contemporary audiences.

Earlier this month, Brooklyn-based trio the Down Hill Strugglers played two 35-minute sets at the coffeehouse, and there was nary an original, self-penned tune in the bunch. Instead, they served up a high-spirited evening of genuine old-timey music – fiddle tunes, rags, reels, spirituals, breakdowns with a ballad or two tossed in for good measure along the way. And along the way, they proved that old-timey music is timeless.

The band – featuring Eli Smith on banjo, Jackson Lynch on fiddle and Walker Shepard on guitar – draws obvious inspiration from Harry Smith’s classic “Anthology of American Folk Music” (the touchstone of the ’60s folk revival), the Holy Modal Rounders and especially the New Lost City Ramblers. In fact, the Ramblers’ John Cohen is one of their primary mentors. But the Down Hill Strugglers brought their own contemporary verve to such warhorses as the lively “Sally Ann” and “Turkey in the Straw,” which closed out their first set in fine twin-fiddle fashion.

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FIVE FIRSTS: Eli Smith of the Down Hill Strugglers

September 9th, 2015, 11:00 am by Greg
The Down Hill Strugglers

The Down Hill Strugglers

NAME: Eli Smith
BAND AFFILIATION: The Down Hill Strugglers
INSTRUMENT: Banjo and Guitar

1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … Mississippi John Hurt, Live! Great album, changed my life.

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LIVE: “Raise the Rafters” @ Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center, 5/16/15

June 2nd, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion

Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

We should be celebrating Caffe Lena every day, but, of course, we tend to take it for granted because it’s always there. OK, well not exactly “always” – but for 55 years. And for the past 20 of those years, it’s been the guiding hand of manager Sarah Craig that’s has been at the helm, steering the Caffe into the 21st century with a delicate balance of adventure and tradition.

So for “Raise the Rafters” – the dual anniversary concert celebration for Craig and the Caffe – Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center in Saratoga Springs hosted a half-dozen Caffe favorites from the past two decades. There was the jugband vaudeville of the Wiyos, the father-and-son Beaucoup Blue duo, the wry bluegrass of Jim Gaudet & the Railroad Boys, the fab fiddling Sara Milonovich & Greg Anderson, rollicking one-man band the Suitcase Junket and the husband-and-wife team of Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – each playing a short, 20-minute sampler set.

Yes, it was a delightful sonic smorgasbord that somehow stretched from blues to ballads, from a reggae-tinged polka to a Cajun two-step, and tunes plucked from the songbags of folks from Woody Guthrie to Led Zeppelin.

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LIVE: Slaid Cleaves @ Caffe Lena, 5/15/15

June 1st, 2015, 4:00 pm by Greg
 Slaid Cleaves

Slaid Cleaves

Review by Richard Brody

Slaid Cleaves. The name rolls off your tongue and sounds like it must belong to a cowboy, perhaps from one of Louis D’Amour’s western novels. Cleaves might not be a cowboy, but at Caffe Lena, he came pretty darn close to creating the feeling of sitting around a campfire listening to a very talented storyteller spin his yarns, play his guitar and, when it fit, throw in some yodeling.

Cleaves should be a star, and as he wryly noted when he introduced “Broke Down,” “This is the song that took me from total obscurity to relative obscurity.” And like many of Cleaves’ songs, it focused on the hard scrabble lives of workers who are trying to get by while maintaining some sense of dignity despite a few poor decisions.

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