Yesterday we told you about who we’re planning on seeing on the first day of this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Here’s what it’s looking like we’ll be doing on day two. If you’re going, drop us a line in the comments and tell us who you’re going to see.
Levon Helm :: Helm’s swampy Dirt Farmer won the Grammy for Best Folk Album this year, though the former drummer for the Band didn’t need any excuse to celebrate; Dirt Farmer was recorded following a long battle with throat cancer that saw him miraculously regain 80% of his singing voice. And though his voice warbles like Garth Hudson’s Hammond B-3 when he talks, the singing on Dirt Farmer is some of the most moving, soulful stuff of last or any year. Helm would be the highlight of the festival even if he were only playing tracks from this record; throw in the Band’s back catalog, and Helm’s set is bound to be rock for the ages.
The Avett Brothers :: Bringing the same punky spirit to folk and bluegrass as the Felice Brothers, North Carolina’s prolific Avett clan have seen their national profile rise considerably in recent years. With that has come something of a smoothing in their style that’s every bit as engaging as their early work while appealing to a somewhat broader audience, landing the group a deal with American/Columbia.
Calexico :: Like the Avetts, Calexico’s punkier background has lately given way to a dedication to pop songcraft. Still, though, the band couldn’t have chosen a better name for themselves; equal parts California and Mexico, they are the unspoken sound of spaghetti westerns and are more suited to west Texas in the scorching heat. Seeing them in the spread of the Bay should be interesting.
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Brandi Carlile :: Don’t let the major label and pop sheen fool you; Carlile’s got pipes and grit like the good ole country ladies of the past. The title track from The Story was one of last year’s best songs, with Carlile growling and feeding her way back through the mix. The Story never really found its true audience, though; too dirty for country radio, too polished for the underground, Carlile has found something of a home on the road, playing with acts as varied as the Indigo Girls, Chris Isaak, and Ray LaMontagne.
Ryan Fitzsimmons :: Consider him Newport’s hometown hero; Fitzsimmons won the Providence Phoenix’s Best Male Vocalist award in last year’s music poll. Like most folkies, Fitzsimmons started off banging around with a rock band, only to give it up to be on his own, finding his direction in the process; Newport will give him the chance to shake the whole “complete unknown” part of the equation. His rhythmic folk songs are more of the hand-banging variety, his delivery marked with dark traces like the end of the night, and he plays with captivating confidence.
Richard Julian:: Julian’s newest release is titled Sunday Morning in Saturday’s Shoes, and that’s a pretty fair description of his music. He matches the soft melodies of Elliot Smith with an arresting cheeriness alongside traces of melancholy indie, resulting in pleasant rock for the sunny big city. Tracks like “A Thousand Days” find Julian sounding a bit like an aching James Taylor.
Kaki King :: For a good year, I was obsessed with Charles Bukowski based entirely on the title of one of his books of poetry, Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. This is the same approach that King has always taken to her acoustic guitar, hammering on and off, flicking frets until the notes begin to roll together into some progressive, percussive bounce. Dreaming of Revenge, her newest release, finds her pulling away some from the Claypool school of fingertapping, and her songwriting has vastly improved. These songs are fast, dark, and manic, with “Pull Me Out Alive” coming on hard like an acoustic Sleater-Kinney; consider me re-interested.
The Honors :: Running in the same dark, clean, resigned world of Coldplay and the National is Boston’s Honors. These guys play radio-friendly rock in an inoffensive way, the dynamic kind of sound guaranteed to one day move iPods. Their track “Passing on Blue” is a dead-ringer for a How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb b-side, but “Ghosts” is their real winner; singer Brandon Heisler sounds like a tired Morrissey while the band bashes away behind him.
Over the Rhine :: Karin Bergquist has the prettiest voice at Newport, and with the obvious exceptions (Emmylou Harris, Neko Case), possibly the prettiest in American music. Her dry, loose croon drapes itself wonderfully over Linford Detweiler’s tasteful arrangements with a grace and familiarity that is tough to ignore, not that you’d want to. Musically speaking, last year’s Trumpet Child sounds like Randy Newman filling in at a late-night cabaret, and Bergquist bends her voice to match. OtR’s sound is as sophisticated and sexy and dark as anything else going around, with a deep spirituality to match.
Son Volt :: I’ve always taken Jeff Tweedy’s side in the infamous Uncle Tupelo breakup, at least musically; I’ve always been a huge fan of Wilco, to the point that I have never, ever listened to Son Volt (ed. What?!?!?). I know. I’m aware that Wide Swing Tremolo is considered a staple of the alt-country genre, and that Jay Farrar does a great version of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” on one of his solo records (and why shouldn’t he? That sound and fury was made for Farrar), but I’ve never taken the time to invest. If nothing else, I’m looking forward to letting Farrar prove to me that I’ve been wasting my time. (ed. marty, I predict you will walk away a fan of Farrar and company)
Jake Shimabukuro :: The Hawaiian-born Shimabukuro is a ukelele virtuoso who turns that instrument from barbecue novelty into heart-wrenching soul, particularly on his gorgeous cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (check YouTube for that one). His sound blends elements of flamenco, salsa, and ranchero into something strange and beautiful. words/marty garner