Common Folk Music is coming together with Shaker Steps to present one of my personal favorites, Ben de la Cour. When I think of folk music, I think of troubadours, and when I think of troubadours I think of Ben. Never staying in one place too long and never setting down roots, Ben is a bona fide folk singer. If you don’t know his story, here’s a quick overview: Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but with a restless spirit and wanderlust Ben has lived in Havana, Paris, London, and New Orleans working a string of various jobs from amateur boxer to heavy metal singer to agricultural worker making him the “real deal” when it comes to the image of a true folk singer. However, it’s not just my imagination or his life that makes him a true folk singer, it’s his voice and his ability to turn a story into a song like his new song performed for Shaker Steps and posted below. Filmed at Millpond in Lexington, Kentucky, Ben delivers a fantastic performance of “Midnight in Havana”. There’s something unique and lovely about the juxaposition of a song about humid Havana and the crisp, autumn air of Kentucky. With a Townes Van Zandt quality (which, by the way, I don’t take lightly) in his voice and to his songwriting, Ben doesn’t get the proper props and recognition deserved for such a talented artist. Like the proverbial hidden gem or diamond from coal, that’s what makes Ben special. It’s also the reason I love writing about independent artists. It’s exciting to discover, explore, and share something so rare and beautiful as Ben de la Cour and his songs, and I hope you will do the same.
It’s that time again, time to post another Shaker Steps session. This time, it’s Small Houses (aka Jeremy Quentin) playing at Minton’s at 760, an unique cafe located in Lexington, Kentucky.
A day or two before this session was taped, I was able to meet Jeremy and watch him perform at a house concert in Parkersburg, West Virginia, which was a show that was a long time in the making. Last year, Jeremy was supposed to do a house concert at the Quincy Hill House in Parkersburg, but a few hours before it was to start, I got a phone call from him telling me that his car broke down in a town about three hours away. So, of course it was canceled and John and Jeremy eventually rescheduled. After a long wait (or what seemed like a long wait), the day I would finally see Small Houses play came and John and I get this tweet: “the car just broke down, but I already have her up and running! I will be playing tonight!” There are two things I can assume happen when Small Houses rolls into the state: 1) Jeremy’s car can’t handle the West Virginia mountains, and/or 2) The West Virginia mountains love Jeremy so much they want to keep him around for a while.
Small Houses is currently touring parts of the Midwest before leaving to tour in Europe in support of his latest album, Exactly Where You Wanted To Be. Released in February via Yer Bird Records, Exactly Where You Wanted To Be is a wonderfully bitter-sweet collection of songs about leaving like “Oh, Hiding Out” and growing up in Michigan like “Seventeen in Roselore,” which he plays in the session below. When I asked Jeremy about the prevalent theme of leaving, he replied that he had wrote the album while on a small tour in late Winter/Early Spring of 2012. And, as for the ubiquitous Sarah, she knows who she is.
Stream & Buy Exactly Where You Wanted To Be
Small Houses: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp; Youtube; Yer Bird
Shaker Steps: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Youtube
Minton’s at 760: Website; Facebook
Yer Bird: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp
Again, yet another stellar video from Shaker Steps. This time, folk singer-songwriter Wes Tirey met up with the guys at Waveland in Lexington, Kentucky. An antebellum house with original slave quarters, smokehouse, and ice house, this historic site is the perfect backdrop for the rustic and somber tone of Tirey’s song. An intimate and raw performance, “Master, Master” captures the true identity of Wes Tirey — contemplative, poetic, straightforward, and smart.
Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Wes moved to Asheville, North Carolina to pursue music and study Philosophy. A place that allows him to connect with his Southern ancestry through storytelling, Asheville is just one of the few inspirations for his music. Influenced by philosophers, authors, singer-songwriters and musicians like Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, and John Fahey, as well as his childhood spent where the Rust Belt, Corn Belt, and Bible Belt meet, Tirey’s latest EP, I Stood Among Trees, clearly reflects Wes as a man and artist.
Sharing the same name with a poem he wrote, I Stood Among Trees is an example of expert songwriting using vivid imagery coupled with exquisite fingerpicking, which is the hallmark of a talented songwriter and the beginning of respected career. And, as I listen to his EP and watch this video, I am reminded of a young Bob Dylan with a hint of Leonard Cohen and a few philosophers thrown in for good measure. So, it’s easy to hear that down-to-earth scholar who wrote these simple yet intelligent and thoughtful songs, thus making Wes the model of great American songwriting.
Wes Tirey: Facebook; Bandcamp
Shaker Steps: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Youtube
Waveland State Historic Site
There are very few artists in the same league as Eriksen and fewer who possess the credentials and praise. Known for his interpretations of American traditional music from New England to Southern Appalachia, Eriksen embodies the music he studies. An ethnomusicologist and teacher, he has done research on music in New England and the Sacred Harp tradition. He has also taught courses ranging from American Balladry to Bollywood at prestigious institutions like Dartmouth College, Amherst College, and Smith College just to name a few; however, Eriksen is better known for his work in films like Billy Bob Thornton’s Chrystal and his contributions to the 2004’s Cold Mountain.
Combining his haunting vocals with instruments like the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bajo sexto (a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass), Eriksen creates music that is distinct and inspired while remaining familiar yet foreign. His ability to play and utilize these instruments and his incredible knowledge of world music produces the essence that is the melting pot of American music.
In his chilling Shaker Steps video, Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown open up with the intro “Brethren Sing” in the Sacred Harp tradition, then move into the hair-raising and mystic “Follow The Birds.” Filmed in a courtyard of a church in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, which also runs God’s Pantry food bank, I couldn’t imagine a place more fitting for this ethereal performance.
It has been about two months since Shaker Steps launched their take away video blog, and already they’re getting a lot of buzz for their work showcasing Lexington, KY in an unique and creative way. Recently receiving mad props from Lexington radio station WUKY, the guys from Shaker Steps were interviewed as well as their guest artist Justin Paul Lewis who was in town to play Natasha’s Bistro in support of his upcoming EP, Rinse, Repeat, Rewind.
Produced by Ben Sollee, Rinse, Repeat, Rewind is an eclectic mixture of rock, soul, jazz and more making it hard to accurately describe. However, this four-song collection contains what is probably the most repeated song at my house — “Salt.” It’s my jam, and, if I didn’t already love the studio version, Justin Paul Lewis makes me love the following version more.
“Salt” (album version)
While in Lexington, Justin met up with the Shaker Steps crew to shoot a session at the Barrel House Distillery. Featuring trumpet player Michael Felker, these videos beautifully capture this rare occasion and in Justin’s words: “It was nice to play intimately with Mike like that. We are usually on stages with mics and monitors feeding us with sound. At the distillery it was just us and a bunch of bourbon.” Nothing exemplifies this more than this particular performance of “Salt.” In this video, Mike’s trumpet lends a sultry jazz quality creating a sexier version that I just can’t get enough of. It’s hot. Usually leaving me wanting a cigarette afterwards and I haven’t smoked in years.
The next video, “This House Is Ours,” is a sentimental little tune with more excellent jazz trumpet paired with Justin’s rich voice and laid back guitar making it as smooth as the bourbon served that day.
Justin Paul Lewis is finishing up a small tour supporting Rinse, Repeat, Rewind, which is due to be released sometime in the near future, so keep an eye out and an ear to the ground.
Justin Paul Lewis: Website; Facebook; Twitter
Shaker Steps: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Youtube
Barrel House Distilling Company: Website; Facebook
WUKY: Website; Facebook; Twitter
I’m privileged to host another video from Tyler Childers’ Shaker Steps video session at Longwood Antique Woods. And, if you missed the first post, Shaker Steps is a video blog based in Lexington, Kentucky with a mission to share the music from the area as well as some of the great acts passing through the city, while showcasing some of the local mom-and-pop store and other unique attractions Lexington has to offer. For Tyler’s sessions, the boys from Shaker Steps chose the world famous and progressive Longwood Antique Woods — a business that reclaims and recycles wood from barns and fence posts from local horse stables. The rustic atmosphere and lazy St. Bernard is an excellent and cozy setting for a down-home jam session.
“Charleston Girl” is something I’m familiar with. Although I’m not from Charleston, West Virginia exactly, but here in Ripley, we have two choices – Charleston or Parkersburg – and, I usually choose the former. Aside from Charleston being the hub of any kind of culture and excitement, it is also the city I spent the majority of my formative years in and the home of my alma mater, The University of Charleston, so I feel like I know a little something.
The first thing that might stick out to those who are familiar with the local West Virginia music scene is Tyler’s shout out to the thrashgrass band, The Fabulous Brothers Steele. And, rest assured, Tyler has no intentions of giving Justin Steele and his brothers a piece of his mind. In fact, Tyler is quite fond of the guys, it just sounded better than what really happened that night. If you’re brave, I’m sure Tyler wouldn’t mind it if you used your imagination to come up with a few crazy scenarios.
Anyway, “Charleston Girl” is a catchy lil’ ditty about his first time playing in Charleston. He opened for The Fabulous Brothers Steele, hung out at Occupy Charleston, and was shown the town in the only way hanging out with a trashgrass band can. Again, use your imagination, because I sure as hell have no clue, and I’m not sure I want to know, but I’m hoping that Tyler comes back to town, so I can tag-along.
I’m so honored to work in collaboration with the wonderful take-away style video blog Shaker Steps. A site based out of Lexington, Kentucky, Shaker Steps’ main goal and mission is to share the music coming out of the area as well as the great acts rolling through the city, while showcasing some of the local mom-and-pop stores and other unique attractions the city has to offer. Case in point, this brilliant session at Longwood Antique Woods with Tyler Childers featuring Russell Waddell. A maverick in the business of reclaiming and recycling wood, Longwood and its rustic atmosphere is an excellent setting for the organic country-inspired folk and Appalachian drawl in Tyler’s voice and Russell’s banjo expertise.
Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky is a little town called, Paintsville, where the economy is dependent on the dying coal industry and a tradition of music thrives with the US 23 Country Music Highway Museum and Butcher Hollow. Carrying on the music tradition is native son and current Lexington, Kentucky resident, Tyler Childers.
Paintsville is located in the Big Sandy River Valley of Johnson County in Eastern Kentucky made famous for its lawlessness, religion, and booze, and a song about a horse thief, a rambling man, and an attempt to gain some good ol’ Appalachian self-justice is what “William Hill” is all about. Following his “Papaw” around to the Kentucky social institutions – church events and barber shops to name a few– as well as a lot of coon hunting with his dad, Tyler has heard a tale or two about the misadventures of a few good ol’ boys. So, out of these what I’m sure are tall-tales, as almost every personal account eventually turns into in Appalachia, came the narrative ballad of “William Hill.”