Posts Tagged ‘Joe Walsh’

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Joe Val Flashback

10 June 2010

Do you know “Framingham Breakdown?” No? Perhaps if I hum a few bars…

As summer returns, your Cousin Curly offers up the web video equivalent of Dr. Zhivago or Ice Station Zebra— one of those icy epics that takes your mind off the heat and humidity.

This video also works as the bluegrass equivalent of Where’s Waldo— Waldo in this case being your favorite pickin’ partners. I’ve tagged the clip with some of the players I spotted, but there are many others I missed.  Let me know who catches your eye.

Next week, Cousin Curly heads to Jenny Brook— the sweetest little bluegrass festival this side of the Pearly Gates.  Hope to see y’all there.

Yer Pal— Curly

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An Embarrassment of Riches

11 May 2010

What region of the country has the hottest bluegrass scene?  Greater Boston makes its case for the crown of bluegrass capital this week.  Let’s see… This Thursday, do you go to the “Banjo Extravaganza” at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, or do you catch the Della Mae and Sarah Jarosz double bill at Club Passim in Cambridge?  If you opt for banjos, you can still catch Della Mae next Tuesday (May 18th) at the great Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, taking in the weekly jam there while you’re at it, or you can listen to them as you cruise Boston Harbor on the “Bluegrass Cruise” (May 15th— click here for a flyer with details). Choose this option and you’ll also be doing a good deed, as the cruise is a fundraiser for the Traditional Music Foundation.

Both Della Mae fiddler Kimber Ludiker and guitarist Courtney Hartman are due to be on that cruise, so in their honor, Cousin Curly offers another tune from this year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival, featuring Joe Walsh on mandolin, Hartman on guitar and Ludiker on fiddle…

I particularly like the way the players trade fragmentary “micro-solos” in the last run-through of the tune.  This lets them both stretch the boundaries of the melody and pull everything together.

This tune, “Billy in the Lowground” is one of the relatively few fiddle tunes in plain ol’ C.  I was certain the tune had its origins in the British Isles during the Eighty Years War (“Lowlands” referring to the Netherlands, the House of Orange and all that, you see), but cursory research suggests that I’m off base.  I haven’t uncovered a credible explanation for the title, but several sources seem to think the song derives from the Scottish strathspey called “The Braes of Auchtertyre.”  But don’t take my word for it:  read more on the Fiddler’s Companion website.

Yer Pal— Curly

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What’s in a Tune?

10 May 2010

Fear not:  Cousin Curly’s got lots more sights and sounds to share from his recent southern trip, but right now, we’re going to take a brief detour— a slight step back in time, in fact.  Check out this tasty jam from a workshop with the inimitable Joe Walsh (mandolinist with the Gibson Brothers) at this year’s Joe Val Bluegrass Festival

Walsh is accompanied first by Courtney Hartman on guitar and later by Kimber Ludiker on fiddle.  Ludiker and her fiddle literally arrive half-way through the song (you can hear her unpacking her instrument in the background).  This tune represents the first time these three musicians had played together.

The composition featured here, “Saint Anne’s Reel,” started out as a French Canadian fiddle tune and has since spread far and wide.  I used to think people knew it in New England because it’s a staple of contra dancing, but I’ve since run into it all over the place.

At Merlefest, I heard a band play a version of the tune with electric guitar and drums.  Not to beat a dead horse (see my previous post on drums and string bands), but that amped up version, while a lot of fun, was as good an illustration as any of how drumming can “straighten out” a tune.  Lay a “boom-chuck-a” rhythm behind “Saint Anne’s Reel” and it suddenly sounds an awful lot like a polka.  In contrast, in the version I’ve posted here, you can see how Walsh & Co. minutely push and pull the rhythms to give the tune a real bounce.

While I’m sucking all the life out of a fine performance, let me take the opportunity to note a good example of how expert musicians can trade licks to form a kind of musical conversation.  Just about half way into this jam (the 2:15 mark), Hartman plays a little C#-D-E-C#-A phrase:

This phrase isn’t in the original melody, and in playing it, perhaps Hartman was simply transitioning from one chord pattern to another.  Whatever the case, you can hear how Walsh almost immediately seizes upon the phrase, as if to say, “Hey, that’s interesting…” Hartman in turn plays just a fragment of the phrase— now dropped down an octave— just before Ludiker joins in and takes the conversation in new directions.

Last point:  check out how fluently Walsh throws in fistfuls of “passing chords” as he backs Hartman’s solo.  The role these transitional chords have in defining Walsh’s sound can’t be overstated. They lend his playing a sweet and melancholy flavor or color that’s absolutely his own.  Hartman also employs passing chords to nice effect, particularly in the last run-throughs of the tune.

If you like what you heard, Ludiker and Della Mae are playing several shows in the Boston area over the next week or two.

Yer Pal— Curly

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Welcome to Bluegrass Central

2 March 2010

Nice of you to stop by!  I plan to use this site as home base during my wanderings through the worlds of bluegrass and traditional string band music.  In general, I’d prefer to lean more heavily on video posts as opposed to text.  Words are wonderful, but we’re dealing with music here, so I’ll do my best to appeal to eyes and ears as opposed to whatever squirrely part of our brain processes text.

Without further ado, then…

Here’s a video postcard from the June 2009 Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival in Tunbridge, Vermont.  Jenny Brook is a gem of a bluegrass festival.  In this little portrait, you’ll get a glimpse of Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper (featuring Jesse Brock— 2009 IBMA Mandolinist of the Year).  Stick around and you’ll also hear some of the finest pickers in New England jamming to John Reischman‘s lovely fiddle tune, “Salt Spring.”  Players include Joe Walsh, Gabe Hirshfeld, Steve Watt, Tony Watt, Sam Stambler, Ben Pearce and Jeff Horton.

I’m interested in all kinds of bluegrass— the old, the new, the big names, the homegrown acts.  As a fourth-rate picker in my own right, however, I confess to having a particular interest in what Levi-Strauss called “picking culture.”  Actually, he called it nothing of the sort, but you know what I mean: I’m often more into the stuff that goes on around the campfire or in the workshop tent, as opposed to up on the main stage. I hope this interest is reflected in my posts.

By the way, 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of the Jenny Brook fest.  The Seldom Scene will be headlining the three-day event.  It’s not too early to buy a ticket.

A last word about my videos:  I generally favor vimeo.com for posting videos.  Their hi-def streaming video is really impressive.  Though you should always be able to view the embedded feeds here, as I post more clips, you’ll be able to go to vimeo, search for Second Cousin Curly, and watch whatever catches your fancy in full-screen HD.

Of course, feel free to post comments, and please warn all your friends that their Second Cousin Curly is looking for them!

Yer Pal— Curly

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