Posts Tagged ‘Shelby Means’

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Della Mae: Pine Tree

9 July 2014

Pining for some more Della Mae? You’ve come to the right place:

Here we have Della Mae performing performing “Pine Tree,” a composition that can be found on their Rounder Records Release from last year, This World Can Oft Be.

When do you suppose “Pine Tree” was written? Listening to Jenni Lyn Gardner sing about “the soil of Galilee,” it would be reasonable to think the song is very old. In fact, the tune doesn’t date back to Libba Cotten, nor even to Hazel Dickens. Nope, it’s a new composition, written by Virginia-based singer/songwriter Sarah Siskind.

Jesus said that “new wine must be put into new bottles,” but I’m not sure he had contemporary string band music in mind when he preached that parable. Much of today’s bluegrass and old time music seems to be about mixing up the bottles, putting old vintages into new bottles and giving new wine the look and taste of earlier times. Siskind’s song—and Della Mae’s take on it—nicely illustrates the latter approach.

The Dellas have been very good about promoting the work of women songwriters and performers old and new. More on this in future posts. In the meantime, here’s a game yer family can play on its summer road trip: Each player makes a list, writing down all the bluegrass and old time songs that feature the word “pine” in the title. Whoever has the longest list gets an extra scoop of ice cream at the next stop.  You can further while away the miles by arguing about how to score titles that are on the bubble, such as “The Pine Tree,” written by Billy Edd Wheeler and popularized by Johnny and June Carter Cash.

Siskind is originally from North Carolina, and it’s easy to see how she and other writers of bluegrass and country tunes have so often gravitated to the image of the pine tree. The pine is the official tree of the Tarheel State (come to think of it, that tar in them tarheels might well have come from pine pitch). Pines are at once ubiquitous and unremarkable throughout much of the south. The tree is therefore a fitting symbol of everything that is both humble and enduring.

Yer Pal— Curly

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Uncorking Some Vintage Della Mae

25 June 2014

Thirsting for some Della Mae? We’re serving up some vintage material from the Dellas that we’ve had in the cellar for… well, too long. Still, we think you’ll find it delightful: bubbly, with notes of lavender and bluegrass.

That is, of course, the band Della Mae performing their original song, “Turtle Dove.” The composition was co-written by singer Celia Woodsmith and guitarist Courtney Hartman. It can be found on their Rounder Records release from last year, This World Can Oft Be.

My scant understanding of the Interweb tells me that it isn’t like fine wine: the stuff we byte-stained wretches post doesn’t improve with age. This poses a conundrum, however, because doing things right takes time— at least in my case it does. I’m with Tina Turner “We never, ever do nothing nice and easy.”

The current post being an apt example. Here we have Della Mae, one of the hottest, most talented bands in bluegrass, playing in a beautiful sunlit room, recorded without amplification or mixing boards— what could be more simple, more right? But there’s the rub: given such perfect elements, I want to make sure I do everything right on my end.

Over a year ago, I spent a day with Della Mae in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shooting both the informal session you see here and a show at the legendary acoustic performance venue Club Passim. By the time I reviewed the footage, I knew I was in trouble. Often my job as a filmmaker is that of salvage expert: I do the best to pull something useable from the wreckage of what I shot. That was not the problem here: I had hours of good stuff to work with, and that made for many months of (pun alert!) fretting.

But, at last, like fine wine…

After struggling with the harvest and following several false recipes, I have bottled some vintage Della Mae that I think is, as the vintners say, ready for release. I’ll be sharing several more of these videos with you in the weeks ahead. For now, I’m just rushing (yes, ironically, rushing after this long wait) to get a first taste out to you.

I’m grateful for everyone’s indulgence as I have worked through this material. Of course, above all, I appreciate the patience of the members of Della Mae. They were so gracious and fun to work with— qualities that I think come through in their performances. A dirty secret of my profession is that, when you edit videos, you almost always come to loathe the material. In the case of Della Mae, working with this footage has only deepened my appreciation of their skill and their artistry. Going over their songs, literally frame by frame, I keep discovering new treasures: a clever rhyme, a delicate ornamental detail, a rich harmonic interval. The care with which they have crafted their songs should inspire generations to come. If these videos help capture that alchemy for the ages, then the wait will have been worthwhile.

Yer Pal— Curly

P.S.— Special thanks to Paul Villanova for his help in shooting the video.

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Vintage Della Mae

8 March 2013

It’s during these late winter days that you go down to the root cellar hoping to find some whatnot from which a meal can be made. Sometimes you find a moldy turnip, but occasionally you get lucky and come away with a jar of watermelon pickles or some such delicacy you had previously overlooked. Such was the case this week as we cleared out the last of our 2012 vintage of Joe Val Bluegrass Festival videos. Tucked in a corner was this tasty tidbit…

That is of course an earlier incarnation of one of the bluegrass bands of the moment, Della Mae. I’ve recently reported on the very busy year Della Mae had in 2012. If the first two months are any indication, 2013 will prove to be even more action-packed for these globetrotting pickers. On the heels of an appearance at Washington’s Wintergrass, they are presently attending the International Country Music Festival in Zurich, Switzerland. And let me remind you that the ICMF is “das einzige 38 tägige Country-Festival in der Welt.” How do you say “Yee-haw” in Swiss German?

In a couple of months, things will really start to heat up for Della Mae with the arrival of their first album with Rounder Records. Having at last cleared out our cellar, we’ll be ushering in spring with some video profiles of this talented quintet, along with material that will be on the new album.

While we wait for these new blossoms to burst forth, we can savor “Polk County,” the tune in the clip above. This is a song that the group has done for a couple of years now, and it can be found on their debut album, “I Built This Heart.” As you can hear, its infectious hook has a long shelf life. Polk County is tucked into the southwest border of North Carolina. Lead singer Celia Woodsmith wrote the song after reading about an old mining town down yonder. According to mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner, “it has become one of our more stompy tunes with the mandolin intro and fiery fiddle riffs.” No question about that. Enjoy!

Yer Pal— Curly

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Della Mae’s Busy Year

1 January 2013

We know the feeling: 2012 seems to have passed in a flash. A minute ago we were watching the crocuses bloom, then we blinked, and there’s Christmastime a-comin’ a-gain. Well, however busy we thought the past year was, Della Mae has us all beat. This young bluegrass band had so much happen so fast in 2012 that this video (shot at the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in February) already feels like an historical artifact:

Della Mae’s performance at Joe Val was one of the last major gigs featuring founding bass player Amanda Kowalski, who departed early in the year to pursue other callings. She was replaced by Shelby Means, a Wyomingian by way of Nashville. The band spent the summer busily gigging and recording. In August, it was nominated for an IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year Award and then in the fall, it embarked on an international tour as part of the State Department’s American Music Abroad Program.

Della Mae in Kazakhstan

How many Stans do you know? We don’t mean Stan Musial, Stan Lee or (to pick a bluegrass figure) Stan Zdonik. We’re talking about those states on the Asiatic steppes that virtually define the term “faraway places.” In their fall tour, Della Mae pretty much cornered the market on Stans, touring through Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. If the photographic record is any indication (which you can find on the band’s Facebook page and in the cool new bluegrass website The Bluegrass Situation), the group left throngs of new admirers in their wake. I often say that the bluegrass audience is like the Platte River: an inch deep but a mile wide. Della Mae’s tour undoubtedly widened that fan base even further. It’s heartwarming to think of folks drinking the bluegrass Kool-Aid in places like Tashkent, Bishkek and Islamabad.

We have other good stuff from Della Mae to impart in the weeks ahead, but more importantly, the band will be sharing lots of new music in the form of an album that’s due to be released by Rounder Records in March. It will include the song featured in the video above. “Empire” is just one example of the group’s strong homegrown material. It was penned by Celia Woodsmith, who also sings lead on it. More on the new record as the drop date approacheth.

Della Mae’s founder and fiddler Kimber Ludiker recently referred to 2012 as “easily the best year of my life.” Just looking over some of the souvenirs from her travels, it’s not hard to understand how she feels, and the State Department tour in particular seems like a defining, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even so, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the coming year holds its share of important new milestones for this fast-rising ensemble.

Giving Thanks

Before 2012 recedes into the mists, we need to send some heartfelt thanks out to all the talented folks who contributed to the small mountain of videos that we put out in the course of the year. Working backwards chronologically, Jamie Lansdowne has just escaped to Los Angeles after spending the fall in the tyrannical yoke of Cousin Curly’s editing bay. Jamie gave generously of his time and talents and was instrumental to the shaping of the Josh Williams and Della Mae pieces that we are now sharing with the world. Lauren Scully worked through the summer months and was the core of our media team at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (aided and abetted by colleague and friend Geoff Poister). Lastly, for much of 2012 we had the good offices of two exceptionally dedicated filmmakers, Megan Lovallo and Paul Villanova. Mistress of Mayhem Megan edited a bunch of videos for us and contributed some gorgeous camerawork, especially at the Joe Val Fest, where she was joined by Anna Gerstenfeld. Paul dazzled us with his post-production skills and then went on to prove that his title Minister of Information was no joke. He has been the lynchpin behind our increased presence in social media and continues to be a key player in the Wide World of Curly. Which leads us to one last point…

Second Cousin Curly’s Plan for Domination of Worldwide Bluegrass Craze

It’s a New Year and we’re partying like it’s 2006! Yep, we at Team Curly are launching this thing called a Facebook Page. I know: it’s like hillbilly science fiction. We’ve got lots of good stuff to share, but “sharing with no one” just sounds like a bad Zen koan. That’s why we’re asking you to make “liking” the Second Cousin Curly Facebook page a resolution you’ll actually keep in 2013. Here’s to a tuneful and peaceful New Year!

Yer Pal— Curly

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