This is the first in a series of Back Porch Music album reviews that Freddy Jenkins and I will be writing periodically. We'll feature new and significant historical releases worth mentioning. You'll hear some of these and hundreds of other CDs every week on the program. Leave your comments below.
One of the best parts of working at Back Porch Music is sampling all the music that comes our way from remarkable artists and sharing these artists with you. Here's a look at three that are well worth your time.
Regina Carter: Southern Comfort
Detroit-born jazz violinist and McArthur "genius grant" recipient Regina Carter explores her ancestors' Southern roots in Southern Comfort, released in early March 2014 by Sony Masterworks.
Relying on childhood memories and photographs, Carter conjures evocative portraits that arise out of the American South with reverberations that hearken to more distant roots.
In the opening number, "Miner's Child," you hear echoes of African music swirling around a blues that sounds old and modern at the same instant. (That song is featured in the opening of the video you'll find below.) Guitarist Martin Sewell and violinist Carter forge a sonic knot that demands your attention and prepares you for this musical travelogue.
The CD winds its way through many regions of Southern music. A jazz-country reworking of Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" seems at first out-of-place and then eases into shape as you find yourself filling in the opening lyrics:
Down in South Carolina
they're many tall pines.
The CD marches through gospel, blues, hints of New Orleans rhythms and Cajun fiddles, and earfuls of other Southern sounds.
In her thank-you credits Carter thanks Dr. William Ferris (Joel Williamson Eminent Professor of History, Senior Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South, and Adjunct Professor in the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill) for "the enlightening conversations, research materials and recommendations." Like Ferris, Carter uses photographs, many of which decorate the CD booklet, along with music to capture an essence of Southern culture. The culture comes out in the blues, honky-tonk country and jazz roots that weave their way through this sonic tapestry.
It's a riveting listen and highly recommended.
Bigfoot: I've Got A Bulldog
I have to thank former colleague Laura Candler for tipping me off to Bigfoot. What a pleasure it is to load this into your iPod and just let it play, too. It's infectious, relentless, hard driving old-time music that grabs you by the hand and yanks you out on the dance floor. Smile-inducing twin fiddling from Rhys Jones and Cleek Schrey kick off the lead-in instrumental "Indian Corn." You can watch the band's video of that tune here:
The song that lends its name to the album title is undoubtedly one of my personal favorites. It's furious, deep in the pocket, and the performance is a fine addition to scores of recordings of a tune associated with the Galax, Virginia area. (The song was first recorded by a band from Galax in 1928.)
The album is firmly planted on my short list of Desert Island Discs.
John Gorka: Bright Side of Down
Veteran singer-songwriter John Gorka returns in 2014 after a four-year absence with the release of his Bright Side of Down. The album opens with something that's a little too familiar from these past few weeks: being stranded by a snowstorm.
I'm holded up in Mason City waiting for the roads to clear
Second day of a blizzard and winter isn't even here.
Gorka's style is clear, warm, and full of life's little insights where "our memories are pictures with scissors for thoughts."
He brings in friends Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky, among others, to fill out a big folk sound that's somewhere between coffee house and concert hall.
The album begins with a winter blizzard and ends with a hope for spring in "Really Spring." In between you hear slices of middle America and universal human experience. Fans of Gorka will welcome this new offering and first-time listeners won't be disappointed.