Fellow Pynins is an award winning contemporary folk duo with a keen and bucolic sense of vocal harmony and song craft anchored in the balladry tradition. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Fellow Pynins consists of Dani Aubert (claw hammer banjo, bouzouki) and solo artist Ian George (guitar, mandolin). They are songwriters, collectors, and interpreters. Since 2016 the duo has toured the United States continually and has gathered significant traction in the United Kingdom and Ireland, performing at festivals including Cambridge Folk Festival, Wilderness Festival, Omagh Bluegrass Festival, and selling out legs of their most recent tour. In 2019 they were named by NPR’s Bob Boilen as one of the best Tiny Desk submissions and the same year won the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music duet competition. In 2021 the duo relocated from Minnesota back to Oregon to build (learning every step of the way), two tiny houses on wheels for their young family, which they now live in.
When you’re looking for a shining example of how creative musicians make the folk tradition their own, the new album by the Oregon duo Fellow Pynins, Lady Mondegreen, fits the bill perfectly. Lady Mondegreen, which releases May 20, 2022, with an exclusive artist showcase performance during Folk Alliance International in Kansas City, Missouri, is composed of eight lovingly curated songs from the annals of folk music. Ian George and Dani Aubert, who together have created the historically reflective and forward-looking folk music on Lady Mondegreen, are indeed modern musicians, which means their brilliant interpretations of these timeless songs bear the mark of fruitful revision. In their hands, tradition becomes today’s reality, and the old world informs our understanding of the new.
Like the songs they reinterpret on Lady Mondegreen, Fellow Pynins have a story – stories, actually – that are essential to understanding their music. Dani and Ian relocated to Oregon in 2021 after living in Minneapolis for several years. Back in Oregon, they recorded Lady Mondegreen at their house, which sits, off the grid, in the mountain land of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, in southwest Oregon.
With Ian playing guitar, mandolin and piano and Dani bringing her banjo and bouzouki skills, they recorded Lady Mondegreen with help from musicians like trumpeter Tree Palmedo, trombonist John Cushing and bassist Ted Olson. The result is firmly based on stringed instruments, in the mode of traditional folk, with drones and colors provided by the horns, violins and drums, Fellow Pynins use so effectively throughout the album. Some of these songs – ‘Pretty Polly’ and ‘Silver Dagger’ (the latter tune is also known as the folk-bluegrass standard ‘Katie Dear’) – are universally known, and the totality of Lady Mondegreen represents the continuum of Anglo-American folk music.
Talking about the Lady Mondegreen track ‘The Galway Shawl’, Ian and Dani share this story: “We learned this song from Kitty O’ Mahony in Balleydehob, County Cork. We were searching around for folks who carried the songs they learned in their childhood and the woman at the laundromat sent us to Kitty. First she fed us apple pie and tea and had us meet her husband. Then she brought us into her sitting room, asked us to close our eyes and then sang and shared stories for hours”
“So much of Fellow Pynins’ original music is inspired and shaped by these wonderful old songs, and it felt so appropriate for us to record and honour them, like a collection of odes, by releasing an album of traditional music.”
In 2017 they were traveling through Vermont on a snowy night. They stopped in Montpelier, where they met a sculptor and folk-song enthusiast who told them a story: In 1954 the writer Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreen,” which now means a creative mishearing of a line in a song or a poem. When she was a girl, Wright listened to her mother read the lyrics of the Scottish song “The Bonny Earl of Murray.” In the song, the line “They have slain the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green” became – in Wright’s delightful interpretation – “They have slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”
Fellow Pynin’s version of the venerable song ‘Pretty Polly’ draws from both older versions of the song and Woody Guthrie’s rewrite, ‘Pastures of Plenty.’ Ian plays guitar in open tuning on ‘Silver Dagger,’ whose text was first noted in 1817. A century later in the United States, the song was still being played, and as ‘Katie Dear’ it became known to folk and country audiences via readings by the Louvin Brothers, Ian & Sylvia, and many others.
’Silver Dagger’ is a standard, and the version Fellow Pynins sing on Lady Mondegreen is informed by their own experiences listening to the song: “We’ve heard this one around a lot and we were always enchanted by the melody. We listened to a few versions and loved how varied the expressions on this song were so we thought it would be fun to see what we could do with it. Dani cracked this one out on banjo hanging on the back porch in Minneapolis. Once we moved to Oregon we would sit by the big leaf maples along the swimming hole and play it over and over again until we had our version.”
Lady Mondegreen opens doors into the past, which becomes the eternal present in the hands of Fellow Pynins. Lisa Dunn of the BBC on the duo: “Fellow Pynins will transport you into their haunting and beguiling world of love tales and
spine-tingling harmonies.” This world remains relevant to the technologically advanced society we live in, because these songs address the big issues: love, death, distance, and community. Like folk heroes on the order of Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch, Ian and Dani look to the future of folk.
Lady Mondegreen might haunt you, but the ghosts provide useful knowledge and the dreams they inspire.
Fellow Pynins has been selected as an Official Showcase Artist for Folk Alliance International taking place in May 2022.
Artists’ website: http://www.fellowpynins.com/
‘Pretty Polly’ – official video: