VARIOUS ARTISTS – 1989 Newport Folk Festival (Air Cuts AC3CD8060)

NewportHats off to the Air Cuts label for this box-set of the Ben & Jerry’s 1989 Newport Folk Festival – a near 30 year old recording, made to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the original 1959 event. While in many ways, this release harks back to the boxed editions of Newport Folk Festival recordings released on the Vanguard label back in the day, one of the most striking things about this set is the sheer completeness of it.

Indeed, it, quite noticeably, captures the ethos of Newport; fusing the old and new, while showcasing the variety of styles which the ‘folk music’ banner has to offer. Furthermore, while it would have been easy to cherry-pick the event’s best bits for one single record, we instead get three discs, each boasting a generous portion of live sets from the Festival’s contemporary headliners; along with a handful of stand-alone tracks from (then) up and coming talents and folk music royalty.

Disc one begins strongly, with a six track set from John Hiatt, featuring Ry Cooder on ‘Lipstick Sunset’. Very soon, we are given a taste of the vastness of the Newport soundscape; being presented with ragtimey numbers by Leon Redbone, a Russian Gypsy song – sung in Yiddish – by Theodore Bikel and the Cajun-influenced sounds of Buckwheat Zydeco. Interspersed among this, is one of the entire album’s standout tracks; ‘Mill Town’ by Cormack McCarthy, recorded on the Workshop stage for “today’s rising folk singers”. Disc two’s highlights include blazing sets from Laura Nyro and BB King, as well as shorter contributions from the Clancy Brothers and Odetta. The third and final disc employs a similar format and once again, (sizable and enjoyable) sets follow from John Prine and Emmylou Harris, along with a slightly shorter contribution from John Lee Hooker, while Pete Seeger closes both the Festival and the album with ‘Old Time Religion’ and ‘Sailing Up, Sailing Down’.

As a true reflection of Newport, this album is almost as accurate as it gets; something which most live festival-type recordings fail to express, let alone in quite so much depth. It is a really is a great set and whether it provides a re-visit of familiar material in a different setting, or an all-out introduction to completely unheard works, it is a very welcome release, and I hope, it is just one of many such sets to be issued by Air Cuts.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Lipstick Sunset’ – John Hiatt with Ry Cooder:

Mystic Pinball – JOHN HIATT

JOHN HIATT, one of America’s foremost singer-songwriters, has made a swift return to the recording fray by way of a brand new album, entitled MYSTIC PINBALL

MYSTIC PINBALL comprises twelve new Hiatt originals, and maintains the high standards that Hiatt achieved with last year’s excellent Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. In fact, the success of that album infused Hiatt with a real sense of urgency, and in Mystic Pinball has came up with yet more corroborative evidence that the man is at a new creative peak. Hiatt, accompanied by his backing crew The Combo – and let’s name-check ‘em here: Doug Lancio (electric guitar, mandolin, Dobro), Kenneth Blevins (drums and percussion) and Patrick O’Hearn (bass) – attacks the even dozen songs with a relish and energetic zeal that will not be denied – ranging from the Gospel-tinged Rock Action of the opener, We’re Alright Now, through to the most tender of ballads in the shape of No Wicked Grin, across an ever-impressive stylistic range – truly, the Man and Band are on fire.

Hiatt returned to the great producer Kevin ‘Caveman’ Shirley for the production seat – the man is one of America’s hottest sound talents, having graced recordings by the likes of Aerosmith and Joe Bonamassa, but here Shirley shows the same deft touch that he applied to Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, crafting backing tracks that frame Hiatt’s superb songs with a flair and dynamic intensity that enhances the potency of the songs without needless clutter. Shirley adds subtle tonal colour and imaginative shadings to tracks such as the brittle, bluesy, Wood Chipper that lifts a great song into something spooky and otherworldly. My Business may just be the toughest-rocking cut that Hiatt’s ever recorded, with its Howlin’ Wolf vocal hollers and gutbucket stomp, yet his thoughtful, ruminative side shines through on I Just Don’t Know What To Say, the very next track, a piano ballad of plangent majesty. MYSTIC PINBALL is an album of dazzling changes of mood and tone informed by the drive and ambition of a singer-songwriter at the very Top of his game.

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Malheu – mbilly

John Hiatt has no equal, at least to my ears, but M. William Helfrich is definitely on the path to becoming one of the next great Americana artists.

The Portland, Oregon based folk-rock songwriter known as mbilly will self-release “Malheu” on June 5, and if the stars align it’ll get him some seemingly overdue national recognition. The 11-songs on the release spill over with a deep-rooted sorrow and reflection he feels after the death of one of his best friends from childhood.

mbilly’s lyrics on such songs as the stand out “Sick for a Spell” are gently underscored by the throbbing of an analog drum machine and what the artist calls “fairly loose” instrumentation which is generally acoustic guitar and sprinkles of keys. There are also some lovely harmonies on various songs including on “All Lives Lived,” a late-night rumination on God and the paths lives take. As corny as it sounds, something about the song brings to mind the famous Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks” – yes, it’s that dark and mysterious.

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of orchestration on Americana but on these songs they do seem to add a bit of atmosphere without adding too much sentimentality. The aforementioned “All Lives Lived” is one of the album’s best examples.

My personal favorites on this album, though, go the bare-knuckles sounds on “Chimes of a Bell” – with some pretty hot guitar, keys, and percussion, and “Ghosts in a Room,” which starts out with percussion and vocals that hint toward an Americana REM.

When you talk to musicians, many speak of the spirituality of music that allows artists to convey thoughts and feelings that they couldn’t verbally articulate in conversation.

I thought of that when I read mbilly wrote these songs as a way to reflect on life in the wake of his friend’s death, but not as a way to answer those questions.

It’s easy to hear that these songs, released on the day of his friend’s birthday, do in fact answer some universal questions certainly for his listeners.

Now that this darkness has come, we can look forward to personal and professional dawn for mbilly.

Nancy Dunham

Find out more about mbilly on http://www.facebook.com/pages/mbilly/110439632305474

Hear mbilly’s song “All Lives Lived” from his upcoming album:

http://www.inmusicwetrust.com/pr/freemp3s/mbilly_allliveslived.mp3

JOHN HIATT – DIRTY JEANS AND MUDSLIDE HYMNS

Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, the new album from acclaimed musician and songwriter John Hiatt, will be released August 8th2011 on New West Records. This is Hiatt’s twentieth solo album and follows his acclaimed 2010 release, The Open Road, which was an Uncutmagazine Americana Album of the Month, while the The Arts Desk declared it (with severe understatement) “a rather fine collection.” As an added bonus, a deluxe version of the album will be made available, which will include a special behind-the-scenes DVD, The Making of Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns and 24/96 High Resolution audio mix of the entire album. Additionally, Hiatt will undertake UK tour dates in the Autumn of this year.

“…one of rock’s most astute singer-songwriters of the last 40 years.”––Los Angeles Times

Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns was recorded at Ben’s Studio in Nashville and was produced by Kevin Shirley(Led Zeppelin, Silverchair, Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes). In addition to Hiatt, the album features Kenneth Blevins on drums and percussion, Doug Lancio on electric guitars, mandolin and Hammertone and Patrick O’Hearn on bass guitar.

John Hiatt’s career as a performer and songwriter has spanned more than 30 years and his work has been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, BB King, Ry Cooder, Rosanne Cash, and Bonnie Raitt to Iggy Pop, Three Dog Night and The Neville Brothers.

Hiatt began his solo career with the 1974 album Hangin’ Around the Observatory. His landmark 1987 release Bring The Family received critical praise and was his first album to chart in the U.S. In 1991-92, Hiatt was one-fourth of roots-rock ‘Supergroup’, Little Village, alongside Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner. In 1993, Rhino Recordsreleased Love Gets Strange: The Songs of John Hiatt, which collected many of the cover versions of his songs that were recorded during the 80s and 90s. 2000’s Crossing Muddy Waters was released to critical acclaim and was called “The most natural and relaxed John Hiatt album in years…” by All Music Guide. In 2008, Hiatt was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and was honored by the Americana Music Association with their prestigious “Lifetime Achievement in Songwriting Award.”

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