Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream – Released April 2nd on Proper Records

With the release of her nineteenth album, Slipstream, Bonnie Raitt is starting anew. The album marks her return to studio recording after seven years; it’s coming out as the launch of her own label, Redwing Records; and it delivers some of the most surprising and rewarding music of her remarkable career, thanks in part to some experimental sessions with celebrated producer Joe Henry.

The years before and after Raitt’s last album, 2005’s acclaimed Souls Alike, weren’t an easy time for her, with the passing of parents, her brother, and a best friend. So after following that album with her usual long run of touring—winding up with the “dream come true” of the “BonTaj Roulet” revue with Taj Mahal in 2009 and a triumphant appearance at the all-star Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concerts the same year— she decided to step back and recharge for a while.

“I took a hiatus from touring and recording to get back in touch with the other part of my life,” she says. “On the road, under stress, it’s hard to stay in balance and move forward.” Excited to have time at home and with her family and friends, she could go to the symphony, check out live jazz and Cuban shows, and so much else. She continued her ongoing political work, helping to organize NukeFree.org in 2007 and supporting her favorite non-profit organizations. “I didn’t have to be the professional version of myself for a long time,” she says. “It wasn’t so much a vacation as a chance to take care of a lot of neglected areas of my life, a lot of processing after all that loss and activity.”

When she started thinking about making music again, Bonnie knew she needed to try something out of the ordinary. “I was really interested in working with different people, and someone I had always been drawn to was Joe Henry,” she says. “I’m a big fan of his writing and albums and love the work he’s done producing Allen Toussaint, Solomon Burke, and others. I thought it would be really intriguing to see what we could come up with. Coincidentally, he had been wanting to call me as well. Our first phone call lasted over two hours.”

They found a brief window when Henry’s usual crew of musicians was available, augmented by a new friend of Bonnie’s, the magnificent guitarist Bill Frisell. “I didn’t have to produce or get the band together, I could just show up and sing,” she says. “I came to Joe’s with, to use a Zen expression, ‘beginner’s mind.'” The experiment yielded eight songs in 48 hours, and Raitt was inspired to get back to work full force. “I loved singing these songs and playing with these guys so much,” she says, “This was just the jumpstart I needed to get me back in the saddle and wanting to work on a new album.”

She plans to release the full results of the Joe Henry sessions down the line, but for now she chose to include four of these tracks on Slipstream —the Henry originals “You Can’t Fail Me Now” (co-written with Loudon Wainwright III) and “God Only Knows,” and two songs from Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album, “Million Miles” and “Standing in the Doorway.”

The album’s title is very significant for Bonnie —Slipstream isn’t just a beautiful sounding word, but an indication of her place in the music community. “I’m in the slipstream of all these styles of music,” she says. “I’m so inspired and so proud to continue these traditions, whether it’s reggae or soul or blues. I’m in the slipstream of those who came before me, and I’m leaving one for those behind me. I’m holding up the traditions of the music that I love.”

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Artist’s website: http://www.bonnieraitt.com/

TAAB 2 – WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GERALD BOSTOCK?

Ian Anderson’s follow up to 1972’s classic prog rock album offers some answers

Prog Rock? Prog Rock? In 2012? Are you serious? Well, yes actually – although let’s use the original term ‘progressive rock’. Cast aside all prejudices as Jethro Tull’s singer / flautist / composer Ian Anderson explains what led him to revisit the genre some 40 years after the ground-breaking Tull album Thick As A Brick.

In the early 1970s bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson were pushing musical boundaries. The arrival of punk cast a shadow over a style of music that admittedly was becoming self-indulgent and pretentious, and the term Prog Rock became somewhat derogatory. But, Ian explains, “To me, anything is progressive if you are trying to take things on into a slightly new dimension, and draw upon different influences and push them into something that fits your own sense of inventiveness and your own career progression. So ‘progressive rock’ is a fine title.”

Jethro Tull’s short ‘prog rock’ era peaked with 1972’s Thick As A Brick, a 45-minute continuous piece of music charting the difficulties of a child growing up and confronting a frightening and unfair world. The album was encased in a spoof local newspaper The St Cleve Chronicle, with a headline story that a precocious schoolboy called Gerald Bostock had been disqualified from a poetry competition because of the inappropriate nature of his epic poem, which Tull then allegedly used as the album’s lyrics. Ian explains that the idea stemmed from the critics’ descriptions of 1971’s Aqualung as a ‘concept album’, even though it was just a bunch of songs a few of which had common themes. “In the light of the Aqualung reviews I deliberately set out to do a concept album that would in essence be a bit of a parody of other people’s concept albums and grandiose progressive rock adventures. I thought let’s take this slightly arrogant and pompous way of writing and presenting music to an extreme, with the fiction of a then 10-year old boy having written the lyrics. Of course it’s preposterous and really quite silly, but it was the era of Monty Python, when that sort of surreal British humour was quite well embedded in the British psyche.”

The album was a world-wide success, including a No 1 spot on the American Billboard chart, and excerpts from the piece have regularly featured in Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson live shows. But Ian had steadily resisted record company suggestions that he write a follow-up. It was not until a chance encounter in 2010 with old pal Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant, who nagged him to consider a 40th anniversary sequel, that Ian gave it some serious thought – and surprised himself by not dismissing it out of hand this time. He had noticed that in recent years his audiences had been changing. “It wasn’t just old codgers, it was kind of a mix between old codgers and young codgers. It really struck me that there was this new wave of interest from youngsters who want something that is an alternative and antidote to the X-Factor and the very repetitive rock music that does tend to be the stuff of today. So I began to feel that it was not quite as undignified as I had earlier supposed to be doing something that was more in that kind of progressive vein.”

In February 2011 Ian spent a couple of days sketching out some ideas. “It was predicated on the idea of what might have befallen Gerald Bostock, this precocious child, where would he have headed in life? And the more I started thinking about that the more I thought that there were so many pivotal moments in my own childhood where, often quite by chance, I might have gone in one direction or in some completely opposite direction. I could have been anything from a soldier or a sailor or an astronaut to a thespian or a silviculturist – although when I left school I actually tried first to join the police force and then to be a journalist on the local newspaper, before music took over while I was at art college.

“So I imagined Gerald Bostock as this 10-year old kid entering into puberty who, by the look of the young male model who was photographed in 1972 as the notional Gerald Bostock, was obviously a rather swottish schoolboy who probably wasn’t very popular at school and probably wasn’t very good at sports. What sort of opportunities would he have had, who would he have been, what would he have been led towards? I started to write a number of scenarios, including a piece looking at his possible early life immediately post-puberty, and then another piece later on for each of these characters that Gerald might have become, leading through to adulthood. Then in the latter part of the album I drew all these things back into a common kismet-karma kind of future where, in spite of all these chance interventions, there is maybe some element of fate and we all end up where we were going to end up anyway, in spite of the fact that we may have taken some radically different roads along the way.”

From that loose concept emerged TAAB 2. Recorded in November 2011 with Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (keyboards), David Goodier (bass) and Scott Hammond (drums), musically Ian has very deliberately echoed the feel of the 1972 album by using many of the same instruments, including a lot of acoustic guitar and lashings of Hammond organ, and to a large extent recording it with the band all playing live together, with the minimum of overdubs and no use of limiters and noise gates and other tricks of the trade, leaving engineer Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree) to tweak things himself. And, whilst there are ID points to allow separate tracks to be downloaded from iTunes, it is a continuous 53-minute piece of music with recurring musical themes.

Also echoing the 1972 album, and the St Cleve Chronicle newspaper sleeve, the 2012 album is housed in a mock-up of a local news website www.StCleve.com, which Ian designed himself in a deliberately not-too-professional pastiche of community websites (and which will be accessible online, with an area where fans can add their own spoof local news stories). ”It’s light-hearted most of the way through StCleve.com, with lots of fairly vulgar schoolboy smutty stuff, but there are also some serious bits and things that are quite observational of the parochial home counties way of life. There will be some familiar characters like Max Quad, and Angela de Groot who runs a fitness centre now. And there will also be various people known to me and known to the world, although their names are slightly twisted around. But you’ll know who they are….” And the 18-month world tour, starting in the UK on April 14th, will also nod to 40 years ago and what Ian describes as the “amateur dramatics village hall” 1972 stage show with a new theatrical presentation involving videos and character actors.

What is Ian’s view of the finished project? “Unlike the original 1972 Thick As A Brick, the mood of the album is not really a spoof. It’s not a funny thing; some of it is quite heart-aching and serious, and sometimes a bit intellectual, and sometimes a bit upbeat and amusing, but not in a spoof-fun way. It’s an altogether rather more serious work, and even when you think it’s being light-hearted and funny there’s a seriousness behind it.

“It’s observational about stereotype characters. And one of the stereotypes I chose not to make Gerald, at least on the album, was a politician, as it seemed too obvious – although he does appear on the album sleeve as a recently unseated Labour MP who’s come to live in the St Cleve vicinity. He does however appear in other guises like a corrupt Christian evangelist, as an overpaid investment banker with huge bonuses and the kind of person we love to hate these days, and as a casualty of war as a repatriated serviceman helping those less fortunate than himself to acclimatise back into the real world with obviously a very bitter sense of the futility of war. Those are down moments and scary moments. But you need to take people through it. So you sometimes do it in a light-hearted way.

“Somebody may draw the parallel with Quadrophenia, but that’s completely wrong. This is not split personality, this is about totally different characters that we all might have become in our lives. If we’d walked on the other side of the road, or picked up the ‘phone, or read that article in the newspaper, things like that could have changed our lives. And that unmistakably is what happens to people in their lives, the friends they make, the relationships they enter into, perhaps in marriage or whatever else. This is all about – as it says in a couple of places – the what ifs, the maybes and might have beens moments in life.

“One of the pivotal moments on this album is the piece A Change Of Horses, which fans will recognise from our stage shows over the last year or so. It’s about that point in your life where you say, if there’s ever going to be a change it’s got to be now. That happens to a lot of people perhaps in the forties or fifties, and I rather like the idea of this re-gearing, this re-evaluation, and there being a second part in your life where fate draws you to some conclusion. But it’s not just looking back, it’s also about looking forward. The what ifs and maybes were rich and exciting moments in my teenage years, filled with a mixture of promise and sheer terror, because it’s a scary world out there. So that’s what I’m exploring, and I think it works for people at both ends of the age spectrum, for the middle-aged Waitrose trolley-pushing shopper and the pubescent youngster who’s facing some decision-making.”

So just to confirm, from a 2012 perspective, is TAAB 2 a concept album? Ian is emphatic in his response. “Yes, it is very much a concept album! It is a concept album that I think is fairly grown-up and mature, but I think it should ring bells for people of all ages. It’s an intellectual proposition. I’m not sure how many people are going to be ready for that kind of a thing, but I think there will be enough people for it to be a worthwhile record to make. But it’s unashamed in its asking you to think about it and listen to it. Some of the music is pretty straight-ahead which you can just kind of groove to, and some things work without your being too cerebral about it. But the overall concept and indeed lots of the lyrics and parts of the music you are going to have to make a bit of an effort with. I think that some of us like to do that. Combine that with all the detail that’s gone into the peripheral aspect of presenting the album with the artwork, the stcleve.com website and so on, it all wraps up into a big package that I think will give people a lot of fun.”

Martin Webb January 2012

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The official Jethro Tull website: www.jethrotull.com

Much-loved Canadian folk roots combo Po’ Girl

The beauty and mystery of Po’ Girl’s music – a sound that has beguiled fans the world over – springs from the mesmerizing bond shared by its two lead singers and writers – Allison Russell and Awna Teixeira.

Hailing from Montreal and Toronto respectively, both women left untenable home situations at fourteen, found music instead of bad ends, and lived to sing the tales. The interplay between these two stunning performers is truly something to behold. You’ll hear echoes of speakeasy jazz, the western lament, the accordion-strapped ghosts of European folk accompanied by the wail of the clarinet in the music of Po’ Girl, but it’s delivered with a soulful clarity and depth that makes it all their own.

It seems almost silly – and not very interesting – to trot out a long, endlessly hyphenated list of the many influences coursing through Po Girl’s music. Suffice to say it’s 21st Century roots music – North Americana if you will – never derivative, not faithfully aping a beloved tradition. Teixeira and Russell don’t re-hash the old forms, they reshape and reinvigorate them for new ears.

Since Po’ Girl’s birth in Vancouver, BC in 2003, Russell and Teixeira (and an ever revolving cast of stellar musical friends), have averaged over 250 days a year on the road, bringing their inimitable roots revelry to 13 countries and 4 continents and winning over new fans and friends everywhere they go. With 5 internationally critically acclaimed studio albums, a live album, a b-sides album, and a DVD to their credit with Po’ Girl, Alli and Awna have firmly established themselves as two dynamic, compelling songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalists with true staying power.

2012 sees them both exploring more facets of their artistry with some exciting new projects. Awna is getting ready to record her first solo album for release later this year. She’s also working on a companion volume to her first book – A Brief History and Introduction to the Gutbucket Bass and a new series of Children’s Books, for more information visit www.hazytales.me

Alli has teamed up with Chicago songsmith JT Nero (of JT and the Clouds) and is currently working on their debut duo record Birds of Chicago to be released in this summer/fall for more information visit http://birdsofchicago.com/

She’s also involved in a recording project called Sankofa whose album The Uptown Strut (Kingswood Records) which also features John Sebastian (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Dom Flemons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Ndidi Onukwulu, Sule Greg Wilson, and Professor Louie (The Band) is released in the US on March 27th.

Po’ Girl will be doing one tour and one tour only in 2012 , March 21st through April 14th in the Netherlands and the UK, joined by Mikey ‘Lightning’ August on drums and Chris Merrill on bass. These are the only scheduled Po’ Girl shows this year, in order for Alli and Awna to have time to record, release, and tour their new albums. They’ll be working on the songs for the next Po’ Girl record and making guest appearances on each other’s new projects too – you can expect a new Po’ Girl album down the line in early 2014.

Genuine gypsies, these two wander and play. They move and move and play and sing. It’s quite simple. Always restless, more often than not bone-tired, they write their flashes of sadness, their loss, their good love, their hope, their dreams of home into songs that matter deeply to them. Like any good art, they are little acts of self-rescue. So you should listen. You aren’t much different from them, and who couldn’t use a little rescuing these days?

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Texan fiddler-singer-songwriter Amanda Shires released new album ‘Carrying Lightning’

Texan fiddler-singer-songwriter Amanda Shires announces her first headline tour of the UK & Ireland in April & May, including shows at this year’s prestigious Kilkenny Roots Festival, accompanied by Rod Picott on guitar and Todd Pertll on lap steel.

Widely regarded for her regular collaborations with Justin Townes Earle, Jason Isbell and Rod Picott, Amanda is taking a deserved turn in the spotlight, promoting her spellbinding new album Carrying Lightning – see below for full tour itinerary & album details.Amanda will also be recording sessions during the tour for Bob Harris’s BBC Radio 2 Sunday show and Barry Marshall-Everitt’s House Of Mercy during the tour.“Carrying Lightning builds on the evocative alt-country of 2009’s excellent West Cross Timbers, showcasing both the breathless immediacy of her singing voice and the plainspoken elegance of her songwriting voice. Full of Tom T. Hall’s wry humor and Leonard Cohen’s dark intimations, these are songs full of dark undercurrents and uncertain desires.” American Songwriter

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Artist web link and tour dates: http://amandashiresmusic.com/

Cowboy Junkies – The Wilderness

You remember the Cowboy Junkies, right? Well, they are just about to release The Wilderness, Volume 4 of The Nomad Series on March 26, 2012, marking the conclusion of an ambitious schedule of four releases over an 18-month period. Before we get into that though, have a look at this gem of a video clip recording (one of our favorite folking Neil Young songs) which was recorded a few years back when the band played in Dingle, in Ireland.

The group’s Michael Timmins says of the new CD, “The title, The Wilderness, in some odd way seemed to define what these songs were actually “about”: fragility, emptiness, loneliness, beauty, chance, loss, desperation – the delicate balancing act that makes up a life. They are about being lost in the wilderness of age, the wilderness of parenthood, in the wilderness of just trying to find meaning and substance, happiness and truth in one’s day to day life. They are about standing alone in middle of it all, breathing in the cold, still air and wondering.”

The preceding album, Sing In My Meadow, a collection of songs recorded over a four day period that evokes the psychedelic, blues-inspired forays the band is fond of exploring on stage was hailed by R2 Magazine as:“Stunning”, while Q Magazine wrote: “..their creative instincts remain sharp…even familiar listeners will be intrigued.”

The first volume of the series Renmin Park, released in 2010, was inspired by Michael Timmins’ two-month stay in China with his family in ’08 and was called: “Their best album since those Trinity Sessions” by the Independent on Sunday. Demons (2011), the second in the series, is a collection of songs by the late Vic Chesnutt which the Daily Mirror called: “The finest tribute Vic could have”.

“The whole Nomad series is excellent, each album different and each outstanding in its own way”. Dai Jeffries Folking.com

Cowboy Junkies were formed in Toronto in 1985 after guitarist and songwriter Michael Timmins and long-time friend and musical partner, bassist Alan Anton, recruited Michael’s sister, singer Margo Timmins and brother, drummer Peter Timmins to join them.

The band recorded its blues-inspired debut album Whites Off Earth Now!! (1986) and released it on their own Latent label. Touring the US in support of the album, they traveled extensively through the South and Southwest, soaking up the music of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and others, which provided the inspiration for the band’s second effort, The Trinity Session. The Trinity Session, the band’s seminal album, is a melancholic mixture of blues, country, folk, and rock featuring a collection of originals, covers and traditional songs.

For more than 20 years, Cowboy Junkies have remained true to their unique artistic vision and to the introspective, quiet intensity that is their musical signature, creating a critically acclaimed body of original work that has endeared them to an audience unwavering in its loyalty. Albums like The Caution Horses (1990), Black Eyed Man (1992), Pale Sun, Crescent Moon (1993),Lay It Down (1996) and more recently, Open(2001), One Soul Now (2004), Early 21st Century Blues (2005) and At the End of Paths Taken (2007) chronicle a creative journey reflecting the independent road the band has elected to travel.

Cowboy Junkies returned to Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity for a day in November 2006, joined by Ryan Adams, Natalie Merchant and Vic Chesnutt to revisit the repertoire of The Trinity Session in celebration of its 20thanniversary. The resulting film, Trinity Session Revisited, released as a DVD/CD in January 2008.

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Artist Web link: http://latentrecordings.com/cowboyjunkies/

Cathy Jordan – All The Way Home

Musician and vocalist Cathy Jordan, long time member of multi-award winning traditional Irish band Dervish, will launch her debut solo album on 2nd April 2012.  Cathy’s first ever performance as a solo artist took place on Friday 20th January at the Tron Theatre at the Celtic Connections Festival.  The gig featured guest appearances from album contributors including fellow Dervish star Liam Kelly, flute/whistle legend Michael McGoldrick and members of Swedish band Väsen.

The new album, All The Way Home, is the highly anticipated solo showcase of the musical and vocal talents of the Roscommon native. This seminal work, some twenty years in the making, features many of the most notable names in the folk world, both at home in Ireland and abroad.  All The Way Home, which was produced in Sweden by acclaimed producer, multi-instrumentalist and long time collaborator Roger Tallroth, intimately communicates the rich cultural tapestry resulting from Cathy’s unique musical and personal journey from early childhood through her professional success to date.

All The Way Home allows the listener a glimpse into a more personal side of Ms. Jordan’s life. Among the twelve tracks are traditional ballads Cathy would have heard sung in the family home from the earliest age. Performing these songs with family and friends was a fundamental part of family life and became embedded in Cathy’s musical psyche. They are songs that now represent the tradition of her childhood, a tradition that has experienced a renaissance of interest in recent times. For this reason Cathy wanted to reintroduce these songs to a new generation with a vibrant and contemporary energy, whilst retaining some of the traditional methods of how they were intended to be performed. To achieve this Cathy worked with acclaimed musicians such as Roger Tallroth (guitars), Gustaf Ljunggren (lap steel/banjo/piano) and Lars Andreas Haug (tuba) of Sweden, Ireland’s Andy Irvine and the distinctive sounds of singer song-writer Eddi Reader with whom she duets on Eileen McMahon.  Also featured are Michael McGoldrick on uileann pipes, Rick Epping on concertina and harmonica, Seamie O’Dowd on fiddle, Liam Kelly on flute among others

To write a fitting chapter to the story that is All The Way Home Cathy includes four of her own songs, which mirror an early chapter and somewhat of a conclusion to developments in Cathy’s own life.  The first of these The Road I Go, co-written with Brendan Graham, tells the story of the restlessness of youth, of a young person bored with the familiar surroundings and experiences of home and longing to see the world and what it has to offer, yet well prepared by a strong sense of place and family. The final song, and title track to the album, tells the opposite story, a story of a longing to return to the familiarity of home after seeing what the world actually has to offer and finally realizing that ‘home’ is where the heart belongs.

For Cathy there is special place in her heart for this album; “These singing sessions and songs provided the soundtrack to my life for many years.  Every social occasion had a singing session to mark it; births, deaths marriages’, christenings, house Stations, Easter, Christmas; you name it we sang our way through it.”

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Artist Web link: www.cathyjordan.com