Category: Robby Hecht

New Artists, Old Songs, Vol. XXIV: Digging deeper into
The Far West, Robby Hecht, Gregory Paul, Adna, Josienne Clarke & more!

February 2nd, 2012 — 12:07 am

When we started our New Artists, Old Songs series back in 2008, the goal was to feature otherwise-unknown artists who were just starting to hit the proverbial radar. And though we still try to balance ourselves between the new and the longstanding – knowing that introduction of the new and reframing of the familiar better serve us all if grounded in the depths of history, concerned that the temptation to tip into the world of mere promo passalong could trap us yet – since then, we’ve returned to the premise numerous times, cautiously optimistic about that which is worth celebrating, determined to ply the first coverage of artist on the cusp as an entry point into their original work and craft.

By all accounts, the approach works. To take one singular example, just three years after we pulled her live Bob Dylan cover from the mailbag and introduced her to the world atop our very first New Artists, Old Songs feature, Angel Snow has become both a Nashville sensation and a songwriter to the stars, with three original compositions featured on Alison Krauss’ most recent album.

I note this, though, because in recent weeks, we’ve started an experiment, sharing our ongoing pursuit of the new and now throughout the week via smaller-scale tidbits on a Cover Lay Down Facebook page; indeed, many of the artists you’ll hear below have already been tasted there. And if I was late to the social media networking game, it was for honest reasons: the intention was to expand our coverage and reach, but I worried that such small-scale blasts would obscure and trivialize that which we work so hard to select, share, and celebrate.

Which is to say: though it confounds the conceit that our New Artist, Old Songs series only features artists not otherwise heard, we’ll keep the Facebook page going, for the nonce – it’s fun, and the fact that it has served as fodder and anticipator for this very feature suggests that it is working, even if only 150 of you have “liked” the page thus far. But we’re also using today’s entry to make a commitment to the continued need to feature the emerging artist at his or her inception. Because the slow population climb over in the breakneck zone of social media has revealed an important truth: blogging is not dead. Micro-media are fickle; it takes more than 140 characters to tout and truly celebrate, to expand and explain. And where those who blog the popular too often aim merely to pass along today’s hot potato, our goal is not to crest the wave, but to support at the foundation.

And so, today, we bring forth an expanded set of shorties, pulled from recent Facebook posts, blogs, mailbag, and beyond. Because, as the slow but steady success of Angel Snow and so many others have shown us, the longevity and permanence that a blog can bring matter greatly, in the end. And while words in the blue-and-white slipstream fade fast from our consciousness, the depth and commitment we offer here on these virtual pages is where our heart lies.

It’s hard to avoid the inevitable comparisons to Sandy Denny and June Tabor when talking about new UK folk revivalist Josienne Clarke. But all British accent and penchant for tradfolk tropes aside, there’s something stunningly modern in the crystal-clear production she trends towards, and utterly ancient in the delicate stringwork she favors as accompaniment to her sweet, achingly controlled soprano vocals and recorders. The result is a perfect balance of both classical voice-and-guitar folk and traditional balladry, in many ways more reminiscent of John Renbourne’s quieter, more pensive work than anything. And the music is everything we might want in a folk album: delicate, crisp, subtle and nuanced, and beautiful in every tiny moment, from each full-throated opening note to a thousand lingering fades and falls.

For all that, Clarke has released but two formal albums: 2010 debut One Light Is Gone, and The Seas Are Deep, a “pay what you want” Bandcamp collection of well-loved folk songs recorded by and with multi-instrumentalist Ben Walker, and featuring apt assistance from Red Clay Halo cellist Jo Silverston on four of the nine album tracks. Walker’s production and mixing are exquisite; their take on Silver Dagger, especially, has been making the rounds of the folkblogs, even going so far as to bring songs:illinois out of semi-hiatus in mid-January. For comparison’s sake, check out mastered versions of John Riley and Black Is The Color below, fully sprung from the brand new collaboration, and then stick around for Josienne’s covers of Nick Drake, Jackson C. Frank, and Richard Thompson.

By changing up the rhythm of the melodic line into something more singer-songwritery, but keeping the fiddle and banjo that so traditionally lead these bluegrass and gospel standards, Upstate NY native (and Seattle transplant) singer-songwriter and experimentalist Gregory Paul‘s “old time noir” takes on Rain & Snow, Wayfaring Stranger, Little Sadie, O Death, and other traditional songs utterly transform our aural templates for the songs themselves, justifying our continued insistence that the parts of the cultural songbook which predate copyright have plenty of life in ‘em yet, and providing a powerful model for how to move the classic folkforms respectfully but firmly into the 21st century. The resultant tracks are mystical and freeing, hypnotic and haunting, challenging our preconceptions while thrilling the senses; as with other covers but moreso, they also lead us to Paul’s substantive set of original works, which tender the same tenor and tropes, ridding us of our preconceptions about what folk is and should be, even as they echo of the modern indiefolk and neo-trad movements. Found via Hearth Music, who missed it last year, too.

We actually featured both Robby Hecht and Alex Brumel and Janel Elizabeth over the weekend here in these pages, as both had covered Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You; I had heard of Robby a bit before, since he’s been touring with Cover Lay Down faves Red Molly; Alex and Janel, who come from diverse backgrounds – he the singer-songwriter tradition, her a jazz singer’s past – fell out of the ether in the midst of the usual all-nighter that generally frames the winnowing process as I struggle to find the best and most diverse set for our Single Song Sundays.

But further pursuit of both artists in the subsequent days has revealed depths worth plumbing. Hecht’s more recent originals run from truly tender ballads to full-bore Americana folk – his original lost-love song A Reckoning Of Us is absolutely amazing, and should be played for anyone who thinks they’ve heard it all before – but his early YouTube covers are honest and warm, delightful and potent, the singer-songwriter’s heart and confidence showing through in what is ordinarily an amateur’s medium, despite low-tech, late-night videography and recording quality; as I noted on Facebook, his soft coverage of Patrick Swayze’s one and only hit single from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack is surely the best take on the song ever, bar none, even if the recording quality is ragged and a bit too low. And Brumel and Elizabeth’s Falling Slowly cover truly showcases their voices without drowning them, the low guitar more than just strumming, but carrying the undertow weight of the song, proving the worth of both their collaboration, and of the individual talents involved. Keep an eye on both artists for more as their careers continue to grow.

I found Duncan Stagg through a random SoundCloud search for the word “cover”, which brought me five interpretations of modern popular indiefolk artists and a small set of original works. His coverage tells us what his influences are, really – two decent albeit formulaic Iron & Wine songs, a beautiful version of fingerpicking instrumental master Andy McKee’s For My Father, a warbly take on Angus and Julia Stone’s The Devil’s Tears, and this wonderful Bon Iver cover – but it’s his pinched, deliberately strained rock and roll tenor, reminiscent of Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong more than anything, that so startles me, especially when coupled with ringing guitar, lush bedroom production elements, and what appears to be overdubbed harmonies.

It took me forever to figure out that I had actually heard of Stagg before this – he’s the Bristol student whose YouTube Deer Tick cover so struck the band, they invited him on stage at the End Of The Road festival in 2010 to play along with them. But beyond that single anecdote, as with other artists we’ve featured in the past in our New Artists series, there’s very little else about Stagg himself out there – a google search reveals no such artist, the SoundCloud page itself contains nary a link; it’s possible that he’s now performing as part of a grungy pop trio calling themselves Silver Wings, but it’s hard to tell. For now, at least, the music will have to speak for itself.

I hate to copy and paste from the Facebook page itself, but in this case, I think I got it right the first time – and the repetition is especially apt here, given the topic, and the way it pushes us to consider the pace and postures of the Internet age. And so I repeat myself, by noting again that turn-around time on coverage these days is pretty fast; youth finds its way forwards faster, too. Here, with evidence of how the cycle works, is brand new 17-year old Swedish folk sensation Adna, newly signed to Despotz Records and just about to release her first single via YouTube sometime this week, who found enough time in the studio during that same session to cover one of the newest singles from equally young, equally scandinavian First Ait Kit, who made their own initial splash with a cover of Fleet Foxes on YouTube in 2008, and are now wowing the blogs with their own major label album.

  • Adna: The Lion’s Roar (orig. First Aid Kit)

And finally, this just in: those who like their folk rootsy and countrified will be happy to learn that relatively new five-piece Southern California band The Far West, which formed in 2010 from the ashes of a myriad of other groups that just weren’t hitting the mark, just this minute sent me two amazing covers: a Guy Clark song recorded for Don’t Let The Sunshine Fool Ya: The Sin City Sings The Songs of Guy Clark, a brand new tribute set just being compiled over at Americana source-and-a-half Turnpiled, Junkstyled, and a wonderfully hazy, oozingly Parsons-esque country Americana waltz transformation of Roxy Music’s More Than This that quite literally blew my socks off when it hit the inbox.

Good thing I checked for last-minute entries just before I hit the publish button for today’s feature. The talent’s there in spades, but timing is still everything, guys – so here’s hoping a little extra luck keeps the momentum going. The No Depression crowd is going to LOVE this.

  • The Far West: That Old Time Feeling (orig. Guy Clark)

2 comments » | Duncan Stagg, Gregory Paul, Josienne Clarke, New Artists Old Songs, Robby Hecht, The Far West