But there is one thing record companies used to provide that I miss- a filter. A filter that might help separate the limitless inspired amateurs from the even more limitless second-rate, don’t-give-up-your-day-job pretenders. Whether there’s more good- and there might well be- one has to weed through more and more bad to get to it. I do listen to the radio sometimes. Public radio, though it has its own quotas and compromises, occasionally can give one ideas. And word of mouth- I figure if there’s something great out there, one of my friends will eventually introduce me to it. And of course being a reviewer myself, I want to say that reading someone’s writing on what’s worth hearing has found me in agreement often enough to want to keep doing it.
But one method that rarely fails me is turning to releases from record companies that I trust to not bother with anything but quality releases. One such company is Nashville’s Compass Records, who I never tire of saying good things about. Having already taken the lead in releasing quality Celtic CDs for the US market, they’ve acquired Green Linnet’s catalog, home of most of the great artists that they didn’t already have on their roster! This is a merger that has no down side.
As a result, one of the finest Irish traditional bands on Green Linnet (and that’s saying something!), Téada, has released their wonderful new Inné Amárach (!!) on Compass in the states. And this is not just a CD, it’s a beautiful package, a two-disc set, one of music (all instrumental this time, though fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada is also an excellent singer) and one a DVD that traces the history of the music of Sligo and elsewhere (including a wonderful bit about early recordings of Irish music, which largely happened in such US cities as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago), intercut with some great scenes of the band recording the included CD. The CD is possibly their best yet (despite the lack of songs), with great playing from all concerned. They really mix the tune sets nicely, and include plenty of hornpipes, airs and polkas along with the jigs and reels. These young musicians are heavily steeped in the tradition, but bring a lively spirit to it, using strong rhythms on bodhrán and guitar or bouzouki to go along with their remarkable fiddle/accordion/flute front line. The CD is a great listen, but this is probably the finest DVD release of Irish music I can think of, working an impressive amount of history and great music by others along with interviews with the band.
Another method of hearing new music is to actually actively network, as I did at the North American Folk Alliance’s Far West conference in Sacramento in November. There I ran into a most friendly Jeff Berkley of San Diego’s Berkley-Hart, who I was already familiar with through their guest spots with other area musicians. For one, there’s guitar-wielding ex-major league baseball player Tim Flannery (slated to be the San Francisco Giants third base coach in 2007, fortunately I still like his music) who among the guests on their DVD Oh Berkley, Where Hart Thou? (!!), recorded live in early 2005. It’s a combination of very good performances from that movie’s soundtrack along with a few originals and covers. Flannery proclaims the healing powers of Kentucky moonshine before beautifully covering Gillian Welch’s Tear My Stillhouse Down. Calman Hart’s 911 Jesus is a great original song- simultaneously hilarious and sincere, with a classic old-time gospel sound. Flannery also helps on Man of Constant Sorrow, the daughters of all of the above harmonize charmingly through Keep on the Sunny Side, and of course everyone joins in for You Are My Sunshine at the end. The deluxe package includes both a DVD and CD of the show; the DVD also includes some bonus rehearsal bits. Berkley also handed me a few of their CDs, the most recent of which is Pocket Change, another marvel with acoustic instrumentation and lovely vocal harmonies. All have given me much listening pleasure. Between the two they play guitars, percussion, harmonicas and banjos, all beautifully. Check www.berkleyhart.com for updates. As my fellow columnist Larry Wines said a couple of issues ago, why aren’t they huge?
So that’s it for now. Keep finding music wherever you can, people. But don’t just sit in front of the computer. Go find the live shows, the conferences, the radio stations that suit you. Not that the computer doesn’t have a lot to offer. I’ve even found some good music on myspace. Hmmm, could this be a topic for another column?
> [!!!]—Classic, sure to be looked back on as such for generations to come.
[!!]—Great, one of the year’s finest. If you have even a vague interest in the artist, consider this my whole-hearted recommendation that you go out and purchase it immediately.
[!]—Very good, with considerable appeal for a fan of the artist(s). If you purchase it, you likely won’t be disappointed.
[—]—Good/solid, what you would expect.
[X]—Avoid. Either ill-conceived, or artistically inept in some way.
Dave Soyars is a guitarist, electric bass player, a singer/songwriter, and a print journalist with over fifteen years experience. His column features happenings on the folk and traditional music scene both locally and internationally, with commentary on recordings, as well as live shows, and occasionally films and books. Please feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him c/o FolkWorks.