Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Starting Out

There are many things that I love. A good book, a couple of pints, philosophical conversation, long walks. More often than not these things are accompanied by my most eclectic interest, listening to music. Sadly I don't play a musical instrument to any proficiency, strumming a few chords on the guitar doesn't count, though that didn't stop Woody Guthrie, but I listen to music as much as possible.

Most of my listening in these digital days is done through Spotify, and the 'Related Artists' function is something I spend far too much time clicking through, but it has brought to light so many bands I had never heard of before. Spotifynds, as the name suggests, is a guided tour through my discoveries on Spotify.

This week's playlist started out on YouTube really. My wife, Mrs Velkyal, is an accomplished musician that plays the piano, the guitar, and last year decided to learn the fiddle. After a few lessons she was playing a tune called June Apple, which we would listen to being played by Brittany Haas, though my favourite track on that particular album was always The Blackest Crow.

The Blackest Crow is a Civil War era Appalachian song which is just so painfully haunting, all the more so when Julie Fowlis sings it with Bruce Molsky. While looking for other versions I came across the first band in the playlist, The Show Ponies and their version of the song, so straight to Spotify I went to hear more. What I heard I liked, an almost indified version of bluegrass, with plenty of foot tapping hooks and catchy lyrics to sing along with. Whiskey and Wine highlights the band's playfulness perfectly.

The Greencards are based in Texas but two of the three come from the UK and Australia and play mostly harmonious bluegrass with very noticeable Latin-American influences, especially in the track chosen as the second on this playlist, Boxcar Boys. Having toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, you know you are on to a good thing, and while I have chosen to highlight Boxcar Boys in the playlist, the entire album, Sweetheart of the Sun, makes for wonderful listening.

Another American folk musician with very noticeable international influences is Abigail Washburn, whose 'Dreams of Nectar' is the third track on the playlist. A banjo player that has toured with the Cleary Bros Band, Washburn isn't limited to the traditional banjo repetoire, and clear influences from traditional Chinese music shine through in Dreams of Nectar. The combination of American folk with Chinese elements in this track makes for quite a dreamy soundscape that pout me mind of a river making its slow way through lush green countryside.

Shifting from the US up the continent to Canada. I first discovered Great Big Sea as a result of watching Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, in which Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle plays Allan a'Dayle. Finding them on Spotify introduced me to their foot stomping, sometimes manic, brand of folk rock that hit a chord with me immediately, especially as I am a big fan of The Levellers. The Fisherman's Lament, although a song about the demise of the fishing industry on the Atlantic coast of Canada is one that resonates deeply with this lad from the other side of the Atlantic. My family, on my mother's side, were all fishermen working the North Sea coast of Scotland, following the shoals of herring in a fishery that at one point supported 10,000 boats.

As I listened to more of The Show Ponies' stuff on Spotify, I clicked the 'Related Artists' button, and behold up came the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Hailing from North Carolina, this trio strike a wonderful balance of standard bluegrass and folk with a distinctive African American element which adds a soulful depth to their music, there are even moments when leader singer Rhiannon Giddens reminds me of Billie Holiday, particular in the acapella track I have chosen here. Pretty Bird not only showcases Giddens' soaring voice, but harkens back to the music of my home, especially the singing of the Gaelic psalms in the Free Churches of the Western Isles.

So here it is, the first Spotifynds playlist, 22 minutes of music discovered by trawling through Spotify.

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