Tag Archives: Folk/Folk Rock

Dirty Town & Uncle Ho

Ewan MacColl was born James Henry Miller in Salford, England in 1915 of Scottish parents, his father was an iron moulder , socialist and labour union activist. The family was living within a Scottish community in Salford – Manchester, after being blacklisted in Scotland.

Maximilien Luce:  Charleroi Foundry, Casting (1896)

oil on canvas, 130 x 162 cm


Ewan MacColl left school age 14, founding a political theatre troupe he became a dramatist and actor. In the early 30’s he met and married actor Joan Littlewood. The family was under MI5 surveillance from 1932 also preventing some of MacColl’s song from BBC airplay.

My old man he was fifty-one – What was he to do?

A craftsman moulder on the dole – In nineteen thirty-two

He felt he’d given all he could give  

So he did what thousands of others did

Abandoned hope and the will to live – They killed him, my old man

Besides MacColl’s playwriting and acting, he became increasingly interested in working class music, and inspired by American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax he began to collect and perform traditional folk songs. Leading MacColl to open the Ballads and Blues club in Soho in 1953, giving birth to 50’s Brittish folk revival.

MacColl met only 21-year-old Peggy Seeger, half-sister of American folksinger Pete Seeger, she had relocated to Europe warned that McCarthy era US State Department would withdraw her US passport, after she had visited China against official advice.

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger together on Dirty Old Town:

I found my love where the gaslight falls

Dreamed a dream by the old canal

Kissed my girl by the factory wall

Dirty old town, dirty old town

MacColl is clearly a debatable figure, hardcore communist and even Stalinist, but honestly how many of us today can relate to how life must have been growing up in working class slums in the early 20’s, not to mention pre-revolution Russia. My grandfather was a foundry worker too and just as loyal to Soviet Union as  MacColl.

Every soldier is a farmer

Comes the evening and he grabs his hoe

Comes the morning he swings his rifle on his shoulder

This is the army of Uncle Ho.

Anyway no matter what you may think about his somewhat outdated political views, Ewan MacColl influence on folk music is unquestionable and his best songs have been covered by many different artists, from Roberta Flack, Johnny Cash and Rod Steward to Irish-British punk band The Pogues.

Miley Cyrus version of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

Desert, Revolution and Cold Wine.

Ghost on Ghost is an album released in spring 2013, by American singer-songwriter known by stage name “Iron & Wine”, “Iron & Wine” born Samuel Ervin Beam is known to create music and songs in what is usually called “Indie Folk” or “Folk Rock” in line with artist like Bon Iver or The Decemberists.

But what I particular like about this album, is that it expands a lot on the genre especially with strong Jazz elements. Adding jazz drummers Brian Blade and Kenny Wollesen, also Saxophone’s, Trumpet, Cornet, Alto Horn, Trombone and Upright Bass appears on the album, with a long list of guest musicians with Jazz as well as Classical music backgrounds.

Samuel Ervin Beam put it something like this, in an interview with SPIN back in 2013

Elements of ’60s and ’70s R&B and of Charles Mingus’s music. It was fun to combine the two in Lover’s Revolution, Desert Babbler sounds a lot like Marvin Gaye……, country elements and gospel elements, so the influences get mashed together.

This fine and crafted mix of music, centered around Iron & Wine’s straight forward but nice and relaxed songwriting, makes for a laid back music perfectly fitting a cold glass of White Wine or Rose  on a hot summer day, and that is what we got in my region right now.

John Paul’s roots music

To a list of all earlier post about Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. (reverse chronological order)

 In 2006 John Paul was producing and performing on Uncle Earl’s album “Waterloo, Tennessee”

A band playing old time traditional folk and bluegrass sending thoughts back to the early days of wild west, formed in 2000 by KC Groves and Jo Serrapere

At the point where John Paul was producing “Waterloo, Tennessee” the band was composed of these four women:

Founding member KC Groves: Vocals, Mandolin, Guitar, Mandola  Kristin Andreassen: Vocals, Guitar, Fiddle, Ukulele Banjo              Rayna Gellert: Vocals, Fiddle                                                                                        Abigail Washburn: Vocals, Banjo

On the album John Paul Jones was credited with Piano, Bass, Mandola, Wobble Board and Vocals. The album was released in 2007.

On this hilarious video John Paul plays the piano.

His next project as an album producer and performer would be Sara Watkins self-titled debut recorded in 2007-2008 and released in 2009.

Singer-songwriter and fiddler Sara Watkins is also firmly rooted in bluegrass and folk music, as longtime member of Grammy winning “Nickel Creek”, on the album John Paul is credited with vocals , bass, organ, electric piano, mandolin and piano

“Where Will You Be”

John Paul: bass, Sara Watkins: vocals, Sean Watkins: acoustic guitar, Jon Brion: electric guitar

If you listen


I first heard about Amos Lee in 2008 where his album Last Days at the Lodge got a brilliant 6/6 star review in my local music magazine GAFFA. The album turned out to be just as good as the review predicted and now almost 10 years later it is just as great as first time.

Amos Lee is able to create what I would call a seemingly simple rustic and underproduced sound, to match his no less that supreme vocals. Often the music is low pace, but there are a few just a little rockier tracks.

Amos Lee’s next album was Mission Bell from 2011, the album had a lot of guests vocalists. I don’t know if that is the reason why this album, besides having some very strong moments did not hit me nearly as hard as the previous one, but it never seemed to be an album in my mind more a lot of tracks.

That said “Windows Are Rolled Down” is a wonderful song and not the only one.

Amos have made albums before and after, but those are the once I know well.

I can’t get out !

In my series off ”Classic” 70’s masterpieces I could not, and wouldn’t dream of forgetting the mighty Tull, the main creator and dominating factor in the world of (Progressive) Folk Rock. It would be obvious to pick “Thick as a Brick” or “Aqualung” which is undeniably brilliant albums, but personally my favorite has always been “Minstrel in the Gallery” may not be that “early” 70’s but….anyway it will be my first Tull masterpiece to cover.

The opener functions as a great sum-up of what is to come later, with the mix of an acoustic opening and the harder rock finish, great melodic song parts and long instrumentals sections.

The next two tracks on side one includes a very evident and gracefully use of strings conducted by David Palmer, “Cold Wind to Valhalla” has already been covered here, on “Black Satin Dancer” the combo of Rock and Classic instrument is even more evident and brilliantly used to its full potential.

The first side of the album is perfectly rounded off with a completely low down acoustic. In my opinion one of the best quiet Jethro songs “Requiem”

All that was just amazing, but what lifts “Minstrel in the Gallery” sky high is the 16+ minutes “Baker St. Muse” epic, taking up most of side 2, a long track like that will make or break an album, and this one just makes my day every time I listen to it, and after more than 40 year that still happens very frequently.

The combination of Hard Rock, melodic song writing, acoustic passages and the strings is beautifully woven together into perfection.



Tim Buckley

Timothy Charles Buckley III, was born in Amsterdam, New York on Valentine’s Day, 1947
Buckley has covered an impressive range of styles, from a folk base, he explored Psychedelia, Jazz, Avant-garde, Funk and Soul over the 9 albums he made from 1966-1974, before he died of a heroin overdose only 28 years old.

His great vocal capacities, and his song writing deserves a lot more attention that it got back in its day. His highest peaking album was “Happy Sad” at 81, on billboard 200, most of his production was released without much success.

Today he’s legacy is a lot more valued, Allmusic rated 6 of his album 4 stars or more, out of 5.
His song “Song to the Siren” have been covered by a lot of artists, Damon and Naomi, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Half Man Half Biscuit, Sinéad O’Connor, Bryan Ferry amongst others. A tribute album, was released in 2000.

Tim’s son Jeff Buckley went on to mount a promising musical career as well before his own tragic death in 1997, but that is a totally different story.

Gryphon – Mushrumps from the past

Midnight Mushrumps (1974) is a lesser known but highly impressive masterpiece of 70’s progressive Rock music.

Other band bands like Jethro Tull and Gentle Gaint flirted with a combination of Progressive Rock, Traditional Folk and elements from Classical Music. Gryphon what doing the same thing to the extreme, where the Rock elements was toned down, and the music was clearly sending you to a time long gone, blended from many different periods, instruments, structures, all mixed together from Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque; Classical and Folk with a touch of modern rhythmic music.

Gryphon’s self-titled debut, released the previous year, was more clearly relying on European folk, with several song based tracks played on traditional instruments, on this their second album however, only one of these track are left, “The Ploughboy’s Dream”, the only “song” on the album.

Gryphon wrote and recorded music for a National Theatre performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the music inspired the almost 19 min title track for the Midnight Mushrumps album. The track is one of those brilliant 70’s progressive rock “ Epics, very unique in style, very complex, and timeless in its beauty. Taking up a full A side of the album, back in vinyl days.

After “Midnight Mushrumps”, Gryphon released another highlight with “Red Queen to Gryphon Three” later in 1974, a step even more in direction of the British Progressive Rock scene of the time, but I prefer the instrumentation and sound of “Midnight Mushrumps”, which I find to be more authentic and unique than their later albums. That said “Red Queen to Gryphon Three” is combined of excellent composition and great musicianship, and can only be recommended to anyone interested in Prog Rock inspired by the music of the past.

The Dragon, The Hird, The Bittersweet Love Song

Yukimi Eleanora Nagano, was born and raised in Sweden, to a Japanese farther and a Swedish-American mother. Since 1996 she have been vocalist in Little Dragons, a band she formed with high school friends, playing downbeat Trip hop, and electronic Pop.
From: Little Dragon – Little Dragon (2007)

On Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach, Yukimi co-wrote and Little Dragon was featured as guest performers on two tracks. Little Dragon was the opening act for Europe and Australia on Gorillaz 2010 tour, and guest performing live on those two tracks.
From : Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)

Yukimi wrote the lyrics and delivered vocals on Swedish house artist Hirds instrumental Keep Your Hird, re-released with vocals as “Keep Your Kimi”, as well as on other tracks from Hird’s “Moving On” album.
From: Hird ‎– Moving On (2004)

Yukimi was also performing vocals on two Koop albums. Koop is a Swedish Jazz, Acid Jazz, Trip-hop duo. There clean and unique sound is recognised as highly innovative in electronic Jazz, delivering a retro Jazz music, in a modern package.
From: Koop – Koop Islands (2006)

Koop’s albums features several guest vocalists, another interesting performance on Kopp’s 2006 album, Koop Island, was Norwegian singer/songwriter and guitarist Ane Brun.
From: Koop – Koop Islands (2006)

Ane Brun have been based in Stockholm, Sweden since 2001, recording seven solo albums. Her style is often Folk inspired, very stripped, focus is on the song and the vocals, often very emotional, reflecting on themes of love, with a mature bittersweet insight.
From: Ane Brun – Rarities (2013)

The song was written for the Film “A Thousand Times Goodnight” that won the Special Grand Prix of the jury at the Montreal Film Festival.

Vernon (Part 2)

If you havent already, read part one first.
Vernon spend 3 months in his father’s cottage in Wisconsin from November 2006, to find himself, after the break with his girlfriend, and his band at the time DeYarmond Edison, where he recorded the tracks that would lead to his major success, using a technic of extreme amounts of overdubbing, he founded the project Bon Iver in his solitude. Adding only drums, trumpet, trombone and additional vocals later, Bon Iver was born with the debut “For Emma, Forever Ago” first released in 2007.
Bon Iver, From : For Emma, Forever Ago, 2007

PELE members form Collection of Colonies of Bees in 1998, with the intension to explore traditional folk/bluegrass instrumentation, and combine it with modern processing and technology, but over the years transformed and played many forms of electronic and acoustic rock. Music that spawn the interest of Vernon and let to the collaboration, continued to this day.
From Collection of Colonies of Bees, Birds ,2008

Vernon himself started out by forming DeYarmond Edison in 2002, playing Folk Rock/Americana with some local success, making two albums self-released albums in 2004 and 2005.
From Deyarmond Edison, Silent Signs, 2006

On another side note, Vernon took part in the recording of Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera Hadestown, the Opera is a remake of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, where Vernon plays the leading male character Orpheus, Anaïs Mitchell plays Eurydice.
Anaïs Mitchell, From Hadestown, 2010

The B-side of Bon Iver’s grammy nominated single “Holocene” was a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me”, to return the favour of Peter Gabriel recording a cover of “Flume” from “For Emma…”,for his Scratch My Back album.
Bon Iver, B-side from Holocene single.

Vernon (Part 1)

Most people know Bon Iver’s self-titled album from 2011, to the point where it would make little sense to make a post about it now. So that is not the point here, but there is more to the story than that.
From Volcano Choir : Repave 2013

Latest “Volcano Choir” and their Repave album, released September last year. “Volcano Choir” is a collaboration between Justin Vernon, later frontman of Bon Iver and members of Collection of Colonies of Bees, starting back in 2005. Colonies of Bees itself a sideproject of “Pele” members, Chris Rosenau and Jon Mueller, “Pele” disbanded in 2004, but “Colonies of Bees” was continued.
From Volcano Choir : Repave 2013

To fully understand the music of Volcano Choir, it is also interesting to listen to the other related music, besides that of Bon Iver, so what was PELE about, they have been described as a post rock band, and even a bit atypical post rock, due to the fact that they flirted with Jazz elements.
From Pele : Teaching the History of Teaching Geography (1998)

Where Bon Iver, is basicly a one man project, Volcano Choir is a Band effort, albums are slowly formed of the creative process between the members, and it has taken years to create each of the two existing albums. The First album “Unmap” was released in 2009 after 4 years of collaboration, and another 4 years went by, before the release of “Repave”.
From Volcano Choir : Unmap 2009

To Be Continued