Old Music, New People

During the past few months, we received three excellent albums of what could be described as “old timey” music. We thought it would be apt to do a quick round-up of these. We borrowed the article’s title from The Howling Kettles (it’s the tagline for their website).

The Howling Kettles
The Parlor Is Pleasant On Sunday Night CD (Self-released, 2012)

The Howling Kettles is the Vermont-based duo of Jackson Emmer and Sam Moss. Their debut album, The Parlor Is Pleasant On Sunday Night, offers renditions of ten prewar blues and fiddle tunes. We had the pleasure of interviewing Sam early last year, with a focus on his solo work¹. As a member of the Kettles, one hears him developing the other side of the coin, so to speak. Where his (and most) guitar soli work ranges from contemplative to esoteric, the Kettles’ emphasis is more clearly on fun. In fact, I imagine that live performances by these guys get downright rowdy. My case in point would be their frenzied performance on the recording of the mandolin-guitar romp, “All The Way Left”.

Other standouts from the album include a nicely sung version of the oft’-interpreted folk ballad, “John Hardy,” and an aggressive take of the jug band standard, “Hesitation Blues.” My favorite track is their version of the traditional instrumental, “Dry ‘N Dusty” which, if not for the clean recording, would probably pass without detection if inserted into the “Social Music” volume of Harry Smith’s Anthology.

Tom Feldmann
Lone Wolf Blues CD (Magnolia Recording Company, 2012)

Those who’ve perused the recent instructional videos issued by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop will be familiar with Tom Feldmann. The Minnesota native has led several workshop lessons reconstructing guitar techniques of legendary bluesmen like Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Son House and Fred McDowell. In turn, his latest solo album, Lone Wolf Blues, includes meticulous interpretations of prewar country blues and gospel songs by the aforementioned players and others from the period. Tom’s formidable bottleneck technique is prevalent on several selections, including the title track, originally by Oscar “Buddy” Woods, and McDowell’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.” The collection also includes three of Feldmann’s original songs, all rendered in a gospel style that makes them virtually indistinguishable from the period material. My favorite track is a lovely rendition of the traditional country blues, “Delia”.

Feldmann does not have a particularly distinctive singing voice, which is arguably not paramount in this style of music. That said, on some of Lone Wolf there seems to be a subtle disconnect between vocal delivery and song narrative… put another way: a failure to fully “own” the material beyond the guitar accompaniment. To be fair, this seems at times to have eluded even the best of recent generations’ blues interpreters: Ry Cooder, Stefan Grossman, others, and it’s understood that one would almost need a theatrical background to breathe life into the language as it was used a hundred years ago. Nonetheless, Feldmann is a masterful young guitarist that I look forward to hearing more from.

Lac La Belle
Bring On The Light CD (Double Lot, 2012)

In the spirit of disclosure, let me say that Nick Schillace & Jenny Knaggs of the Detroit-based duo, Lac La Belle, have become good friends of mine in recent years; my own duo has shared a number of bills with them and also with Nick on his own². Fortunately, this does not put me in an awkward position, because anyone who has seen Nick and Jenny perform will know that I’m not exaggerating when I sing their praises. In a nutshell: they are delightful, and the delight of their performances translates favorably to their new album, Bring On The Light. While the duo’s live repertoire features an array of traditional western swing material, from the famous “Wreck of The Old 97” to a version of “Along The Navajo Trail” complete with yodeling, the majority of Bring On The Light’s selections are original songs that tackle contemporary themes. The opening track, “Around The World,” penned by Schillace, treats staying put in one’s hometown as if it was an act of defiance, while portraying those who sever roots to chase success and glory elsewhere as misguided. To me, this seems to be an interesting reversal of the twentieth century rebel ideal; being a rust belt native, it’s one that resonates. The second track, “A Fine Line,” penned by Knaggs, indirectly explores the same theme, addressing its narrative to an “eternal fugitive”.

The duo cultivates variety by constantly shifting instrumentation, lead vocal and songwriting duties over the course of the album. While there are many memorable tunes, “Housebreaker” is one I’ve returned to many times since first hearing it this past summer:

Lac La Belle – “Housebreaker”

Click here for The Howling Kettles’ Bandcamp page
Click here for Tom Feldmann’s website
Click here for Lac La Belle’s website

¹ In a relatively short time, Sam has distinguished himself as solo guitarist, having released a number of albums and contributed to Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem Series (his track, “Miniature Dwellings II,” appeared on Volume 4 and he served as curator for the most recent Volume 5). Read our 2011 interview with him here: https://workandworry.com/?p=2881

² Schillace, like Moss, has released albums and toured extensively as a solo guitarist. He also contributed a track, “There Is A Place In This Old Town,” to Imaginational Anthem Volume 5.

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