Posts Tagged ‘Bluegrass’

Rusell Hoke

There’s an air of borrowed time about Russel Hoke’s The Melancholy Traveller. Not that Hoke has passed or is about to, but that he’d seemingly hung his instruments for good by 2016. Not merely hung them up, but sold them outright. That seems like shutting a door on the idea, but thankfully Hoke wasn’t quite finished with us just yet. He borrowed a guitar and banjo, and in an Alan Lomax meets modern times approach, recorded some material he’d hidden away to an outdated cell phone at home. As such, there’s a welcome roughness to the songs here, a private press film that can’t quite help but settle onto the unvarnished recordings. Considering he filled a double cassette anthology before hanging it up last time, this absolute trove of new material is so much more than leftovers from his cut out pile.

The songs are filled with pain, simple pleasures, emptiness, and hope. Hoke has an inimitable hold on the qualities that sent oral traditions from family to family, filling songbooks with the kind of universal truths that somehow became more ingrained with the barrel bare pluck of banjo or the oaken caress of guitar strings. Each song on The Melancholy Traveler seems both set for sunset rounds with family and friends and equally set for the solace of a back porch, filling the silence and loneliness before they grows too large and consume the heart once and for all. Hoke’s name might not yet be etched into the canon of American songwriters just yet, but this collection wedded to his previous compendium might just give the name the nudge it deserves.


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Bill MacKay & Nathan Bowles – “I See God”

The new collab LP from Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles already hit out string with the instrumental romp “Joy Ride,” but that’s only one shade of their new album. While the last cut loped along on the players pushing each other down a sunny hillside, the new tune, “I See God” explores their more somber side. The song is equally pulling from bluegrass and gospel to form a county square dance closer that’s quiet and contemplative. The song, originally by husband and wife duo E.C. and Orna Ball is given a more choral feel with the two male voices replacing the original give and take between the couple. Though they match E.C.’s sprightly fingerpicking, fleshing the song out a bit with a bit of organ orchestration. Its a tender old time slice of the past that’s given a new life sighing out of the strings of Bowles and MacKay. 2021 has no lack of guitar greats on the way, but this one should be pretty high on the list. Keys is out April 9th from Drag City.

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Bill MacKay & Nathan Bowles – “Joy Ride”

Yesterday was a bit nuts and so its only today that I’m getting a chance to absorb this lovely new single from two site favorites — Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles. The song is, as the title makes plain, an absolute joy. The pair tumbles through the most verdant valleys of folk and bluegrass to find a mid point that rambles with a honeyed ease. Bowles’ banjo work is never without a soft touch and a bright countenance and it shines through here playing off of Bill’s guitar runs like two friends tumbling down a hill and working their best to keep momentum without running into one another. It’s no hyperbole to say that within one month of popping the tab on ’21, Drag City has already set themselves up as one’s to keep pace on this year. This song just sets up one more highly anticipated high watermark for them when Keys comes out April 9th.

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