Rank #1: Folk Alley Sessions: Ana Egge
(Originally published June 2018)
The rain was coming down hard one day in April in Upper Jay, New York. And that’s the day Ana Egge, along with Alec Spiegelman (keyboards, bass clarinet) and Dave Cole (drums) showed up at the pop-up studio our friends at Beehive Productions Studio set up at The Recovery Lounge.
Egge, whose husky voice floats between a true-blue alto and the lowest possible soprano, was there to share some thoughts about her new album, White Tiger. She also shared some songs from it: the title track, a song she says she loves to sing; “Girls, Girls, Girls,” which is all about being young and single and free to live your life as you see fit, and the apocalyptic love song she wrote with her partner of 15 years in mind, “Be With You.”
Rank #2: Folk Alley Sessions at 30A: Gretchen Peters
For Gretchen Peters, good music is all about creating compelling characters and telling a good story. That’s how she approaches her music and that’s how, she says, she was finally able to take on some of her chaotic and confusing feelings from the past couple of years and translate them into new songs.
By focusing on creating and then giving voices to compelling characters, mostly women, Peters is able to tackle challenging and often heartbreaking subjects and ideas – political frustrations, concerns about the environment, dismay with and distrust of public power figures – and turn them into personal and meaningful reflections, reflections that we can all, somehow, understand and appreciate.
From the fears and concerns of a young girl, to the hopelessness of unrelenting poverty, to the laissez-faire attitude of a woman in the twilight of her life, Gretchen Peters creates characters that everyone can relate to. That’s a gift and it’s one displayed most prominently on her new album, Dancing with the Beast. She shared thoughts about the record and music from it during her exclusive session at this year’s 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida.
Rank #3: Folk Alley Sessions: Molly Tuttle
Molly Tuttle knew from the time she was 4 that she wanted music to be a big part of her life. Now based in Nashville, this young, incredibly talented and much-awarded musician grew up in a musical household and tried a few different instruments, including fiddle, before realizing that guitar was the instrument that spoke most directly to her. By the time she was 11, she was making music with friends in the local pizza joint, and a few years after that, she started taking songwriting classes. That’s where she learned about Bill Monroe, Hazel Dickens, Gillian Welch, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell and that’s also where she started discovering her own voice as a songwriter.
In late March of 2019, she came by the studios of Beehive Productions in Saranac Lake, NY to share some thoughts about her musical history and also to share some music from her debut full-length album, When You’re Ready.
Rank #4: Folk Alley Sessions: Lula Wiles
In a world increasingly filled with uncertainty, tension, fear, and anger, how in the world are you supposed to get through each day, doing the best that you can do? That’s the conundrum the trio Lula Wiles ponders, analyzes, argues about, and tries to answer on their new album, What Will We Do. Mali Obomsawin, Ellie Buckland, and Isa Burke, friends for years in their native Maine before coming together, officially, in 2016 in Boston, are three musicians who believe that music has the power to bring out the humanity in all of us. They gathered together at the Upper Jay Arts Center’s Recovery Lounge in Upper Jay, New York to talk about their new album (and their first one, too, on the Smithsonian Folkways label), how they approach making music, and, of course, how they came up with their name.
Rank #5: Folk Alley Sessions: Dead Horses
If you had to choose just one word to describe the duo Dead Horses, it might well be “personal”; nothing is off-limits when it comes to what inspires their sound and, maybe even more importantly, the stories they tell in their music. Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the duo, Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff, first started making music together in 2010; they cut their musical teeth playing at every opportunity that presented itself: farmers’ markets, the sides of busy roads, bars – so many bars – and any other place that would have them. And through it all, they remain dedicated to what Sarah describes as “the most worthy of pursuits for musicians” – songwriting.
From breakups to childhood memories, romantic entanglements and friends in trouble, Dead Horses tackle anything and everything that comes their way. Recently, they let us in to see how they think about music and musicianship when they stopped by Saranac Lake, NY for a Folk Alley Session at Beehive Productions' studio.
Here they share a song inspired by the poetry of Robert Frost (from their 2018 release, My Mother the Moon,) plus a couple of new songs for 2019, including the previously unreleased, "Mighty Storm."
Of "Mighty Storm," Vos says, “This song was inspired by a situation from a couple summers ago. My girlfriend and I live in Wisconsin and her brother was living in California at the time, where he got into a pretty serious motorcycle accident. She had to go out there to be with him, and I couldn’t join her. I struggled a lot because I wanted to be there for her, and I wanted her to be there for me too. It was kind of a strange moment in time, so I wrote this song to try to be there for her. I sent her a cell phone recording of it, then Dan and I collaborated and arranged the parts together.”
Watch the video premiere of "Mighty Storm" below, and stream it on Spotify - HERE.
Upcoming tour dates:
May 3: Platteville, WI - Tri-State Bluegrass & Folk Festival *
May 4: Bloomington, IL - Hallowed Hall *
May 5: Indianapolis, IN - Lo-Fi *
May 7: Knoxville, TN - Open Chord *
May 8: Decatur, GA - Eddie’s Attic *
May 9: Mobile, AL - Listening Room *
May 10: Baton Rouge, LA - Dyson House *
May 11: Austin, TX - Cactus Cafe *
May 14: Tomball, TX - Main Street Crossing *
May 15: Dallas, TX: Sundown at Granada *
May 16: Fayetteville, AR - George’s Majestic Lounge *
May 17: Little Rock, AR - South on Main *
* with special guest Benjamin Jaffe (of HONEYHONEY)
Rank #6: Folk Alley Sessions at 30A: Mary Bragg
Nashville-based musician Mary Bragg describes herself as “annoyingly optimistic.” Now, everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion, of course, but truthfully, there’s nothing annoying about the intimate truths and experiences she shares in her music. And, not all of those truths and experiences are optimistic, either. Indeed, each of the songs on Bragg’s 2019 release Violets as Camouflage had some element of masking: either fooling someone or being fooled yourself. Bragg says she wanted to call attention to that theme – the theme that something important needs to be revealed – in each track on the album. It’s the first record she has produced entirely by herself and while the process was time-consuming, demanding, and soul-searching, she says Violets as Camouflage is the album she’s most proud of to date.
Mary Bragg joined Folk Alley for a conversation and performance in our pop-up beach house studio at the 2019 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida.
Rank #7: Folk Alley Sessions at 30A: Amythyst Kiah
There are hundreds and thousands of great musicians out there today, making music, giving concerts, tuning guitars and writing the lyrical poetry that becomes memorable songs. You have to wonder: how do they ever even get started with a life in music? Tennessee native Amythyst Kiah credits her parents for getting her to fall in love with music when she was just a kid. She’s got a powerhouse of a voice, guitar and banjo chops to put anyone to shame…and a unique musical worldview, informed by a love of classic rock and MTV. After getting her first instrument at 13, Kiah spent the next decade or so honing that musical worldview and coming up with a sound that defies traditional categorization – it’s bluesy, folky, country rock, and gospel soul, all mixed together.
In 2013, she was able to create her first full length studio album, Dig, and in 2018 she joined forces with Allison Russell, Rhiannon Giddens, and Leyla McCalla as part of a collaboration called Our Native Daughters. They’ve since released an album on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Songs of Our Native Daughters. Later in 2019, Kiah releases another new solo album, Weary and Strange, and she shared some of her extraordinary history with us at this year’s 30A Songwriters Festival in Florida.
Rank #8: Folk Alley Sessions: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves
So, what does “old-time music” really mean? If you think about it, you start to realize that it’s one of those incredibly broad terms, the kind of term that could mean anything from traditional 17th century English ballads and fantasies (or, phantasies) to the kinds of music that Bob Dylan and Joan Baez made popular in the 60s and 70s.
Fiddler Tatiana Hargreaves and banjo player Allison de Groot first started their collaboration over the term “old-time music” and realized, pretty quickly, that their definition of the term was very similar. We like the same kinds of music, they say, and so it was easy to become musical partners and share that love with other music fans.
The duo put out a self-titled album in 2019 and they came to Beehive Productions Studios in Saranac Lake, NY to talk about it and about their musical partnership.
Rank #9: Folk Alley Sessions at 30A: Ruthie Foster
Ruthie Foster is an extraordinary musician who has lived an extraordinary life. She started making music when she was just a kid, singing in Baptist churches around her home in Texas. It was gospel music all the time…until Ruthie Foster discovered the blues. But then, her life took a turn. She enlisted in the military and ended up in San Diego where she worked as a helicopter mechanic. Foster was destined for a life in music, however, and eventually made her way to New York City where she honed the craft of songwriting.
She joined us in Florida at the 30A Songwriter’s Festival to share some thoughts about what making music for an audience means to her; that process, she says, lets her “channel the good stuff” in the world and it’s an experience she never wants to give up.
Rank #10: Folk Alley Sessions: Anna Tivel
Anna Tivel started making music when she was just a kid; it was her grandfather, she says, who first inspired her. He was a violinist and she started out on that instrument, too, playing it all the way through high school and college. It was only then that Tivel switched to the guitar and started thinking about writing songs, something she has been thinking about – and doing – ever since.
During a recent east coast tour, she joined us for a special Folk Alley Session taping at CitySpace in Easthampton, Massachusetts to share some thoughts about, and music from, her 2019 release, The Question. With Dietrich Strause joining her on backing vocals and guitar, Tivel dove into the inspiration behind a few songs on the recording…and explained why the music on this record, music from the guts, she says, feels oh so good.
(Recorded by Jeff Oehler and Sue Bibeau of Beehive Production, April 21, 2019.)