Here are a few of our favorite musicians just a bit outside the mainstream with links to their websites. No charge for this, no consideration given. We know some of these folks personally, some we’ve had casual contact with, a few we’ve never met at all, we just like their music. If there are folks on here you’ve never listened to, we hope you’ll give them a try. Some have CD’s for sale at CDBaby.com, which is a small, smart alecky, neat resource for folks looking for unusual music. You might also try CDRoots, which is basically just Clff Furnald selling interesting music.
In case it is not clear, the NAME of each group in this list is also a LINK to their website or other information about them.
The Greeks invented these a few years before Jesus’ time. Strings on a box, all tuned the same, the wind blows across them and creates music with the varying harmonics of different wind speeds. You can buy one, or buy a CD of one for meditation, from Greg Joly, a Victoria BC piano-tuner and wind harp artisan since 1980
You can probably figure out why he’s here. He plays fingerstyle guitar, sings baritone, and writes songs. No solo albums available, no bootleg cassettes. We’re talking obscure here, folks. But from time to time he’ll post a song or two on this site just because he can.
You may also know him from the group Cottonwood.
Sounds like a sweet, harmonious, traditional country band, until you listen to the words. Then you realize it is an evil, dangerous, and possibly even liberal group, but funny as drunk monkeys with bagpipes.
She sings, he plays cello. She’s got a sultry, folky voice; he does not play cello the way your high school teacher told you to play cello. Creative, but also easy on the ears. Turns out she’s the daughter of Peter Yarrow, of Peter Paul and Mary, and they’ve released a new album as Peter Bethany and Rufus.
Beyond the Pale Canadian post modern klezmer
Incredibly talented young bluegrass group from Vancouver. Upbeat, great harmonies and hot instrumentals. Just when you think you’ve got them pigeonholed, they come back on stage as the Mark Atkinson Trio and do Django Reinhart style gypsy jazz, or maybe a bluegrassy take on Begin the Beguine. Whatever your generation, you will like these guys. They used to call themselves “The Bill Hilly Band”
Norwegian folk singer, with a very cool voice. She calls her music Celtic Scandanavian Acoustic Fusion.
If Bluegrass had developed in Sweden using the nyckelharpa rather than the banjo, it might sound like this. I can’t understand a word these guys sing, but their music just makes me feel good. Mostly positive, upbeat, cool harmonies, but with a few hauntingly depressing songs, as only Scandanavians can do them.
What the Austin Lounge Lizards are to country music, the Bobs are to acapella music. Memorize that, because it’s the answer to a question on the SAT. Gifted singers, arrangers, and songwriters, they occupy a unique place in the world of acapella. The weird corner. A friend of mine managed these folks early in their career, so I became a fan back when they played small rooms to middling crowds. I wrote some articles for their newsletter. Tight harmony, twisted words. Gunnar Madsen was an original member and wrote some of the most offbeat of their songs, like “Welcome to My Fog” and “Bus Plunge.” He got tired of the road, so is now off marching to the beat of a drummer few humans can hear, creating music, movies and books.
One of the neatest voices in the world, a rich bass, he sings and writes lovely songs, often with some element of the sea or sailing. He said some nice things about my original songs in a long, handwritten letter, so please buy all his CD’s. His latest CD is especially nice.
We should support good people who are very talented.
Several years ago I found myself alone in Santa Fe, New Mexico with an evening to kill. I walked into a live music venue where these guys were scheduled to play. The doorman said the group played “sort of reggae music.” That was cool with me, I paid my money and found a chair. But when they started playing, I immediately knew this was no reggae band. There was a fast samba underbeat and a heavy rock front beat, and sometimes a Bo Diddley beat. Sort of like Little Feat with a heavy accent, or Santana meets the Stones. A whole roomful of New Mexicans sat puzzled while the band started smoking up the stage. The music was world beat, but no one had ever heard of that at the time and no one could get their brains around the syncopation. But by about the fourth song, some folks had figured it out and the dance floor filled. Within another song or two the whole room was one writhing, twisting, sweating mass of newly converted world beatniks. I was by far the oldest rocker in the house, but I’ve never been a shy dancer; I’m sure many Santa Fe folk still have bruises the shape of my elbows all over their bodies. I became a huge fan. This is irresistable dance music. It does not beat your ears bloody, or scream vulgar nonsense at you, but I guarantee it will pick up the pace of your exercise routine. It’s just fun.
One of my favorite female voices. The first time I heard her on the radio, I pulled over so I could write down her name and track her down. Which took a while, because I was spelling her name wrong. She used to sing folk but, remarkably, at exactly the time I decided it would be cool if she would sing one of my songs, she switched to jazz and has been singing that ever since. I’m sure it was a coincidence.
After 35 years and 60 recordings, you probably already know this quintet. They play mostly classical music on brass instruments, like trumpets and tubas, sometimes with singers. To some people, classical music on violins and cellos is too sweet, too much a thing from a different generation. Some of those people will love it when played on these instruments. It’s got a clean, aggressive sound, and there aren’t many better musicians in the world. More info and many CDs on Amazon.
Lord Byron and Isaac Nathan
Imagine that, over time, the musical aspect of West Side Story was forgotten and all that remained were the words. If that happened, Arthur Laurents might be a famous poet while Leonard Bernstein would be a forgotten musician. Something like that happened with Byron and Nathan. About 30 of Byron’s poems were originally songs, the music written by Isaac Nathan. But the music was difficult for untrained singers; perhaps for that reason the words alone survived. Paul Douglass of San Jose State has been instrumental in reversing that. You can listen to “She Walks In Beauty” and others online, and buy CD’s of the music as well. Douglass has also produced a CD of songs by Lady Lamb, and has written books on her, and on Isaac Nathan, and maintains a website devoted to songs of the Romantic Period.
Canadian Folk Directory
NorthernJourney.com was a printed directory of Canadian folk musicians that became an online resource with links to the websites of hundreds of Canadian folk artists, from Suasan Aglukark to Charlie Zahm. In between there were links to groups like the Be Good Tanyas and Barra MacNeils as well as more familiar friends like Gordon Lightfoot and Jesse Winchester and Valdy. The guy who ran the operation is a neat fellow. When I was having trouble remembering the name of a Canadian group, he emailed all his buddies for me (and that’s just a TON of buddies). With their help, I tracked down the group I was looking for, and discovered a bunch of new music as well. Alas, the website has bit the digital dust, to be replaced by a book and CD with the same info. I don’t own it, but it might be interesting to you. A bit pricey, even used. Northern Journeys 2.
Many stations, many styles and you can listen to in your basement, in your jammies, no matter where you are.
While tracking down Bethany and Rufus, I discovered an interesting world of cello players I never knew existed. Here is a sampling:
—The New Directions Cello Association is devoted to mostly non classical ways to use the cello
—Corbin Keep is a Canadian cellist who is a fine musician but also funny and creative. He improvises like a jazz player and entertains like a stand up comic. He’s the guy that directed me toward New Directions.
—Zoe Keating San Francisco based cellist, plays her cello as if it were a whole band.
—Emma Beaton and Celtic Chaos Energetic yet traditional Celtic, Swedish and traditional American music
—Natalie Haas who plays with Alasdair Fraser. Did you know the cello can be a percussion instrument? “Fire & Grace” was awarded the Best Album of the Year in the Scots Trad Music Awards 2004.
—The Winks Very young, very hip, not for traditionalists. But very creative songs and sounds.
—City Druid (see below) features Becca Owens on cello
— James Hill plays ukelele, and sometimes his girlfriend Ann plays cello with him.
— Apocalyptica Four cellos, heavy metal music. What’s not to like?
—- City Druid
A thoughtful and creative young group from Portland, Oregon that features the songs, voice and guitar of Joey Amdahl, plus the cello and occasional voice of Becca Owens. Drums, bass, electric guitar, electric cello. Lots of potential. Alas, the players have moved away from each other, geographically, so you’re not likely to hear them live any time soon.
—– (end of cello music)
|Cottonwood (our old website isn’t working– will see what I can do)|
I sang in Cottonwood for about ten years. We had a playlist of over a hundred songs, of which a dozen were my originals. We released two CDs which can still be purchased on Amazon and a few other places. Cuts from each of those CD’s made it to “Best acoustic music” compilations sent to radio stations, which resulted in some radio play for us around the world. Turns out, people in Adelaide, Australia seemed to like us, as did folks in Garden City, Kansas. Upbeat, harmony-intensive acoustic music. We played gigs as far east as Indiana and as far west as San Francisco, but mostly stayed in Colorado. I quit because of health issues, but Barb and Bill (who had the good voices) are breaking in a replacement guitar picker/singer/songwriter, Jim “Dalton” Butler and you’ll probably be able to hear them again soon. I understand they will have a different name.
You can hear samples and even buy cuts of our CD “Floating” on Amazon
You used to be able to hear samples of our first CD “Voted Most Poplar” on Amazon as well, but I just discovered someone (or some computer) has replaced our album cover and songs with something called “Big Lou’s Polka Casserole by the Doctors of Polka-ology” Man, I wish I would have thought up that name. Obviously, I need to check Amazon more often. Perhaps they’ll fix it…
But you can still hear a few cuts from Voted Most Poplar on CDBaby.
Dept of Special Collections, Donald C. Davidson Library, University of California at Santa Barbara
A digital collection of 10,000 “cylinder recordings” both musical and spoken. Cylinder recordings were the earliest commercially produced sound recordings. This site has music and speech from as long ago as 1894, including a bunch of stuff from the World War I era, and music from other countries. My son Joey recommended this to me, David Seubert created the page. We live in an interesting time. As I type this, I’m sitting in my basement listening to the ghosts of singers and players from a hundred years ago, their music captured on fragile cylinders of tinfoil or wax, and that wax resides in some vault over a thousand miles from me. Yet, with a click of a button, I summon them in less than a second. Merlin would faint.
Alan Lomax recorded thousands of folk musicians before it was cool. He lugged massive recorders powered by car batteries into the swamps and backwoods. If not for him, many of the songs we take for granted would have been lost forever. Cultural Equity has digitized 17,000 of these old recordings and put them online for you to listen to for free. Lomax never made money at this, neither have his kids. If you’ve got some spare cash, they can always use some. The Global Jukebox has extended this research by posting a very cool database online where you can search for songs by country of origin and other relationships. I haven’t explored it much yet, but it looks fun
A nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting very old music.
If you like quirky, smart and sometimes amusing songs, fabulous harmony, high energy acoustic music, and fantastic percussionists, this is the group you’ve been looking for. They are actually from Virginia. Their CD titled “Quick” is one of my favorites.
This is a Lansing, Michigan store that buys and sells vintage instruments, including stuff that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Perhaps the best finger style guitarist in the world comes from Australia. His CDs are good, but this is a guy to see in person. You’ve never seen a fingerpicker entertain a room like TE. I spent an afternoon with a dozen other guitarists in a workshop with him. I’ve been playing a long time and was six feet from him and still couldn’t tell what he was doing. At one point, he asked each of us to play something. When it was my turn, my hands were shaking. That was the most nervous I’ve ever been playing guitar. I chose an instrumental I’d written years ago and stumbled through it. When I finished, he turned to the others in the room and said, “You see that? That’s why I ask you guys to play me something. That guy just tore it up.” Probably the nicest musical compliment I’ve ever received. Later that night, after he finished playing to a crowd of 5,000, he still remembered me and said hi.
The following day I stopped at one of the festival vendors to get some coffee. Three people were sitting nearby just playing for fun. I stopped to listen. Hundreds of people walked past on their way to the “real musicians” on the many official stages. They completely ignored these un-amplified amateurs. But I recognize good music, and these three kids were smoking hot, so I stood there alone and listened. After a song or two, by sheer coincidence, Tommy came over and stood next to me, also impressed. We exchanged whispered comments on their licks and drank our coffee. After a few songs, we started chatting with them. Tommy admired the guitarist’s instrument. The kid handed it to Tommy and he played us a tune as only he can. Then he shook our hands and was off to play at the big stage. The kid’s eyes were wide. He whispered, “I’m never gonna wash this guitar again.”
Luckily, Tommy tours the US nearly constantly now. He’s a neat guy and a great showman. You won’t be disappointed. His CDs are available on Amazon.
Creative, energetic and talented young acapella group in Colorado. It feels to me like they are right on the edge of breaking onto the national stage. Besides doing “regular” acapella stuff, they stretch out into cooler things, like a funny and difficult vocal version of the Theme from the Pink Panther. Just about everyone in the group has a good solo voice, and the guy who does vocal percussion will blow you away. He does a solo of “Wipe Out” for example. Somehow he does the lead guitar part while doing the drum part, all vocally, and then the drum solo. Best microphone spitter I’ve ever heard. Especially if you live in Colorado, try to see these guys.
The science fiction community has its own acoustic music called “filk music.” Thousands of songs with a science fiction theme, many of them funny, some are parodies. Thousands of performers, hundreds of events. I mention it here just in case you are unaware of this huge group of interesting and talented musicians. Among the nicest folks in the world. They had an organization, and a link, and samples but that website has time traveled to some era I can’t access. Information on them on Wikipedia.
Everything in the world about Native American flutes
This is a cool Internet radio station from Kent State in Ohio. It’s been around forever, it’s free, nice music. Plus links to many other resources. You have to register, which amounts to creating a password for yourself, but they don’t pester you.
In the world of opera and other big voices, it seems like the tenors get all the media attention. This guy could change all that. Nathan has a rich baritone and does a wonderful job with classical works, but also has the gentle touch for more popular music. Amazing voice.
Dennis is a Northern Michigan fellow who builds cool instruments out of weird stuff . You can watch him play some of his creations on youtube.
Two of my friends, Barb Henry and Mark Reinhardt play as a duet. She sings (really well) and he plays keyboards and sings. I sang with Barb in Cottonwood for years, I’ve known Mark for years. They do a lot of old standards and light jazz. If you live near Denver, they play frequently in comfortable venues that serve good food.
A cool, spunky trio of young Irish women that seem to play whatever they like, slow or fast, pop arrangements or very spare ballads. Sometimes called the Henry Sisters, because that’s what they are, they sing lovely but unpretentious harmonies and play traditional instruments like harp and mandolin. Sometimes they sound like a bluegrass group, sometimes like a folk group and sometimes like a forties jazz/swing group. You don’t have to be a “fan” of any specialized genre, they are easy to listen to regardless of your taste. I liked their tune “Sing My Sister Down” so much when I heard it on FolkAlley.com I tracked them down. Looks like they’re very popular in Ireland, and beginning to tour Europe and Australia as the opening act for much more famous groups. If I enjoyed them this much, I bet lots of other people will too. One of their CD’s is available on Amazon, and they’re on Spotify and itunes. Watch for them.
This guy is amazing. He taught himself guitar and did everything wrong. He lays it on his lap, the low strings are away from his body because he plays left handed but didn’t re-tune it. All this may be because he’s blind, but don’t feel sorry for him. Heck of a player, nice jazz feeling. But if you’re a guitarist yourself, you can’t watch him and tell what he’s doing. It’s like he plays a whole different instrument.
Canadian songwriter. He writes neat songs and sings well. His rich voice and noticable accent gives him a Sean Connery kind of sound. I first saw him in 2000 at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, one of his first big public gigs, and have been telling people in the US about him ever since. I have even sung his song “Borderline” in public, which is not the same as hearing him do it.
James is the Wayne Gretzke of the ukelele, which is a big deal if you’re Canadian. Never thought I’d hear anyone play the uke so that I’d want to sit and listen to it, but this kid has converted me. Amazing player
Excellent fingerstyle guitarist and a nice guy. I spent a morning in a guitar workshop with Pete, and he plays stuff that is not possible to play while he carries on a conversation.
I have been learning some obscure Irish songs written about 1800. Some have not been heard in 200 years, some were well known at the time, but have never been recorded. These include songs by Edward Lysaght (known as Pleasant Ned Lysaght), John Philpot Curran, James Kenney, Charles Dibdin, John Henry “Irish” Johnstone, and Lady Morgan. I’m having a ball. The songs are hard to sing, but once I feel comfortable I’ll record them. I wrote a blog about it here.
In studying up on the times, I wondered about the instrument they used to accompany them, thinking that might influence how I played them. Turns out, they almost certainly used an “Irish harp,” which is different from the instrument we know as a “celtic harp.” The celtic harp was invented in 1820. The Irish harp is the one O’Carolan would have used in the 1700s, and so would Pleasant Ned and my other new friends. That harp had metal strings, and some players used their fingernails to play them, like fingerpickers do today. In the last few years a woman named Siobhán Armstrong has been trying to revive this old instrument. She plays a replica of these old instruments, which have a brighter tone than a celtic harp. She also founded the Historical Harp Society of Irelandto foster interest in them. One of the oldest examples of these harps is at Trinity College in Dublin, which is where Pleasant Ned and his buddies went to school and hung out later in their lives. There’s a picture of a replica of this lovely harp here.
For more information on early gaelic harps
One American harp maker is David Kortier or Minnesota.
Lynne Lewandowski makes lovely early harps including metal string harps. She’s in Vermont.
Colorado bluegrass group featuring Bill Chapman, Tom Chapman, Jim Loats and Doug Gallob. Interestingly, I’ve tried to go hear these guys perform because I know at least two of them, and they’re good musicians; but when I show up at their gigs, the schedule has been mysteriously changed and nobody told me. It’s like they’ve somehow heard that I heckle or something. Who, me?? I hope you go to their website, get on their mailing list, and then let me know where they’re REALLY going to be playing. They claim to lean toward a bluegrass, acoustic, folk sound with smoking, tight bluegrass harmonies. But who knows?
Update: OK, now I’ve heard them, and they are quite good. Their harmonies are rich and nice. A pleasant way to spend an evening. Apparently, the way to see them is to NOT warn them you might show up. They now have some samples from their CD posted on their site.
A group of Colorado women who play early music, like from the Renaissance, on cello, violin, guitar etc. Neat authentic sound.
I recently discovered that the entire world does not, in fact, know the King’s Singers, although it’s hard to believe. An acapella group from England with musical precision, style, grace and humor. Their Good Vibrations CD is the one to start with. This is not doo wop acapella. This is what really, REALLY skilled classical singers sound like when they get together to have fun with Billy Joel tunes, or Paul Simon tunes.
This is an amateur, volunteer choir in Denver that practices once a week and sings at nursing homes, airports, Christmas celebrations etc. I belonged to this for several years and always really enjoyed it. You don’t need to be a great singer to join, but they manage to make everyone sound good. Plus, they have a ton of fun. If you’re looking for an outlet for your musical yearnings, you could do a lot worse than this merry band.
This website links to over 4,000 European radio stations that stream live on the Internet. You can listen to soccer scores in small Irish towns or hard rock coming from Stockholm. A few stations don’t work very well on my Macintosh, and some require a free download to work right. But this is the cheapest vacation a person can take without leaving his basement, and you’ll hear music you won’t hear any other way.
Lomax traveled the country and recorded thousands of folk songs beginning in the 1930s. His collection of over 17,000 songs is now online and free
When I was young and did not understand insensitive phrases, I confess that I sometimes accused a tentative guitarist of “playing like a girl.” I would no longer say such a thing, and would repudiate and reject anyone who made such a comment. But that thought would never have occured to me about this musician. Susan does not play like a girl. She’s a “real” guitar player, and also a real singer, but mostly a fine songwriter. She’s from Canada, where they must teach songwriting in the school system. She sings bluesy folk. Her album “Gray Matters” is upbeat, simple, and effective; mostly just her and her guitar, which is more than enough. She has a new album out as well, but I haven’t heard it yet.
Lots of free music to listen to from the huge collection of the Library of Congress. Old blues, jazz, folk etc.
Martin Taylor is an excellent fingerstyle jazz guitarist. He’s got a website full of teaching videos for folks who know how to play but want to improve. It costs ninety bucks to subscribe for three months, but there are also some cool free videos. I’m posting it here so I don’t lose the site. I wish I could play like this guy. I wish I could play like any two of his fingers. My son Paul turned me on to him.
Norwegian hardanger fiddler and vocalist. My grandfather told me the hardanger fiddle was the devil’s instrument. He swore he once heard one playing all by itself in his barn back in Norway. In fact, they were banned from churches and thousands were destroyed. The reason? Four unplayed strings beneath the fingerboard vibrate in sympathy with the regular strings, creating the eerie illusion that someone (or something) is playing along, just beyond your conscious hearing.
Benedicte is a young woman who has recorded using some of the few surviving ancient hardanger fiddles. She was Norway’s Young Folk Musician of the Year in 2007. She also speaks English, sings, and has begun to play gigs in the United States, making her an excellent guide to this music. She has a CD out, as well as a DVD about these old fiddles (you get it free when you buy a CD because it might only play on your computer.) You can watch a video of her playing, singing, and explaining the instrument here.
The Hardanger fiddle association of America can provide more information about the instrument itself.
Just in case anyone does not know one of the most popular and influential songwriter/performers alive, a guy that everyone in the acoustic world admires. Songs of protest, songs of love, children’s songs, happy songs. Fine instrumentalist as well, playing banjo, guitar, hammered dulcimer, keyboards and hand jive. You will leave a JM concert feeling better than you did when you got there, and also feeling like you are a better person.
Pretty blonde Norwegian sings sultry jazz in a deep voice. It may be hard to get her CD’s in America yet, but worth it. Sings in English, with just the faintest hint of a cool accent, mostly familiar standards, but also a few that I think she and her band wrote. I don’t know how she pronounces her name, but I pronounce it to rhyme with Mona Lisa. She and I exchanged CD’s. Link to her website doesn’t seem to be working right now.
Classical pianist who also improvises, in both classical and jazz styles. Very fun and creative. You’ll be surprised.
Most popular string quartet in Poland. Good musicians, even better entertainers.
An Irish singer who sings contemporary Irish songs. He has about my favorite male voice in the world. A butter-melting voice, easy, rich, and inviting. He sang with DeDannon for a while, but I haven’t found any recordings of him and them together.
Native American music
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this music. My friend Tom, the Dodge 440 Shaman who has rescued me from destroying the engine in one of my old vehicles more than once, has some indigenous blood in him. He recommends Joseph Firecrow, who plays the flute. This is accessible music anyone will like.
He also recommends the Black Lodge Singers. These guys have twenty albums out, so we probably all ought to know about them. My early impression is that I love all the drumming; that’s exciting and primitive and speaks to me. The vocals, however, are just scary. But I trust Tom, I’ll listen to them some more unless I get bad dreams. There are also several internet radio stations that play Native American music. So far, none would play on my Mac, so I can’t recommend them yet.
This is the organization of folk musicians and folk venues. If you want gigs beyond your hometown, you should join. If you want to find acts for your club, you should attend one of their conferences.
In Norway, they take their music seriously. The government even funds a website that promotes Norwegian musicians of all varieties, from jazz and folk to rock that’s too intense for an old folkie like me. At one time, you could listen to groups and find out who’s playing where. Sure, for some of the website it helps if you can read Norwegian, but much of the interesting info is in English. That website has merged with this new one, and I’m not sure what it does.
Perhaps it should not surprise anyone to know there is a site devoted completely to odd music. Weird instruments. These folks are probably related to me. It would explain so much.
The largest local folk organization in the country, now in its 50th year, they teach 5,000 people every week, host concerts, produce records and books.
OnlineRadios.net Listen to streaming radio from countries all over the world.
Interesting free site. Anyone can upload their own music, from nearly any genre, then other listeners vote on each song in a series of one to one competitions. Cool way to hear music from basements around the world. I put two songs up to try it out and was surprised to discover that, in the month they were listed, one finished in the top five percent in its category and had been listened to nearly a thousand times. There are other sites now that do the same thing, like ReverbNation.
This is a cool free site, where you can create your own internet radio station based on a few (or a lot) of your favorite musicians. Their computer will select similar music to your favorites and play them as well, so it’s a great way to discover new groups. I was an early adopter, but disappointed back then that they didn’t know many of my favorite groups. After I informed them of a lot of music they weren’t familiar with, they sent me a free T shirt. It may have been their way of thanking me, but it might have been an attempt to shut me up.
Mara is one of my very few friends who plays the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument, and the only one who regularly plays with New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet Company, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Perhaps the first online magazine, established in 1993, its focus is on interesting music from interesting places made by regular people.
English folksinger with a very sweet voice and style.
Listen to music, news, sports and opinion on your computer.
A Colorado based jazz singer, Lynn can also sing French art songs, classical music or whatever else she wants. Lynn is a buddy and has helped me with my own voice. We try to have lunch every few months whether we’re hungry or not.
In the 1950s, Johnny Smith was the highest paid studio guitarist in the world and was, in my mind, one of the best guitarists who ever lived. He played jazz with incredible precision and speed and performed on countless records. While he was on tour, his wife died. Devastated that he wasn’t with her, he gave up touring and most studio work and only played at a little bar in Denver. When I was in college, I worked for a music studio giving guitar lessons. One of the other teachers was Johnny Smith’s bass player at that gig. That guy, a fine jazz guitarist himself, swapped some lessons with me (my folk fingerpicking for his jazz) and he introduced me to Mr. Smith, who I’d never heard of. The first time I heard him play, my jaw literally fell open in amazement. He helped design the Gibson Johnny Smith model guitar which remains one of the finest instruments in its class. He was a gentle man, and his handshake was the softest, least aggressive I’ve ever experienced.
Norwegian acoustic group features two women who play hardanger fiddle. That’s the traditional instrument of Norway, and it has an ancient haunting sound. I got interested in the instrument, then learned that my grandfather played it, and actually built one as well. It takes the American ear a few listens to accept this music, but it’s very cool. Only a tiny sample at this link, and I don’t think they’re together anymore. Both ladies do other projects as well.
Really good musicians who got together to play normal music in a bluegrass style. No longer together, but worth listening to their CDs.
Spotify is an online music streaming “radio station” that you create yourself, sort of like pandora. You download their free ap, then create your own “station.” It’s free if you agree to listen to an ad every fifteen minutes or so. What I like is that you can also create a “playlist” of songs you want to listen to, then listen to it without digging out your old albums. I wanted some comfort music, so I started with old Peter Paul and Mary, then added some Gordon Lighfoot. Before you know it, my first playlist of favorite songs was over 30 hours long. If you want to share your playlist with others (perhaps a spouse, for example) make your list “public.” Otherwise only one person at a time can access your list. If you like the same weird variety of music I do, you could always just listen to one of my lists. I think my lists are labelled kennamdahl. I also notice that, if I’ve been listening to some radio station in Norway, Spotify decides that I’d prefer to log into the Norwegian language version of the site.
Best known as the guy who wrote “A Walk In the Irish Rain” (recorded by California, a group Steve performs in when it surfaces from time to time, and also by Cottonwood) but also a fine singer. He tends to record his solo albums with a mildly country background, but his songs are so much better than most country songs that I feel an interesting disconnect between the songs and the arrangements. He now plays with the fine bluegrass-leaning group Thunderation, which also features Dan Crary, who is a world class flat picker. The two groups share several members, all great players. I shared a picnic table with Dan once, but we are not yet blood brothers. Steve (and any combination of these musicians) play bluegrass/country for smart people who appreciate fine music.
Young Swedish jazz singer/songwriter. Pleasant voice, sort of samba/pop originals, many sung in English.
In the 1930s and 40s, a guy named Django Reinhardt changed jazz guitar. His hand had been hurt in a fire, so he had to play with only two fingers. Despite that, the style he created of hot swing jazz became very popular. It’s now known as “gypsy jazz” and it has a feel that is quite different from jazz that developed in America. Joshco Stephan continues this tradition. He may be the best guitarist in the world at playing gypsy jazz. Let’s face it, he’s also just one of the best guitarists in the world.
Brian Stokes Mitchell is a Broadway singer, actor etc. Extraordinarily gifted singer.
The largest folk music organization in Colorado, sponsors many concerts and other events, as well as maintaining a music school
Stan and I sang together in high school and wrote dozens of songs together. We have recently reconnected. He may be the best songwriter you’ve never heard of. Stan also writes poetry and books, including the YA book,The Dragons of Shadara. His book of inspirational ideas for songwriters would be a great gift for that budding songwriter on your list.
If you live in Canada, you already know these guys. They’ve been doing high energy acoustic music for twenty years. If I’m going to take a long walk and want something to keep my pace brisk, I put on their “Captured Alive” CD into my headphones. Good harmony, gentle pokes at America, great positive vibe. Unfortunately, they have decided to hang up their skates, or whatever Canadian folk do when they disassemble. Darn shame.
However, some of the members regrouped as RPR.
And three other original members have formed “My Sweet Patootie” which is a hoot. They describe themselves as “sassy modern vaudeville, roots and ragtime” This is a fun group.
Lovely, haunting almost Gregorian Celtic music. Music to meditate or pray to. Lives in Minnesota.
Brazilian jazz trio, great guitar, bass and drum.
An entertaining duo from Arkansas that does a lot of kid’s music that’s just fine for grown ups, and a lot of grown up music that kids enjoy. We’ve swapped books and CDs, had lunch, and if we lived closer would probably become actual friends. Their shows are high energy and fun, their songs are creative and unusual, and a kind of joy radiates from the stage when they perform. They keep getting nominated for Grammy’s and have never yet played in Idaho, making that state unique, but in a bad way. They will improve your mood.
Walking down the busy Boulder mall on the afternoon of the autumn equinox 2012, I said to Cheryl, “Wow, that guy’s got a good voice.” She said, “What guy? I don’t hear anyone.” With all the noise and crowd confusion, she heard nothing special– and she’s got an excellent musical ear. But I was just tuned in, for some reason and I said, “You will.” While she waited for the others in our group to finish buying some yoghurt, I wandered toward the sound of harp music and singing. Before long, I was sitting next to Gaffer on his park bench. Lovely voice and very tasteful musician. Plus, he’s obviously a guy whose soul has survived some hard turns with its joy and vocabulary intact . We wound up having a very pleasant conversation. He educated me about the small harp he plays, including what woods are employed and why. I told him about my adventure learning old Irish songs and he played and sang a sad but lovely old song in gaelic. I hope and suspect our paths will cross again.
A fun, vaudevillian/ragtime/blues/hillbilly swing group from Brooklyn. Instrumentation includes a kazoo a washboard, an upright bass and various kinds of guitars and dobros. The operative word is fun, but these guys can play and sing and if you have a chance to see them live, make sure you bring your favorite toe tapping shoes. Easy to picture them playing in a subway station, but if they did, they’d stop the train.
Neil Young has been collecting links to songs about war and living in a time of war on his own website, and there are now over two thousand links on that page. Interesting songs from well known songwriters as well as the completely unknown, and a few clunkers. They are ranked by popularity. I sent a link to one of my songs, “Sitting Quite Still.” It’s not a political song, I was just imagining myself as a young soldier far from home around the holidays and wrote it. Within two or three weeks it skyrocketed from number 2,100 to number 84 with a bullet, which is as close to a “hit’ as I’ve ever had. To see the entire list of songs, go to neilyoung.com.
Scottish singer of traditional songs. In fact, she’s considered by many to be the leading singer of traditional Scottish songs. Lovely voice, great sense of humor. I discovered her when she left a very kind comment on one of my blog posts. I’d written about an old song attributed to Robert Burns (Slave’s Lament) and posted my version of it, as well as the history I’d tracked down about it. She added some additional historical insight and said she “loved my version.” Obviously, I had to track her down. She has many CDs, but they’re a little hard to get in the U.S. You can hear snippets and buy downloaded MP3 songs of hers at her Amazon page here. She is clearly a woman of skill and refined taste, plus it was warm-hearted of her to comment on my blog at all. Reward her by buying her music.
These guys remind me of the Kingston Trio: fun, energetic, upbeat, great harmony, not afraid to be silly, not afraid to engage the audience. Based in Vermont, but they do some touring.