Rising bluegrass stars win big at International Bluegrass Awards; An interview with David Benedict and Tabitha Agnew.

This years IBMA awards in Raleigh were like most, held virtually. But that didn’t change the excitement for my two guests who were both nominated in multiple categories. Tabitha Agnew was nominated as a Momentum Vocalist as well as Instrumentalist. One of her two band collaborations, Midnight Skyracer, was also nominated in the Momentum Best Band category. David Benedict’s band Mile Twelve was nominated as Instrumental of the Year and for best New Band. Both members of this couple came “home” with wins; Tabitha won Best Instrumentalist and Mile Twelve won the Best New Band category.

David Benedict is among the finest young mandolinists today and has studied with some of the instrument’s finest players including Mike Marshall and Matt Flinner. His Boston-based colleagues in Mile Twelve have traveled the world over the last five years and released three highly acclaimed albums including the most recent covers album, “Let the Tape Roll All Night Long”, which is nominated for a Grammy.

Tabitha is an award-winning banjo player from Northern Ireland and plays in a sibling band, Cup o’ Joe” as well as the all-women UK based Midnight Skyracer. She is also a graceful singer in the genre as well.

Together, while in lockdown in Northern Ireland these last six months, they played as a duo and plan a release with the band name, The Foreign Landers.

Our conversation covers a lot of ground including their upcoming plans, their weekly livestream concerts, their beginnings in this style of music. We talk with David about his weekly Mandolin Mondays video series as well as his Patreon campaign and online mandolin lessons.

Of course, the segment has a representative sampling of all their projects. We start with David’s star studded solo album with “Dorrigo” from The Golden Angle. We follow that with Tabitha’s Cup o Joe’s “Till I Met You” as well as the newly released single from their duo collaboration The Foreign Landers’ “Put All Your Troubles Away” written by John Hartford. We also include Mile Twelve’s version of Los Lobos’ “Whiskey Trail”.

Ruby Mack; a rosy enticing forbidden fruit.

Ruby Mack at the Shea Theatre

Nine Volt Heart featured three new songs from the feminist folk quartet, Ruby Mack, from their upcoming release “Devil Told Me”. Emma Ayres and Zoe Young from Ruby Mack were my guests for this premier of the new material. We begin with the harmony-filled acapella “Breadwinner” which questions gender roles in society. As it turns out this song only points toward more of Emma’s songs regarding this theme.

The new album features on it’s cover an apple (presumably a Ruby Mack) and a serpent; representing the disc’s dominant themes of gender and expectations. The concept turns the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden on it’s axis, embracing the forbidden fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Instead of shame and “original sin”, these descendents of Eve want to spread the “new gospel’ of feminist empowerment. Gender roles are questioned and abandoned in these songs.

Our conversation covers these themes and more. We chronicle the origin story of these musicians and their experience of being “discovered” at a jam at GreyFox bluegrass festival. Our segment includes the songs “Odysseus” and “Milktooth”

Ruby Mack consists of Emma Ayres (vocals and guitar), Zoe Young (vocals and guitar) Abs Kahler (fiddle) and Abbie Duquette (bass uke).

They can be found at rubymackfolk.com and you can pre-save their upcoming single and album on Spotify.

Bella White’s sad songs on “Just Like Leaving” are a revelation.

Nine Volt Heart/ Bella White

Bella White’s music seems to have come to me fully formed as a mature singer songwriter despite the fact that “Just Like Leaving” is a debut work from a young artist. The songs show a maturity and wisdom one doesn’t find in musicians many years her senior. While the song’s themes tend to be sad they show insight into relationships and emotions rarely found in writers of any age.

And that voice! She embraces the twang from the Appalachian roots of her father’s favorite country and bluegrass collection. That collection has influenced Bella who spent her youth in Calgary, Alberta singing Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and Doc Watson songs. Inspired by the prairie and western Rocky Mountain landscapes of her youth, this batch of brilliant songs find her successfully translating modern experiences into timeless ancient sounds.

The set opens with “All I Gave To You” which is a great example of the craftmanship of creating a seemingly effortless song out of a teenager’s difficulty in an early relationship. Bella translates this personal struggle into a more universal statement because “all of us want to feel revered and deeply loved”. Wise yet gentle and it sets the listener up for a very fulfilling batch of songs about loss, love and struggle; certainly not new themes. But rarely is there such consistently beautifully drawn examples of these emotions displayed throughout this collection. I consider it one of the best releases of the year, in any genre.

Our chat touches on her stellar band including fiddler Julian Pinelli and mandolinist Reed Stutz along with bass player Robert Alan Mackie. Lonely Heart Stringband’s own Patrick M’Gonigle helps in the studio as well as singing with a bit of fiddling too.

There’s lots of reasons that Rolling Stone calls the album “sublime Appalachian heartbreak” and an “Artist to Watch”. Specifically, there’s nine great reasons on this remarkable debut. We finish our segment with Bella describing the circumstances surrounding the first single from “Just Like Leaving” called “Broke (When I Realized). I add the title cut to finish a great interview with a musician whose remarkable voice and songwriting skills leave us wanting more; always a good sign.

Carolina Story elevate the lowly “Dandelion” to new heights.

Ben and Emily Roberts have been a musical duo for over a decade now and have released their second major label release, “Dandelion” to much acclaim. We open with two songs from “Dandelion” including “Light of the Moon” and “See You When I See You”.

Our conversation covers their Memphis origins and their early constant touring schedule. After contemplating dropping out of music altogether, they had two children and regrouped for 2017’s “Lay Your Head Down”. Even while touring this album’s material that summarized their decade together Carolina Story had new stories to tell which culminated in the 2020 release, “Dandelion”. The metaphor of the lowly weed, that populates seemingly at will in the unlikeliest of environments, sparked Emily to consider how the Dandelion could be re-envisioned. It is also a nutritious plant which humbly and tenaciously survives harsh conditions; the underdog. The metaphor is extended to include all peoples struggles (Ben mentions minorities and others battling to survive). The song was written at the time of the “immigrant crisis at our southern border”.

We talk about their songwriting and how being parents have changed it over time. We also discuss how songs change their meanings to them over time as well. We finish the segment with the song “Wildflower” dedicated to their two young kids, Wilder and Lily. The title cut takes us out reinforcing the themes of optimism and seeing the “light” in these dark times.

Check out these fine folk’s work at “Carolina Story. com”

Western Terrestrials find Honky Tonk Aliens in Vermont.

Nick Charyk of the Vermont band, Western Terrestrials, was my guest today on Nine Volt Heart. We spoke about the band’s latest release, “Back in the Saddle of a Fever Dream”, recorded just before Nashville’s tornado and the nation’s pandemic. These “Green Mountain boys” recorded much of the new album with Dean Miller (son of Roger Miller) at his OmniSound studios in Nashville’s Music Row. We open the segment with two new songs, “Space Cowboys Get the Blues” and “Kings Highway”.

Our conversation covers meeting the next generation of Country music royalty in Dean Miller as well as Georgette Jones (daughter of Tammy Wynette and George Jones), both contribute to this disc in songs which name check their dads, “Roger Miller Time” and “Whose Gonna Fill These Boots”. The last collaboration on the new disc is with Ketch Secor from Old Crow Medicine Show whose text to the band exclaims “Ethan Allen wuz an Alien.” resulting in a song which hilariously includes many famous Vermonters as potentially alien. We end the segment with this song.

Lindley Creek release their debut after a decade of touring!

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It was worth the wait! Lindley Creek, based in Southern Missouri, have released “Freedom, Love and The Open Road” several weeks ago on PineCastle Records. It’s a great mix of bluegrass and contemporary gospel. The Greer family band consists of Mom, Kathie Greer on guitar; Dad, John on Bass; Jase on Fiddle and Katie on Mandolin.

My conversation with Jase and Katie was a lively discussion about their family’s roots and travels. The family took the chance and sold the family home; investing in both the band’s future and a touring bus. A decade later, they are releasing the debut album and they have honed their sound and performance skills. Our segment begins with “I Gotta Go” with Katie on vocals followed by Jase’s take on “Right Back Where I started”. This song serves well as a band biography with the Greer family settling back close to their roots in Buffalo, Missouri.

Our chat touches on the Ozark musical heritage, their collaboration with Nashville fiddler/producer Jim VanCleve along with a bunch of studio aces for this release. Some of the genre’s best songwriters are also featured including Pat Alger, Mike Reid, Tony Arata and Ashby Frank.

We include a fiddle tune, “The Nature of the Beast” from VanCleve as well as the band’s excellent version of Pat Alger’s evocative “The Mockingbird’s Voice” to finish the segment.

Give it a listen!

Izzy Heltai explores relationships in his new release, “Father”.

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Izzy Heltai pictured above in a Brian Carroll exclusive taken at Green Mountain Bluegrass and Roots Festival last year.

Izzy made his Nine Volt Heart visit to premiere several new songs from his forthcoming release, “Father”. This is Izzy’s first full length album which contains some new versions of some older songs as well as brand new creations. Recorded here in Western Massachusetts at Andy Cass’ Sleeper Cave Recordings, Izzy distills his coming of age story into nine songs. The theme of relationships assessed (and reassessed with time passing) comprise these confessional revealing and thoughtful vignettes.

Our conversation touches many topics including his early songwriting and creative years in North Adams, Massachusetts, his memories of his Brookline upbringing, but focus on this batch of songs. There are odes to self doubt, longing for relationships gone south, as well as a healthy dose of sad songs surrounding his parents. While we can all relate to these themes, nowhere does it stay morose or self pitying. The songs signal growth from these assessments as we age and reconsider our relationships in a more mature light. I heartily endorse these songs as therapeutic and cathartic; some may even be considered “happy” but that is all relative.

Izzy’s album “Father” won’t officially be released until early October but give the segment a listen for debuts of three songs, “Marching Song”, “Father” and “The Stranger You’ve Become”.

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes finds “Open Water” exhilarating.

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Bronwyn Keith Hynes is an award-winning bluegrass fiddler who plays in the progressive Boston-based outfit, Mile Twelve. She has relocated to Nashville and her new release,”Fiddlers Pastime” feels like a love letter to her new home.

The tune we open the segment with is called “Open Water” and is a ferocious mandolin-fiddle collaboration with Sierra Hull. The origin of this tune (the first written for this album) was Raleigh NC’s IBMA bluegrass conference when Bronwyn found a quiet corner of the conference (a difficult task). As she describes it ,”I think it captures something I love in bluegrass music which is that combination of haunting melody and rocket-like propulsion.”

While Sierra Hull came to mind when Bronwyn wrote this track, many young luminaries from Bronwyn’s era litter these tunes; from Sarah Jarosz to Chris Eldridge, Wes Corbett to Laura Orshaw.

Our conversation covers a lot of ground. We talk about her early lessons in Vermont and her continuation in Charlottesville Virgina. She dove deep into Irish fiddle for a time before discovering bluegrass while jamming with others who were studying at Boston’s Berklee school of Music. Off on scholarship to Berklee herself, she immersed herself in the acoustic music scene in Boston eventually forming Mile Twelve.

We talk about the difficulty of writing original material as opposed to concentrating on her fiddling. Bronwyn wrote four original tunes for “Fiddlers Pastime”. The segment includes a dynamic version of twin fiddling with Laura Orshaw on the Bill Monroe/Vassar Clement’s title cut.

Give the segment a listen and check out her website for more details, BronwynKeithHynes.com

 

For all of us, it’s “Been a Long Day in the Milky Way”; a conversation with Kris Delmhorst

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Kris Delmhorst is celebrating the release of her “Long Day in the Milky Way” album on 8/14. She was gracious to spend some time with me on Nine Volt Heart recently to talk about the writing and recording of this latest record. We talk about the song writers retreat where many of these songs were conceived as well as her “songwriter sorority” that Kris relied on for input. The segment includes “Wind’s Gonna Find a Way” from the new release as well as Kris’ cover of Rikkie Lee Jones’ “The Horses”. We added in a song from Jeffrey Foucault called “Pretty Hands” from his latest effort, “Blood Brothers”.

We discuss her band for this release and the recording process in Parsonsfield, Maine which she describes as “summer camp”- like in it’s approach. The topics also include her long time friend, producer and drummer, Billy Conway who also has released a new disc called “Outside Inside” on Crazy View Records.

Kris Delmhorst will be debuting these new songs at Black Birch Vineyards in Hatfield, Massachusetts on August 18th. For a sneak early peek, give this segment a listen.

Details can be found at KrisDelmhorst.com

 

Massachusetts Walking Tour duo finds the “Road May Rise”.

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Mark Mandeville and Raianne Richards have a load of charisma, talent and energy. They’ve released four albums; one live and three studio releases full of original earnest heartfelt folk songs. The latest album, Road May Rise, was just released this spring.

This Massachusetts-based duo have a unique method of touring this music; they walk.

The Massachusetts Walking Tour is a non profit they’ve created which puts on a series of free concerts in small towns all across the state. By their estimate in the ten years of these tours, they’ve walked through over 150 Massachusetts towns. They are very connected to this concept of promoting local art, poetry and music as they literally walk from gig to gig with everything they need to pull these shows off.

As many independent artists have experienced, 2020 has been a difficult one. The Walking Tour of the Mass based Appalachian Trail towns has been postponed to 2021,

I talk with Mark and Raianne about the concept of “community” and how this model fosters true local community spirit. As opposed to the “album release followed by extensive touring” model, this duo get to play in front of neighbors and friends at their local library, town common or cultural center. The musicians add local players to the bill when possible. Sounds like a pretty rewarding experience for all.

We also delve into the making of their latest release “Road May Rise” which concludes the segment.