And by “curiosities” I mean “acts I’m curious about” rather than any weird or oddball connotation. I mean, maybe these musicians do have their quirks, but I think I’d probably prefer them that way, anyway. Really, these are just some acts on the Winnipeg Folk Festival roster for this year that were new to me, that caught my eye, and that I’d be interested to see live. So I listened to them and shared some thoughts. I’ll probably do this again with the lineups for other festivals, in the hopes that it piques your interest, too.
Baskery: good harmonies and kind of a “ladies-do-Mumford” neo-folk struminess, but the songwriting is a little weak and repetitive at times (see “The Kid” for an example of what I mean). It’s like they have the germ of good ideas but they don’t really know how to flesh them out. The fact that they’re from Sweden and writing songs in English must be considered, however. I sure haven’t written any songs in Swedish lately. Things do kind of come together on “The Fire” and “The Last Beat,” the latter of which features an even more pronounced 70s vibe to it than does the rest of the admittedly retro-sounding album. It’s the tambourine, I think.
Bear & Boy: this seems pretty mainstream singer-songwriter/pop-folky to me. Not bad, but not really memorable at all, you know? Again with a 70s groovy vibe, though, especially on “Arrow Flight.” What’s with that? There’s no tambourine this time, so it must be the beards.
Della Mae: decent instrumental chops and the singing is pretty good, too. Your typical neo-oldtyme/bluegrass/trad mix, but that’s not a dismissal. I love this stuff when it’s done well, and somebody’s been listening to their Alison Krauss albums and playing along. Certainly worth seeing and hearing. “Hounds” a stand-out track on the album.
Elephant Revival: ear-catching from the get-go. “Remembering a Beginning” has an Andrew Bird-ian feel to it in the violin’s clean pizzicatos, and “Spinning” has the kind of rolling, Paul Simon-inspired groove that I love in contemporary folk music. This is music that uses acoustic instruments knowledgeably and with an ear to their heritage, but that also acknowledges the pervasive influence of pop music on this genre. And it works. Really want to hear these guys live now.
Geomungo Factory: Well, this is interesting stuff. I expected a lot of cerebral classically-influenced Asian/Western fusion music–which is not a criticism per se. I happen to be a fan of that when it’s done well, a la The Silk Road Ensemble and the like–and those aspects are there in a tune like “The Starry Night” with its Nutcracker ballet quotes et al, but there’s also a very stretchy, improvisatory quality to some of this music that intrigues me. Not sure if a live set could hold the interest of a crowd in an outdoor setting, but I’d be curious enough to find out.
Left Lane Cruiser: Aw ya, this is how you do it. If you can’t hear yer blues played by a guy in a shiny suit playing a guitar he got in a crossroads rendezvous, it should sound like this: loud and obnoxious and played right in your face by a pair of shit-kickin brash young bucks. Hillgrass Bluebilly is what they call it and, well, that’s pretty much what it sounds like.
Oliver Swain: I remember Oliver from his stint in the Duhks, back when their name still had a Scruj in front of it, and I can hear the remnants of those days in the well-crafted tracks on this Big Machine album. This is folk music played with love for its roots and a vision to its future, and Oliver’s fellow musicians (especially the stellar Adrian Dolan of The Bills, among other things) seem to share his perspective. Just throw on “Cactus Land” and then imagine that slow burn of notes spilling out of a big tent and wafting over a warm field at sunset. Ahh, kind of puts you in the festival mood, doesn’t it?
Here’s the songs mentioned in this post, in handy playlist format. Fire it up and get your lawn chair ready. Festival countdown is on.