This weekend brings the Newport Folk Festival to Rhode Island with music kicking off Friday evening, August 5th, with a special performance by Arlo Guthrie and Nanci Griffith at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The festivities move to Fort Adams State Park on Saturday and Sunday with music running each day from 11:30 AM to 6:30 PM on three separate stages. Saturday performers include The Pixies in acoustic mode; Richard Thompson; Patty Griffin; Bela Fleck Acoustic Trio featuring Bryan Sutton & Casey Driessen; Del McCoury Band; Ray Lamontagne; Odetta; The Holmes Brothers; The Kennedys; The Lonesome Sisters; Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell; Teddy Thompson; Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion; Foghorn Stringband; Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops; the Wiyos; and the Cajun sounds of Jesse Lege & Bayou Brew. Sunday’s lineup is equally strong and features Elvis Costello; Emmylou Harris; Coner Oberst and Bright Eyes; Kasey Chambers; Buddy Miller; Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame; M. Ward; Jane Siberry; Old Crow Medicine Show; Jim Lauderdale; Kaki King; Larry Campbell; Old School Freight Train; Hot Buttered Rum String Band; Woody Russell; and The Mammals. Further information can be obtained by calling the festival box office at 401-847-3700 or by visiting the web site at www.newportfolk.com.
In keeping with the festivities, Compact Capsules shines the light on some new releases from performers who’ll occupy the two smaller stages at Newport this weekend, that being the duo of Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops, and Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion. Each comes highly recommended. Whereas the main stage area is where you’ll find the heavyweights, the two small stages at Newport are where the real surprises are and where you’ll encounter each of these acts.
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell
Yep Roc YEP-2085
When a male-female singing duet is on target, there is arguably nothing sweeter in music, particularly when it comes to country. Case in point the new release called Begonias from the duo of Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell. Cary is well-traveled in roots music circles first teaming with Ryan Adams singing harmony and lead in Whiskeytown until the band’s demise, then moving onto a solo career which has yielded three albums to date, and most recently as a member of the female trio Tres Chicas whose debut Sweetwater (Yep Roc Records) from 2004 was a favorite of this camp. Possessing a clear and distinctive heartfelt tenor voice, Cockrell has established himself as an alt country artist of considerable merit thanks to two fine solo affairs, the self-released hard country beauty Stack of Dreams from 2001 and his Yep Roc Records debut from 2003 called Warmth & Beauty. Whereas each has helped the other on those solo releases, the duo forms a heavenly bond of harmony on Begonias. Think tandems in the spirit of such luminous pairings as Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris and Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn and lesser known, but equally regarded duos as Carl & Pearl Butler and Barry & Holly Tashian for comparison’s sake. Each hailing from the Raleigh, North Carolina area, Begonias from Cary & Cockrell offers 11 ear-pleasing gems that span the pure harmony of the leadoff number “Two Different Things” to the equally stunning “Something Less Than Something More” to the rock country stylings of “Second Option” to the moving balladry of “Please Break My Heart” to the buoyant country bounce of “Don’t Make It Better” to the dancehall-ready shuffle of “Party Time”, the latter two with pedal steel guitar to spare. Put simply, the country duet tradition is alive and well on Begonias.
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell appear at the Newport Folk Festival on Saturday, August 6.
Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops
Rivers Roll On By
Bloodshot Records BS-118
On their debut recording for Bloodshot Records called Rivers Roll On By, Jim and Jennie & The Pinetops continue to break from the bluegrass norm while at the same time demonstrating continued respect for the traditional elements of the genre. The first thing you need to know about this band is that it’s not trying to fit within the sometimes rather restricting bluegrass parameters laid out by Bill Monroe and many that followed. Rivers Roll On By presents a band using traditional bluegrass as both a springboard and inspiration in attempting to carve out its own niche. One of the first things that caught my attention about the band was its touring schedule. Unlike the bulk of bluegrass-leaning bands out there, Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops have a schedule far removed from your typical group which hops from bluegrass festival to bluegrass festival throughout the warm weather months. On the contrary, it’s a band that has opted instead to bring its music to clubs, halls, and house concerts, as well as those festivals where they are not lost amongst 20 or 30 bluegrass acts. Just the fact that Jim and Jennie & The Pinetops are now signed to a record label like Bloodshot is even further proof that it’s a group that dares to be different. The fact the group has landed a spot at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival this summer must mean they’re doing something right. The music and songs of Rivers Roll On By succeed on a refreshing and honest approach to bluegrass music. Be it the raw lonesomeness in the voice of front man Jim Krewson, the keening beauty in the singing of his partner Jennie Benford, the occasional drums or washboard, or Brad Hutchison’s banjocaster which adds a distinctive electric edge to selected numbers, there is a fearlessness to music making that is both refreshing and exciting. (If you’re wondering what is a banjocaster, well, it’s an electric banjo that can sound like everything from pedal steel to electric guitar to organ to banjo.) Whereas the band may not break any new ground as far as subject matter is concerned – devotion, revenge, and sadness all check in – the lyrics used to convey these feelings help them echo a little more loudly. A song like “Mt. St. Helens” featuring Benford on the vocals and Hutchison working his magic on the secret weapon banjocaster is about as pretty as they come. The band also demonstrates admirable taste in covers with Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” getting the album off to a rousing start and traditional numbers like “Katy Hill” and “Walking In My Sleep” solidifying things even more. In the end, there’s just something a little different about this band, something good. Here’s recommending y’all check out Rivers Roll On By from Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops. (Bloodshot Records, 3039 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL 60618, or www.bloodshotrecords.com)
Jim and Jennie & the Pinetops appear at the Newport Folk Festival on Saturday, August 6. In addition to the folk festival appearance, the band will also perform at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA on Friday, August 5. Show time is 8 PM. The Lonesome Sisters are in the opening slot. The Narrows is located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River. Call (508) 324-1926 or check the web site at www.ncfta.org.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
New West NW6067
If bloodlines mean anything, Sarah Lee Guthrie is fairly well endowed. Daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of the late Woody Guthrie, her own professional career dates back to 1981 where at the age of two she made her singing debut as part of a children’s chorus on her father’s album Power of Love. Suffice to say that the young lady, now in her mid-twenties, has been in and around music all her life. Guthrie met Johnny Irion in L.A. in 1997 not long after moving there. Irion was there at the invitation of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson who had convinced him to move west to join a band he was producing. Within a week of meeting, Guthrie and Irion were dating and hitting it off as well on the relationship side of things as they were on the music side. A couple of years later they married and ditched L.A. for Irion’s birthplace of Columbia, South Carolina. Only two years later, each emerged with a folk-leaning solo release for Arlo’s Rising Son record label. From both an economies of scale and relationship standpoint, it only made sense to tour together. Also not surprising is that all that time on the road performing got the juices flowing to make a record together. That album is the debut from the duo called Exploration. It features 12 songs, all but one from the twosome. (The lone cover is a previously unrecorded Pete Seeger song.) Whereas the duo’s solo releases touched on folk, rock, and country, there is a most definite pop catchiness to the tunes found on Exploration. Here’s thinking that it has a lot to do with enlisting Gary Louris of The Jayhawks as one of the producers for the record. Those familiar with The Jayhawks of latter years likely know they traded the twang of the early days for a more ear-friendly brand of pop rock. Combine the pop smarts of Louris with the rootsy leanings of Guthrie and Irion and it equals a pretty appealing record in Exploration. From the lilt of Irion’s voice to the sweetness of Guthrie’s, it’s hard not to hear shades of the duets of the late Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris weaving in and out of Exploration. That angle can probably be attributed at least in part to Louris whose fondness for GP and Emmylou is well documented. But then along comes a number like “Gervais” which sounds like vintage Jayhawks, except with Irion and Guthrie in the driver’s seat. In all, this duo has crafted a winning brew that sounds more than ready to stand the test of time and win plenty of new fans in the process.
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion appear at the Newport Folk Festival on Saturday, August 6.