RED TAIL RING is the musical brainchild of two old-time-minded Michiganders – Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo. The collaboration blends the loving attention of revivalist fervor with the playful creativity of starting from scratch. Whether rendering a traditional tune or one of their many original compositions, the duo infuses each song with musical imagination, haunting harmonies and instrumental artistry on fiddle, banjo, mandolin, jawharp, and plain-old foot stomping. “We love pushing the boundaries of what a traditional song can be,” says Beauchamp. “It informs how we write our original songs. There’s a real energy exchange between the old and the new.”
This two-way connection takes center stage with Red Tail Ring’s first pair of recordings released in April 2011 on Earthwork Music, Middlewest Chant and Mountain Shout. The set forms a complete picture of Red Tail Ring’s blending of old with new. Middlewest Chant is comprised of all original songs, while Mountain Shout features Red Tail Ring’s interpretations of Appalachian ballads and melodies. “We tried to weave the music on these two albums together not only with similar musical treatment, but with running lyric lines and shared songforms,” Premo says.
In May 2013, Red Tail Ring released their third full-length album. The Heart’s Swift Foot presents 10 original songs with two acoustic standards that stretch the confines of what two people can create sonically. The duo’s signature style, of layered, intricate instrumental lines over close vocal harmonies, shines on this new collection. “We crafted the recording to be as close to our live performance as possible,” Beauchamp says. “We feel we’re at our best when we’re playing together, listening and reacting as we go along.” As a whole, the lyrics of The Heart’s Swift Foot explore changes that come without warning, and the malleability of relationships and friendships.
In 2014, Premo and Beauchamp collaborated in a wider circle and produced two joint releases. The New Roots Exchange is a vinyl project created with the marvelous bluegrass band Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys. The Right Hands Round is a recording of energetic square dance music with the stringband Bowhunter.
Since the release of their 2011 double-album, Red Tail Ring has remained busy, playing as many as 130 shows a year, with tours to both U.S. coasts as well as Denmark and Germany – “exporting some Midwest sounds,” as Premo puts it.
For Premo and Beauchamp, Red Tail Ring encircles their present and future – a place where expansion and creativity meet tradition, and thrive.
The Slocan Ramblers are Canada’s young bluegrass band to watch. Rooted in the tradition, fearlessly creative, and possessing a bold, dynamic sound, The Slocans (2015 Edmonton Folk Fest Emerging Artist Award recipients), have quickly become a leading light of Canada’s roots music scene, built on their reputation for energetic live shows, impeccable musicianship and their uncanny ability to convert anyone within earshot into a lifelong fan.
On their new album, Coffee Creek (2015) The Slocan Ramblers blend lightning fast and devilishly intricate instrumentals with the sawdust-thick vocals of singer Frank Evans, who takes lead on songs ranging from rowdy old-time numbers like “Groundhog,” to a Dustbowl classic like Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty.” “Toronto audiences don’t respond to a clean, polished Nashville sound,” tune composer and mandolinist Adrian Gross explains. “They dig a lot of energy in their music, a rowdy bar vibe. They’re hard to win over.” But The Slocan Ramblers have won them over, moving from a young ensemble of bluegrass pickers to one of the best known Canadian roots bands. They’ve done this by staying true to the roots of the music, not seeking to revive anything but rather to tap the rough and rowdy heart of the music.
Coffee Creek was produced by the band’s friend and mentor Chris Coole (The Foggy Hogtown Boys), a well-known banjo player and community leader in Toronto’s bluegrass and old-time scenes. Like Coole, The Slocan Ramblers bring the live, collaboratory aspects of the music to the fore, and they understand that if you polish up the music too much, you lose the raw excitement that makes it so vibrant. In the liner notes, Coole breaks it down: “What really impressed me while we were working on this album, was that, while they can pull off the precision and virtuosity that is at the backbone of bluegrass, they understand the power of the fragile moment in music. The fragile moment used to be a big part of what made an album cool–Monroe singing just beyond the edge of his voice, the moment right before you realize Vassar isn’t lost–the moment on and beyond the edge.” Listen to Evans’ worn vocals and you’ll hear some of the edge that great singers like Keith Whitley brought to the music. Or try Gross’ powerfully discordant and innovative mandolin solo on “Groundhog,” or Darryl Poulsen’s counterpoint Lester-Flatt-runs towards the end of the title track, or the rumbling beats of Alastair Whitehead’s acoustic bass on “Call Me Long Gone” (or Whitehead’s beautiful, world-weary original songs like “Elk River” or “Angeline”) to get a feel for how The Slocan Ramblers are pushing the envelope.
This is roots music without pretension, music intended to make you feel something, music to get you moving in a crowded bar. The Slocan Ramblers recorded Coffee Creek the same way they perform on stage: standing up, leaning into the music, and pushing harder and harder for that edge just beyond.
The Slocans are:
Alastair Whitehead: Bass
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