(I think I will make this a regular feature, for a while at least, and aim for Fri or Sat publication.)
Last week was more exciting given the start of the Whistle Down the Wind publicity effort (an interview in Rolling Stone certainly helps!), but Stuff Still Happened!
First, the UK tour has started in earnest. Zoe and Tom have three gigs this week: one Wednesday night in Nottingham (Tom’s old stomping grounds), one Thursday night in West Yorkshire, and one tonight in Cheshire. They are all (late night) day trips, so I do get to see her, but dinner and bedtime are lonesome.
Second, we got early access to the whole of Whistle Down the Wind yesterday morning (thanks Joan and Joan’s manager). We, of course, immediately listened to The President Sang Amazing Grace and it is quite good though interestingly different. More when it’s publicly available.
Third, there’s more reviews and such for Small Brown Birds and a bit of Whistle Down the Wind chatter.
Small Brown Birds
Originally from Philadelphia, singer, songwriter, guitarist and much-praised clawhammer banjo-player Zoe Mulford now lives (sometimes) in Manchester.
I have to confess that Small Brown Birds is my first contact with Zoe Mulford and now, by happy coincidence, I can look forward to hearing her live in a week or so. It could be destiny.
• “Zoe Mulford, Transatlantic Singer – Songwriter on “The President Sang Amazing Grace” — the story behind the emergence of a future classic” from the Swan Report, which doesn’t have permalinks for individual items (like so many sites and even some CMSs…I’m looking at you HostBaby). This is a reasonably accurate account of how “The President Sang” came into being. At some point, I’ll write up the challenges of recording it. I quote extensively, but read the whole thing.
Curiously, it would take more than a year to fully learn what else I missed that Sunday morning in November 2016. Oblivious to me, during the festival ending singalong came a song that I would later learn was written and premiered during the weekend of NERFA 2016, the hook for which came to the songwriter’s mind as she walked into the hotel to check-in for the conference. As I was saying farewells in the lobby, the final song circle was happening, and some time during that song circle, the song “The President Sang Amazing Grace” from Zoe Mulford was presented.
Zoe was included in the roster of artists invited to perform at a showcase at radio station WPKN in Bridgeport Conn, on Friday, November 10. The event took on the name WPKN NERFA Guerrilla Showcase 2017. Other performers that afternoon would include Austin & Elliott, The Belle Hollows, The Black Feathers, Lisa Bastoni, Michael Braunfeld, Brad Cole, Caroline Cotter, Dave Curley, Eric Lee, Barry Oreck, Robinson Treacher, and Dan Weber with guest Folk DJs Graham Dean WRPI, Troy, N.Y. and Ron Olesko, WFDU, Teaneck, N.J., in the broadcast booth. One of the many highlights was the performance of “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” with members of the roster impromptly invited to sing “Amazing Grace” at the end. What resulted was the power of the song punctuated by the beautiful simplicity of the background voices of Robert Phaneuf (The Belle Hollows), Caroline Cotter, Jeremy Johnson (The Belle Hollows), Dan Weber, Michael Braunfeld, and Rachel Johnson (The Belle Hollows). It was a magic moment in radio made possible at the intersection of luck and generosity — lucky that these artists were available — and the generosity of a folk artist to share her small allotted time of ten minutes with her colleagues and the listening audience. This gesture is common in the world of folk music. It is pleasing, generous, and optimistic. It is the sum of the whole that is made possible with the selfless generosity of each without the requirement of spotlight. It is a quality that should be carried through all walks of life
• A mini review (no item level link…boo!)
• A short review (also no item level link…sigh) by Mike Ainscoe.
For anyone not in the know, Zoe Mulford is an American songwriter living in the North of England. Known and held in high esteem for her clawhammer banjo style and guitar playing, she has a quality which has had some reaching for the Joan Baez comparison. One she won’t scoff at for sure. [Ed: Clearly written before the news of Baez’s cover…this cracked me up]
Small Brown Birds is an album whose aim is to search for the joy in the midst of hard times. Sound like a familiar theme? Without wanting to wade even tentatively into any politically deep and treacherous waters, it’s a commendable idea and boy do we need some happiness in our lives as the world wobbles on its unstable axis. Wintery themes are addressed with compassion and honesty, travelling a road that brings hope as the Winter turns towards Spring.
Zoe’s fifth album finds her crossing the music of Appalachia and the good old American Songbook with the good old British Isles traditions. And The Beatles. Not an unpleasant surprise at all [Ed: this is very British praise] to hear her banjo skills applied to McCartney’s Blackbird. She also addresses the topical –The President Sang Amazing Grace, her touching story of the 2015 AME church shooting and President Obama’s eulogy for the slain. Possibly due to the content and the sympathetic take, a song that emerges as a highlight, maybe THE highlight, of the set.
• Zoe’s performance video of “President” has 4,457 views. The album track video (not available in the UK) has 2,127 views. Not bad! The biggest month of views was Oct (when Baez was touring) at 1,247. Then Jan 2017 (when I first posted it) at 763. But third is this very—not yet over—January at 537. I’ll be interested to see if there are other notable bumps.
• An Italian site compiling anti-war songs has a page about “President”.
Whistle Down the Wind
• A discussion of her changed voice on the title track.
The most striking thing about the song is just how deep Baez’s voice has gotten. Okay, it’s still not as deep or as weathered as Waits’, but the high-pitched throttle of her early years is gone.
• An article about the album from someone who’s only heard the prelease track (same for the prior item).
• The prelease title track video has 14,844 views.