This Week In Zoe News #2: UK Tour Starts and More Reviews and We Hear The Baez Album

(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

Review by Dai Jeffries on Folking.com. (Folking also has her tour press release.)

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.

148th (out of 197) on The Roots Music Report‘s Top Contemporary Folk Album Chart for 2017 (no idea what the methodology is)

“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

• Number 7 of the “Most Anticipated Albums of 2018” (at The Top Tens).

• 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.

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This Week In Zoe News: Baez Reviews Trickle Out

The release date for Joan Baez’s Whistle Down the Wind is in March, but the promotional campaign has begun! (You can hear the title track on YouTube.) This week includes an interview by Rolling Stone that includes some good Zoe shouting out! Whistle Down the Wind is also on Rolling Stone’s 54 most anticipated albums of 2018.

Whistle Down the Wind News

The Rolling Stone Interview (worth reading the whole thing!):

One of the most arresting moments on the new album is “The President Sang Amazing Grace” by Zoe Mulford. Is it true that you discovered that song by hearing it on the radio?

I heard it on KPFA [in Berkeley]. I was just driving and I heard that song and I just pulled over. It’s so expressive of my thoughts and feelings, which are pretty fucking gloomy, but she did it in such a beautiful way that’s as dark as it is beautiful. In the concerts recently it’s been for me probably the highlight. But I think with this batch of new songs there will probably be more than one highlight.

• The first review I’ve found:

All the song are by other writers including Tom Waits and Josh Ritter, although the stand out in the album is ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’, by relative unknown Zoe Mulford. The haunting vocals, piano, gentle drum rolls and lyrics – a poignant tale of current ills in the US – all work so well.

• A French article about the album (not a review):

Elle a aussi choisi un titre d’une musicienne américaine peu connue, Zoe Mulford, revenant sur le massacre de paroissiens noirs sous les balles d’un partisan de la suprématie des Blancs à Charleston, en Caroline du Sud, en 2015 et sur le discours émouvant de Barack Obama qui avait chanté en hommage aux victimes: “The President Sang Amazing Grace”. Profondément influencée par Joan Baez, Zoe Mulford s’est dite “honorée” par ce choix. [Ed: I’m just happy that I could read the French!]

Business World Article (this one is funny as it grabbed a lot of stuff from Zoe’s news item but also looks to be the source of or a translation of the French above):

In one of the lesser-known covers, Baez performs Zoe Mulford’s “The President Sang Amazing Grace,” a piano ballad about the 2015 massacre by a white supremacist of African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the subsequent eulogy at which then president Barack Obama sang that well-known Christian hymn…

Mulford, a little-known folk singer from Philadelphia heavily influenced by Baez, said she was “amazed and honored” and that Baez has already received standing ovations when performing “The President Sang Amazing Grace” in concert.

“If only one of my songs ever reaches a larger audience, I’m glad it’s this one,” Mulford wrote on her Web site after Baez selected the song.

Not bad for early days!

Small Brown Birds Reviews

Small Brown Birds was released about a year ago, but mostly in the US. In particular, we only did a US radio mailing. Of course, we’ve only ever done US mailings before. This year, however, due to a wonderful response to her Kickstarter campaign, Zoe’s upped her game with a UK mailing…a year later. This is generating UK reviews now, and I’m trying to track them:

Just Listen To This:

If you’re in the market for a colourful folky set of songs with more than a little own character and with all contributors having musical empathy, this is certainly a record for you and an artist you should know about.

Liverpool Sound and Vision:

A wonderful start to the year, one that puts a smile on the face as the sweetness and thought of purity comes over the music in waves; the unproblematic and smoothness of the voice sparks and manifests without a hitch in the collaboration with Tom Kitching, Sam McEvoy and Ken Pendergrast and the contribution by Bob Beach, Pat Wictor, Cheryl Prashker, Matthew Landis, Michael G. Ronstadt, Mark Allen and Ross Bellenoit and a tremendous choir infiltrating the final track of the album, Won’t You Come In, Small Brown Birds is not some small warble caught on the wind, it is the orchestra in flight, the folk ensemble that catches the ear and it is one to celebrate.
• Top 25 (but not top 10) http://folkrootsradio.com/folk-roots-radio-episode-357-best-of-2017-the-next-15/

• Don’t forget the 2017 Folk DJ roundup.