Q and A with Jan about her band and her festival.
Here's where you can see and hear all about the new album!
A new festival of Americana music, debuting in Dumbo and Red Hook Sept. 25–27, comes from the brain of a Brit. Why is a native of the U.S.’s former colonial oppressor organizing the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival, dedicated to fiddle-and-banjo songs, the blues, and gospel spirituals from the New World? It may seem ironic, but the show’s founder says that if you dig deeper, you’ll find that the taproot of American roots music goes all the way back to Britannia.
“If you hear twangs of mandolin or fiddle wafting across the East River, it’s not carrying up the coast from Nashville — it’s the Brooklyn Americana Music Festival, taking place on several stages in Dumbo.” -The New York Times
Maybe growing up in Nottinghamshire is what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of local lady folkies. Or maybe its the slide guitars, harmonicas, mandolins and banjos. Dark, old timey spareness......gorgeous Chuck Eddy
Perhaps because of her British heritage, Jan Bell is more of a traditionalist than anyone in either Nickel Creek or the Duhks....never once sinks into mere bluegrass reverence. A triumph! Mikael Wood
Bell's music isn't strictly bluegrass, but her reworking of old-time country and jug-band blues is remarkably nuanced. It embodies the wide-open spirit of what has become an antic, hybrid genre.(See full interview below)
Jan Bell completely won me over! Her melodies are rich and meaty...an album of deceptively layered depth, really fine songs, creative arrangements and crisp playing.
The British are even making waves in the home of country. Jan Bell, a latter-day Loretta Lynn from a Yorkshire coal-mining background...whose roots still show!
A mighty fine album! Simple, well sung songs,the way it should be.
Jan Bell leads The Maybelles in up tempo, soulful country songs.
Beautiful, haunting, evocative...It’s not a stretch to imagine future generations of Americana musicians referencing the Jan Bell versions of many of these songs: this album secures her place among the finest and most individualistic musicians in that world. New York Music Daily
4 **** STARS - Wonderful chiller thriller of a new album, Jan Bell and company are the real deal
Melissa Carper and Jan Bell lead Brooklyn's Maybelles. Despite (or maybe because of) Bell's English heritage, she's much more of a traditionalist than anyone in Nickel Creek or the Duhks; her and Carper's harder-faster is a triumph for equal-opportunity bluegrassers. Yet they give such an unsentimental melancholy to the mostly self-penned material that you remember their art, not their science.
Review of 'If I had a Hammer' in honour of Pete Seeger
An unlikely Americana star. A Barnsley lass, bold as brass and the grand daughter of a coal miner. Her new album features rare traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic, pitting tracks from Appalachia alongside originals from Yorkshire.
Jolie Holland played songs from her extensive repertoire...but one stood out among all the others 'No Country' by Jan Bell....
Despite being a Yorkshire Lass transplanted to Brooklyn, singing Appalachian folk songs, Jan Bell suffers from no crisis of identity. Dream draws threads from across time and distance to weave a gently devastating tapestry of life in mining communities.
Who would think there'd be so much buzz is about a garden shed in England? Over 180 sessions so far and counting, featuring top touring artists.
Jan Bell lives in the new Austin, namely Brooklyn, New York, from where hundreds of of musicians and artists try to take on the world.Where the rent is (was?) still affordable Where there are enough (folk) clubs to play. Jan Bell plays those gigs solo, with her Cheap Dates or with the Maybelles, a group of women that play Old Time County music. No Old Time on "Songs for Love Drunk Sinners", produced by Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas, at least not in the pure sense, but plenty of dark nostalgia. The same kind of nostalgia heard in Jolie Holland's music, who also sings on this cd. Country Folk on a whispering boat. But Jan Bell is good, and the music is fresh, for all the nostalgia. She lets her heart speak, even in songs written by others, such as "Miners" by Wilfred Owens: There was a whispering in my heart Sigh of a coal Grown wistful of a former earth (uit: Miners)
Jan Bell & the Cheap Dates, Songs for Love Drunk Sinners (independent, 2007) The Maybelles, Leavin' Town (independent, 2007) Growing up in Yorkshire, Jan Bell discovered American country and old-time music and fell in love. Eventually, pursuing her dream of playing it, she moved to, er, Brooklyn. Hers is not the only unlikely musical pilgrimage, of course, but this one proves to be a notably joyful one for the rest of us. Her commitment to American musical roots -- to which, ironically or infuriatingly, most Americans fall somewhere between indifferent and oblivious -- pays off on these two recordings. The Cheap Dates and the Maybelles are distinct entities, the latter more rooted in hillbilly song traditions than the former, but both document aspects of Bell's gift and also her talent for finding comparably inclined (and comparably able) singers and pickers. Songs for Love Drunk Sinners isn't exactly a country album, not exactly a folk or a pop one, either. Even so, elements of all these genres show up in this collection of mostly Bell originals. Maybe "chamber neo-folk" is the genre we'll have to invent to characterize the approach, which manages at once to be airy and brooding. If the sound is slightly reminiscent of what you'd expect from the (currently in hiatus) Be Good Tanyas, that may be because Samantha Parton, a longtime member of that Canadian band, is the producer. Except for pedal steel (Bob Hoffner), the Cheap Dates have a stringband configuration, with fiddle (Rima Fand), banjo (Hilary Hawk) and upright bass (Nathaniel Landau, Greg Schatze), plus occasional electric guitar (from nonmember Scott Garrison). But nothing particularly traditional is going on, just some well-crafted modern songs with downbeat melodies, dropping into musical territory with the Cowboy Junkies' early records at one boundary and the late John Stewart's last ones at the other. The songs and arrangements are smartly conceived and capably executed, and for all its gloominess this is a pleasing and at times unexpectedly moving album. The Maybelles share two songs with the Cheap Dates ("Leavin' Town" and one called "Night Blooming Jasmine" by the former, "Across the Miles" by the latter), but Leavin' Town is more stripped-down and on the whole more cheerful, with a retro acoustic approach (Bell's acoustic guitar, Katy Rose Cox's fiddle, Melissa Carper's bass) able, for example, to conjure up the ghost of the supremely extroverted Patsy Montana. The charming opener "Cowgirl Blues" (written by Bell) is a dead-on send-up of the sort of tune for which Montana -- born Rubye Blevins, 1908-1996 -- could have claimed a patent: the Western-swingy celebration of the good life on the plains. The Maybelles' metaphorical home is the post-oldtime country music of the 1930s, when professional hillbillies were situated between their folk background and an emerging Southern mainstream commercial sound, though the Maybelles tip the balance more toward old folk than pre-rock pop. The second cut, Samantha Parton's beautifully heartbreaking "Lonesome Blues," quotes the opening lines of the Carter Family's "Coal Miner's Blues," then goes on to capture with startling precision the spirit of an Appalachian lyric folk song. An actual Carter song, "Little Darlin'," joins the crowd a few cuts later. Among my favorite songs from that immortal musical family's staggeringly deep catalogue, it also boasts a melody that Woody Guthrie adapted for "This Land is Your Land." Five of the cuts are Bell originals, including the title tune, a ballad with an edge-of-the-seat, cinematic narrative. Cox penned the traditional-sounding fiddle piece "Devil's Gap," and Carper the bizarre, disturbingly funny "Been Probed," an ostensible gospel song that improbably draws on images from UFO-abduction lore. Songs by Gillian Welch, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams and tradition get covered, in each instance with freshness bordering on wonder. No complaints here, folks.
The guest stars on Jan Bell‘s newest album Dream of the Miner’s Child belie the Brooklyn-based musician’s broad stylistic approach to altfolk and Americana: the list includes two founding members of The Be Good Tanyas (Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton), Phillipa Thompson of the M Shanghai Stringband, and members of her own alt-country band The Maybelles. But the inclusion of both legendary Smithsonian Folkways recording artist Alice Gerrard, and fellow Englishwoman Juliet Russell, who joins in on an old Celtic ballad, are telling, too: Bell is a native Yorkshire lass, a coal-miner’s granddaughter from a region grounded in the same mining trials and tribulations that she covers here, and though she is still young, opening act gigs for Emmylou Harris, Wanda Jackson, Odetta, Steve Earle and The Be Good Tanyas themselves speak eminently to her acceptance as a harbinger and interpreter of the old ways in the new.
Bell’s voice and arrangements here are notable for their ragged tenderness, with weary voices, soft guitar, and fiddle strains that clamber out of the darkness to scratch and paw at the soul. The songs span generations, following the movement of songbook fragments and tunes from the UK to Appalachia, making the title track – a Welch song which found its way into the hands of Ralph Stanely and Doc Watson via the blind Alabama Evangelist Rev. Andrew Jenkins, who re-arranged it in 1925 – the perfect centerpiece; from there, the strains of Jean Ritchie, Watson, and others mix well with the originals and traditional tunes, creating a seamless album of true beauty. To argue over whether this sort of music is country or folk is to miss the point: these haunting acoustic arrangements may be new, but they call to a time before the distinction made sense, when all the world was folkways, and they evoke the best of that history.
Not Just Bluegrass San Diego emo-grassers, funky fresh Canucks, old-timey Brooklynites transcend their fiddles and banjos By Mikael Wood. A friend remembers working as an extra on the set of a Nickel Creek video a few years ago. Chris Thile, the band's mandolin player and one of its singers, was wearing a sweater with a small RC emblazoned on it. My friend asked Thile what the letters signified, thinking the garment might be a vintage RC Cola item "Oh, it's Roberto Cavalli," my friend says Thile told him. That's when he says he knew Nickel Creek wasn't just a bluegrass band. Why Should the Fire Die, Nickel Creek's third album, is not just a bluegrass record. Like Thile's sweater, it's much sleeker, sexier, and more carefully assembled than work by the competitionâ€”in Nickel Creek's case, pop-bluegrass heavyweights like Alison Krauss (who produced the band's first two discs) and adult-pop scenesters such as Jesse Harris. The San Diego trio have accomplished something new here, something much more reflective of their station as twentysomethings toiling in an old person's field: "Emo-grass," I'd recommend calling it, if that were anywhere near as catchy as "newgrass" or even the fairly despicable "soulgrass." You can hear the clippings of emo-grass in both Fire's sound and spirit. When Thile and his bandmatesâ€”singer-guitarist Sean Watkins and his singer-fiddler sister Saraâ€”sing about romance, they do it just like self-victimizing emo frontmen do: "You said you'd love me always truly," Sean seethes sweetly in "Somebody More Like You," a tangle of single-string acoustic-guitar lines. "I must have changed." In their imagery as well, they're only a September evening or two away from a co-headlining tour with Mates of State. "You're staring down the stars, jealous of the moon," Thile sings in a tune he wrote with the Jayhawks' Gary Louris. Musically, Nickel Creek transcend here their previous attempts to circumvent bluegrass orthodoxy (essentially, a baby-faced enthusiasm and a Pavement cover). "Can't Complain" is a lushly arpeggiated ballad with a peculiar key change; a pretty version of Bob Dylan's "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" is Iron & Wine in all but name. Producer Eric Valentine (Good Charlotte, Smash Mouth) gives "Best of Luck" and "When in Rome," the album's most distinctive cuts, a dramatic slash-and-boom that rubs intriguingly against bluegrass's intrinsic small-room charm. With any luck (and some marketing muscle), this excellent album will find the Dashboard Confessional fans it deserves. The Duhks, a funky-fresh five-piece from Winnipeg, do some transcending of their own on their self-titled disc, though their blend is more rarefied than Nickel Creek's. If you were an extra in one of their videos and asked shaved-head singer Jessica Havey what the insignia on her cowgirl shirt referred to, she'd probably spin you a long yarn about generational crosscurrents and the impermanence of time. And it would involve hemp. The best tracks on The Duhks find a rhythmic elasticity in the Celtic and Caribbean musics the band fold into their banjo-and-fiddle-based repertoire. Their arrangement of "Death Came a Knockin' " throbs with a lithe sensuality that belies the tune's many "hallelujah"s; "True Religion" bumps and grinds beneath requests for a properly made deathbed. And in "The Wagoner's Lad" Havey and fiddler Tania Elizabeth challenge bluegrass's implied harder-faster imperative by harmonizing gorgeously about the miserable "fortune of all womankind." Melissa Carper and Jan Bell, who lead Brooklyn's Maybelles, sound like they've known that (mis)fortune. On White Trash Jenny they play sweet-and-sour old-timey music about keeping it in the family and being someone's wife. Despite (or maybe because of) Bell's English heritage, she's much more of a traditionalist than anyone in Nickel Creek or the Duhks; her and Carper's harder-faster is a triumph for equal-opportunity bluegrassers. Yet they give such an unsentimental melancholy to the mostly self-penned material that you remember their art, not their science. Don't expect a video.