Last week at Guitar Night we saw how much was possible on six strings. This week we’ll raise the degree of difficulty and spotlight some innovators on the old four-string, the Devil’s Box, the G/D/A/E, as my colleague A.J. called it this week, perhaps because she loves acronyms. Call it a fiddle in the hands of show-opener April Verch or go with the more formal moniker embraced by our guest artists Black Violin, this miraculous instrument, animated by a horse hair bow of all things, beloved by our culture for 500 years, still explodes with possibilities in the hands (and chins) of inspired musicians.
I’ve seen The Greencards with and without fiddlers, but it appears their roster these days includes Kristin Weber, our Nashville pal who’s played Roots with David Mayfield and Langhorne Slim. The core Greencards Kym Warner and Carol Young have surrounded themselves with talented collaborators since founding the cross continental group in Austin, TX in 2003. And that includes current guitarist Carl Miner.
It’s been more than two years since the Greencards graced our stage, and we’re more than a little excited to have them back, because boy do they know how to own a venue. I think they could get the North Korean army up on its feet and twirl-dancing, such is the positive force of their individual and group personalities. And the music is always focused, edgy and uplifting – state of the art Acousticana, to borrow a term. The Greencards’ new album Sweetheart of the Sun is another knockout. The Gary Paczosa-produced LP is winning the love of the least important people in the universe, by which of course I mean music writers. American Songwriter gave the disc 4.5 stars out of five and said that the Greencards “are better than ever.” Blurt.com hailed their “exceptional skill and unerring taste.”
Black Violin is just a phenomenon. If there’s a reason they didn’t release a follow up to their 2008 album debut for four years – as if they need a reason – it’d be because they were too busy playing every prestigious venue on the planet, from Dubai concert halls to Barack Obama inaugural balls and scoring hit TV shows. They played warm up music before Dave Grohl’s legendary keynote speech at SXSW. They’ve worked with all kinds of stars and opened for Wu-Tang Clan, which is (I think) a first for Roots. They are Kev Marcus on violin and Wil B. on viola. They were friends from high school orchestra in Fort Lauderdale, FL. After college they got started in the hip-hop business but also set up shop as a production team and developed a fascinating fusion of classical and beat-based music. Their new album Classically Trained (streamable here) is an imaginative fusion that seems to mash up all the music I’ve loved in my life from my own violin lessons as a kid to my secret not-so-very-Americana passion for electronica. I can’t wait to hear how this rolls on stage.
The Hillbenders are a sweet and salty bluegrass and blues band from the mid-Westest part of the Midwest, Springfield, MO. I found out about them when I met singer/mandolinist Nolan Lawrence at a songwriting retreat, and I was curious what kind of band would form around his commanding blue-eyed soul voice. When I found out at World of Bluegrass not long after, I was delighted to find they were feisty, funky and imaginative. Chad “Gravy Boat” Graves, looking like a tall, thin Elvis, throws a lot of body English at his low-slung dobro. Banjo player Mark Cassidy guitarist Gary Rea mix fire and finesse on their instruments. The vocal attack is stellar, and they have cool song sense, covering outliers like 80s pop band The Romantics and the killer Mick Hanley song “Past The Point of Rescue.” They won the Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition in 2009 and last year were picked up by Compass Records, leading to label debut Can You Hear Me? Well yes, and we’d like to hear some more.
And as I said, the show will open with fiddler, singer, songwriter and stepdancer April Verch. Seems like just yesterday she was one of traditional music’s exciting youngsters. But here we are, and she’s released nine albums and is well into her second decade of full-time touring and recording. She’s a native of Canada’s musically rich Ottawa Valley, along the border of Ontario and Quebec, and she’s kept her music pretty close to the lore and feeling of the country fiddling there. She truly was a prodigy, rolling from youth fiddle contest wins to gold medals at Canada’s biggest traditional competitions. She was asked to represent Canadian fiddling during the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In the US, she’s been loved at festivals and performing arts centers for years. Her trad touch will be a grand start to a rad evening.
And rounding out the night will be emerging artist Matt Butcher and the Schoolyard Band, whose sound has been characterized as “genteel country.” He looks fascinating, as does the whole slate.