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Newport Folk Festival offers an impressive lineup this year

July 28, 2014

The hottest music ticket once again this summer in Rhode Island? The fact that the entire event was sold out by April before the lineup was even completely announced is once again a litmus test to the hotness of the Newport Folk Festival. By popular demand, gone are the days when the festival would begin with a small Friday night show at the Newport Casino. Last year, the promoters bumped it way up with a full day of Friday music at Fort Adams State Park, also home to the Saturday and Sunday festivities. A full three days of music, not to mention various evening after-shows, has led to, by Newport standards, a whopper of a weekend of music. Friday’s lineup is pretty stellar with the likes of Jenny Lewis, a daddy of alt country in Ryan Adams, reggae god Jimmy Cliff, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, The Devil Makes Three, Band of Horses, local hero Death Vessel, Lake Street Dive, Sun Kil Moon, Mandolin Orange, Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Noah Gunderson, Tall Tall Trees and Reignwolf. Friday will also feature a couple of multi-artist salutes, one to the recently departed folk legend (and Newport Folk Fest icon) Pete Seeger and another a salute to Deering Banjos. Ear Bliss offers up a capsule look at some of these artists this week. Let’s dig in.

Band: Ryan Adams
From: New York, N.Y.
Latest album: Ashes & Fire (2011, Pax-Am Records)
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): Gram Parsons,
Description: Songwriter supreme with a country underpinning.
Tidbit: After laying low the last few years, the daddy of the 1990s alt country movement Adams has just launched a 7-inch vinyl series on his own Pax-Am label and has a full-length album planned for release before the end of the year.

Band: Jenny Lewis
From: Los Angeles, Calif.
Latest album: Acid Tongue (2008, Warner Brothers Records)
Description: Lewis’s first solo release in six years called “The Voyager” comes out on July 29. It has been described as her most personal album to date, documenting her struggle to cope following the death of her estranged father in 2010 and the subsequent break-up of Rilo Kiley.
Tidbit: Lewis’s last album was actually in 2010, a record made with longtime collaborator Johnathan Rice under the name Jenny & Johnny.

Band: The Devil Makes Three
From: Santa Cruz, Calif.
Latest album: I’m a Stranger Here (2013, New West Records)
Description: The music of this trio is a soulful and sometimes raucous sound that blends bluegrass, folk, old timey, jazz, gospel and country.
Tidbits: Before making the move to California, the trio called Brattleboro, Vt., home. “I’m a Stranger Here” was produced by Americana legend Buddy Miller at the Nashville studio of The Black Keys’ Dan Auberbach.

Band: Lake Street Dive
From: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Latest album: Bad Self Portraits (2014, Signature Sounds Records)
Description: With the attention-grabbing voice of Rachel Price in the forefront, Lake Street Dive delivers tempting tunes straddling the pop, jazz and folk line. The group saw its profile jump big time after an appearance as part of the T Bone Burnett-curated show at The Town Hall in New York City last winter for the music of the recent Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis
Tidbit: Lake Street Dive formed when each of the four members were attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

Band: Sun Kil Moon
From: San Francisco, Calif.
Latest album: Benji (2014, Caldo Verde Records)
Description: Sun Kil Moon’s latest album is a quiet and understated song cycle that moves from the childhood years to the life today of front man Mark Kozelek.
Tidbit: Sun Kil Moon was originally the fallout/continuation of rock band Red House Painters. It has gone onto to become the recording moniker of singer/songwriter/guitarist Kozelek.

Band: Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer
From: Marshfield, Vt. & Brooklyn, N.Y.
Latest album: Child Ballads (2013, Wilderland Records)
Description: “Child Ballads” is a contemporary American reworking of seven ballads from the endless collection of Professor Francis James Child’s venerable 19th century English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
Tidbit: Hamer started out performing as guitarist, singer, and songwriter in the Colorado-based Americana/jam band Great American Taxi.

Band: Death Vessel
From: Providence, R.I.
Latest album: Island Intervals (2014, Sub Pop Records)
Description: Death Vessel is a neo-folk/indie rock band headed by Joel Thibodeau. Thibodeau’s calling card is a high, otherworldly soprano voice.
Tidbit: Thibodeau began his career in the mid-1990s as part of the Providence-based acoustic roots act String Builder which also featured his brother Alec.

Go back to the 1990s and the band BR549 was settin’ the woods on fire with their country throwback sound. Whereas the band is no more, front man Chuck Mead has forged his own and very respectable solo career leaning way towards the Americana style of country. Recording for Nashville-based Plowboy Records, Mead released a pretty terrific album this past spring Free State Serenade that blends hillbilly blues and honky-tonk to perfection that recalls his childhood and formative years in Kansas. Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys perform at Johnny D’s in Somerville, Mass., on Saturday night.
A terrific show is guaranteed at the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass. (16 Anawan St.) next Friday night, July 18, as the duo of Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott appear. By their lonesome each is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, and picker. Together they have made several terrific duo albums including last year’s outstanding Memories & Moments.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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