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The Mid-Week Beat: Modern Traditionalists

Music >

JimboMathus.tristateAmerican music is something that has always managed to incorporate many, sometimes disparate, influences. A lot of this has to do with so many different cultures living and working together in the American “melting pot.”

Probably the quintessential American music, jazz, incorporated elements of European brass band music, African tribal music and southern blues. Bluegrass blended English reels with African-American blues phrasing. Rock and Roll blended country with rhythm and blues. Hip hop blended American funk with the Jamaican sound system’s thundering bass lines and dancehall toasting, eventually incorporating electronic music, rock, jazz and a myriad of other genres into the mix as well. Taking all of this into account, what we call “American” music is, in fact, a blend of influences from around the world, brought together on American soil and affected by the American experience.

Musicians are constantly looking to re-define what is thought of as “traditional” music and today I focus on three upcoming shows that feature artists that effectively blend traditional music with modern styles. Two are firmly rooted in American roots music while the third takes Eastern European music and mashes it up with experimental and global styles.

Jimbo Mathus and Tri-State Coalition in New Orleans!

Tomorrow night, Thursday, April 25, in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, America’s first truly authentic music, Jimbo Mathus will take the stage at Chickie Wha Wha with his current band, the Tri-State Coalition.

Mathus has a long history of messing with traditional styles. In the 90s he formed and fronted the punk-rock ragtime band Squirrel Nut Zippers. While the group was often lumped in with the “swing” revival associated with bands like Royal Crown Revue and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the Zippers actually payed homage to a style that pre-dated the 40s and 50s big band swing that the zoot suit crowd favored. They played in the true New Orleans rag style as played by King Oliver, but with a punk rock twist: faster tempos, a little electric guitar and tons of attitude. The Squirrel Nut Zippers managed to create a sound that while rooted in something old, sounded fresh and much less kitschy than the rest of the “swing” revival set.

The Zippers disbanded in 2000 (though they do still reunite for the occasional gig) and since then Mathus has written and produced a historical musical revue called “Mosquitoville,” he helped form the South Memphis String Band and has played hundreds of shows throughout the Deep South, mostly in his home state of Mississippi. The Tri-State Coalition released their first album in 2011 and most recently released their third release, “White Buffalo” on Fat Possum Records this past January.

With the Coalition, Mathus pays homage to his Mississippi roots by playing roots music with a modern rock punch. This project falls more on the rock side of the coin than the Zippers, but Mathus’ knowledge and passion for the music of the Deep South shines through. Can’t think of a better town to witness Mr. Mathus in action. New Orleans, you’re in for a treat tomorrow night! Don’t miss this show! Tickets are available right over here.

O’Death in Portland, Maine!

Another great show is going down tomorrow night in Portland, Maine! Brooklyn’s O’Death will take the stage at the SPACE Gallery.

O’Death were formed in 2003, by State University of New York students Greg Jamie (guitar and vocals), Gabe Darling (banjo), David Rogers-Berry (drums), Jesse Newman (bass) and Bob Pycior (fiddle). They started out playing shows at the, now defunct, Apocalypse Lounge in New York City and quickly gained a cult following. The band’s music was firmly rooted in Americana but incorporated elements of bluegrass, punk rock and even metal. The band toured relentlessly and have released four albums, the most recent being 2011’s “Outside” on Ernest Jenning Record Co.

Like Mathus, O’Death obviously have a deep love for traditional music but, judging from their sound, also grew up listening to punk rock and metal. By filtering traditional music through their modern lens, they’ve created a new “traditional” music that seems more at home in an urban environment than the hills of Appalachia. O’Death’s sound takes the darker elements of Americana and delivers it with the power and aggression of a hardcore band; stripping all the hippy-dippy connotations away from the term “folk” music.

They put on a blistering live show and are not to be missed. You can get tickets for tomorrow nights’ show right over here.

Fishtank Ensemble in Point Arena, California!

O’Death also incorporate some elements of Eastern European gypsy music into their eclectic mix and California’s Fishtank Ensemble also utilizes this music as a base from which they build their eclectic sound.

The band was formed in 2005 in the Oakland artist collective/venue The Fishtank and their sound is largely influenced by their European-born violinist Fabrice Martinez, who is well-versed in Romani, or “gypsy”, music. But, while gypsy music forms their foundation, they manage to incorporate elements of klezmer, flamenco, Japanese folk, French hot jazz and modern experimental music to create a sound that is all their own.

Their members are well-travelled: singer Ursula Knudsen sang opera on the streets of Italy, their Serbian bass player Djordje Stijepovic spent time learning music from local gypsies as well as a few rock and roll legends and has been called one of the best slap bassists in the world, and their guitarist Douglas Smolens (aka El Douje) honed his impressive flamenco skills in the famed gypsy caves of Granada, Spain. All this travelling paid off because you’d be hard pressed to find a group of musicians with such eclectic and well-honed skills as The Fishtank Ensemble.

They are playing this Saturday, April 27 at the Arena Theater in Point Arena, California and they’ll be playing new songs from their forthcoming CD “Edge of the World,” following their hugely successful 2010 release “Woman in Sin.”

I highly recommend you pick up tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime performance by a one-of-a-kind group.