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We’ve most likely written Balto at this point more than any other band. Because of…reasons. Because of love. Because this band might as well be Folk Hive’s mascot…

October’s Road, the band’s prior release, was a certainly a stellar pack of songs, if evidenced by nothing else than our massive love for it, but Monuments is a study in musical growth and near folk perfection. Singer-songwriter Dan Sheron’s voice was perfectly suited to those older songs of longing and cold but on this album he pulls off a new show of songwriting maturity with stunning accuracy. These songs take on a life of their own in a way they never could have if they were recorded solo and it’s quite clear this album is a huge step for this band. And it is one that should pay off if there is any good left in this world.

To be honest, I thought I knew the sound that defined Balto inside and out and it was great enough that I was in love with it at first listen. This new EP is a departure for Sheron and one that could have failed horribly if not executed perfectly — we see it all the time in the indie music world. But executed perfectly this EP is and I dare say that it will soon replace October’s Road as Folk Hive’s favorite Balto album.

It bears mentioning that the ragtag band supporting Sheron on this release is quickly reaching epic Bon Iver proportions. Justin Vernon has maintained tight ties with his friends in Megafaun and to a certain extent, Field Report, through his music and Sheron does the same here. Folk darling Philippe Bronchtein, of Hip Haptchet fame, covers piano and another Folk Hive favorite, John Glouchevitch of Jeannot covers banjo. We’d like to add that the latter does so immensely stunningly, by the way. Also involved: Sam Budish (a man we’ve met and can say with certainty, holds his liquor far better than we do), Charlie Freundlich, and Andrew Sheron of Everyman of Parts (who’s mandolin work here stands out). If that’s not a roster to peak your interest, well then, you’re just an asshole who hates good things.

The sum of the parts here is a collection of songs that has transcended what Balto was. This is a new chapter for Sheron and his band, whoever may be staffing it, and this sound is a page we will always eagerly turn.

**

 

BUY Monuments :: FACEBOOK

6am Repeat is a recurring feature here at Folk Hive in which we stream the latest track that plays incessantly in the earbuds when we awake at that hour and imbibe massive amounts of coffee and cigarettes in preparation for the advancing day.  Consider it your jam of the day — a sweet, sweet gift from me to you.  I love you, dude.

It is no secret we are Balto devotees. We love not only the sum of all this band’s parts but indeed, even the individual parts themselves. There’s Hip Hatchet. There’s Dave, banjo man with a penchant for whiskey once enjoyed by former presidents. And of course Dan, the driving force behind Balto and all around lovely dude in general. The last Balto album ended up on last year’s Best Of list and the boys played the most fantastic house show for us, which forever endeared us to them…

But this, this song “Smokestacks”? Dare we say that it transcends October’s Road and takes this band to a whole new level? Yes, we dare say that. Dan’s songwriting has evolved and the music has taken a step up. The combination of those two things make for an absolutely lovely jam.

But really, all that is to say: HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS, YOU NEED THIS SONG IN YOUR LIFE. Seriously. Right now. Go get it. DUDE.

**

 

DOWNLOADSmokestacks‘ :: WEBSITE

6am Repeat is a recurring feature here at Folk Hive in which we stream the latest track that plays incessantly in the earbuds when we awake at that hour and imbibe massive amounts of coffee and cigarettes in preparation for the advancing day.  Consider it your jam of the day — a sweet, sweet gift from me to you.  I love you, dude.

I’d like to be poetic about these musical treats from Jeannot, I really would. Instead (and apologies for it), you get this: HOLY SHIT, YOU GUYS. THIS IS BEAUTIFUL.

You know Philippe Bronchtein. He is Hip Hatchet, music-makin’ darling to folk bloggers the world over. You know Dan Sheron as one of the dudes from Balto, the band that came to our hometown and still gets chatted about on our streets. Actual quote from yesterday, taken from the mouth of a friend who attended the Balto house show here : “I was listening to Balto in my office and someone came in and I said, “SHUT UP! Can’t you see I’m listening to Balto!””. You might not know Anna Hoone and you might not know John Glouchevitch but sweetheart, you’re about to…

That concoction of humans up there participated in this tiny EP, for they are all friends. I got great friends but shit, we ain’t turning out ‘Tire Swing’ on the weekends. A gorgeous of John’s voice and lyrics and Anna’s punctuated and beautiful background vocals, ‘Tire Swing’ is on repeat all morning.

**

NAME YOUR PRICE / DOWNLOAD Turner Street EP :: FACEBOOK

{Hey fuckers! FYI: Fuckers is a term of endearment. Another FYI for you: I forgot I had a blog. But the accidental blogging interim did provide me with much time to not sit on the internet all day. It gave me time to process a break up. I mean, I think it was a break up. I officially gave up on getting married (I NEED SOME CATS!) and living on a farm. That was tough on my brain. But I’m fine now, all. Music is again my boyfriend. The break also gave me time to hang with my child, buy tickets to Wakarusa, and pine for summer’s return. But looking back, this here miniscule blog was such a joy that I’m picking it back up. I missed you, internet. I missed you.

Woah. WOAH! Wait a second, there. I just re-read this thing down here I wrote like, weeks ago and seriously, it is morose and depressive. Jesus. Sorry, folks. Expect more curses, references to cheap American beer, and crude humor in 2012.

PS – Shit, ya’ll, I almost forgot. There were some really nice people, two or three of you, that sent me very kind emails about the absence. I won’t brag about it here but just know, the fact that some stranger somewhere out there on this big blue ball (oh God, yes, as if I needed a reason to type that sentence) missed a folk blog sort of makes my life. Cheers to you people. I owe you beers.}

*

2011.  A year that started with cold ends the same way here in the Midwest and yet, our little world has grown bigger this past year. Through the blog and the glory of simple words, I’ve made friends.  I’ve felt holes in my heart, burned in there by the lack of those around who seem all too much like me, filled and taped over with the edges of that stickiness bulging because there are now more connections than breaches.  The dam has been overwrought with inspiration and emails from souls far from me.  In certain instances, my family has met these people, face to face, and now knowing these faces and voices, has seen  me in a different life.  For all these things, I am beyond astonished and grateful.  For all these things, now that they’ve been added up and found to be the total of an equation that started with a simple music blog, I am indebted.

There is a quote by Jack Kerouac, pointed out to me once by a poet I now call a friend, having only met him once and in passing even then, that goes like this:

I like too many things and get all confused and hung up running from one falling star to another ’til I drop.

It explains too well the off days here and, for that, I am sorry.  But it is my nature and will likely remain so.  For those that have stuck around despite the absence, this is a love letter to you too.

**

Above my desk, there are many things.  There is a painting of a tree, executed by my grandfather, to my left (for if I am not a tree-hugger, then what am I?).  There is the drawing by Jude, this one just a facsimile as the original was given last year to Andrea of Breathe Owl Breathe, and it hangs to my right.  Top right, to be exact.  To the lower left is a measuring tape (a throwback to my days as a seamstress), and quite a few old illustrations of mine.  To the lower right is an odd sized letterpress poster, in nothing but pure stark white, depicting the logo of the band, Megafaun.  Directly on the desk to the right, book-ended by giant speakers, is a stack of vinyl, both purchased with my hard-earned cash and given gratis.  There is a copy of the first Analog Edition zine.  All of these things, presiding over me as I sit here, have made my year.  Without this music I don’t know what I’d say about this past year.

Without further ado, Folk Hive favorite albums of 2011.  As with the list given last year (that one topping out at only 9 and this one having to have been significantly narrowed), these are not albums we claim to be best necessarily, just the ones that have moved us most.  And that counts for something…

****

[Number TEN :: Middle Brother, Middle Brother]

Partisan Records

Any band/record that brings together members of Dawes, Delta Spirit, and Deer Tick, deserves a Top Ten spot for the mere awesomeness of the whole merging. And on top of that, this is a damn fine collection of jams, so, you know, that helps. The boys have concocted my most favorite collaboration since the era of the Traveling Wilbury’s (which occurred prior to my being a music loving teenager) and I ain’t the only one trumpeting that belief. I have no doubt that when summer decides to return, this album will be in the player, harkening its arrival, just as it helped us here at Folk Hive say goodbye to the warmth in 2011.

Further, any album that features the lyrics “I got a dick so hard a cat could scratch” is clearly going to get included here. I mean, really.

Middle Brother :: Middle Brother [mp3]

BUY Middle Brother :: WEBSITE

**

{Number NINE :: The Middle East, I Want That You Are Always Happy]

Spunk Records

This damn record. It broke my spirit upon the first listen and upon the next few hundred, slowly rebuilt it with banjos, emotion, and stories of ships in harbors. And then the band came along and broke my heart all over again when they split shortly after its release. Fuckers. At any rate, in times of both sadness and incredible happiness this past year, these tunes have been my companion and they’ve taken on incredible personal meanings in the Folk Hive abode.

The Middle East :: Land Of The Bloody Unknown [mp3]

BUY I Want That You Are Always Happy :: WEBSITE

**

[Number EIGHT :: Bon Iver, Bon Iver]

Jagjaguwar

I get that this will be the ‘Fucking Duh’ album on our list. I get that in the year 2011 it’s the cool kid thing to like Bon Iver, to jump on that bandwagon and ride that shit all the way to Hipster Town, but fuck all that noise. I was on this train when it was just one car, long before the depot was officially sponsored by Pitchfork. Long before Kanye became the conductor. While, as a folk lover, it should be obvious to most that I will always prefer For Emma… to whatever-the-fuck Justin Vernon gets himself into in the future, this was a serious effort on his part and a serious step forward. While it can be long-winded at times which has turned off more than one blogger here and there, as someone with that proclivity themselves, I can respect that. And if this record was necessary just to give us jams like ‘Holocene’ and ‘Beth/Rest’, then I’m okay with all that…

Bon Iver :: Holocene [mp3]

BUY Bon Iver :: WEBSITE

**

[Number SEVEN :: Blitzen Trapper, American Goldwing]

Sub Pop Records

TRUST: Every Folk Hive end-of-year list will always feature at least one 70’s classic rock tinged album. Last year that honor went to The Sheepdogs Learn and Burn but this year, this spot is occupied by American Goldwing. A sad fact is that I, for some reason most likely born out of stubbornness, had neglected to listen to this band until the release of this album. It’s one of those situations were a retrospective ass-whipping of large proportions is in order — I was denied the joy of songs like ‘Furr’ upon their intial gifting to the musical world, and considering my love for a good harmony and guitar lick combined, what a shame that is. But American Goldwing entered my sphere and from then on its songs earned places in nearly every gifted mixtape and the jams became the soundtrack to the closing of fall around here. Stunningly, the harmonica and reverb-laden jams made such a mark that this happy music has endured the winter and the album made me so goddamn happy that I’m keeping it on the back burner for some rad fucking summer jams this coming year. Folk Hive officially suggests picking this one up on vinyl.

Blitzen Trapper :: Love The Way You Walk Away [mp3]

Blitzen Trapper :: American Goldwing [mp3]

BUY American Goldwing :: WEBSITE

**

[Number SIX :: Balto, October’s Road]

Self-released

Our love for Balto and every one of its parts has been declared over and over. I owe the band a debt of gratitude for venturing here and for opening the eyes of my family and friends in regards to what I do here and why I love this music so much. The men of the Balto touring band in our backyard literally changed some lives. I’ve spoke about this album before, many a time, so I won’t do it again here on this list but this bad will forever rest in my heart.

Even now, watching the video of that day in the backyard, hearing the cicadas fight for attention while guitars, banjos, bass, and box drums play, I’m astonished. It’s hard to put into words: I was a seventeen year old once that dreamed of these things. I am a grown up now, writing and pining over songs, and here they are, being played on my territory. It was surreal and it was perfect. I watched my father drink and stumble across the street home (first time I’ve witnessed that fine mess in 28 years), I watched the jaws of friends and family drop as the boys began to play, and I ruined nearly every video I took for my too loud singing in the background (I blame the banjo player for getting me too drunk there; always blame the banjo player). For those reasons alone, this album could have made the list. But I’m proud to say that without that concert, it would be here, too.

Balto :: Self-Portrait [mp3]

Balto :: The Railyard [mp3]

BUY October’s Road :: WEBSITE

**

[Number FIVE :: Little John, Put Your Hands On Me]

Self-released

One of the most consistently played albums here this year was that which belongs to an outfit referring to themselves as Little John. The initial revelation that Australians could do folk just as good (if not better) than Americans was tough for me to grasp but really, why be exclusionary about shit? This is amazingly calming music that has the ability to totally obliterate your folk-loving face, all while making you think you’re its best friend. Lead singer John Dickson’s voice is the first thing to notice here, what with the intensity that blends so well with the longing, but overall the muscianship here is something I admire. It amazes be how much this album was overlooked (at the very least, on folk blogs this year) but we’re righting that wrong…

Little John :: Put Your Hands On Me [mp3]

Little John :: Ain’t Ever Gonna Leave You [mp3]

BUY Put Your Hands On Me :: FACEBOOK

**

[Number FOUR :: Tyler Lyle, The Golden Age And The Silver Girl]

Self-released

Much has been said about Mr Lyle and much has been said by bloggers I trust with my musical well-being. I remember reading here lately that this glorious freshmen effort cost a mere $250. I mean shit, bands with managers and publicists and studio engineers and top-shelf musicians, with million dollar budgets cannot pull off albums this heartfelt and so damn awesome. It was recorded in one day. Think about that for a second while you listen. ONE DAY, dudes. Instrumentation was apparently provided by friends of Lyle’s…which basically means I want to be in this guy’s talented circle.

I will admit that when I first stumbled up The Golden Age… I centered on the lead off track and stayed there for weeks. It was probably accidental that I forgot to hit repeat one day in the car, while the summer sun blazed in my eyes, but what a blessing that was. The discovery of all the songs and emotions here was a delightful part of my year, falling in love with every note. The acorn will be a forest in a thousand years, indeed.

Tyler Lyle :: Golden Age & The Silver Girl [mp3]

BUY The Golden Age & The Silver Girl

**

[ Number FOUR :: James Vincent McMorrow, Early In The Morning]

Vagrant Records

This fucking album, for those fellow lovers of folk and sad bastard shit that makes your sad bastard life look less sad, is a gem. I’ve not counted it up for I’m bad at the maths but I’d say that a good 3 or 4 of the songs from this album sit atop my 20 most listened to jams this year. ‘We Don’t Eat’ is a go to for shit days and ‘Hear That Noise…’ is a salve. Plus, dude covered Steve Winwood this year, and did it brilliantly might I add. He clearly deserves a Top Ten spot.

James Vincent McMorrow :: Hear That Noise So Soft And Low [mp3]

James Vincent McMorrow :: We Don’t Eat [mp3]

BUY Early In The Morning :: WEBSITE

**

[Number TWO :: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Here We Rest]

Lightning Rod Records

Late in the year the 400 Unit showed up at my door and from whence they came, I’ve not a clue. But at a time when music was not on my radar they burst through that threshold and grabbed hold of me, shaking me out of my apathetic bullshit mood and encouraging me, with tales of codeine and lost love and cheap beer in cheap hotel rooms, out of that sad, sad, shell. In ‘Alabama Pines’ I found a jam that I could share with my siblings, whose tastes are firmly planted in the country genre, a song perfect for sunny day road cruises. The rest of the album is just as solid and part of the reason I’m astonished by this album is that if I’d have judged it solely on the looks of these dudes, then I’d have tossed it by the wayside. That’s not to say we don’t have a crop of fine looking fellows writing and playing but honestly, my preconceived notions of what a band that sounds like this should look like has been turned around. A solid album from a band I’ve bought tickets to see this year, based on a 2 month long love affair.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit :: Alabama Pines [mp3]

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit :: Codeine [mp3]

BUY Here We Rest :: WEBSITE

**

[Number ONE :: Shakey Graves, Roll The Bones]

Self-released

It makes sense that our favorite record of the year is one that was self-released. It makes sense that 365 days ago, plus or minus a few, this was a wholly undiscovered piece of originality hiding within the internet’s corners and now, it’s garnered attention and love from some of the biggest and best music blogs. It speaks to the originality here and the perfection, tucked down in the dirty and unkempt melodies. It’s not polished by today’s slick standards but it works and it works so goddamn well. With a fan supported new album coming in 2012 and, one can only hope, Mr Shakey Graves in Folk Hive’s backyard at some point in this new year, Roll The Bones is our favorite album of the fucking year, ya’ll.

Shakey Graves :: Unlucky Skin [mp3]

Shakey Graves :: Once In A While [mp3]

BUY Roll The Bones

 

On 31 July, after a fair amount of planning, playlist making, and visits to the booze shop, the men of Balto descended on our small but fair town.  It was a Sunday, signifying that nearly everyone in audience would be working in the following days early hours, but a crowd gathered regardless.  They showed up, some as a favor to me, some because they are related to me and had no choice ’cause I’m pretty sure there’s a section in the law books stipulating a bylaw that one has to do such things for their kin, and some showed up because honestly, nothing like this has happened in our town.  Ever.  What transpired that evening was nothing short of beautiful.

It’s fair to assume that the 104 degree heat and the 99% humidity might have put a damper on everyone’s spirit but such was not the case.  The boys showed up, a banjo player named Dave convinced me that the $4 bottle of Old Crow whiskey was Lyndon Johnson’s favorite and thus, I should drink it, and the tunes commenced.  Children jumped on the trampoline, people laid back to relax and listen, and the dudes started in with ‘The Railyard’.

What I truly believe to be a crowd that was initially only here to do me a solid soon turned into a crowd that was absolutely smitten by the band.  Perhaps they had made the assumption that this was a rag tag group of boys, showing up to clumsily pick an instrument while calling themselves a band, but if that were the case there were proven wrong in short order.  Watching the look of astonishment spread over faces as the band took off was brilliant.  By the second song of the set, everyone in that backyard, hippie and redneck alike, were fans.  Life long fans.  And that’s no fucking exaggeration.  In the days since the concert, as I very slowly came down off my own personal high concerning the events of that night, I’ve gotten raving  messages from those in attendance.  I listened to my father, a truck driver with generally no interest in folk jams or the whiskey he drank Sunday night, complain that my mother had stolen his autographed CD.  I’ve become convinced this is something that’s good for this town.

In the days and nights since the show, I’ll admit to re-reading every review of October’s Road.  It seemed to me that perhaps I was glorifying an experience and I needed to step back from and be objective about but every review I’ve read, all of them more than positive and glowing, reinforces what happened last Sunday night.  This fucking band has it together — their live sound is similar to the record but it’s on another level which means that these guys (and those involved but not present) can really take this somewhere.

I know it’s not easy getting the people out but one of the reasons I love this business of writing about music that I truly believe is worth our time: When you get them there, they’ll believe in it.  I saw it happen, I watched a mesmerized crowd of people I never thought we could assemble, and even through my slightly drunken haze and over my too loud voice, I could see it and hear it in everyone who sat in a Coleman chair in my backyard in the middle of the sticks.  The magic of a band that is truly good effects everyone, regardless of background or geography or taste.  To say it was a transformative night for me would be the understatement of the year…

There is a multitude of thanks that need to be given.   To my family and friends: Hell, you guys.  You showed up simply because I asked, you brought enchiladas and salsa and pies and multitudes of delicious baked beans.  You shared something that was so very special to me and truly, I can never thank you enough.  To Jessica: The pictures.  You preserved something that was beautiful and I’ll have it forever, reminders of a night that I’d like to never forget.  To Brad: You cooked, you braved potential heat exhaustion, and you supported me in the best way possible, by letting me do my thing.  I love you times a million.  And to the people from Belle: You guys have given me serious hope for this state!  You were kind, you were funny, you were a blast.  Your presence made the night all that much better.

And to Dan and the boys: Wow.  Just fucking wow.   That was a life changer and to say as such is not an exaggeration.  I cannot thank you enough.  There’s always a stage for you, right off I44.


**

Balto :: Self Portrait [mp3]

BUY October’s Road :: WEBSITE

All photos courtesy of Jessica Warren.  View the full set here.

6am Repeat is a recurring feature here at Folk Hive in which we stream the latest track that plays incessantly in the earbuds when we awake at that hour and imbibe massive amounts of coffee and cigarettes in preparation for the advancing day.  Consider it your jam of the day — a sweet, sweet gift from me to you.  I love you, dude.

It’s a special song that possesses the ability to make one sad and insanely happy at once.  It’s a tricky slope to sled, writing that tune, and most fail.  They slip and skid down the hill, falling into a heap of unrelatable words and emotions at the bottom.  Ooohs and ahhhs are just as tough as words, don’t you know.  It’s a complicated task, executing those sounds in such a way that they’re believable and relevant to what is being said.  It has to make sense and even more, that intonation must be pleasing to the ear.

Perhaps a base understanding of foreign languages makes these tasks easier.  Perhaps heartbreak or love help us down that road, the one paved with songs that will eventually form albums.  Maybe it’s something as simple as an affection for stringed instruments seemingly of yore, banjos and mandolins and whatnot.  Maybe it’s all that.  Maybe it’s more.

Who fucking knows, you know?  I do know that October’s Road is worth a good piece of your time.  Give it a minute.  Seriously.  These songs are like twilight.  Wait for them to swell…

**

Balto :: The Railyard [MP3]

BANDCAMP :: Head over and give the man a measly 4 fucking bucks.  He’s earned it.