Bruce Molsky

Bruce's May 2015 Newsletter - Playing Guitars with Mark Knophler

Bruce Molsky
Playing Guitars with Mark Knopfler
There’s a whole lot that goes on between when a clutch of musicians gather in a studio to record, and when the CD finally sees the light of day. I love the whole process, and have enjoyed doing it all on my own for a long time, from planning and recording to mixing, packaging, and on and on.
 
But sometimes it’s really nice to just work on just the music part and then step aside. Last April I was asked to come to Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studio in London and play on some tracks for his upcoming CD. The result, ’Tracker’ was just released a couple of weeks ago. If you’ve ever been a fan of Sir Mark’s work (I’ve been since Dire Straits and Sultans of Swing), then you’ll love this one. His musical palette just gets wider and richer - it’s embraced Celtic and now Old-Time music, and yet the spirit of the real rocker just rumbles on underneath.
 
Being sequestered in a beautiful place like that (and it was beautiful) with such musicians is something I won’t forget anytime soon. Mark, Guy Fletcher, Glenn Worf, Ian ‘Ianto’ Thomas, Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker, all musical monsters in their own right. Phil Cunningham and I were the guests on those three days. Ruth Moody (think The Wailin’ Jennys) came later and laid down some beautiful vocal harmonies.
 
All that was over a year ago. I had nothing to do with what came after. That’s hard for a DIY guy; there’s been that whole year to wonder what it would be like in the end. Well, it’s really great. The sound is tremendous, thanks to Guy and his decades of experience and wisdom at the board. If you’re an audio gearhead like me, you’ll love Guy’s diary, where he goes into equipment details, the rigors and
aggravation of maintaining 2-inch tape machines, the intricacies of the CLASP recording system (something I’ve yet to get), mics and other a
udio esoterica.                                    
What’s Coming Up, and Everything Else
 
Our project ’1865 - Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War’ with Anonymous 4 has been enjoying some nice shows across the country. We stopped off at NPR HQ in Washington, DC a few weeks back to record a Tiny Desk Concert, now available on the web atNPR's Tiny Desk Concert - Anonymous 4 and Bruce Molsky; and we’ll be on Garrison Keillor’s ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ radio show on Saturday, April 18. Exciting that we’ll also be at Cooper Union in NYC on April 23, playing in the very same hall where Abraham Lincoln spoke 150 years ago! 

I'm really looking forward to playing again in my home town of Beacon NY at the world famous Towne Crier Cafe on April 26.

And i
n mid-May I’ll be back across the water for a couple of weeks of solo concerts, starting in Shetland (“I can see Norway from here”), then down to Scotland and down even further to England. Returning to Fire In The Mountain Festival in western Wales, always a big highlight.
 
Summer will bring more festivals, sunshine, barbecuing in the back yard, and of course . . . 






CAMPS!
I love to teach, and enjoy the communities that camps create. Returning to some old favorites and also visiting a new one this year: The Acadia Traditional Music School (Bar Harbor, Maine), now in it’s third year and growing, Woods Camp in Ontario (first time),Common Ground On The Hill in Maryland, Southern Week at Ashokan, and the Berklee World Strings Intensive in Boston. If you want to get better on the fiddle or banjo, or take in some songs and just have a nice chill time with nice folks in a pretty place, you should put a camp in your sights. 
 
And if you’d like to do it in the comfort of your own house, click on Peghead Nation - Old Time Fiddle with Bruce Molsky where I’m offering in-depth video fiddle lessons. You’ll find some other great rootsy folks there too, plus instrument and equipment reviews.
 
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That’s about it for now. Thanks for tuning in. Drop into my website or Facebook page and send a note. It’s nice to know you’re there.
Like Playing Guitars with Mark Knopfler on Facebook
Wishing you a great spring and summer, with music and fun!
Bruce
Copyright © 2015 Bruce Molsky / Tree Frog Music, All rights reserved.


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Bruce's January 2015 Newsletter 
1865 - Songs of Hope & Home from the American Civil War

About 10 years ago I received a phone call from a woman asking for banjo lessons. At that time I had a small studio space in a warehouse building on a dilapidated industrial site here in Beacon. The only human occupants were Ron Sauers, the owner and beloved Beacon stalwart, Connie Verrusio making jewelry down the hall, and me, rehearsing and giving the odd music lesson to anyone brave enough to enter the property gates.
 
My new student was Susan Hellauer, who I soon found out was a phenomenal singer. She generously gave me a few exercises to help me with my own singing. And then I was bowled over to discover she was a member of Anonymous 4, one of the most highly respected medieval singing quartets in the world.
 
Fast forward about eight years, a couple of house moves and a whole lot of music later, and Susan got in touch again. This time it was to ask me to collaborate in a project with Anonymous 4 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War (2015). To quote the great fiddler Marcus Martin, “I'm no historian,” but it sounded fascinating. And when I met the project leader Marsha Genensky, I realized this was going to be a deep exploration of music so close to old time mountain music, but also profoundly different.
 
Anonymous 4 are not strangers to American folk music. Their Gloryland CD (2006) and touring enlisted Darol Anger, Mike Marshall and Scott Nygaard in a journey through some beautiful arrangements of familiar songs like Wayfaring Stranger, Wagoners Lad and Green Pastures.
 
Marsha, a folklorist herself, was ready to dive into some very deep research into music that was “in the air” around the time of the Civil War. Not partisan North vs. South music, which has certainly been the subject of plenty of projects, but more popular songs and tunes that could give some context and feeling of what it might have been like just to live through such brutally exciting and painful times.
 
She and I worked together for the better part of a year, narrowing down the focus and the repertoire. It was an exciting afternoon when we finally all met in person for the first time and realized that this was going to be a really unique and fun collaboration. The breadth of material made for lots of instrument choices. And even more exciting was getting to sing with such great voices!
 
Recording in the beautiful resonant space at Drew University and working with Robina Young (producer) and Brad Michel (engineer) was total immersion. Marsha and I sat for hours at the hotel each night deconstructing what we'd done that day and figuring out how to move forward the next, and how to make this a unified and meaningful body of work. It was hard to disengage emotionally when playing and singing some of these songs. I recorded Brother Green as a solo piece and had a hard time holding it together. The others sat in the control room listening over the speakers and when I was done and came in there myself, the tissues were out. No way to avoid it, these songs are intense.
 

1865 Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War (Harmonia Mundi) is the result, and has just been released this week! It's available here on my website store. I couldn't be more thrilled with this; we found common ground none of us would have expected, really reaching deeply into each others musical worlds to make it happen. We'll be touring around the US through 2015, including a tiny desk concert on NPR and A Prairie Home Companion in April, and a can't wait to play and sing with them again.
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And the rest: It's looking to be a great and busy year. Peghead Nation is off to a great start, and I'm happy to be part of that posse of great roots music teachers on line. Please have a look, go to my Blog Page there, and let us know what you'd like to see.
 
In addition to touring with Anonymous 4, I'll be doing concerts and festivals here and abroad. Jumpsteady Boys will be playing at some festivals this summer. Enrollment for summer camps is taking place now too.  
I hope to see you out there. Wishing everyone a great 2015!
Warm wishes,
Bruce

p.s. Don't forget to LIKE my Facebook page *|FACEBOOK:LIKE|* -- let me know where you would like to see me play! 
Bruce's Newsletter

Bruce taking Scott's Peghead Class Guitar was the first instrument I tried my hand at, around age 10. I wanted to be Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West, and even Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (until I came to my senses.) I’ve hammered away at the guitar on and off for all this time. Some things about it make sense, others are still a challenge. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was play.

My guitar flat picking technique has always been clunky (charming?), or, to be merciful, not too well developed. So I just took a video lesson from Scott Nygaard on the new Peghead Nation website. The easiest lesson, step one, just to see. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right? Yeah, no, wrong. Scott’s relaxed presentation and the great closeup camera work made a few things clear that hadn't ever been clear before. I’m hooked.

Now that I’ve joined Peghead Nation as a fiddle instructor, that experience of learning the guitar is becoming an object lesson. I think that in order to be a good teacher, you have to be a good student. I’m trying to learn to be both, and so excited to have that opportunity with Peghead Nation!

Peghead Nation is a wonderful portal into the nuts and bolts and sheer joy of roots music. They’re also offering generous holiday discounts for gift subscriptions. So if you’re a player or know a player who wants a fresh new angle and some great instruction, visit us at www.pegheadnation.com


2015 is looking up to be interesting and musically far-reaching. On the front burner is the release of 1865 Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, a collaboration with the wonderful Anonymous 4 featuring Civil War era tunes and songs, coming in mid-January on Harmonia Mundi Records. Look for it, and then look for us on A Prairie Home Companion in April. I’ll be back in the UK for some solo touring in May. And continuing to work with some of the most wonderful and gifted musicians at Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Music Program.

Summer seems a long ways off, but the music camps are booking up now. Please check it all out at my website. . .

In the meantime, wishing everyone the happiest of holiday seasons and peace in 2015, and thanks for staying in touch!
Warmest wishes,
Bruce


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Welcome to the new Tree Frog Music website!

Star web designer Paul Fox has succeeded in dragging me out of the 20th Century and into the cyber-present. (He dragged me into the late 2000s as well with the previous site design). Huge thanks to Audrey Molsky for coordinating everything, making sure we all did what we were supposed to (uh, actually I'm not quite done yet), and for lending her technical expertise and vision to the project.

The main thoughts behind the new site are to make things easy to find, to create a space where interesting things can live, and of course to make you want to visit. We've added links for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube where you'll often find me anyway. Once we're rolling, there will be music segments, videos, road photos and links to other people and places of interest.

In the end, of course, it's all about the music. I do hope you'll check in with my tour schedule and come to a show when you can. If you're interested in learning to play old-time fiddle or banjo, I offer workshops and participate in organized music camps and programs throughout the year. I also love working in the studio, and we have a wonderful, updated on-line store here featuring solo and collaborative projects, and instructional recordings.

Please push the big old 'Contact Bruce' button and let us know what you think. Like everything in life, this is a work in progress. We want to make it as good as it can be and appreciate your input. Thanks a lot for visiting, and we'll see you soon!

- Bruce


Bruce Molsky, Edinburgh Folk Club



It's tempting to describe Bruce Molsky as a human iPod, but while that would convey his ability to draw, at random, from a repertoire as large as it is impressively diverse, it fails to appreciate how all that music managed to get into his memory without the luxury of downloads.

Just how a city boy from the Bronx became so fluent in old-time Appalachian fiddling as to sound like a North Carolina native who's never set foot beyond Surry County would be a story worth telling in itself. Molsky, though, has assimilated much more of American – and Scandinavian, and Balkan – folklore in the process of developing into the 21st century equivalent of those Southern States roadhouse players who could make people dance to any one instrument.

If no-one was doing any steps here, that's no reflection on Molsky's musicianship. His opening pair of fiddle tunes had vigour, drive and wild Virginia flavour enough to make any joint jump and his Johnson City Rag, played on his newly restored guitar, probably had too much style and note-bending subtlety to be reduced to a mere vehicle for lost inhibitions.

Across a panorama of empathetically observed cowboy ballads, honestly delivered a cappella gospel songs, exuberant dance tunes magically transposed from Balkan brass band onto just six strings and – you don't read this phrase very often – soothing banjo rounds, Molsky cast his self-effacing spell.

I particularly enjoyed his celebration of Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, whose relaxed, calypso-imbued blues sounds like Big Bill Broonzy reclining in a hammock, but that was the apple pie in a gig that, as a whole, justified the notion of music as soul food.


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