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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Roots festival impresses

On Saturday I attended the fourth Roots Music Festival at The Linda in Albany, which featured a number of good local musical acts, and a Rhode Island-based duo who deserve more attention: Brown Bird.

I caught Brown Bird last year at Club Helsinki in Hudson, and was impressed with their darkly lyrical brand of folk, which mixes blues, bluegrass and Eastern European and gypsy music. A lot of contemporary folk music sounds the same to me, but Brown Bird was something different, boasting a broader range of influences, surprisingly complicated arrangements and unusually literate songwriting that evokes classic American novels such as “Moby Dick” and the Bible. Also impressive is the full and forceful sound produced by Brown Bird: Dave Lamb plays guitar, drums and sings, usually simultaneously, and MorganEve Swain plays the upright bass, cello and violin. After watching the duo in Hudson, I picked up their 2011 CD “Salt for Salt,” which has steadily grown on me.

Brown Bird has gotten even better since I saw them during the summer. The duo immediately impressed with their emotionally complex songs and technical virtuosity; for those who expect folk music to be gentle and pretty, their rhythmic, often aggressive sound probably came as a surprise. They played a number of songs off “Salt For Salt,” as well as tracks off their upcoming album, “Fits of Reason,” which comes out on April 2.

Brown Bird was the show’s headliner, but every act at the Roots Music Festival was worth seeing. Brown Bird’s set was preceded by a lively performance by Albany-based gospel group James Edmond’s Heavenly Echoes, who sang a mix of hymns and popular tunes such as “People Get Ready.” I like gospel music, but I seldom see it live, and was unfamiliar with James Edmond’s Heavenly Echoes. In any case, their set came as something of a revelation to me — the sort of exuberant and upbeat performance that can’t help but put a smile on my face. I also appreciated how resolutely old-school the Heavenly Echoes are — they’re not trying to be hip, or contemporary. They’re just trying to play and sing good music and make people feel good, and they succeed.

One of the Roots Music Festival’s big draws (at least for me) was the Lost Radio Rounders and Friends performing songs by the legendary American folk group the Carter Family. The Lost Radio Rounders are a project of local musicians Michael Eck and Tom Lindsay, who perform old-timey folk music that is often in danger of being forgotten. Last year the Lost Radio Rounders put out a fine CD of Carter Family songs, called “Heaven’s Radio,” and the set at The Linda featured some of the best songs off the album, as well as guest musicians such as singer-songwriters M.R. Poulopoulos and my friend Kim Kilby. I was sitting with Kim’s stepson, and I asked him whether he had seen the Lost Radio Rounders’ Carter Family show before. “Yes,” he said. “And they get better every time.” Which seemed about right, judging from the group’s high-energy performance.

Local country and blues band Red Haired Strangers also gave a high-energy performance. I’d seen these guys before, but their performance at the Linda seemed to kick things up a notch. The musicianship was impressive — Ryan Dunham absolutely killed it on harmonica — and the weathered, heartfelt vocals captured the spirit of the vintage country and blues music that serves as the band’s primary influence. Also impressive was singer-songwriter Olivia Quillio, whose spare, lovely performance opened the show.

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