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Jon Langford and Jean Cook

Jon Langford and Jean Cook

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Like any self-respecting Welshman with a fine arts degree in the late 1970s, Jon Langford co-founded a punk folk country rock band. His was called The Mekons. It became legendary for daring to go where no other bands had gone before. Jon has also been part of numerous other ensembles including the Waco Brothers.

Based, since the early 90s, in Chicago, Jon has also gained recognition for his portraits of country music greats. He illustrates beer bottle labels for Dogfish Head Breweries, so his art school degree is far from being wasted. He has been involved in various other projects incorporating spoken word, visual arts and music. He is a multifaceted artist with a deep respect for the American neo-folk tradition – that means he likes the music of Hank Williams and the message of more socially committed artists. He has curated three volumes of songs against the death penalty. He is also involved with the Bloodshot record label. who have put out his latest collection, Here Be Monsters. One might remember that this was the sign where the world ended, according to geographers in the 1500’s.

Bloodshot describes Jon’s latest collection: “Plots a clear-eyed, sharp-elbowed course through such far-flung subjects as alternative hierarchies and astronomy, perpetual war for perpetual profit, the culture of detachment, middle age, fatherhood, fame, and the fleetingness of love.” Now you know. Listen to one of the new songs, Drone Operator. It is as current as the news and tracks the transition from slacker game enthusiast to killer in the first person, ‘like God with a thunderbolt’ set to a sixties folk rock track. A survey rather than anything thematic, Jon’s new songs cover a lot of ground. Jon will come with a friend, Jean Cook.

Jean is the treasurer of Antisocial Music. She is very involved with the cutting edge of classical music. She has been part of a variety of projects with names like The Hip Hop Philharmonic and lots more adventures that take the music forward. She is a political activist and, more germane to her arrival here, a brilliant violinist. She has worked in bigger bands with Jon and as a duo.

Together Jon and Jean bring some of the best of the American contemporary musical avant-garde to town.

By Gary Cristall, VFMF 2014 Program Guide

Roger Knox

Roger Knox

Roger Knox (Australia)

with Jon Langford and Jean Cook

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A shining light on the Australian country music scene. Roger Knox is a force. A formidable one indeed. (Mess + Noise)

Roger Knox, also known as the Koori King of Country, is an Aboriginal country star with a honeyed bear-hug of a voice. He masterfully carries forward the vast tradition of down-under country music that has been forged by a struggling people in the dustbowl of the outback.

Country music crossed hemispheres in the kitbags of WWII US servicemen, and struck a chord with the voiceless and near-invisible Aboriginal population in Australia. Soon, American cowboy songs and honkytonk classics were retooled to describe rugged outback lifestyles and the migration from country to city. As it turns out, you can’t beat country music as a vehicle for telling tough tales and the Aboriginal Country & Western Songbook is peppered with drinking songs and prison songs; songs that yearn for justice and for home; songs of alienation and the loneliness of the outsider. Humor, resignation and outrage stalk a superficially familiar musical landscape that’s been re-populated with stockmen, bandicoots, wallabies, porcupines, grog-drinkers, pelicans and policemen.

Roger has been singing country music since the 1980s, and when Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) met him on a visit to Australia several years ago, and heard about this potentially-soon-to-be-lost subculture of the utterly unique collision that is Koori country, he wanted to get involved. Stranger In My Land is a collection of songs originally written by Aborigine artists who were Knox’s peers and predecessors; some tunes previously recorded but difficult to find, as well as several unrecorded, handed-down folk songs (which without this recording, could have been lost forever).

It is powerful and moving material, heartbreaking and hilarious, downtrodden and uplifting, suffused with longing, alienation, resilience and hope. It possesses the urgency of an Alan Lomax field recording, yet with a spirit that truly relevant in today’s world.

Today you’re likely to find Knox out of cell phone range in some far flung bush community singing his heart out, counseling the youth and leading by example. But for our special weekend, he brings this music to us, accompanied by Jon Langford and fiddler Jean Cook.

Roger Knox, “Stranger In My Land” from Bloodshot Records on Vimeo.

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Como Mamas

The Como Mamas

The Como Mamas (MS)

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The Como Mamas, Ester Mae Smith and sisters Angela Taylor and Della Daniels have been singing together in church since they were children.

The church is Panola County’s Mt. Mariah Church, a humble wood structure built in the early 1900s. And, surrounding that small house of worship is a cemetery, and in there rests several of the singers’ relatives. Della and Angela’s grandfather Miles Pratcher is there, a guitar player, songwriter, and consummate entertainer who kept the family laughing through good and bad times. He often played music on the porch with fiddlers and other guitar players, including the great Mississippi Fred McDowell. Della and Esther remember when famed folklorist Alan Lomax visited their house in 1959 to record some of these porch sessions.

The Mamas own recording, called Get An Understanding, came out on Daptone Records in 2013. It includes traditional, time-tested gospel hymns, from the most tender to rafter-rattling, full of raw, heartfelt emotion and power. Label founder Gabriel Roth said, “… all music tries to … put feeling into sound. The Como Mamas do that just about as close to perfect as you can.”

Record’s producer Michael Reilly adds, “Della, Ester and Angela believe whole-heartedly that these songs have the power to help and inspire people in their everyday lives.” Get ready for some glorious inspiration!

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Born Ruffians

Born Ruffians

Born Ruffians (ON)

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Since their formation in 2004, Born Ruffians have been honing their craft and evolving their sound. Their straightforward honest songs, crafted with the twenty-something generation in mind, have strong harmonies, catchy choruses and hummable melodies that are downright addictive. Their pure energy and upbeat performances earned them a nomination for Breakthrough Group of the Year at the 2014 JUNO Awards, as well as hords of fans across the land.  

Cousins Luke Lalonde and Mitch DeRosier, along with their friend Steve Hamelin, formed the band while attending high school in Midland, Ontario. Originally named Mornington Drive, the guys moved to Toronto in the mid-’00s, rechristened themselves Born Ruffians, and added new band member and multi-instrumentalist Andy Lloyd.  To date they have released four acclaimed albums, toured extensively and had their songs featured on commercial campaigns in the US, the UK and Australia.  

They are currently signed to Yep Roc Records in the US and Paper Bag Records in Canada. In 2013, the band went back to their roots to spend a spring and fall isolated at a haunted farmhouse in rural Ontario to record their fourth studio album, Birthmarks.  While some of the album was born on the farm, many of the songs were conceived long before. Lalonde would write and demo constantly on his laptop, at home, on tour, in Toronto, Montreal, Midland, Australia, France, Germany, everywhere.

It’s the sound of a young band passionate about music making and taking their craft seriously, steadily growing in depth and maturity. We’re looking forward to being a stop along the way.

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Josh White Jr.

Josh White Jr. (US)

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 Josh White Jr. celebrates his 70th anniversary in show business in 2014 – 70 incredible years and a phenomenal legacy.

He began as a child star performing and recording with his legendary father Josh White, an original Carolina Piedmont blues player who pioneered the blues, spirituals and songs of social conscience – first on New York’s radio, nightclub, Broadway, film and concert stages and then on to the whole world in the 1930s and 1940s. 

Josh, Jr. continues to carry forward his father’s immense musical and social activist legacy, taking his audiences back to the times when House of the Rising Sun, Strange Fruit, One Meatball, The House I Live In, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and Waltzing Matilda first became popular songs. He recalls the experiences he shared with people like Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Bojangles, Leadbelly, Joe Louis, Eartha Kitt, Woody Guthrie, Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Dorothy Gish, Burl Ives, and Odetta.

But Josh Jr. has also established his own musical and activist legacy since becoming a solo artist in 1961, with 25 albums including self-penned positive message songs along with the songs his father made famous.

He has toured the world’s greatest concert stages, starred in four TV concert specials, is a TONY Award winning actor, educator and teacher, humanitarian and passionate idealist, and a popular children’s performer. In 1980 he was named the “Voice of the PEACE Corps”, and has sung for presidents, prime ministers, the Pope, the imprisoned and the poorest of the poor around the world.

Josh White Jr. is a living link to 20th Century African-American history, the history of the blues, and to a legacy of artistry and activism.   

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Ozomatli

Ozomatli

Ozomatli (CA)

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You can tell something about a band by how connected they are to where they come from. For Ozomatli, having originated in East Los Angeles, the city and its elements are firmly at the band’s core. East LA, likewise, shares a mutual admiration for the band, as evidenced by the band’s partnerships with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, perhaps more impressively, the Los Angeles City Council’s proclamation of every April 23rd as “Ozomatli Day.”  

Reaching far beyond the city limits, though, the band has collaborated with the Boston and New York Pops Orchestras, and they were the first band to be asked to give a musical talk at the TED Conference in San Francisco.  

When they were formed, bursting on the stage in 1998, Ozomatli symbolized an emerging, multicultural Los Angeles. Over the years they have become the ultimate jam band, pulling together the strands of creativity into a unique rhythmic machine.

The multi-genre, multi-talented Ozomatli comes full circle with the release of Place in the Sun, their new album that dropped on March 11, 2014. The album, which features collaborations with legendary rocker Dave Stewart (ex-Eurythmics) and Xandy Barry of WAX Ltd., Place in the Sun is Ozomatli’s testament to the struggles, determination, and joy one finds in searching – and ultimately finding – your true calling.

After nearly twenty years of working together, touring on every continent, performing before hundreds of thousands, earning international acclaim, and winning multiple Grammys along the way – Ozomatli have earned their right to shine. Both their new recording and their live shows are a strong and positive statement from a group of maturing musicians who have firmly placed their imprint onto an ever-changing music scene.

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Brasstronaut

Brasstronaut (BC)

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Brasstronaut is a Vancouver-based sextet formed in 2007, with roots in a myriad of musical styles, including pop, rock and jazz.

Since releasing their debut Old World Lies EP in 2008, the band has developed a distinctly unique sound that continues to defy genre pigeonholing. Their ability to weave together unexpected textures of clarinet, slide-guitar, trumpet, noise, synthesizers, voice and rhythms has garnered them international acclaim from notable critics from the BBC to the Toronto Star. The UK’s Independent newspaper called the band’s sound “a new way forward”.

Another describes them as having an “ever-evolving promise: to tirelessly chase, like the elusive light of an imaginary sun, brave and startling new inventions.”

Their first CD, Mount Chimaera, was widely-praised for its diversity, which “seemed to bound over borders and history with equal aplomb: jazz and pop encountered genres as distant as klezmer and electronica.”The recording was long-listed for the 2010 Polaris Music Prize, and “Hearts Trompet” from that the album garnered them the 2010 SOCAN Echo Songwriting Prize. They have gone on to release a second CD, 2012’s Mean Sun, and are currently at work on their third full-length recording.

In addition to extensive North American touring, Brasstronaut has a strong international audience, touring European venues & festivals on numerous occasions.

Brasstronaut is Bryan Davies on trumpet, Edo Van Breemen on piano and vocals, Sam Davidson on clarinet and EWI, Tariq Hussain on lap steel & electric guitar, Brennan Saul on drums and John Walsh on bass.

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Langhorne Slim & the Law

Langhorne Slim & the Law (TN)

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As a songwriter Langhorne Slim finds the camaraderie of the road and constant touring inspirational. All the songs on his last album “The Way We Move” have been road-tested and perfected with his band and come out of the kind of good times and bad experiences that songwriters of Slim’s lofty stature can turn into life-affirming rock ‘n’ roll.

The Pennsylvania-born Langhorne Slim is a self-taught guitarist who moved to Brooklyn at 18, felt out of place in a burgeoning punk-folk scene so made his way to Portland, Oregon. After a couple of years on the west coast he pulled up stakes and has been touring non-stop with his band ever since.

With a big, ragged voice and a bigger personality, Slim has little trouble grabbing a crowd’s attention. As the group played together through tours with the Drive-By Truckers and the Avett Brothers, and made appearances at the Newport Folk Festival and Bonnaroo, their bond became ever stronger, their music more confident and their audiences larger.  The band includes Langhorne Slim on vocals and guitar, Malachi DeLorenzoon drums, Jeff Ratner on bass and David Moore on keys and banjo.

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Alejandra Ribera

Alejandra Ribera (ON)

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She was “discovered” by CBC Radio during a residency at Toronto’s legendary Cameron House and released her self­produced debut Navigator, Navigather in 2009 – and it was not long after that other parts of the world became fans. Alejandra Ribera quickly went on to play prestigious jazz and world music festivals like Festival International de Jazz de Montreal and Toronto’s Luminato Festival.

Her sound, unmistakable as it is un-definable, had also garnered the attention of her contemporaries like the Skydiggers, blues queen Jackie Richardson and even Quartetto Gelato, who she joined on stage at Massey Hall. Then, at the moment most artists would feel pressure to return to the studio, Ribera took a break and went to Spain.

What followed in advance of the long-awaited release of her latest, La boca, was a years-in-process maturation and development of her music. She covers a range from Latin folk songs to cabaret tunes sung in French and Spanish, and is described as “serenely sensual, poetic, playful and profound.” Come meet she of the impossible-to-describe voice – come meet Alejandra and hear something very rare and special indeed!

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La Manta

La Manta (Mexico)

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La Manta is a voice that celebrates the wonderful richness of Mexican music. The group is dedicated to the interpretation of traditional Mexican music while fusing it beautifully with shades of jazz along with flamenco, rock and other Latin American folk influences. Five young virtuoso musicians formed the group in Xalapa, Veracruz in June 2009, and although, they have different origins, education, and influences, they all share a strong passion for traditional Mexican music. Each has worked diligently to study and master the essence of these traditional styles.

La Mantaʼs set list is a meticulous selection of music that incorporates the most representative songs from the different regions of Mexico, including Son HuastecoHuapango Norteño, and Son JarochoThey also write their own original compositions that reflect a passion for the expression of traditional Mexican music, yet open to other influences. 

Over the last couple years, the group’s reach has grown exponentially. In March 2013, they participated in Cumbre Tajín, one of the most important music festivals in Latin America, sharing the stage with international artists like Regina Specktor and Pet Shop Boys. In November of 2012, they opened for Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City.

La Manta Is: Ramiro González (Flute/saxophones/vocals), Manuel López (percussions/jarana jarocha), Eloy Fernando (lead vocals/jarana huasteca/guitarra Veracruzana), Hiram Marcor (drums and percussions) and Carlos Zambrano (bass/vocals).

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