& WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS Playlist for April 24, 2016
One of the finest CD’s that I have received in recent months is Jump the Fire from the Evie Ladin Band. This new recording, the trio’s third release, captures the energy and creativity the band exhibits in their stage performance. The CD opens full throttle with the title track featuring Evie’s lovely banjo and body percussion and bass from band members Keith Terry and Erik Pearson respectively. The trio’s arrangements throughout the CD encourage participation, and I dare you not to tap your feet or get up and try a few steps of your own.
Evie was born into the tradition. As the daughter of an international folk dance teacher and old time folk music aficionado, Evie grew up spending family vacations at folk festivals and music camps. The family home was always a welcome stopover for traveling musicians and folk artists. She learned clog dancing when she was 5 years old and began playing the banjo at the age of 8. As a teenager, she embraced the emerging sounds of hip hop and also started an exploration of the African influence in old-time country music and dance. At Brown University she would create an African Studies In Dance major and go on to study dance in Eastern Nigeria on a Fulbright Fellowship. Later, she became a founding member of San Franciscos acclaimed bluegrass band,the Stairwell Sisters. Now, with her own trio, the Evie Ladin Band continues to innovate and honor the traditions.
To create this CD, Evie holed herself up in a cabin in the woods, leaving behind her cell phone and the Internet, but kept herself well stocked with her instruments and a woodstove to inspire the songs that appear in this collection. A year later, the result is a CD that is rooted in folk traditions but equally incorporates contemporary musical trends.
In addition to the original songs, Evie and the and band share their interpretations of some classic folk tunes. The cut “CooCoo” is an exciting new take on the old traditional song with an energetic performance that includes a driving percussive beat by Keith Terry on bamboo spoons.
“Drinking on You” manages to capture the spirit of the great country jukebox standards and features some lovely pedal steel from guest Bruce Kaplan. Another song that might remind you of those country classics is “Only You” which features gorgeous vocals from Evie.
Jumping to a more urban setting is “Walking in a Straight Line.” The soulful ditty is a showcase for Keith Terry’s acclaimed skill with body percussion. Keith is the founder of the International Body Music Festival and has collaborated with performers such as Bobby McFerrin, Tex Williams and Robin Williams,the Turtle Island Quartet, Charles “Honi” Coles and Bill Irwin.
The opening song “Jump the Fire“ is a homage to summer festivals and those all-night jam sessions that brings everyone together to create music. The final cut, “Jump Up and Go”, bookends this CD with a similar upbeat song that reminds the listener that even though the campfire embers might be fading, you should always be ready for another opportunity to get together.
Jump the Fire stands out because of the combination of respect for the tradition and the understanding that folk music is a living tradition influenced by the community from which it grows. The Evie Ladin trio are poised to share their talents and hopefully encourage other musicians to go deeper into their musical roots and add a that personal touch. That is what makes Jump the Fire so special.
While playing these songs I recalled an incident a few years ago when Pete Seeger came to play at Fairleigh Dickinson University. I had the honor of emceeing the concert, and during intermission I was approached by an elderly man who was obviously upset. He told me that he expected to hear folk songs, and Pete had the “audacity” to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Pete was singing this song quite frequently in those days. In 2003, Pete sang the song at a huge anti-war rally in New York City, leading the protestors in what at first may have seemed an odd choice.
It was unfortunate that I could not convince this gentleman that folk music springs forth from a community, and when Pete sang the song he was not only honoring the memory of the composer, his old friend Yip Harburg, but Pete was also reminding us of what that song is all about. The song is a social commentary that reminds us to seek optimism in rough times and to strive for creating a utopia where “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
These are the kind of folk songs we need. Folk songs do not need to come out of dusty old collections, rather they spring forth from the spirit of a community, even when we know the author. We need joyous celebrations from groups like the Evie Ladin Band to remind us that music is meant to be sung, and danced, together as we “ease on down the road.”