The heart of traditional music is a living, beating thing, pulling fresh blood continually through its chambers, re-energizing and reinventing itself. Few duos today understand the inner workings of the heart of traditional American music like Red Tail Ring. Whether creating new songs, adding to old traditions, or blazing on banjo and fiddle tunes, they are always pulsing the tradition to new heights.
Based out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the songwriting duo of Laurel Premo (voice, fiddle, banjo) and Michael Beauchamp (voice, guitar, banjo) releases their fourth full-length album, Fall Away Blues, on September 2, 2016. Red Tail Ring’s tight harmonies and spare, deliberate instrumentation are the backbone of the album’s twelve tracks, a collection where original songs blend so seamlessly with their traditional counterparts to make the line separating the two indistinguishable. On “Wondrous Love/Lay Aside Your Crown,” the duo deftly re-envisions a Sacred Harp hymn through the lens of clawhammer banjo, while “Camp Meeting on the 4th of July/May Day” highlights the pair’s formidable old-time instrumental chops. On “I’d Rather Be the Devil,” Laurel Premo channels Skip James’ ethereal falsetto through her fiddle playing and adds new lyrics to sing her own story into the old blues song.
Perhaps the most powerfully rendered song on the album is “Gibson Town,” a heart-breaking testimony to the tragic Kalamazoo mass shooting in February of 2016. Reinterpreting a haunting Muddy Waters melody, Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo encapsulate their grief and shock with stark lyrics such as, “They caught a man on Ransom Street / he went out with a loaded gun, now eight bullets gone, now eight bullets gone…Can a chain of a thousand hands, bear the pain of such a night.” In the true spirit of traditional music, Red Tail Ring’s Fall Away Blues tackles universal feelings of grief and joy with the same reverence and musicality with which they explore modern-day grievances like fracking (“Shale Town”) and gun violence. Together, the two create a richly textured music journey through re-envisioned folk traditions.
Fall Away Blues is part of the heart and body of true roots music. Red Tail Ring adds biting commentary and introspective prose to the circulating beauty of American roots music, making traditional music at once timeless and current.
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