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Review by Alan Cackett, as Editor of Maverick Magazine, UK.

4 STARS Enchantingly fusing Anglo-Americana sounds with a superb Yorkshire accent, Jan Bell has a wonderful knack of breathing new life into time worn folk tales and rare used human stories Yorkshire-born Jan Bell’s latest album pays tribute to her family’s coal-mining roots with a series of songs from both sides of the Atlantic including a handful that she wrote herself. She’s lived in New York for the past 20 years, but listening to her sings such ‘English’ songs as “Dirty Old Town or her own “Yorkshire Water” it’s plainly obvious she’s not forgotten her Yorkshire roots.

Her music is steeped in what used to be referred to as ‘traditional’ country music … that is the pre-Second World War variety typified by the original Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Aunt Molly Jackson. The title song that I have versions by Marty Robbins, Vernon Dalhart and others, was originally a Welsh song from 1907, and Jan brings a heartfelt, personal feel to the song, inspired in part by her grandfather’s forty-odd years as Yorkshire mining. A more contemporary look at mining comes with Darrell Scott’s evocative “you’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” a song steeped in Kentucky but universal with its message.

She steps into Woody Guthrie territory with “Union Sea” a song that he penned to which she’s added music and pays tribute “Aunt Molly Jackson” with a touching song that has been adapted from a letter that Jackson sent to Sing Out! the American folk magazine.Far from solo effort, Jan is supported by many like-minded singers and musicians including veteran Appalachian singer Alice Gerrard, Jolie Holland, Samantha Parton (of the Be Good Tanyas) Casey neil, Will Scott and members of the Maybelles and the Carper Family. But Jan Bell is the one who has pulled this album together and stamped it with the full breadth of her talent.   Maverick Magazine.

4 1/2 STARS A beautiful blend of old-timey, folk and alt. country that all ties together perfectly - American Roots UK See full review at American Roots UK

Cool clear harmony, narrative driven - beautiful. Americana UK

4 STARS A Folk record where the songs are allowed to stand on their own two feet...‘Elsecar Grace’, which tells the story of her grandfather, is one of the most memorable and affecting songs here. Rock n Reel, UK

 A seamless album of true beauty. To argue over whether this sort of music is country or folk is to miss the point: these haunting acoustic arrangements may be new, but they call to a time before the distinction made sense, when all the world was folkways, and they evoke the best of that history. Cover Lay Down

I think it was 2002 the first time I saw Jan Bell - sitting on the side of the tiny stage at The 12 Bar Club in London - she was all by herself that night, singing her songs with quiet passion and sensitivity - the music just seemed to come out of every cell of her body - I don't often see artists who affect me like that, especially the very first time. Now here we are ten years later and I remember that night like it was yesterday. I have not been lucky enough to see Jan again but every time I see a new album I grab it and I've never been disappointed. They are all sitting here right beside me and I play them often. The newest one "Dream of the Miner's Child", is another passionate, sensitive creation. Jan marries her Yorkshire upbringing and ancestry (the album is dedicated to her Grandad who worked in the mines for 45 years) with her experience and travel in Appalachia. It's been dubbed "Anglo-Americana". Good name. Great album. Gail Comfort CMR Nashville UK

 

Interview by Soren McGuire

So, Jan. How does a girl from Yorkshire end up playing old-time, bluegrass, folk and americana 5000 miles away from home? I first came to america to teach theatre and story telling at a summer camp. NYC was only an hour away and I met a lot of folks from there. I started working with theatre companies in the village, whose shows combined music, politics, and comedy. There was a very active community at the time creating street theatre in response to the invasion of the Persian Gulf, the Pro- Choice Movement, and AIDS activist groups like Act Up. They all used circus, music, and theatre to get their point of view across in the midst of massive protests in say Time Square, Or Washington DC. I loved it! Not long before, I saw Billy Bragg playing The Red Wedge concert tour. Coming from Yorkshire, he really made a lasting impression on me since I had never seen anyone sing about what was happening in my part of the world, and win people over who knew nothing about it all. When I landed in NYC it was a time when that kind of spirit was very much alive. I was eager to travel round the country, and it soon became clear it was tough to make theatre happen on the road unless there was a whole gang of you. When I first went to coal mining country in Virginia and Kentucky, I could hear traces of Broad Yorkshire in the way people spoke. Then when I heard folks round campfires, and on old porches singing songs they learned from their grandparents...many of these songs roots lay in the British Isles. Although I was faraway, their music made me feel right at home. I determined to learn to play guitar and tried to put some of my poems and story ideas to music.

A lot of good things can be said about NYC, but I would have never taken it as the hotbed of rural bluegrass and country. A lot of music today can be traced directly back to the city's 60's folk scene, but how did the city inspire you to make the music, you're making today? In the 90's NYC was a hot bed as far as performance art - people like The Blue Man Group were on the rise. In the last ten years my focus has shifted to a flourishing country music scene. There are several places to go to hear and play old time, bluegrass or country and folk every night of the week. In '99 I returned to a part of Brooklyn called d.u.m.b.o. (down under the manhattan bridge overpass). It was full of artists and musicians living fairly cheap in old warehouses. There was just one pub - an iron workers bar by the Brooklyn Bridge - which stood there for a century. There was a bit of a gap between the ironworkers, and the artists. Friends of mine had taken over the pub's backroom making delicious organic food (Superfine). They asked me to put on a music show. I realized some of the only common ground everybody in the neighbourhood shared was populated by country heroes like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Hank Willliams. We started doing tribute shows outside the pub with bands on the back of an old pick up truck. Before long the Federation of Black Cowboys of America, heard about it and started riding down on horseback to see what we were doing! Then I started going to a west village jam ran by 'Sheriff Uncle Bob' a Dobro player and father figure. This was the same part of town the 60's folk revival called home. I met a lot of great musicians there - of all ages and from all across country.

If I asked you to name the three main musical influences that have shaped you as a songwriter and musician, who would it be? Definitely Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard - who were the women at the heart of the Folk revival you mentioned.When Melissa Carper and I started The Maybelles, their songs were at the top of the list. They also played like we do - guitar and upright bass. Crucial harmonies. They hung out with the New Lost City Ramblers and also knew Bill Monroe. I'm a big fan of Loretta Lynn, too - and Coal Miner's Daughter is probably my favourite movie story. My top three more modern influences are Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch. If I see an album by any of them I don't already have, I just have to get it.

You're still based in NYC, right? What's the country scene actually like in NYC these days? Is it easy getting a gig in town? Like most major hubs, its hard to get a decent paying - or even paying gig! Especially if you're from out of town. I think there's an illusion that myspace etc have made it easier - but it often only serves the 'conveyor belt' stage mentality that does not always really respect the musicians at all. In this town, rents are high, and its incredibly tough to succeed as a small business. You do have to build a reputation as far as bringing folks out who will spend money and treat the staff right. So, I do keep in mind I am a purveyor of alcohol to a large degree in NYC!! There are regular events though, and good bookers who are also working musicians who truly get it. The steady paying gigs are few and far between - and often the more prestigious venues do not pay very much, if they pay at all. The tradition of passing the hat is alive and well - and luckily new Yorkers are usually generous tippers. A mistake out of town bands often make though is booking too many gigs in the same week, in an effort to make it pay financially. That often backfires, and they end up playing to empty rooms. Its better to focus on one good show, really. Most successful local bands rely on touring outside of town, especially the festival circuit - to make ends meet.

Going back to your music. You perform and record with your own band, The Cheap Dates and as part of the Maybelles. Why divide your time between two bands? Melissa Carper and I met in Arkansas. We just fit. That was more than ten years ago. Melissa is much more of a country girl than I am - so when I returned to NYC I met new folks to play with as well. Rima Fand (The Luminescent Orchestrii), and Parrish Ellis (The Wiyos) were among the first, since we all hung out in d.u.m.b.o. Like many of my Brooklyn band 'The Cheap dates' they have other major projects/touring outfits. Bob Hoffnar was playing pedal steel with me and The Maybelles the last few years - but like a lot of NYC musicians he recently defected to Austin, Texas. He's on the road with Wayne Hancock now, and Its a great fit! Meanwhile, Melissa and I kept in touch, and while she was in NYC we teamed up with fiddler Katy Cox. The Maybelles then became a trio and we tour regularly.

The Maybelles sound more rooted in traditional bluegrass, folk and old-time, while there’s a darker edge when it comes to the music you make with The Cheap Dates. It sounds more NYC'ish, if you know what I mean? Am I completely off track here? You hit the nail right on the head. Again, when we started out as a duo Melissa's repertoire was a deep well, since she grew up in a family band playing country and gospel - and has been on upright bass since she was eight years old. She carries so many great tunes, and is a big fan of Jimmie Rodgers, and introduced me to songs by the Delmore Brothers, Doc Watson, and the Carter Family. She also writes a lot of up tempo, and often really funny old timey songs - which counter balance my tendency to write slower songs in a minor key. The other Maybelle - Katy Rose - is also really good at playing fast, hard and fiery - and through that I am learning how to play instrumental classics I would never have tried on my own. On tour gigs are anything from an hour to three hours, so there's lots of room for traditionals as well - whereas The Cheap Dates hometown shows here in Brooklyn are usually under an hour before an audience that prefers originals, rather than tunes they already know. That influences the set list enormously.

Would you say that there's still, after so many years in the US, a certain English influence in your songs? I hope so. I studied English literature and playwrights, and hope I have retained something of that sharp British wit. It also depends what's happening back home. During the last foot and mouth outbreak I was traveling up north to see my family - and was painfully aware there were hardly any sheep or cows to be seen in the fields along the way. To cheer myself up I thought - what would Woody Guthrie have to say? So, I kept an ear out for what folks told me - what was the truest truth? I came up with 'Carried by the Wind', which tries to see Mother Nature down through time as something other than the enemy. I'd also written 'Yorkshire Water' after my grand dad died - trying to honour his life as a coal miner. I used his own words as much as I could, and there's some broad Yorkshire in there. I decided not to worry if people don't always understand every exact word. I enjoy plenty of music from around the world, and don't have a clue what they're actually saying. Its the depth of feeling that counts, and music is an international language after all.

Samantha Parton from The Be Good Tanyas produced Songs For Love Drunk Sinners. The Be Good Tanyas can rightfully be credited with bringing new life to bluegrass and old-time, even before the whole Oh Brother Where Art Thou got the ball rolling. What was it like working with her? Sam and I met on the road in Memphis, and were immediate pals. Soon after we both wound up in New Orleans in the ninth ward - staying with Mike West and Myshkin. We got on like a house on fire, and started playing in the French Quarter. We called ourselves 'The Illegitimate Daughters of Johnny Cash' - we were not ambitious about it at all, just had a whole lot of fun. A year or so later, Sam returned to Canada and started The Be Good Tanyas. Years later, when I embarked upon 'Songs for Love Drunk Sinners' Samantha was the only one I could imagine working with. She took time out to come to Brooklyn in several stints to record the album. She is very detail oriented. Its as if she keep hundreds of ideas up above in tiny threads - and then in the studio she will pull them down one at a time and weave it all together. Since she is a song writer, and also has such a great ear for ideas and arrangements - she is a dream producer for someone like me, and I can't wait to work with her again. We all agree Sam brought out the best in each of us on that album.

The Maybelles play a great cover of Gillian Welch's fantastic song, 'Caleb Meyer', and you also take on Hank's I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. While pretty much everyone in country music has recorded their own version the latter, is it more difficult covering a newer song? Chances are you might run into Gillian and David one day. I asked fellow founding member of The Maybelles to answer this one, since she leads both those tunes: Hey, this is Melissa of the Maybelles. Well, I sure hope we run into them some day and I sure hope they don't mind that we love to play their songs. We are all huge fans of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I feel like Gillian Welch has written so many great songs that are going to be standards--like these old standards everyone covers today--everyone will be playing her songs for years to come. So many of them sound timeless. I primarily listen to old music such as Hank, Jimmie Rodgers, Leadbelly, The Carter Family, and then I listen to Gillian Welch. I like to listen to singers that have some meat and soul in their voice. It did feel good to record a song off of one of her older albums though and give it some three part female harmony and fiddle and nothing too fancy.

Final question - and one I should have probably asked sooner come to think of it. While your music still sounds heavily rooted in traditional folk and bluegrass, it's not that simple, is it? There's an edge to it, something that makes it more than just traditionalism. What do you think that is? Naturally people compare us to any female trio in the Americana realm, although bands like Nickel Creek and the Duhks were doing far more ' new grass' type stuff to my ears. We are much more traditional. I think what sets The Maybelles apart, is that we reach deep down and really sing it out loud and true. plus we have a lot of humour in our set. We don't whisper sing, or lightly pick the strings. We like songs with a real drive to them, and again our heroes tend to be the more on the outlaw side of country. I do feel we are part of a circle of younger bands who know and play songs they learned from recordings by Merle, Hank, The Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson...there are so many greats - but they are not going to live forever. Songs and stories and a way of life that made this music - are passing out of living memory. One of the things we hear the most after our shows is how it reminds people of music from a time gone by you don't hear much anymore. At the same time, songs like 'Christian Girlfriend' bring it all right up to date - and although a few folks might find that one a bit shocking - its the 21st century and we're not the first ones to throw some light on all that. We usually save that til the end of the set, and hopefully by then, even the most conservative mind set has been won over by our dedication to soulful country, and the 'true story' sincerity of all our original songs.

Both albums are out now. For more info on Jan Bell, go to janbellmusic.com and themaybellesmusic.com

You can buy the new album without paying postage from the USA! Go to Fish Records, UK. Less than 12 quid.


The guest stars on Jan Bell‘s newest album Dream of the Miner’s Child belie the Brooklyn-based musician’s broad stylistic approach to altfolk and Americana: the list includes two founding members of The Be Good Tanyas (Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton), Phillipa Thompson of the M Shanghai Stringband, and members of her own alt-country band The Maybelles. But the inclusion of both legendary Smithsonian Folkways recording artist Alice Gerrard, and fellow Englishwoman Juliet Russell, who joins in on an old Celtic ballad, are telling, too: Bell is a native Yorkshire lass, a coal-miner’s granddaughter from a region grounded in the same mining trials and tribulations that she covers here, and though she is still young, opening act gigs for Emmylou Harris, Wanda Jackson, Odetta, Steve Earle and The Be Good Tanyas themselves speak eminently to her acceptance as a harbinger and interpreter of the old ways in the new.

Bell’s voice and arrangements here are notable for their ragged tenderness, with weary voices, soft guitar, and fiddle strains that clamber out of the darkness to scratch and paw at the soul. The songs span generations, following the movement of songbook fragments and tunes from the UK to Appalachia, making the title track – a Welch song which found its way into the hands of Ralph Stanely and Doc Watson via the blind Alabama Evangelist Rev. Andrew Jenkins, who re-arranged it in 1925 – the perfect centerpiece; from there, the strains of Jean Ritchie, Watson, and others mix well with the originals and traditional tunes, creating a seamless album of true beauty. To argue over whether this sort of music is country or folk is to miss the point: these haunting acoustic arrangements may be new, but they call to a time before the distinction made sense, when all the world was folkways, and they evoke the best of that history.

British journalist Tim Cooper explores UK Americana - giving it the handle 'Anglicana'. Jan Bell is referred to as a British country music artist making waves in the USA, and as 'A latter day Loretta Lynn...whose roots still show'.

Review on www.charliegillett.com

Jolie Holland, late of Be Good Tanyas, has been described by London’s Time Out as an Appalachian Billie Holliday. Without meaning any disrespect to Lady Day, this is wide of the mark. Billie was about love and loss; as the name of Jolie’s latest album The Living and the Dead, suggests, Jolie is about more serious stuff. Melodic and rhythmic, she enraptured an audience whom it was obvious, already adored her.

She played a selection of songs from her extensive repertoire, but one song stood out above all the others. I Want No Country written about 9-11 by Jan Bell, a Yorkshire born, Brooklyn resident. It contained the lines 'I Want No Country, Though I'm a Country Girl, Just Like Virginia Said, My Country is the Whole Wide World'. It was a song which tears your soul in pieces but leaves you with a feeling of hope.

If you took away the production whistles and bells and the candy-floss lyrics, from the bulk of popular music, little would remain. When this sort of music is presented stripped-bare it becomes something which is hauntingly and searingly, beautiful.

- Richard Pearson

http://theglamourcave.blogspot.com/2011/07/songs-from-somerset-shed.html

Emma Hartley's feature on Jon Earl and his music series, who recently won 'Shed of the Year!"

  • Americana UK review for Will Scott's new album 'Keystone Crossing' which includes a cover of 'Right to Love' written by Jan Bell.
  • There is not a poor track on 'Keystone Crossing' (Scott puts a little bit of something into every track on this album – the backing vocals of Dayna Kurtz on ‘Derry Down’, for example) but two tracks stand up higher than the rest. ‘Right To Love’ is a classic blues lament (“I’ve lost all rights to you / It’s wrong of me to / Think I can try and love you now”).  We never find out what he has done to evoke such despair, such longing for how things were, but we know that things will never be the same and the sparse piano and drums pound this point home.

    http://www.americana-uk.com/cd-reviews/item/will-scott-keystone-crossing?category_id=175

Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of:

FEED THE FISH Director/Writer - Michael Matzdorff

Executive Producers - Tony Shalhoub, Robert Weiner, RDI Stages Producers - Nicholas Langholff, Alison Abrohams, Michael Matzdorff Original Music - T.D. Lind, Jan Bell www.feedthefishmovie.com

GO NYC - The Cultural Road Map for City Girls Everywhere. http://www.gomag.com/article/preview_jan_bell_the_mayb/ by Arts and Entertainment Editor - Stephanie Schroeder
http://www.spiralearth.co.uk/news/story.asp?nid=4765
www.housingworks.org/events/open-air-street-fair/ All profits from the Open Air Street Fair pay for Housing Works’ services for homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS. In 2007/2008, the two street fairs attracted more than 50,000 people and generated more than $45,000 for those services.
Brooklyn Winter Hoedown! Readallabout-it in the New York Post! Jan Bell and her alt country band go on right at 10pm. http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/diverse_bands_all_united_by_strings_DPCpnoLzjvtFMa9ilpwYbL
A wonderful album comes out December 12th that is a must-have if you're at all interested in what we call "American Roots" music - that is, ballads, folk songs, blues, mountain gospel, old time country and such. Entitled "Face a 'Frowning World': An E.C. Ball Memorial Album", pays tribute to the late, great Estil C. Ball and his wife Orna of Rugby, Virginia. Lomax archivist and connoisseur extraordinaire Nathan Salsburg has worked tirelessly to bring you this album, with over 30 performers paying tribute to E.C. and Orna and their music. "Fathers Have a Home Sweet Home" is sung by Jan Bell, Jolie Holland, and Samantha Parton. Other guests on the album include Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Michael Hurley, and Catherine Irwin. It's out on Tompkins Square Records/Thrill Jockey.
January 10th, 2010 - A special Charisma Artist Agency APAP showcase, featuring 10 top bands. Featuring: 7:00 - 7:25 - Fishtank Ensemble 7:35 - 8:00 – Jan Bell 8:10 - 8:35 – Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade 8:45 - 9:10 – THE WIYOS 9:20 - 9:45 – Boulder Acoustic Society 9:55 - 10:20 – Asylum Street Spankers 10:30 - 10:55 – moira smiley & VOCO 11:05 - 11:30 – Kailin Yong Peace Project 11:30 - 11:55 – Sxip Shirey Tickets are $10.00 ($15 door). Free entry for APAP Presenters and Badge Holders. www.citywinery.com www.charismaartist.com
Just confirmed that Jan Bell has been accepted into Martin Guitars' Professional Artist Program. "While not an endorsement per se, it is a very supportive and helpful step in my career. Looking forward to a trip out to Martin Guitars home base in Nazareth, PA. I've had my little Martin 0015 for 10 years or so, and am looking forward to picking out a big sister for her, soon!"
Yeeeee Haaaaaaa! Dock Oscar and Alex Battles are the tireless 'cow-blokes' as Jan likes to call 'em - behind Brooklyn Country Music, The CasHank Hootenanny Jamboree, Kings County Opry, The Annual Johnny Cash Birthday Bash, and dozens of other magnanimous events right here in NYC. Last night at the Annual Brooklyn Winter Hoe-Down they surprised the heck out of jan when they presented an award from 'The Brooklyn Country Music Hall of Fame'. The plaque reads 'Inductee - Jan Bell - for unending support of country music in New York City'. They also inducted Matt Winters - long time host and producer of WKCR's Moonshine Show. Matt's show, and all the events produced by Dock and Alex are truly a life line for the country music loving community here in the big bad apple. The Moonshine Show - 89.9fm Sundays, 10am-12pm Bluegrass and old-time music programming first appeared on WKCR in 1966. The Moonshine Show, hosted by Matt Winters, continues this long standing tradition, presenting the hill country string music of the Mid-South via classic recordings and frequent live in-studio performances. The full spectrum of this living art form is covered each Sunday morning. You can keep up with all the exciting shows produced by Brooklyn Country Music at: www.brooklyncountrymusic.com
Jan has been invited to play Glastonbury Festival, 2009. Glastonbury was named International Music Festival of the Year for the fourth consecutive year at Pollstar Concert Industry Awards. Venture beyond the main stages and you'll find a huge variety of other venues, each with it's unique vibe and idiosyncratic style. The Bandstand is a small stage, nestling at the confluence of three of the original markets along from the Pyramid Stage, and in sight of the Cider Bus. Programmed by Steve Henwood of Bath Fringe Festival, the Bandstand brings performers into the heart of Babylon. Jan will be on tour across the pond with Will Scott. www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk www.willscottmusic.com
Here's footage of Jan Bell and the cheap dates playing 'Right to Love'. Jan is accompanied by Philippa Thompson (violin), Hilary Hawke (banjo),and Tim Luntzel (upright bass). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ds8UAk6siU Jolie Holland also does a beautiful version of this song on piano.
Bell's music isn't strictly bluegrass, but her reworking of old-time country and jug-band blues is remarkably nuanced. It embodies the wide-open spirit of what has become an antic, hybrid genre....Leavin' Town is a brilliant record. (Feature Interview IBMA, by Edd Hurt) Driving a Hybrid IBMA conference highlights the many permutations of bluegrass music By Edd Hurt Published on September 25, 2008 Bluegrass has changed mightily since 1970, when Bill Monroe—the music's inventor and a bandleader as immersed in his Southern cultural milieu as was jazz maestro Duke Ellington in his hip, uptown scene—talked about it in idealistic terms. "There's a lot of mechanical music being played today," Monroe told writer James Rooney. "And bluegrass is strictly not mechanical. It's strictly heartfelt music; it's gotta be. You gotta like it to play it because moneywise there's no living to be made for no sideman out of it." As this year's International Bluegrass Music Association conference demonstrates, bluegrass is both big business and a tenacious, flexible art whose practitioners are adept genre-benders, even if the form remains rooted in Monroe's precepts. Started in 1985, the IBMA held its first trade show the following year and moved from Louisville, Ky., to Nashville in 2003. In the wake of the acclaimed soundtrack to 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the organization has kept pace with the music's growth. Attendance at IBMA's annual business conference, showcases and award show has been increasing. (IBMA executive director Dan Hays says he expects around 20,000 visitors this year.) Bluegrass musicians such as Dan Tyminski and Alison Krauss are stars, and their music epitomizes the sort of heartfelt crossover that looks easy but comes from hard work and devotion to craft. Along with the usual names up for awards—Krauss, The Del McCoury Band, banjoist J.D. Crowe—the conference hosts newcomers such as Cadillac Sky, a Texas quintet with a bracingly experimental take on bluegrass, and singer-songwriter Jan Bell, who grew up in Yorkshire, England, and moved to Brooklyn 20 years ago. Bell's music isn't strictly bluegrass, but her reworking of old-time country and jug-band blues is remarkably nuanced. It embodies the wide-open spirit of what has become an antic, hybrid genre. "I was studying English literature and theater in England and had a view on building a career in community theater," Bell says. What she calls a "student-exchange scheme" got her to New York state, where she taught theater in a summer camp for children. Growing up in coal-mining country, she learned about music on a strictly local level and witnessed the kind of labor unrest familiar to residents of eastern Kentucky. "I was born in a little coal-mining village, and in my teens there was a lot of political struggle," Bell says. "They were closing all the coal mines, and my grandfather and uncles were going on picket lines. So I started to see music and hear music in those places, for working-class people that didn't have musical ambitions but played just to keep themselves going. When I first came to this country and was traveling through Kentucky and Virginia, I thought I was hearing broad Yorkshire." Along with her early experiences with working-class music, Bell cites the post-punk ferment of early '80s British music as an influence. "Back then, one of the first times I ever saw somebody singing with a guitar, I thought, wow—that was Billy Bragg," she remembers. "Billy Bragg was playing in this burnt-out building and getting people to vote for Neil Kennock, the Labour Party leader at the time. I thought playing an acoustic guitar was pretty cool. You can pack a punch with it." Substitute mandolin or banjo for acoustic guitar, and make the abandoned building an American club or festival stage, and Bell's story rings true for any number of musicians. Still, Bell says she came to America with a limited notion of bluegrass. "I knew who Dolly Parton was, and Loretta Lynn. Bill Monroe, I had never heard of him before I came to America. This was before O Brother came out, and now I think people in Britain and Europe know much more about old-time country and Americana." After honing her skills and smarts as a street musician in New Orleans, Bell joined with bassist Melissa Carper to start The Maybelles. Recently the group has added violinist Katy Rose Cox, whose wild, rhythmically charged solos and accompaniment make her the bluegrass equivalent of Flying Burrito Brothers' steel-guitar wizard "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow. On last year's Leavin' Town Cox powers their version of Gillian Welch's tale of rape and murder, "Caleb Meyer," and her instrumental showcase, "Devil's Gap," races along like an out-of-control moonshine Cadillac down a series of hogback roads. Leavin' Town is a brilliant record, with Bell's breathy and slightly reticent voice contrasting with her sharp phrasing. As do many modern bluegrass artists, Bell takes the music out of the country and into another place. For her, it's New York City. "Cowgirl Blues" contains the lines, "I see the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan too / I see the East River flowing, baby, down to you." Carper's "Been Probed" stands with The Byrds' 1966 "Mr. Spaceman" as droll science-fiction bluegrass: "I'm prayin' for my sins / And I let 'em take me into that gospel mothership in the sky," they sing. Meanwhile, Cadillac Sky's delirious Gravity's Our Enemy combines ace songwriting with restless arrangements. Singer and mandolinist Bryan Simpson writes songs about battered women and the downside of stardom, and displays a real feel for paranoia on "Inside Joke." They're nominated for an IBMA award for Emerging Artist and are clearly an ambitious group. For straight-down-the-line bluegrass, Dailey & Vincent's self-titled debut recalls past glories but sounds freshly minted—appropriate for a couple of veterans striking out on their own. (Jamie Dailey gained notice singing with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, while Darrin Vincent honed his chops as harmony vocalist with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.) "Cumberland River" and "More Than a Name on a Wall" might sound a little sentimental, but you can be a committed secularist and still get off on the sprightly "Place on Calvary," which features an irresistible chord progression and first-rate interplay between Dailey's lead tenor and Vincent's harmonizing baritone. Nominated for 10 IBMA awards, Dailey & Vincent are riding high, and they ascribe at least part of their success to their ability to run the band like a business. "I had watched Doyle [Lawson] for years do his business dealings, and I learned a lot from that," Dailey says. "And somebody else I've learned a lot from, the way they did business, was The Statler Brothers. Everything that came in, they paid close attention to with detail." Vincent agrees. "Proverbs says, if you're gonna go into battle, then you need the best advisers around you possible." (Vincent is likely referring to Proverbs 24:6 and its advice: "For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.") It sounds like the music business, sure enough. For all that, what keeps this particular roots music vital is its combination of traditionalism, newfangled ambition and greed. There's money to be made even for sidemen these days, so it's likely Bill Monroe would be pleased. As IBMA's Dan Hays says, "I think Bill Monroe would want today's bluegrass musicians to play in the mold he created. But I think he'd be happy to see what they've done with his music."
Jan Bell & the Cheap Dates, Songs for Love Drunk Sinners (independent, 2007) The Maybelles, Leavin' Town (independent, 2007) Growing up in Yorkshire, Jan Bell discovered American country and old-time music and fell in love. Eventually, pursuing her dream of playing it, she moved to, er, Brooklyn. Hers is not the only unlikely musical pilgrimage, of course, but this one proves to be a notably joyful one for the rest of us. Her commitment to American musical roots -- to which, ironically or infuriatingly, most Americans fall somewhere between indifferent and oblivious -- pays off on these two recordings. The Cheap Dates and the Maybelles are distinct entities, the latter more rooted in hillbilly song traditions than the former, but both document aspects of Bell's gift and also her talent for finding comparably inclined (and comparably able) singers and pickers. Songs for Love Drunk Sinners isn't exactly a country album, not exactly a folk or a pop one, either. Even so, elements of all these genres show up in this collection of mostly Bell originals. Maybe "chamber neo-folk" is the genre we'll have to invent to characterize the approach, which manages at once to be airy and brooding. If the sound is slightly reminiscent of what you'd expect from the (currently in hiatus) Be Good Tanyas, that may be because Samantha Parton, a longtime member of that Canadian band, is the producer. Except for pedal steel (Bob Hoffner), the Cheap Dates have a stringband configuration, with fiddle (Rima Fand), banjo (Hilary Hawk) and upright bass (Nathaniel Landau, Greg Schatze), plus occasional electric guitar (from nonmember Scott Garrison). But nothing particularly traditional is going on, just some well-crafted modern songs with downbeat melodies, dropping into musical territory with the Cowboy Junkies' early records at one boundary and the late John Stewart's last ones at the other. The songs and arrangements are smartly conceived and capably executed, and for all its gloominess this is a pleasing and at times unexpectedly moving album. The Maybelles share two songs with the Cheap Dates ("Leavin' Town" and one called "Night Blooming Jasmine" by the former, "Across the Miles" by the latter), but Leavin' Town is more stripped-down and on the whole more cheerful, with a retro acoustic approach (Bell's acoustic guitar, Katy Rose Cox's fiddle, Melissa Carper's bass) able, for example, to conjure up the ghost of the supremely extroverted Patsy Montana. The charming opener "Cowgirl Blues" (written by Bell) is a dead-on send-up of the sort of tune for which Montana -- born Rubye Blevins, 1908-1996 -- could have claimed a patent: the Western-swingy celebration of the good life on the plains. The Maybelles' metaphorical home is the post-oldtime country music of the 1930s, when professional hillbillies were situated between their folk background and an emerging Southern mainstream commercial sound, though the Maybelles tip the balance more toward old folk than pre-rock pop. The second cut, Samantha Parton's beautifully heartbreaking "Lonesome Blues," quotes the opening lines of the Carter Family's "Coal Miner's Blues," then goes on to capture with startling precision the spirit of an Appalachian lyric folk song. An actual Carter song, "Little Darlin'," joins the crowd a few cuts later. Among my favorite songs from that immortal musical family's staggeringly deep catalogue, it also boasts a melody that Woody Guthrie adapted for "This Land is Your Land." Five of the cuts are Bell originals, including the title tune, a ballad with an edge-of-the-seat, cinematic narrative. Cox penned the traditional-sounding fiddle piece "Devil's Gap," and Carper the bizarre, disturbingly funny "Been Probed," an ostensible gospel song that improbably draws on images from UFO-abduction lore. Songs by Gillian Welch, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams and tradition get covered, in each instance with freshness bordering on wonder. No complaints here, folks.
Pity the act who has to follow Jan Bell. Put aside any preconceptions you may have of sad-eyed ladies of the luxury highrises singing in an affected faux-Southern drawl at places like the Living Room: Bell is not one of them. She’s a true original, someone who seems to be right on the brink of something big. She reminded tonight how she got there, with uncommonly good original songwriting, smart guitar playing, a confidently swaying stage presence and a voice like hard cider, rustic and bittersweet but packing a knockout punch. Not bad for a “Yorkshire lass,” as the British expat bills herself. Imagine Kasey Chambers if she’d spent her teenage years hanging out after hours in bars with Loretta Lynn and her 1960s band instead of hunting kangaroos in the Australian outback with her dad, and you get a picture of what Bell is about. She got the chatty crowd to shut up, more or less, for the better part of forty minutes. Accompanied only by Luminescent Orchestrii violinist Rima Fand (who proved as brilliant at vocal harmonies as she is at gypsy music), Bell ran through several numbers from her latest cd Songs for Love Drunk Sinners (which is an IMA finalist for best alt-country album of the year). The high point of the set was her big audience hit Leaving Town, a haunting, fast Texas shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place on a Patricia Vonne album. Although Bell’s strongest suit is dark minor keys, she also held up her end on a small handful of slow, melancholy waltz numbers. Fand’s violin work was amazing: from start to finish, she stuck with blues, eschewing any traditional country fiddle licks. Although she often went for the jugular, she didn’t waste a note all night. They closed with a fetching, evocative love song for New York.
A fan of Barbes in Park Slope, NYC stumbles upon our Valentines Day show, with special guests Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland.
4 STARS - Now Toronto A mighty fine album - Americana UK Beautiful...exquisite - 3rd Coast Music
Completely won me over! Sing Out!
THREE THAT SHOULD BE ON EVERYONE'S LIST: Levon Helm - Dirt Farmer (Vanguard) nominated for a Grammy. Jan Bell & the Cheap Dates - Songs for Love Drunk Sinners (Little Red Hen) - Jan Bell comes from South Yorkshire and lives in Brooklyn, NY but she writes and sings like she has just ran away from some poverty stricken southern farm. The album is produced by Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas. Favourite song: "Miners" adapted from a poem by Wilfred Owen. The Barker Band - The Night Ain't Over (Self) The music is old and new at the same time with beautiful harmonies from brothers Jake and Sam (twins).
Songs for Love Drunk Sinners "What a great album title! Opening with the genial 'January Morning' - where the rural chill and distance from urban areas is never a problem when there's togetherness in a home - the blend of banjo and pedal steel here establishes the sound that defines the album. 'Birds of many Colours' is a fond recollection of a past love. Next the rocking 'Leaving Town' ups the ante with its urgent melody and violin and percussion joining the banjo and steel. At this point Jan Bell and the cheap dates had completely won me over, and I settled in for the rest of the ride. Jan wrote nine of the album's songs. Her lyrics are virtually devoid of urban imagery, refreshingly so. Her melodies are rich and meaty. 'Snowbird' melodically reminds me of 'I Still Miss Someone'. The impressive 'Carpenter's Arms' limns a brief, steamy encountergrabbing the now with a traveler passing through. The two covers are an excellent spare but spooky take of Townes Van Zandt's 'Snake Song'; and Wilfred owen;s 'Miners' an ode to those who wait for their men to return from the pits everyday. One of the coolest aspects of The Cheap dates, is how they don't all play on every song. Thus the album's sound has unexpected variety which keeps the listener engaged and a bit off-balance.Besides Jan's acoustic guitar the group sports Rima Fand's violin, Hilary Hawke's banjo, Bob Hoffnar's pedal steel, and Nathanial Landeau and Greg Schatze alternating on upright bass. It took a couple of spins for me to really get this one. But once I did the charm of Jan Bell and the cheap dates totally got me. Hope to ear from them again soon. Songs for Love Drunk Sinners is an album of deceptively layered depth, really fine songs, creative arrangements and crisp playing. Hard to ask for anymore than that!" Michael Tearson, Sing Out! Winter 2008.
"Bell's dreamy, beautifully modulated and exquisitely arranged folk country blues material, nine originals....is pretty well positioned by the presence of Samantha Parton of The Be Good Tanyas as producer. Marvellous banjo player - Hialry Hawke....outstanding playing by gypsy fiddler Rima Fand. Sept 2007.
Americana UK – Phil Edwards Laid back songs about love, death and life. Jan Bell was born in Nottinghamshire and now resides in Brooklyn, NY. She lists New York City, New Orleans, Yorkshire, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Rocky Mountains, the Memphis Minnie, the Mississippi River, Loretta Lynn, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Dylan Thomas, The Waterboys, Billy Bragg and Enid Blyton as her influences. She also likes campfires and old porches, and being off the beaten track in the morning'. I wouldn’t have thought there were many tracks to wander down in Nottinghamshire each morning, so maybe that’s why she’s ended up in New York State. When I first saw this album in my letterbox I thought it was someone called ‘’Jam Bell’’, which I thought was an interesting name, and I was expecting a mans voice to start singing. But I’m pleased I’d misread it, as Jan’s voice is sweet, soulful, sparse and at times ‘old-timey’. Which is pertinent as she als tours with old-timey country Trio The Maybelles. ‘Songs for Love Drunk Sinners’ is produced by Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas and is a mighty fine album. But don’t expect to get it the first or second time round. This album didn’t really grab my attention until track seven, the third time I played it. ‘Miners’ is a Wilfred Owens poem set to music. Owen was a prolific poet who was killed in the Somme, one week before the Armistice was signed in 1918, He was 25. What caught my attention was the use of Elyas Khan on backing vocals which gives this song a native American feel. Which is intriguing, as Khan is a British born south Asian who also resides in New York City. So what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of other lady folkies? And there many of them. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s not afraid to show her vulnerabilities and let the songs speak for themselves. She doesn’t feel the need to over produce and sometimes it’s what’s not being said that makes all the difference. This album features slide guitars, harmonicas, mandolins, glockenspiel, accordian and banjos, along with upright bass, recorder, violin and pedal steel – they’re all here. All used to good effect I might add. Stand out tracks include the opener ‘January Morning’ a slow melancholic ballad, the more up-tempo ‘Leaving Town’, ‘Snowbird’, ‘Carpenter’s Arms’ - about a one off encounter with a “travelling man” - which includes the wonderful opening lines “I knew what I wanted when I took down my hair, I wanted you right then and there, played it cool like I didn’t care”, The cd also includes a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Snake Song’, and of course the aforementioned ‘Miners’. Winner of many awards – too numerous to mention here – Bell has opened for Emmylou, Ray Charles and has been on the same bill with many acts including The Be Good Tanyas. In addition she’s also played Manhattan Women's prison Christmas party with her band, one cold December day, when “everyone wound up dancing”. Don’t expect any histrionics or over the top drama. This cd contains simple well sung songs. Just the way it should be.
Chuck Eddy – Senior Editor BILLBOARD, Previously Senior Editor The Village Voice
I'm preferring the new album by Jan Bell & the Cheap Dates, Songs For Love Drunk Sinners -- especially "January Morning" and "Given" so far....a doomy prettiness....Jan has a knack for dark melodies -- as demonstrated on both her 9-11 single from a few years back and her Maybelles album from a couple years ago. Now I wish somebody would explain to me why I'm liking this new Jan Bell so much when most of it is done at a near-funeral dirge tempo. (Though "Leavin' Town" is at least a midtempo gallop, and clearly about, well, leavin' town.) Anyway, you'd think I'd hate such stuff. Guess what I like is the melodies. Which I believe are largely minor key, though don't quote me on that. Most goth folk-mood moment: the spooky witchy background mourning howls and bats in the belfry thumpdy-bumping about in "Miners." Other favorites: "January Morning," "Given," "Ships in the Air." And which are also largely beautiful, if I didn't get that point across. As is Jan's low-key singing.
NOW Toronto With 450 artists heating up 40 clubs over four crazy nights, you wanna know where to go. NXNE Features. CRITICS PICK – Tim Perlich , Senior Music Editor. Songs For Love Drunk Sinners (Little Red Hen) Rating: NNNN - 4 Stars When the Be Good Tanyas first got together, the sound they were aiming for was probably a lot like the creaky folk blues you hear coming out of Brooklyn's Jan Bell & the Cheap Dates. So it's hardly a shock to find that their chiller-thriller of an album Songs For Love Drunk Sinners was produced by the Tanyas' Samantha Parton, and her former bandmate Jolie Holland is credited with adding eerie backing vocals. Jan Bell and company - they're the real deal. Wonderful new album!
Concert Reviews Toonage @ NXNE 2007 Friday, June 8, 2007 - The Cadillac Lounge review by Steve Korsh The Jamestown UnionFriday night at the Cadillac Lounge showcased some great up and coming folk/country/blues. This was a treat for me as I don’t really get exposed to this type of music very often, but I was ready for something different and the artists didn’t disappoint. The first performance came from Jan Bell who is from Brooklyn, NY by way of the UK. I was immediately taken aback by Jan’s vocals. I was speechless that such soul and volume could come from such a small little lady. Jan really makes you feel each note of her music. Her style was really a throwback to early bluegrass and folk music. Her voice just had this way of resonating her passion to the audience. While her music was full of soul and spirit her set wasn’t the depressing sort of folk I was expecting to hear. Instead she had a fun energy about her, which is what I think really got me into her set. I also have to mention that her backing musicians were incredibly talented. Most notably Brooklyn’s Hilary Hawke, who usually plays with her band Hogzilla, provided some great banjo strumming and an engaging personality that, again, hooked me right into a style of music that I normally do not get into. After Jan Bell came The Jamestown Union from Brighton, UK. These UK boys really delivered a diverse and entertaining set. They had a bit more a traditional sound that I was used to with a bit more of a country/rock feel to them. The musicians in this band are incredibly talented. Their songs are tastefully written and have a great amount of depth to them. It’s hard to nail The Jamestown Union down to one style of music as every song seemed to take something from another style of music than the one before. I definitely wasn’t ready for the sort of energetic performance that the Jamestown Union provided. They really helped me take off my blinders in terms of what to expect from their style of music. Toronto’s NQ Arbuckle followed in what was again a fantastic set from one of Canada’s best balladeers. NQ’s songs resonate in much the same way the Jan Bell’s did. A fantastic voice filled with soul, a few tears, a couple of beers, and a pack of smokes. He really captures the heart with his music. You can see the emotion in his face as he wails his unique brand of Folk/Country. His songs take you to every place on the radar: sadness, happiness, regret, and forgiveness and more. NQ Arbuckle's performance, along with Jan Bell,ranks among the top that I saw at NXNE this year. My night at the Cadillac Lounge definitely challenged me to look outside my normal box in terms of how I appreciate music. It was a great experience for me to see all these talented musicians put on performances that were surprisingly energetic, fun, dynamic and engaging. I’d go see any of these performers again if I had the chance.
Jolie Holland lists Jan in her Top 10 Songwriters for Magnet Magazine. - Jolie singing 'Right to Love' at the piano in New Zealand.

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