Before heading out on his own as a singer/songwriter, Kevin Morby was best known for his work with two different Brooklyn bands, the Babies and Woods. Based in Los Angeles, Morby originally moved from his native Kansas City to Brooklyn in the mid-2000s, eventually joining the noise folk group Woods on bass. While living in Brooklyn, he became close friends and roommates with Cassie Ramone of the punk trio Vivian Girls, and the two formed a side project together called the Babies, who released albums in 2011 and 2012. Following his move to L.A., Morby recorded a collection of songs with Babies producer Rob Barbato that was intended to be an homage to New York City. The new songs represented a stylistic shift into a more roots-oriented indie sound and also featured Babies drummer Justin Sullivan along with several other guest artists. Released in 2013 by Woodsist Records, the eight-song collection was called Harlem River and became Morby’s debut as a solo artist.
In August of that year, Morby relocated from his Brooklyn dwellings to Los Angeles, quickly beginning work on what would become his second solo album, Still Life. The album was released yet again on the Woodsist label in late 2014. His next record was informed by two developments: he moved to a house with a piano; and he played in the Complete Last Waltz, a group formed to pay tribute to the music of the Band. The first changed the way he wrote songs; the second meant he hooked up with fellow bandmate Sam Cohen of Yellowbirds and the two began collaborating. The recording of Morby’s first album for his new label, Dead Oceans, took place in Woodstock, New York and featured appearances from keyboardist Marco Benevento and Quilt’s John Andrews on musical saw. Singing Saw was released in April of 2016. The following year, a companion-piece album, City Music, was released. Recorded at the analog-centric Panoramic House studio in rural West Marin, California and prominently featuring its 19th century pump organ, the album saw Morby channeling Lou Reed and Patti Smith in a collection of introspective vignettes.
One look at (and listen to) the cross-dressing, Asian rock band SsingSsing and you would hardly think they’re singing music inspired by traditional Korean folk. But SsingSsing isn’t like any other band I’ve ever seen or heard.
The group sings a regional folk style called minyo and the gender bending look has to do with shamans not glamour. As singer Hee-moon Lee describes it, “In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channeling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer), and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps.”
The understated music, the small dramatic gestures and the costumes all combine for one of my most memorable Tiny Desk Concerts of all time.
“Nanbongga (Song of Beloveds)”
“Saseol Nanbongga (Narrative Song of Beloveds)”
Hee-moon Lee (vocal), Da-hye Choo (vocal), Seung-tae Shin (vocal), Young-gyu Jang (bass guitar), Tae-won Lee (electric guitar), and Chul-hee Lee (drums)
They transform traditional Polish songs into Kujawski swing, and they mix folk songs, whispers, and shouts with sounds of…a grater, a knife being sharpened or a bathtub being filled with water. An original trio, Sutari, is gaining popularity on the folk scene with their modern interpretations of old songs.
Sutari is based on the strength of three female talents, temperaments, and voices. Zofia Barańska, Katarzyna Kapela, and Barbara Songin are vocalists, instrumentalists, actresses, and performers who have been active on the Polish artistic scene for many years now in various fields: from music to theatre through dance and film. Kasia collaborates with the Wrocław Song of the Goat Theatre, Basia deals with physical theatre, choreography and produces her own original shows along with the artistic collective FURU, and Zosia collaborates with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute on musical projects. They met a few years ago at the “Gardzienice” Centre for Theatre Practices and that is how their musical collaboration began: on violins, drums, wine glasses, bottles, knifes, graters and even using water. As Zosia Barańska explains:
We feel good on stage together. Playing together and giving concerts gives us great joy. We experiment with sound a lot. It’s enough to change the tempo, slow down, or speed up in order to find jazz, swing or blues in old songs. The idea of using unusual instruments helps us tell the stories of our great grandmothers, it reminds us all of the musical tradition of singing together while peeling potatoes or working in the fields, because singing was a part of everyday life. That is why we incorporated the rhythmization of sounds produced by kitchenware.