Blind Owl Band Review

Recording Review

The Blind Owl Band

Rabble Rousing (Jan 2012)


At their best, the Blind Owl Band resembles an old-time version of the Ramones, with pure decibel level and accelerated tempos covering over the music happening underneath. Call it Thrash Time or Grungegrass, perhaps. In any case, Blind Owl Band dives headlong into the mosh pit of old-time as a dance music, in this case dance music for young people in outstanding physical shape.

Seriously, on the aptly titled early 2012 album Rabble Rousing, the Blind Owl Band is on to something, at least their own recognizable sound on the left edge of the roots, acoustic world. What the Saranac Lake, NY quartet calls “Original Rowdy String Music” becomes compelling in a raw power and punk energy that aims to go beyond any excesses of the Avett Brothers. “We use the instruments of our ancestors, but play music of our time that is influenced by all that has happened in the musical world over the past 23 years. We hope that we can achieve a unique personal sound with our music through a raw instrumentation.”

The Blind Owl Band consists of Arthur Buezo (Guitar, Vocals), Christian Cardiello (Bass), Eric Munley (Mandolin, Vocals), and James Ford (Banjo, Vocals). They perform almost entirely original music with an emphasis on rhythm with the breaks often hidden inside a wall of noise. Listen to “Broken Bells.” Often this works brilliantly as on :”Fiddle Don’t,” “Missoula, Montana,” “Whipawell,” and the bluegrassy “Devils My Witness.” Occasionally, it breaks down into something that sounds like the Kingston Trio on meth, for example, “Scorpion.”

Rabble Rousing will provide too punk for a lot of older fans. The Blind Owl Band, however, connects two genre that have more in common than their obvious differences. This group could evolve into something very special that transcends any conventional musical genre.



Botkin Changed the World

I was thinking for no particular reason this morning about how my generation benefited from the efforts of folklorist Benjamin Botkin, whose books including Treasury of American Folklore provided the curricular materials for folk music in the schools from the Baby Boomers.Other than a prize from the American Folklore Society, few know his name today.

Publishing from the mid-1940s on, Botkin’s influence on educators made it possible – along with the summer camps – for the Boomer generation to be exposed to folk music and singing together in a context other than the church, home, or local community. The timing was perfect for both contributing to and benefiting from the Folk Scare, which was the third folk revival of the four during the middle half of the 20th Century.

Poor Ben Botkin ended up sliced and diced for these revolutionary efforts that changed the lives of many of us on this board. Because he had been – along with Pete Seeger and many others – in People’s Songs, the radical forerunner of Sing Out!, the FBI hassled him off and on for the last 30 years of his life.

Meanwhile, academic folklorist Richard Dorson at Michigan State and IU, reacting against the second folk revival right after WWII – Weavers, Woody, Josh White), denounced Botkin as a promoter of “Fakelore” in a 1950 essay that had a profound and lasting influence on folklorists of my generation. Dorson, who began his career studying Davy Crockett, lumped Botkin in with Paul Bunyan. Dorson was correct about many things, but the sustained attack on Botkin crossed a line.

Dorson trained more American folklorists from 1945 until 1980 than any other academic – even more than affable Kenny Goldstein at Penn who worked in both the commercial recording and scholarly worlds – and these students have taught the next generation.

More people my age wanted to be a loser with a gun than a fakelorist.

Three Revolutionary Acts from SERFA

The 2012 SERFA conference in Montreal NC presented a trio of impact acts changing the face of American music. All are young, feature strong original music, and include open back banjos.
The Stray Birds have the most
conventional sound, but the best songs and the vocals.
Emily Pinkerton delivers a potent fusion of Old-Time and Chilean music.
Harpeth Rising draws on both classical and Old-Time which commentary on contemporary issues.
The most edgy  exciting music today is happening in the young string band scene. The folk revolution is on.

Busy Saturday May 5th

For those of you keeping score at home (how about those 1st place Dodgers), on Saturday, May 5, I’ll be on the radio in KY, on the radio in NC, and speaking in DC.

May 5, the 81st anniversary of the start of the Harlan County mine wars, is the first Saturday in May, so I’ll be hosting From the Roots on WMMT-FM 88.7 from 11 AM until 2 PM Eastern. The best of the new in Old-time and roots music. listen online at I’ll post a playlist on Highlights include tracks from the latest by Carolina Chocolate Drops, Mariel Vandersteel, Bill Evans & Tim O’Brien, Trampled by Turtles, Blind Owl Band, South Carolina Broadcasters, Atomic Duo, and more. Plus Florence Reece, Aunt Molly Jackson, and Ani DiFranco in honor of the anniversary of the shootout in Evarts, KY.

I take over as host of The ArtSpot on WCHL-AM 1360, Chapel Hill, NC this weekend with an interview with bodhran player Tristan Rosenstock of the Irish trad band Teada. They perform at The ArtsCenter on Thursday, May 10. You can order your tickets for this exciting band on their first tour with new member West Kerry legend Séamus Begley, adding his singing, playing, and stories here. Teada thrives on less played traditional material. Seamus adds his material to their Sligo roots.

ArtSpot airs on Saturday and Sunday each week from 11:30 AM until noon and 7:30-8 PM eastern. Listen live on

Also on Saturday May 5 I’ll be on two panels at the one day NERFA Conference in Bethesda, MD “Traditional Folk” at 10:30 and at Noon, “How to Get Noticed.” This is the most significant Folk Alliance International event in the DC area since the 1996 International Conference, even thought the organization was headquartered here for 10 years. Chapel Hill 1991-1995, DC 1995 – 2006, Memphis 2006-2012, Kansas City 2012 –