Neo-trad roots trio covers eclectic range of songs in their signature style.
Coming from traditional Old Time music, an album of cover songs sounds pretty redundant – after all, the whole stream of tradition involves reworking music that has been passed down through generations. Yet skilled clawhammer banjo player and songwriter Evie Ladin has always collaborated with diverse musicians who listen across genres, exploring the fluid boundary between old and new. With bass player Keith Terry and guitarist Erik Pearson, the Evie Ladin Band showcases their adventurousness with six cover tracks from very different sources, on the heels of two 2019 releases – the fully original Caught On A Wire, and the fully traditional Riding the Rooster.
Evie Ladin is a modern Renaissance woman who grew up enmeshed in traditional music and dance, from the belly of urban centers – New York, Baltimore, Oakland – with open ears and an anthropological bent. Her entire life is a multidisciplinary artistic practice: banjoist and songwriter in the roots music world, representing these arts in international body percussion/ dance circles, creating choreographies that reunite Appalachian song with their African Diaspora rhythms, and winning awards for films of the work. A 2020 Jubilation Fellow, given to those who actively involve communities in music and dance, Evie is often focused on getting diverse audiences to engage in the arts, not just passively listen.
While the overarching genre of Bluegrass has long embraced innovation, Old Time is rife with participating musicians who prefer presenting the music as it was. Fully trad at raging square dances and till-dawn jams, teaching hundreds live and online at Peghead Nation, her Evie Ladin Band stretches to include music from many sources, in stringband style.
As with all artists, a full 2020 tour schedule came to a screeching halt. PLAYING OUR HAND was intended to support those tours, including festivals like Crossover in the UK, Strawberry in California, Wheatland in Michigan, and music camps across the US. With the rise of Black Lives Matter, the band stood down, leaving space for more marginalized voices. Being diversified in artistic practice has allowed them to stay afloat during a tense lockdown.
PLAYING OUR HAND leads off with Paul Simon’s Slip Slidin’ Away, apropos as we nervously watch our days slip by. You Gotta Be Hunting the Buffalo is a clever mashup of a favorite 90’s R&B song with an old-time tune. Des’ree’s “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser” rings ever true as our political situation reels, and has brought gasps of recognition and enthusiasm from audiences. The Carter Family’s collected Bear Creek Blues is even more crooked, with Evie adding snappy guitar licks to her usual banjo leads. A medley of modal public domain songs Polly Put the Kettle On/Lonesome John, the band couches in the #metoo movement – flipping the script on that cache of “rascal” songs. It was the Grateful Dead that brought Evie on her first cross-country trip to California at 19, and Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo from Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter rocks out on thumping banjo. While many people got into old time music from the Dead’s endorsement, Evie long ago went the other way – from traditional music into that community that also prioritized gathering together to dance and play. Finally, Janelle Monae’s bouncy Tightrope worked its way into Evie’s collaboration with the multicultural group Crosspulse, with whom she does educational programs. Everyone in the quintet’s arts come from the African Diaspora, and it is in this group that she has long educated audiences on the roots of Appalachian banjo traditions, in a very funky context. The group teases out this message: “whether you’re high or low, you got to tip on the tightrope.” Life’s got highs and lows, and music will help us through our lowest moments. We can all use this right now.