bethany yarrow
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bethany yarrow

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The best kept secret in music

Press


4 STARS (!)

Yarrow's ultra-modern musical argument on the album Rock Island is a convincing one. She re-articulates, revises, reshapes, and remodels folk music in the image of today's "folk" styles -- through the sounds, dynamics, and textures of the people's vernacular given the way music is heard and experienced today. In so doing, she is closer in feel and intent to the historic "folk" traditions than many folk revivalists who claim to read some of these same songs through rarefied ideologies.... Ms. Yarrow builds an archway through a glass darkly -- through, and to -- other eras, via her time machine musicology...

"Black Is the Color" features slippery drums, and a pair of basses colored by elusive keyboards; they shimmer and skate around the center of her vocal... The murder ballad "Pretty Polly," is lacerated with samples of a fire-and-brimstone gospel preacher just under a tranced-out, dub-heavy rhythm.... The title track, a version of "Rock Island Line," features a backbone slipping, hip-hop rhythm...This is music that carries its messages and metaphorical contexts through the centuries and decades -- into the heart of our fractured era -- and attempts to weave voices, ancient to future, together in defiance to what would separate and fragment them. Rock Island fulfills the promise of great folk music: it seeks to foster the commonality and truth of shared experience -- of the song to be sure, but also of cultures thrown together in a confusing, bewildering time. ~ Thom Jurek, All Music Guide

http://www.artistdirect.com/store/artist/album/0,,2803663,00.html
- All Music Guide


The surprising thing is the manner in which Yarrow performs these standards. Rather than attempting to follow in her father's traditionalist footsteps, she re-imagines songs like "Black Is The Color", "Pretty Polly", and the title track as twenty-first century populist anthems -- out go the folksy guitars, and in come breathy vocals, samples, programmed beats and ambient electronic accents.

More surprisingly, Rock Island works.... Yarrow makes few concessions to the original arrangements, and puts her own spin on each song.... Best of all is the trip-hoppy "Pretty Polly": Yarrow makes a song about love, betrayal and murder sound like the best song that Portishead never released....

Rock Island could have been a disaster; there aren't enough landfills in the world to hold all of the soulless attempts to modernize traditional music. Yarrow succeeds because she doesn't allow her approach to become a gimmick. She begins with a strong concept -- that century-old folk music is compatible with contemporary folk music -- and does her best to prove it, creating solid entertainment in the process. Ethnomusicologists could well be studying Rock Island in fifty years, in much the same way that they look at Woody Guthrie (not to mention Yarrow's father) today.

http://www.splendidezine.com/review.html?reviewid=1090316622396107
- Splendid Magazine


....The overall effect is mesmerising, drawing you in to an eerie world where things glimpsed out of the corner of the eye move noiselessly in the shadows…. - Americana UK


I LOVE the new CD! Stunning is the best word I can come up with.... a magnificent recording!" - Ron Olesko, WFDU radio


...It's quite an impressive record and the renditions of several of the classics (Rock Island and Another Man in particular) are incredible. We need more records like this... So, yes I do believe that this will be going into rotation immediately! - Barry Weber, WRST-FM


The players are superb, and Bethany Yarrow's singing is spellbinding! - Paul Stalmer, KDHX radio


I found the CD fascinating.... Lots of people record these old songs…. but Bethany has used a little wizardry here and there to transform them. I found myself listening to them as though for the first time! It might not have worked so well except that, with her voice, she could get away with just about anything! - Arthur Elliott, Radio 99.7FM, Brisbane, Australia


The outstanding CD, Rock Island, is a collection of traditional folk songs brought back to glorious, pulsing, dramatic life by an artist whose delicate voice breathes from the depths of a gothic spirit. This CD is magic. I was listening to musical history as it was happening. Nothing in the traditional folk world could have prepared its fans for the likes of Yarrow, yet she’s one of the best things that ever happened to the genre. Lost in these swirling remakes, I could hear the intent and purpose of the original songs being pulled into the present on a dark wave. You can’t help but listen. For all its delicate nature, Yarrow’s voice is powerful. Her amplified deep breathing on the opening track made my skin tingle in response. In “Pretty Polly,” a ballad of betrayal and murder, the haunted vocal sounds like the ghost of the dead woman is singing. And the music will lure fans of any genre. She opens some tracks with Celtic crooning that dissolves into hip-hop – with a cello. She offers electronica/new age/pop with a grinding groove that would make bodies on a dance floor melt together. Old spirituals rise from the ground. The vibe settles in deep. There’s pulsing, dangerous life in this music. I can’t imagine what path Yarrow will take on her next CD, but I’ll wrap myself in a long velvet cape and follow her anywhere. - indie-music.com


For this refreshingly unique and powerful CD, Bethany Yarrow has pulled from the archives of traditional folk a handful of haunting stories of tragedies and trains… You can settle in for a most fascinating, interesting and spell-binding ride! Throughout the 12-track collection, ethereal backgrounds punctuated by hypnotic beats and electronic effects lay a foundation for Bethany's sweet but stirring vocals. Rock Island provides a provocatively dark and deep listening experience that's addicting! - Singer Magazine


Bethany Yarrow is a musical medium. Serving as an intermediary between modern audiences and the ghosts of American folk and blues singers, Yarrow is sharing some powerful messages in her trip-hop songs. She calls the re-recording of traditional slave lullabies, prison songs and murder ballads "deep folk music," but these refreshing arrangements cover the gamut of rock, pop, trance, funk and gospel. Many critics have compared her voice to PJ Harvey and Dido. In truth, her pipes sound like a unique mixture of Odetta and Snakefarm. Her debut CD is a triumphant proclamation; every bluesy track demands attention and leaves the listener feeling slightly haunted.
- Siren Song Magazine


Discography

"Rock Island" ©2003 Little Monster Records

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Beautifully produced by Kevin Salem (Mercury Rev, Bad Brains, Chocolate Genius) and Knox Chandler (David Gahan, Siouxsie & the Banshees), Bethany Yarrow's debut cd, ROCK ISLAND, mixes the gloss of pop production with banjos, dulcimers, harmonicas, slide guitars, gospel choirs, and the sampled ghosts of some of the great blues singers of America. In unexpected ways, the CD borrows from the deep river of American song and creates a gorgeous and totally contemporary sonic landscape with Bethany's haunting voice at the forefront.

"Folk music may be in my blood, but I spent a lot of time running away from it," says Bethany. "By the time I was 14, I had green hair, eleven piercings, was listening to hardcore, and spent my weekends at Danceteria and my Sundays down at CBGBs.... Singing these old tunes was the last thing I thought I'd end up doing."

But folk music is in her blood indeed, (her father is Peter of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary) and sometimes there is no escaping it. So last year Bethany decided to return to her roots and the music she grew up with by recording a CD of traditional American songs. "I guess you can run, but you can't hide..." she says. "So, I've been re-recording traditional slave lullabies, prison songs, and murder ballads, turning them into a kind of grooving electronic pop that I call 'deep folk' music, as in 'deep house' or 'deep soul'. These may be old songs, but this CD doesn't really sound at all like folk music, and that was kind of the point."

Bethany's brand of folk has certainly struck a chord across the country. Reviewers have been knocked out by her "fascinating" and "dramatic" interpretations. Her voice has been called, "mesmerizing", "intense", "powerful", "spell-binding"... "A cross between PJ Harvey and Annie Lennox... Dido and Grace Slick..." It's a seemingly strange combination of sounds that somehow all comes together, and in re-inventing these deeply American songs, Bethany has not only taken them into the future, she has made them deeply her own.

Especially this year, when politics is on everyone's minds, Bethany has emerged as a powerful musical voice. As a performer who has spent a lifetime not only knowing these songs, but living them, she literally stopped the crowd in their tracks when she sang at the March for Women's lives in April, 2004 for more than one million people. She sang at the Million Mom March, the Take Back America Conference in Washington, DC, the World Peace Music Awards in Vietnam, and will appear on VH1 Classic this summer with her father talking about her musical and political heritage.

Although Bethany has dedicated herself to music for the past several years, she started out as a documentary filmmaker. In between her junior and senior years at college, Bethany was awarded a fellowship to go to South Africa to make a documentary about the women in the townships outside of Cape Town. What emerged was the award-winning film, "Mama Awethu!", which aired nationally on PBS and won numerous prizes at film festivals around the world including the the Sundance, Berlin, Human Rights Watch, and Bombay Film Festivals.

"I never planned on being a filmmaker," says Bethany. "I just had something to say, and it seemed like film was the best way to tell that story. Sometimes music is not the best vehicle. But right now the story I want to tell is in music. Maybe one day, when I have another story that needs telling, I'll make another film, but for the moment this CD is more than enough work!"

Bethany now lives in a converted silver plating factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She recorded most of ROCK ISLAND at an old inn in the Catskills in upstate New York. It's taken almost two years to make the CD, but from the responses so far it seems that the time it took was worth it. The CD is slated for wide release on Little Monster Records in the fall of 2004. It is currently available over the internet and through her website.