Jan Bell
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Jan Bell

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band Folk Americana

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Jun
29
Jan Bell @ The Pavilion

Bath, England, United Kingdom

Bath, England, United Kingdom

Apr
14
Jan Bell @ Jalopy

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Apr
04
Jan Bell @ Barbes

None, New York, USA

None, New York, USA

Music

Press


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 also 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.






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 also 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, a - by Phil Edwards, Americana UK


An unlikely Americana star. A Barnsley lass, bold as brass and the grand daughter of a coal miner. Her new album features rare traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic, pitting tracks from Appalachia alongside originals from Yorkshire. - The Argus, Sussex 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.
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. - Cover Lay Down


This remarkable album probably has the most ‘rural down home’ feel of just about any album I’ve heard, certainly in this century, made the more remarkable by the fact that Jan Bell was born, raised and lived for the first twenty years of her life in Yorkshire. This, added to the fact that she comes from a Yorkshire family with deep coal mining roots and a life deeply affected by the miners strike of the mid 1980s was always going to encourage Jan to write, sing and record a blend of real downhome vernacular musics from the British isles and her adopted home in the U.S. The fact that she blends her native music with ‘old timey’ American music into an album that links these two, in many ways disparate, elements is testament to her huge talent and can genuinely be described as alternative country, being a purer alternative to most of what can be found in the country music charts today.
You only have to look at the quality of the musicians that accompany her on this album to realize the esteem in which she is held and the purity and solid authenticity of the musical content. There is the tremendously talented and Jan’s partner in life, Will Scott, Jan’s own band The Maybelles, the Carper Family, Jolie Holland and the legendary Alice Gerrard amongst others. Jan’s vocals seem to fit somewhere between Rachell Brooke and Holly Golightly, gorgeous, but with a character laden feeling and more rooted in ‘old timey’ and English folk, giving it an originality, that
thanks to Jan’s background, few if any can match! Another advantage is that she does not try to sound American, more a case of her native accents natural development rather than the cod American adopted by so many in the past. If anything this gives her even more authenticity. Part of the uniqueness of this recording comes from the fact that Jan is so steeped in the music of her native
Yorkshire and for the last several decades living in America and developing a feel for American ‘old timey’ it would be virtually impossible for anyone else to treat both forms of folk music as sympathetically as she does.
Of the songs, four are written by Jan Bell, plus one that she wrote the music to accompany Woody Guthrie’s lyrics and of the remainder, one is traditional and the others from writers old and new! So quite a variety, but all blended together in such a way that there is no disjointedness to the album, in fact it almost has a conceptual feel such is the atmosphere. On perusing my notes I found that I had written more than a paragraph about almost every song, so I’ll just try to mention a few here, but really, virtually every track is a little gem! Album opener The L and N don’t stop here anymore really evokes the dusty poverty stricken ‘hollers’ of old with the keening, sorrowful fiddle and Jan’s lovely ‘rural edginess’ in her vocals and the wonderfully evocative old timey harmonies with the Maybelles on this Jean Ritchie classic. Particularly as the song starts, Jan’s unaccompanied vocals project a picture of a woman sitting on the front porch in one of the ‘hollers’of old, singing to herself. Jan’s own Yorkshire Water could easily be an old English folk song that was carried to America with the immigrants and then gradually turned into this haunting treatment with little instrumentation other than acoustic guitar, courtesy of Mike West and occasional piano from Katie Euliss (both of ‘Truckstop Honeymoon) and harmonies with the Carper family. Simply gorgeous and incredibly evocative. Mining Camp Blues includes gorgeous, slightly discordant harmonies with the
legendary Alice Gerrard which really does give this story a Carter Family feel, but with atmospheric fiddle added. It’s a terrific treatment of the Trixie Smith blues song that reverts to a real highlonsomeness! Jan’s Elsecar Grace aka John Williams includes more tremendous harmonies with beautifully blended instrumentation on a lovely song that in many ways could be seen to
define alternative country, (to the exclusion of anything resembling rock) being a mellow sounding country song, but a million miles from the bland big selling ‘country pop.’ Beautifully played, full of emotion and with an emotive natural edginess. Final mention goes to Karen Dahlstrom’s The
Miner’s Bride, about as haunting as a song can get, with Jan’s lead vocals added to by the perfect vocal harmonies of Philippa Thompson as well as her musical saw plus Hilary Hawke’s atmospheric banjo. Not everything works absolutely perfectly but even the slightly lesser material is still very good
and should be the envy of lesser artists, of which there are many!
This is an album with a powerful emotional content that awakens the ghosts of old timey, probably more than most albums have done for a long time! If you want to hear where real ‘country music’ comes from buy this album and experience the blending and dissemination into the American culture of old English folk music in a way that is totally unique. - American Roots UK


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


" Jan Bell and the cheap dates completely won me over. Her melodies are rich and meaty....Songs for Love Drunk Sinners is an album of deceptively layered depth, really fine somgs, creative arrangements and crisp playing. Hard to ask for anymore than that."
MT for Sing Out!, Winter 2008.

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. - Michael Tearson


LIve Show Review :
Jan Bell and Jolie Holland Live at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY April 2008.
"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. She got the chatty crowd to shut up, more or less, for the better part of forty minutes (a less impressive feat than it may seem, since a considerable portion of the sold-out house had come out for her and left after she finished). Accompanied only by Luminescent Orchestrii violinist Rina 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. "


- Lucid Culture, NYC


The first incarnation of the group that would become The Maybelles began several years ago right here in Eureka Springs when Melissa Carper and Jan Bell met and started playing music together.

The second incarnation was as a duo in New Orleans where they first appeared as The Maybelles. In its annual music issue, New Orleans City Life magazine ranked them among the Top 10 of the city's music acts.

Then musicians being musicians, they hit the road and wound up in Brooklyn where they added Katy Rose Cox to make them a trio. At that time, Chuck Eddy was Senior Music Editor at the Village Voice and rated the group's debut album White Trash Jenny among his favorite Top Ten Folk Albums. He described them as, "An EXPERT BAND. Celtic tinged, Appalachian influenced." Eddy now writes for Billboard magazine, which is the music industry's most influential publication.

Boffo in Gotham City

Mikael Wood, who also writes for the Village Voice, characterized the band's efforts as, "A triumph for equal opportunity bluegrassers, never once sinks into mere bluegrass reverence." And Time Out NY magazine gave them a coveted Recommended rating with the comment, "Don't Miss The Maybelles."

They didn't miss them in London either. Charlie Gillett of the British Broadcasting Corporation [BBC] said, "Of all the music the 'Be Good Tanya's' gave me, my favorite is The Maybelles. They sound like they might be granddaughters of country greats." Interesting comment in that Jan Bell grew up in Nottinghamshire, England.

Then musicians being musicians, they hit the road back to Eureka to record their second album with David Singleton engineering. Sing Out! magazine says, "Sweet old time harmony vocals and a dynamic string band sound … energetic, hauntingly beautiful, humorous … Leavin' Town is a lovely collection … The Maybelles are a talented trio of young women."

Jerome Clark who frequently writes with actor Robin Williams and Williams' wife, Linda, wrote on Rambles.net, "Freshness bordering on wonder.''

Ozark kudos

Donice Woodside, writing for Nightflying, described them as "Musical geniuses in mutual motion.''

Susan Porter, in the Fayetteville Free Weekly says they're an "Upbeat and charming Americana trio."

According to Mike Shirkey of KUAF Radio, "They've got it all. Good writing. Good voices. Good sound. If you haven't seen The Maybelles in a while, you're in for a surprise."

This is a songwriter's band. Performing Songwriter magazine selected White Trash Jenny for its annual Top 12 DIY picks. They described the album as "chock-full of good old fashioned fun -- groping, incest and stints in jail." The title track tells the story of a free-spirited woman who chose a life of crime and time in jail over life in a trailer park, "having kids and being someone's wife."

The fates of dying mothers and coal mining fathers are revealed in the song "Aunt Molly Jackson" which is wrapped in pretty harmonies and framed with traditional bluegrass instrumentation.

All three of The Maybelles' songwriting skills are showcased on the Leavin' Town album. And they mix in some Bill Monroe, Carter Family and Hank Williams covers which serve to ground them in authenticity. Mikael Wood of the Village Voice really hits the nail on the head when he says, "They give such an unsentimental melancholy to the mostly self-penned material that you remember their art, not their science. Don't expect a video."

Reintarnation

The latest incarnation will take place next week when they play at George's Majestic Lounge on Dickson St. in Fayetteville on Wednesday and at the Gavioli Chapel in Eureka Springs on Thursday as part of the Americana House Concert series. But first, let's rewind this story back to the part about Brooklyn. While playing the New York City scene, they fell in with a banjo player named Hilary Hawke. And that's right, you've already guessed it, the trio ain't no trio, no more. They're a four-piece. This should be more fun than when Granny puked and us kids played in it.

The Maybelles have been invited to perform at the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville this year. And Jan Bell has won the popular vote for Independent Music Awards Alternative Country Album of the Year for her Songs For Love Drunk Sinners as performed by Jan Bell + the Cheap Dates.

Concert Times

* Wednesday, Oct. 15, 10 p.m., George's Majestic Lounge, Dickson St. in Fayetteville. David Singleton and Mike Blackwell will open.

* Thursday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m., The Gavioli Chapel in Eureka Springs. Americana House Concert. - The Lovely County Citizen, Eureka Srings, AR



'Americana UK Feature Interview - August 23, 2009
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 - Soren McGuire


Tim Cooper explores UK Americana and the Anglicana music scene.

'The British are even making waves in the home of country. Jan Bell...a latter day Loretta Lynn, whose roots still show.' - The Sunday Times (London, UK)


Rating : * * * *
When the Be Good Tanya's first got together, the sound they were aiming for was probably alot like the creaky folk blues you hear coming out of Brooklyn's Jan Bell and the Cheap Dates.
So its hardly a shock to find that their new chiller thriller of an album 'Songs for Love Drunk Sinners' was produced by the Tanyas' Samantha Parton....Jan Bell and company...they're the real deal.
Tim Perlich. - Tim Perlich - Now Toronto


"Despite (or maybe because of) Bell's English heritage, she's much more of a traditionalist than anyone in Nickel Creek or the Duhks."
Mikael Wood, The Voice. - by Mikael Wood


IBMA conference highlights the many permutations of bluegrass music
By Edd Hurt
Published on September 24, 2008
... 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.

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. - Edd Hurt, The Nashville Scene at IBMA


At first glance, singer/songwriter Jan Bell may be a bit of an oddity: An Englishwoman writing and playing country music in Brooklyn, NY. But when you dig deeper, there are striking similarities in background and singing style between Jan Bell, a Yorkshire coalminer’s granddaughter and Loretta Lynn, the country music star (and Kentucky coal miner’s daughter) to whom she has oft been compared. “Loretta’s songs about the South and the coal mines could easily have been written about the people in and mining towns of Yorkshire,” says Bell, who also ties the history of music in Northern England and Wales to traditional Appalachian music and culture.

Bell says she “identifies with that part of the world and the essence of country music, where brash girls speak their mind and hold their own with the guys…Madonna is in that tradition just as much as Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Patsy Cline.”

A fixture on the Brooklyn folk and alt.country scene since the early 1990s, soon after she arrived in New York City, Bell gigged with other local and transplanted musicians at the Ironworkers Bar (now 68 Jay Street). She started performing with the Urban Cowgirls Cabaret on the back of a pickup truck owned by Tanya from the DUMBO restaurant Superfine.

In fact, it was nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge at that lesbian outpost on Front Street that Bell found her New York home. “Superfine is my surrogate family, and DUMBO, back in those days, wasn’t posh or trendy,” says Bell. She organized the DUMBO Arts Festival for several years where musicians played on the back of a loading dock and founded the all-female Little Red Hen Collective to support indie artists in forging and staging their careers.

Bell has played individually and with various bands throughout her career and her connection to The Maybelles is two decades strong. Jan Bell & The Maybelles have an extended-play release out, “Hello Stranger,” produced by Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas. Bell has opened for Emmylou Harris, Ferron, Odetta and countless other musical legends, but is a longstanding and lauded fixture in the alt.country music scene in her own right.

After 20-plus years of touring on both sides of the pond, Bell is settling down a bit. She now divides her time between Brooklyn and Philadelphia, where she says she finds the cost of living to be more reasonable and the music scene less crowded. “If I’m going to open my own venue, it’s not going to be in the far reaches of the JMZ,” she jokes. “The spot in DUMBO where I first set down Brooklyn roots is now a big, expensive condo building.”

Bell will be performing with The Maybelles twice in the next few days as part of the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenter) Convention. Jan Bell & The Maybelles are on a bill with two other Charisma Artist Agency bands at the Living Room this Saturday and at Sullivan Hall with a slew of other performers Monday night.

Be prepared to hear a spirited, soulful twang and inspired lyrics from this veteran of the international alt.country scene. Bell will play guitar while Rima Fand pulls her bow across the violin and Megan Palmer pumps the piano.
- Stephanie Schroeder - GO Magazine, NYC


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


In 2009 the Founders of brooklyn Country Music - Alex battles, and Dock Oscar - presented Jan with an Award 'For Unending Support of Country Music In New York City'. Fellow inductees were Matt Winters - the long time host of WKCR's Moonshine Show. And Jack Grace, local hero singer songwriter and main man at Manhattan's longest running country music venue - The Rodeo Bar. - Inductee 2009


"Maybe growing up in Nottinghamshire is what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of local lady folkies, or maybe its the slide guitars, harmonicas, and banjos - either way the dark, old-timey spareness often suggest a Renaissance Faire in the Mississippi Delta. Her gorgeous ode to New York, 'I want no country' is one of the saddest, most skeptical, most plainspoken,songs anybody wrote about 9/11/01"
Chuck Eddy, Senior Editor,
The Village Voice.
- Chuck Eddy (Senior Music Editor)


'In Jan's songs and voice, there is the strength and the struggles of all humanity. She is a truth teller, a true troubador, heart breaker and heart mender.'
- Singer/Songwriter/Producer (Nettwerk)


Discography

'Dream of The Miner's Child ' December 2012
'Hello Stranger' Live with The Maybelles 2011.
'Songs for Love Drunk Sinners' 2008
'Leavin' Town' The Maybelles 2007
'White Trash Jenny' The Maybelles 2006
'Songs for My Baby' with Melissa Carper 2004
'No Country ' 2003 - Village Voice Picks
'Between the Bridges' 2001 - Title Track in Award winning documentary (Malibu Film Fest Jury Prize)

Photos

Bio

Folk Alliance International, Toronto, Canada.
Private Showcase Schedule:
Little Red Hen Room 1262
Thurs: 2:30 pm & Midnight
Fri: 12:30 am
Sat Midnight

Access Films Blue Room 1159
Friday 2:30pm

Born in Yorkshire, England, Bell has made New York City her main home since going there as a student teacher at nineteen. Her sense of adventure led to stints living in New Orleans, The Ozarks, Colorado, and New Mexico. In recent years, Bell has played both sides of the Atlantic from Greyfox Bluegrass Festival (NY), International Bluegrass Music Awards (Nashville), to Glastonbury and Broadstairs Folk Festivals, England.
'Maybe growing up in Yorkshire is what sets Jan Bell apart from the run of local lady folkies. Or maybe its the slide guitars, harmonicas, mandolins and banjos. Dark, old timey spareness......Gorgeous ' Editors Choice, Village Voice.

Her new album ''Dream of the Miner's Child' is out December 2012 and has already garnered several 4 star reviews. It features special guests Alice Gerrard, Jolie Holland, Casey Neill, Samantha Parton (of The Be Good Tanyas), Truckstop Honeymoon, Will Scott, The Carper Family, and her Brooklyn band The Maybelles.

4 STARS 'Enchantingly fusing Anglo-Americana sounds Jan Bell has a wonderful knack of breathing new life into time worn folk tales and rare used human stories. Yorkshire-born, her 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 sing such ‘English’ songs as “Dirty Old Town or her own “Yorkshire Water” it’s plainly obvious she’s not forgotten her Yorkshire roots'. Maverick Magazine

4 ½ STARS 'A beautiful blend of old-timey, folk and alt. country that all ties together perfectly. This remarkable album probably has the most ‘rural down home’ feel of just about any album I’ve heard..' American Roots UK

There are songs by emerging and established American and British songwriters; traditional folk songs; and a number of Bell's own. WFUV's (Fordham University Public Radio) Bob Sherman featured her original 'Aunt Molly Jackson' on his legendary radio show 'Woody's Children' (Oct. 2012).

After hearing her song about British farmers, Jan was invited to write and perform new melodies to found lyrics by The Woody Guthrie Archives. Another unforgettable engagement was at a Manhattan Penitentiary: "The inmates truly loved Jan's music!" President, NY Judges Association.

Music as a way of telling stories and bringing people together made a life long impact on Bell during the year long miners strike of 1984. Her Grandfather went down the mine as a boy, and had worked there his whole life at the time of the strike. There are songs about him and village life on the album.

'Making waves in the home of country...a latter day Loretta Lynn whose roots still show' Sunday Times of London, UK.

It all began when Jan came to America as a student teaching theatre and story telling. NYC being nearby, she soon fell in with the independent theater and acoustic music community. In 1999, Jan made her home in a developing arts neighborhood D.u.m.b.o. down by the Brooklyn Bridge where she launched a weekly songwriter series at an iron workers bar, and turned old maritime loading docks into Live Music Stages featuring artists who identified with the genre known as Americana.
"Jan's stage was the highlight of the festival!" Time Out, NY
Featured acts included The Be Good Tanyas, The WIYOS, Luminescent Orchestrii, Baby Gramps, The Mammals, Jesse Harris and many more - unbeknownst to them on the verge of international success.
In 2008 Samantha Parton (of The Be Good Tanyas) produced Jan's solo album. Long time friends since busking in New Orleans together - it went on to win Alt. Country Album of the Year - Independent Music Awards.

Jan teaches songwriting classes at the Jalopy School of Music and Theatre who won the Village Voice award in the music venue category 2011.
Along the way Opening/Support dates include: Emmylou Harris; Wanda Jackson; Ray Charles (with Mary Fly); Odetta; Ferron; and Steve Earle.

Jan is a member of several organizations that support original touring artists. In 1999 Jan founded Little Red Hen Music as a member organization of the National Folk Alliance. In 2011 she joined the Emerging Leadership Institute at APAP (Association of performing Arts Presenters).

AWARDS:
Independent Music Awards WINNER Alt. Country Album of the year 2008. People's Choice Award

Top 3 Albums of the year - CMR Nashville.UK

TOP 10 Folk Albums (Village Voice)

First Place - New Orleans City Life Singer/songwriter.

Winner New Jersey Folk Fest Singer Songwriter.

Mayor Bloomberg's Award for Women in Business, NYC
Superfine cites Jan Bell and Little Red Hen Music in receipt of this coveted prize.

Brooklyn Country Music Hall of Fame Award 2009
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