Sue West, born in northern Wisconsin, has been a voice for traditional folk music and old time in the Upper Midwest. Sue is the 2009 Rural Roots Music Commission award winner for best folk music cd, for "Sue West Live," and this year will receive their 2013 award for best old time folk cd, for this album, "Words Of a Friend." Sue is a member of such groups as the Rush River Ramblers, Rosewood Folk Ensemble, Kinni Song Sisters, and the Strictly Traditional String Band. Sue plays many different acoustic instruments, most notably the guitar, including flatpicking, fingerstyle, and Carter Family style playing. Her voice is both soft and steely, likened to Joan Baez, Jean Ritchie, Karen Dalton, or Joni Mitchell. While not quite like any of those stars, the point is easy to make...Sue's beautiful, singular voice is clear, precise, striking, expressive, artistic, changeable, and deeply memorable. Joined here by some of the Upper Midwest's most reknowned musicians, Sue has crafted an album of newly interpreted traditional song and tunes, striking and intelligent covers, and world-changing originals. The songs run the full spectrum of the human heart and experience. Lightness, joy, darkness, hearkening, and crime are all found within the tracks. Liner notes describe the origin of each track. The stunning cd cover includes art from Susan Waughtal and Joellen Preston, and is designed by Jackson/Spencer of Cedarburg, WI. The album was recorded and produced by Dakota Dave Hull at Arabica Studio, and mixed at Creation Audio, Minneapolis, MN.
The theme of friendship evolved throughout the project, and is the theme of the cover track. This theme of relationship, trust, hard knocks, and love, winds its way though the album. By the end, one is wondering if it is safe to go amongst people again, but finds themselves wishing to, very deeply. Anyone who has loved, lost, been left, grieved, delighted, fallen in love at first sight, or found a friend for life, and maybe lost them again, will find themselves in these songs. The traditional tunes and rhythms keep one dancing above the flood, even so. This album is full of the human spirit of connection....a spirit which never quits hoping for love, reunion, and celebration.
Recorded at Arabica Studio in MInneapolis. Dakota Dave Hull was the recording engineer for the album. Hull believes in one big microphone, no filtering, digital tinkering, or click track, shooting for the kind of sound one had in the studios that captured the old 78s. The naked sound is what is captured.
Hull usually records the "known" musicians on the Minneapolis acoustic scene...Spider John Koerner, Eric Peltoniemi, Paul Geremia, Kari Larson, Pop Wagner, Phil Heywood, Claudia Schmidt, Adam Kiesling of Pert Near Sandstone, Cam Waters, Meghan Dudle, Duck Baker and Daithi Sproule. On "Words Of a Friend," Hull was taking a chance on a small-time folk musician from a one-horse town in Western Wisconsin. Instead of a musician who had cut their teeth on Celtic artists, Appalachia, the Piedmont and the Delta, urban folk, and Dylan, here was a quiet rural voice more in tune with tiny country churches, wedding dance polka bands, lumberjack fiddlers, and the sounds of the transistor radio echoing in a dairy barn. It happens that this voice was also shaped by early exposure to the Seeger-Lomax ballad books, the great musicians of the Folk Scare, and the family's large hand-crank Edison cylinder collection. In adult life, West has been a working musician in a women's songwriting ensemble and a string band, playing for community gatherings and square dances. Attendance at some of the region's folk festivals and at Bluff Country Gathering has brought Sue the opportunity for musical education from Alice Gerrard, Ginny Hawker, Tracey Schwartz, Big Medicine, Double Decker Stringband, and many others. Fingerstyle and Carter Family guitar lessons from Brian Barnes of Stoney Lonesome and Cafe Accordion was a great opportunity for Sue to deepen her love of guitar playing. Flatpicking guitar lessons from Walter Croll and Chris Silver brought a whole new world to her, and her own flatpicking and arranging can be heard on "Good For the Tongue Hornpipe," which was taken from a 1920's WPA track of lumberjack fiddler Leizime Brusoe.
From this quiet rural voice, there is a view of life in the back 40, the tar paper shack, the Great Lakes shipping vessel, the county jail cell, and the rough campsite. Life is seen not by street light but by lantern light, or starlight on the water, and listening to the album, one is brought into the delicacy and bedrock sanctity of that quiet world.
Along with that rural voice of Sue West, Hull brought in the Midwest's finest studio musicians...himself on baritone guitar, Dan Newton on accordion, Laura MacKenzie on low whistle, Sandra Kay Njoes on upright bass, and Adam Kiesling on banjo. A chance crossroads with North Carolina fiddler Kenny Jackson of Big Medicine, The Bowrockers, and the Ryhthm Rats made the studio arrangements complete.
West's songwriting has been noted as a strength, and the album contains her own original songs as well as traditional songs, which have had their lyrics tweaked and added to by West's fine lyrical filter. Two striking and intelligent cover tunes are included as well. "The Last to Know" and "Standing By the Water" are two of the most striking pieces on the album. The first was penned and originally recorded by Missoula, Montana's finest musician and bard, Richie Reinholdt. The second by Greg Hodapp of Idaho, a Great Lakes maritime waltz, written and recorded while he lived in Ashland, Wi.
A new review from National Traditional Country Music Association's Bob Everhart, in Country Music News International:
"Sue West is my favorite folk singer. That's a pretty broad statement from someone who listens to all kinds of music. This particular project however is without a doubt one of the nicest, prettiest, sincerest, musical productions in authentic 'folk music' I've heard in several decades. Starting with Sue West's incredible songwriting abilities, it's a sheer 'wonder' that she can write such sensitive words, knowing she's a mom, she has a job, she's a 'normal' woman who also has the 'gift of music.'
I love it when these incredibly interesting people manage to bring their 'secret' to the front. Sue has been influenced by a number of remarkable artists, not the least of them Utah Phillips, and a ton of others. How do I know this? I recorded six albums for Moses Asch of Folkways Records, that's how I know. I've learned, listened, and heeded what good folk artists are about and what they reveal. Not just about their music, but about themselves.
That's how I know Sue West the songwriter, but even more impressive is Sue West the singer. Do you like Joan Baez or Judy Collins? Oh yes, you can hear these wonderful voices in Sue West and especially her 'own' voice and style. Hear her sing without accompaniment on "The Pearl" and then you will understand what 'old-time' folk music is all about.
Then there's Sue West the recording artist. My my my she knew exactly what she wanted in each and every song. My first impressions: Dan Newton on accordion. Not on every song of course but just the right touch (especially nice on "Take A Little Care For Me"), along with the low whistle of Laura MacKenzie occasionally (best on 'You Pretty Girls Of Michigan'). Sandra K Njoes added a delicious acoustic bass throughout the mix. Two other instruments that lend such beautiful authenticity to the entire: Kenny Jackson on fiddle and Adam Kiesling on banjo (especially nice frailing style on "Cottonmill Girls."
Then there's Sue West the mixer and engineer in the studio. Yes, it took some time to get this all accomplished, but Sue has a product that she can be proud of forever and ever. I almost forgot a most important addition to the final presentation. Popular folk artist Dakota Dave Hull also provided baritone guitar, but more importantly made a major contribution at his studio Arabica in Minneapolis, as well as sitting on the mix board and the mastering process, as well as co-producing with Sue. The good news about Dakota Dave Hull is that he goes into America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame this year. Other good news is that the Rural Roots Music Commission has selected Sue's CD as their "Old Time Folk Music CD of the Year" award.
Thank you so much Sue West for this most pleasant and certainly professionally produced number one CD. I love it. Lest I forget, the CD insert is also a Sue West creation, and it's incredibly well done right down to her new icon featuring a guitar and a rural farm scene helped along by Mike Farley.
Bob Everhart, Reviewer, www.ntcma.net