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Ear Bliss: Insider’s guide to the music of the Newport Folk Festival

July 22, 2013

The Milk Carton Kids

Part One

What’s the hottest music ticket once again this summer in Rhode Island? The fact the entire event was nearly all sold out in January before they had even begun announcing performers, it’s pretty safe to say the Newport Folk Festival gets the nod.

For the last half dozen years or so, the festival would begin with a small Friday night show at the Newport Casino. Last near they bumped things up a notch moving to Fort Adams State Park, home of the Saturday and Sunday festivities, for an evening of music headlined by Wilco. The success of that night, and the festival in general, has led to what this year will be three full days of music beginning on Friday morning.
Whereas the headliners on Friday’s bill are known quantities (Feist, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Mountain Goats), festivals like Newport Folk are also about discovery, namely the less familiar acts appearing on the smaller stages on the festival grounds.
For the next three weeks, Ear Bliss will provide an insider’s guide to some of those acts without the clout of a Beck or Jim James. This first week is dedicated to Friday performers. One of the must-see events on Friday is the “Newport Homegrown” stage presented by The Low Anthem and featuring four up and coming Rhode Island acts including Roz Raskin & the Rice Cakes, Last Good Tooth, Death Vessel and Vudu Sister.
Let’s dig in.

Band: Phosphorescent
From: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Latest album: Muchacho (2013, Dead Oceans Records)
Recommended If You Like (RIYL): My Morning Jacket, Neil Young, Deer Tick
Description: My Morning Jacket gone Rhinestone cowboy.
Tidbit: The 2009 album by Phosphorescent titled To Willie was a cosmic country collection comprised entirely Willie Nelson covers.

Band: J.D. McPherson
From: Broken Arrow, Okla.
Latest album: Signs & Signifiers (2012, Rounder Records)
RIYL: Rockabilly legends Ronnie Dawson and Johnny Carroll
Description: Scorching, full-on old school rockabilly with a 100 percent hip-shaking guarantee from one of the hottest combos going.
Tidbit: Rolling Stone magazine named McPherson a top artist to watch in 2012.

Band: The Milk Carton Kids
From: Eagle Rock, Calif.
Latest album: The Ash & Clay (2013, Anti Records)
RIYL: The Everly Brothers, Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, Blue Sky Boys
Description: Ultra-pure close harmony in the brother duet tradition with an all-acoustic setting and possessing a quiet intensity.
Tidbit: Quickly becoming darlings of the Prairie Home Companion scene.

Band: Kingsley Flood
From: Boston, Mass. and Washington, D.C.
Latest album: Battles (2013, self-released)
Description: The band itself cites everything from the soul and R&B sounds of the Stax Records catalogue to the The Kinks and The Clash as influential in the making of Battles.
Tidbit: December saw Kingsley Flood win the Boston Music Award for Americana act of the year.

Band: John McCauley
From: Providence, R.I.
RIYL: Deer Tick (duh!), Diamond Rugs (double duh!)
Description: Be it Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs or solo. Mr. McCauley is an absolutely compelling performer with an undeniable stage presence.
Tidbit: These days, McCauley resides in Nashville. This past April he was named to the Newport Folk Festival’s Board of Advisors. His band Deer Tick has a new album due out in September.

Band: The Last Bison
From: Southeastern Virginia
Latest album: Inheritance (EP) (2013, Universal Republic Records)
RIYL: The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes
Description: Mountain music meets chamber music.
Tidbit: The band is a multi-family affair led by Ben Hardesty and includes his father Dan, sister Annah, and brothers Jay and Andrew Benfante.

Band: Vudu Sister
From: Providence, R.I.
Latest album: Household Items (2013, Columbus Recording Company)
RIYL: Nirvana gone freak folk
Description: Alternative anti-folk grunge. Front man Keith McCurdy will grab your attention.
Tidbit: Vudu Sisters’ new release is the debut for the Ben Knox Miller-helmed Columbus Recording Company based out of the Columbus Theater in Providence.

Band: Last Good Tooth
From: Providence, R.I.
Latest album: Not Without Work and Rest (2013, Team Love Records)
RIYL: Avett Brothers, Violent Femmes
Description: Appalachia meets the Garage with jam spread all over it.
Tidbit: The band members of Last Good Tooth met at RISD.

Band: Roz Raskin & the Rice Cakes
From: Providence, R.I.
Latest album: Monster Man (2011, self-released EP)
RIYL: Radiohead gone pop.
Description: Folk-inspired pop music chock full of melody.
Tidbit: Winners of the 2012 WBRU Rock Hunt with a new album planned for release at the end of 2013.

(Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.)

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