Martha Redbone brings roots music, eclectic mix to The Kate Jan. 5
Published 12:00 am, Monday, January 1, 2018
In the calm, cold heart of winter in Connecticut beats a rich pulse of American roots music during this first week in 2018.
Martha Redbone, who played to a large crowd on the New Haven Green during the 2014 International Festival of Arts & Ideas, will visit Old Saybrook for a trio concert of her Martha Redbone Roots Project at the The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 5.
Her music is rich, melodic and flavored by her family’s background from Kentucky to Oklahoma to Brooklyn, N.Y.
“One of the things that I feel honored to do is basically share my family’s story through music,” said Redbone in phone chat from her New York City home the other day. “The America that I know of is based on working families who have built the country. Which is why they call it ‘folk’ music, because it is music that the folks, the people, brought from their original homelands. ... Each group of people who came to live here has added their kind-of magic and when we put it all together, we get this beautiful gumbo of sound.”
Redbone’s mother was Native American and her father was African American but she was raised by her mother and grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Clinch Mountain in Virginia and then gritty Brooklyn.
The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main St., Old Saybrook. Friday, Jan. 5, 8 p.m. $35. 877-503-1286, www.thekate.org
She said like the Connecticut tribes, her mother’s roots are in a woodlands people with their own musical traditions. So Redbone’s music will sometimes include pieces from the Cherokee-Chocktaw language or Native American stomp chants, also called “vocables” (hey-yah, hey-yah etc. and other “scat”-like sounds) but the rest of her music is more conventionally entertaining.
“(Along) with the traditional music that I incorporate in my music, I’m also singing blues, I’m also singing gospel, I’m also singing country and bluegrass so that it’s kind of a combination of everything that I’ve been influenced and all kind of all mixed together, in a way.”
Asked about her 2014 visit to New Haven, Redbone said, “It was one of my favorite festivals. We had a great, great time. It was a beautiful weekend of music. ... a great space on a beautiful lawn in the middle of town. It was gorgeous ... and we were received very well.”
Redbone, who was mentored by Ohio Players/P-Funk guy Walter “Junie” Morrison years ago, said what happens at festivals is that people come for a love of music and then discover someone they had never heard of before.
As if Redbone’s music isn’t diverse enough, she recorded an album called “The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake,” which was produced by John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and features the words of Romantic Age poet/painter William Blake. Talk about fusion.
“My husband and music director (U.K.-raised) Aaron Whitby ... my longtime collaborator, he’s the one who rediscovered the book on our shelves and thought it would make a great (focus). ... He read one of the poems and said, ‘Oh, this sounds like kind of like a (Allan Jay) Lerner ballad. This would be really cool’ (to) ... set some of these poems to this mountain music.
“We had no idea that we would be inspired by so many of these poems. ... And also the message is so profound. ... William Blake wrote these poems in time of war, and questioned the idea of church and state, and in the height of trans-Atlantic slavery. And here were 200 years later and we’re still in a time of war and trying to figure out how to get along with each other.”
Redbone has a taste for folksy tunes of social activism, specifically from the civil rights era —“songs about love and songs about coming together, Pete Seeger tunes and the Staples Singers, you know. I find myself singing a lot of those songs... And the audience can expect to kind of be taken to church and back home again, warm and fuzzy, like a hot cup of cocoa. ... It’ll be a lot of fun.”
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