By Matt Wickstrom
Fresh off the release of 2016’s “Sticks and Stones”, Colorado’s Gipsy Moon are back with “Songs of Olde, Vol. 1”. The record sees the group step away from its bluegrass roots for a more eclectic, worldly vibe.
According to mandolinist Silas Herman, son of Leftover Salmon guitarist Vince Herman, the concept of the record is “to take traditional songs from all around the world and try to put our own spin on them”. Songs range from Percy Montrose’s “Clementine” to Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”, with Russian folk tunes, Middle Eastern love ballads and more sprinkled in.
Joining Herman in Gipsy Moon are Mackenzie Paige on guitar, banjo and lead vocals; Andrew Connley on cello, Matt Cantor on upright bass, Omar Al’Tbal on percussion and Oliver Jacobson on fiddle.
The evolution is of Gipsy Moon’s sound is aided by the addition of Al’Tbal last summer and Jacobson this spring. According to Cantor, his first encounter with Al’Tbal was on the street when he noticed the drummer taking video of him busking. Cantor later ran into him on the street when Al’Tbal tried to get him to sign a petition to raise Colorado’s minimum wage, but the two ended up just talking about music, specifically Al’Tbal’s background in world percussion. Per Cantor, the group had performed with several traditional drummers in the past, but never one with a worldly background such as Al’Tbal.
Per Cantor, the group had performed with several traditional drummers in the past, but never one with a worldly background such as Al’Tbal.
“We had played with drummers and violin players before, and both I feel accentuate our sounds rather than dilute it,” Cantor said. “What I mean by that is that we’ve played with drummers before that had a normal kit but we felt it made us sound less like ourselves. When we began playing with Omar we immediately realized “this is the sound we’re going for.””
Cantor connected with Jacobson through email thanks to a shared connection from his high school days. While Jacobson doesn’t appear on “Songs of Olde, Vol. 1”, he recently joined the band on a tour through the Midwest and Southeast U.S., including a stop May 7 at Cosmic Charlie’s in Lexington. According to Al’Tbal, Jacobson will be joining the group full-time, adding yet another dimension to the group’s diverse sound.
“Songs of Olde”, recorded at Denver’s Silo Sound, started out with the idea of having an EP with only five or six songs of covers, but the songs within are hardly covers because they’re all very old and traditional songs. For example, “Uskadara” hasn’t been recorded in the U.S. since the 50s.
According to Paige, each member of the group has interests in old-time music. The group had been wanting to release a compilation of traditional songs with their own unique flare, but wanted to keep it separate from any new originals they composed, and thus “Songs of Olde, Vol. 1” was born. The group plans on releasing more volumes in the future.
Per Paige, while the of the songs replicated on the album are well-aged, they still connect with people today just as they did at the times they originated.
“This is a really cool concept in the fact that these songs are songs that people resonate with whether you know them or not,” Paige said. “You can tell that music is in our DNA in some form or another, because people will come up to me and be like “That’s a traditional song from this country” and it’s not the country the song is from technically. At some point, you’re like “Where’s a song from?” These songs get passed around from countries and generations and become more of a connecting thing than a separating thing.”
Paige added that one of the most perplexing challenges the group faced in taking on the project was translating songs, many of them in other languages, to English, and from there smoothing out the translations so they read smoothly and fit the song’s melody.
“Oftentimes I ran into the problem of there not being enough syllables in the English translation to complete the melodic line, so I had to insert other words to make the melody match,” Paige said. “That’s the crazy thing about working with these songs, they’re already very distinct in their melody and concept. Other languages have much longer words than English, so it’s fun to put the puzzle pieces together in the sense of re-framing these lyrics.”
To purchase “Songs of Olde”, view upcoming tour dates and much more Gipsy Moon-related, visit the band’s official web site.