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The Mapmaker's Daughter

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Album Review

It's no secret that there's a growing roots music movement happening in the United States. All over the nation, kids are picking up acoustic instruments and playing folk music or writing their own folk-like tunes. The M Shanghai String Band got together over dinner in a Brooklyn Chinese restaurant called M Shanghai in 2001, hence the band's moniker, and they've been tearing up clubs around the country ever since. With six songwriters and 11 members, the band has a lot of balls to keep in the air, but despite the expansive personnel, the arrangements stay tight and uncluttered. Their sound borrows from bluegrass, folk, old-timey, and country music, but they put their own stamp on the music, without ever settling down into a category you can name. The title track, "Mapmaker's Daughter," is a mysterious, poetic love song with a bluegrassy midtempo groove, beautiful male and female harmonies, and the country-style harmonica of Corin See adding unexpected bluesy accents. "Gallows Bird" sounds like it could be a hundred years old, a banjo and fiddle rave-up taken at a blinding speed. It dances between heaven and hell with some amazing fiddling and See's harmonica driving the tempo to the wall. Philippa Thompson's "Corny Love Song" is a kick-up-your-heels country kiss-off to a no-good boyfriend. Great fiddle and harmonica work contribute to the tune's sassy, feel-good vibe. Thompson looks at the carnal side of love on "Cookie Jar," a Dixieland tune that insists size does matter, at least when you're talking about cookie jars. Special guest Ken Thomson sets the mood with his fluid clarinet and Richard Morris supplies tasty mandolin work. Thompson plays musical saw and spoons on the bridge. Guitarist Matt Schickele sings his own "Sun Is Gone," a ballad full of timeless natural images, in a unique voice. His laid-back delivery and the way he rolls and elongates his vowels give the song a hushed, somnambulistic feel. No folk song collection would be complete without a few songs about death and hard times. "Dying Day" is a bluegrass ballad, a song from a ghost to his living wife, with a dark hint of mortality; "Meteor Storm" introduces a soul-stealing spirit with dramatic fiddling and banjo that intensify the tune's drama; and "Groundhog's Day" sounds like an ancient lament. Thompson's vocal and a spectral fiddle line lay out the tale of a weary abused soul wandering through a wasted landscape. Her grief has an almost supernatural feel, and when the full band comes in it's a jarring moment, a celebration of survival in the face of crushing odds. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Customer Reviews

Modern day folk... and it's amazing!

I only recently discovered this band... while they were performing in the basement of the upscale Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn, NY of the same name. Their performance was absolutely breathtaking and a real breath of fresh air. And so is this new record. The band's amazing ensemble of over 12 performers--ranging from fiddle to harmonica to banjo to stand up bass (and instruments i'd never really seen before)--has produced an album that feels like driving through the Blue Ridge Ridge Mountains of North Carolina 100 years ago. And it's a great drive... Check it out, especially "Angel Full of Bourbon."

I think you'll like it.

You know how there's some music that you want to listen to so many times that you can't play it anymore while anyone else is home, because they will groan? This is that band. I have listened to Money Up (earlier record) at least 11 times in a row in the car. I put this band on every CD I make for someone. If you like old-time, or appreciate good melodies, or keen harmony, you will like M Shanghai.

Customer Ratings