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Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin: Reviews

This is the richest folk recording that I have heard in a long time, truly entertaining and inspiring at the same time. With its happy coexistence of rampant eclecticism and traditionalism, it's like nothing else ..... unconventionally new and traditionally right at the same time

Henry Kaiser - Best Recordings of 1999

Jody's singing is stunning and he beautifully accompanies himself on guitar, mandolin, oud, and banjo. Some of the songs may be familiar but Jody injects them with new life and meaning.... Masterful performance from a master.

Nancy Scott - Roots & Rhythm

For those who don’t know it yet, Stecher is a National Treasure.

Jody is a National Treasure.

Stecher, at this point in time, must rank as a national treasure...

Hermon Joyner - Mandolin Magazine

Englishman Martin Carthy is right in telling us Americans that Jody Stecher is a national treasure. So is Kate Brislin. 

WONDERS AND SIGNS

Review from Bluegrass Unlimited

 

Jody Stecher, that musical wunderkind (in spite of his now-white hair) has finally released an album of all-original songs and tunes. He said he got brave enough to do this when folks started asking him not “Did you write that song?” but “Where did you learn that song?”. I use the word meaning “wonder child” not only because Jody is such a formidable player on so many instruments (guitar, mandolin, mandola, and banjo) but also because, like a kid, he still loves to play, and that joy comes through on Wonders & Signs.

 

Not that all these compositions are happy. The disc opens strong with “Five Rode Up To Phoenix”, a tribute to the late Forrest Rose, Jody’s bandmate in Perfect Strangers who died at a jam session after a gig. A “true song” in the finest bluegrass tradition, the chorus laments : Five rode up to Phoenix, but four rode down next day. Then there is “Fly Away Home”, undoubtedly the most heartbreaking, yet ultimately joyous song on the CD. No one who has endured the pain of a parent with dementia can remain unmoved after hearing: All of your children holding you tight/Shepherding you from roaming the night.... I don’t want you to die/I just want you to fly.

 

Figuring out Jody’s words can be challenging. Some are strange (“Kabul Grinder” ??) and at times he makes them march (“The Southwest Train.” )  Fortunately his website resolves all difficulties and provides origins and explanations —well work a click of the mouse if only to get a clue about the “generally misinterpreted” “Osama’s Pajamas”.

 

A cast of fine musicians supports Jody on this project: long-time partner Kate Brislin, Keith Little, Paul Knight, Chad Manning, Eric and Suzy Thompson, and Bill Evans. Some selections are full-band numbers, others feature just Jody with guitar or banjo. Wonders & Signs is not a collection of songs you are going to absorb in a few absent-minded listenings. This is an album that keeps on giving. Dive in, listen closely, and ponder the question Jody asks in “ {At} Waterloo” : How many futures exist side by side? That should keep you busy!

Murphy Henry - Bluegrass Unlimited

 

Since the 1970s, Jody Stecher has been a veritable one-man Library of Congress of folk music, touring, recording, and celebrating music of various folk traditions, especially Americana. The Brooklyn-born Stecher’s reedy voice sounds like he hails from some deep Appalachian holler, but his sensibility encompasses blues, old-time, and the whole panoply of folk, from the Carter Family to Indian ragas (he studied Indian classical music for years and once collaborated on an album with sitarist Krishna Bhatt). After a lifetime of mining trad mother lodes, Wonders and Signs is Stecher’s first album of all-original tunes, and it’s a winner. Stecher plays guitar, mandolin, mandola, and banjo and is joined by his wife and duo partner Kate Brislin (vocals), folk fixtures Eric (guitar) and Suzy Thompson (fiddle and accordion), banjo master Bill Evans, fiddler extraordinaire Chad Manning, and more. Most of the songs here sound like they’re 80 years old or more, but several are sharply contemporary: “Long Time A-Comin’” laments current efforts to dismantle hard-won social-safety-net programs; “Weasels and Snakes” blames both political parties for the suffering foisted on the populace by “too big to fail” banks; “Osama’s Pajamas” sends up some popular misconceptions and contradictions stemming from the never-ending “war on terror.” Other songs, however, are far more personal: “Fly Away Home” is a heartbreaking ode to Stecher’s mother, who suffered from dementia; and “The Waters of Caney” is a seven-minute, solo-voice-and-guitar voyage through a dreamscape and the album’s emotional center of gravity. Stecher’s songs and imagination, and the performances here, are by turns low-key and exhilarating, informal and erudite, introspective and gregarious, and show why roots music will always remain relevant, in any time or culture. (Vegetiboy) --PHIL CATALFO

Phil Catalfo - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

 Jody Stecher is arguably one of the finest first wave old-time revivalists. His recordings, often with partner Kate Brislin, combine a keen understanding of the history of our music, with a profound instrumental prowess (mandolin, banjo and guitar), sublimely honest vocals and an obvious deep love of the music. This new CD is his first featuring all material he wrote or co-wrote, but this is a collection of songs that are steeped in the traditions that Stecher has made his stock and trade for some 40 years, and backing from Brislin and a host of fantastic Bay area musicians does not disappoint. Jody writes that he hopes the material will make the listener laugh and cry ... and with songs like the swinging opener that celebrates the life of a bandmate who passed away during an Arizona tour, Jody proves himself a writer able to straddle that range. — MDM 

MDM - Sing Out!

 

Jody Stecher has been a mainstay of the folk music and old time music scene since the 1960s and has inspired various people like David Bromberg, Jerry Garcia, and David Grisman. Currently, he plays in Pete Rowan’s bluegrass band. Wonders & Signs is his latest solo album and is somewhat unique, in that he also wrote all these songs, except for two that he was co-writer on. In hearing people talk and write about Stecher, it is obvious that he is held in high regard among his peers and after hearing this CD, I can see why. It is seldom that I’ve heard such unvarnished, heartfelt songs that obviously come from a place of personal truth.

Starting with the first song, “Five Rode up to Phoenix,” which is a song that celebrates the life of a band member—Forrest Rose, who played bass in a bluegrass band, Perfect Strangers, with Stecher for about seven years—that died while on a road trip. As the chorus goes, “Five rode up to Phoenix, Five rode up to play, Five rode up to Phoenix, But four rode down next day.” Stecher doesn’t shy away from politics, either. He addresses the recent fight against the advances of the New Deal and making a real, living wage in “Long Time a Comin’” and examines the political machinations that have turned terrorists into modern day Boogie Men in “Osama’s Pajamas.” But his sense of humor is never far away and is sometimes on full display, as in the song, “The Kabul Grinder,” which is an ode to a frankly awesome sandwich.

Stecher’s mandolin playing is easy on the ears as can be. He has a casual grace to his phrasing that makes everything he does seem like a charming and clever afterthought. He plays like he has been doing it forever. His opening duet with fiddle player, Chad Manning, on “Kenny in Kansas City” is a study in effortless technique, as is his solo in “Long Time a Comin’”. Hearing his playing, it’s easy to see that Stecher was probably influenced David Grisman’s own personal style of playing. They certainly have a lot of elements in common.

 Some people could consider this album to be something of an anachronism in that these are songs that feel and sound as if they are from a long time ago, but the content is very contemporary in nature. Like the best of folk music of the 60s, Wonders & Signstakes a close look at the times we live in and makes intelligent comments about what is going on around us. Stecher also manages to craft some fine and fresh songs out of them. While the mandolin sometimes takes the backseat to Stecher’s singing, Wonders & Signsis, as the name suggests, quite wonderful. 

Hermon Joyner - Mandolin Magazine

Normally, no one wants to hear about your dreams. Jody, though, uses them as a springboard for artistry that goes beyond their origin.... Many of the songs, although personal, have enough universal appeal to become traditional in the future.

Lyle Lofgren - The Old-Time Herald

EARLY RESPONSES TO WONDERS AND SIGNS.

These are real and unsolicited.

Beautiful, amazing. Thank You!  -s.t.

Thanks, Jody for recording these great songs. I can't decide on which ones I like best so I'll just play them all, over and over -d.h.

WOW. Great stuff - filled with Wonders, indeed!  -c.g.


I have been listening to Wonders and Signs again and again; it is a fine work, intriguing and alive.  I’m so glad you made that recording.  p.r.


I've been listening to WONDERS AND SIGNS and just as I expected it's my new favorite CD. Wonderful!!!!!!  -c.m

The liner notes are so excellent on the website! Loving the CD, although I have renamed it 'The Kabul Grinder & some other Songs' :0 " - j.m.

" What a pleasure" -d. f.

The new album is absolutely wonderful  -m.g.

Your CD arrived this week!  It's fantastic! I've listened to it many times since, ... a splendid collection of songs and tunes..I'd love to get a dozen or so to send out as holiday gifts.  k.l.

I want to say how much I admire and enjoy Wonders and Signs. The performances on the CD are a joy to the ear, heart and soul.  It abounds in musical treasures.-r.g.

The audio fidelity on "Gwendolyn McGrath" was so natural I turned around and checked the back seat for live musicians.  -j.s.

The album arrived and has already spun its way into my heart....A wonderful collection of highly original songs and little wonder folks sometimes ask if they are traditional. ..I think these songs have wings - they will find a home. -w.f.

Your songs are rich and potent... My respect and congratulations. m.s.


Love the CD!!! The cover is great, the title is great, the melodies are great, the lyrics are great..—need I say that the musicianship is great (of course!!)—and the whole wild rumpus is wonderfully enjoyable  (with no mess and much finesse :-).  j.m.


Great album!  I love all the songs!  I love the collage graphic on the CD!  I love the liner notes!  DO MORE!!!  -m.r.

 

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