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People's Picks: Nora Brown

People's Picks: Nora Brown
People's Picks: Nora Brown | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Just the other day walking around my new town I stumbled upon a record shop. As I flipped through albums in the "Country" section, I felt a familiar thick and soft paper-y cover that I recognised as an old Folkways record. It was a Neil Duddy album - The Donegal Piper. It's been on repeat lately. Moving to a new place, it was comforting to come across the familiar feel of this old record.

I really enjoyed putting this playlist together. As I started to scroll through the catalog online, I was constantly surprised by the records I recognised - I realized that most of the first old-time music I ever listened to were folkways releases. When I was about 10 I inherited a good amount of records from my first music teacher - lots of Roscoe Holcomb, Rufus Crisp, Pete Steele, The New Lost City Ramblers and those banjo compilation records. Though I’d been playing music before, these old records were my introduction to the many styles and varieties of banjo playing across the tradition. A throughline between them all was the label.

The wide variety and volume of the traditional music in the folkways collection is incredible, but what is also remarkable is the timelessness of the label! Just as Pete Steele's 1958 record was so inspiring to me starting out to play, so was Anna and Elizabeth’s 2018 record The Invisible Comes to Us, totally expanding my understanding of the ways to interpret old music. It's pretty cool that Folkways has maintained its relevance to this day, bringing us a reliable and comprehensive archive of traditional music, old and new.

Nora Brown plays traditional music that’s focused on southern Appalachian banjo and guitar. She performs solo and, on her latest EP Lady of the Lake, as a duo with award-winning fiddler Steph Coleman. Beginning at age 6 under the tutelage of the late musician and scholar Shlomo Pestcoe, Brown also counts Alice Gerrard, George Gibson, and the late John Cohen, Lee Sexton, and Art Rosenbaum among her teachers and mentors. Just seventeen years old at the time of publication, Brown has released 3 albums, a single, and an EP on Jalopy Records–all of which have charted on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts during the first week of release. Across each haunting collection of traditional music, Brown’s playing is lucid, confident, and full of grace.
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