Rare is it in traditional folk music to encounter an artist so overtly involved in the activity of structured teaching. But Evie Ladin is a teacher, a teacher offering beginning banjo lessons on the internet. She has also studied African dance and, according to her website, created an African Studies in Dance major at Brown University.
These seemingly disparate influences are woven together artfully on the Evie Ladin Band’s newest independent release, Jump the Fire. Her graceful clawhammer-style banjo is a common thread running through the colorful tapestry of imaginative songs which, while exceptionally diverse, also seem to hang together as a whole by means of Ms. Ladin’s songwriting and interpretative sensibilities. Backed by bandmates Keith Terry (bass, percussion, vocals) and Erik Pearson (guitar, bass, banjo, vocals), Evie’s sound is enhanced by her and Keith Terry’s unique and inventive use of “body music” or “body percussion.” While the body percussion sounds can be clearly discerned on the record, it isn’t until the body percussion is witnessed live that one can fully appreciate just how one-of-a-kind this highly entertaining band truly is.
While most of the thirteen songs on Jump the Fire were penned by Evie Ladin, “Honey Lou” is from the Carter Family’s essential folk collection, “Have It All” features lines from the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Cliff, and Paul McCartney, and “Ease on Down” is a mash-up of two traditional songs. Ms. Ladin’s songwriting demonstrates admirable versatility, touching on the varied themes of aging ("Have It All"), a jilted lover’s lament ("Only You"), philosophical exploration ("Under the Waterline"), and direct, adult human desire ("Cozy," "Heat of the Day"). Frank sincerity marks “Two = 3,” a tender declaration that love consummated means “we’re gonna have us a baby.” The only song without her signature banjo accompaniment is the pedal steel-driven “Drinking About You,” an original song Evie claims was inspired by Merle Haggard and sounds like it could have been recorded in Bakersfield, circa 1966. The record is bookended by two tracks which both feature the verb “jump” in the title, suggesting just a hint of a broad concept at work.
Perhaps the most unique – and certainly the funkiest – of the tracks is “Walking in a Straight Line,” with Evie’s observant lyrics backed by thumping bass, the light backing refrain of “I’m used to it,” and impossibly intricate body percussion. “Walking in a Straight Line” defies genre categorization, but does testify to what mature and gifted artists can do when presented with hard-won complete musical freedom.
The overall impression from the thirteen tracks on Jump the Fire is what one might call “fun for grown-ups.” Evie Ladin’s songs possess a certain intelligence and maturity-of-theme, even as they are musically-executed in a manner that evokes the spontaneity and playfulness of youth. That these two attributes can exist simultaneously is a musical lesson which Evie Ladin and her band are very successful at teaching.
Photos below are from their concert at the Abbey Bar; Harrisburg, PA on 6/24/2016.