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John Cowan has revamped his show after two wildly successful performances with fellow Bluegrass chart toppers Darin & Brooke Aldridge in Shelby, NC & Floyd, VA recently and has added them to dates in January, February and March of 2016.
Darin & Brooke, who share management with Cowan, currently have the #1 song for December on the Bluegrass Unlimited National Chart with a remake of a Johnny Cash and and later daughter Rosanne Cash's song "Tennessee Flat Top Box" as well as the #6 song on the Bluegrass Today chart with "Annabelle" off of their critically acclaimed new album "Snapshots".
Along with their crack banjoist Tyler Collins and longtime Cowan bandmate Shad Cobb, they will play dates that will showcase hits by both Cowan and Darin & Brooke to include New Grass Revival classics Cowan hasn't played live in decades.
Anticipation is high for these shows and they are expected to sellout quickly. Check the John Cowan tour page for details and cities.
Nashville, TN – Sierra announced the release of her first new album in five years. Weighted Mind will be released on January 29, 2016. It is nothing like what we thought it would be. It is nothing like what we’ve heard before, from anyone. It is singular and emphatic, harmonious and dissonant. It is the realization of promise, and the affirmation of individuality. It is born of difficulty and indecision, yet it rings with ease, decisiveness, and beauty.
“She plays the mandolin with a degree of refined elegance and freedom that few have achieved,” says Bela Fleck, the genre-leaping banjo master who produced Weighted Mind. “And now her vocals and songwriting have matured to the level of her virtuosity.”
Alison Krauss, who has won more Grammy awards than any female artist in history, says of Hull, “I think she’s endless. I don’t see any boundaries. Talent like hers is so rare, and I don’t think it stops. It’s round.”
Hull came to us as a bluegrass thrush, a teen prodigy. Krauss called her to the Grand Ole Opry stage when Hull was 11-years-old. Two years later, she signed with Rounder Records, and soon became known as a remarkable mandolin player, a tone-true vocalist, and a recording artist of high order. She made two acclaimed albums. She played the White House, and Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center, and she became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music.
15-time Grammy winner Béla Fleck produced the recording, which features eleven compelling new compositions written or co-written by Hull, and one traditional tune for which she and Fleck provided a new arrangement. While Hull’s ethereal voice and fluid playing take center stage here, she receives ample support from bass marvel Ethan Jodziewicz. Béla Fleck’s banjo adorns the elegant “Queen of Hearts/Royal Tea,” and Alison Krauss, Abigail Washburn, and Rhiannon Giddens add enchanting harmonies.
Though she is best known for her work as a mandolin player, on these songs, Hull reveals her abundant gifts as a composer and lyricist. Themes of loss and restoration run through the album, starting with the muscular opening number, “Stranded,” and continue on the stirring “Compass,” on which she declares, “I’ve thrown away my compass, done with the chart...I’ll just step out, throw my doubt into the sea, for what’s meant to be will be.” The gentle, dissonant title track ponders existential questions, while the haunting “Birthday” and “Fallen Man” offer somber reflections on strained relationships and impossible choices. The album closes on an optimistic note, with the sweetly assertive “I’ll Be Fine,” and the uplifting, philosophical closer, “Black River.” Fleck, Giddens, Krauss, and Washburn all guest on this track, on which Hull reflects, “A thousand years is but a day, and maybe in a thousand years, I’ll find my way.”
Veteran music scribe and fellow musician Peter Cooper writes, “Hull’s bluegrass roots inform and inspire this soundscape, but bluegrass does not define or limit Weighted Mind. This is not bluegrass music, or chamber music, or pop music. This is original music, from a virtuoso who tells the truth and speaks from herself.”
Hull has earned the admiration of her peers and the press alike: The Bluegrass Situation dubbed her a “mandolin-playing wonder,” and Music City Roots praised her “uncommon maturity—musical and personal,” and noted “one might say she embodies the perfect balance of humility and capability.” The New York Times lauded her as a “prodigious talent,” and for 8 consecutive years, the International Bluegrass Music Association has nominated her for Best Mandolin Player. Her friend and mentor Alison Krauss proclaimed, “Sierra is a remarkably talented, beautiful human being. Success could not come to a more worthy person.” Béla Fleck concurs: “Sierra and Ethan proved themselves to be powerful artists, with extremely high standards. I am so glad to have ended up being a part of this project.”
Sierra Hull will tour extensively in 2016, kicking off with a CD release show at Nashville’s City Winery on January 28th. More tour dates will be announced soon.
Nazareth, PA -- C.F. Martin & Co. will exclusively debut a new pickup and preamp system in 2016, the Aura® VT Enhance™ acoustic amplification by Fishman®, which offers the most advanced technology, Aura Acoustic Imaging, to preserve the unique and pristine acoustic tone of each instrument with studio microphone quality. In addition, the new streamlined Matrix VT Enhance™ will be offered on select models.
Both the Aura VT Enhance with Acoustic Imaging and the Matrix VT Enhance feature a new bridge plate mounted transducer to add dimension, resonance and body to the tone of the guitar.
"C.F. Martin & Co. has been making the finest acoustic guitars and providing the best equipment to accompany them for 182 years," said CEO and Chairman Chris Martin IV. "The new Aura VT Enhance and Matrix VT Enhance acoustic amplification by Fishman are prime examples of our dedication to making a Martin guitar sound like a Martin guitar when amplified."
The systems are unobtrusive with no control holes cut into the side of the guitar and also easy to use with Volume, Tone and Enhance Blend controls mounted inside the soundhole. The resulting quality meets the Martin standard of excellence with an unmatched responsiveness to touch and playing.
Fishman's new Enhance Transducer is designed to capture the longitudinal energy of the guitar top while resisting the transverse energy that manifests in string squeak, body handling noise, and parasitic feedback. These characteristics are added to the unparalleled audio performance of the Aura VT Enhance with Acoustic Imaging and Matrix VT Enhance acoustic amplification by Fishman.
Available exclusively on the Martin guitars listed below beginning in 2016, Aura VT Enhance and Matrix VT Enhance acoustic amplification by Fishman offers an Aura Image specifically made for each model.
New Aura VT Enhance acoustic amplification by Fishman with Acoustic Imaging will be available on the following 2016 models:
New Matrix VT Enhance acoustic amplification by Fishman will be available on the following 2016 models:
Visit your local Authorized Martin Dealer, plug in and slide into another dimension. https://www.martinguitar.com/find-a-dealer/us-dealers.html
Download the Aura VT Enhance and Matrix VT Enhance Acoustic amplification by Fishman PDF here: www.martinguitar.com/VTEnhance
C. F. Martin & Co. (www.MartinGuitar.com) has been creating the finest instruments in the world for 182 years. It continues to innovate, introducing techniques and features that have become industry standards, including X-bracing, the 14-fret guitar and the "Dreadnought" size. One of the world's leading acoustic instrument makers, Martin guitars are hand-made by skilled craftsmen and women, who use a combination of new design and techniques, along with those introduced by the company founder.
The company is also known for producing high-quality, popular acoustic guitar strings. These include the successful Martin SP® LIFESPAN™ the fastest-growing treated string in the industry, the exciting new Retro Strings line played and loved by Tony Rice and Laurence Juber and the Martin SP line, which uses an industry leading core wire to hold tunings better.
Martin guitars and Martin strings are the instruments and strings of choice for musicians around the world, from the icons of rock, pop, country, folk and bluegrass to those just beginning their careers. They can be seen across all segments of pop culture, from television to movies, Broadway, books, online, and gracing the covers of popular magazines on newsstands everywhere. Connect with Martin and Martin Strings on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and via and www.martinstrings.com.
* Fishman, Aura, and Enhance are trademarks, registered trademarks, or tradenames of FISHMAN TRANSDUCERS. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
My Gear of the Year isn’t a product launched in 2015. Nor is it necessarily the absolute best option available. However, it is the product that I’ve grabbed whenever I wasn’t committed to something else we’ve been testing, and it’s a product I’ve really enjoyed.
I’ve always liked the idea of classic 85-135mm equivalent portrait lenses but they’ve tended to be somewhat thin on the ground for the APS-C cameras I seem to end up testing. So I’m delighted to see Fujifilm go the extra mile and create a fast 85mm equivalent.
Better still, the APD version of the lens is specifically designed to offer pleasant bokeh. None of this ‘X rounded blades to give pleasing bokeh’ nonsense, the APD version actually has a radial gradient neutral density filter to smooth off the bright edges of the out-of-focus rendering. I’ve taken the availability of this very specialized tool as encouragement to practice and improve my portraiture.
|A quick re-process in camera and there's a JPEG ready to send to my patient volunteer.
Fujinon 56mm F1.2R APD
F1.2, 1/35sec, ISO 800
The Fujifilm 56 isn’t the only tool I could have used: the Zeiss Batis 85mm F1.8 would give very similar depth of field and, mounted on a Sony a7 series camera, would result in a fairly similarly sized package. However, although both have been present in the DPReview offices, it’s been hard to justify taking them out of the hands of the people reviewing and testing them, just to experiment. So it just happens to have ended up that I've spent more time enjoying the Fujinon.
Beyond the lens’s inherent properties, there’s another reason I’ve tended to grab the 56 and it relates to winning my subjects over and helping them feel comfortable with being photographed.
While shooting, I’ve been using Fujifilm’s Wi-Fi system to send my favorite shot along to my subjects’ phones, letting them see the results and ensuring they have an image to walk away with. Lots of modern cameras have Wi-Fi of course, but it’s the combination of in-camera Raw processing and one of my favorite JPEG engines that makes it particularly useful. It’s relatively easy to choose the most appropriate Film Simulation mode, fine-tune the white balance and tone curve and arrive at a file I can comfortably share before I get a home to Lightroom. That ability to put the images quickly into the hands of my subjects has helped maintain their enthusiasm for standing around and being photographed.
|The 56mm F1.2 APD is sharp where you want it and pleasantly smooth where you don't. The X series cameras can place the focus with a good degree of accuracy, too.
Fujinon 56mm F1.2 APD
F1.2, 1/550sec, ISO 400
Furthermore, the relatively small size of an X-T10 with the 56mm mounted to it isn’t quite so intimidating as a full frame DSLR and has the advantage that I can continue to shoot when I’ve taken the camera away from my eye, to talk to my subject.
It’s not all dreamy bokeh and pretending to be David Hemmings*, of course.
The 56mm F1.2 APD is an expensive lens. For a start, it’s a rather specialized lens, meaning fewer buyers to share the development costs across. But equally, it’s likely that Fujifilm understands the mystique conveyed by the idea of a bokeh-smoothing filter and being able to etch the numbers 1:1.2 into the front of the lens, allowing them to charge a substantial premium.
Autofocus is also rather slow. The design appears to have a lot of glass to shift around when focusing, which slows things down, as does the loss of on-sensor phase detection, which would be confused by the lens’s internal filter. However, so long as the subject doesn’t move too fast or unpredictably (which is a reasonable expectation in semi-posed portraits), this isn’t a fatal drawback and is at least partially made up for by the accuracy and consistency of the focus.
|It's not just for close-up head shots, of course.
Fujinon 56mm F1.2 APD
F1.8, 1/1000sec, ISO 200
So why, when I know the 56mm is far from perfect, is it my Gear of the Year? On a technical level, it’s very good: it’s impressively sharp where it’s in focus and pleasantly smooth where it’s not, but the reason it’s my Gear of the Year is because I’ve enjoyed shooting with it and it’s encouraged me to go out and take photos.
I’m certainly not even going to claim the 56mm F1.2 APD has magically made me a great portrait photographer, but it's certainly increased the number of my friends using my images to represent them on social media. And knowing the lens will take lovely images has left me able to concentrate on developing the soft skills for relaxing and posing the people I’m shooting. Now, where’s my reflector?
*I very seldom pretend to be David Hemmings.