Ken Whiteley’s newest album, Long Time Travelling, reinvigorates 11 old folk songs and takes them out of the sonic wallpaper they are sometimes confined to. Drawing on his decades of musical immersion and exploration, Whiteley is on a path to deepen our experience of well known classics like the Water Is Wide, Shenandoah, Michael Row, Farewell To Nova Scotia and others. His versatility shines as he combines traditional instruments like autoharp, dulcimer and fretless banjo with electric guitars, lap steel, vibraphone and Hammond organ while singing up to four part harmony himself. He is superbly assisted by his son Ben Whiteley (The Weather Station, Julia Jacklin, Basia Bulat, etc.) on drums, percussion and bass.
Long Time Travelling, is distributed internationally by DistroKids and is available now on all major streaming services and download sites as well as directly from here on Ken’s Store. The cover features a drawing from 1510 by old master (and mandolin player) Leonardo da Vinci. Ken has been making 21st century extensive liner note video introductions to songs on the recording and those can be seen here on his YouTube channel.
I’m excited to be playing for the 50th anniversary of Northern Lights Festival Boreal in Sudbury and going to back to Nova Scotia and the wonderful Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival. At Northern Lights I’ll have a special edition of the Beulah Band – Rosalyn Dennett on fiddle and vocals, Gord Mowat on string bass and Ciceal Levy on vocals and percussion. Gord will also be holding down the bottom end out in Lunenburg.
Amazing if you hung with this long post and scrolled all the way to the bottom. That means you can get to the Free Song of the MonthDownload which is the classic Shady Grove!
The new song-of-the-month download is my bluesy take on Farewell To Nova Scotia, this month I performed two live stream concerts and the entire new album, Long Time Travelling is now available here on my website to purchase and download!
Farewell to Nova Scotia was based on a very old Scottish song, the Soldier’s Adieu. It became a folk classic after folklorist Helen Creighton collected a number of versions in the 1930’s in the Chezzetcook area of Nova Scotia. To get to that part of the province from Halifax you coincidentally drive through or past the African Nova Scotian communities of Cherry Brook and North and East Preston.
When I considered this song for my new album of old folk songs Long Time Travelling, I looked at the words and saw much darker lyrical content than a happy singalong might suggest. It was on that basis that I decided to perform it more as a blues song, featuring slide guitar on my old National metal resonator guitar. Once I’d taken that approach I decided to change the lyrics to reflect someone who instead of hearing the Captain’s call and obeying decides NOT to go to war. As I developed this character in my mind he transformed into an African Nova Scotian. I recalled a discussion I had at the Black Cultural Centre in Cherry Brook talking about the tension of “the fiddle and the drum” – how the Celtic cultural heritage of Nova Scotia is rightly celebrated but the centuries old black culture of the province often doesn’t get its due.
This is my personal back story that I created in reinterpreting this song. In my video introduction to the song I share a bit about slide guitar, a map and a quick shot from a Mother’s Day service at St. Thomas Baptist Church in North Preston among other highlights. It’s also the first of my videos using two cameras at the same time!
You can arrange to download my recording of Farewell To Nova Scotia at the bottom of this page.
Live stream concert
On Wednesday, April 20 I performed a livestream concert featuring most of the songs from my new album, Long Time Travelling on my Ken Whiteley Music Facebook page. Playing with me was Ben Whiteley, just back from a month of touring in Europe with The Weather Station. I’m excited because Ben and I were the only musicians on the new recording and this will be a rare chance to perform some of the songs together. I played fretless banjo, slide guitar, sruti box, autoharp and mandocello while Ben played electric guitar, lap steel, percussion and sang harmonies.
This performance was sponsored by the Toronto Musicians Association through the Music Performance Trust Fund and the cooperation of the Toronto Blues Society. If you find it on the KenWhiteleyMusic page, fast forward past the opening screen shot to when the music actually begins around a dozen minutes in.
Man of Constant Sorrow is the new song-of-the-month, free download! It is from my album, Long Time Travelling that I’m currently releasing one song at a time, only on my website. Go to the bottom of this page for the intro video and link for the free download.
I learned how to play the autoharp and this song from Mike Seeger (Pete’s half brother). I probably learned this song when I was 13 or 14 years old. Mike’s version originally came from bluegrass legends The Stanley Brothers, who had it passed down in their family. The first published version was in 1913 by a partially blind fiddler and singer, Dick Burnett but the song probably predates that . It’s been done by many people and I combined a number of versions to make my own adaptation. The song tells the story of a “man of constant sorrow” forced to wander far from his home. As we empathize with the words of the singer, let’s remember all of the people right now who are being forced from their homes because of war and injustice. One place, among many, to make a very needed donation is here at UNHCR.
other news …
I recently did some extended interviews looking back over aspects of my long musical journey. One was for Chris White’s Ottawa folk music show Canadian Spaces on CKCU fm broadcast on March 12. It is #2 of 3 episodes in which I talk about the experience of working with many artists and we play tracks from albums I’ve helped make during my producing career. The show is currently archived on CKCU’s website and Here’s the link. I’ll be back on Chris’ show for episode #3 in April.
Mako Funasaka (http://www.talkinblues.com/) has a long and wonderful history of archiving so many blues, roots and other musicians on both film and audio. For a while now he’s been making his own podcasts sharing many excellent interviews. We’ve worked together on a number of projects including my “You Better Mind” video but this was the first time we’ve had such an in depth talk. We had a great time taking a walk through some of my long musical history here.
Check back in April when I’ll have the next free song-of-the-month, “Farewell to Nova Scotia” and more news. In the meantime, through these troubled and troubling times, may my telling of these timeless stories in song be a vehicle for empathy, beauty, love and light for each other.
“Let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other…” – This is from the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address which I first learned in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, “Braiding Sweetgrass”. There are lots of versions on the web and here’s a link to one from a great, local project, Legacies, Earth to Table. In it we thank all the life sustaining dimensions of Nature and acknowledge the inherent reciprocity required as we all form parts of one whole. I definitely recommend checking the whole thing out. Our human world could certainly use more of that wisdom.
I start with this because our song of the month, free download is Shenandoah. The Shenandoah named in the famous song was a Haudenosaunee chief. Originally made up by voyageurs, the song was sung as a shanty on boats all over the world in the 19th century. Unlike a number versions of the song, I didn’t want to sing about wanting to take Shenandoah’s daughter away “across the wide Missouri”. When I included it on my new album, “Long Time Travelling”, I was relating to the forces that carry us forward on our journeys and thinking of what could internally anchor us as we cross the many waters of life. So in my imagination Shenandoah’s voice was one that connected me to that ancient wisdom, that is reflected in the Thanksgiving Address
Also coming up is a performance by Ken Whiteley & The Beulah Band at this year’s online Winterfolk. Winterfolk is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary in 2022! The festival runs Feb. 19, 20 & 21 and they have an amazing line-up throughout weekend. Our set is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (details below) It was awesome to play live off the floor with Rosalyn Dennett, Rob McLaren and Gord Mowat for the first time since the pandemic and it was expertly captured by Tim O’Reilly (Soundstill Prod.) and audio engineer extraordinaire, Nik Tjelios.
I’ve recorded a new album and for a limited time, I’m going to give away a free download of one song a month beginning with the title track!
Last winter I was thinking about old folk songs that I loved and wanted to put my own spin on. The project grew as I dug into songs I’d known for over fifty years and began recording them. Some songs wanted new words. Some had a myriad of versions and it was like piecing together a puzzle. It won’t surprise those of you who know me that I took great delight in mixing traditional acoustic instruments that evoked the songs origins (fretless banjo, autoharp, dulcimer, etc.) with more modern sounds like lap steel, Hammond organ, drums and spacey electric guitars.
I wanted to be able to explain each song, the way the extensive old Folkways liner note booklets used to. I mentioned this to someone under the age of thirty and they responded right away that I should make a short video of what I wanted to tell people. I’ve embraced the 21st century and so here’s the video for the first song, Long Time Travelling.
This song will only be free for a limited time. By Valentines Day, the 2nd song from the new album will be available. Make sure you check back and tell your friends too. Enjoy.
Finally a bunch of my older releases will be available on streaming services, etc. Songs From Sivananda Kutir, The Light of Christmas, All of the Seasons and Musical Mystery Machines are all either online now or soon will be. I also created a Junior Jug Band Collection with tracks from all three Junior Jug Band albums. Check them out, share them with friends, include them on playlists. Have fun.
Meanwhile stayed tuned for my brand new album, The Folk Song Garden which will be premiering right here on my web site in the new year. Let’s hope 2022 will provide more chances for us to share music.
When I performed at Owen Sound Summerfolk towards the end of August I promised on stage to post a recording of my song, Bigger Than That. This is from an unreleased cache of recordings I made with the amazing Sufi musician, Davod Azad. He is featured on oud on this track. Sharon Riley, along with Amoy and Ciceal Levy add stellar vocals and it also includes Bucky Berger on drums and Ben Whiteley on bass. Sharon and Bucky were integral parts of the ensemble with me at Owen Sound, along with Pat Patrick, Coco Love Alcorn and Gord Mowat.
I’m looking forward to getting back on the Summerfolk stages for 2 concerts this summer. I hope you’ll join Sharon Riley, Pat Patrick, Gordon Mowat, Bucky Berger and me for the Sunday Gospel Matinee along with the delightfully talented Coco Love Alcorn at the Kelso Ampitheatre Stage on August 22 from 1pm to 2pm. Then I’m heading over to the Sutacriti Stage for my concert from 3pm to 4pm. Please remember to bring a mask. For tickets and more info, call 519-371-2995 or go to https://summerfolk.org
Singing the Light – a gospel singing yogi concert with Ken Whiteley
Join us for a uplifting and inspiring concert with award winning musician, performer, songwriter, record producer, and Sivananda Yoga teacher Ken Whiteley. Experience the great joy and release of gospel singing as Ken shares his extensive experience and great love of traditional gospel music. This free live concert will be offered by Zoom weblink. Click the picture above or here to register and then the Yoga Ranch will email you back the zoom link.
The world keeps circling the sun and I’m going to keep singing. As well as the nightly singalong / shout out for frontline workers (and others) on our street, I’ve been working on creating a new album. If you want a little peak into it, here’s a clip from a live stream performance I gave as part of the North American Folk Alliance virtual conference. It’s my performance of Shenandoah.
You can check out my “Ode To the Road” post from early fall for more on the singalong/shoutouts and also my video performance of “You Better Mind” from my most recent album, “Calm In The Eye of the Storm” (available on this site).