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“A lot of my favorite music is that way. The very first time I hear it, I think, ‘Hm. There’s something wierd about that.’ And then I find myself obsessed.”

David Jacobs-Strain
with Bob Beach Sunday May 5
tickets online

When it comes to a top five records list, David Jacobs-Strain prefers the stripped down style of early innovators, like Mississippi Fred McDowell. The song-craft lyric tricks of Robert Johnson and Gillian Welch. Tom Petty’s rock and Taj Mahal’s roll.

We put it all together in a Spotify playlist so you can get ready for the show Sunday. Below, David explains why the following five are a core part of his road curriculum.

Meantime, give his new record "Geneseo" a listen. Someday you’ll probably see it on somebody’s top five.

Mississippi Fred McDowell

“Standing at the Burying Ground, Recorded Live at the Mayfair Hotel, London in 1969.” They asked him if he wouldn’t mind wearing overalls and a straw hat to the show. They put out a straw bale for him to sit on, and he showed up with an electric guitar and ordered them to clear the stage. Promoters had this very patronizing fantasy of what it meant to be a blues singer. And he showed up, “Nope. I’m an entertainer. I’m a class act. Get rid of this stuff. That’s your fantasy.”

It’s just a wonderfully raw portrait of his music. Fred McDowell has this slightly punk undertone to his music, this driving edge that I love and very modal kind of blues.

Taj Mahal

“The Natch’l Blues.” Taj Mahal was the first person I ever heard live play the blues. Taj is not just blues, it’s blues, it’s reggae and R&B and he puts it together in this way where it’s Taj and it’s not anybody else. That’s been a huge inspiration for me. I probably heard Taj 17 years ago or something and (that experience) still has a big influence on me. It’s hard for me to pick one of his records, but that’s definitely one that I listen to over and over again.

Gillian Welch

“Hell Among the Yearlings” (not available on spotify). I’ve been obsessed with her latest record, “The Harrow and the Harvest,” but the record of hers that really turned me on was “Hell Among the Yearlings.” Gillian’s music is uncompromising. And that record in particular is extremely minimal. It’s pretty much just her and David Rawlings, and they play a lot of these, if not modal, very carefully-voiced chords and harmonies. The songs are dark and haunting. To me it’s like you almost have to slow your heart down to listen. Or, her music slows your heart down until you’re at the speed of the music.

There’s a great compression of language too, there’s a lot of meaning in relatively simple words. And I hear that in great blues, too. It’s not always just the double entendres, and I think it’s something that’s missing in a lot of contemporary blues, too: songcraft.

Robert Johnson

“The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson.” One of the things Robert Johnson did is to take the best ideas and verses floating around the Mississippi Delta and put them together into coherent songs. Robert Johnson is always referred to as the King of Blues, but one of the reasons that people love his music - and one that’s often unmentioned - is that he knew how to make 2-to-3 minute songs into a coherent story, with a solo, so that it all fits together. As far as acoustic blues goes, he was the master of the two-minute single.

Whereas his mentors, like Charlie Patton, they grew up playing unamplified, country dances where they would have played for hours and hours. And they were great, and they would have been awesome to listen to live, but Robert Johnson took those songs and made the forms coherent, he made them into songs.

Tom Petty

“Wildflowers.” The record that’s totally not a blues record, but had a big impact on me. I think it’s one of the great songwriter records. Fifteen songs and every one is good. It’s not a record that has his biggest singles on it, but it’s got such a good vibe. It’s a record that’s really tightly produced, and yet, he said, he wanted to make a record that sounded like it could have been made in a weekend. It doesn’t sound like that to me but it’s believable. It’s a big production that’s non-self indulgent, and I just think the songs are so beautiful.

David Jacobs-Strain & Bob Beach Sunday, May 5
Tickets available online

Sample a little of the great music playing this spring at the Rooster’s Wife in our Spotify Spring Chickens 2013 playlist.

Then come on by and listen to it live starting May 5.

We’re taking a little spring break through April (you know, Merlefest, Shakori, and whatnot) and will be back for more great music this spring, starting with David Jacobs-Strain.

Tickets available online or at the door.

Early on, April Verch was compared to Béla Fleck and Alison Krauss. Yet the Canada-born champion fiddler has never sounded more comfortable in her skin than she does now, in the second decade of her career as an internationally touring fiddler, step dancer and singersongwriter.

It’s a wonder to behold Verch pulling off those pristine double-time triplets with her feet, and the myriad other ways she’s made good on the promise she showed at a tender age by becoming an artist in touch with roots and in her element.

She won’t be the one to mention her championship titles to you, or even the fact that she represented Canada’s fiddling tradition by performing in the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“The accolades are important and noteworthy and special to me,” she says, “but what I think is most impressive to me is that I’ve been doing this full time since 2000. We make a living playing music that we love and it touches other people. I feel like we’re extremely lucky to do that, but also I work really hard, not just at the music, but at every aspect of our career, to make that happen. That we find a way to make it work, and have had that kind of longevity, that’s impressive to me.”

And rightfully so. April Verch has perfected the art of winning fans for life.

Joe Craven in the Hen House Sunday Dec. 16 with Matt Munisteri. This should help you get through until then. Press play to hear the Joe Craven channel on Spotify. 

“Everything Joe touches turns to music,’ says David Grisman. No one who saw Joe wring a percussion concerto from his garbage-bag raincoat during a downpour at the Strawberry Music Festival could disagree.”

- San Jose Mercury News

Tickets available online. Concert hotline: (910) 944-7502, or email

Biggest Baddest Heart

Sonia & Disappear Fear • Blood, Bones & Baltimore

"SONiA’s voice and musicality grabbed me first, and then, of course, the lyrics …" Dar Williams. SONIA’s music activism in the Hen House Sunday night.

The Cocaine Kid

Jonathan Byrd • This is the New That

NC songwriter Jonathan Byrd’s 6 albums show off a range of musical styles: rock, tender songwriter, documentarian, but the roots are always the same: NC.

He’s on at the Hen House Sunday night with SONiA. Bring your grateful-full bellies and dance the night away.

Tickets available online, call the ticket hotline: (910) 944-7502, or email