String her up: non-classical violin music
June 1, 2009 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I have a friend who is a violinist. She's only played and listened to classical violin music. Please recommend artists and recordings of non-classical violin.

Stephane Grappelli, and Joe Venuti are great but I don't know which recordings are good examples of their work. I'd like her to get a taste for what is out there including jazz, bluegrass, cajun, kelzmer, and any other genre/artist showcasing good violin/fiddle playing.
posted by sciencegeek to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The Dixie Dregs.
posted by saladin at 7:23 AM on June 1, 2009

I can recommend a couple of Celtic fiddlers.

Winifred Horan (warning, myspace) of Solas has at least one solo album out, and I think there's a newer one than the one I own.

The Celtic Fiddle Festival tours and albums (one, two , three) are really good. I've enjoyed two of the tours live and own all three CDs. I also recommend anything by the late Johnny Cunningham, who founded the tour. He was in a number of Celtic groups but also had solo albums. I'm particularly fond of Fair Warning. The other fiddlers in the festival also do solo work, and they're all top-notch.
posted by immlass at 7:23 AM on June 1, 2009

There are a plenty of violins in Bjork's album Homogenic. The song "Bachelorette" for example.
posted by hermitosis at 7:23 AM on June 1, 2009

Oh -- audio track disabled on that. Try this....
posted by hermitosis at 7:24 AM on June 1, 2009

Charlie Daniels. He has turned into an annoying redneck right winger in his old age, but he still plays a mean fiddle.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on June 1, 2009

I've greatly enjoyed seeing Matt Howden perform. He uses a looping pedal to juggle multiple parts--it's just him onstage. I'm not familiar enough with his recorded output (which is quite large) to recommend anything specific.

The Dirty Three are an instrumental 3-piece (mostly...guitar, drums, violin), and most people I know love Warren Ellis (the few that don't really hate him though).
posted by K.P. at 7:36 AM on June 1, 2009

Alasdair Fraser is a classically-trained Scottish fiddler who has played with some of the folks immlass has mentioned. He's got several solo and group albums.
posted by qurlyjoe at 7:37 AM on June 1, 2009

Andrew Bird
posted by soundofsuburbia at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2009

For jazz you might try some Jason Kao Hwang.
posted by caddis at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2009

Miri Ben-Ari touts herself as the hip-hop violinist.
posted by gwenlister at 7:45 AM on June 1, 2009

Check out Bob Dylan's 1976 album Desire, which features Scarlet Rivera's gypsy-ish, flamenco-tinged violin playing on almost every track. In fact, the violin plays almost the same role as an electric guitar would.

I also like the fiddle playing on Gram Parsons's two solo albums (GP and Grievous Angel -- they're almost always sold as one CD). His fiddler doesn't play as many leads as Scarlet Rivera, but it's really swinging, supportive playing. (I'm thinking especially of the song "Return of the Grievous Angel.")

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys? You cannot go wrong with that stuff!

(I don't want to rain on your parade, but in my experience -- as a classical and "vernacular" musician and music fan -- many pure classical musicians often have little interest in, or capacity for, appreciating non-classical music. If your friend has sought out your guidance because she's sincerely interested in expanding her musical horizons, that's great! But if this is a sort of taste-rescue mission on your part, be prepared for disappointment in case it just doesn't take.)

Oh yeah, and maybe the Dirty Three? I like their album Horse Stories very much.
posted by delayed-reaction android at 7:46 AM on June 1, 2009

(Crap, scratch that italicized "very much." I mean, it's a good album and all ... )
posted by delayed-reaction android at 7:48 AM on June 1, 2009

A few from farther afield:

South Indian Classical (Carnatic) music often features a virtuosic, very different style of violin playing. L Subramainian is one of the recognized virtuosos of the style, and has also branched out to do some jazz-fusion playing.

Son huasteco is a regional style from NE Mexico that features violin, several instruments in the guitar family, and voice. This album is a great introduction to the genre.

The Turtle Island String Quartet are great jazz players -- lots of albums.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:49 AM on June 1, 2009

Vanessa Mae - self described as "violin techno-acoustic fusion"

Bond -

Also, Black Violin - Hip Hop + Violin & Viola - Hip Hop / R&B / Jazz

These might be traditional violinists in non-traditional genres but interesting none the less.
posted by drid9ghots at 7:50 AM on June 1, 2009

The group "Bond" is along these lines, but kinda the opposite. They do classical with modern electronica/dance kinds of sounds. And they use those wacky carbon fiber instruments.

That, and pretty much all Bluegrass that includes fiddlin'.
posted by gjc at 7:53 AM on June 1, 2009

Nickel Creek (a violin/guitar/mandolin group): Ode to a Butterfly, The House of Tom Bombadil, Cuckoo's Nest

GrooveLily (violin/keyboard/drum theater group): Hard to find their music online, but here's their website. You might also have luck searching for the violinist herself, Valerie Vigoda.

And my latest fascination, Nuttin But Strings.
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:55 AM on June 1, 2009

Alex Depue
posted by zerokey at 7:56 AM on June 1, 2009

Depends on how obscure/experimental you want to get. Here are a couple from the far end of that spectrum.

Pablo's Eye—All She Wants Grows Blue. Kind of unclassifiable—a mix of ambient/avant-garde/electronic with eclectic instrumentation. Not all the tracks are great, but some of them are.

Alarm Will Sound—Acoustica. Acoustic performances of Aphex Twin's seminal ambient masterpiece, Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2. Probably best appreciated by those familiar with the original recordings, but quite a nice album in any case.

Also check out Gogol Bordello and Celtic punk—not my preferred genres, but there's lots of violin/fiddle in there.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:57 AM on June 1, 2009

Oh, and seconding Carnatic music, if you're interested in non-Western fiddle styles. Something of an acquired taste, but amazing in skilled hands.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2009

Western Swing.
Unavailable on CD in USA in Duffy/Kennedy: Music in Colours
posted by Dr.Pill at 8:14 AM on June 1, 2009

Horse Feathers

Seconding both Gogol Bordello (Baro Foro is great) and Andrew Bird, Fake Palindromes is so violin-y and rad.

Alison Krauss

Ashley MacIsaac

Arcade Fire



10,000 Maniacs
posted by zoomorphic at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2009

I sent you one via memail.
posted by auntbunny at 8:16 AM on June 1, 2009

Vanessa Mae is a controversial British classical violinist and former child prodigy who is probably best known for her pop techno remix of Bach's Tocatta & Fugue. Her fans praise her modern creativity and lightning-fast riffs, but her critics say she's using sex to commercialize and sell albums, (there was an infamous "wet t-shirt" publicity shot,) as well as bastardising classical music as an art form. One notable reviewer infamously referred to her as a "fiddling lolita". She's quite talented, but definitely an acquired taste.

YouTube vids:
* Tocatta and Fugue Also.
* Contradanza
* I'm a Doun For Lack of Johnnie
* Red Hot (Warning: it's practically seizure inducing.)
* Destiny
posted by zarq at 8:17 AM on June 1, 2009

Yellowcard! - Breathing
And other songs by them. It's awesome to see a violinist totally rock out on stage and jump and do flips and STILL KEEP PLAYING HIS VIOLIN.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:19 AM on June 1, 2009

Here are two albums that I've used successfully to help bridge the divide between classical and folk violin music traditions for classical players. Both albums combine incredible technicality with a range of styles, and both are "duet" albums, showing how one particular fiddle player relates to other fiddle players and genres - it's a great way to showcase the nuances and sounds of different fiddle styles.

Mark O'Connor's Heroes: this one has some pretty cheesy moments, but O'Connor is a monster player.

Darol Anger's Diary of a Fiddler: super stripped-down, strings-only, and very, very delicious.

Both of these will be gateway albums for your friend, who can then follow the threads offered by the other players on each album to seek out her own folk-fiddle path!
posted by Hellgirl at 8:32 AM on June 1, 2009

24 comments and no mention yet of Vassar Clements? For shame. Here he is playing the fiddle player's national anthem.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:34 AM on June 1, 2009

C. Spencer Yeh's project Burning Star Core is about as far as you can get from classical, though he's classically trained. Experimental noise, drone, and psychedelia.

Noxagt's fronted by a viola player, rather than a violinist, but they play something like noise metal.

A Silver Mt. Zion is a post-rock (ish) band, an offshoot of Godspeed You! Black Emperor that makes a lot of use of string instruments.

Black Violin do hip-hip, but the violin is itself mostly classical.

There are a great many metal bands (black, death, and doom) that use the violin, but it's generally done in a classical style, as a counterpoint to the metal. The band Morgul is a somewhat experimental Norwegian black metal band that I think showcases this mix particularly well. There are also folk-influenced metal bands that use folk fiddle; Skyclad, Cruachan,

Eastern European fiddle is sorta big these days; American groups that use it include A Hawk and a Hacksaw and Beirut. Check out A Hawk and a Hacksaw's collaborators to get back to the traditional musicians. Emir Kusturica & the No Smoking Orchestra is a slightly more traditional large group that's gotten some attention. Oh, and Gogol Bordello.

Celtic and Scandinavian countries have strong fiddle traditions; check out the Bothy Band, Planxty, Eileen Ivers, Tommy Peoples, Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke, etc. for the Celtic stuff and Björn Stabi, Frifot, Per Hans Olsson, Boot, Ole Hjorth, etc. for the Scandinavian. Both traditions also have contemporary bands that mix traditional music with rock. (Check out the Pogues, the currently well-known Flogging Molly, and the Prodigals for a range of Celtick punk/rock and perhaps Garmarna, Gjallarhorn, Hedningarna, and Hoven Droven for the Scandinavian stuff.)

Jazz violin is something I know less about, but it's been around since the beginning of jazz.

This earlier question may have some other good suggestions, and the Bowed podcast may be worth checking out.
posted by ubersturm at 8:34 AM on June 1, 2009

Emilie Autumn is a classically trained violinist who has made several "genuine" classical recordings, but more recently plays electric violin on some of her own songs.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:43 AM on June 1, 2009

In jazz: Regina Carter, Mark Feldman, Tom Abbs, Leroy Jenkins, Billy Bang. Most of these people appear more as sidemen than they do as leaders--checking Allmusic for their credits would be rewarding.
posted by box at 8:46 AM on June 1, 2009

- Final Fantasy (the musical act from Canada, not the video game / movie franchise)
- The Physics of Meaning
posted by statolith at 8:50 AM on June 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Puirt a Baroque (pronounced "poorsht a bar-oke"). They have a foot in both classical (strictly speaking, baroque) and folk camps and are superb musicians in both.
posted by angiep at 9:17 AM on June 1, 2009

Jean-Luc Ponty is a good jazz violinist. He's toured with Frank Zappa and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, so that gives some idea of his musical leanings. I like his stuff because it's not what you would expect to hear from a violinist
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 9:24 AM on June 1, 2009

Guarneri Underground
posted by leahwrenn at 9:29 AM on June 1, 2009

Morgan Fichter, if you can find her.
E.g., at the 6 min mark
posted by coffeefilter at 10:03 AM on June 1, 2009

Definitely check out Nuttin' But Stringz. They actually came in third on last year's America's Got Talent. My boyfriend grew up with the brothers and it was nice to see them succeed.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:12 AM on June 1, 2009

My friend Erynn Marshall won at Clifftop last year, so you could say she's a pretty good fiddler. The late Oliver Schroer had a sort-of classical style, but quite distinctive and beautiful.

Shetlandic fiddle music is pretty awesome, but hard to find. Can't think of any recordings offhand.
posted by scruss at 10:22 AM on June 1, 2009

The band Hem doesn't always focus on the violin in their music, but they've got some beautiful pieces where they do, and it's often first-rate accompaniment where they don't. And their singer's voice is golden.
posted by weston at 10:58 AM on June 1, 2009

Mestre Ambrósio is a great Brazilian band with lots of fiddle.
posted by umbú at 12:22 PM on June 1, 2009

Seconding Jean-Luc Ponty!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:35 PM on June 1, 2009

Seconding the recommendation for Nuttin But Stringz, for some hip hop violinists. They have an album out and are also on Myspace.
posted by Danila at 1:00 PM on June 1, 2009

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Lili Haydn yet.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:14 PM on June 1, 2009

Iva Bittova.
posted by dfan at 1:17 PM on June 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you for this bewildering number of suggestions. I can't listen to things at work but am quite excited to head home, listen a bunch of music and put together a compilation for my friend.

Delayed-reaction Android does have a good point about the pitfalls of trying to introduce someone to different genres of music. I'm not counting on her liking any of this, I just think that she might enjoy something new and different. If she runs away with her hands clamped over her ears, I'm not going to go weep quietly somewhere.

Also, even if she doesn't like anything, I'm sure I will.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:51 PM on June 1, 2009

Seconding Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mount Zion. My violin playing wife loves them both.
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:12 PM on June 1, 2009

Seconding The Dirty Three and Warren Ellis; and Andrew Bird
Also recommend
Chris Duncan
Jenny Reeve
posted by girlgenius at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2009

Carla Kihlstedt! I cannot stress this enough. She rules.
posted by speicus at 10:51 PM on June 1, 2009

Also, for klezmer violin, the Bester Quartet is pretty great.
posted by speicus at 10:54 PM on June 1, 2009

Someone really amazing and original is the brother of L. Subramanium who has been mentioned here:
L. Shankar, who has developed his own instrument called the Ten Stringed Double Violin. This amazing instrument made of fibre glass can play the entire orchestra range from cello, bass, double bass, viola and violin. Definitely worth checking out. The CD Raga Aberi , on which he is accompanied by Tabla Maestro Zakir Hussain, is not be missed.
posted by tusharj at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2009

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