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Thursday, September 11, 2014

It’s Relative: The Familial Ties of Nonesuch Records

By Allison Kadin

Jeff and Spencer Tweedy. 

This month we are celebrating the prolific, genre-defying Nonesuch Records, a label that “is a kind of family” according to President Bob Hurwitz. The hundreds of artists who have recorded on Nonesuch and collaborated with each other form a large family tree with a 50-year ancestry. Some of the artists are not just label mates, though; they’re blood. We found Nonesuch sons and fathers who have either inherited or passed on strong music genes.  Some of these dynamic duos will perform together on our stages as part of Nonesuch Records at BAM.

1. Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté  

The world’s foremost kora player Toumani Diabaté has passed his tremendous skill on the 21-string harp to his son Sidiki. Proving that it’s all in the family, Toumani’s own father was renowned throughout West Africa as the “King of the Kora.” Sidiki has made waves as a member of one of Mali’s leading rap duos, but still reserves time to learn traditional tunes from his father, whom he calls his “idol.” The Diabatés perform their recent release of duets in the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House September 24.

2. Chris & Scott Thile

The barely-pubescent kid singing circles around the traditional tune "The Fox" is none other than mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. The bass player that comes into frame at around :20 is Chris's father, Scott Thile. Not only do they share a love of foot-stomping, finger-picking music, but also a name. Chris’ middle name is Scott. Chris Thile teams up with Brad Mehldau to show off his rich musical upbringing on September 10 in the BAM Harvey Theater.

3. Stephin Merritt & Scott Fagan

Jasper Johns, "Scott Fagan Record," 1969. Ink on frosted mylar, 16.5 x 16.5 inches. Collection of the Menil Collection, Houston. Bequest of David Whitney. © Estate of Jasper Johns. Licensed by VAGA, New York. Photo by George Hixson.
A mastermind lyricist and musician, some consider Stephin Merritt to be progenitor of the current indie rock landscape. Until 2013, Stephin barely knew he was the progeny of another mysterious and quirky legend, Scott Fagan.  Stephin’s father came to New York City in 1964 and was signed by Doc Pomus, the songwriter who penned hits such as “This Magic Moment” and “Viva Las Vegas,” after only previewing two songs. He released South Atlantic Blues on ATCO records in 1967 and notes, “what I learned about songwriting from Doc, I hear clearly in the songs of my son, Stephin Merritt.” These roots run deep. Hear Fagan and Doc Pomus by way of Stephin Merritt on September 19 in the Opera House.

4. Sam & Peter Amidon

While he’s a fresh face to the Nonesuch label, Sam Amidon (playing guitar above) is definitely not new to traditional folk music. His father, Peter Amidon, along with his mother Mary, is a teaching artist who is committed to traditional song, dance, and storytelling and once toured with Bread and Puppet Theater.  While folk music was “everywhere” during Sam’s adolescence, Peter also introduced his son to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and Bartók string quartets. Sam’s eclectic musical upbringing is apparent in his newest album of reimagined Americana jams, Lily-O. He will continue to reinterpret the genre with Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, Rhiannon Giddens, and Olivia Chaney on September 20 in the BAM Opera House.

5. Jeff & Spencer Tweedy

When the Wilco frontman decided to make a new record, he found a drummer who did not fall far from the tree—, his son Spencer—, and they aptly named their group Tweedy.  Considered the musical prodigy of the Tweedy family by his parents, Spencer has been playing the drums since he was two and even started his own group called the Blisters as a pre-teen. When his father was touring, Spencer would even play along to a Hard Rock live special recording that Jeff did with Roger McGuinn. The Tweedy pair say they “would never call [their band] collaborating—it’s just fun.” Their first album together, Sukierae (a nickname of Spencer’s mother), will be released September 23, the same day as their BAM show.

6. Caetano & Moreno Veloso

With three original tracks on the Nonesuch-released Boyhood soundtrack, all culled from his first album in 12 years, Coisa Boa, Moreno Veloso has found a home in the music scene without the help of his famous father. Yet, it’s impossible to deny Moreno’s lineage, particularly when the two Veloso men play together. Their voices are so harmonious that they are virtually indistinguishable. Like father, like son. Caetano plays from his latest, Grammy-award-winning Abraçaço September 25 & 26.

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