New Album: Rounder Songs

Emily Pinkerton, Patrick Burke and NOW Ensemble
announce album
Rounder Songs
out November 17
on New Amsterdam Records

“…the formal elegance of chamber music with a pop-honed concision and rhythmic vitality” — Steve Smith, Time Out New York

“It’s hard not to be enchanted with Emily Pinkerton’s music…”
— Michael Gill, Cleveland Scene

Emily Pinkerton and Patrick Burke (photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover)
NOW Ensemble (photo credit: Sara Holm)

Folk composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Emily Pinkerton and contemporary classical composer/NOW Ensemble member Patrick Burke are excited to announce their new collaborative work with chamber group NOW Ensemble, Rounder Songs, will be released November 17, 2017 on New Amsterdam Records.

Rounder Songs is a song cycle for voice, banjo and chamber ensemble that brings together the sounds of 21st century post-minimalist classical music and North American old-time. The work is based on public domain songs and legends from Kentucky and West Virginia that tell the stories of several “rounders”: rural drifters who include a gambler, a murderer, and a mill laborer who strikes a deal with the devil.

Watch the album trailer for Rounder Songs here,
featuring music from the song “Pretty Polly”:

Rounder Songs was conceived and composed by Pinkerton and Burke (who are also a married couple) to focus on the common ground between their musical styles — hypnotic, pulsing rhythms, subtle melodic variation over time, and perhaps most of all, the vivid evocation of certain moods. The work features old-time and classical genres on a level playing field, rather than subsuming one within the other.

Pinkerton and Burke started with traditional songs and lyrics from Appalachia, then re-composed them for Pinkerton to sing and play banjo with NOW Ensemble, using the group’s unique instrumentation of flute (Alex Sopp), clarinet (Alicia Lee), electric guitar (Mark Dancigers), double bass (Logan Coale), and piano (Michael Mizrahi) to amplify the mood of each song.

Each movement of Rounder Songs is motivated by a distinct vision of this wedding of musical cultures. In “Red Rocking Chair,” NOW Ensemble’s instrumentation serves as a distillation of a clawhammer banjo pattern. The individual lines interact in a way that echoes the relationships between the banjo strings, creating a minimalist texture. In “Marcum and the Yankee” a mill worker strikes a deal with the devil and trades his soul for a gun in this legend from the famous Hammons Family of West Virginia. Both eerie and cathartic, it represents the intersections of industry with the environment.

“Pretty Polly” is chilling murder ballad, set in a 6/8 meter, unlike most well-known versions. It opens with the evocative line “left nothing behind but the birds to mourn”: the words the murderer speaks as he walks away from the fresh grave he has dug. “Three Forks of Hell” is an adaptation of a Civil War-era tune that explores the harmonic boundaries of old-time banjo, and suggests the movement of water through canons and counterpoint.

The last movement, “Darling Corey” is a warning to a banjo-playing and moonshine-making Corey with heavily syncopated interjections and foot-stomping that bring the verses to life. Emily draws from field recordings with a shifting seventh degree that the voice and ensemble explore throughout the piece.

Rounder Songs will be performed in full in New York City in early winter, more information coming soon.

Rounder Songs is supported by grants from New Music USA, The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The album was produced by Grammy-award winning producer Jesse Lewis, and edited, mixed and mastered at Immersive Music Project. It was engineered at Audible Images. Album art is by Joanne Wiggins with design by DM Stith.

Pre-orders for Rounder Songs are available here.

Album Art by Joanne Wiggins

Rounder Songs album tracklisting

1. Red Rocking Chair
2. Marcum and the Yankee
4. Three Forks of Hell
5. Darling Corey


Emily Pinkerton’s driving force as a songwriter and ethnomusicologist is to explore the musical and social ties that bind the Americas. For two decades, she has traveled between the U.S. and Chile, playing fiddle, banjo, guitar, charango and guitarrón.

In her solo career, Pinkerton writes songs that blend Appalachian and Andean traditions. She draws on her studies with legendary musicians Alfonso Rubio, Chosto Ulloa, Patricia Chavarría and others, including extensive fieldwork with rural poet-singers of central Chile. Performance highlights include concerts at Sala América in Santiago, Chile, the Panama Jazz Festival and collaborations with Venezuelan violinist Eddy Marcano.

Most recently, Pinkerton founded old-time trio, The Early Mays. Known for watertight vocal harmonies and stirring arrangements, The Mays just performed on NPR’s Mountain Stage and hit the top of the National Folk-DJ charts this August with their latest release “Chase the Sun.”  Last year, they won the Neo-Traditional Band Competition at The Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia, not far from the home county of the Hammons Family, whose music was the first inspiration for Rounder Songs. Learn more here.

Patrick Burke works as a composer and educator in Pittsburgh. He draws inspiration from his background as a classical pianist, an amateur rock and folk guitarist, and a performer in a gamelan ensemble. Formally tight, narrative structures are balanced with lyricism and expounded with a dream-like logic inspired by filmmakers such as David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky.  Patrick has been commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Albany Symphony, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, IonSound Project, and others; and his music has been performed throughout North America by ensembles including eighth blackbird, the Minnesota Orchestra, Present Music and Citywater Ensemble.

As a founding member of NOW Ensemble, Patrick contributed the title track to their second album, Awake, which reached the #2 position on Amazon’s classical album charts, and #1 on iTunes. Recent compositions have been called “indie-classical at its finest” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), and “glittering fun…at once very sophisticated and instantly accessible” (Third Coast Digest).  Patrick is currently scoring a film and preparing to launch a Patreon page to produce a book of 24 new etudes for piano–publishing one new piece every two weeks–for the beginner/intermediate level piano player.  He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Musicianship and Music Technology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Learn more here.

NOW Ensemble is a dynamic group of performers and composers dedicated to making new chamber music for the 21st century. With a unique instrumentation of flute, clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and piano, the ensemble brings a fresh sound and a new perspective to the classical tradition, infused with the musical influences that reflect the diverse backgrounds of its members. Having recently celebrated ten years together as an ensemble, they have brought some of the most exciting composers of their generation to national and international recognition. In recent seasons, NOW has performed at the Apples and Olives Festival in Zurich, Switzerland, Town Hall Seattle, Da Camera Houston, Lincoln Center, and the Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert series. Highlights of the 2017-18 season include premieres of new works by composers Andres Martin and Sean Friar, and the release of NOW Ensemble’s fifth album, Rounder Songs, released by New Amsterdam Records on November 17, 2017.

Collaborations and partnerships in 2017-18 include residencies at the University of Texas, Austin, The Toledo Museum of Art, and the continuation of a two-year residency with San Diego’s Art of Élan as their Ensemble in Residence.

One of NOW Ensemble’s main goals has been to create a musical paradigm in which continuous collaboration between composers and the performers is taken as a given. This philosophy has been put into practice in residencies at numerous institutions including Yale, Princeton, University of Virginia, and the New College of Florida. NOW Ensemble’s performances have been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and live on WNYC, and its sophomore album Awake charted at #1 in Amazon’s Classical Chamber Music Charts. “Plan of the City,” NOW’s collaboration with film maker Joshua Frankel, was praised in the Washington Post as “one of the best matches of visuals to music I’ve seen.” Since 2004, NOW has worked with over 60 of today’s most exciting composers, including Nico Muhly, Timothy Andres, Missy Mazzoli, Judd Greenstein, Kathryn Alexander, Jason Treuting, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Sean Friar. NOW has performed at such venues as Miller Theater, Merkin Hall, the Bang on a Can Marathon, The Kitchen NYC, The Stone, the Carlsbad Festival, the Festival International Chihuahua, the Look and Listen Festival, The Music Gallery Toronto, Sarasota’s New Music New College, the Southern Exposure Series, Pittsburgh’s Music on the Edge, Cal Arts, MIT, and Juilliard. Learn more here.

Related links:

New Amsterdam Records Album Page

Bandcamp Pre-order

For more information, contact Jill Strominger at New Amsterdam Records: // 617-270-8853


New Amsterdam Records is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.