Pete Seeger once told Brattleboro, Vermont musician Brendan Taaffe: “Your mbira playing is beautiful!” Which probably inspires in you the same question it did me: What’s a mbira?
A mbira, as it happens, is a small thumb piano popular in Zimbabwe and the Congo. And Seeger was right: Taaffe’s mbira playing is beautiful. His 2013 record Can’t Hold the Wheel with band The New Line was one of the best Vermont records in the past decade, blending African music into the broader stew of Americana (Taaffe also plays the more oft-heard instruments of guitar, fiddle, and banjo). And now he’s released a follow-up, a six-song EP called Fly Down You Little Bird. Five of the tracks are covers. We asked Taaffe about them and his responses were so interesting and in-depth we’re just going to quote them at length: