Maurice Hope

Maurice Hope

Maurice Hope

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Tales of Guy Clark and Texas twang with Noel Mckay and Brennen Leigh

Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter guitar playing duo and otherwise, Brennen Leigh and Noel Mckay though mindful of country music’s traditional ways they also have a hand on the pulse of the present. 

Leigh looks like she was born and raised on the prairie, her fair skin and gentle approach. But looks can be deceiving because she can and does when the occasion calls write stinging open heart lyrics. She isn’t afraid of calling a spade a spade. It isn’t just an art thing, her music and that of Mckay houses a great deal of soul. Lee Ann Womack (‘sleeping with the devil’), Sunny Sweeney and others have recorded her songs while noel wrote a song, ‘el coyote’ with Guy Clark.  

Noel Mckay has a great ear as a guitarist knowing and when to lend his vocal harmonies. He also has the rare gift knowing less quite often means more when it comes to playing. Everything they do together and apart is done with great taste, honesty and with the minimal effort. They are simply head and shoulders above others of their field. 

“I had already produced an album by Noel and his brother, Hollin a few years earlier when Brennen and Noel asked if I would produce an album of modern duets they had written, and was more than happy to be asked. I loved the songs. No one else was writing songs like that, and pulling them off with such integrity. They understand the genre, inside out. Everything Noel and Brennen do fits the bill,” Gurf Morlix 

 

When did you first start performing, Brennen? 

I have been playing professionally since I was 14. My brother and I had a band together in Minnesota, and we travelled around on weekends and in the summer. I moved to Texas when I was about 19.

What made you move to Texas? 

Texas has a good music scene. At the time it was really good for developing a career. I don’t know about now. I like it, but I think someone moving there now might have a slightly different perspective about it. It’s got bigger, more popular, more saturated. It’s been good for me adds Leigh.

Kerrville is a popular area musically down that way.  

It’s close to Austin. It has it’s own little world. 

Texas has a phenomenal history for singer-songwriters, especially during the 1970s when an amazing string of diversely talented writers surfaced.  

Yes, it has. You have people like Guy Clark. 

And you also have Townes Van Zandt. 

Yes, and Cindy Walker (Western swing, country), the list just goes on. So it is easy to see why I as drawn to it.

How did your career progress after moving there?

I have been back and forth between there and Nashville, and also touring a lot. You can’t just stay in Austin to do what I want to do. So I tour a lot with Noel as a duo and our bluegrass band High Plains Jamboree. 

I understand you also have another band?

Do you mean the side project I have, Antique Persuasion?

Yes, the one you made a tribute to the Carter Family (Don’t Forget Me Little Darling, Remembering The Carter Family). 

We don’t play together as often I would like to. We might get together a couple of times a year. Unfortunately, it is less of a focus because Jenee (Fleenor) the fiddle player plays with Blake Shelton and Steven Tyler and people like that, and there is Brandon Rickman who is the lead singer of the Lonesome River Band. On the rare occasion we can meet up together we do something. 

How did you and Noel first meet? 

We met at a gig in 2002. He was playing with his brother Hollin at the time (The McKays), so a couple of sibling bands met up, coincidently, because we knew one another through the music scene. 

One of the beauties of Texas seems to be people have greater freedom, musically, to go out and do what they want. 

I think it is different for everyone. I think to somehow say Nashville is more commercial in general is a little bit of a myth, because there is an equal amount of what you might want to call over commercialised music that maybe focuses on the wrong thing in Texas. For example it is really hard for women to be played on the radio in Texas. In Nashville I don’t see that’s a problem at all there. There is also the really cool, East Nashville burgeoning scene. I think both places have good and bad. I wouldn’t say the pressure is less in Austin putting out art. You still have that same pressure that exists for all musicians. You have to continue to put out new songs, new records and to keep making your show better and better. 

But a lot of this is of your making, you are continually trying to improve and bring new ideas to your music and songwriting. 

Of course your environment factors in. There is a lot of hard working more working class musicians working in Austin. You can go out every night and see someone better than you laughs, Leigh. That’s really inspiring. You might go see someone like Redd Volkaert, Cindy Cashdollar, who actually doesn’t live there anymore, and you go, boy I have to go back home and practice! 

You have a mutual love for quality acoustic guitars, and between you produce a beautiful sound? 

Yes, we are both into guitar playing. The one I am using right now is one I borrowed from the New Madrids, but it’s a Martin, smiles Leigh. 

How do you find writing together? 

We write together, and separately, and we also write with other people. For myself I will come up with an idea and a writer friend of mine will usually come to mind right away.

So once you get a song started and going in a certain direction you will then make the decision whether it’s one to share with someone?

That’s pretty much how it works, and I think Noel is pretty much the same.  

You also have this tribute to Lefty Frizzell, Brennen Leigh Sings Lefty Frizzell how long have you been such a fan of his music?

I wasn’t as a child. I guess growing up in America unless you are not paying attention you can’t really fail to hear “Long Black Veil” or “Gone, Gone, Gone” or something like that on the Radio, if you have got a good classic station. Adding, my parents we big country fans. I really got into Lefty about ten years ago, starting with his 50s catalogue, which is a good place to start. In a couple of years I really got into his later catalogue, meaning the late 50s and mid-60s and it was those records that really inspired me to make the tribute album.  

His last sessions on ABC Records I feel were rather special too. 

He doesn’t have a lot of fillers in his catalogue of recordings. 

As far as country music goes, and as a stylist he was one of the most influential acts ever. 

He made such a mark in country music. 

“Article From Life” has long been one of my favourites outside his hits. 

That was a fine example of him in his prime. He was in the zone. It might have been a little bit crazy for me to go off and do this Lefty thing. I learned doing it how a great many people don’t know who he was. For me he a great superstar, but there are people who don’t have a clue, they might have heard the name but knew anything about him. For someone so influential it’s amazing. Maybe I could reach some of the younger audience. 

Keith Whitley was among those influenced by him you had, his version of the song “I Never Walk Around Mirrors” (a co-write by Lefty with Sanger D. Shafer) like with much of his singing owed much to Lefty. Merle Haggard was hugely influenced by him, and to a lesser degree Clint Black; the list goes on. Willie Nelson like too has also recorded a tribute album.     

Merle and Lefty were great friends. 

How about the Carter Family, how big a part has their music played in developing your musical style / direction. 

Yes, I am. They were my big guitar influence with me. 

How about songwriters? 

That is a tough question. Technically, anything that hits you on the head, whether you like it or not you can’t ignore it. Noel is a big influence. We are always bouncing ideas off each other. We are also both influenced by Guy Clark. He was a good friend of us both. Noel introduced me to him six or seven years ago, and somebody like John Prine. I like a really well written song. One that is airtight. That tells the story in a good way. I like a song that’s like a movie and you get lost within. Like watching a movie, but you aren’t distracted by bad acting or the bad screenplay you are completely sucked into it. 

A song that takes the listener away from everything, and after three or whatever minutes thinks they feel like they have been taken away on a memorable journey. 

Yes, thats kind you say, I want to hear that again! There are some great songs out there. Like when you hear a song and say, I wish I had written that! Tom T. Hall he’s a big influence she excitingly adds. He gets into a zone, and has never written a bad song. He may have, but not put them on record. 

What is going to be your next project, another duo album? 

High Plains Jamboree our bluegrass band is touring a lot now. That’s our main thing right now. It is about to tour Alaska and it’s a big state! We are doing the IBMA, Bluegrass Rambler and Americana Fest, St. Louis Folk Fest and we’re doing, a festival in Cleveland, the band is doing bunch of touring this fall. I am also overdue to make a solo record, but don’t know when I am going to fit that in but have to. Noel and I will get together sometime to do something. 

Noel, what is your main role in the duo, to keep things tight? 

I suppose so. Initially we wrote love songs together and made a record out of them. As our project as a duo progresses and evolves we find that we have got that way. Now, I think we have become an act who does a song swop more than anything these days; we just put our best individual songs out there when we perform together. So that is the majority of what we do now, the minority of our act is those duets. But, every now and again we’ll look at one another and say we need to write more duets. So that is not something that’s entirely in out past.

Who have been you greatest influences? 

Well, a couple of different people. I started playing guitar when I was nine, but I really had this renaissance in my writing and music when I was in my early twenties, twenty two or twenty three and I heard a Lucinda Williams record, the self-titled one she made in 1988 and it blow my mind and had a big impact on me. As much and if not more from that record Gurf Morlix; his guitar playing and production style, and his harmony singing on that record had a big impact on me. As you may know we got to know Gurf later and he produced a record I made with my brother The McKay Brothers in 2003. Then he produced the Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay record that came out about for years. 

When I was twenty-four I was playing the Jimmie Rodgers Festival in Kerrville, and the headliners were Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Kathleen Hudson the organiser dragged Guy by the arm out to the audience and forced him to listen to our set and I guess he liked it. I remember looking that day out at the audience and thought it was going terribly! However, after the show there was Guy, and he introduced himself and said he loved the music, and there were a couple of songs he particularly liked a lot. He handed me his address, he had written it on a piece of paper in pencil and said send me everything you have got. It was his address in Nashville, so I did that. Guy Clark has really been the main influence in terms of music in my life, as a singer, as a songwriter and as a person. I stayed in touch and friends with him. We lived on Nashville for a while and we got really close during that time period, and I was going to his house two or three times a week when we were there. So, mostly, Guy Clark, and some other people too. John Prine has influenced me a lot. I’ve already mentioned Lucinda Williams, and Brennen she is a great writer (a really clever, a fantastically smart writer). 

You mention Guy with much fondness. He has written with a number of young aspiring songwriters (‘El Coyote’ written with Noel was arguably the best song on his final record, My Favorite Picture Of You), him doing this has on its own left a great legacy. The way he took people under his wing, iron out their faults to make them better writers and I guess people too.  

That’s true. I am glad and proud to be able to call myself one of them. 

Darrell Scott is another to have benefited (and written with him too) from his words of wisdom. 

Brennen played Mountain Stage a couple of months or so ago, and I was her accompanist and I got to meet him. It was about a week after Guy died and we traded Guy Clark stories along with Hayes Carll backstage. It was a sad, but cool moment reflects McKay. 

Verlon Thompson was another who became close to Guy. 

Yes, Verlon is one of my favourite people in the whole world. He is a great musician, guitar player and songwriter. 

Going back a few years I remember thinking what a great guitar player Guy was. In later years he let someone else, Verlon do the bulk of it. 

I played a festival with him in the Netherlands around 2005/06 that was when he first got sick, and when I first noticed he was sick and had lost his hair. Shortly after he died someone gave me a recording of one of his shows from 2006; one he did near San Antonio, TX and I had forgotten just how great a guitar player he was. I think the illness and the treatment for it had a negative impact on his ability to play guitar towards the end. He was a terrific musician and guitar. 

What have you coming up music wise?

In addition to High Plains Jamboree I have a solo record I am working on. It will be my third and I shall reconvene on it after I get back to Austin. I have to do some singing and get some frosting instrumentation on it and then it will be ready to throw out there. 

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Fiddler, Record Company boss, Producer; Tim Carbone

Railroad earth fiddle player, record producer, session musician and part owner of Lo Hi records based in Greensbro, North Carolina Tim Carbone shares what it’s like to be involved in so many project, plus the influences in music to direct him there.

 

What a brave thing it is to be part of setting up a new record label.

Or what some people would say, foolish chuckles Carbone.

I believe you have been around the business long enough for that not to be the case.

I feel comfortable with the people I am working with. I known we have a limit to what we can do, so we are working within our means and abilities, and are doing quite well so far.

There is a multitude of layers within the business, and for you to get the best out of someone, better than they would have otherwise. On achieving this alone you have accomplished something. 

Yes, exactly. We are providing a home, enthusiasm, and giving them money for promotion, and we cross all the t’s and dotting the i’s. Having been a musician for many years, to have someone who believes in what you do and willing to do that stuff makes life so much easier.

It will help them keep focussed on the music, and with you there ensure their time is spent wisely.

I have no illusions I can only do so much. My role is as an advisor and someone who opens any doors in front of me. I will grab the handle and open it right up, and keep my eyes open for any opportunity at all for the artists we are working with. When we need the other parts we hire them. People with enthusiasm and we feel comfortable working. For certain things, it is sweat equity on our part. You have to pay for like of the publicists. Bring in people that believe in what you are doing, and not just somebody looking for a paycheque, and we are moving forward with some pretty cool things.

How did Asheville, North Carolina band Town Mountain become the first act you signed, and put a record out by?

There is a fellow, Jim Brooks who is essentially our entrepreneur who put up the money. He is a big fan of the band. My band, Railroad Earth did a 4 - 6 week tour with Town Mountain here in the States. I would not say we are not a big fish, but more a medium-sized fish in a fairly large-sized pond. We kind of took them under our wing, and did what we could for them. We got to know them well and thought, man these guys are really good! These guys are the real deal. We want to try to associate our selves with artists who are the real deal. Our next artist is another artist that we feel good about. I will tell you Town Mountain are tearing it up right now; people are reacting positively to the record (Southern Crescent).

Yes, some of the tracks on the album once that banjo drops anchor and a groove builds they are off and running.      

They all can really play. The fiddle player (Bobby Britt) is crushing it, and playing within the band. Every song is brilliantly served, the instrumentation on the song that they are singing.

They are from Asheville, North Carolina. A hot bed for roots recordings the last few years.

It certainly has. That whole area is wonderful, and Asheville itself is a really cool town. It is artist friendly, there are places to play, good restaurants and places to rent. It is not like if you to go to San Francisco or New York City; or in Brooklyn anymore you can hardly afford to live there. In Asheville you can still rent a place for 6 or 7 hundred dollars a month and not necessarily have to survive on beans and rice.

Railroad Earth is currently doing really well, and the last album you had out was Last Of The Outlaws  was a wonderful visionary recording.

Thank you. Yeah, collectively we thought it was the best record we have ever put out. We were lucky in that the local studio we recorded in we were able to camp out in. The fellow that owned built it as kind of a home studio but it was a separate building. He did not charge us a whole ton of money. He made it so we could afford it, and not have the record label breathing down our backs and take full control of what we are doing.

 I notice you are quite a studio man and have worked with a diverse set of artists. Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Janis Ian and Pete Seeger

That whole thing has done really well. I have laid tracks for all those people and worked with a bunch of people, and done hundreds of sessions of people you probably have never heard of. I’ve done a ton since about 1986. Last year was a good year for me when I produced six records. This year has been quiet so far, but I have just finished my 57th laughs Carbone. I love being in the studio, it’s a place where I feel very comfortable. 

But for the Town Mountain record you called on Dirk Powell to produce it.

Dirk Powell killed it too. He did such a great job. I love all their records but there is a difference to this one.

What role does Todd Snider do on LoHi Records?

It’s similar to mine. He found Rory Carroll, our second artist and he has worked with her. His does an advisory role, and opens any door he can, and he’s already opened a number. He is revered, especially as a songwriter. He is able to open doors, and when he says something some one will listen. I am probably more active on a day-to-day basis. I am in touch with Chuck and Chad pretty much twice a week. I follow what Erin’s (Scholze) doing. She updates me every day. I am following along as its going, and make comments when necessary. It is something I have always wanted to be part of. So it is really cool the way it’s unfurled. Todd feels pretty much the same way, I know he has his own thing and puts his own records out. I think he is enjoying being involved and not having to be the guy.

Looking in and not being the main figure can be a nice change, like when you are captain of the team everything runs through you and you don’t get the opportunity to step back and view from a distance.

Yeah, it’s good being part of a team but it’s also good to be captain too. I think there will be times when each of us will be switching out roles. We have a band called, Great American Taxi that we hope to be releasing in the fall. It’s one that I produced, and I am close to what they do so I will probably play a more active role with that release. As this progress we will probably trade roles on a regular basis.

You’ve worked produced them before?

Yes, I did a record of theirs four or five years ago, but since have had a line-up change. I believe they have two of the best Telecaster players in the United States in Jimmy Lewin and Arthur Lee Land. Land is quite a character he adds. He is like a genetic cross between WC. Fields and James Burton (my mind boggles)….he is this jovial guy with, imitates a scratchy WC Fields-like voice. It is like he has a bunch of cards in one hand, and a few in his other and you’re never sure which hand the real ones are in, or the hand he is going to deal next. He’s a wonderful character.

You mention Rory, where is she from?

Rory Carroll is a really brilliant songwriter, she is from Nashville, and has done a tour with Todd. He brought her to us. So he will take a bigger role with her like I will with Great American Taxi when their record comes out. This summer he plans to have Rory play on a number of the dates the Hard Working Americans perform. Like I said before, whatever doors are available he can open, especially for Rory he will. She is great, when I heard the record I thought, man she is awesome!

What kind of music does she do?

It’s somewhere in between Americana and mainstream Nashville, but it is not slick. Best way to describe it would be like what mainstream Nashville would sound like filtered through a Tom Waits’ sensibility, because there are these clunky noises. Her voice is fantastic, very earthy and unusual in places and it is most accessible. Sometimes you have all of this in the same song.

How do you fit in your studio work with your commitments with Railroad Earth, tours and lots of festivals this summer?  

First of all I have a most understanding wife, and don’t have any children so I don’t have to worry about that. She is onboard about my career. I try to be mindful that the time we have together is quality time, on a personal level it’s mostly about paying attention. Working hard when you have to work hard, knowing what you doing. The whole thing about making records is essentially, about creating a great space to work in as far as the environment and the vibe in concerned. Knowing how to do it, where to begin, and what’s the beginning and what’s the end. A lot of it is a matter of experience. I have done it so many times, and know the process and also when to tell the artist you are done and are going to move on to the next recording. Know how to sell it to them, that they will buy it and believe me when them I tell them I am done.

I imagine refining things to where you avoid doing something twice, or more times than needed will keep the artist sharp in the studio.

There is a fine line in the studio. When I am a session musician I listen for the direction of the producer and the artist, and to also maintain the quiet vibe about it. It isn’t always easy to obtain, because you are under a microscope as a player, and at the other end as a producer you are putting people under the microscope. It can be uncomfortable for those who do not have the experience especially, my job on both ends are to ensure everything feels natural.

When you were growing up who were your fiddle-playing heroes?

On the fiddle, I first fell in love with playing outside classical music was when I Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris that made me aware I could play other than classical on the violin. He played with John Mayall. I went into a record store aged 14 and picked up this solo record by him, and said what the hell is that. I picked up the cover and I could hardly make out what it was because only the fiddle this black dude was in focus. It was then I first thought you could play blues on a violin! Holy smoke. Of course I bought the record, took it home and stole all his licks he laughs. I also play harmonica and had jammed with a high school blues band playing harmonica, and the next thing you know I showed up with a little pick-up, and my brother’s amplifiers and electric violin and the guys say what the hell. Basically, I stole all the guy’s licks. Learned them off that record and started playing. As for bluegrass I got into it, kind of backwards, mostly through the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Flying Burrito Brothers. Obviously, I was exposed to Vassar Clements (bluegrass, jazz fiddle player) through the NGDB and Byron Berline through the Flying Burrito Brothers. I became immersed in bluegrass when I was 16 or 17, and started going to festivals and one time hitched to the Galax Fiddler’s Convention and tried to absorb everything I possibly could.

Where are you actually from?

I am live in Pennsylvania but originally I am from New York.

Up in that area you have, though in many ways isolated a history of acoustic and bluegrass musicians your own scene.

Oh, yeah. There was this band I used to go to see in New England called Joe Val And His New England Boys, and I dug them. I used to travel down with some friends to see this band in Washington DC called the Seldom Scene and we really loved them. Then just out of the blue a friend said have you seen this band called Breakfast Special who played at this bar in a Holiday Inn. That was like a brilliant switch was turned on, they had a brilliant fiddle player called Kenny Kosek and an absolutely brilliant classical mandolin player called Andy Stanton. He was real nut job who also played clarinet and saxophone. Plus there was a really good banjo player called Tony Trischka. They were based, essentially, in New Jersey and to come to find they were so near home was amazing. At the same time I was listening to the Woodstock Revue with Bill Keith on banjo, that is when I realised how diverse an instrument the banjo could be. It did not have to be only the three-finger style of Ralph Stanley or the Earl Scruggs’ of the world. Although none of these other styles would have happened had it not been for them.

I really like the album cover on Town Mountain’s ‘Southern Crescent’ showing off a painting by Sarah Bronstein of the bridge at Beaux Bridge.

I think the cover art is fantastic!  

It is nice to see interesting covers on cds. Unlike in the old days of vinyl they have becoming a rarity. I guess we were spoilt. Quite often the artwork sold the record.

I don’t buy cds anymore. I am back to buying just vinyl though they are ridiculously priced. I get the digital download codes. My new laptop doesn’t even have a CD player in it. I prefer to listen to my music at home. I believe albums sound better. One of the things I love about vinyl is the artwork. I just got the new Iggy Pop record, and when you open it up and you get that smell. I love that printing smell.

You mentioned the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band it was with their first Will The Circle Be Unbroken (triple lps) release that really opened the door for bluegrass music. Who needed to know who Doc Watson, Norman Blake, Jimmy Martin, Vassar Clements and the likes of Mother Maybelle (Carter) and Roy Acuff were? It was like the missing link in the chain. 

I can’t tell you how many people have had the same touchstones in that kind of music, pretty much 75 to about 8o% of my age playing this music gained access through Will The Circle Be Unbroken, and to a another degree just a little further down the line Old And In The Way a couple or so years later it came out. People who liked the acoustic side of the Grateful Dead all of a sudden went what’s this! They kind of got it.

For me the Flying Burrito Brothers were a huge influence. I started playing back in the 1970s and was in a country rock band out on Long Island. I was one of only three fiddle players on the whole island, and we played every single song of the first two records plus all our original material. It is so rich. I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or Flying Burrito Brothers or Old And In The Way. I don’t know that we would have wound up in this same place. I don’t know how it would have gone. What was that band before Wilco and Sun Volt, Uncle Tupelo? I don’t know if there would have been an Uncle Tupelo if you hadn’t been for The NGDB or the Flying Burrito Brothers. To me that’s how influential those records were. The scene would not have been (or grown to be) the same. I think people would have come round to listening to bluegrass, acoustic music and Americana but it would not have been the same or followed the same path. I don’t know what it would exactly have looked like right now.

Both albums had such a live feel, like when Roy Acuff speaks of how every time it takes to obtain a take of a song you loose something every time. It doesn’t matter if the intro has someone adjusting a seating position or you hear a pick drop on the floor. Sometimes it can be too tight.    

 

A good example is last year Railroad Earth did a recording with Warren Haynes. When I first talked to him on the phone I thought this sounds cool. I said to him do you want to send some demos of the songs. No, no he said. I am going to show you the songs in the studio and we’ll just go in and cut ‘em. So that is what we did, literally, he came in played guitar and the songs in the control room. We ran out simple charts and went out and cut ‘em. For me, an instrumentalist it was great. In total we cut twenty-seven songs and though they did not all make the record hopefully they will be on the next one. All of the songs on the record are all first takes by me. I did not have to go in to fix anything. It was like, oops that is fine, and when asked if he would you like me to do it again, he would say ‘No. no don’t change that!  

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Six years away and just following the song, Elizabeth Cook

Florida-born, Nashville based singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook looks to put in place more of a cutting edge to her style of country music, Exodus of Venus on Agent Love / Thirty Tigers is Cook’s first album in six years and it has seen her become transformed. Come of age in many ways as her style of music takes on a tougher stance. Not only via the subject manner but production too.  

Elizabeth Cook was born to parents who by previous marriage both had five children, and Cook was the 11th in line, the first of the couples’ relationship together. Her mother was a hillbilly singer from West Virgina and her daddy was incarcerated for running moonshine, and played in the prison band. It was while in prison he learnt to weld (as in her album welder) and on release built up a little business as he visited farms working his trade as told by Cook on one of her notable appearances on the David Letterman show. Her story is one you would find hard to make up, and harder still for it to sound believable.   

Cooks’ albums to date include the self-released ‘the blue album’ (2000), ‘hey y’all’ (2002), ‘This side of the moon’ (2004), ‘Balls’ (2007) and ‘Welder’ (2010); which Rolling Stone magazine listed among its top thirty albums for 2010. 

 

Exodus Of Venus has been a long time coming; it must be six years since your last album Welder, Elizabeth?

Yes, a lot of stuff has happened.

Re-tracking music wise, through having lived in a number of different areas of the States your music will no doubt have gained a selection of influences because of this?

Yes, through my parents, they played in a band together. I grew up on country music and then learned rock’n’roll and folk singer-songwriters and Americana music. It has been an interesting journey laughs Cook. 

How old were you when you left Florida?

I would be sixteen. I then moved to Atlanta before relocating to South Georgia. 

I then lived in Blackshear, Georgia and went to university in Stateside, Georgia; it is about an hour away from Savannah. 

On the new record your have utilised a little of the Muscle Shoals style of music with a sprinkling of soul here and there. 

I believe so. I feel there are some soul and funk elements to the record. 

Is there any special reason why you have veered away from the more traditional side of country music you are best known for? 

I just go where the songs dictate. The songs are everything, and that is what these songs wanted, more of that kind of sound. I have done old country and I don’t just want to make the same record over and over again. 

I agree. I believe in “Evacuation” and “Methadone Blues” that you have two truly outstanding songs. 

Thank you very much. 

What inspired you to write them?

“Evacuation” comes from a storm we had over here in ’08, Hurricane Katrina. I became obsessed with the stories about it and around the storm. There were so many people who were evacuated, and others asked to evacuate. This is about a lady that did not evacuate, although I don’t know her eventual fate. I respect the lady’s choice to stay because she was really old and didn’t have anywhere to go, and if she did, no means of getting there. “Evacuation” was inspired by her story. 

It has been a tough journey for a great many of the poorer people of New Orleans. A good many did have to leave, some were farmed out to Baton Rouge and others farther away still to Lafayette and Houston, Texas. 

Yes, the people down there have had a hard time of it.

“Methadone Blues” is a terrific song. 

It is the continuation of a song I had on my ‘Welder’ record called “Heroin Addict Sister”, and is a follow on that story. 

It seems you aren’t afraid of tackling issues of a darker note, and don’t hide aspects under the carpet such the honesty of your writing.

Thank you. No, I am not. I don’t see why you should. It gives me the opportunity to explore and write about different (and more sensitive) things. 

“Broke Down In London On The M25” is an intriguing song. 

It is based on another true story, this time it was when I broke down just outside London on the M25. We had to wait a while for the tow truck to come and get us. So I was trapped with my thoughts. It gave me the opportunity to contemplate on life, and that is how that song started. It took me about a couple of years to finish it. 

Does the album have more to do with your own life with it concentrating more on the darker side? 

I believe so. 

With it being six years since you last recording you could almost call it a comeback album, if it wasn’t for all the other things you have been doing.

I have busy with Television, and I also have my daily radio show on Satellite Radio, and then you the personal events that have occurred, sad even, that piled up during that time. 

Have the knocks experienced given you the jolt to grasp any opportunities going. Like the person stood by the waters edge, deciding on making that first step into the water, because the realise if they don’t there is no chance of making it to the other side.   

Yes, that is a good way to put it.

There is real heart-breaking true story on there about a girl who went missing and has yet to be found. 

Yes, “Tabatha Tuder’s Mama”. It is about the experience of a mother of a young girl who goes missing, and she does not have a lot of money. Her case doesn’t get a lot of coverage because of that, so I felt compassion for the family.  

America it seems to be going through troubled times at the moment. Is the present unrest due partly to the up-and-coming presidential election or are people generally growing apart.

Yes, people seem to be growing that way. I think the election has had something to do with it. I don’t watch the news on purpose, because of that. I see things rumbling round on social media, but have to admit it seems pretty chaotic at the moment. I find the news manipulative, and don’t want that feeling. It would be one thing if I could watch it, and obtain information but don’t want to be emotionally manipulated or pandered to. That’s a real turn off for me, and I don’t want to participate in that. 

You have had some pretty big names produce your previous records, Rodney Crowell and Don Was to name two. How different was it, if different at all working with Dexter Green. 

I co-wrote a lot of the songs with Dexter, and that’s something I have never done that before. Usually I write them on my own. And because is a master musician I let him have more input on the musical direction of the songs. It gave everything a little more sophistication, and helped lift the bar had it just been me doing it. 

Did Dexter bring the musicians in for the record? 

Yes. 

I was most impressed with Jesse Aycock on acoustic, lap and pedal steel guitar. 

He is a talented young guy from Tulsa. 

You also have Buddy Miller on the record. 

Buddy Miller dropped by the studio to lend his support, and we asked him to grab a guitar, and he did laughs Cook. He plays on the song “Dharma Gate”. 

East Nashville has a community-like spirit that sees people from there keen to help their fellow artist, give them a leg up the ladder so to speak.

Yes, it tends to be that way. 

Going back to your radio show, how do you keep the presentation fresh, because to do it everyday is a hard ask. 

Everyday is a new day. I don’t plan what I am going to say or anything. I just play off the music, knowing that it is a new day. 

What music do you tend to play, and the kind of artist you support. 

Some of course are local. We try to play everything from the classics to old school honky tonk, and corner pieces you would expect to hear on a channel called Outlaw Country. Willie and Waylon, and then we may go back and play some Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and then you could have the Jayhawks and Nick Lowe, and newer artists too. That way we introduce the audience to a fresh playlist every day. 

I saw a video on social media where you visited a vinyl manufacturing plant I found it most informative, and encouraging for fans of the format.

My new record is also on vinyl. For the fans of vinyl I think the process of holding a record, and putting the record on and dropping the needle is wonderful. It’s the whole process, and to have the fan being more interactive with their musical experience than just pressing a button. I think it is really fun for those who like that experience. It’s important that we continue to provide the medium to have the experience. 

“Orange Blossom Trail” is an intriguing one. 

It is an estate (housing) where I lived that was always in the news for the crime there, and where all the shady characters hung out. I wanted to write a song about the area. “Orange Blossom Trail” is how I imagine the lifestyle of people who lived on the street. 

“Dharma Gate” that Buddy Miller plays on it is quite a mellow song. 

Yeah, “Dharma Gate” is about starting a relationship when it isn’t probably the right time to start one, but you do it anyway. Life is a circle and you might as well go anyway and jump in.  

How did Patty Loveless come to sing on the record? 

We reached out to her camp, and sent her some songs because I could see her singing on several of them. They came back saying she had picked “Straitjacket Love” as the one she wanted to sing on. 

Have you plans to come back over to Europe. 

They are working on me coming over next spring. 

You have always been well received in the UK.

I hope I can make it back. 

One of the highlights of your career I suspect was appearing on the David Letterman Show. 

Yes, I did get to do that. I have done it a few times, twice by myself, and once with Jason Isbell.

What was it that made him (Letterman) so popular in America? 

I think his taste in music. He cares a lot about the music, and who he has on the show. 

What have you planned in the near future, have you ever thought of one day maybe writing a novel? 

I have thought about it, and of have thought about writing a memoir. 

What part has Dexter played with your music? 

He is a wonderful interpreter of music and of style and tone. Having Dexter involved allows a deeper sophistication to be present that would not have been there had it just been left to just me. He has been producing records for a number of years, and he brought richness to the music. It was a new experience that was so exciting for me. I also like writing with him. 

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From Bradford to the Bayou - Serious Sam Barrett

Roots singer-songwriter ‘Serious’ Sam Barrett shows how a solid base ensures; the music he makes retains authenticity when built a little at a time. Unlike most acts drawn to traditional music Barrett isn’t content in walking similar paths but he adds an exciting edge to the music, brings it into 21st century with a classy turn too. As heard on his latest record, Sometimes You’ve Got To Lose (Ya Dig? Records). 

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Rainbows from over the Eastside - Over here, Amelia White on the UK and her great new record

East Nashville-based singer-songwriter Amelia White is no stranger to travel as she eeks out melodies steeped in regal beauty.  Surrounded and respected by good people of this special area of music city has helped white immeasurably, to further her ability as a writer. "I am in this because I'm a writer" says White. 

Over for a summer tour, both performing intimate gigs and those of a larger stage, festivals, Amelia White is also promoting her latest album Home Sweet Hotel (White-wolf Records), the album follows acclaimed releases Old Postcard, Blue Souvenirs and Black Doves among others. 

 

How is the tour going?

Yesterday I walked around York. It’s beautiful. I love your county. My shows have been well attended, and I am selling cds and vinyl. 

You have just played the Maverick Festival?

Yes, sir. That was a really great. It was so laid back, and with all the animals a wonderful festival to play.  

This isn’t your first trip over here is it?

I came over four years ago; I was over and did a tour. It was with Mark Huff and it was at the height of the recession over here then. We had hoped for more people, and were a little disappointed at the numbers but we didn’t not waste time being unhappy being here, because it is so different to the US and loved every minute of our time here.  

Playing festivals opposed to your normal show attracts a different audience?

Yes, it is. I have got a couple more festivals coming up here. The Platform Festival on 16th (July), and then the very last dates at the SummerTyne Americana Festival (23rd and 24th July). I know my last show is going to be a ticketed in the round performance (with Brennen Leigh, Yola Carter and Amythyst Kiah). 

As for your musical upbringing what kind of music was mainly played around your house?

It would be my older brother’s musical collection of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters. It was an interesting mix, lets see what else…. I can’t think of the others right now, but I got into Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor. But it was the Beatles, and their great melodies sunk into me. They say I do Americana, but I believe that sense of melodies became imbedded in my head. I also sang in the Lithuanian Church choir and loved the melodies and it sunk into my head.  

You mention your love of melody. I particularly enjoy that aspect of your music.

Well thank you. In Nashville there are so many different songwriters and you kind of get known for different things and I am kind of known for my melodies. there. 

Lithuanian Church how does it differ from other denominations. 

A lot of the hymns are based on Bach, and the pastor of the church that I grew up in was really into music. It was great for me, just perfect, although I can’t say I am a great church person at this point but super grateful for singing in the choir and leaning how to sing harmonies and the beautiful melodies. 

The church is the nurturing point for a lot of singers.  

Yeah, some of the great players, like for instance the guy who plays drums on my record and also produced, Marco Giovino when he first came to Nashville he played gospel music in a lot of southern churches. A lot of players do that, because when they move to Nashville it’s a job they can do. It is kind of interesting because he then went on play with Robert Plant and Band Of Joy and Buddy Miller, but he really enjoyed his time drumming in the southern church. 

It is good news that you managed to have someone of his stature produce your new record.

He played with me, even when he was touring with Robert Plant when he came home to Nashville he would play gigs with me. He loves my music and I love his playing. There is no one who plays like him, we are just good friends. 

That is one of he things about Nashville, especially East Nashville where you have this fabric of musicians who are so close and adaptable when it comes to playing the music of others. Musicians who can drop by and make other people sound good. 

That is totally the truth. It is an amazing place to be. There is a real community spirit there for sure, I love it so much living there. I’ve now been living in East Nashville for fourteen years, and all of it in that part of town and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Nashville; we are a little more liberal side of music etc.   

Like Tommy Womack who does the bio notes for your website.

I love his music. Tommy is such a great songwriter.

He is an off the wall musician, the music he made with Will Kimbrough is absolutely brilliant. 

Actually, I wrote a song with Tommy, it is a good song. I just have not pulled it out and polished it up. 

Talking about good songs “Beautiful & Wild” is a most beautiful piece of work. 

It is a tribute to my fried Duane Jarvis, another guy who spent some time in East Nashville. He was a great songwriter who wrote “Still I Long For Your Kiss” with Lucinda Williams on her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, he just became a good friend and mentor. We actually wrote together, just a lovely guy and then became ill and passed away. There’s no insurance sometimes for us musicians wryly adds White 

He was a greatly respected. Back to your childhood if I may. What age were you when you left Virginia. 

I left Virginia when I was 12. My parents are both real southern Virginians, but I grew up in Washington DC, in Arlington the armpit of Washington as we call it laughs White. 

Moving to Boston would be quite a change for you. 

Yeah, it was, but that was sort of where I went to school for English literature and drama, and learned a lot there. I then became involved in theatre and playing music. I was actually involved with a theatre company and they invited me to write some music for this play and perform it. Then I started to feel this is it for me writing songs and playing music, and I got really going on that. I played all over Boston, and played in the subway which was great because I could have a couple of gigs on the weekend and play in the subway during the week so I could quit my job, and just do music. It kind of got me going, it was a great place to be at the time. 

You have Berkley and over on the other side of bridge you had Cambridge.  

Yeah, I would also play on the street on Cambridge.  

Mary Gauthier was around then, playing her music. As was Lori McKenna she was around, there were a lot of really good songwriters.

You would no doubt have gained a great deal of inspiration being involved in the Boston folk scene.

I definitely did. I will say that moving to Nashville brought that up to a new level. There is nothing like Nashville when it comes to songwriters. Oh Boy!

It would be a great more intense there with so many people there just to write songs.

That is so very true. Sometimes, when I first moved there I did not have laundry and the first time I went to the Laundromat the guy there was a great songwriter, it was kind of funny she laughs. 

Getting away from Nashville to perform would be your next move. 

The thing about Nashville is you can’t just play there, because it is a music city so you are really only playing to get better and be seen, and learn what you do wrong. You don’t make any money, so you have to start touring (or you starve). I would go back to Boston because I had friends there, and would tour there. Anywhere I had friends and could stay and get them to come out. You just start to tour and build it up, play venues where people want to have you come back.

You have a great guy who often partners you in Sergio Webb. 

Yeah, Sergio is amazing. I wish I could have brought him to England, but financially it wasn’t possible. Hopefully I will bring him next time if things allow. 

Have you done any writing with Sergio?

Yes, we have on my new album Home Sweet Hotel we wrote the song “The Road Not Taken” and we also wrote a song that made it onto his last album but not mine and we actually just wrote one a couple of days before I came over here.

Do you do many songwriting collaborations? 

I do. I also write a lot of songs on my own, but write a lot with other people. 

Do you write much while you are away like now, when travelling?

I write on the road. Last night when I was coming home to where I am staying. Anyway, I stopped and worked on a song a little bit. I had my computer with me, and tweaked on the words. I quite like to write when I am away, because you are out of your routine that for me can be a time when I am most creative. 

I understand you lived in Seattle for a little while. What made you move across there?

To honest, I kind of came to a point in music when I was living in Boston where I just…this happens every now and then with me like I can’t deal with this it is too hard explains Amelia. It is a rough life you know, and I wanted to quit. I figured I would pick some place far away, and moved there. Not long after I moved there I ended up writing some good songs and this great producer, Tucker Martine heard me play, and said let’s make a record. I got into a festival there so pretty soon the idea of quitting was long gone. 

You mentioned Tucker Martine who has done some great work. 

Yes, he really is. He’s incredible. I got to work with him, it was a while ago and I was just getting my sound together and he was nothing like as famous back then as he is now. He was great to work with. 

Getting away from famous people to much mentioned places, I see you have a date coming up when you return home at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California. 

I am real excited about that. After I get home I’ll have just about enough time to take a shower before I head out to LA. 

I know a few artists have made live recording there. Norman Blake for one. 

It is just this old guitar shop. They have incredible, live shows and somewhere I have wanted to play for years. You kind of know that something is going right for your career when they want you to play there. It is a real honour. 

I notice you have had some of your songs used on the TV shows Justified and Summerland. 

Yeah, getting songs on TV shows is a nice way to make some extra money. I am always trying to make stuff like that happen. I think if all goes well I will have a couple of songs that are due to be used help promote a film, and petty excited about that. I am just waiting for it to be finalised. If it comes through it will be some really good money for me. 

What have been the highlights for you so far in your musical career?

You know, to be honest, for me the real highlight for me is just the work itself. Sometimes writing with certain people comes to mind. Writing with Tony Furtado, he plays guitar, Dobro, banjo and writes songs. We were on the same record label in 2006, 2007 and wrote a lot of songs with him and we had a real connection with our writing and that was just a special time. Then there is a guy in Nashville who I love to write with who is a professional writer and doesn’t play live, only plays for his publishing company. He has written a lot of big hits; for people like Kenny Chesney and even pop hits back in the day, he wrote for Tiffany. Whenever I write with him (Jon McCelroy) it is always special. I have written some of my best songs with him. I wrote “Dogs Bark” from the new album was written with him. A couple of albums ago I wrote “Lonely Sound” which I think is one of the best country songs I have written. For me it is all about certain moments when I am writing with people. I am in this business because I am a writer. I love to write the lyrics, and it’s from there the melodies come, so for me the greatest highlights are the work itself! 

I guess the people you admire most are songwriters?

I just love to write, that is where it all comes from for me. I feel I sing and play because I write. Some people have these great voices, and learn to write later because they have a voice. To me everything stems from writing. When I grow old and my voice changes I intend to keep writing, write some short stories and hopefully a novel, I would like that. 

I believe there’s a lot of miles left in your voice because you don’t force anything?

I do love to sing. It’s real me, you are getting the real thing. There is nothing put on about it. 

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All her own work for record number 4 - Sarah Jarosz

Four albums into her recording career, Sugar Hill artist Texas-born Sarah Jarosz is pushing the boundaries of bluegrass folk country in an innovative inviting fashion. Multi-instrumental, singer songwriter Jarosz is growing by the day in all categories.   

Not least among her attributes is her bravery of stripping down a production to allow the lyrics stand up unaided. Other than her exquisite playing of acoustic guitar on the four solo tracks on her new album undercurrent (released June 17th) are of a standard to prompt me to believe she is destined to become one of the best of her genre. Getting to rub shoulders with the music’s finest has not done her any harm. On talking with Jarosz I gained the impression she doesn’t realise how good she is on guitar!  

Child prodigy Jarosz now living in New York has been around since she was barely into her teens, and making records since she was seventeen. Long enough to impress with Build Me Up From Bones (2013), Follow Me Down (2011) and her debut album Song Up In My Head (2009). There is much more, co-hosting Prairie Companion with legendry radio presenter and author Garrison Keillor among Jarosz’s most recent achievements. 

 

You will have made a lot of new fans the last year or so from being in the trio I’m With Her.

Yeah, I am having a lot of fun with that. 

What sparked off the idea to form the group

We (Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan) have been long time friends in the music scene. We were working separately at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, it would be summer 2014 and we did a vocal workshop together and an impromptu opening set for the Punch Brothers. Afterwards we texted one another and said, that was really fun! We should do more of that. Luckily, our schedules opened up for it and we got together and wrote music and become a band, and it became a special thing. We are all excited about getting to further the association. To date we have recorded two songs “Crossing Muddy Waters”  and “To Be My Husband”. I think we have a lot of similar musical tastes, and it is good to get in there together and work out songs that suit a trio. 

On the solo front Undercurrent (Sugar Hill) your new album shows a greater maturity to your music from start to finish.

Thank you very much. 

Did you write all the songs on the record, the information I have to hand doesn’t confirm this.

Actually, it is the first album I have done without any covers. They are all either written by me or written with friends of mine who also appear on the album. Yeah, it feels especially personal I guess and closer to home with it all original material. 

Are there any songs that you are particularly fond of?    

The thing about them is as a record they all fit together nicely. I am particularly proud of that, and most excited about the record centred round four completely solo songs “Early Morning Light”, “Everything To Hide”, “Take Another Turn” and “Jacqueline” performed by just me and a guitar. I feel so connected to them and was so excited to have a stripped down version of a song like that for the first time. I had never put anything out like this before, without a lot of other things going on, here it was just me and feel connected because of that. 

It is brave call by you. I think your audience will greatly appreciate you doing this because it shows a belief your lyrics are strong enough to stand up on their own other than your guitar. 

Doing this was something I felt most important when I started out making this record. 

Talking about guitar players you have Jedd Hughes (Rodney Crowell) on the album.

Yeah, that’s right [enthuses Jarosz]

I was only just checking your website and reading the great things his boss, Rodney Crowell says about you. One thing he picks up on it the rhythm factor, something he knows a great deal about since he plays rhythm guitar. 

Oh, yeah, Rodney is he is a hero of mine for sure. I am especially thrilled to have Jedd so involved on the record; he is a fantastic singer and musician. It has been a pleasure getting to watch him the last few years playing with Rodney and Emmylou (Harris). He has something going on there. 

He is an absolutely brilliant guitar player. 

It’s stunning! 

Anyone who has seen him perform with them on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues” can’t help but be impressed by his awesome talent; he just burns it up on the song. 

He has a tendency to do that [laughs Jarosz]

Having a compact set of players on the record helps to being the lyrics home on the record. 

Yes, thank you. Certainly, on this record I tried to do that. Undercurrent was the first record where I wasn’t simultaneously in school. Finally, I had the time to focus just on the songwriting, and not just squeeze it in when the inspiration hit. This time I would work on it everyday and hopefully it shows through on the album. 

Where did you go to school.

I went to the New England Conservatory Of Music in Boston. I spent four years there and graduated in 2013, almost three years ago. Since then I have lived in New York City and feel the record has been influenced by my time living there. 

You have a new player to me on the record Luke Reynolds on guitar and vocals could you tell me a little about him.

I have been a friend of Luke for a couple of years. He comes more from the indie-rock world, he is an incredible steel guitar player too that he plays on one of the songs. He is in a band called Guster, an amazing band. We got to hang out together in Nashville, and have done some songwriting together that made it onto the album, he plays and sings on the song. It was fun to include him because he doesn’t come from my folk world so much, but comes from a different place. I think it is nice to do that, bring in a different sonic talent and Luke certainly does that.

You mention sonic which is something you could direct at some of the material on the record, like with “Everything To Hide” (aided by Jarosz’s intimate playing of guitar, her fingers sliding along the strings). 

Yeah, it is good to hear. I try to strike that balance between being honest with the listener, but able to also retain a certain element of mystery. 

The song that really made my ears perk up was “Green Lights”; the way it builds in tempo and glides to effortlessly. 

It is a fun one to play. 

Where in Texas are you from. 

I was born in Austin and moved to Wimberley when I was three years old. It is a wonderful place to grow up. 

Ray Wylie Hubbard lives there.

Yes, he does. There’s a lot of musicians from that that central Texas area.  

With such a diverse selection of music in the area I guess some of your influences include those people might not readily think of. 

It is such a lush musical environment. My parents would always take me to see live music somewhere; Houston among other places to see people like Shawn Colvin, one of my big heroes and Guy Clark. The list goes on. Texas certainly had a very strong identity to it.  

What part has Gary Paczosa played in your career, apart from co-producing Undercurrent.

He has been there from the start. It has been amazing, and it is special when you have someone you have a working camaraderie with. I first met him when I was very young, and had barely got started in the music world and he believed in me. 

We have stuck with one another through four albums and become better working with one another in the studio, and grown a great deal since I first met him. At a time when I had hardly put a foot inside a studio, and also the fact the records have been made at his house. His family have become like family to me. I think that environment lends itself to creative, honest work. I am honoured to have worked with him so long, almost a decade, which is crazy (at her young age). It’s great to have someone as talented work with you in the studio as him. 

With a relationship like that you know there is room to experiment and much trust shared when you do go into the studio.

Totally, there is no filter. He can be completely honest with me whether it works or not. It can be hard at times, but it is good to be around people who are honest with you. 

When you first started out what was it that turned you on to bluegrass music.

It’s funny because all the time I was growing up and learning stuff it was all about music, it wasn’t my initial love was bluegrass or any specific genre. As long as I had a memory music was always around. I think the reason I was drawn to bluegrass was when I was 9 or 10 I was drawn to the mandolin and the music connected to it is bluegrass and folk. I just became obsessed with the mandolin. Even on becoming deep into the tradition I still listened to all different kinds of music. My mentors in bluegrass music were all pushing boundaries, Nickel Creek, Bela Fleck and Sam Bush or Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien. People from this roots background but weren’t afraid to look out there for music that wasn’t necessarily bluegrass. It was them I wanted to model myself.  

You mention Tim O’Brien who is a big fan of your music.  

Yeah, she laughs. I am also a big fan of his. Tim along with Gillian Welch along with Nickel Creek was the biggest reasons I wanted to get into this music in the first place. It’s been great the last 10, more like 15 years now getting to know them all, and work with them. Like now being in a band with Sara Watkins. It is funny how full circle music is, and that is how it is with the scene. I have to say how special it was that from an early age they allowed me to first meet and tag along with them. An eleven-year old like me. I definitely owe a lot of what I have ended up doing to them, being in the proximity and influences by those people. 

Having these big bluegrass festivals will no doubt been great for you. Gaining introductions with them.

Yeah, getting to meet and jam with them. Being forced to take a solo, those challenging situations when you are just starting off are good experience and quicken your learning of the music. It is like if you are learning a language but best way to learn is go to that place and learn it. Get right in the middle and go learn. 

Claw-hammer banjo is another instrument you play, something entirely different in many ways for it is old mountain music style. How did you come to learn it. 

Well, I was going to these music sessions, a bluegrass jam in my hometown of Wimberley. I had been playing mandolin for seven years and well into that, but such is the nature of a jam situations you swop your own songs and instruments too. There was this guy Bernard Mollberg, and he played clawhammer banjo every week. That was my first introduction to it. He had been playing for a while when he eventually passed me his banjo, and I started messing around with it and fell in love with it. He actually built the banjo I play today. It is an incredible instrument, and a really cool story because it all comes from that one night when he asked me if I wanted to mess around on it for a change. He let me borrow it and I went on from there. 

Have you a favourite instrument. 

It is so hard to pick a favourite, but I feel so connected with my octave mandolin. It seems like more and more it is the instrument I play more these days. It has always seemed to me like the ideal instrument ‘though I also love playing guitar and banjo.

Have you thought of putting out a live record.

I have the live EP Live At The Troubadour (with Alex Hargreaves and Nathaniel Smith), as for a full live album it something I expect to do some day. As for when we shall see, laughs Jarosz. I would be a fun thing to do. 

High among the greatest thrills so far for you would no doubt be working with Garrison Keillor’s legendary Prairie Home Companion as co-host. 

Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado has to be up there. And, yes being on Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor it’s been about the greatest of them all. I am so proud to have got to know Garrison; it has been a great honour for me to get to work with him. Chris Tile is to take over from him.

I understand Eli West (Cahalen Morrison & Eli West) is due to come over with you to the UK in November.  

It is something we are working on, only needs some finalisation. 

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Keep on the grass, the bluegrass - Town Mountain

Ashville North Carolina Town Mountain band member banjo player Jesse Langlais shares his thoughts on the making of band’s new album Southern Crescent and the world of bluegrass music. How a band from there got to record an album down in the crawfish capitol of the world, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Plus the fact they are the debut act of the new record label Lohi records out of Greenboro, NC.  

 

Hello, Jesse I love the clean sharp sound of the band. 

We are nearer to tradition than a lot of new bluegrass acts coming round. Yeah, there is a lot of different bluegrass sounds and a lot of contemporary bands here in the United States. I feel like Town Mountain gets to hold on to a little bit of history of the tradition and what it used to be like.  

When and how did Town Mountain come about.

Robert, the lead singer and myself are quote unquote original members of the band and I think less than a year later Phil (Barker) who plays mandolin came on board. I claim him to be also an original member, that all happened around 2006. The band had been doing some stuff from 2005, but I think 2006 had it became more official. All three of us though not form Asheville we ended up there. I have been here 15 years and Robert and Phil a year less. We met through the music scene here in Asheville, and where many different genres of music that go way beyond bluegrass and old time music the circles that we hung out in are played. There were weekly jams back then that all of us went to every Thursday and Sunday, and that is where we cut our teeth as bluegrass musicians. We kind all became friends and a couple of years passed and we were all in other projects, and then Robert and I who had been hanging out together. Working on writing material we said, let’s put a tour and band together and see if it can happen. That is how it unfolded. 

When you were younger who would be your heroes and biggest influences. 

Well you know, personally, my musical tastes are all over the board. Two of biggest heroes are John Hartford and Ray Charles and though I may not sound like either of them I have listened to their music for thousands of hours, and grew up listening to Ray Charles. That was my parents doing. When I got into bluegrass I soon found out who John Hartford was and got aboard what he did. I will say that in the way that I play with Town Mountain, my heroes could be more in line with J.D Crowe. That is how I approach the banjo in Town Mountain. Seventies era of bluegrass banjo, Sonny Osborne, J.D Crowe and Allen Shelton, I like that era, 1970s and 1960s a whole lot. 

In general, the late 1970s revitalised bluegrass music with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley and of course Jerry Douglas and Peter Rowan.

I think one the greatest bluegrass influences was the (Rounder) 0044 or the brown album as some people call it, it is the general quintessential J.D Crowe and The New South. That is like the album! Ricky and JD are on there, which was like a new fresh crop of players experimenting with the sound. John Hartford was also pushing those sounds in a new direction too. I think the past eight – ten years have been similar for bluegrass music in that there are a lot of bands out there pushing the envelope, the same way they did in the 1970s (a good few from Asheville or who have recorded there, and North Carolina in general seems to be producing more than its share of exciting new acts). 

You only need to look at the success of Chris Stapleton (formerly with The Steel Drivers) in country music. 

Oh, yeah. 

Bluegrass music has given country music a good many fine vocalists, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley…the list is endless.

It really is. A lot of country stars cut their teeth playing bluegrass music. Even Dirks Bentley who is one of the mega country pop artists of today he used to play bluegrass in Nashville, because one of Town Mountain’s bass players played with him. It is an open pathway for some musicians for sure. 

Asheville isn’t only a hotbed for exciting bands; it is also the location for a lot of good recordings. 

Yeah, right now the scene is the richest it’s ever been. There are a lot of talented bands out there, and a lot of them are close friends of mine. It is not a big city and nice to be on the floor of this great scene. 

As for your recordings you had Mike Bubb produce a couple of your records with Pinecastle. 

He did, he produced Steady Operator and Leave The Bottle album.

It was a big move for you to bring in Dirk Powell to produce Southern Crescent. 

Well, we were riding down the road in the van and were bouncing ideas of who we wanted to produce the album. Several names came up but one kept being noted, Dirk Powell and the reaction was always the same. Yes, I’m in! He was always the unanimous one, he has similar connections to music as ours and in what we like. The sound and groove of music, he also is most respected in so many styles of music; the old-time, the Cajun and the folk circle and the country circle. He is a well-rounded musician, and the material we had was our most rounded and…a little bit of everything. It just made sense to go for someone who wasn’t quote, unquote a bluegrass figure. Go with someone who had a little more sensibility about different styles of music, and it worked out for the best I think. 

Had you all the songs written when you started to record the album?  

Most of them were written. The way Town Mountain typically goes about that process is we bring songs to the table and we try them out on the road. Some might be two months old, others might be as old as six months and it helps to craft the song. Performing it several times a week in a live setting. It helps you figure out the arrangements and how the vocals should go. I think on the album and we have done this before there were a couple of tracks that were completely new, but most of them they were road tested songs. If we get positive responses live from people we know it is a good song and will then work on it a little more. 

On one song on the album you talk of travelling on the road to Baton Rouge in Louisiana was it about your trip to record the album down there. 

I think that song “Comin’ Back To You” was technically written before we knew we were going to Louisiana, and work with Dirk so it was kind of serendipitous. It was from about a year before when we were going to a festival in Lafayette called Black Pot, it’s a great festival. If you ever get the chance to go you must go. It is very unique and amazing experience, when we were down there Robert wrote that tune. You have to drive through Baton Rouge to get to Lafayette from where we are from so I guess he got that idea on that trip. He also talks about a couple of other towns throughout the country we really enjoy and like to go to. 

Lafayette of course is a huge Cajun stronghold. 

It is the Mecca for Cajun music. You have the Savoy family and before them the Balfa family. I think the Savoys (Ann and Marc Savoy and family) have almost kind of revitalised the music and brought it to a more popular level. They started doing that in the 1970s and 1980s. It was through the festival scene we met Joel Savoy there, one of their sons and became good friends with him. We already knew there was one or two songs we wanted to add some cajun flavour so we had him and his brother, Wilson to join us for second fiddle and piano on “Comin’ Back To You” and we used some other elements of the cajun scene down there. Unfortunately, the tunes like on one track we had Dirk on accordion and a great Cajun thing going but we didn’t use them on the album. I am bummed out about that, but that is how the cookie crumbles reflects Langlais. 

That is interesting, I noticed Dirk plays drums on the record, and how is such an unassuming kind of guy likes to take a back seat and thought it a bit of a waste him not being more involved. His accordion, guitar, fiddle, banjo and piano playing are extraordinary. 

He is a most tasteful musician. He just knows what to play and when to play it and is always conscious of all that is going on around him. 

Getting to hang out down in Breaux Bridge is an experience itself. 

Yeah, he has a nice compound and studio there, it is right on the bayou and his mother has a house right there. It is also the crawfish capitol of the world so we ate some good food there. Before going down there we were all excited that we were going to be hanging out in Breaux Bridge and Lafayette, playing music and parting with our friends but in the end we did a lot of work down there. We pretty much put our nose to the grindstone and really focussed on the album while down there. 

You tend to share the songwriting out as a band, as for the lead vocals how does it go. 

Robert does most of them, Phil sings lead on a couple of tunes, and in a live setting I’ll sing lead every now and then. On this album Phil sings lead on one maybe two and it is kind of the formula. For us and for bluegrass music the vocals play such a defining part of what a band’s sound is, and you need to get that over to your audience and fans. 

I was most impressed with your first composition on the record “House With No Windows” the lead vocals are terrific.  

Robert sings lead on that, and I wrote that song. That is part of the challenge and also part of excitement of being a songwriter in a band when you write a song for someone else to sing. It makes you try to be more creative in the process, because you will often write a song, and think about the person singing it. I will often write a song with me singing it and re-write it for Robert to sing it. That is always fun to do. 

Apart from snagging Dirk Powell as producer you are also the debut act for a new record label, LoHi Records. 

I had to give that crew the credit, Chad Staehly, Jim Brooks, Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth) and Todd Snider for just saying lets start a record label in 2016! It takes guts. I think they have a good idea of what they are trying to do and incorporate it on that label.  There are not a lot of labels doing that. Taking those multiple roots projects and putting them together. The smaller label always seem to be genre specific, you have got the small jazz labels but here they are trying to pull people from the rock and singer-songwriter circle and us from the bluegrass circle, and having Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth the Jam circle are in there too. I like where they are going, creating a nice, diverse roster. Not pigeon hole themselves to a certain kind of label. With most things these days you need to be able to diverse your self no matter what your business may be. I think it is a smart move on their part, and it is really cool being the first release on a brand new label. That is a first for Town Mountain. We were with Pinecastle in the past that was a well-established bluegrass label, but this is different. It’s exciting to be in from the start, we want to foster this relationship and the guys running it have good heads on their shoulders. 

With Todd Snider and Tim Carbone and the other contacts from the label it will no doubt open different and diverse doors for Town Mountain.

Right, from the start we did no want to be considered just a bluegrass band, yes we love it and play hard-driving bluegrass but we also cover singer-songwriter, boogie Woogie-ish or honky tonk or old style country. So, collectively being able to bring all these sounds to the one table has been perfect for us and we are thankful that we are able to do that. 

As for your songwriting is it something that comes easy. 

I have multiple variations that come and go. Usually a little something triggers, and I will take it and work on it. Like with “House With No Windows” ….what is that old saying a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I was thinking of that one day and the line a dollar in my pocket is worth two on the table came from. It was like, okay let’s do something along those lines and it went from there. 

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Brock Zeman - roots and being the real deal on new record the terrifically named "Pulling the sword from the devil's back"

Brock Zeman is a Canadian singer-songwriter hitting stride as  recording act and performer. Based outside Ottawa Zeman’s music is strong, unbending and at the same time caring…..pulling your sword out of the devil’s back (busted flat records) is the impassioned writer and recording act Zeman’s latest record. Like good wine is becoming better with every recording as his work obtains a higher level with each throw. As in one of the finest songs on the record “ten year fight” taken from real life it underlines how fine an artist Brock Zeman really is. Make no mistake about it the real deal. 

On looking at your list of gigs it seems like you do a great deal of travelling.

Yes, I do, I am just about to start another trip. I am off to Kansas City then Costa Rica and back to the States.

It sounds like you are in for an exciting time in Kansas at the Folk Alliance Festival.  

It like a roots buffet, everyone is there and it’s great to be part of it. 

It must be like SXSW but less hectic. 

That is what I have heard, because I have never been to SXSW. I am also new to the folk conference, but have a great time whenever I attend any of these events. 

It must be must be an important time for you. It will no doubt help fill your calendar for the coming year. 

Yeh, you hope. That is what you look for. If you only get one festival out of going there it’s worth it. 

No doubt it will be a great place to catch up with fellow artist who tend to pass like ships in the night on your travels.  

Yes, and facebook posts. People you tend to only see there, but know where they are via facebook. It is great to see them in person he laughs.

Listening to your album, the first song, the title-track of the record “Pulling Your Sword Out Of The Devil’s Back” completely blew me away! 

Thank you. It is my favourite record so far, we put a lot of work into it and I really like what we have come up with. The reviews have been good and I too am blown away by the response. It is the 11th album I have put out in a little over ten years, my favourite part of the musical experience putting out records. Writing songs and record them, I just love it. 

Yes, you can tell. On that opening song I detected traces of Sam Baker, it is that good. 

I am happy to be put in the same sentence as Sam Baker, he is fabulous, a great act.  

It is the different angle you come at the song, even he would be hard pushed to equal it. 

Thank you for saying that. That song was the first I hope of many (songs).., where I sat down and it was just a case of going with the flow. Let it all hang out. It was a case of going with the song and to let it go where it wanted to go. It has been a good experience for me, to really sit down and nit pick my songwriting and be a critic, and come back with a better idea every time. That is something I’ve been working on for many years.

While you were born and raised and still live in Canada I understand you also spend a good bit time down in Texas. 

I try to go down there twice a year. This music we are making, Blair (Hogan) who plays on the album and travels with me we are trying to hit Nashville and Austin as much as possible.  

Austin of course is very much a stronghold for singer-songwriters.

Yes, it is. But on the flip side of that everybody goes there. So, it is hard to get noticed in a place like that, but then again every band you get to play in you feel special to be there. 

Regards music who were your early influences.

Growing up I was all over the map. There was a lot of hard stuff, lot of hard-core bands all through high school. After that I listened to The Replacements and Paul Westingberg (former lead singer of the band) and that led me into Whiskey Town and Sun Volt, and I continued to listen to them all them and you can add Wilco. I got Steve Earle and that led me to Townes Van Zandt and Tom Waits. I have been grabbing from a lot of trees ever since I was a kid and into punk music. Like the band Modest Mouse (founded in Washington) who have been a great listen to over the years, they came out of punk and I love anyone who has come out of it. 

Punk music was a big wake up call for many, because it brought a greater freedom and how it was real musicians fully committed to what they were doing. 

Yes, it was honest. I can’t listen to lyrics that I don’t believe or the person singing them doesn’t believe. I tend to go where the music is honest.

Living and performing as a musician in Canada will mean an awful lot of travelling to get away anywhere.

Canada is one of the most unrealistic places to tour. I am in one of the best parts to be a musician living close to Ottawa. To get to the next province, Manitoba it’s a 24-hour drive. There’s a lot of holes where there’s not a lot going on it makes it very difficult. I have been chipping away at the US and seeing how it goes. So people up there eventually have to everybody try other things. 

Like if you gained a foothold in the Boston area there would be a lot of venues not to far away to go at. 

That’s right, you have a lot of I don’t want to say choice but options. Because if you are in Boston and don’t get the gig, within five hours there is a lot of places to try. Like if you drive to Winnipeg and don’t get the gig, the next place is six hours away. I find when I have toured Canada people to be very inviting and I have always done well. I can see some of the music venues vanishing in the future. 

When you were growing up who were the Canadian artist you most looked up to.

(laughs) man, that’s tough. I know I liked Ian Tyson. He was always one of my favourites. I mean there is a ton of Canadian talent but it is hard to pick out those who have made their mark, worldwide if you know what I mean. 

Canadian music has never been so good as it is right now. There is a ton of talent, and some really good music being recorded and coming out of there today. 

It certainly is and it is appreciated elsewhere. I am always getting good reviews in Europe although I have never been there myself so it is neat to see that and it is always good when you do go there. 

Has the vast Canadian landscape rubbed off on your writing. 

I live out in the middle of nowhere anywhere in Canada, and have always been one for hiking and getting out in the woods, and felt blessed being able to do what you want to do.  

You have some really good music festivals in Canada.  

Definitely. I find that is an aspect of Canadian music that is really thriving. Festivals are popping up everywhere. They have one down the road from where I live (about an hour from Ottawa). Ottawa has the biggest blues festival in Canada; I believe it’s now two weeks long. There’s a lot of opportunities right now. 

Do you find the competition from your American cousins keen. 

No, most competition comes from Austin more than anywhere else. 

How do you see your music, do you see it as Americana? 

Roots is a larger umbrella, when I think of Americana I think more of a country thing, but when I think of roots I don’t think of that. When I think of roots I can’t think of a more important thing. 

Some Americana can be a little more commercial. 

I agree. Roots I see is as another name for folk while I feel Americana is another name for Alt-Country. 

Where do you tend to go for ideas when you are writing?

Most of my songs come from real life usually. Things I hear, things I see and my own life. I kind of have a never-ending conversation in my brain about how can I make this into a song. That is way I have done it the last five or so years and it takes a lot of pressure off the songwriting process, because it causes a lot of frustration trying to write every day. It is not general necessary, I found I had more luck if I had in my head for a couple of days and just let it come out in due time. 

When something comes to you, naturally, there tends to be a great fluency and less of a struggle with words. I imagine on a good run the lines will tumble forth. 

That’s right, and not such a battle. It makes how I feel about songwriting easier, and I have done it this way for some time, it used to be frustrating, very trying and a hard thing to accomplish. Now, when it takes me there is enjoyment in the writing of the songs.  

Which songs on the record are your favourites and gave you the most enjoyment writing.

I would say “Everybody Loves Elvis” was one of my favourites to write. I did not write it down until it was all written. It was a couple of months, and I was just learning the piano and it was the first song I learnt on it. By the end I wrote out lyrics in one go with the melody, I would add a line or two every few days held it in my mind and put it together that way. I definitely like the way things come together with the song, another song close to it would be “Walking In The Dark’. 

“Sweat” another early song on the record is another song I was drawn to. 

“Yes, “Sweat” is another that is another I took a long tine to write, that is what this record is about. It is one I took a lot of time on and ended up a little different from the others I have written. 

On listening to the way the lyrics come together I couldn’t help but think Eric Taylor. 

I have heard a little from him but don’t know his music as much as I should. Greg Brown had something to say about him once. 

Is Greg Brown someone you listen to. 

I listen to him a lot, and have a real soft spot for him. Actually, I bumped into him in Boston a couple of years ago. 

Do you always write on your own. 

I did a couple of co-writes but it isn’t something I am big into. Most of the few co-writes I do tend to come when I am working in someone else’s studio and record. 

Do you guest on many recordings. 

I have been doing work on other people’s record. I do all my own records and its proved to be the best move I ever made take my own records into my own hands, and get onto producing my as well. Doing so has led me onto working with other people too. At present I am working on a new David Olney record. He has something magical about him, and really like watching him perform and this whole project has been great. I get to help pick the songs and know more about his music as I go through the songs.   

Now there is an incredibly strong recording artist. 

Very, very much so. I remember when I first got into singer-songwriters, Texas singer-songwriters and the country thing ones Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle and looked and saw his name mentioned. The next time I heard his name I thought, yeah he used to hang around with those guys I liked, and now I am working with him. 

He’s written a bunch of songs with John Hadley among others. 

He’s done a ton of stuff. There is one song on the record called “Ever More” and it is the most beautiful song I have ever heard, it is just incredible. I love listening to this music.   

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Phil Madeira, singer, songwriter and artist lifts the lid on being one of Nashville's mover and shakers

Producer, musician and songwriter, Phil Madeira is active in them all, and there is more too. Though born in Rhode Island Madeira is a long-time Nashville resident, but it wasn’t country music that he was reared on or first performed it was Christian music. Followed by spells playing with buddy miller and Emmylou Harris’ red dirt boys he has gained a wonderful insight into the music and what it takes to create a genuine rich roots based sound and he loves to talk about music too! And why not he has plenty to talk about. Not least the small matter of his all-star Mercyland; hymns for the rest of us vols, 1 & 2 projects.   

When we hooked up he was up in Norway producing a new album by the country’s hugely talented band Humming People. 

How long is it since you were with Emmylou and have you played much in the UK.  

I was with Emmylou until she started touring with Rodney, using a different band. I was with her till 2012. I love Newcastle, the thing I always remember about it there is the terrific bridges, and of course its alcoholic beverage. I love all the UK, and different places that mean different things to me. Just walking around the city, and its amazing settings. I wrote an entire album over there when I stayed in a pub, outside Derby twenty years ago. I toured with a little a little group over there and every night we would stay at this place called the Three Horseshoes; it was such an amazing experience because if you an American and are an Anglophile which many Americans are you are not going to experience England by going to London in the truest way. So it was really in that wee pub in Derbyshire that I really found England! Literally, guys walked into the pub with the dog in their wellies. That was the postcard I was looking for laughs Phil. How about you, Maurice tell me about the music yourself and the music you like?  

I am particularly fond of the Americana singer-songwriter scene and acoustic players, Doc Watson, Norman Blake and all those guys.  

I love Doc Watson. He actually sat in with us at Merlefest five or six years ago, we did a song that his wife had written, and it was the strangest song because there was an innocence about it so you could not count beats in a measure. It wasn’t completely four beats to a measure, and there was this funny little skip to it and I had to play accordion on this thing. It was unbelievably cool to play with Doc that day.

Once Garth came along country music changed, dramatically. If it wasn’t for the likes of Emmylou, Buddy Miller and Steve Earle who brought something refreshing to the music it was all but lost. 

It is really funny, Maurice because I have had both Garth and Toby Keith record a song of mine and I was really grateful. This was back when you could make some money at it, so when of those guys cut one of your songs you were set for a while. But, really, to me Americana is for people who want real country music; for real roots music they are not going to get it from Garth or Toby or this new trend. It is an unfortunate situation. You may know this, but I played in Buddy’s band for years and that was fantastic playing that music. I could not have asked for a better associate.

His debut for Hightone, Your Love And Other Lies was a terrific record, one of the best ever of its genre. 

Yeah, I played on all of his records except Written In Chalk. The very last one he did with Julie (Miller).   

From what I have read on your blog (and other occasions) along with my own experiences Buddy strikes me as being a most gracious guy, a wonderful human being.

He is a wonderful guy. I literally live about four minutes walk from his house but we really see one another, he is so busy doing his TV show, and right now I am in Norway producing a record for Humming People. I am all over the place. 

On receiving the new Mercyland record I was taken by one or two songs instantly, but the one that really grabbed me was the one from Emmylou and John Paul White; I feel this is the best she has sounded in quite a long time. 

Thank you. I love…, Emmy has been so good to me and continues to do favours. What can I say, I just did a solo record, and I am not a famous guy and she sang on it. But the Mercyland record she was straight into it. I appreciate you talking to me about the record. 

Humming People are another act I particularly enjoyed. A completely new name to me, on first hearing them it was like who are these people.

Awesome. I am working on a second album I have made with them. They are fantastic, probably the best young musicians I have ever worked with and I have worked with a few.

Making a record like this, one with such a diverse selection of artists must be a great challenge. It’s one of those occasions where you would need to raise your own game. 

Oh, yeah, I like a lot of different kinds of music and the most that I like is what you would call roots music, if you include someone like John Scofield the great jazz player and who played on both records. He adapted to what were we doing, he came in and played with us though non of us are real jazz players and is just up for anything. That is what I love, an open-minded person. Whether it is about music, the spiritual world or if it was about politics, whatever it is. There is nothing worse that a closed minded person, John is so gracious, he flew down from New York to play on the first one. Fortunate, we cut the one that closes the second Mercyland record at the same time, because I love that song of his (“Heaven Hill”) and asked if we could record it. No problem. About a year and half ago I contacted him and asked would it be okay to use it on the new record, he said, no we want it on there. So that was a blessing. 

It is a testament to how much the musicians liked working on the first that there is a bunch of them also joined up for the second record. 

Yes, I was so happy to get John Paul on there, Amy Stroup she is on there with a group called Sugar & The Hi-Lows who have in fact been over there to the UK quite a bit lately. I did not think I would make a second one, but right now I feel so good about it I am thinking I might make a third one someday I have no idea, but it has to be right. 

It must have taken a good deal of time writing the songs.

Yeah, the main the main co-writer on the record is my partner, a woman named Merrill Farnsworth. Before the project was called Mercyland I was working on the project and had another title in my head, Spiritual Songs or a title like that. I gave Merrill a piece of music and she wrote the lyric to Mercyland and at some point I said to her, hey you are taking people to a different place let’s call it Mercyland. So, I have to always give her credit, that’s her baby. The song from the first record Buddy sang is the only one I wrote by myself there, it might be the only one I wrote it in 1988. Gosh! I was a young guy then, and going through a family crisis. For whatever reasons…, I remember Amy Grant was interested in cutting it and people loved that song. It was just never right for what I was doing. When I wrote that record in Derby it wasn’t a record about faith or a sad record, for “I Believe In You” is sort of a sad song. Then when I invited Buddy to be on the record and asked if he and Julie had anything and he just said no man! If we have anything we have to save it for our own record. Which was understandable because they hardly record or write anymore. On asked what he thought about “I Believe In You” he said, man I love this song. It’s fun for me as a songwriter to co-write with Emmylou or Buddy or any of these people, because it looks great on my resume. It doesn’t hurt me, he laughs.    

There are one or two acts on the record I am unfamiliar with and would love to know more about them. But one I do know a little about is singer-songwriter Angel Snow, a Nashville girl. 

Angel’s really great, and is a good friend. We got together and wrote “I Said It, I Meant It”. We were actually on the phone trying to figure out what to write about, and because it is a spiritual record, for whatever reason there is a story in the New Testament about the woman at the well. You’ll remember hearing Peter, Paul and Mary singing about Jesus, and how there being a woman at the well and I got to thinking about that. I said to Angel, why don’t we write about Jesus and the woman at the well. She said, I don’t know that story. So I did a little research of where it was in the bible, I can’t remember exactly where but told her it was in Luke 10.14 through 6 whatever, and then showed up at her house and she was crying. I said, oh, is this a bad time, she said no, I am just so moved by this story. The story is really timeless, it is almost political as Jesus goes to the well and there is a woman who is not part of the same tribe, I think Samaritan who were outcasts in that society and just to offer her a drink from the well his people were drinking from was a big deal. She said, yeah I love this already have verse for the song, ‘I said it, I meant it, you’ll never thirst again’ and then I wrote a bunch of verses we came up with the melody and the McCrary Sisters sang on it and it’s great. I am so glad you have heard of Angel because she is not that famous yet, a lot of the people (tend to be like that on the record)…like when I put The Civil Wars on the first record they were not famous at all. I just liked their music, sometimes when I look at this project I say to myself it is my project do I want it to sell, absolutely. Do I want stars on there, I do, but they have to be stars like Emmylou; stars I really admire and don’t think of themselves as stars. Like on the first one no one knew of The Civil Wars at the time, and you also a woman on there you are not likely heard of Cindy Morgan. People who I dig what they are doing! Like Humming People, we are working hard to help them. I know how it was when I was 30 or 25 and, wishing someone would give me a break to it is not going to hurt me to help a new great artist and have someone on my record few people have heard of. 

You have the Carolina Chocolate Drops on the first record and what a successful run Rhiannon Giddens from the band is presently enjoying as a solo act.  

They are fantastic, I don’t hear much from her these days and may reach out to her for another project but do see Dom Flemons from the band about once a year and he is such a wonderful gentleman. A great guy, but I don’t know if they will ever do anything together again or not. 

On the new record The McCrary Sisters are taken in a different direction with Boom Chicka: Boom to their usual music. 

How do you like it, he laughs.

I love it. It took me completely by surprise but in a really exciting kind of way. 

It is another Merrill did the lyric to. I think that is one of the beautiful things about my relationship to her, that we are so creative together. She had that lyric, gave it to me and I played it into my I-phone because I had an idea and recorded it and asked the McCrary Sisters who I am good friends with what they thought. I just love them. They dug the song, came in and recorded it. Maurice there is one other thing about that track, I don’t know how much you know about recording process but I try to record as live as possible. In this case the band were gong to come in to record, they were then going to come in and sing. So what you hear on the record is me playing electric guitar and Bryan Owings Emmylou’s old drummer and Buddy’s too come to that playing together. What you have is us playing and teaching it to Chris Donohue (bass), he was writing a chart and there was such an awesome loose feel so what happened we kept that first take. I was a rehearsal but knew it was not going to get any better, any funkier or any cooler. That is probably the best feeling track of the whole record, it make you just want to dance. Then of course the gals then came in and sang plus friends of mine the Barber Brothers who are African American Twins. They are named after Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Roland plays trombone and trumpet and Rahsaan plays sax. And they came in. I love that track and glad you mentioned that track. I asked the McCrarys if they had fun and they said, yes, I replied let me produce their next album. You never know. 

Producing must be something you have a huge passion for. 

It depends on the artist how much I like them and their work, it governs what I say yes or know to. Then again, I might not have the nightmare of saying yes to something I am not into. Right now I am with Humming People in the second week, we are pretty much snowed-in, and having a blast! It is 24/7 and we are working and sleeping in the same building which is extraordinary. Bands can be hard, a pecking order…but here it is all just great, they all love one another and great to get along with. I love making music. 

I can well imagine you will get sometime get so deep into a record and think is this ever going to be finished. 

There has been a couple of records I wished I had not been involved in, but they are now pushed so far back in my mind I never think of them. Fifteen years ago I had to say yes to everything I was offered, like if you are a plumber you can’t say I don’t like this guy and not going to fix his toilet you have to say yes! Now, I just realise there can be a high cost to be involved with people who are hard to deal with, that don’t trust you or just aren’t that good. I can safely say I love producing records; I just have to say yes to the right projects. 

The song “Kyrie” with Emmylou is a beautiful piece. How did you choose John Paul White to partner Emmylou. 

The Civil Wars were the first artists to record in 2009 for Mercyland Vol, One and they were just about ready to pop, and I don’t know if they would have said yes to me a year later, when they were really riding high. But the song we wrote together, which was called “From This Valley” it wound up a few years later winning them a Grammy, and John finished up mentioning me in his speech. I remember Joy text me, I wasn’t watching them (Grammys) this night and said, Phil “From This Valley” just won. I am really grateful to both of them although they no longer sing together but fell it just right I should invite them separately to sing on the second Mercyland record, Joy declined because she was doing her solo thing. Made the best decision for herself that I admire, meanwhile I wrote John suggesting something we had written together years ago but that did not happen. We didn’t converse much on it but when I asked him if he wanted to sing on this track “Kyrie” with Emmylou, on after I sent it to him he said, man that’s great I would love too.

He is doing a lot of tasteful, quality stuff.  

I think fortunately for him he made enough with the success he had with The Civil Wars set him up. He wants to stay home. A lot of things that he is producing is Alabama stuff and he is not really interested in coming up to Nashville too often and loves what he’s doing. 

The Wood Brothers have a song of the record (“Can’t Put A Name On It”) and come well recommended.  

It is funny you mention them because while we are talking I am wearing a Wood Brothers baseball hat, those guys are not only on the new Mercyland but Oliver, Chris and I wrote another song “The River Of Sin” that’s on there new record. So that was a real honour. Chris might well be the greatest bass player in the world, he is amazing, and they are just lovely people. At the end of the day it is that what you want to know about a artist you admire you want to know that they are grateful and a decent person. I have to say that about everyone who is on these two Mercyland records are first and foremost a wonderful person. 

One of those on the record, Will Kimbrough must be one of the most underrated players, songwriter and producers around.

Will is not only underrated, but he is one of the best people. We became friends when we were in Emmylou’s band (Red Dirt Boys), we had three guitar players with Emmylou we started out with Colin Linden, great Canadian player known for his collaboration with Bruce Cockburn and he is fantastic. His tenure with Emmylou was very short. He has his own thing going on. Then we had Buddy Miller for six weeks, and I was really excited about that but it wasn’t like being in his band because it (his band) was just so slick, so good. The Emmy thing was a bit more contained, then we went without an electric guitar player, and had no drums for or electric for a while and then we brought Will in. We auditioned some players and he was the unanimous choice. I will always be grateful for that because he wound up becoming a good friend, he is an amazing guitar player, amazing musician and such a great guy. He is just one of the greatest. 

He’s one of those people who make others people sound good. 

Absolutely. 

Growing up in Rhode Island what kind of music did you listen to? 

As a kid I grew up in a religious home, my father was a minister. I told that to someone one day and they turned round and said, I’m sorry. Laughs. Which I totally understand because there are so many religious people that you don’t want to be around, but I was lucky in that I had an amazing father who happened to believe this fantastic story, and he did not ram it down anybody’s throat he just lived it, just cared about and lifted people. He cared for the outcast, and about everybody he met. It was a strict household he reflects. They weren’t playing Frank Sinatra or big band music or hillbilly music but the one thing they played was Mahalia Jackson. They had a lot of music, music that I am not a fan of to this day. They had a lot of classical. I am not that smart, I guess? My mom played Mahalia music forever, and that is what set me on fire. When I was old enough to buy records it was the Byrds and Beatles who were huge for me, also Taj Mahal, Paul Butterfield and Muddy Waters, and I never thought I would like any country music. But, honestly for any one in my generation the Byrds and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band opened that door. The Byrds for that honky tonk stuff and of course the Burrito Brothers but for bluegrass stuff it was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. There must thousands and thousands of people that got turned onto bluegrass by the NGDB. 

Byrds too led made me into a different direction, but the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol 1 they introduced me to a load of different traditional acts. They had people like Roy Acuff, Norman Blake, Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin on the record. 

Jimmy Martin, I would not have heard of him if it wasn’t for Will The Circle Be Unbroken, and that summer I first heard him play when I went to a bluegrass festival in 1973 or so and heard him, he as like the Sid Vicious of bluegrass. He would spit on people, but man no one to this day matches his voice, to me he is the greatest bluegrass singer who ever lived. Maurice, you will get a kick out of this I wound up through the years becoming a good friend of Matraca Berg who is married to Jeff Hanna of the NGDB, one day I was with her writing and played her a song of mine, and because there was a picture of Jimmy Martin in the room I was in. I turned to her and said I’ve got a song about Jimmy Martin and she said you are kidding me, I said, no. I told her me am a big Jimmy Martin fan and played it for her and she pitched it to Jeff and they recorded it. There is a song “Jimmy Martin” on (Speed Of Life, 2009 album) what I guess might be their last album.

Mother Maybelle Carter was someone I become a bigger fan of through that record, and I even have a double instrumental by her and a bunch of Nashville sessionmen.  

Wow, and because I grew up in a very educated setting of Rhode Island, New England, where you think of Harvard, Brown and Yale Universities. It is like you don’t realise…. when you are young, living with prejudices of the establishment around you. So as a young person growing up when I heard a southern person I probably thought I was listening to someone less intelligent, and wouldn’t have understood Mother Maybelle, I would have thought of her as simple. Now years later and having lived in the South longer than I have lived anywhere I appreciate the poetry of her voice. The poetry of the music the Carter Family was making, the sadness of so many of these songs, again it too goes back to the NGDB. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have known her if she bit me on the cheek. 

What brought you to Nashville? I know you made your start in religious music.   

I did, and was playing with an artist called Phil Keaggy, a most talented guy and it was gospel music that brought me to Nashville. At the time I was living in Rhode Island, working in a factory and was very frustrated and my wife at the time was for the most part opposed to leaving Rhode Island then one day she must have heard my heart and she agreed and we moved to Nashville. She worked for seven years while I tried to make it in music, so I will always be grateful to her for that. When I got into the Christian music scene it was not my first choice even though I am a person of faith, the music was not a turn on for me but it is the door that opened. I even had an executive guy one time tell me, you are not in this world man. It isn’t right for you, and I remember being offended by it because I just wanted to belong but he was right. Funny enough I met Buddy and Julie when they were in gospel music at a festival. I thought who are these people? This is what I like. They eventually moved to Nashville and Buddy would call me to play on records, and then to produce records he had to turn down. So I was eventually able to make my way. But I should back up and say, the thing that happened in gospel music. One night I was at the Bluebird and listening to a band called The Kings Snakes, a blues band, and it was like I had an epiphany; it was just two guitar, bass and drums and remembered who I was before I started out in Christian and commercial music. I used to be the guy who played songs with just three chords in them. That night I went home and wrote two blues songs, and started playing blues and hillbilly blues and that kind of coincided with meeting Buddy two or three years later at the funeral of a guy called Mark Heard (“Worry Too Much”). 

Actually, I did not meet them rather I saw them at Mark’s funeral. They sang at his funeral and I was playing a gig with Phil Keaggy and the next day we were playing at this Christian festival and Buddy came into our dressing room and saw we had beer at a Christian Festival and you don’t have beer in your dressing room at a Christian Festival in America unless you are us. He came in saw the beer and thought oh, these look like my people. So, that is what started it all. 

What is your first instrument? 

For recording sessions a lot of people call for an organ, I started out as a drummer, and I probably when I perform I usually play guitar and if I am touring with someone like Emmylou it is accordion, guitar, lap steel and piano. In her band there were three of us and we played multiple instruments. Will he played guitar and banjo and Rickie Simpkins who played fiddle, banjo, mandolin and me doing all the stuff I play. If I had to make a choice I would go for guitar, and it is so portable.  

How do you get time to do all this plus write books and paint? 

Laughs, I tell, it almost sounds ridiculous to talk about. Well, the book I wrote God On The Rocks I started writing that because Merrill, my partner when we first started seeing each other she asked, hey come over on Thursday and bring something to read me. So I thought something about growing up I can’t remember exactly, then another week went by and she said me to bring some more. So this happened about twenty times. All of a sudden I was sitting on what felt like twenty chapters of a memoir so I started putting them on line, and this guy got in touch and said you should meet my agent. I called her and she wasn’t interested and could tell by the tone of her voice she wasn’t interested. But after some discussion she got me a deal, and was given a generous payment. The lady that signed me was sister of the crime novelist John Grisham, but she got fired and the book just sat there, I bought up the copies and hope to put it out through another publisher. Actually, I have written another one and that is the one you read about Buddy (on his blog), but haven’t done much recently. Nothing since last May.   

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Tim O'Brien

Grammy winner, innovative multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer Tim O’brien keeps broadening a base formed in bluegrass with folk and singer-songwriter folk country. 

A man of many hats, Tim O’Brien has recorded with a bunch of people and seen his songs covered by Kathy Mattea, Garth Brooks and New Grass Revival among others. His latest venture Pompadour, just released on his own Howdy Skies label (prior to solo dates across the UK) the latest in a long line of intelligently created recordings.  

During the last four years you have experienced quite a purple patch in the way of releases.

I try to keep it flowing I guess.., hesitative laughter. A lot of stuff came to a head the last few years is true.  

The Earls Of Leicester was a big one for you, who’s idea was it. Was it both Jerry (Douglas) and one of your own. 

It was Jerry’s idea, it has always been. His entry point in music in general is through Dobro player Josh Graves, and who is intrinsically identifiable through Flatt & Scruggs. There is Bill Monroe and there’s Flatt & Scruggs, and it is hard to ignore Flatt & Scruggs in the time we grew up. Any case, Jerry recorded some stuff with Johnny Warren and Charlie Cushman and he said, man! This sounds like the Foggy Mountain Boys (Flatt & Scruggs’ band) we just need to put the right rhythm section round it, he was very inspired, and it was a good thing for Johnny because it got him off the golf course. He’s a golf pro and doesn’t play music too much but he is so good at it, and with him a specialist at his father’s style of fiddle playing the group is made for him. 

I can remember years ago picking up an album on CMH Records by his father, Paul Warren entitled America’s Greatest Breakdown Fiddle Player. 

Yeh, always a great, great fiddle player, influenced by Arthur Smith he was just a hard working guy, solid sideman, once he was with Flatt & Scruggs he would never leave. He really made the sound, and he sang the bass parts and Johnny does that. It is a great thing having him involved. Charlie and Jerry are also up on the lore he adds, they know what kind of cigarettes Lester Flatt smoked, and what he ate for breakfast. I was just a burst of enthusiasm for them to make this record. 

Not to take anything away from Bill Monroe (and his Bluegrass Boys) but with Flatt & Scruggs it felt more of a team, family-based group of people. 

Well, I think they had a better management situation, laughs. Bill Monroe was too much an artist to be a manager; they had a good manager in Louise Scruggs. Lester and Earl were both good smart businessmen in their way, they saw what was going on when they were with Bill Monroe, and said okay we can do it our way and maybe do it better. They kept them loyal; I don’t know how they did that. With Bill Monroe you hear so many stories about the sideman not getting paid, and them needing rent money and money for food. I think that is why he could not keep a band. He did not budget well. Flatt & Scruggs are an institution; they were on TV and in the movies with their sound. The banjo, let’s face it Earl Scruggs banjo is undeniable, an infectious sound. Earl is one of the best musicians ever to come around. 

His guitar playing (Mother Maybelle Carter style) it too was special. 

Scruggs was so well ordered with his music, he always made it sound so good, he made it sound it very easy. Those who have tried to replicate the sound find it anything but easy.    

Makes for a lot of sweating for most all those who try. 

That’s for sure…., laughs Tim heartly.  

Being involved in a project you weren’t leading would be nice for a change, just having to go out there and play.  

Everyone has a role to play. Every one is trying to sound like the old records. There’s a curious instruction in that, you learn what the other people did, and that they just made this part up. The way of playing these songs for those my age group and younger it is sort of a given but you forget they made this stuff up. They invented it. Josh Graves and Earl Scruggs in particular they made up the style and they were just so good at it. I learned so much about what not to play. It was kind of interesting in a way. It was like playing with Mark Knopfler in a way, it is like being a sideman, a servant to a certain direction. It was tricky to do, we get so close so fast, but we really wanted to do it absolutely right. We got really close a couple of times and have heard that stuff on the radio though I don’t listen to my own records, and thought that’s Flatt & Scruggs before going no that is Shawn thingy (Camp). We got pretty close; the difference here is we want to push Flatt & Scruggs forward with a booster shot. Yet you can’t hear that music played anywhere, live says O'Brien. Although you can hear it recorded that way. 

You mentioned Shawn Camp what a songwriter he is too. 

He is a tremendous writer, but his guitar playing and vocals they too are wonderful, he is a great front man, great to watch. He is very much influenced by Johnny Cash and Jack Clement, and most certainly Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin and all those guys. Shawn is also a great mandolin and fiddle player. He is someone worth going out to see play live. 

The album you did with the family, Reincarnation; The Songs Of Roger Miller was rather special for you. 

We had wanted to record together as a family, but it was difficult, logistically to do. People living in different cities and working, but we had some fun recording and performing it for a year. Roger Miller was a big influence on me growing up, him and The Beatles were my favourite stuff (laughs), so it was doing it. In the case of that record more interpretation was allowed since we weren’t trying to make a carbon copy; it was great fun getting deeper into Roger’s music. Though I never met him or saw him live, only saw him on Television I know he was an incredible talent and quick wit. Shawn was telling me the other day when he (Miller) once got stopped by the police in 1980 and asked why he was driving so fast he said, he was late for Red Foley’s funeral and they let him off. Red Folly probably died in 1965 or something.   

You also have this great relationship with fellow Nashville singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott and made another a duo album with him quite recently. 

Yes, that was overdue, get back together and exercise those muscles again. We also assembled a live record that came out a year before, and it had been over ten years for some of them, it could be nearer 15 years before that they were recorded. Such the time between our studio releases (Real Time (2000) and Memories And Moments, a more conscious studio project, Darrell was wonderful producing the thing. Playing with him is unlike playing with anyone else, it is very intuitive; it is kind of very spiritual. You have to get your minds on a certain level where you meld your minds together, but he is a master at it. Once again he is an incredible musician and singer. 

On the record you do a co-write with Gary Nicholson and you both get together on your new record, he is someone who is never far away with his songwriting.  

Gary was over last weekend for the New Year, we have a picking party. He is a great writer and has been around, he was in LA when Clarence White was just starting to play electric guitar. He plays the blues and also bluegrass stuff and is just one of those pro songwriter guys. He plays around town as ‘Whitey Johnson’, plays blues clubs dressed in all white, but he sings the blues and is really good at it. 

He’s written with the likes of John Prine and a bunch more (over 500 different people have covered his songs). 

He’s written with Prine, produced records for Delbert McClinton and others (Judds, Chris Knight, Wynonna…). He’s a neighbour of mine and lives a couple of miles down the road.  

Pompadour by all account has been simmering for a while with you not knowing what to do with the songs.

To tell you the truth, Maurice, I did not know if I was going to ever make another CD. I did not know if people wanted them anymore. The beginning of last year I had been thinking about something I ended up launching with my partner, Jan. We started putting out singles every month, and will continue to do so this year, it is called the Short Order Sessions. We did not put any packaging together. Artwork is just a thumbnail sketch of a frying pan and its got strings on it. We started putting these tracks out, and had old tracks with Gerry Hutchinson and Trevor Paul. Down under was the only place we ever played and started to do some second recordings in 2013. All these other projects were flying around and this one just sat on the back burner for a long time, and meanwhile I am putting out these digital tracks but on the tour nobody is buying digital tracks because I am not selling them. It seemed a traditional CD release would help bring my name back around, because I have been doing a lot of stuff with Hot Rize, Earls Of Leicester and Darrell Scott but it was time to make an announcement of I am still here too. So this is kind of in the wake of all that thought, some of the tracks were recorded in 2013, and others more recently. It a case of I did not quite know how to finish it but here we are. 

Going back to songwriters you have a few interesting ones on the record, co-writers too. Starting with originals from Michael Hurley and Dan Reeder. 

I love them both; I don’t know if anyone has cover anything by Dan but I would think someone has. John Prine met him at a gig in Germany he said ‘I’ve got this tape for you. You have inspired me a lot and want you to have it’. John then put it out, and there have been two others since. I would like to meet him one day. He is a real corky one. Michael Hurley is just as corky, and I have not met him either, and it turns out that song, this happens to me all the time you try to find the sources for things and that song “Ditty Boy Twang” is actual a rewrite of a Bukka White song “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing”; check it out. It is the same, exact thing, almost the same lyrics except instead of ‘ditty boy twang’ it is ‘listen to my jitterbug swing’. That is fine, Michael probably plays it on the banjo, and I play it the mandolin. I think you can do anything with this music as long as you love it. 

You have Samson Grisman on bass, is he David Grisman’s son?   

Yes, Samson’s around town (Nashville) now. He moved here maybe three years ago, when we were getting ready for the Short Order Sessions I had him and Nathaniel Smith (cello) come over to do three songs. Two of them are on the record.

Nathaniel plays cello something not usually associated with a Tim O’Brien record. 

No, but it is actual great. The cello has come back into bluegrass and old time music, I think it was rare if ever, but was played on some old bluegrass and old time records. Crooked Still were very successful with the cello, so were Norman and Nancy Blake. Lyle Lovett always has a cello, it is kind of in the range of the guitar so on those tracks there is no guitar, just it and mandolin or banjo and bass. Nat is a great player; he played a lot with Natalie McMaster and more recently with Sarah Jarosz. I am not sure who is playing with right now, but he plays with a few people.

John Hadley who co-writes on the record has a wonderful pedigree because he has done a ton of songs with David Olney among other Nashville songwriters.  

David and him are wonderful friends, John Hadley has been doing this songwriting thing and applying himself for a long time. I don’t know if he ever performs, I don’t know if he did in the old days. Long before he came to Nashville he had piles of songs, and comes to town for a couple of weeks every three months and has an old house up in Madison. It is just a man cave with some guitars, banjos and has a kitchen and fireplace, you go up there and he makes coffee and hot dogs and you talk about whatever you do and you write songs. He has been working for Sony Tree forever. Olney is another case, he goes on the road and plays gigs all the time. He used to be a rocker round town, he is so into his writing you know he is a legend among us, a small cognoscenti, he is a master. His focus is crystal clear. 

On the record on some songs there is feeling of regret and of you moving on.  

Yes, there is a little bit of that. One reason I kept myself so busy was I was going through a separation and divorce. I kept myself pretty busy, and feel I came through it pretty well. It is not without trauma or trouble but I think it was inevitable, people change, and we move on through. That stuff is always in the songs, the songs don’t lie, they tell the story of your life and are part of the fabric. 

On the record you play electric guitar and banjo, and quite a bit more fiddle opposed to mandolin being the main instrument. 

You know I had more time to make this record, and to think about it more, and a lot of the basic tracks of myself and Gerry Paul and Trevor Hutchinson then had mandolin and fiddle and other stuff added. Whatever I didn’t play, but it can become a little too adventuress at times, because you don’t want to be playing too many parts on one song. I get sick of hearing it because it is too much me. I also like changing it around, and having Gerry who is a great rhythm guitar player is good because it allowed me to play some electric guitar and banjo, and some acoustic guitar too. Guitar is my first love, and when you are playing the basic rhythm to a song I can’t play the piano correctly so the guitar is the way in to most songs.  

Having sax and clarinet on the record is something different for you too. 

Yeah, Jim Hoke came in and played sax and clarinet. Chris Scruggs came in and played some pedal steel for the SOS and he also plays on one track on the album. 

He and Dan Dugmore are great players, and Kai Welch who came in and played some piano and trumpet.

Is he related to Kevin Welch.

No, but you will probably have seen him before because he’s played with Abigail Washburn.  

As for the Woody Guthrie Billy Bragg song “Go Down To The Water” is it a song that has lay on the back burner for a while.

I read that lyric in a book about Woody and though it was one of the most beautiful love letters, and didn’t know there was a musical version to it and asked Nora Guthrie if there was music to it, and told me Billy Bragg had done a version and I was unaware of that. I figured out pretty close that it was kind of…(pause). He overlays the melody “She Moves Through The Fair” and it works really well.  So, I said let’s tackle it. I am looking for stuff to record all the time and that song really grabbed me. 

“Get Up Offa That Thing” sees a change in direction musically on the record.

Well, maybe, when I was making Red On Blonde the thing that jump started it was when I said if you played “Maggie’s Farm” in a bluegrass style the lyrics would fit bluegrass, and everyone would know it’s Dylan. And they’ll go what’s this about and realise it makes a lot of sense. With this one it is the link between Africa and America in many ways with the banjo the instrument of both. So here’s is a case of lets combine that and see how it goes. It was the first recording Gerry, Trevor and I did together. 

On hearing the wonderful duet you did with Sarah Jarosz I begged to question there has to be more from this combination in the future. So natural the music played by you both. 

I would like to do that. She is very strong, and has come into her own the last five years. Her rate of progress has been remarkable, both her reputation and her focus has tightened, and she has her own voice. I am flattered that she responds to what I have done, that is how I met her she played my likes back at me. She has always been more mature than her age, most poised. She took her time and got her college education and built her career slowly and consciously. The trio she formed with Nathaniel Smith and Alex Hargreaves is just wonderful, an act I would always try and see. 

You are still kept busy appearing on other people’s records and produce one or two acts. 

Chris Luedecke has been a good person to work with, Old Man Luedecke. I actually met him in the UK through a booking agent who asked if it would be ok if he could do the support. I said, fine. Maybe we could share the expenses and travel together. We rode around and had a good time. It led to him make a record up in Vancouver with me a sideman; that would three or four albums ago. I love what he talks about in his songs. He’s a very well read guy, and also this supreme cynic in many ways. He’s a very unusual guy. He talks about unbridled optimism of being a musician. You go to the gig and think this is maybe the one that’s going to put me over the top, laughs O’Brien. They are going to come, but you don’t do so well and turn right round the next morning with the same great optimism. 

In January you have for a number of years been part of the TransAtlantic Sessions, the sessions and TV shows been good for you and you for it. 

It has been a great opportunity for me to get to play with musicians from the British Isles and Ireland, last year we had Patty Griffin and Rodney Crowell join us for the tour. I had to say no to the TransAtlantic Sessions this year and that is a hard thing to do, because you are playing in this beautiful big halls like the Sage but I wanted to get out on my own. I felt it was time to get out into the trenches again. 

Tim, I must complement the work of your partner Jan Fabricius. Her singing gives something extra to the songs, the first time I heard her voice I said to myself who is that! 

She is brand new to it, she has always been a musician, a nurse first and then a mother and then a musician as a hobby. When we started dating I said lets play some mandolin, and learnt some fiddle tunes and then asked her do you sing? She turned round and said, yeah I sing a little bit. She opened her mouth and I went wow! This is great. The very first time she recorded we were recording “Tulips On The Table” (Reeder) here in the house; when learning it she sang along and when she came up to the same microphone and sang I motioned her to come a little bit closer. She sounded so good.

Do you see your doing anything more with Darrell or Dirk Powell or in the near future. 

As much as I love playing with those guys, at the moment I am concentrating on my own work but I am overdue doing something with Dirk. One thing I haven’t mentioned, and that is Hot Rize. I toured all last year with Hot Rize. We had a new record that’s not been released in the UK yet, and we toured all over the United States. We kind of reinvested, rebooted the band and did a kind of year long reunion which was great. I tick these things off; The Family Band, Earls of Leicester, Darrell and Hot Rize, but right now I feel it is time for me to get out on my own again.

 

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