We’ve been quiet this winter, planning for the road ahead, and pausing momentarily to take in all the beauty of the last two years. They have been eventful and exciting, and full of singular moments like this one.
This video and acetate by Craig Finn were shot and recorded at our joyful homecoming screening at IFC Center in New York City last June. He closed out the night with his distinctive interpretation of “The Ballad of Jesse James.”
Craig told us all how he had been drawn to a particular phrase in the song – He’d a hand and a heart and a brain – and when he sang it that night, that phrase summed up the spirit of the song perfectly: the danger of the life of an outlaw and the love of a lost hero.
Craig Finn – “The Ballad of Jesse James”
Shot at IFC Center in New York City, June 4, 2015
Thank you again to IFC Center for being our generous hosts.
The afternoon sun streaming in through the windows took on a longing feel as our Presto clicked on and John Reilly & Tom Brosseau started their haunting harmonies. Though moments before the bright L.A. light seemed gentle and sweet, their performance of the lost love lament “Careless Love” was so perfectly harmonized and utterly heartbreaking, by the time the record was full, it had made even the sunshine understand the song’s timeless yearning.
Our Official Nationwide Release Tour for The 78 Project Movie continues as we cruise up the West Coast to show the film in Seattle and Portland at two amazing independent theaters. We can’t wait to see you there!
Northwest Film Forum
Sunday, September 14, 7:00 pm
1515 12th Avenue
Monday, September 15, 7:30 pm
4122 NE Sandy Boulevard
John Doe, being the punk rocker that he is, mined “Skip to My Lou” for its fiendish fun in his masterful recording. On our New Year’s Day visit to his house in Northern California for The 78 Project Movie, he showed us a Folkways Collection LP of the song performed by Lead Belly that inspired him to dust off this sweet tune from childhood and sharpen the edges a bit.
Our Official Nationwide Release Tour for The 78 Project Movie is officially in full swing. This week we’re returning to the West Coast for the first time since our road trip to make The 78 Project Movie, excited to share the finished film with you. We have screenings scheduled in Los Angeles, Camarillo, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. And we’ll be there in each city to answer questions and spend time with you if you’ll be there!
So often they seem beyond belief, the yarns that are spun around town and around dinner tables, late in the night or in passing on the street. They are mostly told secondhand. Or third. Stories from the family lore too wild to think they could have actually happened, and so exciting and colorful we would hardly want to live in a world where they couldn’t.
Often a delightful dubiousness is added to these tales by the distance they traveled to reach our ears, the wine, and the festive manner of telling. This was not the case on the summery night when our friend, acclaimed 78 collector and producer Christopher King, shared with us his family fables. His were told firsthand, and with demonstrations to help us picture the action.
“Did we tell you how our daughter, Riley, was born?” He asked us later, nonchalant as he cleared our plates. After the stories his family had already shared, of ceiling snakes and hatchets and the town where they live in Virginia, we knew this legend, saved for last, must be the best one.
Reality with the top rolled off! they declared when they heard the acetate played back. All the momentum of Richard Thompson’s powerful guitar playing was there in the lacquer, all the urgency and command in his voice right there spinning back at us at 78rpm. But there was nothing to fear, nothing anyone’s ears could find out of place. It sounded as it did in the room, intimate, precise, confessional, strong. It sounded as it did in our wildest dreams.
He jokingly referred to it as his “suburban English” version. Almost a hundred years ago Clarence Ashley had taken an old English folk ballad and made it Appalachian with a turn of his banjo’s tuners. And Richard had taken it again with his deft fingers dancing over guitar strings, and made it new.
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Richard told two tales of rakish scalawags that day. In the first he became a gambler hoping to win a heart as he wins at cards and dice, while in his original, “How Many Times”, he takes on the role of a jaunty, jilted hunter, determined to capture his love in the end.
It was sunny on Wednesday. But on Thursday, when we arrived on Rosanne Cash’s doorstep, the rain and cold were looming over our plans to record in her beautiful garden. So we set up in Rosanne’s kitchen while she made tea. John picked on his guitar, the morning rested on the hands of the clock and the black tuxedo cat investigated our Presto on the counter. A sense of comfort and family reverberated through the room. “The Wayfaring Stranger” is a spiritual made most beautiful by it’s simple narrative: after the toil of life’s journey, we will find home.
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After the excitement of being discovered in his home of rural West Virginia in the 1920s by representatives from a recording company, Dock Boggs saw his music career dissolve quickly. Miraculously, the folk revival of the 1960s resurrected Boggs and his singular mountain-style banjo (thanks in no small part to Alan Lomax,) but in between his two big breaks, the musician spent thirty years at the bottom of a dark, dusty coal mine. It is understandable why a man who knew the struggles and triumphs of life so intimately, would want to celebrate the human spirit now rather than waiting for the afterlife. Leave it to a union man to make love into a call to action.
“Roses While I’m Living” puts a positive spin on the field recording tradition of expressing the hardships of life through song. And The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn is always one for a positive spin.
The massive white buildings of Capitol Hill in Washington DC house some of the most dreamt-of pieces of recorded music history in America. This week, we had the incredible opportunity to visit them. We have never experienced anything so breathtaking as being led through these collections of our nation’s greatest folk music treasures.
Todd Harvey, the curator of the Alan Lomax Collection at the Library of Congress, pulled some documents and artifacts for us to see including acetate sleeves containing handwritten tracklists from Lead Belly field recordings, expense reports from Alan’s expeditions, original Mississippi Fred McDowell tapes and – here’s where our hearts stopped – one of the Lomax’s PRESTO units. Alex was given permission to start putting their PRESTO back together with parts he found in a compartment underneath. Lavinia was allowed to dig her hand into the unit under the platter to pull out used needles that had been thrown down there during the Lomax’s trip.
Jeff Place at the Smithsonian’s Rinzler Archives gave us a tour of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Highlights included Moses Asch’s microphone, Woody Guthrie’s artwork, letters from Lead Belly, a staggering folk record collection, and decades worth of acetate and tape field recordings. Our last stop was to meet the fine folks at Smithsonian Folkways who are hard at work digitizing and releasing music from the collections. They laughed when they found out we were going the opposite way with our recording project.
A full set of photos from the trip is up on our Facebook. It was the most exciting two days of our lives. We’re still recovering.