As we’ve traveled and shot, edited, finished and started to screen, lived and breathed The 78 Project Movie, just about every day of the process has felt momentous.
The record we cut with Victoria Williams, on the last night of our West Coast road trip, gives a perfect glimpse of one such unforgettable day. Luck and symmetry had helped us find her, and her enthusiasm imbued the evening, and the record, with a magical energy.
Victoria’s 78 recording of “Take This Hammer” is one of the many one-of-a-kind performances that you’ll be able to see when The 78 Project Movie screens this Fall at a theater near you. More on that soon. Until then, listen to the brand new 78 below.
The Creole musicians speak to their Malian bandmates in French. Most everyone in the room, Americans and Africans both, speaks French to one another, explaining what is being explained as the house is set up for the recording. The four members of International Blues Express – Sidi Toure and Abdoulaye Kone dit Kandjafa from Mali, Cedric Watson and Desiree Champagne from Louisiana – are bonded by the common language, bonded to us by it, too. Heritage, experience and instinct all combine so that musicians, filmmakers, recordists, from different continents and different corners of them, are all communicating.
The Creole and Malian musical styles and songs melt together perfectly. The bright plucking sounds of the ngoni and guitar dance lightly on the steady rhythm of the washboard and the fiddle’s dulcet drone. Celebration is something that we all experience, and we instinctively know the sound of a joyous occasion when we hear it. “Hanna” means a joyous all-night gathering, and is a song for celebrating the first child born into a family. It can take on a form that is endless, so that the dancing can continue until dawn. It is a song of thanks-giving. We are thankful for this day, thankful for the chance to see the world light up with this connection, the makings of a new musical genre emerge, the possibilities that collaboration and exploration can offer.
At the end of the day, the house is filled with the smells of the meal that everyone shares. The fundamental pieces of life are the same everywhere.
The 78 we made with International Blues Express has two Side As. In the next installment, our Creole friends take the lead, and lead us from birth to the unknown beyond it.
There was a mood of fellowship in the Bell House the April morning we arrived with our Presto, a feeling in the air that anything could happen, and that anyone at any time might break out into beautiful song. So many people milling around at the Brooklyn Folk Fest that afternoon were great musicians, and every soul in the room an appreciator.
The spontaneity of the day led us to recording a side with Jackson Lynch, and as we always are when struck by good fortune, we were grateful to opportunity and appreciative of the musical talent that continues to grace us. Jackson performed the 19th Century Western Ballad “Roving Cowboy” with his fiddle bow gliding in a long journey across the strings. Like the cowboy of the song, never to settle, headed to who knows where.
Also, hear and see John Cohen’s recording “Danville Girl” from the other side of our Brooklyn Folk Festival acetate.
Thanks again to Eli Smith, the Bell House, John Cohen, Jackson Lynch and all the musicians, organizers and folks who came out to the Brooklyn Folk Festival.
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.
We’ve been hard at work in the editing room since returning home in January from our California road trip. And though we sit in the same room every day as we sort the hours of footage we’ve shot so far for The 78 Project movie, there’s no possibility of sameness or fatigue. Each day we are transported to another room, any of the many different and beautiful rooms all around the country we’ve been invited into to film and make 78s.
This week as scenes from our Southern journey emerged on our editing monitors, the drudgery of winter had disappeared and suddenly summer was bearing down with the last of its might. We were transported to a sunny high-ceilinged room in Nashville mesmerized by a sultry and spectacular sound: the voice of Dylan LeBlanc.
We wanted to show it to you the moment we saw it. Haunting and reverent and filled with purity and magic, it called to us like the endless roads of our journey, reminded us of the warmth of your support, made us want to say thank you right now and always.
It was the true spirit of mobility, a genuine adventure. Rooting around a dark alley for a power source, decent light, bright sound and a clean-ish, flat surface for the Presto and for the ladies’ fancy shoes.
It was late at night, and there was an energy, a happiness, a spark still glowing from the show The Wandering had just played at Joe’s Pub. They slipped out the back after their encore was through to make a record with us in the alley. Five voices with the fife as their sixth, bouncing joyfully off the concrete and mixing together in the warm spring air.
Did we feel it? We hadn’t noticed. A train went by, fast, beneath our feet. The Wandering, more accustomed to standing on solid ground than we New Yorkers, felt it rumble. The Presto felt it, too. Leaving a pretty-looking zig and a zag on the groove to mark it’s passing, a note stuck forever to the surface of the record telling exactly what their tapping feet had sensed.
We might have never gotten to sleep that night, it’s true. The excitement of the glorious recording lit us all up so, band, crew and friends alike. Had The Wandering’s flipside not been just the right reverie, the perfect song for the night’s end, we might have vibrated right through till morning. It was so beautiful in its calm, so right in its gentle longing, “Rock My Soul” brought us fluttering right back down to earth.
Buy it on iTunes.
Today is a Sunday afternoon with an agenda. It seeks to usher us into a real Autumn for the first time since the months of strange and unseasonable weather began.
Today the sky is powdery and sunny and the air is quick and brisk; the experience of being out in it is haunting and energizing.
Who are we to argue with such a Fall day? It demands a song to match its mood. So Arborea’s flipside track “Red Bird” is the perfect song for this afternoon. We recorded with the duo on a sun-cooked hotel porch in rural Pennsylvania in August, but it was always meant to be a song for a more solemn season.
In the spirit of the freewheelin’ freedom that comes with the weekend, today feels like the perfect day to share Ella Mae Bowen’s rockin’ flipside “Heart Locked Out.”
We recorded with Ella Mae in the house in Nashville that inspired her songwriting, and we felt so freewheelin’ that day that we set up on the staircase instead of in a room. Her voice and her presence were bright and strong. And when she sang, she turned the excitement of youth into something beautiful and vital we can all understand.