The 78 Project One-Year Anniversary!

This weekend marked The 78 Project’s one year anniversary.  Labor Day weekend of 2011 we had a marathon first three shoots, Dawn Landes in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Reverend John DeLore and Kara Suzanne at the High Horse Saloon, and The Mynabirds in our backyard in Williamsburg (the episodes from those shoots are reposted below!)  We knew then that something special was happening.

We talked many times this year about a time when we’d be on the road, traveling to record.  Now that we are, it’s every bit as challenging and spectacular as we dreamed it could be.  We’re so thankful for the wonderful generosity of the musicians, friends and enthusiasts who have helped us to take The 78 Project this far.  This first year’s work is dedicated to you all.

The first three Full-length Episodes of The 78 Project, shot August 31 – September 1, 2011 in New York:

Episode #6 of The 78 Project: Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal “The Wayfaring Stranger”

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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Episode #5 of The 78 Project: Amy LaVere “The Railroad Boy (Died of Love)”

It was a mild day for December in New York, but it was winter nonetheless.  And there was a quickness in our steps as we walked with Amy through the windy Harlem streets, to get the blood moving, to stay warm. Murder ballads are in Amy’s blood, she was raised on country songs filled with agony and ardor, and she poured that lifetime of woeful narratives into the deep blackness of the acetate.

“The Railroad Boy” is often sung as “The Butcher Boy”, and while the story is always chilling – a scorned young girl meets a sorrowful death – it can be for different reasons. “The Butcher Boy” sometimes lives up to the imagery its title evokes, ending with the boy murdering his lover, a variation Amy speculates may have spawned from a misinterpretation of the line “He took his knife and he cut her down.” In Amy’s version of “The Railroad Boy,” as in most of the song’s incarnations, the line refers to her father releasing her from the rope she has used to take her own life.

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It’s no surprise when Amy reveals that her favorite song ever is “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” a crooned warning that your lover could kill you if you wrong them. Her flipside, “Red Banks,” like many of the songs she records and performs, depicts acts of passion that more often lead to the grave than to the altar.

Episode #4 of The 78 Project: Vandaveer “Banks of the Ohio”

The 78 Project: Vandaveer “Banks of the Ohio”

When the PRESTO clicks on and the platter starts to spin, there is a moment where the whole room focuses in and everything becomes a part of the music; the radiator’s hiss is a harmony and the sounds of traffic below tune to a G so perfect you can check your strings against it. And so it was on a wintery afternoon in New York, as every whisper of steam and every squeak of the bed’s springs under the weight of the PRESTO merged into Vandaveer’s “Banks of the Ohio.”  The hotel seemed, on that December day, built to make this record, its purpose finally revealed in a rush of song.

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Special thanks are due to Ye Olde Carlton Arms, the artbreak hotel that was kind enough to host our crew for this episode. They are true to their history and truly kind to their fellow eclectics.

Episode #3 of The 78 Project: The Mynabirds “Roses While I’m Living”

The 78 Project: The Mynabirds “Roses While I’m Living”

It seems like we started another life when we started The 78 Project. One filled with humbling challenges we couldn’t have ever imagined we’d face (a few swipes of a paintbrush and a tiny needle are all that stand between failure and success?) but also overflowing with momentum and awe.

And so it is fitting that The Mynabirds‘ episode should come first in the new year, 2012. The shoot was a celebration of our first week of filming for The 78 Project, and the spirit of the night was one of joy and gratitude. We gathered friends together in Brooklyn for a backyard party, dragged the piano outside and, after dark, The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn sang for us. Her song, Dock Boggs’ “Roses While I’m Living,” is about appreciating life while we live it and appreciating those we love while they are around to receive it.

We wish you a Happy New Year with joy and gratitude! We hope 2012 brings you excitement and comfort in equal measure. And we hope to see you in person, perhaps record you, but definitely share with you the indescribable beauty of sound captured the old fashioned way.

With deepest appreciation,
The 78 Project

Episode #1 of The 78 Project – Dawn Landes “The Brown Girl”

The 78 Project: Dawn Landes “The Brown Girl”

Under the sweltering late-summer sun, a small crew of filmmakers and audio historians capture Dawn Landes as she sings “The Brown Girl”. Cicadas drone, buses huff to a stop, bees hover lazily, sunflowers loom, and as the acetate spins, a song is carefully carved into its surface.

An age old and brutal choice: to marry for love or money? In the first side of Dawn Landes’ haunting 78, “The Brown Girl,” the noble Thomas chooses a plain brown girl with a dowry over his beautiful but land-less true love Ellender. Story songs like this one – which travelled from Scotland to the Appalachians over three hundred years – were the primetime dramas of the pre-television era. So the verses swiftly build into an epic, bloody tale with a twist. You can stream Side A of Dawn’s acetate here.

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Special thanks to The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the farmers of the Children’s Garden who kindly harvested around us.