In My Dreaming: Hear Valerie June’s 78

As summer drifts away in a shimmery breeze, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to be truly cold in the winter months.  But listening back to the recordings we made in February with Valerie June we were instantly reminded of the chillness in the air that made the warmth in her performance so especially lovely.

Valerie chose “Happy or Lonesome” to pay tribute to a performer from the past who might just be her namesake.  But as she sang her long-distance longing with such a hopeful tone, we had to wonder if she had Memphis on her mind, too.

Valerie is effervescent when she plays a happy song, so buoyant and free that it fills you with a heady happiness to hear her. For her flipside she chose a love song, “Raindance” – maybe to offset the murder ballad she’d done earlier in honor of Valentines Day – but definitely to bring a little light to the dark winter evening.

Folk, Family and Thwarted Failure: Our first week on the road

Nothing less than a wild start would do for any trip The 78 Project takes. Within hours of our Kia Soul zipping through the Holland Tunnel, we were careening through the Philadelphia Folk Fest site on a vehicle of a different kind. An electric shuttle with our friend Joshua behind the wheel took us behind the sleepy stages and through the campground that had already, before the festival even began, turned into a bustling tent town. Site scout complete, we moved in with our very accommodating family in Philadelphia. And when we say moved in, we mean it. We have a lot of stuff.

Our first recording of the trip was on Friday afternoon. Mary Chapin Carpenter invited us onto her tour bus, and generously offered to go without air conditioning for two hours so that the sound of the generator wouldn’t interfere with the recording. She performed a beautiful version of “The Water is Wide” and told us stories about learning to play folk songs on her mother’s ukulele.


Saturday morning we stopped in at Joe’s Spring Mount Hotel to ask if we might borrow their leafy porch for an afternoon shoot. The owners, Ben and Cindy, were the kindest of hosts, letting us plug our Presto in to their building to capture Arborea on lacquer and serving us Pennsylvania-brewed beer. The band’s “When I Was on Horseback” was haunting on a cicada-filled summer afternoon. And not only was the record subtle and perfect, not a single bee stung Shanti, and only one passing motorcycle made its way into the song.

Sunday morning we arrived on site bright and early to record some gospel with the Holmes Brothers on the campground stage. We were honored to meet them and moved by their performance. It seemed a little funny to put them on a 78, they thought, who wants to go back in time?   But hearing themselves perform “Amazing Grace” as we played back their record, they agreed it was something rather special.


Some old and new friends were on hand to say hello during the weekend, including XPN and the curators of the Rigby Mansion. And our gratitude goes out to Rodney Wittenberg for letting us turn his beautiful farmhouse and studio into our command center. Back with family, cozy and well taken care of, we recharged and repacked.



Tuesday afternoon we headed into the Northern Liberties home of Philadelphia artist Aldo Buffone to meet Honus Honus and his accomplice Kara Nelson. It was a glorious and harrowing afternoon. Presto #1 malfunctioned, but Honus and Kara didn’t. They sang a wicked streak through “Down in the Willow Garden.” We brought out Presto #2 to scare Presto #1 into shape, and our plan worked (with the added ingenuity of the Alex Steyermark Masking Tape Fix™). A 78 was made.

Late at night we bade Honus goodbye and staggered down to DC, greeted with open arms by our dear friend Vandaveer and his beautiful family.  They fed us and wined us and when we brought in the Presto, their two-year old knew exactly what needed to be done.  He walked straight to the mic and sang “The ABC Song.”  Like father like son.


The Fiery and Snuffy: Hear Loudon Wainwright’s 78

Even though he claimed to know little about ranching and cowboy ways, Loudon Wainwright handled the vocabulary with ease as he rambled through “Old Paint.”  What are the fiery and the snuffy? we wanted to know.  Branding equipment, we learned.  He told us an old paint is a speckled pony, and, of course, dogies are cattle.  But some of the song’s other words, so familiar to the cowhand are mysteries to us, and Loudon wouldn’t dare to speculate.

“Old Paint” was a song taught to Loudon by someone very dear, a song that has taken on a new life in the different ways he has played it and recorded it.  This time when he played it, we heard a song about the beauty in each day of work and having lived a life devoted to your chosen trade.  We placed the player on the long wooden table, and set the needle in the groove, and the acetate’s crackle was a campfire suddenly warming the chilly room, and it was the voice of a lone cowboy we heard.

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For his flipside, Loudon chose a song with a very different story of westward migration.  “I Don’t Care” is a signature Loudon Wainwright song, a jauntily irreverent goodbye to a former love headed across the country made compelling by the masterful dance between words and guitar.


Deed I Done: Hear Vandaveer’s 78

Willie is one bad character. First we heard of him, he was the wolf who lured “Pretty Polly” to an early grave. He disappeared off to sea, and we thought we’d seen his last, until Vandaveer arrived with news.

With harmonies mournful, chilling and precise, Mark and Rose sang us the story of his terrible crime in “Banks of the Ohio.” The banjo plucked out a tune as tense as can be. It was too tragic to be believed, he’d taken another life.

We listened back, through the crackle of the 78 and the thickness of the hot winter room. It sounded like our man Willie, no doubt about that.

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Right at the outset they proclaim “Death is here!” as if after the events of the first side of Vandaveer’s acetate, there was any other possible outcome.

Scheming Schemes: Hear Richard Thompson’s 78

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.


To That Good Land: Hear Rosanne Cash’s 78

“The Wayfaring Stranger” felt truly right when Rosanne Cash sang it.  With her husband, John Leventhal, playing guitar accompaniment and surrounded by the cozy familiarity of their kitchen, the quiet rumble of the Presto’s spinning platter seemed comforting and familiar to everyone gathered.  The song is about the hope for comfort that carries you through a long journey, the promise of finding those you love again.  This simple, graceful message of faith has carried “The Wayfaring Stranger” on a 200-year journey through history, and Rosanne’s belief in it brought it to rest on an acetate in her home.

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For her Flipside song, Rosanne chose a new original. “Etta’s Song” is about coming home as well, but to the city where she was born, Memphis, Tennessee, and is a tribute to a dear family friend.

Every Town I Ramble Around: Hear Marshall Crenshaw’s 78

Thanks to all who were able to join us at City Winery on Sunday, May 20.  It was beautiful to see our New York Series artists take the stage together to celebrate the shared experience of field recording. And we couldn’t have been more honored to have Marshall Crenshaw join us onstage to record a 78 acetate live with the stage monitors silenced and the eyes of the audience upon him.  It was a most moving moment in a night filled with many a momentous feeling.

We’ve posted photos from the show on our Facebook here.  And you can listen to the digitized versions of Marshall’s acetates, “More Pretty Girls Than One,” and “Passing Through” below.

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The 78 Project Records Justin Townes Earle LIVE on WNYC Soundcheck

Yesterday afternoon, The 78 Project was invited to record a 78 live on
WNYC Soundcheck. Justin Townes Earle was kind enough to sing his new
song “Memphis in the Rain” when our needle went down. And host John
Schaefer gamely put his voice on acetate as well! WNYC captured the
whole experience, and it’s streaming from their site for you to hear.

LISTEN: The 78 Project and Justin Townes Earle on WNYC Soundcheck

Our cameras were rolling, and we caught the moment of Justin Townes Earle making his 78 below.


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