Happy Trails…

Two summers back we left our own hot city and drove south. We visited one home, then another, traveled far over months that turned into a year. What is it? The answer comes from the adventure, comes within reach only after the needle lifts.

Today we’re leaving, driving south and west to Austin, TX. It feels so familiar now, hitting the road and heading south, filled with anticipation. This time, it is with something new to share that has been a long time and a lot of miles in the making.


Episode #21: International Blues Express – “Pa’ Janvier” (Part 2)

In the comforts of early Fall, with the windows thrown open and nothing coming through but the sun, winter seems not to exist. It is just a story you’ve told and been told but never really believed; the cold a memory you can’t quite access from a distance.

On this particular warm fall day, months before the polar vortex and the snowiest winter in years, Cedric Watson, Sidi Toure, Abdoulaye Kone dit Kandjafa and Desiree Champagne – collectively known as International Blues Express – perform the story of “Pa’ Janvier.” At the end of a day spent drifting out to the porch and back into the kitchen, once the sun and the garden has charmed us all into a pleasant stillness, the song sends a chill into the room. The violin, ngoni and guitar harmonize in a mournful breath, like a high-pitched moan of cold wind through a crack in the door. And Cedric recounts an old Cajun tale of the icy hand of old man winter come to steal his love. Donne moi Pauline.

Now as we haunt our own houses through a forbidding winter, listening to the performance it could seem a prediction of what was to come. A fable that foretold our chilly fate.

See International Blues Express – “Hanna” (Part 1), a traditional Malian song sung by Sidi Toure.

Episode #20: Pause in Life’s Pleasures: Watch and hear Jubal’s Kin’s “Hard Times” – Recorded Live for One Million Square Feet of Culture in Miami

It was exciting to find Miami pulsing with one big musical heartbeat. It was rapid and strong and kept you moving through the long, warm days and nights of Art Week.The world was in town for Art Basel, and we were invited by IFP to cut a record as part of One Million Square Feet of Culture.

Having driven down from the snowy December of New York, we had a slower, more wintery feeling still pulling at us. And Jubal’s Kin, though they came from only as far north as Orlando, seemed to be feeling that pull, too. Three siblings, singing together, brought the tempo of the air outside down to a gentle, breathless thrum.

We left the Presto on to capture the audience’s applause at the end, the first sound they had dared to make in almost four minutes. They weren’t the only ones, all of Wynwood seemed enraptured for that moment. The planes that had been flying overhead constantly, the car horns that had blared all day, the hard drive of the dozen nearby DJ’s, were quiet for a spell.

Thank you to the tireless, amazing folks at IFP for curating such a beautiful event.

Episode #19: International Blues Express “Hanna” (Part 1)

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.

Une Maison Blanche, étouffée, les esprits dan le bois: The 78 Project en Louisiana

We woke up this week in Memphis, which feels like a home away from home to us now. We’re back in Tennessee after a week in Louisiana, our car filled with freshly cut records and as many of the spoils of Bayou cuisine as we could cram in around our gear. Last week was a wild one.

Our first stop once we broke the Louisiana state line was Arnaudville, where we were the guests of Louis Michot, Ashlee Michot and their sons for the weekend. Louis is a member of the phenomenal Lost Bayou Ramblers and a powerful fiddler with a voice straight out of the past. He and his wife are lively, fascinating keepers of a deep Cajun tradition. Louis built their beautiful house himself using old prairie methods mixed with modern ones, and Ashlee is a writer and translator of the music, lyrics, culture and life of their area. Along with the amazing accordionist Corey Ledet, the pair played the traditional Cajun song “Mon Chapeau” and “Maison Blanche,” an original that Ashlee had written.

After a night in Lafayette checking out some young French-singing musicians with Louis and Ashlee, we spent the next day hiking out to an old house in the woods forgotten until recently and in serious, glorious disrepair. Exploring the property with Louis, Ashlee and their two young sons was a perfect way to see how the life of a Cajun family in Arnaudville, Louisiana has changed, and how it is still the same. The house, like Louis’, is built by hand, and filled with the echoes of family life. The children’s bed in the attic still remains, though it takes a death-defying jump up onto a falling down outdoor staircase to reach it. We were awed again and again by Louis and Ashlee’s extensive knowledge of the history of the area, their families and their culture. It was an unforgettable two days of stories and music at the Michots.

We bid them farewell and headed back to Lafayette to meet Chris Segura of the band Feufollet who we planned to record the next day. He wanted us to hear some of the recordings he works with at the Archive of Cajun Music at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. In 1934 Alan Lomax had visited the region and recorded many local Cajun musicians who had never been recorded before, and many who never would be recorded again. The performances he played for us, dubbed from the original discs at the Library of Congress, were breathtaking. Particularly recordings of the Hoffpauir sisters, all under the age of 9, singing songs their father had taught them in French, and a dizzy, strange and beautiful fiddle recording by a man called simply “Mr. Barnu” in the sleeve notes. One of the most interesting discoveries, Chris told us, has been that so many of the musicians Lomax recorded in that session are ancestors and relatives of folks still living in the area today. Including himself and his Feufollet bandmate Chris Stafford.

Yvette Landry, a friend of the band and a musician herself (and also a descendent of Lomax-recorded musicians) opened up her lovely house for us to record Feufollet. And multi-talented guy that he is, Chris Segura got a crawfish étouffée cooking so that it would be ready when we were done. Feufollet’s classic Cajun lineup put us to the test as we room mixed a fiddle, accordion, guitar, piano, upright bass and triangle plus two vocalists. But it worked to a beautiful effect as they performed “Si t’as Fini Avec Moi” and an original in English written by Kelly Jones-Savoy “Tired of Your Tears.”

It was such a pleasure to hear French being spoken just about everywhere by everyone young and old. And to see how having the language as a distinctive cultural asset bonds musicians to each other and to the traditions of their families.

About three hours north in Marksville, we arrived the next day at the house of Gerard Dupuy. We’d heard his name a few times in the week leading up and in the months before we came, from Adam Arcuragi, who had played a show with him in Marksville, and from Louis, who is a distant cousin of Gerard’s. He’s called the Cajun Stump Jumper because he brings a Cyprus stump with him to shows and leaps up onto it in moments of particular spirit. These moments seem to characterize Gerard’s existence. In the days we spent with him in his beautiful house – which he built himself and improved over the course of 30 years to include church windows and vaulted ceilings – he introduced us to everyone and everything he possibly could in his area.

We learned so much about the history of Louisiana. Gerard is an energized, gregarious living record of the whole place. With him we saw the town, ate the best crab burger and Cajun boudin sausage around, stopped by Bailey’s, the local venue where Gerard sometimes plays. We surveyed Gerard’s more than 50-acre property including a beautiful 1920s cabin where his stump lives and where he played us some improvised songs. At the end of the second day he cut a record of a Mardi Gras call, the Cajun Mardi Gras during which a captain leads the town on a horseback ride to gather the supplies for the meal they will all eat together at the party that night. His style of fiddle and upright bass and singing are ethereal, like a musical séance.

Since the Red River abuts his property, for our last morning in Marksville, Gerard took us on a boat ride to a small river island. We thanked him and bid him adieu and left overwhelmed, spinning with the stories and experiences of the week.

Episode #18: There’s Water Now: Watch and hear Victoria Williams’ “Bath Song”

Just on the other side of the steepest mountain in Echo Park, and many miles west of the desert cafe where we first met her, Victoria Williams invited us over for an evening of songs and record-making. The L.A. night was cold, but the house was warm and alive with some friends – including her dog Beau – and home-cooked food.

Victoria wanted what would be to be; she had happily followed Beau’s lead to the restaurant in Joshua Tree where we had also stopped on a whim, and as we set up that night, she was excited to find out what surprises “Bath Song” would bring at 78rpm. It seemed like a moment that had become inevitable since we left New York, wondering who we would meet, somehow thinking it might be her. The Presto clicked off, closing the circle, and our California road trip felt complete.

Our thanks to Gabe Noel for his beautiful musical contributions to this recording and to Robert for his kind and generous hospitality.

Episode #17: Leave You Not Alone: Watch and hear Jackson Lynch’s “Roving Cowboy” recording from the Brooklyn Folk Festival

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.

May Adventures Past and Present: Cannes and daring recordings in an alley, on air, and onstage

May has turned out to be a momentous month for The 78 Project, each year it brings opportunities and joys we can hardly imagine.  This year May finds us in France!  Thanks to our fiscal sponsors and wonderful supporters at IFP we are participating in the first year of the Cannes Cross Media Corner, taking place during this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Thinking back to last May, we realized we were on a similarly adventurous bent, as in just one week we had the chance to record with The Wandering in a New York City alleyway at night, to appear live on WNYC Soundcheck recording with Justin Townes Earle, and to share an incredible evening of music at City Winery with our friends and supporters, culminating in a live onstage recording with Marshall Crenshaw.

In anticipation of the exciting week to come, a look back at this exciting week from one year ago:



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