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.
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There are things that the Presto seems to know inherently, surprising and wonderful things that pop out of our recordings when we play them back. The tapping of a foot on a floorboard, the chirping of a bird filtered through glass, the high praise-pitch of a fife brightly bouncing down a dark alley.
The Wandering assembled late one May night on the concrete behind Joe’s Pub in New York to play the classic gospel “Glory, Glory,” the five members of the Memphis group carefully shuffling themselves around to mix the sounds. Luther Dickinson, Valerie June, Shannon McNally and Amy LaVere each found their place, and the voices and instruments mixed beautifully as it all came together. Everywhere Shardé Thomas stood, however, the Presto seemed to hear her fife particularly. It’s the fife that her grandfather, the great Othar Turner, made with his own hands. And it was almost as if the Presto knew that sound, like the voice of an old friend carrying across a room.
It reminded us that the fife and the Presto both had lives before we were born, have a history we can only imagine, might have known each other in another life as contemporaries.
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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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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.
Amy LaVere (Official Teaser)
Amy LaVere is no stranger to chilling tales told through song. We have seen her sing both classic and original murder ballads with a masterfully woeful cadence. So, when she passed through Harlem on a bright and cold December weekend, it was a perfect opportunity to capture an acetate.
Amy granted our wish, laying down a chilling portrait of “The Railroad Boy” and the unlucky girl he scorned. The teaser tells a tiny piece of the tale of a life ruined by a callous lover, the consequences are to come…