We’ve been quiet this winter, planning for the road ahead, and pausing momentarily to take in all the beauty of the last two years. They have been eventful and exciting, and full of singular moments like this one.
This video and acetate by Craig Finn were shot and recorded at our joyful homecoming screening at IFC Center in New York City last June. He closed out the night with his distinctive interpretation of “The Ballad of Jesse James.”
Craig told us all how he had been drawn to a particular phrase in the song – He’d a hand and a heart and a brain – and when he sang it that night, that phrase summed up the spirit of the song perfectly: the danger of the life of an outlaw and the love of a lost hero.
Craig Finn – “The Ballad of Jesse James”
Shot at IFC Center in New York City, June 4, 2015
Thank you again to IFC Center for being our generous hosts.
We enjoy traveling immensely, whether it’s for filming or for screenings of the film. But there’s no place like home, and there’s no time to be there that is quite as warm as the winter. These last two weeks at home as the holidays have drawn closer, we’ve been thinking about all of that for which we’re deeply grateful. The opportunity to connect with you through music and film, in person and online, is the thing we find ourselves most thankful for this year.
Being at home also reminds us of the very first time The 78 Project Movie screened in our hometown of New York, and we wanted to share that happy memory with you this holiday weekend, by streaming the one-of-a kind acetate The Big Bright cut that night.
When we were fortunate to be invited to premiere our movie at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater this past August, we wanted to make it an unforgettable evening. But even with all our excitement and preparation, we couldn’t have dreamed how beautiful the night would turn out to be. That is thanks to the overwhelming support of our family, contributors, friends and fantastic New York filmgoers, and also because of the stunning recording by The Big Bright.
Without the need for amplification, the music was alive and sweet. The gentle harmonies of Fiona McBain and Liz Tormes and the sweet drone of Glenn Patscha’s pump organ lured us all closer, to the edges of seats, our senses piqued by the deep feeling of the performance. We were all hushed in our hope to drink in every part, every second, of those three minutes.
Thank you again to The Big Bright, our friends at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and everyone who came out to see the film screen in New York City for the very first time.
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.
This past week we watched a storm devastate our city. We felt the weight of the sky bearing down on us, reminding us that in some ways we are powerless. During the days after the winds died down, we spent almost all of our time feeling thankful that we had our lives and our loved ones, despite what was lost.
It was a reminder that the ways we feel and express our gratitude for life must be purposeful and can be grand.
We can gather in a place where the roof is high enough so that the weight of the world doesn’t sit directly on our heads and shoulders. And we can fill that high ceiling with song to show that we have the power of grace to return to the sky. As Adam Arcuragi did this past Spring in a chapel in Harlem when we met him there to record. His message of gratitude for life gives a perfect sense of calm in this week of uncertainty.
Buy it on iTunes.
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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Sometimes there is a feeling of knowing a place well, though you’ve never been. We instantly felt at home in the apartment, though none of us had set foot there before. It was a beautiful, sunny loft in Soho that felt filled to its 20-foot ceilings with Spring. In the street below bike bells cha-chinged and jackhammers clanged. We set up while Joe and Lisa rehearsed with the windows wide open, knowing we’d have to close them for a clean recording, but in no hurry to stop the breeze from carrying the city up and in.
The “Red River Valley” of Joe and Lisa’s song fills us with comfort, though it’s not a place any of us have ever called home. Joe traveled from California, Lisa from Ireland. New York, where we all met that morning, falls right in the middle. And the song became the familiar meeting point between their two voices. Harmonies sung in a living room, where a family meets every day, sound like home. Wherever that may be.
Buy the music on iTunes.
The Flipside: Lisa Hannigan & Joe Henry “Little Bird”
Because they were in the midst of touring together, Joe and Lisa had one of her songs already in their minds and fingers, ready to play for the Flipside of their 78. It came from an album of Lisa’s that Joe had produced, and it was clear from the wild focus of their duet performance of “Little Bird” that they had developed a deep relationship with the song together. The breath was swept out of the room from the moment they began. Even the street construction found itself struck silent by the command of their singing.
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.