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.
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.
Vandaveer (Official Teaser)
If you listened only to his narrative of a scorned suitor’s terrible revenge in “Banks of the Ohio,” you might be reluctant to follow Vandaveer down a long dark corridor. But we took a chance in the name of an acetate, and let him lead.
We’ve lived in New York City for a collective eon. But we learned from Vandaveer that our own hometown still keeps secrets.