I wish I could have seen this!! Such a brilliant idea.
An excerpt from Emily Temple's article: "Opening
this month at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University in Durham,
North Carolina, this exhibit makes it quite clear that vinyl records can
be much more than just sonic masterpieces. The 41 artists whose work is
represented--including Christian Marclay, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, and
the ever-inspiring Carrie Mae Weems--made pieces out of (and about)
records. The exhibition features Laurie Anderson's "viophonograph," a
brilliant record-player-cum-violin, Berlin-based artist Satch Joyt's
16-foot canoe made of red 45-rpm records, and a life-sized Polaroid
photomontage by David Byrne--the very one that graced the cover of the
Talking Head's 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food.
[http://www.nasher.duke.edu/therecord/index.php] ============================================================= Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University exhibit summary:
Record" is the first museum exhibition to explore the culture of vinyl
records within the history of contemporary art. Bringing together
artists from around the world who have worked with records as their
subject or medium, this groundbreaking exhibition examines the record's
transformative power, from the 1960s to the present. Through sound work,
sculpture, installation, drawing, painting, photography, video and
performance, "The Record" combines contemporary art with outsider art,
audio with visual, fine art with popular culture, and established
artists with those who will be exhibiting in a U.S. museum for the first
The exhibition is organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, the Nasher Museum's curator of contemporary art.
Record" explores the intersection between visual art and music,
considering the vinyl record as a lens through which to view the world.
Powerfully marked with nostalgia, linked to the search for musical and
cultural authenticity, and valued for its listening quality and cover
visuals, the record has long been both a significant source of
inspiration and material for artistic production. Indeed, for many
contemporary artists, the specter of the vinyl record looms large,
taking on a power and significance that moves well beyond the medium's
traditional use, and thoroughly into a space of innovative artistic
production. The exhibition will explore the impact of the medium on both
art and popular culture and the ways in which the record has been
manipulated, preserved and transformed through art.
exhibition includes rarely exhibited early work and recent and newly
commissioned work by 33 international and mutigenerational artists, as
well as an interactive artist-and-musician-curated component. "The
Record" exhibition will be accompanied by a wide array of educational
programming, a 240-page color catalogue and an extensive website with
supplemental information on the exhibition and record culture at large.
Artists (partial list) Laurie
Anderson (b. 1947 USA), Felipe Barbosa (b. 1978 Brazil), David Byrne
(b. 1952 Scotland), William Cordova (b. 1971 Peru), Jeroen Diepenmaat
(b. 1978 Netherlands), Satch Hoyt (b. 1975 UK), Jasper Johns (b. 1930
USA), Taiyo Kimura (b. 1970 Japan), Tim Lee (b. 1975 Korea), Christian
Marclay (b. 1955 USA), David McConnell (b. 1975 USA), Mingering Mike
(b. 1950 USA), Dave Muller (b. 1964 USA), Robin Rhode (b. 1976 South
Africa), Dario Robleto (b. 1972 USA), Ed Ruscha (b. 1937 USA), Malick
Sidibe (b. 1935 Mali), Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974 USA), Su-Mei Tse (b.
1973 Luxembourg), Fatimah Tuggar (b. 1967 Nigeria), and Carrie Mae
Weems (b. 1953 USA).
On a cold, rainy evening in Berkeley this past weekend I saw Chris Smither perform at one of the coolest venues in town: the Freight and Salvage coffeehouse. With floor to ceiling wooden walls and wagon wheel chandeliers, Freight and Salvage offered me an incredible concert experience (while completely satisfying my caffeine addiction). Every seat was filled and the aisles were full of people teeming to get an earful of Chris Smither, an acclaimed "blues infused innovator." Celebrating it's 40th anniversary in 2008, Freight and Coffee has created a tradition of playing host to a myriad of musicians of all genres. In its biography, the owner, Nancy Owens, states that, "Since its founding in 1968, the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse has been deeply rooted in that aspect of Berkeley's culture that embraced freedom, tolerance, cooperation, and innovation. It has resisted the bottom line mentality, and, instead, has been a mission-driven non-profit organization. The club not only survives, it has become a world famous venue for traditional music, be it folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world-beat, or gospel...From the start, my hope was to be multi-ethnic and multi-racial," Nancy continues, "a group of men and women and children who could get together in a spirit of community. Somehow, our dreams came together and meshed, and we created this community."
Christ Smither put on a great show, expertly blending beautiful guitar with gruff, grainy vocals. Tossing his hair back and forth and singing through a half-cracked smile, his commanding presence and witty banter was comfortable and effortless. He charmed the audience with anecdotes and stories about everything from past music festivals, to his impeding age, and, most memorably, to his young daughter. Stereo Review wrote that, "Chris Smither recasts the real folk blues in the ethereal language of the poet, projecting a kind of streetwise mysticism." Check out Richard Skelly's review as well:
"Like John Hammond and a handful of other musicians whose careers began in the 1960s blues revival, guitarist, singer, and songwriter Chris Smither can take pride in the fact that he's been there since the beginning. Except for a few years when he was away from performing in the '70s, Smither has been a mainstay of the festival, coffeehouse, and club circuits around the U.S., Canada, and Europe since his performing career began in earnest in the coffeehouses in Boston in the spring of 1966. Smither is best known for his great songs, items like "Love You Like a Man" and "I Feel the Same," both of which have been recorded by guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Raitt and Smither got started at about the same time in Boston, though Smither was born and raised in New Orleans, the son of university professors.
Smither's earliest awareness of blues and folk music came from his parents' record collection. In a 1992 interview, he recalled it included albums by Josh White, Susan Reed, and Burl Ives. After a short stint taking piano lessons, Smither switched to ukulele after discovering his mother's old instrument in a closet. The young Smither was passionately attached to the ukulele, and now, years later, it helps to explain the emotion and expertise behind his unique fingerpicking guitar style. Smither discovered blues music when he was 17 and heard a Lightnin' Hopkins album, Blues in the Bottle. The album was a major revelation to him and he subsequently spent weeks trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts. Smither moved to Boston after realizing he was a big fish in a small pond in the New Orleans folk/coffeehouse circuit of the mid-'60s.
Since then, he's more than proved his mettle as an enormously gifted songwriter, releasing albums mostly of his own compositions for the Flying Fish, Hightone, and Signature Sounds labels. Smither's albums during the '90s and into the 21st century include Happier Blue (1993, Flying Fish), Up on the Lowdown (1995, Hightone), Drive You Home Again (1999, Hightone), Live as I'll Ever Be (2000, Hightone), Train Home (2003, Hightone), Leave the Light On (2006, Signature Sounds), and Time Stands Still (2009, Signature Sounds), a career highlight. Any of Smither's releases are worthy of careful examination by guitarists and students of all schools of blues and folk music. Smither is still, to some extent, an unheralded master of modern acoustic blues. Fortunately, his recordings and festival bookings during the '90s and into the 21st century have elevated his profile to a higher level than he's ever enjoyed previously.
Tags: Freight and Salvage Chris Smither music berkeley
On Wednesday on February 16 I had the immense pleasure of seeing 3-time Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider perform at Campbell Hall at UCSB. Let me preface this review by stating clearly and concisely: I am not a music critic. But even with my little knowledge about Persian music or even Kalhor's instrument of choice, the kamancheh, I was able to immerse myself into the gorgeous, haunted rhythms of this collaborative performance.
Cited by NPR as being responsible for "recreating the 300-year-old form of string quartet as a vital and creative 21st century ensemble," the evening began with Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on violin, Nicholas Cords on viola and Eric Jacobsen on cello performing Giovanni Sollima's "Frederico II"from Viaggio in Italia, a composition which chronicles Italy's tumultuous history. Sollima is quoted saying that the inspiration for "Frederico II," was based off of the Italian ruler, who when his tomb was exhumed was found in the arms of woman. Sollima chose Frederico II as inspiration because he wanted to "render the bright, joyous and multiethnic atmosphere of the court of Emperor Frederico II (1194-1250) in the guise of dancing..." This inclination for a transnational transference of language, emotion, and experience parallels Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider's collaboration. Whatbegan as a soft, interim soon segued into a profound musical experience that had the audience utterly captivated and enraptured with the beaucoup of musical innovation and creativity on Campbell's stage. It was at once active and tender, tantalizingly delicate yet still laden with vibrant fortitude. There was an indelible, muscular quality to their performance. And it seemed to be almost a dialogue between the instruments, a duel of an expansive, sonic feast, teased out by the musicians who sporadically beat on the sides of their instruments and playfully take turns with unique solos. And as quickly as they began this banter of sound, they just as easily seamlessly and masterfully aligned themselves in their primal yet dulcet vibrations.
After a roar of applause, they embarked on Philip Glass' Quartet No. 3 "Mishima." Prefacing it by stating that they wanted to move from one port city (Sicily) to another port city (New York), they began to evoke a transnational, borderless and, seemingly, boundless performance. "Mishima" was multilayered, pensive, and saturated with wistful longing. The violins' wavering strings mirrored that of a slowing heartbeat or a swaying breath. It was a dark, romantic, winding tide that surprisingly culminated into an abrupt, anticipatory pause. After a few moments of searing silence, they erupted into soaring crescendo of newfound energetic revival. The song's stages were staggering: from fragile and exquisite to sojourn and somber to frenetic and pulsating, the song was both rich and riveting throughout its entirety. Inspired by the famous author's suicide after an unsuccessful coup d'etat, the group is quoted saying that the openness of the music allowed it to be "curiously 'unstuck' from time" which catalyzed them "to draw connections to other familiar sounds from the urban mechanization of Brooklyn to the drone infused textures of Persian music; all of this made the music more deeply rooted in our collective experience."
Soon it was time for the next piece. The musicians discussed how upon their pilgrimage to Iran they soon became enveloped with not only Iran's language and culture, but also the ultimate texture of the culture, a texture that seemed to permeate all facets of life, from calligraphy, to art, and, most significantly, to the music they heard everywhere, from temples to every nook and cranny of Iran's busy streets. There was a component of antiquity to their performance, almost as if an homage was being paid to the Zoroastrian temples in which they observed Kalhor improvise for hours upon hours during their trip. They likened this experience of observing Kalhor to fire, an element that was "at once hypnotic and perpetually changing." Then, Kalhor arrived: He came onto the stage, quiet and unassuming, taking his seat on a large, Persian pillow in center stage. He raised his bow and immediately began Beloved, Do Not Let Me Be Discouraged, a title stemming from 16th century Turkish poet Fuzuli who writes of star-crossed lovers, doomed by their zealous love. It begins slowly, with deep complexity and intention. It rendered the audience silent with its tendrils of smokey and hollow tones, combined with its tenuous and diaphanous melodies. Soon, Kalhor's kamancheh merged with the other musician's strings, creating a marriage of two sounds and, subsequently, two worlds. It was an undulating efflux of competing but complementary sounds: it was not a clash of cultures but rather an entrancing dance. It seemed voyaging and triumphant, conjuring feelings of epic and primordial distinction. And all too soon, it was time for intermission.
After a brief break of toffee and tea, the audience returned to their seats, wide-eyed and eager for Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider to continue. Their last piece was entitled, Silent City, a collaboration that they explained was the result of a process in which they not only explored one another musically, but also delved deeper on an emotional and personal level. They relished their relationship with one another and began to learn from Kalhor the subjective and reflexive nature of time and music. Music became a journey and Silent City became an example of their assertion of control and autonomy over the time of a story: they decided to have the song tell a story in reverse, going gradually from desolation to a state of prosperity. And so the song commenced: it began like an instrumental desert, as windswept and bare as the land from which Kalhor hails. But soon this dirge bloomed into a sound of resurrection, unfurling with sounds of grandiose exultation and joy. Utilizing improvisation, call and response, and divergent harmonies, the piece becomes a narrative of "a universal testament to fallen cities and civilizations. But even more central to Silent City is the idea that life always returns, sprouting anew out of the empty landscape." As the audience sprang from their seats for a standing ovation, the ending of the song was an appropriate conclusion to an enriching evening of musicianship at its finest. Their performance was many things, but above all, it was drenched in feeling, feeling that lingered long after the last note.
“We have restrictions in every other place in our lives, so I wanted the choir to be a place where there are no rules, where we just enjoy each other,” says Aska Matsumiya, one of the two leaders, along with Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark, of the L.A. Ladies Choir. “Actually,” she says, correcting herself, we do have one rule: “Sing joyfully.”
-By Alexa Brazilian-
"The project that’s got Hollywood buzzing? We’ll give you a hint: It’s not the next 3-D blockbuster. From Silverlake to Malibu, California’s coolest girls are joining the L.A. Ladies Choir, a group of creative types that includes model Frankie Rayder, pastry chef Jenny Park of the beloved Trails Cafe, singer-songwriter Ariana Delawari, Diva Dompé of the rock band blackblack, cult costumer and stylist Miss KK, and vintage-store owner and musician Kitty Jensen, among 30 others. The gang gets together weekly—sometimes accompanied by Rayder’s husband, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, on bass—to sing around the city, belting out everything from groovy classics by Leonard Cohen, Yoko Ono, and Marvin Gaye to originals by founders Becky Stark (front woman for both the folksy-pop quartet Lavender Diamond and the trio the Living Sisters) and Aska Matsumiya (of indie bands AsDSSka, the Sads, and Moonrats). Here, Stark and Matsumiya share the secrets and joys of perfect harmony."
In a city crammed with noise, punk, metal and thug bands, the L.A. Ladies Choir seems downright radical: a group that is exactly what its name implies. But that’s the simple truth: They seem to have no ulterior motives other than to spread the proverbial peace and love. For real, a fluttering, unironic rainbow of pastel-colored vintage dresses, genuine smiles and beautiful faces. (This isn’t a requirement in the Ladies Choir, just some freakish accident.) Upon closer inspection, what becomes obvious is that each member’s beauty is a result of Matsumiya’s golden rule.
Formed in January after what seems to be a fated meeting, the choir gave its first performance, fittingly, on Valentine’s Day at the Aaron Rose–curated show “Passion for the Possible” at theCalifornia State University Northridge Art Galleries. The exhibit’s focus was Sister Corita, a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order, famous for her antiwar lithographs during theVietnam War. She serves as a powerful source of inspiration for the group. “If the Ladies Choir was a religion, Sister Corita would be our god,” says Matsumiya, who also performs in Moonrats, AsDSSka and Aaron Rose’s band, the Sads.
Like many magical things in this world, the L.A. Ladies Choir came into being, in part, inside a different reality, Stark explains on the phone while on tour with the Decemberists, for whom she sings background. “I had this dream. In it, I needed a female pianist and a place for the choir to rehearse.” Her band mate in Lavender Diamond, Ron Rege Jr., had been urging her to start a choir. She recalls him saying, “‘You know so many women. You all need to sing together. You need to start a choir.”
Rege organized a small singing group for an installment of Arthur Fest, and shortly thereafter Stark put together an event at the Silent Movie Theatre. “I set up this whole carnival environment: kissing booth, raffle, and a fortunetelling booth. We had a crystal ball, lace curtains, but no one wanted to be the fortuneteller.” She suggested everyone tell their own fortunes, but soon people started approaching her to describe these amazing sessions they had just finished. “So I walked to the booth to see who was doing the fortunetelling, and it was Aska’s amazing 5-year-old daughter, Babel. She is the most amazing child. Then later at a show, Aska walks up to me and says, ‘Hi, do you remember me? My daughter was the fortuneteller. I’ve been thinking of starting a ladies choir; would you want to join me?’ It all came together. Aska and I had been having the same dream!”
The choir added members, and currently consists of a bevy of notable musicians, including Anna Oxygen; Kitty Jensen from Portland’s Parenthetical Girls; Diva Dompe from Black Black and Pocahaunted; supermodel (and Flea’s wife) Frankie Rayder; and an ever-growing roster of talented, dedicated women, not all of whom consider themselves trained musicians. They now carry the message in all aspects of the group’s work, from charity functions for the downtown women’s shelter to simply hanging out and rehearsing.
Membership is pretty much open. “I actually met Becky in a coffee shop and we were discussing holiday woes, and she said, ‘Why don’t you join the choir?’ ” member Tracy Hood recalls. “I walked in and all these wonderful women were singing, and I just went, ‘Whew, I’m at home.’ ”
Stark was inspired to form some sort of choir a few years ago, after she’d finished writing music for the Tom Hanks–produced film City of Ember, which came out last fall. “It’s this story about an underground city,” she explains. Her friend, the director Gil Kenan (whom she’d met at the Smell), recruited her for the project. “[He] asked if I wanted to write postapocalyptic children’s hymns for this movie. And I just said, like, ‘Yes!’ ”
Stark speaks in excited gasps over the phone. “Making the music for that film was the most unbelievable experience ever, and it left me totally wanting so much to make music with a choir. The experience of singing together is so powerful. I had choral parts I wanted to try, but I wanted it to be a ladies choir for myself and for the world.”
Matsumiya mirrored Stark’s sentiments recently while eating a goat cheese–and–balsamic vinegar salad at Sunset Junction’s Casbah Café. Looking every bit the mercurial L.A. wandering-Gypsy musician, the striking Matsumiya says the goal from the start was simple: “We wanted to create this positive feminine energy, not against anything, but just this beautiful energy of strength and power for something, by women.”
She and her band, the Moonrats, moved to L.A. from Seattle three years ago. “I have a daughter,” Matsumiya explains, “and I wanted her to grow up in the sunshine.” As well, they packed a bit of the DIY Northwest. Her presence alongside feminist performance artist and musician Oxygen and the dozen-odd others, with Stark’s mantra of peace and love, make for an interesting swirl of women and ideas commingling and rejoicing in the same room. One of their performance staples is a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Sister O Sisters,” with the chorus, “O sisters, o sisters, let’s give up no more/It’s never too late to build a new world.” Not exactly an apolitical song, this contrast between politics and agenda and an innocent, unbridled enthusiasm offers a curious tension.
The bonus, adds Pocahaunted’s Dompe, is community. “I never really had a large group of women friends. I’ve played in bands with boys, but here, I really look forward to coming in and relaxing and being around everyone. Everyone is so different.”
And yet when they gather, the differences combine to create a single, beautiful voice."
This Memorial Day weekend my father and I had the pleasure of visiting Down Home Records, a small record store in El Cerrito, CA. Cluttered with posters on the walls and worn wooden paneling, this musical treasure chest is the type of record store that attracts all types of listeners: the store caters to a crowd as diverse as its selection. It is the type of place where once you start chatting up your cashier, you find that he is not only a bluegrass fan who becomes bashful when he talks of his own recordings, but that he also holds a master's and PhD in International Relations. As we perused the new and used sections of cds and wall-to-wall vinyl, I wondered how this little gem of store has flown under the radar. Upon further research, I made the discovery: it hasn't. Check out this recent article in the New York Times:
STILL THE ADDRESS OF DOWN HOME SOUNDS BY LARRY ROHTER
THE sign on the wall of the building that serves as the home of Arhoolie Records here, just north of Berkeley, promises “down home music,” and for 50 years, often operating on a shoestring, and a thin one at that, the label has delivered a rich and quirky mixture of blues, folk, jazz, Cajun, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco and gospel — the full panorama of American roots music — to an equally diverse collection of music fans.
John F. Kennedy had just been elected president when Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie’s founder and still its owner, sat pasting pictures on the cover of the label’s first LP, “Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster.” Driving across the South a few months earlier, Mr. Strachwitz had recorded that blues singer at home, dreaming of giving up his job as a high school teacher but never imagining that his homespun venture would outlive some of the world’s largest recording conglomerates.
To commemorate its 50th anniversary, Arhoolie is about to release a four-CD collection of songs, ranging in style from the blues of Jesse Fuller to the free jazz of Sonny Simmons, that Mr. Strachwitz recorded between 1954 and 1970 in the San Francisco Bay area. Called “Hear Me Howling: Blues, Ballads & Beyond,” the package also includes a 136-page book that tells the history of the label; the set will be available for purchase at the company’s Web site, arhoolie.com, beginning next week and from music stores early in 2011.
Most of Mr. Strachwitz’s best-known recordings, though, are from the field, especially in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. That is where, starting in 1960, he found, recorded or helped revive the careers of seminal bluesmen like Bukka White, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell and even Clifton Chenier, the accordion-playing King of Zydeco.
For someone so devoted to American roots music, Mr. Strachwitz has an unusual background. Born in Germany in 1931 into an aristocratic family as Count Christian Alexander Maria Strachwitz, he spent his childhood under Nazi rule and came to the United States after World War II as a high school student living originally in Reno, Nev. From the start, he said, the variety of American music styles, especially their driving beat, enthralled him.
“The rhythms haunted me,” he said in an interview in his office, cluttered with records, at Arhoolie’s headquarters and warehouse. “I’d hear all this stuff on the radio, and it just knocked me over. I thought this was absolutely the most wonderful thing I had ever heard.”
Richard K. Spottswood, a prominent musicologist who edited and annotated the Library of Congress’s 15-volume series “Folk Music in America” and is the author of “Ethnic Music on Records,” said that Mr. Strachwitz’s role in preserving American vernacular music has been crucial.
“He is probably more American than many of us, but he experienced this music not as something he was born into and took for granted like the air we breathe, but as something rare and delightful, not available to the rest of the world,” Mr. Spottswood said. “Coming from another language and culture, he perhaps saw the artistry in this music a little sooner, a little earlier than the rest of us, and his vision of a kaleidoscopic American musical culture, from Tejano to country and Southwestern blues, has helped thwart the single standard the music industry has tried to impose on us over the years.”
For a generation of folk- and blues-inspired performers, from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt and T Bone Burnett, Arhoolie has been a lodestone. In his autobiographical “Chronicles Vol. I,” Mr. Dylan, a member of the advisory board of the nonprofit Arhoolie Foundation, credits the label as being the place “where I first heard Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Charlie Patton and Tommy Johnson.”
Ry Cooder, the Grammy Award-winning guitarist and producer, recalled that “I must have been about 13” the day he took a bus to a blues and folk record store in downtown Los Angeles and for the first time heard Big Joe Williams singing ferociously and playing a nine-string guitar, on an album called “Tough Times.” That recording, Arhoolie’s second release, changed his life, Mr. Cooder said.
“The whole thing started like it was going to blow up, or fly apart at the seams, and it really took hold of me,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘This is what it ought to be like, total physical involvement with the music, going into it so hard that you just about lose control.’ ”
He added, “It started me on a path of living, the path I am still on.”
At a time long before the Internet the extensive liner notes on the back of Arhoolie recordings — many written by Mr. Strachwitz — were a vital source of information about artists considered far outside the mainstream. From recordings put out by Arhoolie, whose name comes from a Southern dialect term for a field holler, budding performers could learn not just about songs, but also the instruments and tunings that performers used.
“I was a big folkie back then, and I would read about the latest releases on Arhoolie in Sing Out magazine,” said Ms. Raitt, who is also an advisory board member of the foundation, which is dedicated to documenting, preserving and disseminating “authentic, traditional and vernacular music.” “Every one of those records was a treasure. I loved the tasteful artwork on them.” She added, “Chris became an important figure, a monumental link really, from whom I learned a lot, especially about Cajun and Tex-Mex and zydeco and Hawaiian music.”
But Mr. Strachwitz is above all a collector. Even now, what strikes those who have worked with him, like the documentary filmmaker Les Blank, who collaborated with Mr. Strachwitz on films like “Chulas Fronteras,” about Tejano music, and “J’Été au Bal,” about Cajun music, is “the degree of his extreme enthusiasm” for tracking down and acquiring the recordings that interest him.
“He’s like a kid who caught his first fish when he finds one of these groups that he likes, or old 78s he wants to add to his huge collection,” Mr. Blank said. “While we were in Texas, he’d hear about a stash, some vendor who once served jukeboxes, his widow and children have a big room full of records, and he’s on to it. He won’t eat or drink or sleep until he gets his hands on it.”
Though he does not speak Spanish, Mr. Strachwitz has built what is believed to be the largest private collection of Mexican-American and Mexican music, from mariachi and norteño accordion groups to corridos, with some recordings from as early as a century ago.
“That music had the same appeal to me that the hillbilly music did, this soulful country sound and a lot of duet singing,” he said. “And there was this weird mixture of string music with the trumpet filling in almost like a jazz musician, which I thought was just gorgeous. And the accordions!”
Last year, after the Arhoolie Foundation donated those recordings, the Frontera Collection opened to the public at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recordings are first catalogued and digitized in a small room at the Arhoolie building, then made available through the U.C.L.A. library; scholars have already drawn on them for academic papers, theses and a book.
“The range of these nearly 50,000 recordings is amazing, so vast that we don’t yet fully have a handle on it,” said Chon Noriega, director of the Chicano Studies Research Center at U.C.L.A. “This is our musical heritage in the broadest sense of the word, and it is remarkable that Chris Strachwitz had the foresight and passion to know how important it was to preserve this.”
As Mr. Strachwitz is quick to acknowledge, his collecting obsession can be expensive, and there has never been much money to be made in the line of work he has chosen. But every now and then, mainly through pieces of the publishing rights to songs that have become unlikely hits, he has had lucky strikes that have helped keep his business afloat, if not flourishing.
In 1965 a Berkeley folkie named Joe McDonald wanted to record a newly written protest song on short notice and ended up doing so in Mr. Strachwitz’s living room with Mr. Strachwitz’s equipment. In exchange, he granted Mr. Strachwitz publishing rights to the “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” which four years later became a worldwide sensation when Mr. McDonald, by then the leader of the psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish, performed it at Woodstock and it was included in the movie of the festival. Mr. Strachwitz’s share of the royalties on the song, an anthem of opposition to the war in Vietnam, allowed him to put a down payment on the building that is now Arhoolie’s home.
Arhoolie also recorded the bluesman K. C. Douglas, whose “Mercury Boogie” has been a hit numerous times, perhaps most notably in a 1993 country music version by Alan Jackson that became the centerpiece of an ad campaign for the car manufacturer. Mr. Douglas had already died by that time. But Mr. Strachwitz said one of his most gratifying moments in his career was handing over a royalty check to Mississippi Fred McDowell after the Rolling Stones recorded his “You Gotta Move” for their 1971 album “Sticky Fingers.”
“I got tangled up being a sort of agent for some of them, for Fred and Mance and Lightnin’,” Mr. Strachwitz explained. Originally, he said, when he approached the Stones about royalty payments “their lawyers said ‘no, no, no, everything they record is their own stuff.’ ” But Mr. Strachwitz persisted. “Fred was already suffering from cancer,” he said. “But I was very happy to be able to give him a check before he died.”
Those dealings with Mr. McDowell are indicative of another trait associated with Mr. Strachwitz: his reputation for being upright in his business dealings. “Chris does not exploit his artists, he respects them,” said Ms. Raitt, who early in her career played on bills with Arhoolie performers. “That shadow, of people trying to make money off the artist at the artist’s expense, is not there with Chris. He has so much integrity that he really does his utmost to take care of the person as well as the music.”
COMPOSING MELODY: THE ENIGMATIC MELODY MARDOT BY ANDREW GOLDMAN
Behind the doors of a suite in Barcelona’s Hotel Alexandra, Melody Gardot talks on the phone in seemingly perfect French while tapping on her iMac, a cigarette with a perilously long ash between her lips. Although she was raised in New Jersey, you might guess that she grew up abroad, considering the unidentifiable, almost stilted manner in which she speaks. Her official photographer and all-around aide-de-camp, Shervin Lainez, who has ushered me in, hands Gardot a large bottle of hairspray. Judging from her snug black Lanvin skirt and blouse, lethal patent leather spike heels, matching deep red lips and nails, black leggings that shine like sealskin, and platinum blond hair, appearance is very important to her, even on travel days like today—she is in the midst of her European tour, en route, somehow, from Spain to London and a show at the Palladium, if only an Icelandic volcano would cease belching a massive cloud of dust into the sky. Her most distinctive accessories, and what really pull the look together into what might be described as Boris-and-Natasha-retro-spy-chic, are dark Wayfarer-style shades with gold-accented stems and a cane with a pink pearl handle, neither of which she is ever seen without.
There’s a famous line often attributed to Thelonious Monk: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Writing about it isn’t any easier, but I was so in love with Melody Gardot’s voice before I’d learned a thing about her remarkable story that it literally stopped me in my tracks and sent me scrambling for pen and paper to write down the name of the singer on the radio who had so magnificently covered the Beatles’ “Because.” The first thing that hit me was the elegantly baroque flamenco-sounding vocal flourish that she tosses in before the first verse. The Beatles’ original, with its lush harmonies, is obviously gorgeous, but in Gardot’s hands, a woeful longing emerges in the song. You sense that the big, belting notes would be available to her if she wanted them, but, as in all of her music, restraint rather thanAmerican Idol–ish vocal pyrotechnics is the objective. Her voice is pristine yet telegraphs great wisdom and experience—it’s almost like hearing the singing of a 70-year-old woman who’s been on vocal rest for the past five decades.
And then a simple Google search reveals that not only does she have amazing talent, but she also has a jaw-dropping backstory. Seven years ago, at 19, she was hit by a car while on her bike and suffered devastating injuries, especially to her brain. After months of going through all the traditional therapies for the brain-injured and still being unable to read, still struggling to speak and walk, she was encouraged by her doctor to try playing music, since she’d played piano as a child and teenager. The reintroduction of music to her life affected a kind of miraculous awakening. Lying on her sickbed, she taught herself to play guitar, began to sing for the first time, and even started writing songs, which unbeknownst to her a friend posted on MySpace. It turned out she could sing like an angel, and her songs were good by any measure.
Naturally, the media flocked to her. The Times of London, The San Francisco Chronicle, Le Monde, The Korea Times, National Public Radio, The Sydney Morning Herald, The New York Times, and CBS Sunday Morning, to name a few, tell variations on the Only Music Can Heal Her story. I flocked to Gardot too, hopping a plane to Spain to interview this amazing singer, a walking example of the healing powers of music.
Musicophilia, the 2007 book by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, illustrates the ways in which music is a therapeutic boon. Aphasics, he writes, cannot locate words, but they’re often able to sing the words to songs. A Parkinson’s sufferer, unable to speak or move, can, when listening to music, actually get up and dance gracefully.
But the Melody Gardot case represents success on an entirely different scale. Music therapy didn’t just allow this young woman to enjoy a relatively normal life after a traumatic injury—it brought out such a gift that she has actually become famous. She has sold more than half a million albums in jazz-friendly Europe. Before coming to Spain, she played three sold-out nights at Paris’ famed Olympia theater, the favorite venue of Edith Piaf (to whom she’s often compared) and host also to the Rolling Stones and Madonna. In America, her 2009 major-label debut, My One and Only Thrill, has hovered atop jazz charts since its release. She performed on Letterman and has found an unlikely fan in NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who reportedly liked to play the album in the Vikings’ locker room last year. I had to meet the miracle.
“I remember one of Melody’s people said to me, ‘When are we going to look at Melody’s music separate from her injury?’ ” says Dr. Richard Jermyn, the New Jersey specialist whom Gardot credits with masterminding her rehabilitation. “I thought about that and said, ‘You know, you can’t, because this changed her forever.’ You can never separate the Melody of today from the brain injury, because it changes you. Not only does it change your brain and your brain chemistry—just living through that amount of pain at such a young age will change you forever. You’re never going to be the sweet young person you were before. You’re going to be a person who has lived a life in two years that most people haven’t lived in a lifetime.”
Or, as the 26-year-old Gardot herself puts it, “The crux of it is that I’m very much a young woman and an old woman at the same time.”
As she settles down on a sofa in her Barcelona hotel, lights another cigarette, and adjusts a burning stick of Nag Champa incense in a tumbler full of soggy cigarette butts, I ask why a TV set in the room is covered in vibrant fabric. “That’s a Tibetan wall hanging that was a gift from a piano tuner in Strasbourg,” she says, explaining that as a touring, practicing Buddhist, she usually turns hotel TV sets into altars. Gardot says she is a follower of a Buddhist sect called Soka Gakkai that has attracted a disproportionate number of jazz musicians. “Herbie is Soka Gakkai. Wayne is Soka Gakkai,” she says, first-name-checking legends Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter in a manner that suggests that the trio might have shared the stage at the Village Vanguard back in ’65. For all she can remember, she was there with them. “Understand that I had a massive head injury, so in a way, my life before the accident is like a past life,” she says, when I ask her to recall certain details of her childhood. “It’s like a sense memory. I have a sense of it, but I don’t remember it.”
Some of the memories that Gardot does retain (ironically, about forgetting) come across less like actual memories than stage yarns or between-song set pieces. “I forget everything,” she says. “I forget what time I’m supposed to do things. I forget lovers.”
he’s actually forgotten lovers she’s had since the accident? She nods. “We were in New York and there was a gentleman who came up to me after a gig at some club and he called me ‘Baby.’ I said, ‘I’m not your baby.’ He said, ‘Don’t you remember? We had this beautiful night. We went to dinner, blah, blah, blah.’ I said, ‘Well, frankly, darling, it must not have been that wonderful, because I don’t remember a damned thing.’ And he said, ‘Well, let me refresh your memory.’ So we went out that night and sure enough, I remembered the reason I forgot him.”
It’s a slightly destabilizing experience spending time with Gardot, not only because stories tumble from her at a galloping pace that’s hard to follow, but because they sometimes feel like they could have been culled from a Tallulah Bankhead memoir or film script. I find myself wondering: Am I getting the real Melody Gardot, or shtick?
“You interviewed a brain-injured patient. That’s why you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and not so sure what to take away from it,” Jermyn explains. It is common, he adds, for an injured brain to spackle between gaps in memories. “The brain will naturally try to fill in memory, and one won’t be able to distinguish between what’s considered reality and what is actually real. If Melody did tell you anything that wasn’t a true story, or if something seemed a little out there, I can tell you, Melody believes it wholeheartedly.”
To re-create Melody Gardot’s pre- accident years is to wade through every interview she’s given since her 2005 rise in the Philly music scene, collect threads, and hope to fashion something that resembles a rope, because Gardot herself confesses to being an unreliable narrator. “You have to understand,” she says, “my life was re- explained to me completely. People were reintroduced to me.”
She has said she was born in New Jersey. Her name was not Melody Gardot—something that I learn only because her doctor says he knows her by another name that patient confidentiality prevents him from passing along. Gardot says she was “pretty nomadic” as a kid, never mentions a father, and says that she was raised by women. She lived for some time with an aunt as well as her late grandmother, who spoke with a Polish accent and introduced her to The Wizard of Oz—she often garners a mention during Gardot’s performance of a syncopated version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The musician is close to her mother, who still lives in New Jersey and is a painter these days. Gardot refuses to let me speak with her. “I’m onstage,” she says, “my family’s not.”
She has said that she took piano lessons as a child and that by the time she was 16, she was good enough to make a few bucks playing in piano bars around Philadelphia, but only covered others’ songs and never opened her mouth. “I never sang before,” she says. “I can remember goofing off and singing along to stupid songs in the car, but nothing with intention, you know?”
By fall 2003, Gardot was 19, studying fashion at the Community College of Philadelphia, which is when her accident happened. Considering her failure to remember so much, her memories of it are remarkable. She was pedaling south on Second Street, a busy thoroughfare on the fringes of Philadelphia’s historic Old City. At the intersection of Callowhill Street, an SUV made an illegal turn and hit her. “I remember two lights out of the corner of my eye, and I knew what kind of car hit me because JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE was the last thing I saw. The letters looked huge,” Gardot says. She’s said that she recalls hearing the sound of her body hitting the pavement, as well as a horrible screeching noise
, which she eventually realized was her own screams. The last thing she remembers is opening her eyes and seeing the world in panorama, her vision widened and flattened into a long, thin rectangular strip. She was alive, though her pelvis was broken in two places.
But it was her brain that may have suffered the most. In a grisly real-life example of Newton’s First Law, Gardot’s body absorbed the SUV’s force and was propelled to the pavement. The ground stopped her body, but her brain kept traveling forward. “With this kind of injury,” Jermyn says, “the brain flops against the front part of your skull, then hits the back part of your skull, and also actually rotates inside the skull.” Brutally simplified, the front of the brain handles speech and cognition, the back coordination and sight, and the sides hearing.
Perhaps even more significant than the trauma of Gardot’s brain rattling around inside her head was the damage to her midbrain. Jermyn says that if you think of the central nervous system as a lollipop, with the brain as the candy top and the spine as the stick, the midbrain is where the stick and candy meet. The jerking of Gardot’s brain caused the tiny nerves in that area—tasked with, among other things, tactile sensation and limb movement—to shear in ways imperceptible on the MRIs.
Roughly a year after the accident, Gardot’s mother brought her into the NeuroMusculoskeletal Institute in Stratford, New Jersey, which is part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. By this point, the situation seemed desperate: Gardot had been in and out of the hospital, dosed with ever increasing amounts of pain medicine, and visited by countless doctors—all to no avail. At the institute, she met Jermyn, the director and a physiatrist, an osteopath who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
The soft-spoken, clean-cut then-38-year-old had certainly seen worse cases come through the doors of his institute and during his brain-injury residency at Philadelphia’s MossRehab, where he treated many patients in persistent vegetative states. Gardot was actually able to speak, though slowly, and occasionally had anomia, or trouble locating words. She also spoke very softly, because the injury had caused an extreme aural sensitivity; at the time she said that just hearing ambient street noise could overwhelm her to the point that she’d pass out; even the sound of someone doing dishes in the same room was intolerable.
She had also become extremely photosensitive; without sunglasses, she wrote at the time, the world appeared to her “as if I’m looking into heaven all the time (white and blurry), not to mention painful.” She could walk only with difficulty and spent much of her time in a wheelchair. She couldn’t read. “My eyes were unable to focus on words,” she says. “The words actually looked like they all ran together and fell right off the page.” Her short-term memory was totally gone, so she might eat three apples a day, thinking each was her first. Time seemed to move much faster, a common symptom of brain injury; Gardot might take a 90-minute shower and emerge to notice that she’d only shaved one leg.
To add insult to injury, she says her friends abandoned her. A cell phone she was carrying at the time of the accident had 85 numbers programmed into it, but “my phone never rang once in about a year and a half,” she says, tartly. “It’s an indication of where my life was. I was surrounding myself with people who I thought were genuine friends, but the truth is, they were just a matter of convenience. A lot of people couldn’t deal with [me].”
Jermyn had no idea how much better Gardot could get, but he viewed his primary goal in treating her as lessening her excruciating pain. He tried everything in his quiver, both traditional and holistic. He prescribed various heavy-duty painkillers and assorted creams and pads. She received osteopathic manipulative therapy and cranial sacral therapy (two treatments that involve manipulating the muscles and skull in hopes of increasing mobility), in addition to cognitive remediation therapy (a standard for helping brain-injured patients recover their writing and speech). From the start, Gardot wasn’t easy—“always very challenging” are Jermyn’s words; he knew that on days when she had an appointment, he’d invariably get behind schedule because she demanded so much time. Nothing was working. One day she marched into the office with a shopping bag that contained every single product he’d given her. “Now what?” she asked, dropping the bag at his feet.
“That was a career-changing moment for me, one of those moments where you’re as desperate as the patient,” he says. He asked, “Well, what did you do for fun before the accident?” Gardot told him she played piano.
Jermyn thought back to his training, to the patients in persistent vegetative states who when they were wheeled into a room where someone was playing piano would perk up and turn toward the music, maybe even move a tambourine. “The spoken voice couldn’t do it, but music touched them,” he says. “I don’t think there’s any other modality that can light up that limbic system, that center of our brain that feels enjoyment and pleasure, as quickly as music can.”
Like many doctors, Jermyn thinks of the injured brain as an intact but inaccessible hard drive; reestablishing access depends upon finding the combination of keys to push, and every patient’s combination is unique. Because he reads music, he knew that there were two essential musical components that might help Gardot. Music is time. Conversation can be like an erratic tennis match of questions and answers being lobbed back and forth, but a piece of music will proceed through a steady period of time that is identical for both the injured brain and the healthy. Music is also mathematics, the division of measures into beats, the division and multiplication of beats into notes.
Then and there, Jermyn told Gardot to forget about her cognitive therapy and all but the bare minimum of pain drugs. Go home and play your piano, he told her. Four weeks later, she showed up smiling—the first smile Jermyn had seen on her face in the 18 months she’d been his patient.
“It’s there,” she said. “The music is there. And I don’t have to think about it. It’s in my head.” The music, Jermyn says, “was the bridge that allowed us to get to the other aspects of her brain.
” Though the areas of the brain responsible for playing and enjoying music are distinct from areas that deal with writing and reading comprehension, the introduction of music seemed to unlock the rest of her brain. This breakthrough allowed Jermyn to design a therapy regimen that would help her heal cogni tively. “The fact that she remembered music,” he says, “was huge for us.”
The night before our interview, Gardot plays Barcelona’s famed Palau de la Música Catalana. The 1908 building is typically art nouveau, in that every line in the place curves. In fact, the room seems to be undulating, like Barcelona itself, with its ornate, almost hallucinatory Antoni Gaudí architecture. No surface in the Palau is left undesigned: A mounted Valkyrie in bas-relief gallops out from the ceiling above the stage; a massive stained-glass skylight glows in a million colors above. Many performers might feel upstaged by the room, but Gardot comes bearing tricks. A minute before her entrance, the smoke machines start up. Then she clicks onstage in all black and in her shades and, looking a bit like the bride of Dr. Strangelove, sits at the grand piano, leans into the belly of the instrument, and with her hands on the strings, begins bashing out a cacophonous introduction to her song “Your Heart Is as Black as Night.” To look at her, you’d never know she’d been in a nearly fatal accident, though she often says that her hours onstage are the only ones without pain. At one point while introducing her band she does a deep-knee bend to the ground. Two bright banks of canister lights flashing behind her make me wince, knowing that being in the same room with a 25-watt bulb not long ago was agonizing.
From her first moment onstage, it’s clear that she has an aesthetic vision much closer to that of Lady Gaga than to the languid artist to whom her music is most compared, Norah Jones. Gardot is not just a great talent; she’s a star. Following an hour and a half of songs that reveal the influences of Astrud Gilberto, Nina Simone, and Piaf, she is whistled and applauded into two encores and leaves the stage to a standing ovation.
Two and a half hours later, after 2 a.m., I see her again, in the Hotel Alexandra’s lobby, though she doesn’t appear to notice me when I wave. She’s deep in discussion with Irwin Hall, her saxophonist. It seems serious, their conversation. I over
hear her mention “Summertime,” which was part of her set. “What happened with that?” I hear her say with concern.
Glenn Barratt, who owns Philadelphia’s state-of-the-art MorningStar Studios and produced her first album, Worrisome Heart, says, “She was almost like James Brown. She rehearsed a small group of guys over and over and over, and she expected them to play specific notes at specific times. It seemed like in her head was every note that she wanted to hear. She was very specific about certain things she wanted to have happen.” The producer Larry Klein, who produced My One and Only Thrill, concurs with Barratt. “She has a very discerning and specific taste, and also the capacity to be quite sharp-tongued,” he says. “In fact, there were times when I took her aside and told her, ‘Listen, you need to temper the way you speak to musicians, you know.’ ”
Jermyn says both bluntness and meticulousness are typical of brain-injured patients. “When you get a frontal-lobe injury, you lose your inhibitions,” he says. “That’s classic with brain injury. You say what you think, do what you want, tend to be impulsive sometimes, and you don’t care about what others think. There’s a lot of that in Melody. No one can tell Melody that her music isn’t good.” As for the obsession with detail, the therapy for brain-injured patients actually encourages them to be “very, detailed,” he says. “Imagine if you have no sense of day or night, or timing. So basic brain-injury training—Melody’s training—was schedule, schedule, schedule, and to write everything down and follow it to a T.”
In spring 2005, Patrick Rapa, a music writer for the Philadelphia City Paper, an independent weekly, noticed an odd e-mail that arrived in the editorial department’s general mailbox. The letter writer, who introduced herself as Melody Gardot, “a 21 year old singer songwriter in Philadelphia, PA,” wrote, “Excuse the length, but this is as abridged as I could get.… You might want to grab a coffee for this one.” And then in the next 1,400 words she laid out the fascinating story of her accident and inspiring recovery.
“I have had to take it easy as I am currently disabled, but I don’t let that stop me from making music,” she wrote. She included the odd symptomatology of her condition: “On top of the hearing problems I am photosensitive so I have to wear these super dark large sunglasses everywhere…even now while typing on the computer.… I will get visual disturbances when sound is too loud. If you are talking to me and you are moderately too loud for me, I will begin to have both ears start ringing and then I will see an aura and eventually I cannot hear anything at all. My hearing shuts down and I begin to spin (vertigo). If the music is too loud I can pass out. My entire system shuts down in what is believed to be a protective mechanism.”
But the e-mail, the intent of which was to get the paper to write about her, was also suffused with hope and optimism. “I feel [my story] would inspire and comfort those who are suffering…as well as show musicians and [others] in…Philadelphia [that] no matter what, you can get by,” she wrote. Rapa checked out Melodygardot.com, which still exists, and listened to a couple of the songs she’d posted. Impressed, he interviewed her in the lobby of a Philadelphia hotel and listened as the frail young woman sang and played her songs on the hotel piano until the management asked her to leave. When Rapa’s feature on her ran, along with photos of Gardot as she was then, an adorably round brunette in a hippie skirt and a denim shirt, it marked the beginning of the Melody Gardot legend.
But even before she reached out to Rapa, she e-mailed Phil Roy, a respected Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter. She complimented him on a song he’d just released called “Nobody Has to Know,” telling him she loved how the song was quiet and intense at the same time. Roy listened to a few of her songs, and “right away I realized this was not just another hummer and strummer,” he says. He met with her, started inviting her to open for him at clubs, even had her record the backing vocals on a track on his album The Great Longing. “Did I fall in love with her? Of course I fell in love with Melody. A lot of people fell in love with Melody,” Roy says. He still marvels at the young performer’s discipline. “She had one guy film every show that she did. And she would go back and look at her shows and try to improve it. Honestly, I wish I had a little more of what Melody brings to the game.”
While performing, Gardot met local singer-songwriter Lizanne Knott and told her that while on her sickbed, Knott’s 2002 song “Jesus or Elvis (Revisited)” had inspired her to write her first song. Knott told her husband, Glenn Barratt, that he had to hear this girl who had great songs but a crappy-sounding homemade demo. Barratt approached Gardot after a show and told her he wanted to record her. Soon Gardot and her mother showed up at MorningStar Studios. “We’re on limited funds,” Gardot told him. “The money will take care of itself,” Barratt told her. “Let’s make a great record.”
At the suggestion of Roy, Gardot sent the CD they made, Worrisome Heart, to the influential radio host Mike Marrone. Marrone played her songs on his show and touted her as one of his favorite unsigned artists. Sandy Roberton, who is perhaps the music industry’s most influential manager of producers, heard one of the songs and immediately called Larry Klein, the Grammy winner most famous for producing, and having been married to, Joni Mitchell. Roberton then put out the word to labels that Klein was interested in working with her, and soon her shows were being attended by obsequious A&R guys from various labels. Plane tickets were bought, cars were sent, and meetings were taken. In the end, in July 2007, Gardot signed with the British arm of Universal, the biggest label on earth.
That’s the backstory, as best I can make out, but some of Gardot’s tales seem hard to confirm, and she doesn’t offer me much assistance in Barcelona. I was curious to talk to the friend who had posted her first recorded songs on MySpace, even though Rapa doesn’t remember hearing anything about the guy—he only remembers being directed to her website.
“Oh, that was one of the cats that disappeared with the phone,” she tells me, referring to the friends before the accident. “He hung around for about maybe a year and a half or so, and then I think he fell in love with me and I didn’t fall in love with him, so he had to leave.”
So if he was one of your cell phone contacts, does that mean you knew him before the accident? I ask. “I think we had met maybe days before I got hit, actually. But I don’t even know where he is,” she says. When she tells me, “I spoke at Penn not too long ago to a panel of neuropsychs from all around the world,” I ask her what the name was of the neuropsychiatrist who approached her and invited her after seeing her perform. “Oh, God. This was like, three years ago, so I don’t remember his name. But he gave me his card and told me he was the director of something.”
The essence of Gardot’s story is the miraculous before-and-after, how trauma turned a teenager into a prodigy; how a brain injury, ironically, may have unlocked the tools and talents to become a famous singer. But I can’t contextualize the miracle without knowing more about the pre-accident Gardot. I plead with her: Is there one single person who knew you before the accident with whom I might be able to speak?
She gets up, starts fiddling on her laptop, shrugs apologetically, as if she’d love to help but her hands are tied. “Like I said, no,” she says firml
I saw these lovely ladies open for the Decemberists this past Saturday in LA at the Wiltern and I was completely enamored with their sound. Such a lovely dichotomy of seemingly contradictory elements: spare but layered, haunted but comforting, simple but textured, endearingly tenuous yet composed, alluring but unsettling...
Their empyrean harmonies are at once both light and refined in intention but filmy and foggy in their effortless execution. Their sound is a ghostly, gossamer throwback to the haunted hills of the Appalachians or the chilly forests of the coast. They have been designated the new, female Fleet Foxes. Check out their label summary:
Mountain Man Made the Harbor
We made the harbor filled with wind, bellowing sea lions, and sand dollars from past loves, current sisters. What we have collected are chimes in the salty air. Made the Harbor is an album to swim home to, and to sail away with. It grazes the horizon with its sails.
Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath met at Bennington College, in the small town of Bennington, Vermont. They are from the West, Middle West and Eastern United States. It was not until Molly visited Bennington during a term off that the seeds of Mountain Man were set on the windowsill. At the sound of Molly playing a song in the living room of their shared house, Amelia rushed down the stairs and demanded it be taught to her. At this point, Molly and Amelia were not friends. But they shared the bond of mutual heartbreak, of having been left with space between open arms. Amelia trapped Molly in her room upstairs where she sang “Dog Song” over and over, bewildered and a little afraid, until Amelia felt she could remember it well enough to teach Alex. When Molly came back to Bennington in the spring, Alex and Amelia excitedly sprang into her room, and all three sang together for the first time. They were equally bewildered by each other and by the sounds they made together. Molly and Amelia are still in school, studying Performance and Gender, and Theater and Performance, respectively. Alex graduated in the spring of 2009 with a degree in Literature and Visual Arts. She is now a nanny for two wonderful children.
The music of Mountain Man is nestled in the tradition of American folk, but shoots like diamond dust out of the nest into the high, wide atmosphere. Their songs are shaped by three searching voices, encompassing harmonies and a shared belief in and love of the world.They are mutually moved to sing by their love for people, and for trees, birds and mountains, the ocean, the night, the moon, and being a woman. They all love the rambling, rumbling, rolling summer….
Recorded in an old ice cream parlor from the turn of the 20th century, each track of Made the Harbor is imbued with the likes of warm breaths, creaking of floors, soft thumping of hands against their bodies, the clearing of their throats, or the false start of a tune, evoking the feeling of being in the room with the band as the record plays: demand for intimacy between the art and its listener.