I work with a lot of folks who are very good at getting sounds right. They work hard at capturing a sound, at turning the sound into data in the optimal ways, at transforming that sound from the data to something your ears can accept in the manner that seems the most direct and real. The folks I work with are very good at this effort because they work very hard at it. When their very hard work is successful, they are not only very good at their jobs but also very happy.
So, the following two Marah videos make my night.
Marah has remastered their Kids in Philly masterpiece — one of my desert-island albums — for vinyl, the album’s first-ever LP pressing. In the song Catfisherman, a listener hears the sound of a spinning fishing reel. It’s a beautiful sound, one you only notice after a few listens, but upon noticing, you memorize.
Here, Marah’s brothers Bielanko listen to what I assume is the remastered track, and Serge talks a little about getting the sound right. Just a little. The videos are mostly listening and being happy. The sound explains the rest.
Marah teamed up with the York County (Pa.) Parks Department to put one of the band’s new songs, The Old Riverman’s Regret, to video. The result is beautiful. And tells a good story. And makes you want to visit.
This week, I don’t even know. The first 60-hour one in a while. But, hey, still standing. Got a lot done. And now it’s weekend. It’s the exhausted, scratchy-voiced weekend. But still standing. Or at least pretend awake.
Chuck Ragan, Not Typical. I posted the album version a few months back, and this week I ran across a great live version from his label’s offices. So ragged, so good, just like this week. But you worry about future voice.
Non-typical, it’s really something else
When one is back into the call of what’s wild and raw
This video was among the automated suggestions in the rail of the Ragan video, and how often does an algorithm give you the cover you covered in the shower earlier in the week? I think I’ve posted a version of this cover before, but who cares. The Horrible Crowes, Teenage Dream.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Seinfeld, in a 2000 clip the David Letterman vault posted this week, singing. I smiled the entire way through.
Last, one of my favorite music interview passages in a while, with Dave Bielanko, the singer from one of my favorite bands, Marah, talking to The Key blog from WXPN, one of my favorite radio stations, about Marah’s new inspired-by-ancient-logging-songs Mountain Minstrelsy album.
TK: It’s such a cool idea for project, digging into an old songbook for this century-old music. I’m sure you get this comparison a lot (and I apologize if you’re sick of hearing it!) but it feels like what Wilco and Billy Bragg did with Woody Guthrie’s music. They were able to get several albums out of that project – do you think there might be a Mountain Minstrelsy Volume 2?
DB: Thanks! “California Stars” is a great song, but here’s a thing…Woody MF’n Guthrie wrote those song lyrics…and there’s a good argument for him being one of the greatest song lyric writers we’ve ever known. (google “Talkin’ Hard Work Blues” if you think I’m lying.) Our source material was a bit more??? I dunno “spotty”? It took a lot of work for us to find a record hiding in there. This stuff came “whispered down the lane” from obscure hillbilly, lumberjacks and poor mountain folks so that gave our whole undertaking a very different underdog spirit, a punk rock feeling, it felt like we were maybe even doing something “good” for some pre-ASCAP uncelebrated forgotten songwriters. Ghosts. It also felt nice to not have Woody or Hank Williams looking over your shoulder as you worked. We were able to just be ourselves and just chase down whatever album it was going to become, keep ourselves present, see where it all would lead…nobody was fighting over these over songs anyway, it was just laying there to be done.
Lucinda Williams, Something About What Happens When We Talk.
Beyonce, Get Me Bodied. On the place back from SXSW, I watched The Kings of Summer (enjoyed it more than I thought) and a beat heard briefly during one scene made me think of this song. The beat turned out to be a different song. But still. I’d argue songs can make your day by mistaken identity.
The 1975, Chocolate.
Marah, Sing! O Muse of the Mountain, live at Jammin Java.
Here’s a beautiful song, The Old Riverman’s Regret, the first full-song look at Marah’s Mountain Minstrelsy, arriving in just two weeks. The band says this song is the quietest on the album, and I could play it over and over again.
My daily life has been almost all digital recently, which has been fun and worthwhile but also overwhelming and too far away from spirits of the holidays and cabin trips of just a few weeks back. So, moments that have reminded me of that kind of freedom of landscape have been welcome. In the past week, two musical moments in particular have done the trick.
First, the preview of Marah’s coming Mountain Minstrelsy album. I’ve been excited for this album for a while — bringing old lumber-camp songs back to life — and preordered it right away. Cool, weird, sweet, likely great.
Second, AJ Lee’s cover of Dylan’s Tomorrow Is a Long Time, via Cover Lay Down’s recent compilation of “New Artists, Old Songs.” Beautiful.
If today was not a crooked highway If tonight was not a crooked trail If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all
Oh! The firefly is brilliant,
But he hasn’t any mind;
He wanders through creation
With his headlight on behind.
Then cast your bread upon the water,
And you’ll see just what returns,
Another time — oh, well, no matters;
He who travels, sometimes learns.
One of my favorites from the Marah concert at the Takoma Park VFW this spring was the title track of the band’s coming Mountain Minstrelsy.
I searched the other day to see if anyone had yet posted the lyrics to the song and had no luck. But what did turn up was the Google Books scan of the 1919 book of Pennsylvania folk songs that Marah is basing the new album around: North Pennsylvania minstrelsy as sung in the backwood.
The lyrics above were what the book offered. Marah’s version took those and added a tune and more theme around the lyrical core.
A video recently surfaced of the VFW show, and another video showed a rehearsal of the song. I loved the song because I sometimes felt like the firefly, wandering through creation with my headlight on behind. But I loved it too for the last line, as close to a chorus as the Marah song got.
Finding the inspirational book on Google was a treat, and the text didn’t let me down. I must have read the long introduction all the way through two or three times. The author wrote: “Work without music is too modern, too grinding; it was not the life for the Pennsylvania mountaineer whose soul overflowed with melody, ‘the joy of living.’ Simplicity was his foremost vital trait; he was close to the Eternal Source and the harmonies of Nature.”
So, here’s music for your Monday. We must have music in every Monday.
Studio recording, or as close as Marah gets to that:
One more passage from the 1919 book’s introduction, near the end of it, when the author urges others to search the hills for work songs:
Forget for awhile the burned-over hills, the polluted streams, the blasted-off mountain crags, the poisoned game, the miserable herded Indians on their tiny Warren County Reservation, but the Pennsylvania that is beneath the debauched exterior, the eternal soul of it that shines through it and over it, and the day will surely come when the spirit of the great state will rule its body, the material part, and the Bards and the Hunters and the Borderers, and then Indians, and the Witches will outrank Big Business and Wrangling Political Leaders as the pattern and the mould.
Say you drive up to Philadelphia for the weekend. Traveling up I-95 for the city, you miss your exit. You end up driving into town from the east.
You hit every traffic light. But sitting at each light, you see signs for the Italian Market. You recall one It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode.
The gang goes to the Italian Market because Charlie has never eaten a pear. “Pears weird me out,” he says. “Where do you start? The top? The bottom? It’s a weird looking thing.” At the same moment that you think of this ridiculousness, your copilot says, “Hey, an Italian market!”
You must go. This is how your weekend in Philadelphia begins. Then:
The Golden Donut? Like in the song your favorite Philly band, Marah?
Yes! Like in their song Christian St. you’ve played three million times.
All over there are fruits and meats and pastas and people. Friend Jen from work, last seen the day before in D.C., comes running out of deli to say hey. -What is she doing here? -Philadelphia weekend! -Us too!
Like, when I visit Facebook and find a colleague, a college friend of my brother, is friends with leading Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss, who is also friends with one of my favorite bands (where the leader is in a different tab in my browser, blogging about making an album with rubbing alcohol and razor blades) and posting links to long-form print journalism about post-war medicine that reminds her of Ender’s Game.