Cordelia's Dad taps into deep veins of American experience and musical tradition, forging a sound that is just as surprising as it is familiar.
On Comet, the band was joined by fiddler Becky Miller. Until the last song, the pop rock "Jersey City," this is an all-acoustic album. Recorded around Halloween it's a "live in the studio" snapshot of a groundbreaking band carefully constructing an aural landscape. Definitively American (think, pre-"Down From the Mountain"), with the aching darkness of a cold winter's night, and the excitement of the heat to come from the fire being built.
For the curious there's a lot to find out about these songs, but here are just a few statistics to last you until the trading cards come out. The May Blooming Field is an old story with a new tune. Lester Hubbard got this version of the words from 92-year-old James Jepson in Hurricane, Utah, in 1947. Jepson said he learned the song in the 1870s when he hauled produce for the Mormon church. If there's a moral to the story it must be "don't date psychopaths."
The refrain from Katy Cruel appears in Mother Goose, and like most children's rhymes is both mundane and mysterious. This version of the song, from Massachusetts, apparently dates at least from the Revolutionary War, when a different version was used as a march. In 1941, Anne and Frank Warner recorded Lena Bourne "Grammy" Fish, of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire, singing six verses of Gypsy Davy. It's about a woman of great imagination and wit, and her husband who has neither. Enter the dark-eyed stranger.
Booth Shot Lincoln is an American fiddle tune popular at southern "old-time" music sessions. Hangman's Reel, or Reel de Pendu, probably started out as a French-Canadian tune which migrated south, lost some notes, and picked up some rhythm. John G. McCurry was a respected farmer and tailor in north Georgia who compiled his favorite hymns and songs, publishing them in 1855 as the Social Harp. Many of the arrangements are his own, and Marion is his perhaps halfhearted attempt to change Seven Long Years from a drinking song into a hymn by substituting the word "God" for "bowl." Cecil Sharp, on his 1909 trip to the USA, heard a similar version with the refrain "I'll drink good liquor still."
The Sun and the Moon, or Edward, comes from a Library of Congress recording of "Mrs. Crocket Ward." Helen Hartness Flanders' Ancient Ballads contains a very similar version learned from a singer in Amherst, Massachusetts, around 1910. Flanders cites Tristram Coffins' theory that, as in its relative Fair Lucy, at the root of the murder is incest-the sister in this case appearing in the symbolic guise of the hazelnut tree.
Old Virginia and George Collins were learned from the breathtaking singing of Lee Monroe Presnell, as recorded by the Warners in 1951. Wish we could shake their hands. George Collins is the first of two people on the album to die from inadequate dress. The Dying Californian was first published in a Rhode Island temperance magazine in 1850, and quickly became popular all over the country. In a Connecticut junk shop we found twelve verses scribbled in a ledger book dated 1859. Only the four most pertinent verses are printed in later editions of The Sacred Harp, which now attributes the music to Ball and Drinkard and the words to Kate Harris.
The Frozen Girl is one of those stories (like the Kentucky Fried Rat) that everyone thinks happened to a friend of a friend, or in the next town over. Sure rings true though. The poem was written in 1843 by Seba Smith and, in song form, spread like wildfire. Our version is most indebted to Dr. & Mrs. I. G. Greer's haunting Library of Congress recording. Among other things, Dr. Greer was a professor of History and Government at Appalachian State University. A recent tour found us there sifting through his accumulated notes, letters, and recordings, and even there we were unable to learn anything substantial about Mrs. Greer, other than that she had a very old dulcimer.
Sugar Baby is played on a banjo made by Mr. Ellis Wolfe of Butler, Tennessee. His house and small farm lie just a few miles from the North Carolina border, within walking distance of Beech Mountain. He learned to make banjos and dulcimers there from "Old Man Stanley" Hicks and, in our opinion, made considerable improvements on Hicks' already fine designs. Turns out all these songs, to one way of thinking, might be called "traditional American" or even "f**k" music, but don't let that get in the way of enjoying them.
- Rolling Stone
"revitalize these songs of love and death with passion, taste and talent"
- All Things Considered, National Public Radio
"unusual and refreshing"
"the group show an abiding fondness for the darker, harsher side. Comet is a terrific record."
- Mojo, London England
"Incredible! Album of the month."
- TimeOut, London England
"exquisite and ominous"
- Columbus Dispatch
"There's no affected lack of sophistication or fawning respect in the music. The band members just play, and they don't hold back"
- Chapel Hill News
"unpretentious ... winning and warm"
- Sing Out
- Chicago Tribune
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Tim Eriksen Music- All Rights Reserved.