Wandering Boots Stays Close to Home

photo credit: Rich Tarbell
photo credit: Rich Tarbell

Chamomile and Whiskey describe themselves as “an eclectic blend of raucous-folk, hard-Irish, drunk-americana, and mountain-funk…best served with whiskey… and plenty of it.” Which is as good an explanation as I could create. You definitely smell the whiskey on their latest album, Wandering Boots. Their music has a wild-speed-down-a-dirt-road-without-brakes feeling. But the chamomile is there, too. The bluegrass influence in their music is as homey as rain on a tin roof, and fiddlers and pickers from centuries past would feel a kinship with these mountain folk. Wandering Boots is a mix of wild, drunk, grabbing-at-life while turning to traditional storytelling and age-old sounds to soothe the mind when life turns down one of its frequent rough roads.

The album keeps a joie de vivre while singing of regrets, depression, and lost loves, remembered in the still dark of night with plenty of alcohol to ease the pain. My family is from southwest Virginia, probably near founding band members Marie Borgman and Koda Kerl’s stomping grounds in the Blue Ridge mountains. The “let’s have fun while life has its way with us” vibe throughout the album resonates deeply in my hillbilly DNA. The long history of hard-scrabble living in that part of the country means we take our pleasures where we can, whether it’s in dance, love, or the beauty of the world around us. And when it all falls apart, we shrug, but don’t crumple for long–because we expected nothing less. That sentiment is rounded out by the Irish influence of bandmember Ryan Lavin, whose contribution is obvious throughout the album. The lyrics are word paintings, evoking emotion and imagery that is beautiful, touching, and often completely unexpected.

“Blue Ridge Girl” reminds me of “Rocky Top,” with its story of a girl that’s “half-bear, other half cat.” Songs about a special girl are a staple of music, and this one is as good as any that have gone before. It catches the feel of a Saturday night around a fire in the woods, making music with the special person in your life.

“Dirty Sea” feels like an ancient Irish folk melody you’d hear in a pub while drinking a Guinness. It’s almost impossible to sit still while it’s playing. I may or may not have spent a few moments bouncing up and down in my seat, waving my head around like I’m at a rave. And discovering I’m a little old and lacking in inner ear equilibrium to do that. Plenty of down-home Southern yells in the mix lend credence to their description of “hard-Irish, raucous-folk.” I’m hoping the Chieftains will hear this song and want to do a collaboration.

My favorite song on the album is “Impressions.” The upbeat tempo re-iterates the idea that sadness and the need for comfort give us our ability to connect and appreciate the beauty of life. There are worse life philosophies than “Baby, don’t hold back the tears you cry. ‘Cause the world is a Monet with tears in your eyes.” It is probably the best expression of the album’s theme that life has to be lived without missing any of the pain or exhilarating joy it holds.

A song about inevitable loss and never-ending love, “Long Day” reminds you to grab every success, feel every regret, and live life to its marrow. But that when hurts come, they last a long, long time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a lyric catch the pain of wanting something that’s gone as perfectly as “your stare will always leave me weak, and every time I try to speak, my words just fall like autumn leaves leaving me exposed like a winter tree. . . And I can’t hide behind a mysterious song. Cause life is too short, this day is too long.” This song is more chamomile that whiskey, soft and soothing in spite of the bitter truth it shares.

“Buckfast Tuesday” is laid back, and one of the songs that suggest the band may have channeled a little Creedence Clearwater Revival while borrowing Tom Waits’ ability to perfectly paint a scene. How else do you explain a line like “. . .went in the attic and liberated a slot machine”?

“Wandering Boots”: Now that’s some screaming rockabilly! It has a manifesto feeling. “A place to lay my head, and a drink to do me right. I am just a vagabond staying here tonight.” The wailing and whispering background vocals lend perfect run-screeching-through-the-woods-because-that’s-what-life-requires feeling.

Full of gorgeous and quirky images, “Sara Beth” is a different take on an old-style ballad. Southerners have an instinctive pull towards the Gothic and death. Chamomile and Whiskey indulge this attraction. The undying love evidently goes very wrong, but you have a feeling that his last thought was “My love for you is an Alaskan summer night. . .it ain’t never gonna grow dark, no matter where I am.”

“Inverness” is the second song with a CCR feel, and it has a strong feeling of rock from the ’60’s. It is also full of Chamomile and Whiskey’s signature gorgeous lyrics: “Like an actress in a silent play, she can live her life beneath a muted gaze.” The cacophony of the instrumentation adds to the feeling of chaos and desperation in life that sometimes requires dramatic responses.

“Second Lullaby” doesn’t seem like it will put anyone to sleep, but with “bourbon by the bed” I guess there’s always hope. “Her dress soaking wet, dripping with regret” is yet another line from the album I will repeat to myself because it is perfect.

Wandering Boots has a tenderness toward pain while encouraging listeners to grab life by the unmentionables and live like tomorrow is not promised–and don’t sit still, because the music is in you and it must be expressed.

You can get the album at Country Wide Music. Their latest work is the single “Thousand Sleepless Nights” on the Countrywide compilation album Make It Be. You can see their tour dates on their website.

–Green

You’re No Longer Her Concern: Mary Gauthier on Trouble and Love

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If Emmylou Harris, Townes Van Zandt, and Lucinda Williams decided to pool their musical DNA, their creation wouldn’t be far from Mary Gauthier. Bluesy melancholy and dramatic imagery are throughout her songs, with a downhome delivery that Hank Williams would be proud to claim. Her album Trouble and Love covers heartbreak, loneliness, and survival with twang, resignation, empathy, and hope.

The album starts with “When a Woman Goes Cold” with a theme that will become familiar. The aching feeling of knowing too late that love has gone, and the loneliness of the aftermath. Who has not felt the pang when you realize “you’re no longer her concern” and that the one you built a world around simply does not care anymore?

“False From True” backtracks to the disintegrating relationship, to the moment when “a stranger showed up in your eyes.” The music is heartbreaking in its simplicity, reminiscent of some of John Prine’s best work. The quiet gentle sound eases into your heart and mind, and the lines “I tried, I tried, but I could not break through/There’s two of you and one don’t feel” hit you right in your heart.

“Trouble and Love,” which shares the album’s name, has the same simple writing. “Friends say walk on; it’s more trouble than it’s worth/But my will is gone and my head hangs low/It ain’t the leaving, it’s the way you go” show a person broken, in the middle of the worst of a breakup.

Things can only go up from here, and Gauthier reflects on that in “Oh Soul.” Referencing Robert Johnson’s famous deal with the devil in exchange for musical talent, she says on her website “If anyone would understand the sorrow of selling one’s soul, it would be Robert Johnson. So a visit to his grave, searching for redemption, in solidarity and prayer, in hopes of connecting with the spirit of a fellow traveller during a hard time, a time of deep questioning, well, it just makes sense…” Her tempo goes up ever so slightly, and a soft optimism whispers into the music even while the lyrics reflect her fear of having lost herself in her destroyed relationship. But while the previous songs dwelt on her lost love, here she’s going inward, thinking about what she’s lost, and her desire to reclaim herself, crying “Redemption, redemption/Have mercy on me”.

“What is the process by which deep and mighty blows deepen us, open us, make us better people? How does calamity and deep pain create deep empathy?” So Gauthier muses on her blog post about “Worthy.” The music is quiet, and a touching humility runs together with a growing triumph as the song progresses. She touches on the part of loss that gives strength, and how the process of grieving opens a new view of herself: “Left stumbling in the dark, I had to go within/So I traced my scars, back to where I’d been/A diamond in the dirt, perfectly concealed.”

In a break-up, or any loss for that matter, once you let yourself feel your pain and begin to grow through it, you are able to look around at the people who have hurt you and give them release as well. Gauthier perfectly catches that feeling in “Walking Each Other Home.” Looking back at her hurt, she’s able to be kindly resigned. “Ain’t for me to say what’s bad or good/In the end/I know we did the best we could. . .[and] we’re all just walking each other home.” This song is my favorite of the album.

If she had ended the album here, she would have had a great progression of a breakup. But as anyone who has experienced a painful loss knows too well, accepting the loss is only the beginning. You have to learn to live without the person you loved, with the changed situation–and that lesson is sometimes slow and painful. In “How You Learn to Live Alone” she unflinchingly describes the numbness of living past loss. “You’re not here, but you’re still there/The sun goes up, the sun goes down/And you’re not sure you care” is one of the best descriptions of the long days putting one foot in front of the other, surviving until your life is something you want again. It’s part of the process, and “It don’t feel right, but it’s not wrong.”

And one day you want to live again. Sadder, wiser, you still want to reach out one more time. Your steps may be hesitant, your view may not be as sunny as before, but you find yourself “Moving on through the pain. . ./Waiting on/Another train.”

The album features many co-writers, including Gretchen Peters, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Scott Nolan, and Ben Glover. It is available on vinyl and as a cd on her website and as an MP3 download on CDBaby.

Year End Review: Rhythm, Harmony, and Creativity

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Hi, Green Hen folks! We’ve barely gotten on the ground for 2014, but thought we’d give you a quick look at what the year brought now that we’re in 2015.

This fall, we started a page to promote local music and make it easier for musicians, venues, and listeners to find each other.  While we put the finishing touches on our plans, That Green Hen will cover concerts in our local area, showcase local bands and venues, and share news of music non-profits doing good.

To be great, music needs several components–rhythm, harmony, and creativity, to name a few. We are learning to use those same components on our page.

  1. Rhythm: Music is about beats–some regular, some syncopated, a blend of the expected and unexpected. This page itself was an unexpected gift, unplanned until just a few short weeks ago. We are working out the best “notes” to offer–how often to post, when to post more about music in general, when about specific bands, which regions to highlight, and what blend of audio, video, and text is best. As we hone our working style, we have plans for a wide variety of content–interviews, quizzes, shared music videos and articles, musical collaborations, and links between music and health, music and literature, and music and learning. As we continue our “composing” we will find the sweet spot between a simple solo and a major symphony.
  2. Harmony: Few musicians manage to have a strictly solo existence–and if they share their work with others, there is always collaboration. That Green Hen is made up of two people with different skills and backgrounds–Green brings a (sometimes dizzying) array of ideas good and bad,  strong curiosity, a listener’s interest in music, and the ability to write about it. Hen is all the skills–musician, technical computer talents, and a lifetime of working on projects in all sorts of arenas and bringing them to fruition. Thankfully, a lot of Hen’s music interest is in the world of jazz, so he is rarely thrown off by sudden improvisations from Green. We look forward to working with musicians and music lovers to “strike the right chord” on our page to best promote music.
  3. Creativity: Music is an expression of creativity–whether you are composing a new piece or putting your own spin on someone else’s work. One of Green’s professors once said “Great work resonates.” We are currently looking at what is out there in the music blogosphere. What do we have to offer that is unique? Where can we go from what has already been done? Expect new and fun ideas, as well as sharing the best work of others in the music world.

There is one other area that is crucial to music: the listener. A musician may choose to create or perform with a listener in mind–or may not. But once a work is released to the world, the listener plays a part. What gets shared, what gets emulated, what lives on decades or even centuries after its creation–these are determined by the person receiving the music. That Green Hen knows that our readers and followers are crucial to our success. We welcome feedback. Please feel free to email us ThatGreenHen@ThatGreenHen.com or comment on our FB page or drop us a Tweet about what you see here–one thing about music lovers, we’re used to listening!

Picture Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/djayo

Music and Literature: Mumford & Sons ‘The Cave’

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Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

By Green

I’m the word geek here at That Green Hen, sometimes more focused on lyrics than the music. My favorite songwriters weave literature references into their songs, and knowing their references increases my appreciation of their work. From time to time, the English major in me will work her way out and decide to analyze a song or two on the blog. Please feel free to share you insights.

Today let’s talk about Mumford and Sons.  The best example of literary allusion, to my mind, is their song “The Cave.”

The title references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which describes the non-thinking society as people in a cave, looking at the shadows on the wall and not realizing a world outside their experience makes those shadows. Plato invited his readers to challenge assumptions and look at the “real life” around them. (Gary Greg has an excellent article on this song.)  Lyrics such as “So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the maker’s hand” invite the listener to break out of unchallenged thinking and follow the writer’s choice “To live my life as it’s meant to be.”  They also work in a Homeric reference to the Sirens, those sea nymphs who lured unsuspecting sailors to death with their lovely song in The Odyssey (quick side factoid–the film “O Brother Where Art Thou” is also based on the Odyssey). In order to pass through their territory, Odysseus had his crew stop their ears with wax and chain him to the ship’s mast so the ship could not be compelled to head into the Sirens’ grasp. In the song, the lyrics express being true to your personal calling rather than following the temptations of other people’s plans for you.

These are the two most obvious literary references in the song–did I miss any?

Learning The Musician Code

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Image credit: A. Rothman

That Green Hen is a two-person project. The “Hen” half is a music pro, with decades of experience in the world of chords and cords, gigs and rhythm, and the secret language and feelings of those who love music so much they are compelled to make it with their own hands, breath, and voice.

I’m the other half. I like music–a lot! And I’ve played musical instruments. I sing in the car, and have even sung a few times on stage–but rarely on my own, and always in settings that can politely be called “amateur.”  I don’t like crowds, don’t like to stay up at night, and don’t like loud noises. In spite of these handicaps, I’ve decided to broaden my world to include the local music scene (I think that’s the jargon of the music world).

Why? I’m also a small businessperson. I prefer to buy from family-run businesses, from small companies where the business represents the integrity of an individual, or a family. So when I looked at the music I enjoy, I realized too much of it was pre-packaged. Perhaps very well done, but not made by people I could ever know in person.

Then I started stumbling over musicians everywhere. In my business, in my friendships, in conversations–the guy serving my coffee has a band, the girl at work grew up in a musical family, a client is a saxophone player–I have been wandering around in a world full of music I know nothing about. So Green joined Hen, and now we’re adding our words to promoting local music. First in our respective towns (San Diego, CA, and Richmond VA, with Austin thrown in because we both want to visit), and later spreading across the country and hopefully beyond.

I’m learning I’ve slipped down quite the rabbit hole. To learn about music groups quickly, I’m researching online. I start with one group, then search everyone associated with that band. Musicians are an incestuous lot. After a few clicks, I find one name connects to another, and to another, in an ever-widening circle of associates. With Hen right in the thick of things most of the time. I almost think I could pick one local musician and follow the degrees of separation until I find every musician around the world!

I’m also learning some of the trials of the local musician. The money is rarely good, and the wonders of the internet hurt as much as help the local guy playing his heart out. Yes, internet exposure means you can take your music directly to anyone without needing a record deal from some big recording company, but it also means you are probably selling 99 cent downloads of your songs and trying to compete with sites like Pandora and Spotify offering nearly unlimited music for free. You are looking for places to play that too often don’t want to pay you for your time and effort. And you are encountering people like me–who don’t know you and are as likely to think of you as the background music to my dinner as to recognize you pouring your heart into something you love, that I will only miss when it’s gone.

So one of the things I will write about on That Green Hen is how to appreciate local music, for those who do not go out every night to a new place. We’ll also cover information aimed at the local musicians, to help them best share their talents in a world that needs them more than we sometimes realize.

For the love of music–and food!

 

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photo courtesy of freeimages.com

I once had a professor in college who was also a musician. He took his music seriously, and used to lecture us on the disrespect he felt it showed to listen to music “as background music.” If you listened to music, especially his favorite, classical music, you should listen. Set aside your work, don’t do laundry, or work out–listen. “For thousands of years,” he sagely said, “only the very wealthy got to hear music. No one else could afford to hire musicians.”

I disagree. I believe music should fill our lives. As something to enjoy on its own, and as the backdrop to everything around us–our meals, our important events, even our housecleaning. And I especially think we should include musicians in our lives–by searching out places that bring music together with that ancient group activity–sharing a meal. Because I do not believe only the wealthy hired musicians in ancient times. I think people found ways to have music in their community. From singing in beer halls to sitting in the finest auditorium for opera,  the desire for sound and rhythm, melody and harmony, is universal.

Today, we are blessed with the chance to hear talented men and women share their skills in concert halls, coffee shops, restaurants, and even on a busy street. That Green Hen wants to bring musician and listener together by sharing great places to hear great performers making music. Stay tuned for band interviews, venue reviews, and ideas for the best music experience–for both the listener and the musician. If there’s a topic you particularly want addressed, or a group you want spotlighted, please leave us a comment!