The Bluegrass Situation: Roots Culture Redefined

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MIXTAPE: Tom Brosseau

Jun 5, 2013

If you’ve spent any time within the LA music scene, you know TOM BROSSEAU.  A stalwart of the Southern California songwriting contingent, this North Dakota native frequents the Largo stage on his own and alongside John C Reilly for his John Reilly & Friends act (in addition to opening gigs with The Milk Carton Kids and Punch Brothers).

This summer, Brosseau kicks off a west coast tour with Nickel Creek alum Sean Watkins (who produced Tom’s upcoming album) with their first show in San Diego later this week.  We asked Tom to send us his five favorite songs of the moment, and got one of the most fascinating MIXTAPES we’ve listened to in months.  Here’s an intro to the whole thing from Brosseau himself…

My friends all have good taste in music. They email me videos. ‘Hey, Bruiser,’ (that’s what they call me) ‘get ready to have your mind blown,’ and a clink-of-the-link later I’ll have discovered my new favorite artist, like Chad Morgan and his song ‘Sheik of Scrubby Creek.’

Once I hook on a particular piece of music I listen to it over and over again. Lately I’ve been studying the alternate takes of Jimmie Rodgers, a man whose music I ought to know a little better by the age of 37, but that’s rapidly changing. The Rounder Records Jimmie Rodgers CD set — I can’t seem to get enough of it. One lyric that for many mornings has been playing in my head is ‘My sweatheart understands me, she says I am her big shot / I’m her pistol packin’ daddy, and I know I’ve got the drop.’

I’m really good at garage sales. I’m often proud, triumphant even, locating that certain item so many have overlooked. I throw my hands up in the air, smile with eyes shut in pure exultation, thinking, ‘How insane these people are for not knowing a treasure when they see one!’ A lava lamp, snow cone machine, a pair of sun-worn Stadia with plenty of tread left. Glory never fades, not in my book. 

I hope you enjoy the selections I’ve chosen. You may think of the commentary as a sidecar. In no way are you contracted to read one word of it, or if you do just know I am no authority, but a man of great passion.

 

Track:  Ruby
Artist:  Ricky Skaggs

‘There’s no time like youth to start the mandolin. Otherwise, to in middle age doesn’t make much sense. Although to play well, not fast but well, might take a long time, one thing you do need is good ears, and since the mandolin operates on the high side of the spectrum, and sonically the waves of things high are tighter together to travel farther, like an alarm, it’s more damaging. The upper register is what first begins to fail us as we age. Truly, the pleasure of playing the mandolin must be hard to escape if when you’re a young person that’s you’re calling.

‘Ruby’ comes to me from John C. Reilly. Thanks, amigo. I’ll bet I’ve watched it a thousand times. 

Ricky at 7 years and already making a name in the wide world of Country music and Bluegrass. He was born with something very special, and he’s made a fine career for himself, and no where else in life would his soul fit so verily than here, around music, musicians, but ‘Ruby’ goes beyond the courage of a young person playing on national TV, beyond virtuosity. Just why I have included it on my list has to do with possessioning. A few years ago, at a dog park, a stranger who with her cuddly Labrador named Roberto came up to me and asked permission to introduce her dog to mine. Though I appreciated the notion, the pair would not have made friends, or shall I say my dog was what one might’ve referred to as territorial, and so pleasantly I thanked her but declined. Her objective, though, was harmless and simple. She wanted the two to interact and make a connection, and that’s what would’ve taken place had my Tony, God rest his soul, played ball. ‘You know, a play together,’ she had said questioningly, her arms extended. ‘Your senior dog will inform my puppy on the true ways of the world.’ That’s what I see here with ‘Ruby,’ a vaporous inheritance teeming with information, traveling as it is want from master to pupil, from the folds of years experienced to the climes of yet creased planes.’

 

Track:  Chicken Reel/Arkansas Traveler/Hog on the Mountain
Artist:  Sam Hinton

‘Some people are hesitant to give smaller things the chance. I think of that scene in Men In Black when, for a weapon against Edgar the Bug, Agent J is given the Noisy Cricket. Not at all the cool, high polished steel, shell pumping, loud blasting piece of equipment he had in mind when it came to defending the universe against an evil alien, but looks may be deceiving. 

The Hohner Piccolo harmonica, a harmonica about one-third the size of a regular harmonica, really produces a powerful sound, and when wielded by an expert performer, such as the late great Sam Hinton, it really just makes you smile and fill you with the desire to go out and buy one for yourself. 

It’s my pleasure to introduce those unknown to him Sam Hinton, for whom music was indeed about sharing. Curious about his albums, they’re easy to order. You might begin with Master Of The Diatonic Harmonica.’

 

Track:  The Bull
Artist:  Jake Thackray

‘Portland, Oregon-based songwriter Shelley Short has introduced to me some fantastic songs over the years, including Roger Miller’s ‘Do-Wacka-Do’, an unreleased Dylan song entitled ‘She’s Your Lover Now’, ‘Shake Sugaree’ by Elizabeth Cotten. 

Shelley’s funny. One time driving across Spain Kelly McClean had finally met a peaceful slumber in the backseat when Shelley woke her up just to tell her that Spanish-style rice and beans were her favorite. A wonderful singer, a magical person, a poet, all-knowing, my good friend, my little pal. 

‘Jake Thackray,’ she had said, ‘heard of him?’ I suppose I had stalled a while before beginning the search, partly because I knew that once I had found information on Jake I would be consumed by him. (Shelley’s recommendations do that to you.) What I love about ‘The Bull’, aside from it being masterfully composed, is this performance. I don’t know if a studio version of ‘The Bull’ exists, and in some ways I pleasantly don’t much care, but if it does I would say it is not the definitive version.’

 

Track:  Wild Heart
Artist:  Stevie Nicks

‘If you’ve ever taken vocal lessons, or perhaps your music teacher in elementary school once explained to you where the notes you sing come from, then you must know about the human resonating chambers. But then surely you know the range of your own vocal capabilities. Going high comes quite easily, but you struggle when it comes to going low. Perhaps it’s the other way around, a regular Rick Astley. If so, then going low is a smooth, soundless sea. Naturally you’ve cheered when your team has scored, you’ve growled when someone has encroached upon your territory, you’ve pretended to be a mouse to make the bedtime story more entertaining to your child, in tender times your voice has softened, becoming unfalteringly feather-light. Then see, you do know something about the head, chest, throat, nose.

‘Wild Heart’ here, in demo form, though later cut in the studio and included on the album The Wild Heart (1983), is fantastic in that it shows just how natural Stevie is at singing, a woman who in my opinion is exemplary at handling these four chambers. Her relaxed countenance. Her unflinching eyes. Her nostrils and mouth remain not just open but susceptible. Notice her posture. Her back is erect, yet her upper torso is fluid.’

Track:  First Whippoorwill Song
Artist:  The DeZurik Sisters

‘Some of my first records were compilations. Rhino’s Blues Masters, for example, introduced to me great talents, many of who informed my own playing style and ability. (Lonnie Johnson is a man I dearly love.) Soundtracks, too, can be marvelous compilations, and for a while I became a collector of songs performed by actors and actresses. Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges in Starman singing ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream.’ My father brought home one day a copy of The Apostle, which contains ‘I Love To Tell The Story’, performed by Emmylou Harris and Robert Duvall. 

The DeZurik Sisters came to me on a disc accompanying the magazine Oxford American, and ‘The Arizona Yodeler’ was all I cared listening to for many weeks. What’s most glorious about it all is the DeZuriks rediscovery, which continues today. There isn’t much written about the DeZuriks, but the latest wave might be credited to a simple enthusiastic blog entry posted by singer-songwriter Edith Frost. (Edith’s original thread can be accessed by simply clicking HERE.)’

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