I can remember the first time I got a recording of a show I’d just witnessed. It was while I was in college — Soulive at the Canal Club. I almost didn’t go — I wasn’t the biggest fan and agreed to go at the last minute, but I loved it. Looking back, as jammy as Soulive may be, that show represented a significant step in my quest to access jazz. I couldn’t believe the dexterity of keys player Neal Evans, who was pulling double-duty by playing synth bass with his left hand. I’ve since learned that this is typical for Soulive, but it seemed incredible to me. I stared at Evans for large chunks of each song, totally awestruck. Focusing on a single player like that has become one of my main techniques for appreciating genres I’m less familiar with, and it worked wonders at that show.
They had CD burners at the merch table, and you could buy a two-disc recording on your way out. $15 bucks, I think. Easy as that. I know (and knew then) that people have been taping shows and trading recordings for ages, but it felt like the future to me. You heard something, then you had it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that night was the dividing line between two worlds — the world in which I watched and listened to live music without worrying whether I’d see or hear it again, and the world I live in now, wherein I consciously ask myself whether I’m seeing/hearing this concert for the first time or for the last time. I process performances differently if it’s the latter. I try to be more present.
The clip above is from When the Song Dies, a documentary short I learned about from my father-in-law. I wish I could embed the whole thing (you can watch it here), because it’s well worth the 15 minutes. Though music does play a part, the story is much bigger, focusing on cultural mortality and how, when the last person who knows a tradition or song dies, that thing is lost forever. It’s a brutal thought — as true and scary as thinking about your own death. Imagine that you’re the only one in your family who knows the melody to a song that’s been passed down from one generation to the next, only there’s no next generation to teach it to. That’s the situation in which some of the documentary’s Scottish subjects find themselves.
I’m not sure if the director was thinking about this when he was working on the short, but I found myself wondering if this type of cultural death is, itself, dying.
Positive feedback comes in many forms. A thumbs-up. A compliment. A vote of confidence. If you’re a dolphin performing tricks at SeaWorld, it comes in the form of a tasty, frozen fish. Yum!
But in certain situations, the best feedback of all is total silence. The Low Branches’ January 19 album release show at Gallery 5 is a wonderful example.
Near the end of August of last year, I had the opportunity to interview Christina Gleixner about the home recording project she’d undergone to help pay for the next Low Branches studio release. At the time, not many details on the album were available, other than the fact that they’d done some production work with John Morand at Sound of Music, some themselves, and that the final product was to be titled One Hundred Years Old (or 100 Years Old, as I styled it at the time).
Exactly four months after that interview was published, the album’s title track hit the interweb via Richmond Playlist, and I haven’t been able to get over how much I love it… in large part because I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
Everything tastes better when it’s homegrown, and The Low Branches are taking a refreshingly agricultural approach to financing their upcoming full-length, 100 Years Old.
In order to grow the funds needed to release 100 Years Old, frontwoman Christina Gleixner has been seeding Bandcamp with home recordings, each of which can be purchased for $1 (or more — you have the ability to name a higher price if you’d like to donate extra). The series started with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Leah,” and it continues with an original entitled “Rock Bottom.” Gleixner was kind enough to answer a few questions via email about this latest recording, the status of 100 Years Old, and more.