Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Jenny Scheinman: A trip through American history

March 8, 2017

Maybe having an arsenal of Tennyson and Yeats really was the key to survival for songwriter, composer, and fiddle player Jenny Scheinman. “Okay, Jenny,” I imagine her mother telling her, “One more time, repeat after me…‘He clasps the crag with crooked hands.’” “What does any of that have to do with an album of fiddle tunes?” Scheinman asks. “The fiddle has that same raw, outlaw, dirt-on-your-knees spirit of prison poetry. The fiddle can be played by anyone with rudimentary musical skill,” her mother says. “It can entertain a crowd. Its songs are the people’s music. And honestly, if I ever end up in prison, I’d much rather have a fiddle on me than a poem,” retorts Scheinman. Her instrumental album Here on Earth is a reflection of that storytelling through the voice of the instrument Scheinman knows best.

The fifteen-song album has seen many of its songs find a home in Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, a collaboration with filmmaker Finn Taylor that was commissioned by Aaron Greenwald at Duke Performances. The music completes the picture, which collects archival footage taken between 1936-42 by H. Lee Waters (1902-1997). Waters was a North Carolina photographer who traveled across the Piedmont, a region spanning much of central North Carolina that includes parts of Appalachia. During his travels, he made short movies of people living ordinary lives during the Great Depression. This backdrop for the music makes the album extraordinary.

Scheinman based her band for these recordings on a specific scene from the movie, where three musicians (fiddle, banjo and guitar) are playing at a dance party. Danny Barnes (banjo, guitar, tuba), Robbie Fulks (guitar, banjo), Bill Frisell (guitar) and Robbie Gjersoe (resonator guitar) were brought in not just for their brilliant skills and deep-rooted understanding of fiddle music, but because they brought the barn-stomping, slightly unhinged energy she was trying to conjure.

By collecting this authenticity in the studio, the magic of a specific period in time is captured in Here On Earth. From the opening song “A Kid Named Lily” to “Broken Pipeline” and all those in between, each sings Americana in the purest form. It’s a treat for the ears to listen to American history. Scheinman makes the fiddle sing, delivering elegant beauty in the time capsule. The songs here are diverse: listeners will hear a jig (“Up On Shenanigan”) coupled with mournful work from Robbie Faulks (“Pent Up Boy”). It seems pointless to single out an individual track when they are part of a whole evoking deep emotion. The best suggestion is close your eyes and listen. Listening to Here on Earth by Jenny Scheinman is a joyful, haunting, hopeful journey that is not to be missed. For those lucky enough to be on the east coast, there are two upcoming opportunities to see this piece live in Maine or New York. Don’t miss out. —Lisa Whealy

Mar 10 – Portland, Maine – USM Hannaford Hall
Mar 17 – New York City – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mid-Year pt 2

June 28, 2014

Mid-year pt 2: Acoustic Happy / Acoustic Sad

1. “High Up” – Wonderful Humans. WH has it all together to make perfect indie-pop: energy, enthusiasm, twee instruments, percussive elements, and melodies galore. Wonderful Humans is really good.

2. “Big River” – Wonderful Humans. ANOTHER WH TUNE BECAUSE I DO WHAT I WANT AND IT’S GOOD FOR YOU. WHOA-OH-OH-OH, WHOA-OH-OH-OH.

3. “Clams” – Pepa Knight. Exuberant indie-pop filtered through a Hindi-pop lens. It’s enveloping and enthralling. I’ve been super pleased with both of Pepa Knight’s singles so far.

4. “Give Me a Drug that Works Forever” – One Finger Riot. Mid-tempo Brit-pop, burbling electro, and American indie-pop collide in an infectious, memorable tune.

5. “Girls” – Slow Magic. Chillwave meets The Album Leaf meets Pogo. I APPROVE.

6. “Run Run Run” – Jenny Scheinman. Scheinman has a strong voice and a deft Americana songwriting touch. You won’t be able to ignore Scheinman much longer.

7. “Black Crow” – Juliette Jules. A voice mature beyond her years, songwriting beautiful beyond expectations, and production of excellent quality: Jules has everything working for her on this gorgeous, tender track.

8. “Wedding Day” – Anand Wilder and Maxwell Kardon. The lyrics grabbed me by the throat, and the folky/celebratory arrangement kept me involved. This is an impressive tune.

9. “Green Eyes” – Cancellieri. Originally by Coldplay, Cancellieri strips some of the pop sheen from this and gives it a romantic intimacy befitting the gorgeous lyrics.

10. “Is What It Is” – She Keeps Bees. This female-fronted singer/songwriter track is stately, composed, and elegant without becoming icy or distant. SKB creates great atmosphere here.

11. “Confederate Burial” – Snowblind Traveler. Snowblind Traveler matches up the icy arrangements of For Emma and the traditional melodies of old-school Americana to great effect.

12. “Blue Valentine” – Bloom. If you’re a fan of the sad but not hopeless sound that Pedro the Lion made, Bloom will scratch your itch for it with this beautiful track.

13. “Hold on to Your Breath” – Sleepy Tea. These Aussies live up to their name with a relaxing, refreshing vibe reminiscent of a slightly more energetic Parachutes-era Coldplay. Just a beautiful track.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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