brittle, barren, delicate music…marissa revisited
Last April I published a piece here I called The Demystification of Marissa Nadler (just click it to read if you’d like…I’ll wait) and I wanted to come back to her again because, well…because Costco started selling Christmas decorations and artificial trees on September 15th and it made me start thinking about the end of the year and all those bloggers who publish their top tens; the best of this and best of that. My concept was to be the first on the block to wrap it all up in my own way and manner, and since it’s now November and I haven’t done it, I guess it just goes to show you how ideas come and go within the space between my ears.
While last year it was Kurt B. Reighley’s book United States of Americana that took me down the back roads and two lane highways of our musical heritage, and opened my aural cavities to the sounds of acoustic cats long ago and those who are now coming back to it, this year it is Marissa Nadler who has taken me by the virtual hand and led me outside my teeny tiny box. Her music challenged me to discover the other side of Americana, a music made by younger folks on the backs of older folks that bend and deconstruct the rules. It ain’t twang nor the grass of blue, but it shares the roots of the same tree.
Most of the time if you catch Marissa on the road, it’ll be just her and her guitars. Sometimes she plays with friends, like this year’s tour in Europe where she took along Cat Martino (a Brooklyn-based artist who has toured with Sufjan Stevens and Sharon Von Etten, and will soon launch her own solo career). The more I watch her, and there are just a ton of videos to find on the web, the more I appreciate how she uses alternate tunings and finger style playing to dance around the spaces in her lyrics and vocals. And while her original songs and albums are often branded by terms like dreamy, electronic and goth, her cover albums (the second one, Covers II will be out shortly) are full of songs by Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen and others more familiar to the this crowd here. This woman grew up reading No Depression the magazine, and will be the first to tell you her roots are rooted in Americana.
She released her self-titled album this year, and it was the first on her very own Box of Cedars Records.
“I was really pleased that people in the US responded so well to the new record. I worked my ass off on it, in terms of being related to every step of the release. So, I am really happy with how things have turned out. I am loving the new freedom of not being bound by a label.”
And of course, she went on the road to support it.
For the uninitiated, I have been on tour pretty much straight for ten years, mostly in Europe. I have booking agencies in both Europe and the US that I have been working with for many many years. While I don’t use record labels anymore, I still use everything else. Booking agents are wonderful.
When I got back from that tour, I had a lot to catch up with with Box of Cedar Records “headquarters.” Luckily, I have a worldwide distributor putting my record in stores all across the world so I don’t have to mail everything out myself. People are ordering a lot from the handmade ETSY site, and for autographed stuff from my personal website, which is like my day job.”
While her music connects with me at some intersection I don’t visit all that often, when I researched for that April post I found many fellow travelers of her style, approach and sensibility. Artists like Buck and Shanti Curran who perform as Arborea, the Espers from Philadelphia and their bandmate Meg Baird…who has recorded two beautiful solo releases and also performs with her sister.
Buck Curran sort of puts it into a good perspective as it relates to Arborea, but I think it can be applied to all of these left of center roots musicians:
“Our recording are quite stripped down, but they have an undeniable mood and atmosphere to them. It’s not like listening to a Pink Floyd record where you have dreamy synthesizers, electric guitar, drums etc….but mostly just Shanti signing and playing banjo and me on slide guitar. These ethereal elements are certainly present in the music of Skip James and banjo players like Hobart Smith…elements that can definitely be attributed to the resonance and ring of their instruments and the tunings they used.”
From last year’s exploration back to the jazz of the twenties and the Appalachian music captured by Alan Lomax, to this year’s Spring obsession with Marissa’s extensive music catalog and videos…it has led me to question the strict definitions we place on music. Which is probably why I stepped away from that ongoing community forum angst that asks you to choose between Americana and alt country. Roots…trees…seeds….and then it starts all over.
This year it’s all about Marissa Nadler for me, and I’ll leave you with this…my favorite song of 2011.