Goin to Carolina in my mind…Smoky Mountain ballads, etc.
I’ve recently decided to move to North Carolina. By the time mid-autumn rolls around, I’ll be nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains up there in Asheville. It’ll be a little bit different from life in Seattle, I reckon – half of the point. Sometimes you just need a change.
I should first say, to get it out of the way, I’ll still be managing this site and doing the same things I do now for a living. When I announced the move via Twitter and Facebook, I got a couple of notes inquiring to that end, so rest assured I haven’t taken a desk job at whatever Corporate Entity bankrolls the greater Asheville area (a Google search of “asheville corporation” turned up everything from Wachovia bank to some kind of plastics company; interesting).
But this isn’t meant to be a blog about my personal choices. It’s meant to be a blog about music. So I’ll try to bring it back to that.
I’m moving for a number of reasons, but chief among them – as is chief among the motivations for most of what I do – is the music. My new proximity to the entire Eastern portion of the country is the thing which most excites me. I’ll soon be one day’s drive from Atlanta, Nashville, the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill Carolinian Empire…a long day’s drive from NYC and Philadelphia, my tiny hometown in Florida, etc. I’ll be spitting distance from Merlefest. And, maybe more interesting to me, I’ll be in the hills of fiddles and banjos.
In preparation for the move, as a matter of fact, as I do, I’m getting acquainted first with the traditional folk music of the area. Later, probably in September, I’ll start looking into the folks who are making music around there right now. But, being a folk music-obsessed individual, I like to start at the far past and work my way up.
This morning, I’ve been listening to to Smoky Mt. Ballads by Bascom Lamar Lunsford. The tunes on this collection, much as I can tell, are pulled largely from the 19th Century (although, who really knows with some of these tunes), excepting perhaps “The Death of Queen Jane,” which is an English folk song from much earlier. I’m having trouble nailing down a date on that one, but maybe some more digging is in order. You may know Joan Baez’s version, but Lunsford’s is quite a bit more raw. His voice is thick with grit, like it’s been physically blasted with mountain sand and smoke. You can see this guy, in your minds eye, sitting on a porch chair with a banjo and a cloudy sky, watching the mountains emerge through a haze over there.
Lunsford isn’t much of a household name these days, but Greil Marcus saw fit to include him in The Old Weird America, and Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music looped in his version of “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground.” It seems someone wrote a book about him called Minstrel of the Appalachians. I suppose I’ll have to read that now. Someone else made a movie.
At any rate, he seems a suitable place to start my exploration of the music history of that area. I’m hoping someone out there in the intertubes can point me to other stuff I should listen to. Old or new, bring it on.