The Radio Free Song Club: Perfecting the Art of the Imperfect
In the scheme of things there are two streams in American music today: one is pre-packaged, based on business, profit, personality and corporate power structures. It thrives on competition and profit.
The second stream naturally flows through the creative awareness of everyday magic-art through ordinary times created into something extraordinary. It thrives on community. It’s you and me as we live our lives. It’s the voice of the poet, the street musician, and the storyteller who wants little more than to be heard. If we listen, we may have the experience of being ‘awake’ as the Buddha once said while he sat under the Bodie tree.
Welcome to the second stream as traveled by Nicholas Hill and Kate Jacobs on their monthly podcast The Radio Free Song Club . If you step into these waters you’ll feel the warm, natural flow of creativity in American music.
Artist’s colonies have always been around in one form or another. There was Paris in the 20’s, Greenwich Village in the 50’s, Nashville in the 60’s and Austin in the 70’s. There were those landmark summit meetings between Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker that revolutionized American music forever. Then, there was Dylan and The Band in the basement of Big Pink in Woodstock channeling what seemed like antique songs from another century. The Radio Free Song Club podcast has the potential to stand alongside these ground breaking movements of history in American music.
Today, with the advent of a technology which often works against artistic community, robbing the creative process with the ice-cold perfection of digital precision, Nicholas Hill and Kate Jacobs have built an earthy log cabin of a monthly podcast from New York City. They use the digital age to find a community which has no barriers in time and space. The show successfully brings the perfection of imperfection through roots-rough demos from artist/members Dave Schramm, Peter Holsapple, Victoria Williams, Laura Cantrell, Robin Holcomb, Jody Harris, Freakwater, Freedy Johnston, Peter Blegvad, Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric.
In a recent press release from Kate Jacobs, she said,“Our 7th show is the Special Summer Fiction Edition. Double-wide! Amy Rigby and Wreckless Eric stopped by in the midst of their US tour to tell stories of life in France and play some songs. Clinton Heylin was there to read from his new book about the songs of Bob Dylan—the inside story on the layered ironies in Blind Willie McTell, who knew? The All Stars added JD Foster on bass and played fabulously with Freedy (joining us live, arriving from World Cup revelry in some bar); and Laura, and Nicholas (covering Dylan, of all people!) and overdubbed songs from Dave, Jody and Kate. Robin Holcomb and Victoria Williams sent typically exquisite fare. Peter Holsapple went academic on love; and Blegvad—well you just have to hear what he sent. It is beautiful
In a recent conversation Nicholas Hill said, “It’s a movement. There’s a real need for a creative outlet for songwriters to create their work. “ During the late-80’s, when for a brief time, it was possible to turn the radio on and hear artists like KD Lang, Lyle Lovett and Peter Case, there appeared to be a renaissance of the singer-songwriter movement of the 60’s and 70’s. It didn’t last long. In the aftermath, emerging singer-songwriters, like those featured on the show, found themselves without a tour schedule or record contracts and no one was knocking on the door. This planted the seeds for the emergence of a community which would take the best of today’s technology to allow some of the finest and mostly unnoticed singer-songwriters of the day a place place to air their finished and even their unfinished work. For Hill, there was no choice. It became a critical need to keep the real magic of the singer-songwriter alive.
The genesis of the Radio Free Song Club happened when Kate Jacobs, an active singer-songwriter since the 80’s, took extended time off between albums and tours to be with her family. Meanwhile, as she says, ‘life is going on all around us. It’s fun to collaborate and this show has given us this. It’s a way of enjoying the Internet.”
The sixth edition show is a good example of its combination of old and new artists. A new song by Laura Cantrell— submitted digitally and overdubbed live on the show by the remarkable house band (including David Mansfield, Dave Schramm and JD Foster)—and a live performance with the band by guest Ronee Blakley are typical of the quality of artistry on the podcast. There is a living room feel to the ambiance of the show.
But, according to both Hill and Jacobs, there isn’t a plan. Too much planning would only undermine this movement of song. Perhaps ‘vision’ is a more apt word for what they’re doing and even that doesn’t fully describe the freedom the show is giving this stream of music. In the end, the show has successfully given a clear example of how an artistic community can allow the movement of the music to be and do whatever it will.
So, for all of us, this is the kind of art through music, which is keeping us all alive. On the face of it, this sounds like a bit of hyperbole, but really, the mission Kate Jacobs, Nicholas Hill and the Radio Free Song Club are on is to add a bit of breath to our common cultural air. And that’s a life-giving and much needed outlet.