Two in a row – The virtues of Laura Marling and Jim Lauderdale
This city of my choosing has proven to be quite the haven for mountain music and the musicians and fans who love it. Inherent in mountain music is the tradition of story-telling, particularly broken-hearted, hard-life storytelling of the sort which might make you feel like your struggle is nothing compared to that of the poor bastard in the song. There’s also plenty of humor in these Appalachian numbers, a good bit of celebration and a tendency for songwriters to make light of their situation.
I say all this because this past weekend, I partook of two very different artists – neither from Appalachia, granted – who, yet, delivered music which plays off of mountain music tradition.
I’ll start at the end of the weekend and work my way backwards, if you don’t mind.
Sunday morning, I drove out to Weaverville to catch Jim Lauderdale at the Jack of Hearts. This is a sister venue to a brewpub in Asheville proper (Jack of the Woods) which frequently welcomes national and regional touring artists of the Americana milieu. Often, artists who play one venue get slated for the other as well. This was my first time at Jack of Hearts, though, and a brunchtime gig seemed like a bit of a novelty.
We made it in time to catch the tail end of A Drunken Prayer – solo singer-songwriter from Portland by way of Asheville whose last two songs were enough to make me want to learn more about him. So I’ll pass on that interest to you.
Lauderdale, it occurred to me, is one of those artists I’ve seen a lot of, but have never watched for a full show. This morning, he delivered an energetic selection of songs from throughout his canon, particularly those from his bluegrass efforts and various co-writes. His gift lies in marrying humor and heartbreak – clever turns of phrase and the sort of “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” mentality which has pervaded country music all the way back to these Appalachian hills.
He announced he’ll have a collaborative album with the North Mississippi All-Stars dropping in the fall and played a track off that. He also revealed himself to be quite a smartass comedian, playing off the members of Sanctum Sully who were on hand to close out the brunch after his set was done. I had made other plans for that afternoon and had to scurry off to another town after Lauderdale’s set. But I’d recommend Sunday bluegrass brunch should such a thing ever pop up in your world.
The night before, back in the city, I ventured out for Laura Marling – a young singer-songwriter who grew up quite far from these Blue Ridges. Nonetheless, the four-piece band backing her looked like they’d blend in quite well if, say, their bus broke down somewhere between here and Knoxville, and they had to thumb it back to civilization. Armed with various guitars, a banjo, a horn, a cello, percussion, and some keys, Marling and her troupe delivered a beautiful set at the Orange Peel.
This place, the Orange Peel, is a fairly large room and Marling’s band packed it. Perched on a stool in the center of the Orange Peel’s quite-large stage, Marling peeled through tunes from her various releases, mostly focusing on selections from her most recent release – 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know. If you’ve heard that album you’ll know it’s an imaginative musical force, asserted through Marling’s creative vocals (alternately clear and angelic singing, then spoken in declarative spurts). I was unsure of how it would all translate to the stage, but the interplay between her melodic whims and those of her companions made the whole thing quite interesting to watch. When it came time to introduce the band, she had them each share a fact or insight – an assignment which led the cellist to challenge her cohorts to a paper airplane toss (the drummer/hornman won).
I got to speak with Marling before the show about the new album and what it is to be a traveling songstress. I’ll close with an excerpt from that interview:
Kim Ruehl:What were you listening to when you made this record?
Laura Marling: Just before I wrote the album – I didn’t remember this until I got the masters back – I got obsessed with records made in 1969 that I hadn’t heard before. Now, at home, I’ve got a whole shelf of records made in 1969. I thnk that had quite an effect on what I ended up writing for this album. I don’t’ think it sounds like it was made in 1969 but that was a weird year – there was George Harrison and Jim Sullivan and Nancy Sinatra. People were doing quite weird and dark things.
KR: Do you see anything like that happening in music now, or were you hoping to create a space for that kind of energy?
LM: I think…I’m not doing anything new. I’m doing what they did 40 years ago. We record to tape, so it has kind of a feeling of that era. I suppose in 40 or 50 years time, people will look back on this time and see electronic music as that sort of forward-thinking. But I’m not doing anything different.
KR: I’ve been thinking and writing and talking all week long about the idea that people aren’t really making albums anymore. They’re just kind of recording a bunch of songs and releasing them. But you seem to be one of those album artists. Is that your intention?
LM: Yeah, I don’t know if it was my intention, I just thought that’s how it was done. My dad ran a recording studio when I was a kid, which was before protools and recording on your laptop in your bedroom. I grew up around analog gear and I still don’t know how to use any of that kind of stff. But, the craft of making an album was something I was interested in. I have two older siblings who are into music as well. They’d give me old, classic albums. There’s an evolution in music now because the way people can make music and the way people want to listen to music is different. Some people don’t want to listen to an album, they just want to hear one song. That’s fine, but I have the idea that an album is like a story with different chapters or a film with different scenes. That’s what I like about the music I make.
KR: Do you write on the road when you’re touring?
LM: I do. I think I write more on the road than I do at home.
K: Why do you think that is?
LM: It’s quite a boring reason, really. If I’m playing the guitar then I have time on my own. Not that I don’t want to spend time with the people I travel with. I love them, but it’s a lot of time to spend with people, 24 hours a day. I find a spot somewhere and sit down with my guitar for an hour or so. Also, I’m quite tired when I’m on the road so that’s a good time to write songs.
K: How is it for you to play shows in the States? You’re just starting to become known in the States (though you’re known quite well back in the UK). Is that exciting for you, or is it sort of frustrating to start building an audience again?
LM: It’s really exciting. I’ve done the States properly – a full tour or whatever – three times. Each time I understand it a bit better. Each time it’s a different size show. Because it’s such a massive place, it’s so daunting. When people do come to your shows…it’s very different from playing in England or Europe. You play a tiny show for 100 people and you get to be who you are. There’s always a nice feeling in America, I don’t know why.