Fran Leadon and Leigh Anderson of Brooklyn, NY attempt to record every single song that the Carter Family ever cut.

Just like the original recordings, these are lo-fi and low-budget. We are using a H2 ZOOM recorder propped on a chair in our living room. Fran plays a homemade D-18 guitar and sometimes a 1959 Martin 0-18. Leigh plays an early 1950s Epiphone upright bass.

We grew up listening to the Carter Family. The rules for this project are simple: Record the songs in chronological sequence, beginning with the first 1927 Bristol sessions recordings, don't worry too much about flubs, and get everything recorded while the baby is napping.

Sound simple? Keep listening!

(We recommend listening through headphones or stereo speakers. The average laptop speaker doesn't pick up Leigh's bass.)

Tell me more about her feet.

Guest Stars:

Charles Puckette, lead vocal and guitar

Brad Klein, guitar

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"Can the Circle Be Unbroken"

The second of three times this comes up in the Carters’ catalogue.

Guest Stars:

Jen Larson, vocal and guitar

Rick Shields, fiddle

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Ahh, we went a little out of order. We recorded this a few months back and forgot about it—whoops! This one should go before the three songs we recorded with Dotty. Rick Shields and Jen Larson, stalwart pals, join us for “He Took A White Rose From Her Hair.”

Stay tuned for Jen’s new album, produced and picked-upon by Michael Daves. Jen’s also a newly appointed goodwill ambassador to Oman, charged with sharing American roots music with the people of that country. We can’t think of a better woman for the job!

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"Your Mother Still Prays for You Jack"

You can juuuust hear the baby start to cry at the end of this one, the third song we did in one nap time…Thanks again to Dotty Moore for her terrific fiddling and harmony singing!

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"Let’s Be Lovers Again"

Guest Star:

Dotty Moore, fiddle and harmony vocal

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Chord charts for “Let’s Be Lovers Again” and “Your Mother Still Prays for You, Jack,” also with Dotty, coming up in a day or two.

Chord charts for “Let’s Be Lovers Again” and “Your Mother Still Prays for You, Jack,” also with Dotty, coming up in a day or two.

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"Sinking in the Lonesome Sea"

Dotty Moore is the CFP equivalent of an assassin. She zips in, sings three songs, nails each one on the first take, eats a piece of frittata, splits. We got three songs done in one naptime, which we haven’t done in…let’s see…years.

“Sinking in the Lonesome Sea,” one of my top-three Carter family songs, is Child Ballad 286, recorded under several names over the centuries. 

If you’re curious about the thematic evolution of folk music, this paragraph, from the Wikipedia page, is edifying:

"…features characteristic enough of Child Ballads to be considered Child Ballad motifs are these: romance, enchantment, devotion, determination, obsession, jealousy, forbidden love, insanity, hallucination, uncertainty of one’s sanity, the ease with which the truth can be suppressed temporarily, supernatural experiences, supernatural deeds, half-human creatures, teenagers, family strife, the boldness of outlaws, abuse of authority, betting, lust, death, karma, punishment, sin, morality, vanity, folly, dignity, nobility, honor, loyalty, dishonor, riddles, historical events, omens, fate, trust, shock, deception, disguise, treachery, disappointment, revenge, violence, murder, cruelty, combat, courage, escape, exile, rescue, forgiveness, being tested, human weaknesses, and folk heroes.”

So, like, the Nixon administration?

Guest Star: Dotty Moore, fiddle and harmony vocal

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Parents’ PIckin’ ‘n’ Playdate. AKA Stroller Wheels on a Gravel Road.

Parents’ PIckin’ ‘n’ Playdate. AKA Stroller Wheels on a Gravel Road.

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"Behind Those Stone Walls"

Poverty? Jail?  Someone’s sad mother? Must be an Irish ballad. 

This is the second song (of 40!) recorded over four days in May 1935 in New York City. A.P. is credited as the writer of the song, but it’s likely he learned it on a “song-hunting” trip around Southwestern Virginia, populated by descendants of Scots-Irish settlers.

This song…has a lot of words.  Diane Stockwell, the fiddler and singer and member of Fran’s original band The Y’all Stars, performed it for our concert last year at Jalopy. She bravely attempted this recording in a room full of hollering children, and does this sad story justice.

It’s an earworm. And as we’re New Yorkers, everything comes back to real estate. This morning Fran mumbled, after hearing our neighbors in their bathroom, “I can hear everything behind sheetrock walls.”

Guest Stars:

Diane Stockwell: guitar and lead vocals

Charles Puckette: guitar and harmony vocals

Emily Eagen: fiddle

Katherine Slingluff: mandolin

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This is 12 seconds of Parents’ Pickin’ and Playdate. You’ll notice all the children are screaming. Emily and I had a little round-robin on who would pick up a crying kid and who would hold a guitar.

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"Glory to the Lamb"

This is the aural equivalent of farm-to-table, friends. This morning our friends Katherine Slingluff, Diane Stockwell, Charles Puckette and Emily Eagen came over for our regular Tuesday Parents’ Pickin’ and Playdate (motto: Stroller Wheels On a Gravel Road), and this take of Glory to the Lamb is not two hours old. The rafters are still ringing, the mic is still hot and all the snacks we hurled at the children are still crunching underfoot. 

It was a delicate operation, as anyone who has tried to play a musical instrument with a child around will attest. To keep these tots quiet, we employed: An iPad. Mr. Machine. Paints, crayons, trains. An exersaucer. Carrot puree. Strawberry Puffs. Some other child’s pacifier. A really expensive camera. The four kids (aged 9 months to 2.5 years)  had their meltdowns pretty much sequentially, so the challenge was getting them all quiet for the same three-minute stretch while we recorded. It’s a near-miracle, but there was some kind of hole in the time-space continuum where each child was absorbed in an activity and we managed to sing in peace.

This marks the start of the second half of the CFP, and my first time singing. I didn’t love our take because I think I sound nervous, but you know, I WAS nervous. It’s okay to be nervous. More seasoned performers tell me you have to think of it as being excited. So I should say—I was excited. Hope you enjoy it. Tomorrow we’ll put up Diane singing Behind Those Stone Walls. 

Guest Stars:

Diane Stockwell: Fiddle

Katherine Slingluff: Mandolin and harmony vocal

Emily Eagen: Guitar and harmony vocal

Charles Puckette: Guitar and harmony vocal

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Our recording studio.

Our recording studio.

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THE LOST LARSON/MCGILL RECORDINGS HAVE BEEN RECOVERED!

Friends, one of the problems with technology getting smaller and your kids getting bigger is that they take your tiny memory cards and … shove them places. Jen Larson and Terry McGill, mainstays of New York’s bluegrass scene, came over a year and a half ago (when we still had just the one kid!) and recorded a few Carter family songs, including "You Are My Flower" and “Cowboy’s Wild Song to His Herd.”

The SD card went missing shortly after. (You know it’s the size of a guitar pick? I could have eaten it without noticing, it’s so small.) We looked EVERYWHERE. The medicine cabinet. Behind the radiator. I even sifted through the vacuum cleaner bag. I found my passport, my engagement ring, the pin number to our bank account on a post-it (all long missing too, but whatev) but no g-d SD card. And so we soldiered on, recording our own placeholders till it turned up. 

And then, then! Yesterday, Fran was sorting through our graveyard of old and broken computer things, including a pile of laptops that dimly remember Y2K. And—rattling around one of the CD drives—was our SD card. Someone’s little fingers had poked the card into the drive, just for fun. 

We’re thrilled. Check out Terry’s banjo playing and Jen’s singing for a feel for what really good bluegrass sounds like. Jen’s got a new album coming out with an all-star band backing her up—we’ll be sure to tell you about that when it drops. Enjoy!

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And with “Sailor Boy,” we mark the end of the first half of the Carter Family Project! Loyal listeners may remember we celebrated the completion of the first half, oh, a year and a half ago. That triumph was noted by the New York Times (so we’re sure to remember the date), though obviously we jumped the gun a bit.  Our schedule has perhaps optimistic, what with the arrival of the second baby and book deadlines and so on.

But the CFP trundles on. Our family band is expanding—Ben is starting fiddle this summer, and I’m working up the nerve to sing lead—maybe even this week. My Tuesday morning Ladies’ Pickin”n’ Playdate has been a chance to practice some singing with some bluegrass gals and moms in the neighborhood, and we’re going to record a gospel number, Glory to the Lamb, this week. Stay tuned!

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