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.)

"Faded Coat of Blue."

Nap fail. Neither kid was sleeping, so we got them up, dumped Pete in the exersaucer and subjected them to a Carter Family song. That’ll teach ‘em to not take their naps! Ben is sort of singing along, but it’s more of an over-tired crooning/lobbying for a snack.

I will say that pre-Pete I was going wall-eyed trying to watch Ben and play the bass…and now trying to watch Ben, and Pete, and play the bass…I am going wall-eyed with my third eye too. Forgive me for muffing the IV every.single.time. (The one thing I’ve gotten better at over the years of this project is *just keeping going* no matter what. As long as your hands are striking at the bass in something like the right tempo, even if you’re yelling at your kids and watching that the rice doesn’t burn at the same time, it won’t be too, too bad.)

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"I’ll Be Home Someday" (hidden track "Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia" and "Little Black Train")

Our first jam session as a family of four. Just me and Fran on this one, though Ben is starting to show some interest in playing along on his “guitar”—an old, permanently out-of-tune ukulele—and you can hear him at the end naming the songs that he wants to play: “Christmas songs, Carter family songs (Little Black Train) or Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia.”

Ben is also learning jam etiquette—Fran was playing “The Ballad of Forty Dollars” the other night while I was making dinner and Ben kept trying to get my attention in a stage whisper. We gently told him that it’s polite to wait till a song is over before talking—a point of etiquette that frankly a lot of adults could stand to learn. He complained, halfway through the song, that “this is going on a long time.” Welcome to bluegrass jams, son!

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Well, I tried to upload my one and only Instagram photo and now I have a homepage showing the weather in Miami and a calculator. You’ll just have to imagine what Stephanie and Luke look like. #computerilliterate

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"Mountains of Tennessee"

Friends, it’s a real joy that this recording is finally seeing the light of day. Luke Richardson and Stephanie Jenkins came over last year and recorded this on their two banjos, and I think it is one of the loveliest renditions of a Carter family song we’ve done.

Stephanie and Luke are also the *youngest* contributors to the CFP we’ve had so far, which is nice, because while we have a lot of musical friends our age and older (and we certainly know a lot of small kids) we don’t know that many of the younger crowd of musicians in New York. So, folk music being an inter-generational community and all, it was meaningful for us to play a song with the twenty-somethings. Perhaps when they’re in their forties, they’ll play a Carter family song with our kids!

Stephanie’s family is a kind of New York “hub” for folk music, hosting house concerts and letting touring musicians bunk in their apartment. I met them at Ashokan about ten years ago and practiced my two-stepping with her then-teenage, now grown, brother Reid.

(Another advantage of playing with younger folks, too, is that they can show you how to use your own damn phone. I’ll put up a photo of them I took after Stephanie showed me Instagram.)

We got to chatting about the bluegrass scene in New York, which is surprisingly robust for a northern city. Fran’s from Florida and I’m from West Virginia, and both of us have found more opportunities to play music in Brooklyn than we have in our home states. Luke, who’s from Tennessee, made a few observations about folk music in New York—that the ideal of a Southern roots-music community, in which you can walk to someone else’s porch and have a picking party with your neighbors—is actually more possible and likely in Brooklyn than it is in West Virginia or Tennessee or Florida. And while of course living in New York has its downsides, Luke said, “We play music to make up for the fact that we can’t see the stars.”

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"Evening Bells Are Ringing." The incomparable Jen Larson and Michael Fagan help us out again.

We’ve been sitting on this one for a while—once we get the baby down at 7 and Ben into bed sometime after that (9:30 last night! God help us) I’m usually too bushed to mess around with GarageBand. BUT! I have learned that a bowl of ice cream makes learning GarageBand a lot more pleasant…kind of like beer used to help me study for exams. Up to a point. It’s kind of a U-shaped curve, I guess. Since we went dry, it’s the sweets that are tempting—navigating the snaky line at Trader Joe’s, which passes by, say, chocolate-ganache babka, and cinnamon rolls, and Pepparfloovan or whatever those cookies are called, makes me feel like Odysseus navigating between Scylla and Charybdis. This time, at least, only the “cowboy bark” got me. Cowboy Bark is I guess whatever sweets didn’t sell the previous week, crumbled up and stuck together with chocolate. It’s cruel. I just dumped some on top of vanilla ice cream, and hoo-boy, it’s making messing around in GarageBand a lot more chill experience. 

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"Cowboy’s Wild Song To His Herd"

Well, friends, the Carter Family Project has a generous maternity/paternity-leave policy and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it, but it’s time to put our nose to the turntable once again. Our new sweetie pie Pete is good company but he can’t do much musically besides yodel, so we invited stalwart pals Jen Larson and Michael Fagan over to play “Cowboy’s Wild Song to His Herd.” It’s a lullaby, natch, which did not work at all on Pete. 

Guest Stars:

Jen Larson, guitar and vocals

Michael Fagan, guitar

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"There’s No Hiding Place Down There"

This was from an impromptu picking party we had one weeknight last summer. Our friend and neighbor Brad Einhorn came over one evening with some members of his band Kings County Strings—Joel Turoff on guitar and Joe Choina on bass. (I’m also on bass, but you wouldn’t know it—Joe plays for keeps, and I play like I might take it back at any moment.) Brad’s uncle, who legally changed his name to Somebody Famous, also stopped by. My favorite part of this is Joe saying at the beginning “Who’s going to the IV?” like someone else saying “Who farted?” and Fran trying to pass it off on the bass players, and Joe says darkly, “It’s coming from a guitar.”

Hidden track: “Money Honey”

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"My Heart’s Tonight in Texas"

Well, our good friends Jen Larson and Terry McGill recorded this for us a while back, and unfortunately we’ve misplaced the tiny SD card the file was on. This is a just a placeholder till we find it. Let me assure you, Jen and Terry’s version is pretty awesome and we profusely apologize to them for vacuuming up the card or whatever we did with it.

We’re expecting kiddo #2 to arrive on Thursday, so that’s been occupying our thoughts lo these nine months…we took the hospital tour yesterday and I have to say it’s one of the few moments in my adult life that I’ve had second thoughts about settling in New York. The shared rooms are adequate for two patients only if both of you are the size of tongue depressors. (For an extra $200/night you can have a private room, which gives you about as much space to ramble as an MRI machine). The decor was an interesting shade of pink-mauve-brown flowered wallpaper that made me think of airport hotel we stayed in once in Jacksonville, a Clarion in which the “L” had fallen off the sign, so we nicknamed it the Carrion. The wallpaper made me think, well, I guess it’s easier to sponge blood off things that are already kind of bodily-fluid-colored. Plus—and this is a bummer—when you take the tour, they hand you a menu for “enhanced” food options: For an extra $115 a day, you can eat food that looks merely good instead of the free food that I’m afraid I don’t even know what it’s going to be. I mean, how bad is the free food that you would even consider $115/day? Also, the view—the view was of the HVAC system. Maybe they will try to upsell us to a view of a burned-out Honda Civic. 

So I guess I’m a little apprehensive. We had a brief emergency trip to the maternity ward at a hospital in Delaware this summer and i was SO IMPRESSED with how nice and spacious and calm the hospital was, and how they still had my records on file from a visit I made to the ER in 1992. Delaware, man. It reminds me a little of Holland—small, efficient, easy to navigate. I mean, I don’t know how funky Delaware is, David Bromberg aside, and I wouldn’t say the citizens are especially hilarious—again, a little like Holland—but if you want your medical records accessible and to get though the DMV in six minutes flat, Delaware’s your man. It is administratively on the ball. The nurse on our hospital tour yesterday kept emitting these rueful little chuckles, like “The L and D doors don’t really open all that easily…we actually had a situation”—rueful chuckle— “where a woman was in labor and couldn’t get in the door”—rueful chuckle— “heh, yeah, that was a bad scene.”

So, friends, wish us luck. My heart’s tonight in Delaware.  

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"Are You Tired of Me, My Darling" with Laura Cantrell

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Anna Kendrick’s version of “When I’m Gone,” copyright A.P. Carter. The most astonishing thing about this video is not that she breaks into song and a percussive cup-banging dance whilst making biscuits—it’s that she puts the biscuits in the oven, sings the song, and then abandons them. I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of Take This Job and Shove It kind of thing, but girl, AT LEAST TAKE THE BISCUITS WITH YOU. 

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You're Gonna Miss Me, Lulu and the Lampshades

"When I’m Gone" by the Carters, now set to a percussive cup-banging rhythm thing! And also,  actor/pop singer Anna Kendrick has recorded a version that has sold more than a million and a half copies. Wow! A.P. still holds the copyright.

It’s almost like…folk music endures and evolves! Crazy!

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Great concert last Friday night at Jalopy! Thanks to Jen Larson, the Hunts, Rich Rosenblatt, Michael Fagan, Nancy Polstein, Terry McGill, Trip Henderson, Sheriff Bob, Rick Shields, Tony Delillo, Katherine Slingluff, Andy Stuckey, Brad Klein, Kate Prascher, Gene Yellin, Ken Ficara, Pete Elegant, and Doug Hatt.

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Concert family concert tomorrow night, 9PM, at Jalopy! Join us!

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"There’ll Be Joy, Joy, Joy"

I’ll tell ya, there’ll be joy joy joy when we hire a babysitter for the morning so we can do some chores…and then realize that the silent, empty apartment (I mean, except for other people’s children screaming outside our window in Cobble Hill—sorry, little Django and Twixt, you can’t have another $9 ice cream cone!) means a good opportunity to play some music just the two of us. This is another unexpectedly cheerful gospel number, and I do think Fran sings it right peppy. This is a man on summer break, folks! Joy, Joy, Joy!

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