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.)

"My Virginia Rose Is Blooming"

Ben is pretty good about playing quietly while we’re recording—we tell him we’re about to start the mic, and to keep it down for 5 minutes. For this one he was standing at attention with some pretend food to offer us as soon as he heard the very last note of the song.

Guests:

Jen Larson, harmony vocals

Charles Puckette, harmony vocals

Michael Fagan, guitar, lovely guitar solo

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"My Old Virginia Home"

Just me and Fran on this one, home with the boys. The crashing sound in the background is the baby in his playpen. At the end Ben wants me to help him find a calculator so he can “pretend to chord.” It’s mine, as it turns out, he said. This makes as much sense to you as it does to me. 

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"East Virginia Blues #2"

A cappella! Fran, Jen, and Charles, who once had a trio called The Bluebirds of Happiness. 

Guests:

Jen Larson, harmony vocals

Charles Puckette, harmony vocals

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"By the Touch of Her Hand"

This one caused a little mild consternation. The original is not especially thrilling and is in fact a little musically disorienting—it sounds a like the Carters were splitting the difference between 4/4 and a waltz. It’s crooked. And there’s definitely some singing-the-V-but-staying-on-the-I kind of funny business. But once Fran and Jen sang it through a few times the structure of the song became clearer. It seems a little proto-Bill Monroe.

Guests:

Jen Larson, harmony vocals, guitar

Michael Fagan, guitar, lovely guitar solo

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"Sad and Lonesome Day"

Today has been a lonesome day…Well, not so much. Jen, Charles, and Michael came over to pass this muggy Sunday of Labor Day weekend with us. We popped Pete in his crib at 1PM sharp and recorded three songs by 3PM.

Jen is newly back from Oman, where she was visiting in an official capacity—a bluegrass envoy from the State Department. But now she’s back at our mountain shack (our fourth-floor walk-up.)

Ben fell and bonked his head right before this, so Fran was applying ice and humming along from afar while Charles, Jen, Michael and I held down the musical fort.

After everyone left I took the boys for a walk, misjudged the weather, and had to scramble home with two soaking boys…Today has been a soggy day…

Guests:

Jen Larson, lead singing, guitar

Charles Puckette, guitar and harmony vocals

Michael Fagan, guitar, lovely guitar solo

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"Don’t Forget Me, LIttle Darling"

We went off-site for this one, to our friend Trip Henderson and Emily Eagen’s house in Red Hook. Excursions with our kids tend to be an ordeal, since the baby is still taking two naps, so we usually try to have people over rather than go out. But Trip and Emily have a six-week-old, and a two-year-old, and you know, a six-week-old trumps EVERYTHING. Plus, Emily said she’d make Cincinnati chili. So we hopped in a cab, sped over to Conover Street, recorded a Carter song, ate some chili, sped home for lights out by 7. It was a great time, parent-style. 

Trip and Emily are mainstays of the Brooklyn old-time and bluegrass scene—Trip plays the harmonica, I was just to saying to Fran, with a sense of humor. Which I think is rare in bluegrass. He’s played with Pinetop Perkins, a fact that always impresses us. And Emily is a Fulbright scholar and a PhD candidate and writes Facebook posts that discuss things like “the tendency in children’s songs around the world to contain a descending minor third, such as in “nanny nanny boo boo.” She also teaches vocal harmony at Jalopy, and Trip and Emily have a band called The Whistling Wolves

Our friend Brad Klein, a CFP regular and Cincinnati native, came along to play but unfortunately was kid-wrangling rather than playing his guitar. He did get in a little harmony singing, though. No bass, so I played a pre-war Gibson softly in the kitchen as I tossed cheerios at the baby, trying to keep him quiet for the duration of the song. Fran is singing and playing his guitar as usual. 

P.S. This song is mad crooked.

Guests:

Emily Eagen: piano, whistling

Trip Henderson: harmonica

Brad Klein: harmony singing

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"Kissing Is A Crime"

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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"He Took A White Rose From Her Hair"

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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Fran drew this poster for a Carter family hoot that happened before we met!

Fran drew this poster for a Carter family hoot that happened before we met!

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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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