THE HISTORY OF THE OHIO RIVER VALLEY is of course, tied to rivers. Not just the Ohio, but a plethora of smaller rivers flow into it, bring with them the stories and songs of the regions the rivers meander through. The Ohio was the river that brought the songs to mass popularity. Shenandoah’s lyrics come from…
exiles: Folk Songs of Heartache and Woe
When times get rough, we turn to folk music. Sometimes you just want to play something and not think about it. With folk music, you just need a melody and ideally some words. Whoever is playing with you fills in the blanks.
Maybe it’s the booze. When times get rough, I also tend to dabble in the medicine.
WINTER OF 2015, it’s coming up real fast on Christmas. They kid had just had his heartbroken by his first real girl, the day after their first real date. it was crushing to watch. Then I lost the love of my life on Christmas eve I think.
That’s when we started recording.
The rules were simple - songs we didn’t know, that the other two hadn’t heard, I’d run through it once with chords and vocals. Someone might have suggested a mood. Then we played it. We got three takes. If we didn’t get it, we moved on.
We still play folk music that way.
We were a few days into it when mom died. We even did a set at the funeral. We kept recording. The police came, we didn’t hear them. They gave up. We kept playing. Then one day the kid went back to school. And I ran to Britain.
We listened to the tracks a few weeks later and I was convinced nobody should ever hear them. Then the aforementioned love of my life broke my heart again, and I said “fuck it” and we started overdubs.
"There might be happy folk songs. These aren’t them."
But they cleaned up nicely. You see, folk music is just that. Music of folks. Not professionals. The slicker it sounds, the less real it sounds. These songs grew up being passed around, entertaining each other. They were the news of the day. They were raunchy. They made companions to drinking. Some work wonders in romancing. These songs are so old they’ve got whiskers.
It was the kid’s idea the following summer to do an album for our town’s bicentennial. Folk songs from the era. There was no immediate heartbreak to fuel us. But the residue of the spring had carried on into the summer. Before we were done, 19 people had met their demise in song.
We played that album back and quickly decided it was too weird to spring on our little town.
So this album is the best tracks of those two sessions. Steeped in heartache and woe, it was a catharsis for us. Sometimes. Sometimes it was a brawl, drunken and foul smelling. A trudge through the unholy muck of despair. We left our skin behind on the rocks.
Music gets you through the hard times. Sometimes by nothing more than the joy of a bunch of people singing together. Sometimes by hearing a song so sad, you can forget your problems for a moment.
And some songs are just an excuse for drunkedness, let’s face it.
You can’t call something folk music just because it has an acoustic guitar in it. A folk song has stood the test of time, and made it into the popular consciousness of a people - be it a village, town, county, region or country. A lot of them have scurrilous roots because let’s face it, those songs are easier to remember.
No matter what device is attached to the strings, be it a dulcimer, a fiddle or a Strat, it’s the song that makes it folk music. The melody, the lyrics and the thought.
So don’t be surprised if the music goes astray from time to time. These are the gutters of the folk tradition.
Todd A, August 2017
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