A Splice Original Compilation: The Old Lonesome Sound

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In Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Jim White's documentary on Southern folk music, storytelling, and religion, banjoist Lee Sexton describes the traditional music of his native Kentucky hills as "the old lonesome sound."

"These old hills are kind of sad looking," Sexton says. "You get to feeling down and out, looking at these old hills, sitting on your front porch, and you get to playing these old tunes and it helps you. It builds your morale up a little bit."

The old tunes that Sexton was talking about are the ones that have been with us for hundreds of years: hymns and gospels, murder ballads, protest songs, African-American spirituals, old bluegrass and country standards. Whether you hear them on albums by Dylan or Springsteen, or in films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? or Cold Mountain, they are songs that get reworked again and again, that cut to the heart and soul of the American story.

In his memoirs, Alan Lomax recalls the days on the Lower East Side of New York when Lead Belly and a young Woody Guthrie would stay up all night trading off on such songs, coming home after a show and playing for hours: "They had their whole, fresh, powerful, pure folk repertory intact: living, vibrant, and with the impact of a country mule ready to kick a hole into the future."

In keeping with this tradition, we at Splice Today present to you our first annual mix of original recordings of traditional folk music.

Many thanks to all the bands involved, as well as to Nick Sjostrom at Clean Cuts Music & Audio for his production assistance and Samantha Strand for her beautiful cover art.

--Zach Kaufmann (Feb. 18, 2009)

Headlights - "Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies"

A four-piece from Chicago, fronted by Tristan Wright and Erin Fein. Late last year they released an album of remixes, featuring cover versions of their songs by bands like The Album Leaf and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.

Vandaveer - "Long Black Veil"

The stage name of Mark Charles Heidinger, a D.C. folk musician who frequently plays in (and with) These United States. Lately he's been touring heavily throughout France and Western Europe. Vandaveer's second album, Divide and Conquer, will be released on Alter. K Records/Discograph in France, Belgium, and Switzerland on April 6.

Radar Bros. - "Moonshiner"

A four-piece indie slowcore group from L.A., formed by lead-singer and guitarist Jim Putnam, previously of Medicine and Maids of Gravity. Their most recent album, Auditorium, was released January 2008 on Merge Records.

Death Ships - "Tell Ol' Bill"

Started as the side-project of Iowa City rocker Dan Maloney, former frontman for Faultlines. Maloney, who recently moved to Chicago, will release the much-anticipated follow-up to his debut album in mid-2009. You can find a Splice Premier with Death Ships here.

Payola Reserve - "I Wish I was a Mole in the Ground"

A Baltimore psych-rock band led by Ben Pranger. Their second album, 200 Years, received rave reviews from sites like Pop Matters and Anti-Music. Live videos of Payola Reserve can be found here.

Adam Arcuragi - "Ain't No Grave"

A Philadelphia singer-songwriter who writes some truly amazing Dylanesque folk-rock songs. So far he has released two albums: a self-titled debut, and last year's five-song EP, Soldiers for Feet. You can find a Splice interview with Adam Arcuragi here.

These United States - "Twelve Gates to the City"

A D.C. folk-rock band who have established themselves through heavy touring, two LP releases in 2008, and the brilliant pop lyricism of frontman Jesse Elliott. Videos of These United States can be found here.

Wye Oak - "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair"

A duo from Baltimore, notable for Andy Stack's simultaneous drumming and keyboard playing. Jenn Wasner also has the prettiest voice this side of the Mississippi. You can find an interview with Wye Oak here.

Caleb Stine - "The Minister's Farewell"

He has been called the lynchpin of the Baltimore folk scene. His brand of Americana recalls Dust Bowl ballads, After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young, and Townes Van Zandt. He's currently finishing up a solo album, and most recently recorded a collaboration with Baltimore hip-hop artist Saleem.

Phosphorescent - "Old Folks at Home (Swanee River)"

Brooklyn alt-folkster Matthew Houck. His most recent album, To Willie, a tribute to country legend Willie Nelson, is out now on Dead Oceans.

Christian Kiefer - "Rock of Ages"

A California singer-songwriter, who most recently organized the compilation Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 Presidents, featuring artists like Califone, Marla Hansen, and Bill Callahan. Kiefer is currently organizing shows around the country for Of Great and Mortal Men—the first show took place at D.C.'s Historic Synagogue on Jan. 17. Videos from that show can be found here.

Dave Heumann (Arbouretum) - "Two Soldiers"

The frontman for Baltimore rock band Arbouretum, now signed to Thrill Jockey. Arbouretum's third album, Song of the Pearl, will be released next month. Heumann also has an instrumental side-project, Human Bell, with former Lungfish bassist Nathan Bell.

Deer Tick - "Hobo's Lullaby"

Good ol' John McCauley and the boys from Providence, RI. McCauley takes his creative inspiration from Hank Williams, hard liquor, and cartons of cigarettes. They're currently on a month-and-a-half-long tour around the Eastern half of the U.S., including dates at SXSW.

Walker and Jay - "House Carpenter"

Truly legends of the Baltimore music scene, playing with everyone from Cass McCombs to Madagascar to Anomoanon to the Big Huge, and frequently organizing Quiet Music nights and Anti-Folk shows. As Madagascar musician Justin Lucas once said, the whole Baltimore neo-folk scene is "pretty much six degrees of Walker."

Stephen Strohmeier - "Brother Green/The Dying Soldier"

A guitarist for Arbouretum, as well as a lover of old-timey songs, many of them featuring Jesus. Strohmeier advises: "Don't be threatened, and don't get too excited." A live video of Strohmeier's contribution can be found here.

Musee Mecanique - "I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore"

They hail from Portland, OR. The five-piece folk pop band recorded their song for the compilation while on a U.S. tour, adding various instrumentation at different stops along their route (more on this soon). Their debut album, Hold This Ghost, mixes folk pop with some subtle electronica and orchestral backing. You can find a Splice interview with Musee Mecanique here.

Theodore - "Down in the Valley"

An alt-country band out of St. Louis, MO. Their second album, Defeated, TN, is based on a series of letters they found in an abandoned country home. You can find a Splice Premier of Theodore here.

Danny Aaron - "I Know You Rider"

After stints with a number of Baltimore bands, and recent collaborations with Dan Soloway (Jotto), Aaron will be releasing his debut EP, If You Cry Wolf, next month.

Tommy Tucker - "Sign of the Judgement"

An up-and-coming Baltimore indie pop artist who has become a kind of god in the small Guatemalan town where he's been living the past couple months. His as-yet-untitled debut album will be released later this year.

Noble Lake - "The Wagoner's Lad"

They play some truly apocalyptic and dirgy folk. Fronted by James Sarsgaard, and featuring intrumental and vocal backing by Wye Oak, Noble Lake's first album, Heyday, was released last March on Creative Capitalism.

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