Hey, Uncle Dave!

This time our challenge was to cover a song by Uncle Dave Macon, aka “The Dixie Dewdrop”!

Uncle Dave was born David Harrison Macon in 1870 in Smartt Station, TN. He died in 1952 in the city of our Alma mater, Murfreesboro, TN. Read more about him here.

I covered “Rock About My Saro Jane”, an old steamboat song. I used to have a picture of a steamboat on my wall when I lived in Tennessee. The picture came from my great grandparents’ house, and I’m not sure why they had it. I imagine it was simply for decoration. They liked boats!

You can read more about the song history here.

-Alexis

The song I chose was “Chewing Gum,” which has always stuck out to me as an illustrator of what a funny guy Uncle Dave was. I learned this version from “Uncle Dave at Home” a set of recordings made circa 1950 in Kittrell, TN. Here’s to Uncle Dave, the man who “handles a banjo like a monkey handles a peanut”!

-Heather

That’s So Obsolete

The challenge was to write a song using an obsolete word from the English language.

Alexis: I chose to use the word “brabble”, which doesn’t even show up as a word on spell check! I also challenged myself to write the song on banjo, because I haven’t done that for a while. Anyway, it’s a song inspired by being slightly different and opposing opposition. :)

I chose the word “alluvium,” the stuff left behind by moving water. Typhoon Haiyan has been on my mind lately, and although my family in the Philippines is safe, many weren’t so lucky. So, this is a hopeful tune for them!

Should you be interested in the relief effort, here’s one place you can donate: oxf.am/w4G

-Heather

Unlikely Influence

I had difficulty choosing which unlikely influence to showcase for this post. Since most of my unlikely influences require me to buckle down and practice the instrumentation for a few hours, I’m settling on this one for now (we’ll post additional unlikely influence entries in the future). When I was around 13 years old, I bought a Janis Joplin album because a) I liked the cover and b) I liked the Janis Joplin t-shirts I kept seeing in the stores where I bought incense. As it turns out, I really loved the album. I still really love to listen to Janis Joplin. I’m not sure she’s that unlikely an influence on me if you know me now, but back in the day (when I bought the album), Joplin was a far cry from what I’d been singing and playing all my life. Up until I was 13, I devoted my ears to the likes of Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley. As much as I wanted to cover “Summertime” for y’all, I covered my all-time favourite Janis Joplin tune, “Mercedez Benz”. Enjoy!  -Alexis

Something you probably didn’t know about me: Amy Winehouse is one of my favorite singers ever. I think she did such a good job of taking very classic styles of jazz, blues, and pop vocals and making them her own, and making these styles relevant to a modern audience. I love the brassy quality she often gets with her voice, and the first time I ever heard the term “contralto,” it was in regards to Amy. So, here’s my unlikely influence, paired with my fingerpicking guitar journey– you can listen for the kazoo solo if nothing else!

Libba Love

When Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten returned a lost, young girl to her home in Washington, DC, a few opportunities rose for her. Libba worked at a department store. The young girl’s parents offered Libba a job in their home, and Libba accepted the position.

At a young age, Libba taught herself how to play her brother’s guitar and banjo while living at home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (despite being disallowed to do so). She played the instruments upside-down because she’s a lefty. As you might guess, this developed into a unique picking style! She played often and she wrote her own tunes, instrumentals and some with lyrics.

One day at her new workplace, Libba decided to take a few minutes to play the family guitar. The family’s daughter heard her playing and she was mesmerized. So, she told her parents. Not long after, Elizabeth Cotten was recording her songs and making albums, playing shows — including a show for the President Of The United States. In 1958 her first album was released. You can purchase it nowadays under the title “Freight Train And Other North Carolina Folk Songs”.

How did this young woman from Chapel Hill become so renowned — and so quickly? As it turned out, the lost little girl she had returned home that day was Peggy Seeger, daughter of Pete Seeger. We can elaborate on Pete Seeger’s accomplishments on another day. Today we’ll celebrate this specific contribution he’s made to the music world, he helped make public the songs and sounds of miss Elizabeth Cotten!

Now this is a heart-warming story about serendipity, about Libba’s love for music blossoming into a meaningful career — not through fame-seeking but quite accidentally, because she was that talented and she couldn’t keep from playing guitar. It wasn’t so much dedication as it was addiction, passion for playing music.

We know well that when music’s in you, it cannot be expelled! Who would want to do that anyway, right?

Here are our humble covers of two tunes by miss Cotten.

HEATHER

For me, Elizabeth Cotten represents someone who learned her instrument on her own, because it was something she was passionate about. Things weren’t always played note for note, exactly the same way every time. She (along with Mississippi John Hurt, more on him later!) are folks that made playing guitar seem accessible to me, because they didn’t play to be the flashiest pickers– they played because they loved it. This is not to say they weren’t incredible players! I just think the love for the instrument came first, and that’s what turned them into incredible players. Thus, my common woman’s version of Freight Train– played a little out of my comfort zone on guitar, because this lady gave me the courage to try it out.

ALEXIS

I chose to cover “Oh, Babe It Ain’t No Lie” because I watched a video of Elizabeth telling the story behind the song and it made me laugh. Also, I can relate. I remember having that feeling as a child, being betrayed by an adult who ‘told on me’! 

 

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It’s Space Country Time!

ttwins

It was August 2010 when we road-tripped to Wheeling, West Virginia to perform on the Wheeling Jamboree. By the time we were on our way home from our ‘mini tour’ (small shows in Tennessee and Pennsylvania), we were at that point of exhaustion where strange things start happening, and the dumbest things begin to seem extra-silly. By the time we entered East Tennessee, you might say all three of us were delirious (three ,because we kidnapped Heather’s boyfriend, Dan, and made him come along with us). That’s when the idea for the Twilight Twins came about.

We thought we were going to start an alter ego space country band called Twilight Twins and write country-bluegrass songs about all of the Twilight Zone episodes. That didn’t happen. However, at Halloween, we concocted a costume for our one-night stint as the Twilight Twins and we had written some space country songs to boot. It’s too bad we don’t have a recording of our rendition of Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein”. However, we decided to record our version of “Knoxville Girl”, which is logical considering our Twilight Twins idea sprouted right around the time we were travelling through Knoxville.

Fast forward to Halloween 2012, Alexis is in Nova Scotia and Heather’s in Tennessee. The only possible way for us to record music was to do it track-by-track, by sending sound files over the internet and then mixing together the individually-recorded tracks in the final production. We invited our buddy Sam Jaco (of Don Coyote)to sing on the duet that Heather wrote (Is It Me?), and Heather did some funky space mixing to achieve this wacky Halloween treat for our fans. It was a technical and convoluted way to record music — but what better way to record our Twilight Twins material?!

Here is our Twilight Twins 2012 Halloween Sampler. Hope y’all enjoy it!

Farewell To Nova Scotia!

Heather flew all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to spend a week with Alexis. It was difficult to squeeze in time for everything: freezing cold trips to the ocean, poutine lunches, and music-making. However, we were able to sit down for about an hour with Halifax native,  Jennifer Arab, and we worked out some harmonies for this traditional Maritime folk tune. It was a little shaky at first, but we catch on!