Jim Kweskin & Geoff Muldaur
The Penny's Farm Tour
CD Release Date: September 23, 2016
I'm excited to announce our upcoming tour dates for Penny's Farm, listed at the right. Read on below, and I look forward to seeing you on tour!
~ About Penny's Farm ~
Ed Ward, senior rock critic for NPR, once listed the most important bands of the early 1960s as the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful recalls that his band, like the Grateful Dead and “a host of others,” started out imitating the Jug Band. Bob Dylan co-billed with Jim in Greenwich Village. They had Janis Joplin as their opening act.
But let’s forget all of that and pay attention to the music, because Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur, the two key figures in that band, were not out to be rock stars, and they haven’t teamed up fifty years later to relive past glories. They were exciting in the 1960s because they had a gift for combining a loose, good-time feel with an astonishingly high standard of musicianship, making old songs feel quirky, hip, and new. And their new album is exciting because they still have that magic.
As the album begins, we hear a man’s unaccompanied voice, dry as a windswept prairie, singing a simple tune about not working in the country, not working on a farm, just waiting for his girl to take him in her arms. A raw, bluesy fiddle takes up the tune, and is joined by the guitars and a second voice in high, lonesome harmony. It’s all simple and direct, nothing fancy, but every note feels perfect and inevitable, like it was there before the recording machine captured it. And yet, it’s not like anything you’ve heard before.
“What made the Jug Band fun is that we love to play music together, but our approaches are so different,” Jim says, laughing. “When I put a band or a record together, I find a bunch of musicians I like, and we’ll work up some tunes, and then we just let ’er rip. That’s not Geoff’s style. He’s an arranger. That’s his nature, it’s what he loves to do.”
“When Jim and I get together, it just comes out special,” Geoff says. “I hear these little things that I can add, that take it to another level. And it isn’t a one-way street—on this album there were things I had done before, that Jim added his own magic touch to. It’s just something we’ve always had, and it’s different and has a certain type of soul that you don’t get elsewhere.
The most surprising thing about Penny’s Farm is the choice of songs. The Jug Band played blues and ragtime, goodtime jazz and novelties, and in recent years Kweskin has devoted much of his time to the classic pop of the swing era, while Muldaur turned his attention to arranging, including an album of chamber arrangements of Bix Beiderbeck. But rather than extending the Jug Band sound or combining their talents for a jazz album, they reach back to the roots of American music -- field recordings from the Library of Congress and the rural artists reissued in the 1950s on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.
These are songs they have been living with since their earliest days in tiny coffeehouses and late-night picking parties, and when they got together after a forty-year hiatus, they went back to the bedrock. “We recreated the way we used to do it back in Cambridge,” Geoff says. “Not the arrangements we used to do, but the process.”
It was a process informed not only by records, but by playing alongside old masters like Mississippi John Hurt, Sippie Wallace, Maybelle Carter, and Clayton McMichen, artists who grew up in times and places where this music was an integral part of their communities.
“That was something we both felt strongly about,” Jim says. “In the last thirty years, the definition of folk music has changed and become a popular thing about singer-songwriters – which is fine, but for me the first thing about folk music is that it comes from a tradition."
That is the marvel of this album, because the tradition is not a museum: it is a vibrant process in which quirky, talented players rub up against each other to create music that is alive and unique. For these sessions Jim and Geoff teamed up with two of the finest instrumentalists in contemporary Americana: Suzy Thompson, a Bay Area fiddler with roots in Cajun dance bands and the Mississippi Sheiks, and Cindy Cashdollar, a steel guitarist whose credits range from Asleep at the Wheel to session work with Dylan and Van Morrison.
“I wanted that,” Geoff says, “because Jimmy and my stuff is well thought out and has its own sound, but they added that extra unknown element.”
The album captures that energy: it was cut live in the studio, with the musicians playing each tune a few times to get a sense of where they were going, then taking off. “For me, a band is great when it sounds tight, and loose,” Jim says. “Like the arrangements are there, but you don’t even notice them.”
That’s the way this record feels: easy and relaxed, and fun, but with a lot of living behind it. It’s new music from artists who’ve traveled a long way since the 1960s, but never lost touch with their passion or their links to the deepest sources of American music.
“We are the elders now, whether we want to be or not,” Jim says. “And we like a lot of different styles, and play a lot of different things, but we feel like we have a duty to introduce younger people to this music, to keep the tradition alive.”