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Friday, December 10, 2010


carl jones

erynn marshall

erynn marshall and carl jones

Another night of driving to Woodlawn in the dark between 5:30 and 6:30, I got lost the second time. Drove by the Coulson Church Road turn and places I don't recall seeing were turning up, like the heavy equipment place that tells me I've gone too far. Turn around and head back. I'd gone a long ways past the turn off. It was equally difficult on the way back. Harmon's big clothing store is there on the corner, but no lights on the big letters of the name, not a landmark after dark. The post office is on the corner, but with lights out it's a black box like everything else along the side of the road. I'm so overwhelmed by headlights and taillights and the blackness of night, I can't see road signs or anything along the side of the road not lit up. Next time I'll measure the distance by odometer from the light at Walmart, go 4.9 miles and turn left.

I used to like night driving, but now find it disorienting. Nothing like going through a long curve at 60mph in the dark with a pickup beside me on the left that won't go ahead or drop back, but stayed beside me all the way through the curve. I focus more closely on driving than ever in the past. On the way home, maybe half way between Galax and Independence, a road angles very slightly off to the right, while the road I'm on curves slightly to the left. It's always a question of what to do there. A sign stands between them that says Keep Right. The sign refers to the road I'm on about to change from 4lane to 2lane, but standing where it is when I'm making an instant decision which one to take, that sign throws me every time, makes me think I made the wrong decision for just a split second, a demi-second of anxiety. Then I get it and go on.
I'd never heard Erryn Marshall before tonight. A few years ago I saw Carl at Merle Fest in the old-time tent with Beverly Thomas. I came away with high respect for both of them as musicians. Erynn Marshall is associated with the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Parkway. She's Canadian and studied Appalachian fiddle with West Virginia old-timers. She learned much from different ones along the way and has incorporated what she learned into her own sound with a fiddle. Like an Appalachian fiddler, she interprets the tunes she plays in her own style. Like an urban fiddler, her upper body flows with the sound in the music bringing to mind classical violinist Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, who broke the tradition of solo violinist standing still. Mountain fiddlers tend to stand still or sit still while they play, but that is changing. Seldom does a fiddler stand or sit still any more. Old-time has changed all the way along its two and a half centuries. It is changing in the time we're in like it has all the way along, the music changing as the culture changes. The important part, besides that she's beautiful while she's playing, she can make a fiddle do what it's meant to do. She dives into it while she plays and flows with the sound.
The people in the audience were well entertained tonight. Carl Jones is an entertaining performer. His sense of humor is accessibly off the wall. He likes odd word associations, playing with meanings and the sounds. He writes a good many songs, good songs. They are songs with something to say he believes worth saying, that at first bring John Prine to mind, and just as quickly Prine is forgotten. The only resemblance is the words are worth listening to. In fact, I prefer Jones's songs to Prines. He sang a song of his own called Snowflake, I think. Beautiful, simple, lovely song that makes a poignant point and the next line turns it into humor and back to falling snowflakes. He's asking the snowflakes to come down from the sky, 'our world has gone awry,' and paint the town. The songs he identified as his own had something powerful to say dressed in poetic light-hearted humor.
Carl has his own style of portraying a song that is mentally outside the ordinary, his feet standing firmly in the tradition. His talk between songs seldom tells a story, start to finish, but makes brief observations, humorous twists of word sounds and meanings. He plays his songs with artistry on all the instruments he plays, and sings his songs of contemporary ways of thinking. It's like the title of Benton Flippen's Rounder album, Old Time / New Time. Carl's old-time brings old-time up to date, makes it present in the same way Barbara Allen was present it its time. Carl Jones has an interesting mind that appears to go faster than he can keep up with using words. It is no stretch at all to say Carl Jones is a master musician.

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