[Our friends Martin and Brian have asked me to drop the old phonograph needle on some of their tunes, perhaps some lesser known, and report back to everyone.]
There’s hardly a genre in modern U.S. music any wider or more inclusive than Americana. McCormack and Brian FitzGerald have a stake under that big tent.
We listeners come to this music looking to hear familiar sounds: strummed guitars, harmonizing and beats we’ve known forever. We also come to hear earthy details, placenames and histories that resonate in our lives.
Switchback treats us time and again to these cultural snapshots, these short stories that long linger in the telling of our time. On their 2002 The Fire that Burns (re-released on their recent Twentieth Anniversary Collection) we get several. One is “The Farmer Leaves the Dell,” a sad update on a song many of us sang as children. This time there’s no Hi-ho, the derry-o; now it’s failed crops and poor credit, our farmer “hoodwinked in a desperate sell.”
Brian’s clear voice tells this farm-crisis tale. His story rings all the truer and rings all the closer to our hearts because it rides on American musical history, the very essence of Americana. Still, for all the misfortune, Brian’s vocal spins a tale not with all hope lost for all time.
Martin joins in on the chorus. Here their harmonized voices make the farmer’s plight into something more universal, surely a trait of this genre as well as others. They sing: “When you don’t know which way to go / It’s a lonely road.” And what would Americana be without its much-used image of the road?
My own September is wonderfully full of this kind of music, first Jason Isbell leaning toward the country side and then the Avett Brothers’ grungy bluegrass. Next month it’s Switchback taking a local stage. I can’t wait to revel in more well-told stories, sound-paintings to help us see ourselves and frame the fascinating world around us.
is an itinerant washboard player who has freelanced for the New York Times, Washington Post and many lesser media. His most honest work was as a pig farmer in central Illinois, where he now lives and occasionally makes dinner for Switchback.)
American Roots & Celtic Soul