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People's Picks: Magic Tuber Stringband

People's Picks: Magic Tuber Stringband
People's Picks: Magic Tuber Stringband | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

I am certain we will be kicking ourselves in the months to come thinking of songs that we left off of this list. Many of these tracks come from records that we are lucky to have in our record collection and have been the soundtrack for many gatherings and parties over the years, Clifton and Lucinda in particular. We are huge Les Blank fans, and this beautiful version of "Canción Mixteca" opens up my favorite film of his, Chulas Fronteras. I will say this now but know that it applies to all of these tracks: the whole record is absolutely worth seeking out. Another go-to party record for us.

We were obsessed with both volumes of Huayno Music of Peru—which was edited by John Cohen—when we first started playing together as a band. We love this record so much we felt the need to include two cuts from it. The arcanely structured fiddle tunes on Harry Smith's Anthology like "Wake Up Jacob" were also heavily influential for us early on. And we will forever associate the Watson Family's recording of "Your Long Journey" and the Sharon Mountain Harmony recording of "Bright Morning Star" with our friends in Weirs who included both songs on their record Prepare to Meet God. We have been playing a long-form version of Jean Ritchie's "Cherry Tree Carol" with Weirs for a couple of years now. The droney forms of southern Italian zampogna music and miroloi music from Epirus, Greece, have been major touchstones for our past couple of records. The two volumes of Periklis Halkias are highly, highly recommended.

Courtney has been living near the Savannah River Site on the South Carolina-Georgia border for about a year and a half; I moved down last summer. She works on the nuclear site in the Savannah River Ecology Lab, where she surveys wildlife for radiation levels and other toxic elements. When I was still living in North Carolina, I saw Jim Watson & Alice Gerrard perform this song called "The Death of Ellenton" at the now-shuttered Nightlight (it is worth pointing out that the Nightlight alley, then Cat's Cradle, features prominently on the cover of The Red Clay Ramblers with Fiddlin' Al McCanless). Ellenton was the main town displaced by the creation of the Savannah River Site in the early 1950s. The song, originally recorded by the Johnson Family Singers of Charlotte, NC, tells the story of this displacement: "But the military came one day and filled our hearts with woe./'We'll study war right here,' they said, 'The little town must go.'" Folkways records are constantly finding their way into our lives and our music. We hope these songs feel as special to you as they do to us.

—Evan Morgan

Magic Tuber Stringband - Courtney Werner (fiddle), Evan Morgan (guitar, pump organ), and Mike DeVito (bass, banjo) - inhabit the rich, living musical traditions of the Southeastern US not as preservationists, but as fluent speakers shaping the forms with their inventive new ideas. Like traditional music of the region, their music exists in constant communion with the natural world. Their latest album Needlefall (Thrill Jockey) partners powerful new arrangements of traditional songs with transcendent originals, translating abundant ecosystems into arcing melodies and shimmering, mystic drones.
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