Soundtrack for Autumn: American Landscapes

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Sep 19, 2016 / 0 comments

The landscape of the United States is as varied as a patchwork quilt. Just like that patch work there are common connections, threads and lines and colors that pull through. The same is true of the work of musicians inspired by living and working in these varied American landscapes, too.

 American Landscapes

For this journey, come along with a trio of three men from southern Utah, two very different artists grounded in Texas, a Nashville based country star who took her music in the direction of a different tradition, and a Grammy winning violinist who has played and composed in genres from rock to country to classical and makes a return to his roots in bluegrass. Wherever you might be traveling the autumn, the work of these musicians will make a fine soundtrack as your journey unfolds.

A man who plays banjo and is a cowboy music scholar, a bassist with a background in Caribbean music, and a classically trained violinist meet up when they all live in rural Utah and the result is: American desert music. That's what Hal Cannon, Greg Istock, and Eli Wrankle call the music they create as 3hatttrio. Solitaire is the trio's third album. Their original music holds more of the flavor of the haunting wild windswept landscapes of the western desert lands than it does of roping and riding often connected with music of those landscapes. A bit ethereal, definitely western, and often unexpected, whether they are playing original works, covering Bob Marley, or closing things out with the traditional cowboy song Bury Me Not. Listen out for that one, and also for Texas Time Traveler and Mojave

Speaking of Texas: Terri Hendrix is a native Texan and a lifelong resident of the state. Though she doesn't often reference that geography directly in her music, she's well steeped in the state's independent way of taking on and creating musical traditions. She's run her own label since before that was a common, or cool, thing to do, and she's created a non profit arts center OYOU (an acronym for Own Your Own Universe). For her album Slaughterhouse Sessions, Hendrix draws mainly on the folk blues/ gospel range of tradition, creating original songs that speak of faith and struggle and triumph hewed from day to day life and served up in a voice and with a musical style that perfectly suits the silk meets burlap edge to the songs. Most songs are collaborations with long time musical cohort Lloyd Maines, with a few well chosen covers added in. Henrdrix's distinctive voice and the pulsing rhythm she and Maines create run through all the music. Listen out for Troubles on Your Mind, One of These Mornings, and a fine take on A.P. Carter's Sun of the Soul. Listen out for more from Hendrix, too: this is the second part of a five part project Hendrix is creating.

Jack Ingram began his music career while studying psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Independent releases, putting in the miles and the time playing bars, honky tonks, and eventually stadium gigs across his home state led to a Nashville record contract and top charting country albums. That's a career Ingram still takes part in, but he had a yearning to do something off that path. The result is his album Midnight Motel."Every night after my kids went to bed, I'd go into my music room and stay in there until about three or four, just working out the songs like I did at the beginning of my career," Ingram says. "Or while on the road, I'd sit up late at night writing in motel rooms. I wanted to bring people into that space with me." 

The vibe on Midnight Motel comes across that way. Ingram chose to record the album with all the musicians sitting around together in one room, and he invited top guitarist and songwriter (and fellow Texan) Jon Randall along to produce. The result translates that late night vibe well, with stories and songs that roll along into each other, tales which include high life and low points, love songs and drinking songs, and as Ingram points out, songs that deal with "not letting go of the important relationships, even if they're not working. These songs are all about loving, troubled long-term relationships, whether it's with the music business or my wife or my family." Listen out for Nothing to Fix and All Over Again (and note, though in general the tone and words of the album are not explicit, there are a few words you may not want children to hear in several of the songs).

Hillary Scott has also found success in mainstream country, as one third of the top charting, Grammy winning group Lady Antebellum. She, too, felt called to create an album that'd see her go in a different direction, a place she was led to by her faith. Scott also felt called to ask her family to join in -- the album, Love Remains, is presented as being by Hillary Scott and the Scott Family. Hillary's dad, Lang Scott, has long worked in the music business, as has her mother, Linda Davis, who has recorded several solo albums and who won a Grammy for her duet with Reba McEntire a few years back. As her contribution to this album shows, Hillary's younger sister Rylee shares in the family's musical talents too. 

It's an interesting mix of songs the four offer, both originals and well known songs of faith and belief. As you might suspect, they know what they're about when trading lead and harmony, singing and supporting each other when shifting from one role to another. Top bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs was in the producer's chair for the project. Clarity of voice and instrument, warmth of love and family, and respect and connection drawn from faith come through. Take a listen for Still, the title track Love Remains, Sheltered in the Arms of God, and the bluegrass gospel fun all the musicians have with Ain't No Grave.

Mark O'Connor has played and composed music in country, southern rock, swing, jazz, Americana, folk, and classical styles and done all of that well enough to win just about every award you could think of. Along the way, he's become a respected teacher of the violin and an advocate for music education, too. 

All of this had its start in his early days, when he played bluegrass. It's natural, then, that his return to bluegrass and country should be with an album called Coming Home. Lately he has been working with his wife Maggie, his son Forrest, and Forrest's partner Katie Lee as The O'Connor Band. Coming Home is indeed a band project, capturing as it does the vibrant way these four, each from differing backgrounds, support and challenge each other to lift their creativity higher. Forrest and Katie both sing lead vocals and have written many of the songs. Mark and Maggie are both world class violinists, bringing the precision of their classical experiences into play in the fire of their bluegrass playing.  Every piece is a keeper, each is varied one from the other, and it's a journey well paced and planned out by the artists. To get a flavor of what you'll find, take a listen to the songs Coming Home, and Always Do, and the instrumentals Fiddler Coming Home, and Jerusalem Ridge.


Kerry Dexter is music editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach her at music at wandering educators dot com.

You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Symphony, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, and other places on line and in print, as well as at her own site Music Road.



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