Joybird, Carson McHone, Big Sadie - The Hideout1354 W. Wabansia Ave Chicago,IL
11/09/2018 9:00 PM - 11/09/2018 11:00 PM
JOYBIRD is the musical project of Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist, Jess McIntosh. She has held many titles: fiddler, educator, songwriter, performer and tour mate, visual artist, continual student. With her debut album, Long Time Exhaling, she has also proven herself an accomplished storyteller.
The album, released in 2017, deals with the particular griefs of moving to another city, the end of a relationship, and the arduous process of rebuilding that both entail. While to fear change is only human, Jess’s music embraces the impermanence in life as something that leads to bigger knowledge, deeper growth. Rooted in the fiddle and banjo sounds of Appalachia, her stories speak of unfolding personal and communal strength, told in spare poetry like that of Lucinda Williams or Anais Mitchell. “Oak is a king, the acorn a man, but so many kings and never a plan when the wilt took rampant hold” (“Catalpa”).
Based in Chicago, Jess tours internationally with Al Scorch (Bloodshot Records), has shared the stage with notable artists Steve Earle, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, Gil Landry (Old Crow Medicine Show), co-founded local country outfit, Big Sadie, and frequently collaborates with members of Chicago’s Old Lazarus' Harp Folk Collective. Her original music has been featured in silent film series, How Do We Sing?, and Great Smoky Mountain Nat’l Park documentary, Horace Kephart: His Life and Legacy. She was composer/co-lyricist for the play The Revel, which debuted with the House Theater Company of Chicago in 2015, and returns yearly as ensemble violinist for The House’s annual production, The Nutcracker. She’s a teaching artist at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, and staff artist at Augusta Heritage Center’s American Vernacular Dance Week (West Virginia), Miles of Music Camp (New Hampshire and Boston), and Suzuki enrichment clinician in the Midwest.
Despite a range of stages and spaces Jess has traversed, the music of Long Time Exhaling bares the intimacy of a letter to a friend, noting each day’s particulars—the way a knife cuts through butter, the absence of a beloved’s jacket. At times playful, at times immersed in longing, the album is fiercely hopeful and deeply communal. “If all the world is a motherless child, we will fill up every glass,” Jess sings in the album’s title track. “We will sing to all our fears as the years go on to pass and we’ll wake up taller than the questions we have asked.”
For someone who has spent more than ten years collaborating with and supporting other artists, it’s not surprising that this debut album inspired new connections. The project started out as just a song or two recorded in the studio of free jazz percussionist, Bill Harris (Four Letter Words, Bowlcut), who also provided percussion. Then it was one more song, and then another, until a full album was on the horizon. The need for a bass brought in Aaron Smith (The Wandering Boys, Sunnyside Up, Growler), and the three found a groove. The result was Long Time Exhaling, a mix of alt-folk, original old-time-inspired instrumentals, and modern balladry released under Jess McIntosh.
In the spirit of change, the evolving collaboration has since taken on the name Joybird, a name for music that dreams and heightens and travels, music that lands with gentle force to disrupt the day, to make you pause and reflect.
“The greatest things that come from music are connection, gratitude and grounding—maybe some pot-stirring or feather-ruffling, too,” says Jess. “I hope our music takes people there.”
Years before Rolling Stone was praising Carson McHone's rule-breaking roots music, the Austin, Texas native played weeknights in local bars like The White Horse, keeping dancers dancing and drinkers drinking. With her 21st birthday still in the distance, McHone entertained late-night crowds bearing witness to the good times and bad decisions that fill a busy bar. It was a rare, raw education. She pumped her music full of details from an early adulthood spent in the company of the heartbroken and high-toleranced. In 2015, McHone released Goodluck Man which earned her a cover story in The Austin Chronicle as well as the support of local icons like Ray Wylie Hubbard, who said she "writes songs like her life depends on it." Then she hit the road, touring the U.S. (and beyond) with acts like Shakey Graves, Gary Clark, Jr., and Joe Pug. Her writing style widened and her music evolved.
“There was a time when I wanted to champion traditional country,” says McHone, “mostly because I wasn’t hearing it in what was being called ‘country’. I think a lot of roots influenced artists feel the need to defend tradition in this way. Today though, I want to do more with the form, push myself past where I understand it to be.”
Dark, driving and evocative, 2018's Carousel captures this period of remarkable growth, shining a light not only on McHone's honky-tonk roots, but on her development as a modern, alt-country storyteller. It features newly written songs and updated versions of tracks that first appeared on Goodluck Man, pushing traditional sounds and themes into a modern context.
Playing an instrumental role in the process was Mike McCarthy, the now Nashville based, award-winning producer behind albums for Spoon, Patty Griffin, and Heartless Bastards. McCarthy is well versed in country music but his work is definitely not defined by the genre, which made him the perfect candidate for McHone’s new record.
Carousel is a latter-day record inspired by diverse sources like Dylan, the Velvet Underground, and American novelist Thomas Wolfe, unconcerned with flying the flag of old-school country. It wears its eclecticism proudly, with McHone singing each song in a voice that is worldly-wise and woozily gorgeous.
Carousel kicks off with "Sad," a song about the fraught relationship one develops with darkness, but it’s a fast-moving, high-energy song driven forward by fiddle, electric guitar, and pedal steel. This track sets the stage for an album that tackles edgy subjects without losing its bright melodies. McHone creates her own rule book switching between tempos on "Lucky", offsetting the acoustic guitar of "Spider Song" with the medieval swell of a harmonium, and fills the piano ballad, "How 'Bout It," with a mix of torch-song twang and late-night, jazz-club melancholia. Originally recorded back in 2015 as a deep-cutting, slow-moving waltz, “Gentle” reappears on Carousel as an anthemic tribute to a love gone cold, with McHone exploring the tension between what we know and what we feel, then honoring a relationship’s fleeting existence rather than despairing it’s demise.
The lyrics are confessional and intensely autobiographical. On “Dram Shop Gal” - one of several Goodluck Man tracks to receive a modern makeover – McHone takes a hard look at the ways in which her worldview has been shaped (for better and for worse) by her many hours in a barroom.
“I was a kid when I landed those residencies,” she says of her days at The Hole in The Wall, where she began playing Friday happy hour as a 16-year-old, and The White Horse, where she eventually took over the coveted Thursday night residency. “I wasn’t even old enough to be in those bars and they became a home to me. It’s a dark thing when a bar becomes your home.”
McHone explains that Carousel embraces where she's come from and establishes where her musical interests are leading. “The art I’m making would be lacking if I were to stick to a specific genre. Carousel is more modern, which is where my interests lie these days, and where my writing is taking me. At the end of the day, it has to be the song that dictates.”
Growing up, McHone rode her horse bareback along the side streets of south Austin, weaving through traffic and empty parking lots to find space to "open up". For any motorist driving past, she must've been a wonderfully unusual sight to behold: a messy-haired young woman riding down the street, bridging the country and the city, the past and the present, the Wild West and modern Austin.
McHone’s 2018 release builds a similar bridge. Purposeful, pointed, and poignant, Carousel is a compelling ride.
Big Sadie is a Chicago-based acoustic band fronted by Elise Bergman (upright bass, vocals) and Collin Moore (guitar, vocals). Defined by rich, intricate harmonies and rustic yet sophisticated instrumental arrangements, Big Sadie takes a modern yet timeless approach to American roots music.
Bergman and Moore have been playing music together for over a decade. Through the years, the duo has amassed an extensive repertoire of bluegrass, old-time, early country, and blues. They introduce their first collection of original compositions with their debut album, Keep Me Waiting—recorded by Alex Hall, out May 19, 2017 on Spindle Tree Records.
Joining Bergman and Moore on the album are Big Sadie members Andy Malloy (banjo, vocals) and Matt Brown (fiddle, vocals). Long-time Big Sadie friend and collaborator, Jess McIntosh, sings harmony vocals on the title track.
After several appearances with the band, Malloy and Brown officially joined Big Sadie in mid-2016. With the addition of Malloy’s energetic and inventive banjo playing and Brown’s masterful fiddling, Big Sadie is quickly gaining recognition for their compelling songwriting, skillful playing, and dynamic live performance.