[photo by Henry Strauss - courtesy of Music Makes Life Better]
The current incarnation of the veteran band Marah is one of the most remarkable transformations in recent memory. Marah has been an accomplished roots/alt-country band throughout the late 90s and 2000s — they were on Steve Earle’s record label, Bruce Springsteen performed guest vocals on their 2001 album, they played Bonnaroo in 2006, and Jon Wurster once played drums in the band. But their last album was released in 2010, and after some personnel changes founder David Bielanko and only other remaining band member Christine Smith moved from NYC to rural Pennsylvania and began a unique project. Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania is a book published by folklorist Henry Shoemaker early last century that collected vernacular and folk song lyrics from the mountains of Pennsylvania. David and Christine put several of the songs to music and joined with local musicians from Millheim PA to record the songs in an old church with strictly vintage analog equipment. The album that resulted from these session Marah Presents Mountain Minstrelsy is simply a breathtakingly authentic recreation of 19th century American music and perhaps the most unique music we’ve heard all year.
However, the interesting elements of this project go deeper. It ends up that the local musicians recruited to play this music themselves are a remarkable story. Kai Schafft is a Professor at Penn State, a Doctor of Sociology with an expertise in rural cultures, and an expert in the music of Harry Smith — and one heck of a banjo player. Jimmy James Baughman is an accomplished upright bass player and a leader of local Central PA legends The Chicken Tractor Deluxe. Drummer Chris Rattie is a local PA legend who once flirted with mainstream success with a band called the The Rustlanders that recorded an album with legendary producer Don Was in LA. He currently fronts his own band Chris Rattie and The Brush Valley Rumblers. But the most amazing part of this band is Gus Tritsch, who is a ten year old boy. Gus is a prodigy in the truest sense of the word — his fiddle playing is beautiful and profound and his cigar-box guitar playing is crunchy and bluesy. He plays like a man of fifty and as Bielanko has noted, Gus is in the band simply because he was the best fiddle player in town.
Marah played its only scheduled NYC show with the Mountain Minstrelsy band on Saturday last at the Bowery Electric. If there were any doubts that the band could pull off this music in a live setting, those doubts were entirely extinguished during “A Melody of Rain” (streaming below), a standout track on the record that was given new life in a full band electric setting. But that was just the start. The band worked through much of the new album but also sprinkled in a nice selection of classic Marah material. Its was especially impressive to note that the Mountain Minstrelsy band seemed equally comfortable with the band’s older catalog, particularly Gus who added some sweet fiddle runs to songs like “Barstool Boys” (streaming below — listen to Gus’s mid-song solo) and “Walt Whitman Bridge”. And speaking of Gus, one of his contributions to the Minstrelsy album “Rattlesnake” became a twelve-minute wild blues jam and the kid played the cigar box to its pinnacle. This was one of those shows that no one wanted to end, including David who asked several times for “one more song”, and the venue graciously allowed Marah to break curfew — the band performed well beyond their allotted hour slot. David spoke fondly of his time in NYC, his promise to return soon, and he and Christine finished the night with a beautiful duet on “City of Lights”.
We expect that Marah will be back in NYC with the Mountain Minstrelsy band in the near future, perhaps this Fall. And we’d seriously warn any fans of America music to be wise and not miss this show. At NYCTaper we are fortunate to be able to see the band this coming weekend down in Camden NJ at the XPonential Festival.
I recorded this set with the Sennheiser Cards mounted in front of the soundboard booth about 15 feet from the stage and mixed with an excellent board feed mixed by house FOH Owen. There was one song “The Falling of the Pine” that was performed off-mic in the middle of the room and that presented a challenge, but otherwise the sound quality is superb. Enjoy!
Stream “A Melody of Rain”:
Stream “Barstool Boys”:
Download the Complete Show [MP3] / [FLAC]
Note: All of the material on this site is offered with artist permission, free to fans, at our expense. The only thing we ask is that you download the material directly from this site, rather than re-posting the direct links or the files on other sites without our permission. Please respect our request
New York, NY
Digital Master Recording
Soundboard + Audience Matrix
Soundboard + Sennheiser MKH-8040s > Edirol R-44 (Oade Concert Mod) > 2 x 24bit 48kHz wav files > Soundforge (level adjustments, mixdown, set fades) > CDWave 1.95 (tracking) > TLH > flac (320 MP3 and tagging via Foobar)
Recorded and Produced
[Total Time 1:22:34]
02 A Melody of Rain
04 Barstool Boys
05 The Catfisherman
06 The Falling of the Pine
07 [banter - come back]
09 The Old Riverman’s Regret
10 Bright Morning Stars
11 [banter - intermission]
12 Walt Whitman Bridge
13 Ten Cents at the Gate
15 Long Hot Summer
16 Santos de Madera
17 City of Dreams
If you download this recording from NYCTaper, we expect that you will PLEASE SUPPORT Marah, visit their website, and purchase Marah Presents Mountain Minstrelsy from the Merchandise link at their Website [HERE].