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Among The Oak & Ash

4.1 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Artist

1. Hiram Hubbard

Hiram Hubbard recounts the brutal story of a sheriff and his rogue posse carrying out their version of justice; arresting then executing an innocent man without so much as a warrant. It's a very real possibility this song is based on a true story. This ballad reflects in many ways the condition and the inequity that existed for those living in the mountainous regions of the American south thought too poor and isolated to matter, people who could simply disappear without any one remembering them. But Hiram Hubbard will be remembered and for evermore he will be exonerated!

2. Peggy-O

This song has been covered many times over the years by various artists and for good reason -- it's a beautiful song. We approached this song as if we had found a shoebox full of letters hidden in a seldom-used closet by someone who couldn't bear to throw them out. Perhaps they are the only relics left, evidence of a war rarely mentioned, of a communiqué that would satisfy neither correspondent, or the aftermath of two people kept apart by circumstance. As for our account of this Captain's doomed love for a girl from Fanario, we tried to tell it like we remember it.

3. Angel Gabriel

The canon of American music is defined largely by its journey through the ages and how the generations who carry it with them ultimately shape it. With that said, nothing added to the uniqueness of Appalachian music more than the influence of the African-American experience. The banjo itself derived and evolved from the akonting, an ancient African instrument. Field hollers or work songs, spirituals, blues and gospel all play a monumental role in the amalgamation of this music and Angel Gabriel is a beautiful example of this confluence.

4. Shady Grove

A very popular traditional song, Shady Grove is probably based on a much older song from the 16th Century called Mattie Groves. To our ears it represents a quintessential style that is very much entwined in Old Time music; a lyric that playfully recalls the joys and euphoria of first love while its melody foretells its futility. Although it has been recorded many times, because of its place in the folk canon we chose to cover it too.

5. The Water Is Wide

Love, like the human condition, has been pondered throughout our history. And unlike mortality with its inevitable outcome, love has so many variations. The Water Is Wide may have started out all those hundreds of years ago as a quiet proclamation of new love's magnificent hold, but as it was ferried through time, verses gradually became more prudent and love itself, more distant.

6. The Housewife's Lament

This tune is likely Irish and/or Scottish and came to these shores along with so many other wonderful songs which were carried here by the hard-working immigrants who originally settled in the foothills and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. Our version is only the essence of the story - the grit, the grime, the chore of everyday life lived on the margins. With so many struggles it is easy to understand why there are well over a dozen stanzas to this song.

7. Pretty Saro

A song might visit you one evening while you're doing something mundane like the dishes and you're completely surprised because you know every verse even though it's been years since you've heard it. For us that sums up how Pretty Saro came to be on the record - always returning. Perhaps songs like these are never learned, they are just remembered.

8. All The Pretty Little Horses

As the legend goes, All The Pretty Little Horses was supposedly written by an African slave forced to work as a nursemaid. She was unable to care for her own child and had to let her die in order to follow her Master's demands. This song became a popular children's lullaby most likely at the end of the 18th Century. The lyrics to this uniquely American tune are immortalized in a modest monument that stands next to the carousal in New York's Central Park.

9. Come All You Young & Tender Ladies

Here is a perfect example of an exhortation from a wiser woman to a wide-eyed one: "Don't trust the morality and virtues of men," she says. She's right, she always is. There are thousands of these cautionary tales! "Come gather round me... and I will tell you how it is." These warnings cover everything from dancing too close to cocaine addiction. Soundness set to music, offering sage advice that young listeners are simply unable to hear but are usually happy to sing along to.

10. Joseph Hillstrom 1879-1915  PLEASE NOTE AN UMLAUT MUST BE ADDED ABOVE THE `O' IN HILLSTROM

First off, yes, this is a real person. In 1900 or so, he immigrated to the United States from Sweden. Upon his arrival his name would be shortened from Joseph Hillstrom to Joe Hill. He was a day laborer and a songwriter who eventually went on to work for the IWW to organize unions. His most famous songs may be Hallelujah, I'm A Bum! and Pie In The Sky When You Die. His style of taking melodies already in existence and changing the lyrics to fit his particular need would eventually be adopted by Woody Guthrie and later still by Bob Dylan. This approach itself is now very much a part of the folk convention.

11. Look Down That Lonesome Road

John Lomax, one of the most important and according to some, one of the most controversial characters in the development of this musical genre, probably recorded this lament of unrequited love sometime in the early 1900's. Mr. Lomax along with his son Alan, Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Leadbelly), The Carter Family, The Ritchie Family, Harry Smith, The Seeger Family, The Watsons, and so many others took it upon themselves to make and/or preserve countless recordings of this music. We can't remember what recording we heard this sad, pretty song on, but when we did hear it we both agreed it would be a perfect tune for two friends to sing.

12. High, Low & Wide

High, Low & Wide was inspired by grief - the absence of someone whose loss compels us to reflect on our own lives. Like the Wayfaring Stranger who will someday meet his mother, there is a journey we all must go through to get there. It is said that each year we are inscribed in the book of life and as such we are required to acknowledge our own transgressions before it is sealed. Simply put, in the words of another great old spiritual: "Ain't nobody here who can do it for you, you've got to cross that lonesome valley by yourself."

About the Artist

On Among The Oak & Ash, Pennsylvania-born New Yorker Josh Joplin and the Mississippi-bred, Nashville-based Garrison Starr lend their distinctive voices to a dozen traditional folk songs drawn from rural Appalachian and Anglo-American musical idioms. Although much of the material is centuries old, the songs' eloquently simple melodies, and their universal themes of love, loss, longing, cruelty and death, give them a timeless resonance into which Joplin and Starr tap effortlessly. With the duo's evocative harmonies complemented by spare, stripped-down arrangements, Among The Oak & Ash is a powerful testament to Joplin and Starr's interpretive abilities, and to the ageless appeal of these ancient tunes. "These songs are about the human condition, and that's something that doesn't change," Joplin asserts. Indeed, the album's 12 songs span a broad range of human experience, encompassing themes of injustice ("Hiram Hubbard"), longing ("The Water Is Wide"), doomed romance ("Pretty Peggy-O"), spirituality ("Angel Gabriel") and death ("All the Pretty Little Horses"). "A lot of people think of folk music as something that's sweet and gentle, but so many of these songs are raunchy and brutal," Joplin notes. "They cover everything from God to the devil, from unrequited love to murder." The seeds of Among The Oak & Ash--the name is borrowed from the title of an old folk song--were planted during Joplin's teen years. It was then, as an itinerant high-school dropout, that he was introduced to Appalachian musical traditions via the repertoire of the unsung Indiana combo Hurricane Sadee, whose performances of folk and bluegrass standards opened Joplin's eyes to a new world of lyrical depth and musical expression. A well-worn Hurricane Sadee cassette became a touchstone for Joplin, and it was from the group that he first learned several of the songs that appear on Among The Oak & Ash. Hurricane Sadee leader Cari Norris is guest banjoist on the album's version of "Shady Grove." As he built his own musical career, Joplin discovered a close friend and kindred musical spirit in fellow singer-songwriter Garrison Starr. Starr, like Joplin, had signed to a major label while still in her teens, and had spent much of her adult life performing her compositions for audiences around the world. So when Joplin began to consider making an album of the folk songs that had influenced him so profoundly, it was natural that he would call upon Starr to collaborate on the project. Although she had little background in traditional folk, Starr soon embraced the challenge. "Josh came to Nashville, played me songs and talked about his concept," she recalls. "When I saw how passionate he was about it and we actually sat down and started playing together, I just fell in love with the songs, and fell in love with playing music with Josh. I ended up getting excited about the project because of Josh's passion for the music." Joplin and Starr then called upon a pair of highly regarded Nashville-based players, bassist Brian Harrison (Shelby Lynne) and drummer Bryan Owings (Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin), to complete the project's instrumental lineup. Recording in the relaxed atmosphere of Harrison's Nashville home studio, the four musicians approached the sessions with a sense of organic intimacy that's reflected in the album's heartfelt performances.

Working without the funding of a record label, and without any outside influences, they were able to focus entirely on the music. "It was probably the first time I've ever been in the studio where I wasn't worried about anything," Joplin states. "It was a very relaxed atmosphere, and there was never a sense of being on the clock." "It was a great creative environment," adds Starr. "We recorded everything in six days. We did most of the record live, without many overdubs and not much production. We just went in there and played the songs, and the whole thing felt completely natural and honest." Unlike many recent projects that have explored folk and bluegrass material, Joplin and Starr had no interest in creating a self-consciously old-timey sound. "I think that this music has been held onto rather preciously by a lot of the people who've revived it," Joplin observes. "But if you look back on the people who originally created this music, they weren't purists, they were just expressing themselves with the tools that were available to them at the time. That's what we wanted to do: to be faithful to the songs without treating them like museum pieces. One of the things that made me want to work with Garrison was her urgency and irreverence, and I think that those qualities played a big part in how the performances turned out." With Joplin and Starr's vibrant musical rapport still evolving, and with a virtually bottomless wellspring of songs from which to draw, Among The Oak & Ash represents a formidable new outlet for both artists. "We're definitely looking at this as something that has a future to it," says Starr. "We're still just starting out, but this has been a lot fun, and it's something that we'd like to keep doing as long as we're having as a good a time as we're having now," adds Joplin. "We definitely won't run out of material."

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (June 16, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Verve Forecast
  • ASIN: B0025X4OWA
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,104 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A good album overall. Would recommend to fans who like their folk music with a little bit of edge. With the exception of "Pretty Peggy-o" , which I've never cared for and their version of "All You Young and Tender Ladies"-which while I applaud them on their attempt to reinvent the song-I felt the song-which is a warning to young women to be careful of the young men they choose to court, lest they end up like the poor singer, jilted and brokenhearted-lacked emotion. Whereas their renditions of "Shady Grove" and "Pretty Saro" were very well done.
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Beautiful, haunting and well executed. Garrison Starr is truly a treasure as a solo artist and is equally wonderful here with Josh Joplin. They handled the traditional material with respect and admiration while making their own mark on each song and created original new classics of their own. Rock on.
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By Ty9000 on December 22, 2012
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This album needs more consideration! This band is pretty good for such a short run. The songs on it are covers of folk songs and sound great! The voices are beautiful and the music goes great with the lyrics!
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Format: Audio CD Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is simply an incredible, amazing piece of art. From the very first song, when the floor toms and bass drums start up their tattoo beat, the autoharp gives us a strum, and the electric guitar hums some melodic drones, and those VOICES, those breathtaking HUMAN INSTRUMENTS begin to sing HIRAM HUBBARD, you'll be wiped out. Especially since the song they are singing, is a true story about a man wrongly executed in the old south. (Remind you of Dubya as governor of Texas? It should.) In fact, thats the great thing about these ancient folk songs. They embody the eternal human condistion, where people are wrongly executed since the days of Abel and Cain, Jesus, or Hiram Hubbard. Each song is a revelation. As for instrumentation, don't expect early Dylan or Simon and Garfunkel's "acoustic guitars and harmonicas" type folk. Instead, each song has its own instumental vibe, even tho the album's sound is unified, and centered. So, expect acoustic guitar, bass, drums, but also occasional banjo, Dobro, pedal steel, piano, dulicmer, and autoharp. Or, just expect an a cappella voice from Garrison, singing "Pretty Saro". This man and woman have the most beautiful voices, perfectly matched for harmony, as when Exene and John Doe did their "SPINNERS" Folk album, or Richard and Linda Thompson's harmonizing. Garrison Starr and Josh Joplin own these songs they're performing. They dont scream, or whisper, but just sing from the heart. So beautiful.

The first song I listened to was THE WATER IS WIDE, when i had my own lachrymose experience. Ok, I started to cry, and i DONT cry from listening to music. I dont. But that song has this incredible longing for a lost love that died, found in traditional folk all the time, like "Young but daily Growing".
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When I first heard about this project on MySpace, I was a little skeptical. I had followed Josh Joplin from the more adult alternative pop-oriented Josh Joplin Group albums (the first of which, "Useful Music" is still one of my favorites) to the more traditional folk of "Jaywalker" in 2005. I wasn't sure, though, if I could follow him to an album of really old-time Appalachian folk songs. But I did and on the whole I enjoyed the album on my first couple of listens.

I'm sure there are all sorts of folk acts you could compare this to, but with the first couple of tracks I got thinking of the Decemberists and how they take old-fashioned songs (really old-fashioned as in from centuries gone by) and put a modern spin on them with an electric guitar here and there. Such is the case with Among the Oak & Ash. They take these really old-time songs and put some modern touches to them so that the songs don't sound as if they existed long before MP3s or even phonographs. The way Joplin and Garrison Starr vocalize together and sometimes switch leads puts me in mind of the Weepies as well. Even if others might not think those comparisons apt, putting them in that company is a complement--at least to me.

Anyway, overall this is an enjoyable album if you like folk music. If you don't you're probably not reading this. I don't have any favorite tracks yet, though "Peggy-O" seems like the infectious kind of song that can get in your head for hours. I suppose what disappoints me is that most of these songs are covers. The great thing about Josh Joplin's music, whether it's the Group or solo, are his clever lyrics that can be alternately funny and moving. That's sorely lacking in Among the Oak & Ash. But maybe that will come with another album, if this experiment works out, which I hope it does.

That is all.
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Format: Audio CD Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This album has an upbeat, uplifting, almost spiritual quality that works quite well. I am not usually a fan of albums that take on a spiritual vibe, but there is a quality here that isn't unlike what Sufjan Stevens has put out before. The tempo and style of the album remind me of Sufjan Steven's Illinois album while the lyrical quality isn't unlike Sufjan's Seven Swans album.

All the songs have a strong folk vibe in terms of lyrics, but the tempo can make you forget this is a folk album. A song like Peggy O is reminds me of any pop song out there although the lyrics are anything but and really make it exceed. In fact, it is the folk nature of this album on the whole that really lift it above pop albums with quality that is all but absent in mainstream music these days. The song Joseph Hillstrom 1879-1915 would be the stereotypical folk song, but the music makes one forget that. As a result, the album is the perfect way for someone who isn't necessarily a fan of folk music to reach into that realm. However, it is a great folk album from any point of view as the stories told have great quality that is worth checking out.

I hope this is a band that succeeds, and I hope the quality of albums like this are part of a revival of folk music. It is an under-rated genre, and this album shows it.
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