What would it look like if Alan Lomax, the great American ethnomusicologist, folklorist, historian, and folk music collector, had been around today, capturing field recordings, in the age of musical omnipresence, where genre classifications mean next to nothing and music traditions and styles can essentially be passed on through a day’s worth of scrolling through the internet? More or less, this has been a major question that the Folkadelphia team has posed to each other and to musicians since we started recording our in-studio sessions.
Most of the Folkadelphia Sessions that we premiere each week are already slighty different than the majority of studio recordings that you hear – the big difference is that we are somewhat technologically limited. Whereas many recording studios use multi-tracking devices that allow for overdubbing and significant post-production work, we use a two-track recording set-up that does not allow for major post-recording tweaks. In short, instead of focusing on recording individual instruments and spending time constructing a song after the fact, we have to focus on recording a good overall performance from the band, mixing on the fly as a band play unadorned in the live room. Every artist and band that arrives poses a fun challenge for us, how to best capture their sound, and it also makes us feel that we are at least peripherally following in the tradition of the older, raw, live folk records that we adore. But we thought that we could go even further with our set-up and that’s when the Alan Lomax question started cropping up.
Enter Skinny Lister, English based raucous folk outfit who this year released one of our favorite records, Forge & Flagon. Drawing from the long lineage of pub sing-a-longs and combined with the reckless abandon of folk-punk aesthetics, Skinny Lister is a force to behold. Not only are they entirely exciting to watch, being in the room with them, the energy is supercharged, but they are skillful musicians to boot. As we contemplated a modern day Lomaxian project, we decided we wanted to bring into the fold musicians that exemplified a musicality that bridged between older folk traditions and modern day spirit. We could not have asked for a better band for our first foray into field recording.
On April 24th, Team Folkadelphia left the safe confines of our normal place of business, the XPN Performance Studio, and drove over to the North Star Bar, where Skinny Lister was playing later that evening. We had arranged to capture the band playing in the NSB’s Victorian Dining Room, an ornate window-lit space on the second floor of the venue. We had decided that in keeping with the aesthetics of former field recordists, we would limit ourselves to using just a single microphone, in this case an early 1940′s era RCA ribbon microphone, to display a moment in time, what Skinny Lister sounded like in Spring of 2013, Philadelphia.
As you’ll hear, the band is utterly exhuberant, in their element, singing and yawping together through a set of songs from Forge & Flagon. Though the music is contemporary, I like to think the recording sounds timeless, a sonic message from the past uncovered in the present. Somewhere, I hope Alan Lomax is smiling on us.