Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Water Bread & Beer" served in digits, plastics, live gigs

Our longtime producer, licensing honcho and e-distributor Meghan Gohil is jumping our band Eleanor Roosvelt through the iTunes etc. loops for our new record Water Bread & Beer to be available for worldwide digital download.

The band is also covening in St. Louis from Nashville, Los Angeles and New Jersey this weekend to usher into the world small pieces of plastic with the new record and companion artwork digitally imprinted in physical form. Fred Friction opens for a house concert in Olivette at 8 p.m. Friday, December 7 (email David Melson - - for his address and to get on the list). Then we play a tavern gig in Granite City at 10 p.m. Satuday, December 8 with Dana Anderson at Jacobsmeyers Tavern, 2401 Edwards, by the scenic steel mills.

Our digital distributor asked of us some detailed notes for Water Bread & Beer, and here is what we had to say. I used some vague terms ("Americana") and made band-name comparisons in some feeble attempt at popular appeal.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Water Bread & Beer

Eleanor Roosevelt’s new record Water Bread & Beer captures a folk-rock songwriting team half-way in its evolution from pioneers of alt-country (as Enormous Richard, they released their first record in the same town and summer as Uncle Tupelo) into the music department of an arts organization, Poetry Scores, that translates world poetry into other media.

The new record has an even mix of “original” Americana songs, and musical settings of poetry and traditional texts. Among the songs where frontman Chris King penned the lyrics, “Watch a Cloud” is about doing exactly that while lying flat on your back on a farm; “Seeds & Shit” is about moving off a barstool and down to the country to live with a woman; “Grainery Light” muses on a hometown dominated by that grainbelt icon. But their future as Poetry Scores is glimpsed in “Death & Taverns,” which sets a Federico Garcia Lorca poem to music; “Children’s Rain Song,” a new folk-rock setting of a Moroccan Jewish children’s chant; and “Tortilla,” a new working of  a Peruvian labor protest song.

These songs were composed and the basic tracks recorded while the songwriting team was on the road as Hoobellatoo, a field recording collective that provided a pit stop on the journey between the band Eleanor Roosevelt and the arts organization Poetry Scores. These songs were written and initially recorded in grand, scattered places: a mansion on Mount Desert Island in Maine; a cabin in Door County, Wisconsin; a campsite in the Virginian Appalachias; another cabin on South Turkey Creek in Leicester, North Carolina beside the square dance platform built by Bascom Lamar Lunsford; and in the living room of Pops Farrar in Belleville, Illinois. It was finished by producer Elijah “Lij” Shaw at his studio The Toy Box in Music City, Nashville, Tennessee.

When King, Shaw and their songwriting partners Matt Fuller and John Minkoff wrote these songs, they had been on and off the road for the better part of a decade, as rock bands and then field recordists. In these songs you can hear the edge and unpredictability of the road, especially “Strangers & Dangers” (where the title says it all) and “James Brown Boulevard,” the name of an actual road on the wrong side of the Godfather of Soul’s hometown, Augusta, Georgia. “Pair of Skunks” is an homage to that angel of every traveling band, the pretty girl pouring coffee in the morning at a roadside diner. Certainly “Nothing Feels Better Than Doing Wrong” – though a very free adaptation of a traditional Zulu text – expresses sentiments familiar to anyone who ever saw the country via the van of a traveling band.

The Zulu folktale buried in that rock song points to another element that runs throughout this record. Though Water Bread & Beer is dominated by the acoustic, guitars, banjos and fiddles of Americana, it takes much of its perspective from the traditions of Africa. As Hoobellatoo, these guys recorded a traditional Grebo (Liberia, West Africa) elder named Nymah Kumah, who influenced them profoundly as people. “Pepper Soup & Local Honey” is basically a recipe of Grebo traditional immunology: local honey to inoculate yourself against local pathogens and pepper soup to clear your chest and head once they get in. “Me as a Horse” sets to music a passage from My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by the father of the African novel, Amos Tutuola of Nigeria. And “Head Rolling Down a Hill” includes a fragment of a novel by the great Ghanaian writer A.K. Armah: “We have time to bounce across yards of mud from days of rain.”

Musically, Eleanor Roosevelt sounds like some of the other bands that incubated alternative or insurgent country, such as The Jayhawks, Uncle Tupelo in their mellower moods and Whiskeytown, with scratchy acoustic textures offset by the grime of John Minkoff’s electric guitar. Guest instrumentalists include Geoffrey Seitz, who has won the highest traditional fiddle honors at Galax and Clifftop; and keyboardist Pat Sansone, who would soon leave the Nashville rock scene to join Wilco in Chicago.

Eleanor Roosevelt blog: Or email


Cover painting by John Minkoff

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