Over the last week or so, having been inspired by one of my favourite t.v shows, Who Do You Think You Are?, I have been trying to compile my family tree. Not only is it highly addictive but also a stark reminder of how fragile our existence really is, what seem like very small, almost forgotten moments in someone’s life at the time of occurrence, in the end are just as important as any other, everything has an effect on the future of not only them but also, ultimately, us which leads me nicely to the new album by Red Heart The Ticker.
A husband and wife team of Robin MacArthur and Tyler Gibbons from Vermont, their last album Oh My! Mountains Below received high praise from the likes of Paste magazine, Pitchfork as well as many blogs like Songs Illinois and was one of my favourite albums of that year (2008). That album was made shortly after Robin’s grandmother had passed away and as Songs Illinois mentioned, it’s at times sombre but does have moments of happiness. Robin’s grandmother was folk singer Margaret MacArthur and it’s this new album, Your Name In Secret I Would Write which is dedicated to her (and their daughter, Avah) as it’s an album of traditional folk songs that she (and others) used to sing.
Margaret MacArthur moved, in the 1940′s to an 1803 abandoned farmhouse in southern Vermont and it was there that she started singing the old folk songs from that area. Initially she recorded fifteen songs in her kitchen and sent them to Moses Asch of Folkway Records after he requested them after seeing Margaret perform somewhere. These recordings became the first of nine albums Margaret recorded.
Fast forward seventy or so years later and in the very study where Margaret passed away, Robin and Tyler are sat with microphones at the ready along with these folk songs, a 1961 Martin guitar played by Margaret on some of her recordings, a fretless banjo built by Robin’s grandfather, a viola belonging to Tyler’s father as well as an electric fender belonging to Robin’s father which given the nature of the album all seems rather appropriate, the songs given new life but commemorating the old. This is not an album made by a band looking to jump on the latest folk trend but by a family member paying homage to her grandmother as well as keeping the songs alive.
Songs that really leap out on first listen are Lakes of Champlain and the heart wrenching Stratton Mountain Tragedy, the latter a song about a dying mother who wraps her child in her clothing during a winter storm hoping her child somehow survives. It ends well, she does. But the entire album plays out like a lament to those who have passed away, a deep respect to family and friends, alive or dead, a thank you to the landscape and the mountains that surround them for influencing such passion in these people but also to the future generations who may one day, maybe in a small, almost forgotten moment hear these old songs and then choose to give them new life again just like Robin and Tyler have done and therefore keeping the musical family tree alive whilst also been reminded of the importance of their ancestry.
I think Grandma would be proud and if you listen very carefully i think you can hear her singing along.
The album is due for release on September 20th on Auger Down records on both cd and vinyl but i have kindly been allowed to choose one myself to offer you now as a taster before you buy. Enjoy.