Thanks in part to Don DeLillo‘s 1973 novel Great Jones Street,it didn’t take long for the rock-star-toiling-away-in-seclusion narrative to go from the stuff of critical legend to obvious fodder for parody. Nevermind that two years later saw the release and instant canonization of Bob Dylan and the Band‘s long-buried The Basement Tapes—the inspiration, in fact, for the DeLillo character Bucky Wunderlick’s “The Mountain Tapes.” And so for listeners, the brilliant, hermetic artist has persisted, both as a reductive, suspect concept and as an undeniably seductive one. Listed here, some examples of the latter.
The D.C./Baltimore psych-folk act Le Loup retreated to a cabin in North Carolina to record much of its latest album, Family (out now on Hardly Art) and the result is druggy, country-fried, and poppy. Take “Grow,” which sports what might be the best pairing of Beach Boys harmonies and the “Be My Baby” beat since, well, the Beach Boys. But the real innovation here is space: Where past Le Loup songs were concise and linear, Family‘s breathe and frolic and expand. The band—which performs Saturday at the Black Cat with Pree—recently recorded a session for All Our Noise. Check it out:
More records made in wooded seclusion after the jump: Reluctant backwoods Svengalis, some latter-day Johnny Cash, and brassy mountain ditties!
Dandelion Gum by Black Moth Super Rainbow (2007): The members of this blissed-out post-rock band cloak their identities with costumes, pseudonyms, and video-heavy performances, hoping to emphasize their music by de-emphasizing the personalities making it. As the group has acknowledged, this strategy of willful obscurity hasn’t exactly worked out. No kidding: When you record your breakthrough record in a Western Pennsylvania cabin and sing trippy, hypnotic songs about witches, you’re more or less asking to be typecast as backwoods Svengalis.
American Recordings by Johnny Cash (2004): The cabin that the late Johnny and June Carter Cash built in Hendersonville, Tenn., in the late ’70s is definitely that, rustic patina and all. But in the early ’90s, when Johnny began collaborating with producer Rick Rubin for a tetralogy of morose, mostly acoustic albums, the space became a full-fledged studio, which is now run by Johnny and June’s son, John Carter Cash. You can’t find a knobsman more pro than Rubin, but in this case, he simply captured Johnny singing and strumming in his living room. How the Man in Black then wound up with this terrifying Anton Corbijn video, I can’t quite say:
Cabin in the Woods by Retsin (2001): The name says it all. Tara Jane O’Neil and Cynthia Nelson met in the early ’90s when their bands, Rodan and Ruby Falls, shared a tour, and they soon became romantic partners and musical collaborators. The final Retsin album, made more or less in isolation in upstate New York, is dusty and acoustic, drawing as deeply from the well of American folk music as the ’90s indie-folk milieu. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Retsin contributed to a Jandek tribute compilation around the same time.
Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project by Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Ginger Brooks Takahashi (2003): This between-album project found the Olympia, Wash., singer Mirah retreating for a month to the Blue Ridge Mountains with an eight-track and some fellow musicians. There, she recorded some playful ditties—more washboard band than precise, lo-fi folk—and found sounds. And then she laid down this brassy jam, which recounts, doo-wop refrain in tow, the month-long experience:
Image courtesy of the Cash Cabin Studio MySpace page.