Farm Jazz is a project that was started in March of 2003. I had a collection of songs that were crying out to be heard. With the help of Jeff Romano of Greenwood Studio, and a wonderfully talented group of musicians, I embarked on what would become a three-month long journey of recording. Being a member of three regional groups: The Zing Kings, Halfgrassd, and Jan Smith Band, I solicited help from these bands. We recorded basic tracks first, and added musicians, as they became available. TJ Johnson, a killer mandolin and fiddle playing vocalist, and member of Halfgrassd and The Zing Kings, came in to record: 'The Remains of Billy Guy', 'Road to Appomattox', 'Play Back', and 'Kick The Can'. Dan Sebring a.k.a. 'King Dan',a founding member of the Kings, joined us on 'PlayBack' and 'Kick the Can'; lending his wonderful rhythm on fiddle and guitar, and scorching fiddle solos. The Zing Kings can be heard every week for a Sunday brunch High atop the Gravity Lounge in downtown Charlottesville. You can find out what the Kings are up to by following the link on the left which will lead you to their webpage and the home site of TJ Johnson! On March 26 we hosted the release party for the Halfgrassd CD at Starr Hill Music Hall. My friend Stewert Werner, of Rocky Mount, Virginia, joined us there and threw down some smokin' banjo tracks on, 'Road to Appomattox'. Randall Pharr, bassist for many Central Virginia area jazz groups, added his signature playing on the Zingers' instrumentals. Randall was a session bassist for five cuts on the record. Joining the Kings, and included in the Randall sessions, was Daren Snapp. I first met Randall and Daren in the mid 80's, and we have played together in one form or another since that time. Daren brings his drumming talents to the mix using his cowbell, (my personal favorite), and brush skills to round off our eclectic mix. I credit Daren with provoking the image of Farm Jazz as not only a new genre of music but also the working title of the CD. My oldest buddy, and co-writer on 'The Remains of Billy Guy', T. Rock Phillips, stepped into the studio to witness and give ear to the recording of the Frank Smith Resophonic lead guitar on, 'Apply The Brake'. His undying attention to detail throughout this project is apparent. T.Rock introduced me to Bill Gessner in the waning days of the last century. Bill co-wrote 'Our One True Aficionado'. Whenever we get together it feels like we are the Three Musketeers! Bill makes his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While attending a Richard Shindell and Tracy Grammer show there last spring, Bill informed Richard that I was recording a CD. Upon hearing this, Richard generously offered backing vocals. Richard and I played together in High School and lived at the beach in Delaware one summer of fun. A few phone calls and schedule checks later, Jeff Romano and I loaded up the ADATs and headed to Ashland, Virginia, where Shindell was doing a show. After the show we did a live remote for backing vocals on, 'Carpet of Rags', 'Our One True Aficionado', and 'Apply The Brake'. The first cut, 'Killer Sallie', screamed out for some old-time fiddle and banjo. My friend, Joe Mead from Faster Than Walking, dedicated one boggy Friday afternoon to creating an atmosphere of campground groove to the Greenwood Studio sessions. Joey Damiano laid down some of the best old 50's Kay upright grooves this side of paradise on 'Killer Sallie', 'The Remains of Billy Guy', and 'Road to Appomattox'. Joey and I have been with Halfgrassd for six years, and have played in various bands throughout our friendship. The Friday before Joe Mead entered our mix my dear friend and collaborator, Emily Gary McCormick came by to add harmony and backing vocals on 'Killer Sallie' and, 'Road to Appomattox.' Emily, eight months pregnant at the time, was eager for the diversion this accompaniment provided. Wow what a voice! Willow Kelly joined us playing frame drum for 'Carpet of Rags' and, 'Oh Mama Won't You Ring My Bell'. It was my pleasure to sit in with Willow and experience her fluid yet contemplative approach to drumming and rhythm. During the first week of recording, Gerald Soriano on upright bass, Jeff Vogelgesang on vocals and mandolin, and Jan Smith on guitar and vocal, showed up as the Jan Smith Band. In one great session they knocked out 'Autumn in New England', 'Oh Mamma Won't You Ring My Bell', and 'Bald Hill Pond'. These guys are a blast to work with. Finally, Jeff Romano adds his raucous harmonica to, 'Killer Sallie', and his somber tones to, 'Apply the Brake'. His synth bass to the aforementioned, 'Brake' really kicks. So, many hours later, I offer this album, Farm Jazz. I hope you enjoy listening to it half as much as I have enjoyed living it. Peace, Love and Tranquillity Yours, Tom Proutt Do you wanna know what's really fun? Take off your shoes, put up your feet, and put on Tom Proutt's new disc, Farm Jazz. Or get some good produce, crank up the stereo, and dance around your kitchen while you cook. Or just drive down the road to it, surrounded by Virginia gold and Virginia music. Tom Proutt has backed up a lot of local artists over the years in performance and on recordings. I'm proud to hear him step out of the shadows and share his own quirky take on the 21st century. Farm Jazz is funky, there's no getting around it. The lyrics put out some convoluted ideas (which is sort of what being a grown-up is all about), but the music's like ringing a bell. The disc is bracketed by more traditional bluegrass songs, opening with 'Killer Sallie', about Tom's stray dog, and bringing it home with 'Bill's Dream' about listening to the other musicians in a band. Don't let the first song lull you into thinking, Oh this is just another great bluegrass album. Between those two songs is a broad range of genres tied up with a big blue bow by the instrumentation. First 'The Remains of Billy Guy' tells in a sort of swing style the sad story of what happened to a famous doo-wop singer once his form of music passed away. Then there's 'Our One True Aficionado', a vaudeville-style satire on, I think, watching a friend go through a life change (best use of a cowbell since high-school prom in Texas). Proutt's forte as a songwriter is to use everyday images and small, common incidents as port keys to the big questions of human existence. 'Carpet of Rags' starts off quietly with a chronology of American carpet makes: 'carpet of rags, carpet of pile, carpet of shag, carpet of bombs'. For packing such a wallop, the song stays gentle and removed throughout, like someone looking out a plane window as it flies over Southeast Asia. This song made me seriously contemplate organizing an anti-war concert so that artists could voice their feelings about our current situation. Both anti-war songs on this album are right in the great tradition of American protest songs. 'Oh Mama Won't You Ring My Bell' reminds me of 'If I Had a Hammer', but sends a conflicted, modern message-'bring back the troops, we'll give 'em hell' and outrage that they shot our spy-plane down. To me this song expresses the internal conflict of modern warfare as 'the world is turning un explained'. Don't think for a minute, though, that this is a didactic disc. Farm Jazz rocks from beginning to end; it's almost fun to think about our problems through Proutt's eyes. Clever wordplay keeps the listener from getting too bummed out. Written from the point of view of a guy who died of a drug overdose, 'Apply the Brake' observes that there's no one there his age, that they've made a grave mistake. The humorous lines in this one almost disavow the profound lesson. While Proutt continues to hold America accountable for her actions in the world, he deeply appreciates the beauty of our country and the splendor of ordinary life here. 'Autumn in New England' is a hymn to the vibrant change of the season. The rhythm is the wide, slow swing of a scythe, yet the build welcomes the quickening of life after summer. 'Road to Appomattox' translates an episode from American history into the singer's emotional experience. In a few quick strokes Lee signs his name to end an epic war; a musician keeps on strumming as he accepts being rejected by another artist, or replaced by something better. You may not agree that the two events are synonymous, but you can't miss that pain connects them. The sheer virtuosity of the musicianship on this album is astounding. Although the instrumentation is bluegrass, the range of music is broad. Proutt himself is a consummate guitar player in any style (there's a reason he's supported all the musicians in Central Virginia all these years). The instrumental cuts on the CD tell their stories as clearly as the vocal ones, particularly through the wild mandolin of TJ Johnson and the wailing fiddle of Dan Sebring. As with a jazz ensemble in a smoky basement, each instrument is allowed to step up and solo before sinking back into the maelstrom. In the spirit of full journalistic disclosure, I feel obliged to write that I have known Tom Proutt for many years and have received many tomatoes from his garden. That said, listening to Farm Jazz makes me proud to be an American. So far an individual artist can still speak his mind exclusive of the industry and give a lot people a lot of joy. Dorothy Smith Scottsville, VA September 2003 MUSIC REVIEW- Interested: Two keep audience enthralled Published October 23, 2003, in issue 0242 of the Hook Tom Proutt with Billy Gessner at Mountain View Grill, Crozet October 18, 2003 BY MARK GRABOWSKI TUNES@READTHEHOOK.COM ............. Tom Proutt, the night's big name, was up next, and the guitarist took the stage with Elle McCormick on backing vocals seated to his left. Though I've seen Tom Proutt play before, as the principal guitarist in roots/pop favorite the Jan Smith Band, this was my first exposure to a full live set of Proutt originals. The first tune was a laid back country-folk number, seemingly about various stone animals guarding the gates of mansions (although it was probably some deep commentary on social injustice), but what really got me about the tune was the first entrance of McCormick. As she sang close harmonies behind Proutt's 'Limestone crafted lions' chorus, the interplay of the two performers was when I really started to smile-- they just sounded pretty damn unbelievable. The next song, 'Our One True Aficionado,' track 3 on Proutt's recently released CD, Farm Jazz, is a slow waltz with a particularly vibrant rhyme reliance ('Unabashedly old fashioned / Refreshingly impassioned / He'd be breathing in the glory of the dawn'). After a few more numbers, Proutt announced he was going to play 'one more pretty one and let it go,' and he finished up his set with a few rather more edgy tunes-- one about a taxidermist who married a 'trophy wife,' and who, discovering her with another man in his taxidermy freezer, shut the pair in-- creating a literal trophy wife. Though I had some exposure to Proutt via his recently released CD, I was not quite prepared for Saturday night's performance-- great, great, and really great is all I have to say about it. Tom Proutt with Emily McCormick PHOTO BY MARK GRABOWSKI.
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