Artist: Jenny Scheinman
Album: Here on Earth
Label: Royal Potato Family
Release Date: 4.28. 2017
You can always count on the next Jenny Scheinman album to be quite different from its predecessor. In 2008 she issued both her purely jazz-classical instrumental, Crossing the Field, as well as her vocal album, Jenny Scheinman. In 2012 she released the wildly creative improvisational jazz album Mischief and Mayhem. Then her Americana album, Little Prisoners, came in 2014. Now, we have what might be her most accessible all instrumental album yet, traditional sounding fiddle tunes done the Jenny Scheinman way, more imaginably than others may render similar material. Jenny tapped a supporting cast of skilled musicians including Danny Barnes (banjo, Guitar, tuba), Robbie Fulks (guitar, banjo), long-term cohort Bill Frisell (guitar), and Robbie Gjersoe (resonator guitar), not just for their brilliant playing but for their deep knowledge of fiddle music and their similarly unconventional approaches. However, on most tracks it is Barnes and Frisell complimenting Scheinman’s fiddle. Only on “Broken Pipeline” can you hear Frisell, Gjersoe, and Fulks together.
Many of the songs on the album were composed for Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, collaboration with filmmaker Finn Taylor and commissioned by Aaron Greenwald at Duke Performances. The movie collects archival footage taken between 1936 and ’42 by H. Lee Waters, a North Carolina photographer who made short movies of ordinary, small town folks living through the Great Depression in the Piedmont region. Scheinman related to the raw footage immediately, saying, “I grew up in a small town obsessed by ideas of self-reliance, community and life off the grid. The folks that H. Lee Waters filmed display all the characteristics that we aspired to—poor and proud, theatrical, resilient—real toughies.”
Inspiration also came from a couple of other places. Her mother had her memorize poetry as a little girl because, as her mom said, “You’re going to find yourself in jail and you’re going to need to entertain the other prisoners.” Jenny claims that the fiddle has that same raw, dirty outlaw spirit as prison poetry, elaborating this way, “The fiddle can be played by anyone with rudimentary musical skill. They can entertain a crowd. They are the people’s music. And honestly, if I ever end up in prison, I’d much rather have a fiddle on me than a poem.” Additionally, Scheinman returned to rural California, where she grew up, after spending 15 years in New York City. During this time she was pregnant and two weeks late for expected delivery. Making the best use of her time, she wrote over 40 fiddle tunes during those two weeks. This statement probably best describes the album. “There are lots of rules. A fiddle tune has to dance, it has to fit within very strict harmonic framework, it is always very short, and even if it’s good, it will probably sound a lot like every other fiddle tune out there.”
Listen deeply to get beyond the familiar, campfire sounding fare you’ll hear in “Rowan” and “Delinquent Bill.” There are some rather subtle musical touches in the rhythms of “Broken Pipeline” and “Don’t Knock Out the Old Dog’s Teeth.” Scheinman’s gift of melody is best exemplified in “Annabelle and the Bird” and “Esme.” Yes, this music is both old and new. While I lean more toward her adventurous hybrid jazz-classical approach, it’s yet another side of the versatile, talented Scheinman, playing alongside like-minded musicians. At times stark, at times playful, and at other times simply beautiful, Scheinman paints her own pictures.