On his Nashville-formed label, Red Beet Records, Brace has released a limited number of tremendous albums primarily for himself as a solo artist and duos with songwriter and The Tennessean writer, Peter Cooper.
Recently, Brace and Karl Straub released an interesting collaboration based on the mid-1800s California gold rush titled, Hangtown Dancehall. Many riches were reaped during that brief era, and many stories became legendary - even if many would never pass today's Snopes test.
Those few years also resulted in immense hardships and strife. Folks came from across the continent for a fruitless attempt at hitting it big. The few dollars people brought with him to survive their search disappeared without replenishment. Relationships thought to be rock solid at the beginning of a long journey to California dissolved like a fart in the wind when muddy panning came up empty.
Hangtown Dancehall was crafted from a folk song of the era named Sweet Betsy From Pike. Two youngsters from Missouri, Ike and Betsy, traveled the long, hard road with a golden gleam in their eyes. Yet as a good folk song should do I suppose, the twosome fizzled out in Hangtown when the stress of the search becomes too much.
The backdrop for the album - though this version is not from Eric and Karl.
Brace and Straub picked up where Sweet Betsy left off, and in the words of Kenny Bania...
Brace and Straub created a musical - a folkie drama if you will - with various vocalists playing character roles in the album's songs. Vocals are contributed by a variety of singers including Kelly Willis (married to and performs with Bruce Robison), Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott, and Jason Ringenberg (Jason and The Scorchers)
Brace's recording and marketing of the album on his terms from the east side of the Cumberland rather on Music Row gave him many freedoms and opportunities to explore. The album includes 22 tracks. Some are as brief as 30 to 45 seconds. On the high end, a couple flirt with the 4 minute mark. From beginning to end, however, I'm not sure an individual track stands out as one that can easily be separated from the whole - and that's a good thing.
The one exception may be I Know A Bird released previously a few years ago by Brace and Cooper on their album You Don't Have To Like Them Both. Brace wrote the song with the gold rush in mind, but I'm only guessing he wanted the song to eventually be part of a larger storyline.
The album is truly a pleasurable listen. Envision for a moment about the dreams as well as the challenges of traveling cross-country 150 years ago in the search of gold - or in today's era of foolishly chasing can't-miss celebrity stardom. Many of those ideas have likely been captured in one of the songs. Some examples include:
Pretty Girl In Missouri
They left him lying there, they ran away that night
Betsy cried about her daddy blood so red, skin so white
They left for California, across the open plain
Maybe they'll dig up the gold and bury all the pain
Gone To California
Gonna cross the big wide prairie
Gonna climb that hill
They got gold there bigger than boulders
Gonna get my fill
If You Don't Know Me
I heard you call me "a faithful friend"
Ike, I was talking 'bout the dog
And I heard you say that I smell pretty bad
Ike, I was talking 'bout the dog
If there's gold still on his person
It would be a sin to leave it in the dirt
When our church still needs new windows
And a pile of new Bibles couldn't hurt
They emptied out his pockets
But I doubt they searched the lining of his coat
While I'm checkin', I'll refer to you
The golden words of truth that St. Paul wrote.
I didn't have to wonder what I'd done
I'd killed a man and I'd been hung
When I awoke I was so cold
I'll be hanging soon
I killed a man for gold
Taking in the artwork and absorbing the lyrics are needed in addition to simply listening to the songs. After buying the music, visit Hangtowndancehall.com for the latter. The storytelling by Brace and Straub through their concept and lyrics is a rarity in today's 3-minute singles, iTunes download, music consumption generation.
Red Beet Records: redbeetrecords.com