Death and destruction

Death and destruction

“The Virginias and the Carolinas are a sort of weird nebula for disasters,” says Christopher King, who was intrigued by nearby historical remnants while growing up in Hot Springs, Virginia. “You can’t really go in one direction without running into a place where a train wreck or some sort of bad accident happened in the early 20th century,” he says. “The Wreck of the Old 97 is just down the road towards Danville, and if you go in the opposite direction, you find the Wreck of the Virginian.”

Smiling in the face of evil: Murders and tornadoes make for good music on People Take Warning, Christopher King’s new three-disc compilation.

What does this have to do with music, you say? Well, these signs of bygone catastrophes inspired King, who now lives in Nelson County and works for local label Rebel Records, to compile People Take Warning: Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs, 1913-1938, a three-disc, 70-song compilation of music from the era of the Great Depression.

“Being surrounded by all of these things peaks a person’s historical curiosity,” King says, “and so you start to research the different artists that sang about particular accidents or events.” He gathered most of the songs on People Take Warning from his vast collection of 78-rpm records (he owns between 6,000 and 7,000), and the result is a musical newswire from yesteryear.

Take a listen to Charlotte and Bob Miller‘s "Ohio Prison Fire" from People Take Warning:
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Courtesy of Tompkins Square Records – Thank you!

The artists on People Take Warning sing about the Old 97 and Virginian wrecks, as well as an array of other tales of murder, natural disaster and human misfortune. A couple favorites, Kings says, are Ernest Stoneman’s “The Fate of Talmadge Osborne” (“About a very weird train accident that happened in Grayson County”) and Charlotte and Bob Miller’s “Ohio Prison Fire,” an eerie, string-accompanied tune about a 1930 blaze that killed 322 prisoners.

King boasts an impressive reputation when it comes to compiling old recordings (he won a Grammy in 2003 with Charlie Patton: Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues and has been nominated for two others), and People Take Warning is another great collection, though a morbid one. Listening through the crackles and pops of the old 78s, Feedback noticed that many of the lyrics are quite disturbing (like “Into my breast I’ll fire one shot/Then my troubles will be o’er” from the Carolina Buddies’ “Murder of the Lawson Family”).

But it’s that haunting, Steinbeck-like aura that makes the collection so enticing. Tom Waits (himself a gloomy and sinister balladeer) pens the introduction to People Take Warning and describes the collection as “Songs that are roadside graves dug quickly with crosses made from kindling while the grief was still fresh.”

Heavy stuff, indeed, but with a 48-page booklet full of historical photos and notes on each song, People Take Warning is an exciting package for both history and music buffs. If you’re either of those (or both), today is your lucky day, because the collection just came out on Tompkins Square Records.

Have some Sea & Cake

The first thing we asked The Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop was about the press release’s mention of The Kinks as an influence on the band’s most recent album, Everybody. “To be honest,” Prekop replied, “I’m not sure how that got into there. I think I was probably talking about The Beatles and they were like ‘You can’t cite The Beatles!’”

Vast and sweet: The Sea and Cake will bring smart pop songs to Satellite Ballroom on September 27.

Personally, we think The Kinks comparison is fine, because Everybody’s light strumming and quick catchiness is close to Ray Davies and Co. on the Rock ‘N’ Roll Family Tree.

But Prekop says that any resemblances or influences aren’t intentional or calculated. “I think that’s partially because I don’t have the skills to digest outside musical influences in a terribly useful way,” he explains. “I think they get in there in a more subtle kind of osmosis.”

He does, however, have skills for writing intricate pop songs, and on Everybody The Sea and Cake enlisted producer Brian Paulson (who’s worked with Wilco and Slint) to capture the bare-bones essence of those tunes. It was a welcome change, says Prekop, from the band’s normal routine of having drummer John McIntire man the boards. “We thought it was a good idea to have someone outside of the band involved in the project,” says Prekop, “to give us a perspective on what we’re doing that’s not coming from us. It’s hard to tell what’s happening when you are in it.”

The Sea and Cake performing "Coconut" from Everybody.

The Sea and Cake plays at Satellite Ballroom Thursday, September 27, along with Meg Baird and Ilad, but for Prekop and bandmate Archer Prewitt it’s not their first time at the venue. They both stopped through on a joint solo tour back in 2005. “I remember there was a really good restaurant upstairs,” says Prekop, referring to Michael’s Bistro, and the two played a live set on WTJU. We’re glad they’re back and we’re sure they’ll have a great show (and more tasty food)!

Get your gear on

We just heard that Virginia Arts Recording (located at 512 Stewart St.) is having a studio yard sale of “20 years of vintage gear” on Saturday, September 29 from 11am to 4pm. So if you want to start that home recording studio, now’s your chance.

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