'The Rivers Call'
(Live In Trees Music, 2013)
Some artists seem to have been in my musical life for a long time already. Hard to remember how the first contact with Chuck LeMonds came about... I think we were introduced by an E-mail of a fellow radio DJ? What matters more, was that little pile of three CD's ending up in my hands! 'Mississippi Angel', 'LeMonds' and 'Pink Roshi'. Chuck is not your average singer-songwriter, so I was immediately intrigued and spent quite some time listening. 'The Rivers Call' is already Chuck's ninth release, so let me do the introducing to YOU now!
I can never resist a colorful poetic biography, this one was written by Martin Krusche.
"Chuck LeMonds' life and legacy as a musician is not one shaped by music lawyers in L.A. or Nashville, or even the hard to define ghost of a 'music business'! They were never in town when he was passing through. The music and recordings he has produced over the past 30 years can not be easily measured by the music industry's high level of standards and perfection, for it is exactly that, the many imperfections in Chuck LeMonds' music that make it authentic and real, and above all, music that resonates the heart strings, and at the same time, engages the critical minds of his listeners.
Born in 1959 along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri, Chuck LeMonds', it seems, was pre-destined to a life of moving about. His father, Sonny, spent 25 years travelling on freight trains around the US, doing seasonal work like picking fruit, and then moving on when it got cold in winter to find work in warmer places, eventually living in an old school bus painted green parked near the Mississippi River outside of Cape Girardeau, which Chuck eulogized in his 1994 song "If The Motor Was Working". His father taught him and his brother the art of hopping freights at the tender age of 8. Chuck's grandfather Author, after losing his coal company in St. Louis in 1929 during the Great Depression, worked as a card dealer in back rooms of gin houses and honky-tonks along the Mississippi, always packing a pistol. This story is also documented as a song "Full Deck of Cards" on the same recording. His grandpa Gangi, his mothers father, drove trains for the Frisco line in Missouri.
The women in the family seemed to be the glue that held it all together. Growing up, Chuck's mother Marilyn was a passionate musician playing in her schools marching band in Chaffee, Missouri with her main instruments being clarinet, piano and her voice. She loved to sing jazz pop torch songs that were so popular at that time in the 50's. Her dream to become a professional musician was put on hold at the age of 16 when her first child was born. She brought 7 children into the world and lived her music out by leading all 7 children and 4 step-children, in a very natural way, into the world of music and singing. Chuck's grandma Madelaine was a beautician, with grey-blue hair always perfectly done, and managed a large beauty shop on Grand and Gravious Rd., the busiest intersection in St. Louis. His grandma Addie Mae, his fathers mother, was on the other hand, a very proud women of humble back ground that raised 5 children mostly alone. She was half Cherokee Indian and told stories of whipper-snappers and bush-whackers, and surviving the depression in 1929 by picking through vegetables on a wagon under the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri left by the large restaurants trying to help the poor. She spoke in the language of the late 1800's.
Chuck LeMonds' main musical arteries and influences run from The Stanley Brothers, Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and the many great Delta blues players, as well as seeing great story-teller singers like Utah Phillips.
If there is a thread that runs through Chuck LeMonds' 50+ years, it would most likely be one of moving into new and unknown worlds and cultures as observer, documenting through song and story, and then as active participant, carrying the observed out onto any stage he might be walking onto, and continually switching between these two poles. He grew up between the noise of urban excess St. Louis and Washington D.C. and the rural pastoral settings of Poolesville, Maryland, where he lived as a boy in the servants quarters of an old plantation, and later in the Appalachian Mountains near Front Royal, Virginia where he first heard bluegrass music, and amongst lakes, rivers and dairy farms of Wisconsin where he first heard polka music, learned to milk cows, and survive -30 degree below cold winters.
Many musicians, and others who know Chuck, would willingly say he has paid his dues. Meaning he has been out travelling, carrying his musical message through his songs, to stages big and small, house concerts, festivals and live performances of all kinds for more than 30 years. This would include the many ups and downs of making a living from music over many years. Chuck LeMonds' has and still does make music from his home near Graz, Austria where he moved in the early 1990's, living amongst the rolling hills of east Styria, not far from the borders of Hungary and Slovenia, with a view of the Alps and vineyards.
Chuck LeMonds has had the great honor and pleasure to work with, perform and or record with musicians worldwide who have devoted their entire lives to their art form. To name just a few: from Wisconsin, Grammy nominated flutist Peter Phippen, blues guitarist and national treasure Howard 'Guitar' Luedtke, violinist Randy Sabien, James Brown's funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield, guitarist Willy Porter, recording artist and guitarist Chris Silver, singer-songwriter Liz Myer, from Belarus guitarist and composer Arkadiy Yushin, singer Jim Post, and from Austria: drummer Alex Deutsch, bassist Peter Herbert, the legendary Ripoff Raskolnikov, guitarist and songwriter Gottfried Gfrerer, violinist Bernie Mallinger, drummer Reinhard Winkler, and songwriter Georg Altziebler.
The album 'LeMonds' was recorded in the tower of a local castle in Austria, where he set up his studio for a number of weeks, and then upon completion, flew to Madison, Wisconsin to work with the 'Swiss Army Knives' of studio work: bassist, cellist and vocalist Mary Gaines and her husband multi-instrumentalist Chris Wagoner. The three were joined by Belarusian born guitarist Arkadiy Yushin to finish the eight tracks. 'LeMonds' upon release has received radio airplay throughout the US, Australia and Europe mainly on public radio stations and college radio, where roots music forms are still being kept alive. 'His songs are, to an extent, part of a powerful oral epic, in which people must provide for themselves. Chuck LeMonds appears to be someone who, through his writing, continually re-creates himself a new'."
The new disc 'The Rivers Call' is spinning... Please, don't remark: "Only nine tracks?" - as the shortest one is 4m37s and you definitely will get value for your money! Don't expect dark, heavy lyrics or complicated, sad music. This is folk music that looks back at the sixties and seventies, with light touches of country, blues and even gospel. Long, mostly acoustic songs (except for the electric guitar solos) with observative poetic descriptions and flowing melodies, Chuck's intimate, warm and relaxed vocal style adorned with delicate harmonies. Forget mainstream, Chuck does it his own way and keeps it inventive and even a bit experimental.
Chuck plays acoustic guitar, Peter Herbert (Paul Simon, Woody Shaw, Art Farmer) is featured on eight songs with his upright bass, Reinhardt Winkler is the drummer. We also find Mary Gaines and Chris Wagoner from the 'LeMonds' album here, mainly for the backing vocals. Arkadiy Yushin, Klaus Ambrosch, Gottfried Gfrerer and (surprise!) Dutchman Bart De Win are featured on additional electric guitars, lap steel, keys, etc.
- "Let's Go Down Stream": An excellent opening track, written by Chuck with his late father Sonny and they were going down stream to New Orleans! Sultry, swampy, funky blue eyed soul with excellent background vocals. Bart De Win plays the Wurlitzer organ here. "Let's go down stream to the land of our dreams!"
- "Bringing Mary K. Home": Beautiful description of 'a scene from a movie never made'. The only song with a starring role for the mandolin, played by Chris Wagoner.
- "To Bee Or Not To Bee": Starting off with a jazzy bowed bass intro, a song with an environmental theme, not too serious though - brought to us with a little wink and a doo-wop chorus!
- "The Rivers Call": The electric Telecaster lap guitar (played by Arkadiy Yushin) gives the title track its country touch. How confusing can love be? "How could anyone not love you?"
- "The Letter Home": A classic folk song, based on two poems by English poet John Weir and Austrian poet Petra Schaller. "One of the many who fell in the war / That made no sense when looking back." A line that says it all...
- "See The One You Love": I never get tired of this image! "Did you see the one you love / Looking back at you / Passing on the street car / Down line number two". Probably not the number two in Rotterdam, but that's the street car I'm thinking of...
- "Put A Good Word In For Me": The national steel guitar shines, played by Gottfried Gfrerer in this Southern bluesy acoustic swamp rock song. About the sweet hereafter: "If you meet the one / Who holds the key / Won't you put in a good word for me?"
- "Good Things Come To Him": An instrumental, dedicated to Chuck's brother John. Chuck on acoustic guitar, Bart De Win plays the Wurlitzer organ and Peter Herbert the upright bass. Somehow it makes me (and not only me) think of Ry Cooder's film music.
- "Top Of The World": A fragile solo rendition by Chuck and his acoustic guitar, of Patty Griffin's song. "There's a whole lot of singing / That's Never Gonna Be Heard". I think we are fortunate, that we heard Chuck!
One more example of the optimistic, happy approach of life Chuck LeMonds impressed me with: apparently the first package with the promo of 'The Rivers Call' got lost in the mail or... was it stolen? I asked Chuck if I should worry: "If it doesn't show again - I start to believe in evil spirits, roaming around the building!" It was Halloween! Chuck mailed me back: "OH don't think that..... maybe think someone loved it so much they just had to have it!!! :-) They couldn't help themselves!!!!" So, since then I'm with him on the 'positive thoughts' thing!
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - September 11th, 2014.