Being a night owl has its advantages. A couple of Saturday nights ago, I was up late (knitting) (don’t need to say that, I suppose), and I groaned when switching to Channel 13 and finding out that they were doing a three-hour fundraising session with a music show I’d never heard of: The American Epic Sessions. Having no choice (translation: being too lazy to dial up an alternative on Netflix), I watched, and was immediately hooked, and amazed.
Basically: a 1928 electrical recording rig, no example of which had survived intact, was recreated from parts over a 10 year period, enabling T Bone Burnett and Jack White and others to use this antique, which once had traveled the country to record ordinary Americans, to record again.
In other words, time travel. It records on wax. Powered by a weight.
Here’s a clip, of Willie Nelson talking about the Carter Family, that got me all choked up. Even more moving: the only known footage of Mississippi John Hurt. And how about: the invention of the Hawaiian steel guitar by an 11-year-old boy walking on the railroad tracks? It’s a beautiful reminder of what is best in our country’s history and culture.
Seeing the parade of modern-day musicians reverently recording with only one take, and one microphone, is astounding. There’s an atmosphere of holiness that is entirely appropriate.
(Not to be missed: a Textile Arts Moment that harkens back to Jack White’s beginnings as an upholsterer. I don’t want to spoil it, but if you feel the need to talk about this tidbit in The Lounge, I’ll be there, waiting for you.)
The series aired widely in the summer of 2017 on public television, so check your local station to view on demand. (There are also full episodes on Youtube at the moment.)