Clubland: Trio embraces songs of another era
The acoustic trio Frozen Corn will bring its covers of 1920-era songs to the Rendezvous in Turners Falls on Monday at 8:30 p.m.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FAFNIR ADAMITES
Soft-spoken Chris Carlton is flanked by a coffee and a cookie. He’s tucked into a cafe corner for an interview, his answers sometimes drowned out by chatter from a nearby table.
Carlton, based in Shelburne Falls, is one of the voices of the acoustic trio Frozen Corn. He plays guitar alongside Belchertown banjo pickers Joshua Burkett and Tony Pasquarosa, and the three friends perform unhurried covers of unvarnished songs from another era — the 1920s, mostly, when Appalachian musicians were first rawly recorded.
Frozen Corn appear at the Rendezvous in Turners Falls on Monday at 8:30 p.m. Wooden Wand headlines the show.
One of the tunes in the trio’s repertoire is the traditional “Little Birdie,” largely known through the version done by the Stanley Brothers. “Little birdie won’t you sing to me your song/ got a short time to stay here and a long time to be gone,” goes one verse, crooned over whiplash-fast bluegrass pickin’.
But in Frozen Corn’s hands, the two-minute song expands and sprawls into a different dimension.
“We joke that we have the slowest version,” Carlton said. “I think it gives the song a different character.”
“Spaced-out old-time music” is how someone described the band’s delivery.
“I think that’s pretty accurate,” said Carlton. “We tend to really slow the songs down, make them more droney, play them looser than the recordings.”
Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues” is another manic banjo tune that Frozen Corn downshifts, adding hypnotizing, discordant drones in between the many verses, which give Carlton’s voice a chance to wail and dip down into its deepest croaking register. “Go dig a hole in the meadow good people/ go dig a hole in the ground/ gather ’round all you good people/ and see this poor rambler go down.”
Years ago Burkett, who owns the Mystery Train record store in Amherst, had been interested in covering a handpicked selection of traditional old-time tunes; he and Carlton, a regular customer who became an employee, bonded over their appreciation for that pre-Depression era music, including the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music box set, edited by Harry Smith.
The friends talked about the concept for a couple years but it took meeting Pasquarosa to make Frozen Corn a reality. “He’s a lot younger than us,” said Carlton, “and he was kind of the opposite of me and Josh — he discovered old-time music first, then later got into punk rock, while we started off with punk rock and it eventually led to the old stuff.”
Carlton didn’t exactly begin with punk; his earliest musical influences were his parents’ record collection (Beatles and Beach Boys) and the fact that his mother and father were both musicians. His father studied to be a professional trombonist but eventually became a minister; Carlton grew up with hymns in the house.
During his college years, he discovered Leadbelly (thanks to a Nick Cave album) and acoustic guitar master John Fahey. “Through those two, I got into more traditional stuff,” he said. “I was looking for something that felt more real or pure, and I liked the big themes — love, murder, all those things.” Carlton has had a long history in the local music scene, starting with the ska-punk band Knuckle Sandwich in the mid-’90s, followed by The New Harmful, then Dark Oars. Each group had a totally different sound, but one thing they had in common was a dedication to playing original songs. Frozen Corn is his first experience performing other people’s compositions.
“It’s been a really different experience for me,” Carlton said. “It’s been fun and freeing because I don’t have the same kind of attachments [as I do to things I’ve written]. And even the “original” recordings were basically covers, cobbled-together pieces from older folk songs from the UK.
[These songs] have existed for a long time and are just moving through us for this moment, and then will hopefully be passed on to someone else who’ll carry them along.”
Frozen Corn has a self-titled seven-song CD-R available through the Blueberry Honey label.
Carlton will play a rare solo set on a bill with Lys Guillorn, a free show at the basement Community Room at the Forbes Library on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 p.m.