Brett Schenning’s Small Towns, Big Dreams examines the effects 2008’s Great Recession had on rural American communities. Schenning is interested in what was left behind when many families who had settled in small towns “looking for a quieter way of life” were forced to move closer to urban centers and the employment possibilities they offered, and his photographs focus, in part, on that absence.
That Hell was born and raised not in some dark and edgy urban enclave but in the rolling hills of Lexington, Kentucky, can feel incongruous. It’s too soft, where he comes from—too genteel. Yet having emerged from a region Hell considers a Nowhere—not in the ugly or pejorative sense, but in the empty sense, a place that was just like any other place, a blank place—allowed for wild self-creation later on. These are ideas that repeat for Hell: blankness, voids. He is someone who understands how to make something from nothing.
The Louisville trio Maiden Radio—Cheyenne Marie Mize, Julia Purcell, and Joan Shelley—took the reins on gathering a contemporary octet of Kentucky women, inviting Linda Jean Stokley and Montana Hobbs of the Local Honeys, Heather Summers and Anna Krippenstapel of the Other Years, and Sarah Wood to join them. They recorded their version at Louisville’s Locust Grove in August 2017. The text—past the first two verses—is a composite of their own.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Songs: Ohia is the name under which musician Jason Molina—Ohio-born and bred, with deep West Virginia roots—performed and released his first records. Didn’t It Rain was his sixth studio album but my first exposure to him. It’s an album that I folded into immediately, that buckled my blood. I’d never heard something that sounded exactly like how I felt.
A Freakwater song works something like this. Irwin starts singing over a bass and guitar. Bean comes in after a few bars, accompanied by violin or pedal steel. They trade lines back and forth, then converge into stacked harmonies in which Irwin’s low earthy timbre finds a counterpoint in Bean’s airy alto. It’s those two perfectly paired voices that keep you from drowning in what the songs are actually about.
The music made by the Booker Orchestra of Camp Nelson, Kentucky, has been almost completely obscured by time. In that distinction, it’s representative of many of the contributions made, to the Commonwealth and to the country alike, by rural black Kentuckians. Jessamine County’s Camp Nelson was a major site for recruitment and training of African-American soldiers in the Civil War, and more than ten thousand United States Colored Troops and their families cycled through during and after the war.
In the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, unionism—or its lack—was a creed people held and defended as fiercely as those of the region’s charismatic religions. And the music Sarah Ogan Gunning and her siblings produced between the 1930s and 1960s was as steeped in unionism and communism as it was in the traditional songs, ballads, and hymns of Appalachia.
A Points South essay from the Kentucky Music Issue.
The last time I heard Jimmy Raney play was at Bellarmine College in Louisville. To know that a master like Raney had gone deaf was to know that a Rembrandt was burning. He played alone because he could no longer hear well enough to play with others.