“Can't believe a 77 year old is singing. And the band is so good.”
“So I just listened to the record twice back to back and it’s magnificent"
JS -Philadelphia PA
“I really love your new CD. I listened to it almost 3 times yesterday. I am so impressed with the arrangements and the words”
"So beautiful! Instant classic ! Really fine! It’s got the feel”
PR- Sausalito CA
“The sound is AMAZING!!!! What awesome musicians!!! I do not have sufficient adjectives.”
JFS Seattle WA
I love it. The vocals are knock-out and beautifully mixed. Mile Twelve is perfectly suited to your music and songs… I am thrilled to see “Geronimo’s Cadillac” given this loving treatment! “
KM- Santa Clarita CA
Wow, what a terrific CD! All the musicians are so well balanced, the harmonies are gorgeous. I love this CD.
LS- Amherst MA
A very thought-provoking and well-produced musical work …with meaningful lyrics that have multiple levels of meaning….the entire project sheds a new light on bluegrass and (its) endless possibilities. It's a great album.
BWB - Iowa City, IA
The sonority and style of (the) singing and the tone of (the) guitar playing is spectacular! One song in particular just set my hair on fire - Jones Mill !! … its own so insistent rhythm - almost like a rock n roll chartbuster. Wow!
GT- Concord, CA
The new CD has really grasped my attention like no other in recent memory. Every aspect of this work.... the writing, the musicianship and the recordings are all terrific.
GF- Ontario, Canada
I just listened to the whole thing, and frankly I'm bowled over! Great playing, fine vocals, arrangements slicker'n whaleshit, and exceptionally diverse, colorful and downright brilliant writing on your part. I especially appreciate your accenting of the absurd in some of the pieces ("On the way" reminds me of Roger MIller!). "Second Sail" coulda been written/sung by Hank. "Kaiser Bill" reminded me of my old history professor in Junior High School, who called him that, and had actually fought in WW1. "The Weight of the Years" is deeply affecting - and the sloping shoulders/guitar metaphor is absolutely precious.-
WS, Bremen, Germany
Really listenable recording in so many ways. Grooves are great, the playing is stellar - the soloing manages to not be the stock fancy licks that I’m tired of hearing - lots of warmth, personality, and color there…Wonderful harmony singing as well…..knocked it out of the park.
MS, Oakland, CA
In “Mile 77” Jody takes the listener on a journey to places few have ever seen or heard. These are places worth visiting.
Jody Stecher has been around forever—or at least since the 1960s when he emerged from the remnants of the folk music revival. On his latest album, a collaboration with the distinguished Boston-based string band Mile Twelve, he sounds better than ever.
His warm, lived-in voice and his intriguing original songs bring to mind a West Coast version of the great Norman Blake. San Francisco-based Stecher conveys a similar old-timey authenticity and gravitas. Through the years, he’s influenced any number of younger up-and-comers, including David Bromberg. Bromberg once observed that Stecher “opened my ears to more beautiful music than anyone ever did … more than I knew existed.”
The “77” in the title refers to Stecher’s age. Thus, it’s no surprise that some of his sterling compositions express the sort of ruminations that tend to come naturally when one reaches the second half of one’s seventh decade.
So it is on the introspective “The Weight of the Years,” where he tells us:
The weight of the years caused my shoulders to slope
Like an old Gibson J 45.
My mem’ries are heavy. I’ve lived through so much
In the long years that I’ve been alive.
The enigmatic “The Only Sunshine” mines similar existential territory. There’s also a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humor to his music. Here and there he has a penchant for nonsensical, yet clever and intriguing lyrics—as on “When the Wind Comes Up,” a bluegrassy foot stomper that features some stellar picking from Mile Twelve.
That playfulness is also front and center on the jaunty “Hannahmariah” and “Kaiser Bill,” where Stecher offers:
If had not-a been for tomorrow there’d be no yesterday
Perhaps I’ve got it backwards,I really cannot say
If it had not-a been for the farmer
there wouldana been no dell
If it had not-a been for the Kaiser Bill
There would not-a been no hell
Among other highlights is an acoustic version of “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” a Michael Martin Murphey country-rock hit of yesteryear. Ella Jordan’s fine fiddle lines sew vivid embroidery around Stecher’s slightly tremulous vocal that’s rich in pathos and nostalgia.
“Jones Mill,” a rustic tale of robbery, murder and woe, sounds like it could have been lifted from an early Hank Williams recording session. As track after track makes clear, Stecher is a master with American roots music running through his veins.
BA, Bluegrass Unlimited
Dreams From The Overlook
I swear that the first time I listened to the cd, I was sure, absolutely positive, I "knew" these tunes. Comforting and familiar, and yet offering, too, the joy of discovery.
What a terrific album! Guess it takes an ancient man to sing an ancient song.
If someone from another Galaxy asked me to define American roots music, I would have them listen to Jody Stecher’s latest release Dreams from the Overlook. Each different style of music has its own particular nuances, which Jody Stecher has so thoroughly mastered that his newly-minted compositions sound as if they were all discovered via scratchy 78s instead of his own exceedingly fertile mind.
-Steven Stone, The Absolute Sound
I have spent a most pleasant week with your music playing in my study and also in my head - very uplifting in these times where down is the the usual direction.
Hey Jody,I LOVE your CD. It is so you with its whimsy and quirkiness and musical sensibility. I love it all. It made me laugh and it made me cry. It's beautiful.
I was up to Danny around the Christmas and played your CDs for him and pointed out the Mighty Mallet jig. He was greatly taken by it - saying if he knew it back in the London days "I could have made a fortune out of playing it"!!!
…tunes, songs, musicians, playing, recording...all super. It’s wonderful you got such great players to learn your tunes. It’s a joy to listen to.
Inspiration and joy!
The sound is pristine, it sparkles like snow and diamonds!
..the sound—instrumental and vocals—is beautiful, right from the first notes. All in proper balance. The crystalline mandolin and the guitars have such a great and immediate presence.
It is beautiful music. I love it….You have such a unique and comforting sound….Thanks for making such beautiful and memorable music.
Phyllis De Smet-Howard
I always get inspired by your music Jody…I am enjoying the new tunes, and by osmosis, they're getting embedded into the latest crop of mandolinos on the workbench. Thanks!
A Magnum Opus.
Loving the double album Jody! So many gems - simultaneously of-the-moment and eternal. Thank you!
One of today’s great mandolinists, Jody Stecher seems to have set out here to knock his listeners socks completely off —and he surely succeeds.
-Mitch Finley The Bluegrass Blabber
Jody Stecher’s “Dreams From The Overlook” 2-CD set is special in multiplex ways. Please allow me to enumerate a few:
1) It’s all original material that is stunningly good.
2) Everything is beautifully performed.
3) The recording quality and mastering is exceptional.
4) The album brings a great warmth and positive energy into any space that it is played in.
5) Among a history of outstanding albums by Jody, this one is extraordinary.
Hey Jody, I've been listening to your double CD the last two nights and I have to congratulate you on your wonderful music. It's been very relaxing and refreshing for me for me to sit back and soak it in. We've had so much trouble this year with Covid: a lot of our older friends have passed away from it, especially lately. Your music is a welcome respite from the worries and concerns we are experiencing in that regard. It's nice to hear something that is genuine. There is so much we can't believe in these days, and your tunes and songs are like a light in the fog.
The instruments have a nice, soft, mellow tone...good for the soul. The transitions between the selections are very pleasant. You've really composed some wonderful music here, music that is thoughtful, human, uplifting, and in many ways reminiscent of what I call the Monroe concept: It has not been forced out or made to fit to a formula--instead it has been discovered and brought forth from the spiritual world where it has always existed.
Your natural innate musical ability has been augmented by your knowledge and experience with many different styles and genres. The result is a unique creative musical expression that brings the past into the present in a profound way. It reflects your life in music--listenable, free of corruption by commercial interests, unfettered by formulaic restrictions, and graced with a personal stamp that makes it pure Jody Stecher.
I'm not trying to write a review--I really mean this stuff. I'm glad my life's journey has included you and your music.
Love it!. I .. was blown away by that first track! and the second! and the third! and.....as with all great music, the more I listen the more I hear. Best $22 I've spent in a long time, and I haven't even made it to disc two yet…
"Rolling Wave" is simply stunning and beautiful. By the end of it, I've got tears in my eyes. But, then when "I Don't Know the Muffin Man" starts up, I immediately have a smile on my face. That transition between songs and the resulting collision of emotions is a gift.
As an electrochemist, I'm very interested in chemistry that occurs at an interface: an interface between a liquid and solid, a gas and a solid, a solid and a solid, or even two immiscible liquids. It's within these interfacial regions where the two phases affect each other, often over relatively long distances (nanometers up to micrometers), and the properties of the two phases blend into something unique and often very useful beyond either of the two bulk phases (this is where electrical potentials reside, and where concentration gradients can lead to enhanced reactivity). These interfaces are at the heart of batteries, diodes, and transistors, as well as the functioning of biological cells. I can't help but make the analogy between these electrochemical interfaces I study at work and the "interface" between these two pieces of music on your album. That transition you've created is an interface that is more than either of the two songs individually. Thank you for writing those songs and putting them back-to-back like that.
Von Soosten Chair and Assistant Professor
Director, Chemistry Graduate Program
Department of Chemistry
University of San Francisco
For many years I’ve scanned the albums of Jody Stecher and partner Kate Brislin for overlooked gems of early bluegrass and folk music. There was always a clarity and power in the renditions that brought out the beauty of the tune. The new album Dreams from the Overlook, I’m happy to say, follows this tradition.
Listening to this album for the first time, as one does in this day and age from my phone sans liner notes of any kind, I kept thinking “How did I miss all these great old time songs and tunes? Why have I never heard these songs? These songs are so good, why are they not tunes I regularly hear in jam sessions?”
Reading the liner notes revealed that they are all originals from Stecher and he’s tapped into the deep tradition of old time music where familiar chord progressions and simple melodies walk hand-in-hand with original twists and turns yielding a deeply satisfying cornucopia of musical delights. The tunes have the simple and satisfying melodies of classic fiddle tunes and songs. They also feature lyrics that are witty, insightful and easy to sing along with.
The supporting cast of musicians who work brilliantly to serve the melodies include Tony Trischka, Ethan Jodiewicz, Tristan Clarridge, Keith Little, Tashina Clarridge, Kate Brislin and many others. Any of these players could fill an album with fancy licks, but they focus their energy on the melodies and bring them to life with an infectious joy that you can’t avoid.
Pete Seeger once said “Any fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple”. I would add that it takes genius and heart, and Jody Stecher has both in abundance. Dreams from the Overlook is a double CD treasure trove of songs and tunes that feel both fresh and familiar.
Kevin Slick/ Bluegrass Unlimited
A Quick “Overlook-See” at Two Tunes from Jody Stecher’s new Dreams from the Overlook
Mark Simos —for Fiddler Magazine
I was delighted when Mary Larsen at Fiddler asked if I’d like to review Jody Stecher’s new double album Dreams from the Overlook. Of course, a review is supposed to be somewhat objective—and I can’t pretend to any objectivity about Jody Stecher. As I came of musical age in California in the ‘70s, Jody was a musical hero and inspiration, to me as to countless others. He’s also worked over the years with many other heroes of mine—among them, the Poison Coyote Kid hisself—the great tunesmith Hank Bradley (whose influence can be heard in many spots on this album, and who I hope to feature in a future column). It’s always nice when hero becomes friend: over the years, Jody and I have had many an engaging exchange, musical and philosophical. I’ve learned more arguing with him than agreeing with almost anyone else (especially about modes!).
So, frankly, I wanted an excuse to unabashedly sing Jody’s praises, and celebrate his “Cabinet of Wonders” of an album. There are many gems here in these 36 tracks, referencing multiple genres, eras, and forms, all suffused with Jody’s distinctive musicality. Styles range from old- time and bluegrass to Irish, Cape Breton, a classic Texas-style contest waltz, to some tunes one might call “Mediterranean”—with two zeybekikos for good measure! Not to mention songs droll (“Chumstick Beans”), haunting (“Oh, the Rolling Wave”), dream-visionary (“Perfik”), whimsical (“Tanglefoot Blues”), topical (“Hey Don John”), and more. (I’ve already turned “Chumstick Beans” into a writing challenge for my Berklee songwriting students.)
So I felt my best approach would be a deep dive into a tune or two in this column, dedicated as it is to the work of contemporary tunesmiths. In a short (3+ hour-long) chat preparing for this column, Jody and I discussed the project, the creative processes of tune and song making, challenges of notating one’s own tunes, and a few points of interest in the two tunes I’d selected. (I reckon a mere 36 hours more of conversation would suffice to do proper justice to this project as a whole.)
About the Project. Though a few of his original tunes and songs have appeared on his other albums, this is Jody’s second project of all original tunes and songs since his 2012 release Wonders and Signs. He was inspired to do the project as a response to losing three good friends, in the period before the pandemic—a grief expressed in the austere “Oh, the Rolling Wave.” With a new awareness of his own mortality, and a sense of urgency to record his own compositions, he assembled an assortment of intrepid musical cohorts, including long-time associates Keith Little, Chad Manning, and Paul Knight; wife and musical partner Kate Brislin; and phenoms both vintage and young, including Tony Trischka, Tashina and Tristan Clarridge, and Ethan Jodziewicz. Often in the role of producer or band leader in service to others’ music, Jody prizes collaborations that leave plenty of room for other musicians to bring their own approaches and sensibilities to the work. Forming a band to record his own music felt different in some ways: he had a clearer vision, an aim to memorialize the essentials, necessities of inclusion and avoidance. It’s particularly nice hearing the tunes interpreted by three great fiddlers (Chad, Tashina, and Tristan) in this crew, each with a distinct style.
With session recordings in the can, as Jody put it: “Then... I didn’t die.” We’re indeed blessed to have both his premature testimonial, and his continuing presence in our midst.
Listening to the album stirs many feelings for me. It is one of a number of projects being released now that were recorded before, but finished during, the Great Pandemic. Listening in lockdown imbues this music with special poignancy: a time-capsule reminder of the once taken for granted joys of sitting knee to knee in companionable musicianship.
The Tunes. So, let’s dive into the two tunes transcribed here. (The transcriptions represent the fruits of some intensive consultation between Jody and myself: I hope they represent his composer’s intent as clearly as possible.) I selected the sprightly medley that opens the album, a pair of great C tunes in a Southern old-time vein, “Bread and Texas/Katy in the Kitchen.” Besides displaying high compositional craft, they are an ideal pairing of tunes to play for dancing. Despite some quirks of phrasing (discussed below), they are straight-phrased enough to work well for contra or square dancing, with clarity and contrast of form and that driving propulsion that will move feet—even if, for the foreseeable near future, you’ll need to do your dancing, as we did, in the kitchen with a dish towel.
“Bread and Texas” was, according to Jody, a celebration of the distinctive qualities of old-time tunes in the key of C, as these lay on standard-tuned fiddle (or mandolin). The low strings provide the rich, resonant double-stop of C (G string) and E (D string). The open high E string provides a sweet third, reminiscent of the ringing top string in “Calico” (AEAC#) cross tuning. The high B note reached in first position on the E string, without shifting, provides a major- seventh stridency against the C tonality. These ingredients characterize a diverse family of tunes in the old-time repertoire. With this pair of tunes, Jody has created new classics that find un-delved-into corners of C-ness to explore, and deserve to become part of that repertoire.
Some tune writers pride themselves on writing tunes that sound entirely traditional. This can be a good learning exercise—writing such tunes is harder than it seems—but can yield tunes that add nothing distinctive to their repertoire. Other tune writers don’t grasp the old forms deeply enough to write a tune that isn’t constantly winking at you ironically, or performing juggling stunts to keep you entertained. No—I like a tune that sits squarely in the tradition, yet has some sparkling “golden moments” that make it not quite like any other tune you know.
I will elucidate three such delights in “Bread and Texas.” The first is the phrasing that begins the tune, which throws strong emphasis on the third beat of the measure: here, the fat E at the opening arc’s peak, strengthened by the double-stop unison of A and E strings, sat on a while for extra emphasis. On first hearing the tune, I “mistook the downbeat for a pickup” (as Jody described it, in the context of common transcriber mistakes). The band flirts further with this mis-hearing by entering, later, on another mid-measure spot. According to Jody, this was an arrangement choice made by the band, without much intentional mischief in mind. He even seemed surprised I heard the tune this way, though he’s familiar with the phenomenon in other
tunes. (In fact, he’s written a column about it: “’Rocky Pallet,’ ‘Four Cent Cotton,’ and ‘Katy Did’—A Certain Funhouse Charm” in Fiddler EDITION ???.)
My next golden moment, in measure 12, is one of those details easily missed, but to me the mark of the true tunesmith’s art, in the notes: GAGE GBAG ... C (I felt vindicated when Jody told me those same notes were Tristan’s favorite spot.) This is also the kind of detail likely to get smudged away, in a “festival” version, into simple repetition of the notes GAGE. As written, the ear is instead granted several small delights: metric displacement of the repeated notes AG; and a climbing ridgeline of melodic contour peaks, from A, to B... to the C that begins the next measure. (It goes by fast! The dots will help you appreciate it.)
But the most striking signature of the tune, to my ear, is its bold ascent to the high E after this phrase. (These are my golden moments, by the way. For Jody, the signature of this tune is the double-stop at measures 9 and 17, A-F, played up the neck on the 3rd and 2nd strings.) As I wrote it out, I saw it doesn’t go all that surprisingly high; yet on first hearing, it was shocking. And joyous: with a buoyant, “little boy on a sled going Whee! as he slides down the hillside” kind of feel. Part of the charm of these high notes is the way the sustained fiddle tones combine with mandolin—a heterophony of yowl and plink. Many C tunes are essays about whether and how to get to up that high C on the E string. This tune leaps atop the mountain, then dances there awhile—before descending for tea time.
The second tune, “Katy in the Kitchen,” was written as an “after-tune” to “Bread and Texas.” (I love this idea, and intend to use it as a spur to write some “answer tunes” of my own.) The tune definitely starts us in the middle of the story, with the “...and then”-ness of its bold IV (F) chord. (In fact, if you study the chords in these tunes, you will note there is nary an F in the first tune, while the second tune uses only F and C!) Here I’ll remark only on two remarkable spots in the tune that caught (and actually befuddled) my ear.
The first passage, in measures 13-14, sets up a sly counter-rhythm against the foursquare reel/hoedown time signature. Syncopating three-note figures against duple time is a familiar effect in “raggier” tunes, and even in older old-time bowing patterns. Varying the lengths of those counter-rhythmic groupings is a trickier effect. Here we hear lengthening ascending pentatonic passages, all starting from low A, attaining in turn another threaded “ridgeline” of peaks: D (by three notes), E (by four notes), jumping to A (by six notes), then down to G (by 5 notes). (Jody and I both recognized this tasty technique in certain distinctive Irish tunes, such as the jig “Trip to Athlone” or the hornpipe “The Flowing Tide.”) The subtlety of the effect depends on continued emphasis of the regular 2/4 meter—rather than “telegraphing” with dynamics either the repeated low As or the ascending ridgeline. The other brilliance of this passage is the way the final high A descends an octave to the low A—and suddenly, seamlessly, we’re back in the melodic “refrain” echoing measures 7-8 of the A part.
Most tunesmiths would rest on their laurels with such a passage. But in the circling round of the B part (written out in the transcription), Jody outdoes himself with a further twist, in measures 21-22. (Hang on to yer hats, kids!) Now the counter-rhythms come in steadily lengthening
ascending slopes, of lengths 3, 4, 5, 6. But rather than each starting from a common low tone (as with the A in the earlier phrase), here the low notes zigzag: from F, to G, back to F, to G. The last, six-note phrase begins on low G and ends on high G; and, as if by magic, the last two notes of that ascent turn out to be—our refrain again! I am only occasionally vain, but I do pride myself on having a quick ear. Yet this passage eluded me on multiple listens. It was a small comfort to me that Jody himself got confused trying to break it down for me! Believe me, then, when, as a fellow tunesmith, I say a fellow could die happy having written these two measures. (But Jody, please don’t die for a good long while yet!)
On his album notes, Jody writes: “I am told that my tunes sound as if they had always existed. ‘Composing folk music’ may not be an oxymoron after all.” Well, not everyone can pull this off. I believe that, to create original music that sounds traditional, you must go deeply enough into traditional music to play it as if it were—no, making it your own. Jody’s many years of deep, reverential yet critical listening, playing, accompanying, studying, transcribing, teaching and analyzing, interpreting, synthesizing, and making stuff up, can all be heard at work in this wonderful collection. It’s a gift to all of us: buy it for yourself, then buy it for someone else too! (It’s available at Jody and Kate’s website: https://jodyandkate.com/store.)
Reviewers and customers have been enjoying our recordings. Scroll down to see what they say.
“ RETURN is a luminous collection of songs and tunes. The songs are exquisite, varied, and notable for evocative lyrics and beautiful melodies. ” - Steve Arkin
— Old-Time Herald
“Their vocals are acrobatic, spirited, precise and nuanced ... With a hauntingly eerie guitar (and) modal dual vocals (Fine Horseman) sounds as fully orchestrated as any multi-tracked extravaganza. ” - Steven Stone
— Vintage Guitar
“It's great that Jody and Kate are back to show us all how it should be done.” - TD
— Sing Out!
“Wow, wow and wow! A feast of an album. Several hair-raising moments, many smiles and wah's, and a few tears, too (listening to Calloused Hands). What a treat. ” - H.C.
— customer response
“I’ve been listening (over and over again) to your new CD --- it’s gorgeous, delicious music ----congratulations to you!” - C.G.
— customer response
“ Wow, what a pleasure! Enough familiar to feel completely comfortable, enough new to justify the wait and set the whole effort apart from all else before. I loved the Lal Waterson song, the Joseph Spence sendup, Rivers of Texas, a bunch of things. Mostly the overall thing. And the cover photo is one of the best of you guys I've ever seen. Plus, you just don't encounter phrases like "with chromatic passages that evoked Heaven as cocktail lounge cum mortuary" just anywhere. Bravo!” - P.H.
— customer response
“ A SONG THAT WILL LINGER If any of their previous work has touched you than this will poleaxe you. They are one of the great musical duos, bar none.” - Ken Hunt
— Folk Roots