Banks of the Little Auplaine
THE BAND: Based in Minneapolis, founded officially in the summer of 2009, the members of Julie Johnson & the No-Accounts, who share a connection to the music program at Augsburg College, have been collaborating for several years. Julie Johnson has played with groups as varied as the Minnesota Chorale and the Texas blues singer Dede Priest, while Doug Otto (of Doug Otto & The Getaways) and Drew Druckrey (of The Jason Dixon Line), have also played together in bands such as The North Country Bandits. THE ALBUM: The original songs and versions of traditional Upper Midwestern tunes on The Banks of The Little Auplaine (written or arranged primarily by Julie Johnson, but developed by the band) straddle a line between song and composition, popular and chamber music. Influenced by many artists, including Gillian Welch, Astor Piazzolla, Patty Griffin, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Bela Bartok, and Robert Johnson, the band has struggled to define the music they make. Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain comes the closest, in his description of those pieces that "fell between the two categories" of "the lofty and conscious creation of individual artists" and "simple folk songs ... in that they were products of an intellectual art, and at the same time sprang from all that was profoundest and most reverent in the feeling and genius of a people-artificial folk-songs, one might call them, if the word artificial need not be taken to cast a slur on the genuineness of their inspiration.' While the band started out playing the Delta blues tunes and traditional Southern standards that drew them to roots music-artists like Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf, and Skip James-here they focus on soulful music from the Upper Midwest. They hope to be a part of finding and interpreting their own region's melodic, rhythmic, and thematic folk tradition and history. THE SONGS: Bob Dylan wrote the original Winterlude in 1970 for his album New Morning, but it's hard to find anyone who's ever heard of this unexpectedly sweet and light tune. A jaunty arrangement and an incongruous bass clarinet play up the charm of that surprise. The Removed. Based on characteristics of the French Canadian folk tune "Le Petite Rocher," this song's open, crystal-like harmonies speak to the landscape of Julie Johnson's childhood in Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota: the stark beauty of it's flatness, it's long blue-and-white winters. Originally written for two flutes, this version for flute and resonator guitar captures the effect Johnson originally intended. Writing this piece led to her deep interest in the folk tradition of the Upper Midwest. Arkan, a dance tune popular among the Ukranian Hutsul (from southwestern Ukraine), is often heard at the Ukranian Heritage Festival in Northeast Minneapolis, an area historically populated by Eastern European immigrants. Natalie Nowytski, of the Ukranian Village Band, introduced Johnson to the tune, who arranged it in a tango/bolero style, exploring the percussive possibilities of the mandolin, acoustic guitar, and bass flute. Found in Franz Lee Rickaby's Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy, a collection of lumberjack songs from Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin that were popular in 1870-1900, the Golden Age of American lumbering, the haunting The Little Auplaine speaks to the dangers of the Upper Midwest's early industries. One of the only shanty-boy songs whose original authorship is known (W.N. Allen, also known as "Shan T. Boy," who wrote it sometime in the 1870s), Johnson's arrangement uses an altered version sung to Rickaby by M.C. Dean of Virginia, MN. Allen's version is in a major key, includes differences in the melody, and spells the title "The Little Eau Pleine." Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the eight Little House books, which tell her family's story of living on the land in 1870-1889, is perhaps the most famous pioneer of the Upper Midwest. This version of the hymn The Home of the Soul, as sung by her mother Caroline, is found in The Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook and referred to in the most harrowing book of Ingalls' series, The Long Winter. Snowed in in Dakota Territory during one of the harshest winters on record, near starvation, the family listens to the song with hope and dread: "The hymn blended with the wailing of the winds outside as Ma sat in her rocking chair and softly sang about the beautiful land where no storms ever beat." A traditional Métis jig includes both European (French, Scotch, and/or Irish) and Native influences; it's up-tempo, lively, and made for dancing. The Métis (a term at times loosely, at others strictly defined; here it is used to describe those of Native-Canadian or American-and European descent who trace their roots to the Upper Midwest or Canada) commonly included extra and irregular beats in jigs to challenge the quickness of a dancer's feet. Red River Jig is one of the most popular Métis fiddle tunes from the mid to late 1700's. Also found in Rickaby's collection and also sung by logger M.C. Dean, The Cumberland's Crew, though it describes an event that occurred far south (the sinking of the Union ship Cumberland off of Newport News, VA in 1862), was, according to Dean, "a great favorite among the boys." Johnson worked for a fraught and lonely mood with a bass flute solo followed by tight and often dissonant three-part harmonies. The shanty-boy worked alone, and, unlike the tunes sung by many other laborers, shanty-boy songs were not often accompaniment for group work. But in the evenings, when lumberjacks came together in camp, storytellers and singers were highly prized. Using extended techniques, the solo flute piece The Panther asks listeners to expand their ideas of what the flute can be and do. Johnson features the influence of Ojibwe music in this piece that drives aggressively forward like a chase. Minnesota Finnish communities often include Jos voisin laulaa (If I Could Sing) in celebrations of the festival of Midsummer (Juhannus). Joyce E. Hakala, in The Rowan Tree: The Lifework of Marjorie Edgar, Girl Scout Pioneer and Folklorist, includes the song and describes Edgar's work of collecting folk music, tales, proverbs and traditions from Finnish people on the Minnesota Iron Range. This song was sung for Edgar in Ely in 1930 and in Duluth in 1931, by various singers. Johnson's arrangement seeks to capture the enchanting mood of many Finnish folk songs. This version of Gary's Polka was collected by LeRoy Larson, head of the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble, and is a composite version of those played by Calmer Brenna, a Norwegian fiddler from Middle River, MN, and Bill Sherburne of Spring Grove. While the lazy beginning of Johnson's version was inspired by an old cowboy movie, the flute and clarinet runs in the second half play with both polka and jazz. Cover Art: The Banks of The Little Auplaine by T.J. Malaske Band Photos by Christine Rooney CD recorded at Wild Sound Recording Studio in Minneapolis, MN, and designed & manufactured by Noiseland Industries, Minneapolis, MN.