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By Dylon Jones
Photo by Mickie Winters
Piano in the pasture.
Everything was smaller when they lived here, working on their adjacent house. For about 18 months, pianist Rachel Grimes and husband Alec Johnson slept on a futon in the pole-barn-style studio they built. The big painting of a cathedral did not yet hang on the wall. A small desk held Grimes’ three computers, which she used to write sheet music, record and edit. They cooked on hot plates in the mini-kitchen by the door, where Grimes still uses a water heater to make tea. And she still had an upright piano then.
The night she got the seven-foot Baldwin grand, a full moon shone through the windows. “It was like an invitation,” Grimes says. “The big piano is here!”
It took nine years to build the house in rural Milton, Kentucky — about a 40-minute drive northeast from Louisville — but now Grimes has the studio to herself. “It’s really important to have a separate space, to be able to keep all my mu- sical equipment set up and ready to go,” the 45-year-old says.
The concrete foor, blond-wood sidewalls, and hemlock siding saved from a decayed corn crib make for rich acoustics. Same with the ceiling’s asymmetrical slant. “For sound, it’s good to have a non- square space. The sound bounces differently if you have multiple angles, and also more materials. It’s not a recording studio in here, but it’s a pleasant sound,” Grimes says.
When Grimes goes on vacation, she goes camping. She titled her 2009 solo piano album Book of Leaves. Her new album, The Clear- ing, comes out May 26. “I’ve always been at home outdoors,” she says. She prefers the garden plots in
the yard, the green hills curving skyward, the thick woods beyond the house to her old home offce on Frankfort Avenue. “It was cold and dark,” she says. “I didn’t have any view out my window. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of artists and writers: They want a little space.” Grimes looks out the window into sunlight.
“I got a lot of space now.”
By Rob Cummins / Photo by Mickie Winters
The three members of Maiden Radio credit destiny for their longtime musical bond.
Forty-fve minutes into Maiden Radio’s mid-June album release concert at the Clifton Center,
the black-clad, cowboy-boot-wearing trio crowds around an antique microphone, conjuring images of old-time radio singers. Joan Shelley strums her acoustic guitar. Cheyenne Mize plucks away at her banjo. Julia Purcell ofers rhythmic counterpoint on her guitar. Teir Appalachian songs with a Celtic tinge sound as if they’ve existed forever. Several guest musicians
— including a drummer and upright bassist on some songs — join the group throughout the performance. A starry white, blue and purplish-red backdrop frames this little slice of Americana.
Mize calls it “kismet.” Fate. Tat’s what brought the group together six years ago. Mize, 31, and Purcell, 34,
are both music therapists and did their internships at the same place in upstate New York, though not at the same time. Tey discovered shared musical interests while bonding over occupational concerns. Purcell and Shelley, 29, were both born in Traverse City, Michigan. Such coincidences — and obvious musical chemistry — burnished their belief that they were meant to play in a band together. While they don’t necessarily fnish one another’s sentences, they do fnish one another’s thoughts.
Mize credits “Mammy.” Grandma. Defnitely grandma. “My grandmother on my dad’s side played old-timey country music on the radio, very similar to some of the songs we play. In fact, some of the same songs,” Mize says. Purcell mentions her dad. “He was in a folk band, a Christian folk band. Tey would practice in my living room. He played dulcimer and
harmonica, which wasn’t too common up in northern Michigan,” Purcell says. “Te dulcimer is the Kentucky state instrument, so I think that just stuck in my ear and,
I guess, in my soul. And then I moved to Kentucky and I was surrounded by that type of music and was just drawn to it. Drawn to play, and then drawn to these ladies.”
Te Louisville band spent a week this past January recording Wolvering in Purcell’s family’s cabin in Wolverine, Michigan, close to the top of the Michigan mitten. (Maiden Radio recorded its previous two albums, the 2010 self-titled debut and 2011’s Lullabies, here in town.) “We just thought it would be the perfect isolated, close-quartered space to capture the sound that we were going for,” Purcell says.
“We were just trying to fnd a place we could be disconnected a little bit from all the normal things,” Shelley says.
Te access bridge to the cabin froze over on their second full day there. Luckily, they had already gotten all their groceries, though their bourbon supply dwindled as the week wore on. Tey had to turn of
the noisy furnace to record. Cold crept in. “It’s hard to play string instruments with cold hands,” Shelley says. Tey recorded around a crackling freplace, which you can sometimes hear as the songs fade in and out.
Wolvering continues the group’s exploration of Appalachian and early- American string-band music, all fltered through three-part harmonies. Te 15 two- to three-minute tracks are mostly standards from old song catalogs — “Cold Frosty Morning/Kitchen Gal,” “Sweet Sunny South,” “Green Icy Mountain.” Te originals — “Wolvering,” “Dawn Chorus” and “No More Crying” — ft right into the Appalachian canon. Maiden Radio usually arranges Shelley’s songs into harmonies, but the title track evolved from a Mize banjo rif. Shelley had the idea for the melody
and the vocals while Purcell contributed a counter rhythm. Shelley then added the lyrics (“See how the moonlight shows your path to my doorway”), and the song took shape organically in the cabin.
Would they like to record an album of originals?
“I like the percentage we have. Mostly traditionals, and then like one or two to throw into the tradition, hopefully,” says Shelley, whose solo album release show Sept. 18 at the Kentucky Center’s Bomhard Teater will feature Maiden Radio. “But that would be fattering if they lasted that long. You know, sticking to the traditional route as opposed to, ‘Everybody’s got a song to write.’”
“Tere are so many songs out there,” Mize says. “People could never write another song from here on out, and there’d be plenty to play.”
Tey say they want to expose people to forgotten songs, but that’s not the main goal. “I think it’s less of a mission to bring those tunes to the world than it is just
for us to experience and do those tunes together,” Mize says. “I feel like our goal is slightly more internal than external in that way.”
“Yeah, it’s all about the process,” Purcell says. “It’s the project that just feels good to be a part of. We enjoy hanging out with each other. Tat’s rewarding in and of itself.”
“Our goal, I would say, in general, is to keep being able to have opportunities to sing together,” Mize says. “We love those songs, so we want to play those songs. And then, by default, we get to share them with people.”
Teir songs certainly make sense to the crowd at the Clifton Center in June. By the end of the encore, the people in the audience — from the bearded hipster to the middle-aged family man to the gray- haired ladies in the front row — have risen to their feet.