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Drunken Prayer + David Childers & The Serpents w/ A. Lee Edwards
2021-12-28 @ 8:00 pm
COVID-19 POLICY UPDATE: The Grey Eagle requires all patrons attending performances to provide proof of vaccination or negative test within 48 hours prior to the event. Currently Buncombe Co. mandates that masks be worn indoors. THIS MEANS YOU NEED TO MASK UP. Patrons will need to provide physical or digital documentation of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test. Professional negative test results must be dated no more than 48 hours prior to the event. At-home testing will not be accepted.
– 7PM DOORS / 8PM SHOW
– ALL AGES
– STANDING ROOM ONLY
Drunken Prayer transcends the bounds of “Americana”. This is music that could emerge from a highly blissed-out biker bar or at a swampy ashram.
The latest Drunken Prayer releases have been 2019’s LP Cordelia Elsewhere mixed by Mitch Easter (Let’s Active, REM) and the ambitious 17 minute long funeral-raga, Electric Daddyland from 2021.
Over the past four years Drunken Prayer has played hundreds of shows in 18 countries, and across the US at venues like the Newport Folk Festival, Pickathon Music Festival and San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Geer’s music has been featured on AMC, NPR, KCRW, WFMU and Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM.
In 2021 Drunken Prayer went on a 7,500 mile tour of a the US playing a hybrid of performances; from solo live-streams at desolate roadside attractions to sold out west coast shows with a 5 piece band.
On the side, Geer is the occasional lead guitar player for the always-weird, alt-country goths Freakwater and the wild rock and soul Brooklyn artist Bette Smith. Morgan has also been touring internationally, opening for and often joining the eccentric Handsome Family.
Today Morgan splits time between Portland, OR and Asheville, NC.
“It’s Americana in the sense that America is a place of menace, hybrid vigor and unending strangeness.” – Robert Duncan, CREEM Magazine
I first saw David Childers perform on a hot, humid night in July 2000 at the legendary Double Door Inn in Charlotte, NC. Most of the songs he performed that evening were filled with the subject matter of Jesus, damnation, salvation, the devil, forgiveness, and redemption. I will never, ever forget it. It was such an inspiration that the next day I wrote David a personal letter asking him if we could make a record together about those things in which he was singing about. We have been friends ever since. No record or manager contract. Just a handshake.
It is my hope David’s greatness as a songwriter and artist will be recognized and appreciated by many in years to come. Please lend an ear to his latest release, ‘Serpents of Reformation,’ and experience for yourself the same power that moved me so, that mesmerizing Summer night some fourteen years ago. — Dolph Ramseur
**********MOUNT HOLLY, North Carolina — Singer-songwriter David Childers is the proverbial study in contradictions. A resident of Mount Holly, North Carolina, he’s a former high-school football player with the aw-shucks demeanor of a good ol’ Southern boy. But he’s also a well-read poet and painter who cites Chaucer and Kerouac as influences, fell in love with folk as a teen, listens to jazz and opera, and fed his family by practicing law before turning in his license to concentrate on his creative passions.
The legal profession’s loss is certainly the music world’s gain. Childers’ new album, Run Skeleton Run, releasing May 5, 2017 on Ramseur Records, is filled with the kinds of songs that have made him a favorite of fans and fellow artists including neighbors the Avett Brothers. Scott Avett contributes to four tracks, and Avetts bassist Bob Crawford co-executive-produced the effort with label head Dolph Ramseur. (Crawford and Childers, both history buffs, have recorded and performed together in the Overmountain Men).
In fact, it was Crawford who kickstarted this album, Childers’ sixth solo effort, by suggesting he reunite with Don Dixon (R.E.M., the Smithereens), who’d produced Crawford’s favorite Childers album, Room 23 (done with his band the Modern Don Juans). Crawford also suggested tracking at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Recordings.
“I’ve made records in my living room and been perfectly happy with it. But I think ol’ Bob wanted to give it one more shot,” Childers says. “It’s kind of like the Wild Bunch at the end of the movie, on their last train robbery.”
Not that he’s suggesting this is his “last train robbery.” Not with songs as rich as these. Sounding like literature and playing like little movies — several are under three minutes long — they’re populated by sailors, hermits, lovers and killers, facing off against fate, skeletons, good, evil, or simply the trials of everyday existence. Lust, virtue, guilt, innocence; alienation, desperation, sorrow, gratitude … he examines these conditions with such precision — combined with music that draws on folk, rock, rockabilly, country and Cajun influences — he doesn’t need lengthy exposition.
“You look at a song like ‘Pancho and Lefty’; it tells a story in four stanzas,” Childers notes. “An amazing story. That’s the way I approach songwriting. You don’t have to say so damned much. ‘The train went down, oh lord oh lord.’”
That line is from “Belmont Ford,” a mandolin-laden disaster song about the Great Flood of 1916. It’s based on a poem by Mary Struble Deery, a Chicago friend. The twang- and bluegrass-infused “Collar and Bell” (featuring drums/percussion by his son, Robert, and fiddle by Geoffrey White) had a similar origin; its lyrics are derived from ones written by Shannon Mayes, an Ohio school principal. Another Ohioan, Mark Freeman, shares credit for “Hermit,” a mid-tempo rocker of sorts with Dixon singing harmony, that Freeman started and Childers finished.
“I’m always looking for ideas,” he says. “I’ve never been able to get any serious writers to co-write with me. Here are these folks, just regular people, and they got something to say, and they’re sending me stuff, and I’m going ‘Well, if they’re gonna send it to me, I’m gonna try and do something with it.’”
Childers has always regarded his place in the musical pantheon as that of an outsider, though not deservedly so. As those involved with this album indicate, he’s well-regarded among tastemakers. Evidence includes playing the syndicated World Café and Mountain Stage radio shows (he’s done the latter twice), as well as Merlefest’s mainstage. He’s also toured in Europe, and hopes to again. But he credits the support of Crawford and Ramseur with helping him sustain his musical career — which began in college, though he didn’t start recording until the ’90s.
Childers’ father had given him a banjo when he was 14, but he still had his “jock mentality” back then and didn’t do much with it. That changed when he picked up a guitar at 18.
“My girlfriend had left me for one of my best friends and I was all shook up and needed an outlet besides drinking and fighting. As soon as I learned my first chords on a guitar, I knew I had a friend who would never betray me,” he recalls. He formed his first band, the acoustic trio Steeltree, in 1973, and released his first album, Godzilla! He Done Broke Out!, as David Childers & the Mount Holly Hellcats, in 1995. His first solo album, Time Machine, came in 1998. He spent several years playing rock, folk and honky-tonk with the David Childers Band, then the Modern Don Juans, whose fans included the Avett boys. He calls his current band the Serpents, but says he’s given up trying to label each incarnation.
His last album, 2014’s Serpents of Reformation, delved into religion; this time, several songs address aging and the perspective of a man in review mode — a perspective he sums up on the final track, “Goodbye to Growing Old,” written with Theresa Halfacre. It approaches the subject with a mix of acceptance and defiance.
Well, it’s mostly just a state of mind/And I ain’t about to say that it’s time/To surrender to anything. Anything. Anything, he sings, driving home his points with harmonica and his own layered harmony.
“I used to be afraid of growing old, but now I wouldn’t trade where I am for all the lean fury of my youth,” Childers insists, saying he’s happier now than he’s ever been. Especially now that he can concentrate on making music and painting; he and Robert did the album cover, a fine example of his primitive/outsider style.
He’s also considering adding memoirs to his publishing credits, which include two books of poetry. And there’s gardening, and dogs and cats, to tend. Yep, life’s pretty good for the man Crawford likes to call “the sage of Mount Holly.”
Crawford has also called Childers “a great friend, a great thinker and a great man … a true North Carolina treasure.”
But let’s take out “North Carolina,” because Childers is the kind of treasure who can spread joy wherever people love listening to great songs. In other words, just about anywhere. Or everywhere.
Lives of quiet excellence and steady achievement rarely make headlines; the press is and has always been a rapacious, many-headed monster, hungry for the Next New Thing. To be sure, in an era of Soundcloud and Spotify, where artists can and do serve as their own A&R, there is no shortage of new blood for the beast to sup on: there are more new bands — or more new visible bands, than ever. Your “career artists” (say a My Morning Jacket or a Wilco) still get regular inches online when there’s new tunes to hawk. Your legends? Their stories nearly tell themselves — truly big performers have a built-in dramatic arc, a readymade mythology that is something like fad-proof. Your troubadours of some vintage — your 40-plussers –have it perhaps toughest: think your Dave Alvins, your David Olneys, your Chan Marshalls, your Jim Lauderdales. Provided there’s not a personal hook there — say, a person quit drinking or using drugs, or else started using again — we’re left with the Redemption Narrative and the Career Retrospective (bonus points if it can be tied in to the artist’s latest record, and What it Says About These Times We Live In.) It is here we find A. Lee Edwards, and we find him in fine form and fettle.
Alan Lee Edwards has been a songwriter for 30 years, and became the main singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the band Lou Ford not long after the breakup of his previous band, Chocolate USA (who also boasted Julian Koster of The Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel). If there was a Most Beloved Band metric in the band’s adopted hometown of Charlotte, NC, Lou Ford still might garner some votes, a decade or more after the band dissolved. Punks, alt.country fans, and glam rockers alike agreed there was an honesty there, an authenticity not build on outward style but inner substance. The songs spoke mostly of the ebb and flow of personal relationships, and of the Sisyphus-like (yet not infrequently joyous) existence most of us south of “middle-class” immediately recognized as our own. They had critical respect, too, and from some of the best music magazines in the world — Uncut and Mojo both talked the band up breathlessly, and they shared space on British “best of” compilation CDs with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Richard Thompson and Paul Simon. Often lumped into the Americana catch-all, they nonetheless mined the sunnier side of the street musically, with Edwards’ biggest influences (Beach Boys, Big Star, Nick Lowe) never far from the surface. The very first published music review I ever wrote was a 300-worder on Lou Ford’s debut full-length, Sad, But Familiar. As the years have passed, I’ve gone on to write thousands of other reviews. Some in my humble opinion, were “better” — perhaps more liberally sprinkled with wit, or possessing a keener sense of the nuances of the music being covered. But something about that review still sticks with me: it was (if nothing else) deeply felt, and if indeed the words served well, it was because they served the point. I think this is something that A. Lee Edwards and I have in common: a belief in a plainspoken good thing, without unnecessary or undue adornment (unless of course you’re talking about guitar solos, in which case all bets are off). More on this in a second. After Edwards’ post-Ford band The Loudermilks folded, Alan did as he had famously promised in song years before and took his things and moved up to the mountains. Edwards has revisited his burgeoning back catalog of songs and become something of a road warrior in the process, often playing more shows in a month than the ‘Ford managed in a year. He’s travelling lighter, literally and figuratively. He requires little more than an amp and couple guitars for company, and he’s moreover quit drinking, which can eat up your guarantee and your go-gettem’ in short order if you let it. (He’s also mellowed some, but more in the way that balsamic vinegar mellows into a sweeter vinegar as the years go by.) He’s begun writing anew, and if the man’s past efforts are any indication, you’ll have some new favorites to sing in the next calendar year. Speaking of: the music, I’m proud to report, is as evocative as ever. It’s not dance-y, as ever, and it doesn’t dance around the point. It is music with ghosts singing the third register, to be applied as the listener sees fit. It is music that is personal without being personal-specific — call it “universal personal.” It is a sort of composting of shared experience, something that is rather impossible to fake without a huge helping of empathy and a great set of ears. It is music that is direct, and which can occasionally make you uncomfortable, but later (sometimes within the same song) console you like that old friend you rarely get to see: the one who, despite the tears and years, always “gets you” just the same.
– Timothy Charles Davis (East Nashville, Tennessee)
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