When it's All Gone, You Come Back

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  The people of the particular region of the nation, commonly called Appalachia, live in an extreme poverty that few people in Chicago could even comprehend as existing in this country. The living conditions in this area are infrequently highlighted in news segments, if ever at all. The stark contrast to the extreme impoverishment of the area is the severe beauty surrounding, everywhere one looks. Go in the autumn, and your senses are bombarded, on a level that compares with the leaf season in New England. The hills, which are really more like mountains, are overrun with trees covered with the Kudzu Ivy. There are little shacks dotting the landscape here and there. If you drive through the hollows (pronounced 'hollers') after dark, you get the sense that you have somehow been transported back a hundred years, to a time when life was a lot simpler, but also a lot harder. Every so often you come across a strip mine, or a giant coal factory. This is the major industry in Appalachia, and its effects are everywhere.
  This is the setting that I found myself driving through, every day for about 14 months, sometime between 2001 and 2002. Its easy to lose sight of the beauty in life when one engages in a job every day, but at that time, and that place in my life, I did not find this to be the case. Every day, something would strike me as being extraordinarily wonderful or heartbreaking, affixing that moment permanently in my mind. It is hard for me to think about that period of my life without an extreme sense of nostalgic longing associated with the thoughts.
I would travel these winding roads, through hollows, past coal mines, and long abandoned buildings and towns, past small plots of land with family gardens, and rivers that would flood the towns on its embankments every summer. As I made my 30-75 minute commute to work (the length of time varied depending on the jobsite), I would listen to the local community radio station, based out of Whitesburg, Kentucky. The call letters were WMMT. The position on the dial was 88.7. And this was the best radio station I have ever heard. The station was primarily a bluegrass station, but they also had this Americana/Alt Country show that would play in the mornings, when I would drive to work.
  This is where I first heard Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, and Ryan Adams. This was where, on a particular evening in late October, while driving to a show, I heard Judy Collins sing 'With God On Our Side', an acapella version of the Dylan song. I hadn't even heard the original at that point. But I was just floored, and actually remember pulling the car over so I could take in the sheer depth of beauty that moment in time was presenting to me.
  I have never encountered another radio station like that one. The bluegrass they played was top notch, the alt country was very well selected, and they even had a hardcore show on Saturday nights, where some of the local teenagers would make a point to have completely random conversations over the airwaves. It was, and hopefully still is, a truly incredible voice of independent radio. If all radio was that well done, I would have a vastly different view of radio as a whole.
  There is a point to all of this.
  Shelley Miller is putting out a new album. It's called 'When it's All Gone, You Come Back'. Recently, Shelley sent us a digital copy, and we agreed to talk about it on the blog. After listening to the album several times, I realized that the feeling evoked by several of the songs on this cd were vastly reminiscent of my time in Appalachia as a whole, and more specifically, that radio station, which I now consider to be the soundtrack to my year repairing houses in the hollows of Appalachia.
  I wanted to talk about one song in particular. Track 7- 'All the Way Down' represents this feeling most especially. It really is a great song on its own, but when coupled with my personal experience, it really hit home to me, in a way that few songs do. The tender fingerpicking and the emotional honesty of the lyrics together weave images and feelings of younger days, and of times when things make sense, without any sort of explanation. To me, this song is a nice representation of the best life has to offer and the willingness to see the simple beauty in it all. In a way, this song just feels like home to me, which is a rare thing indeed.
  I highly recommend listening to this song, and then heading over to Martyr's on Friday night to catch Shelley debut these songs as an album, at a really great Chicago venue.

All The Way Down

Shelley Miller CD Release Show
Friday, February 12th, 2010
3855 North Lincoln Avenue
9 PM $8
w/ Micah Walk and Steve Dawson

Find Shelley Miller online!
Purchase the album there, or directly from her, at Fridays show. ShareThis

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