Sometimes two voices wend together so powerfully and perfectly that you stop frozen in your tracks the first time you really listen to them. I felt that way about Vandaveer when I heard their album Dig Down Deep in the hot summer of 2011 (and it went on to be one of my favorite records of that year). With roots in both Kentucky & DC, Vandaveer is the project of Mark Charles Heidinger with Rose Guerin perfectly complementing his voice with hers. J. Tom Hnatow (of These United States) plays dobro/slide guitar.
Mark has the most unusual voice, in that it reminds me of a wonderful female blues/jazz singer — maybe the rueful and bittersweet beauty of Nina Simone. It nestles underneath your skin. As complement, and sometimes taking the lead, Rose Guerin’s deeply-saturated, strong alto is generous and powerful. Together they are really stunning. If you haven’t listened to their music, I urge you to.
Mark was once called “The Greatest Songwriter of His Generation.” In the article, Paul Gleason remarks that: “‘Dig Down Deep’ was the moment of epiphany, the moment of spiritual awakening, when Mark reminded me of what art can do when it reaches its highest potential – that is, how it can close the gap that divides us into separate beings.” I had a very similar connection with the song standing under the staggering, light-drenched architecture of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia a few winters ago.
I’d known Mark Heidinger’s work over the years through his connections with These United States (with Jesse Elliott, currently from Ark Life), as well as his role of lead singer in The Apparitions (I still run to their phenomenally-catchy song “Electricity + Drums” on the regular). I’ve loved every musical iteration he has explored, and this chapel session is another stop on that variegated journey. It was a pleasure to welcome these guys.
Dig Down Deep
YOU GUYS, I have sang along to the harmonies on this song probably 100 times, usually in my car, where the reception is always breathless and astounded wonder. I finally got to try those same “ohhh ohhh ohhhh”s IN REAL LIFE and WITH THE ACTUAL BAND. Pret-ty pleased. This is a such a great, great, great song. Dazzling and moving like a modern gospel hymn.
Down In The Willow Garden
The latest Vandaveer record Oh, Willie, Please is a bold exploration of murder ballads. There are a lot of terrible things that people do to each other – drowning, stabbing the woman you love with a dagger, and other lighthearted mirth. As Stephen Deusner writes in his terrific Paste Magazine review of their new record, “New folk revival bands like Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers reimagine old-time music as uniformly fervent and life-affirming and white, but there’s some fucked-up shit in the American songbook.”
You might wonder, as I did — why the hell these murder ballad songs? Mark did many interviews about this genre and their decision to make a whole record of these gory melodies (– they donated 10% of the crowd-sourced funds raised for this record to a domestic violence shelter in Kentucky, actually). Mark said:
“I do think we humanfolk have long been fascinated by the darker, gruesome aspects of the human condition. It’s the same reason shows like CSI or those real-life crime documentaries are popular today. People are strangely attracted to acts of evil. It’s a form a voyeurism on some level. For my part, I wanted to participate in the process of continuing the life of these songs. They all come from the public domain. They belong to all of us, and so I think it’s important to revisit, to reinterpret, to engage with them as living artifacts of our collective experience.”
It was great fun to welcome our friends in Ark Life into the church to loan their stomping and clapping percussion to this last song. This is another song from the tremendous Dig Down Deep record.
ZIP: VANDAVEER CHAPEL SESSION
When Vandaveer played at my house last summer, they were absolutely riveting. I swear that none of us breathed in that room when they lit into it.
This time we are thrilled to have them playing the wonderful restored gym at Ivywild School a week from tonight! I am so pleased to get to see them again next week (Friday, April 18) and to introduce a whole new bunch of people to their voices.