Cambridge, MA, USA – With its debut release, New Orleans-based Tangle Eye
brings a fresh approach to the art of the remix, creating music, beats and
sounds that bring new light to original vocal performances sampled from Alan
Lomax’s Southern Journey field recordings. The result is one of the most soulful
and satisfying roots-based albums in some time.
A few years ago, the word “remix” most likely would have indicated a club
version of a pop hit, strictly meant for dancing. However, such recent
recordings as Verve Remixed and Bird Up: The Charlie Parker Remix
Project have established the remix genre as a creative new music style with
seemingly boundless possibilities. Tangle Eye’s ringleaders, Scott Billington and Steve Reynolds, began creating
remixes of roots music in the early 1990s, with versions of zydeco songs by such
artists as Beau Jocque and Chris Ardoin released as 12″ vinyl singles for the
Houston dance market. In seeking a more ambitious project, the duo approached
the Alan Lomax Archive and began working with Lomax’s superb field recordings
made in the American South from the 1940s to the 1960s (released on Rounder as
the Southern Journey series).
Many listeners first heard Lomax’s recordings on the multi-platinum selling O
Brother, Where Art Thou?, or on recent albums that use Lomax samples. The
John Travolta film, The General’s Daughter, used samples from Lomax’s
Library of Congress recordings, and Moby had a hit with “Natural Blues,” which
sampled Vera Ward Hall’s “Trouble So Hard.” There’s a difference, however, in
Tangle Eye’s approach, for their music is ultimately about the voices sampled.
It can be astonishing to hear the raw beauty and passion of these voices, most
of which were original a cappella performances, in the new settings created by
The opening track, “John Henry’s Blues,” samples a vocal by Ed Lewis, a convict
at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and the listener can still hear the sound
of Lewis’s axe chopping a tree as he sang. Against a chugging groove, pianist
Henry Butler reharmonizes the traditional song, making Lewis’s vocal seem all
the more immediate and poignant. “Chantey,” which uses a vocal by The Bright
Light Quartet, a group of Atlantic Coast fishermen, is re-interpreted with a
rock steady reggae beat, with solos from teenaged New Orleans brass band
musicians Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and James Matthews. “Soldier,” which
samples the hymn, “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord,” is a full-blown house
mix, with fast-fingered keyboard work from Davell Crawford.
Other contributing contemporary musicians include Meters bassist George Porter,
Jr., Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines, old-time fiddler Dirk Powell, bluesman
Corey Harris, trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and bluegrass Dobro virtuoso Rob
Between them, Billington and Reynolds have produced or engineered hundreds of
albums, including numerous Grammy winners and Grammy nominees. As Tangle Eye,
they offer American roots music with a new spin. Even for music fans who are
familiar with the original Lomax recordings, these remixes may be a revelation,
like hearing these voices for the first time.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.