US composer and pianist Rachel Grimes is set to release a new album titled The Way Forth on November 1st via Temporary Residence Ltd. It is a folk opera and film based on “an experiential, non-linear journey following generations of Kentucky women [from 1775 to today]. Through extensive lush orchestration, narration, and imagery filmed in rural Kentucky, The Way Forth honours the legacy of the silenced, eternal grace, and the redemption of time.”

For this Under the Influence piece, rather than choose three albums that influenced her and her music, she chose three styles of music that influenced her process in writing and arranging this album. The following are her picks.

Check out the track ‘Got Ahold of Me’ just below. You can pre-order the album here.

Nathan Bowles 

Several years ago I went to a show of Nathan Bowles playing solo banjo and singing and I picked up his record A Bottle, A Buckeye  and have enjoyed it every since. He recorded a cover of an old fiddle tune by Ernie Carpenter called ‘Elk River Blues’ that just really hooked me in, and I found myself playing it a lot. It has a satisfying and unexpected turn in the rhythm where it doubles/repeats a beat within a phrase, providing emphasis. It is a fairly subtle thing, but I liked the feel and put the idea to use in a couple of pieces in ‘The Way Forth’, ‘Got Ahold of Me’ and ‘Sisterhood of Man’. 

Schubert / Barry Lyndon

At first glance, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon is a wig and costume romp festooned with campy voiceover. But I’m a sucker for period tales, and something beneath the surface drew me in – it’s odd pacing and visual style. One element that really stayed with me was the use of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E Flat Minor, Op. 100 to outline and underscore a romantic build up between two characters. The music has a walking pace, with repeating chord pattern and a beautiful melody in the violin. The accompaniment in the piano and cello is a light staccato which gives the feel of the passage of time. Kubrick’s use of this music multiple times in the film pulls it together through the twists and turns of a of a man’s life. It feels like the music could go on forever, with small variations and occasional emergence of a delicate line.
For the epic narrated song ‘End of Dominion’, I worked with an 8-bar chord pattern that could support many variations and styles, similar to a ground bass in early Baroque music. A narrator leads the listener through chapters of Kentucky settlement history, snippets of personal letters and accounts of the natural landscape, the Western territory,  the Civil War, and finally random elements of 20th century newspapers and an unsolved murder. With so many facts and figures, I really wanted the music to serve as the scaffolding to help keep the whole thing from feeling too overwhelming or random.

Shape-note singing:  Sixth Ireland Shape Note Convention 2016

I have always loved choral singing, and have been in several choirs, a Renaissance a cappella ensemble, and have sat in on many shape-note singing sessions over the years. In The Way Forth, the choir, which enters around the halfway point, serves as the community – the observers. At times the quality is ethereal, and other times they sound like a rural congregation, gospel choir, then a sideshow band singing historic popular tunes. A straight-tone (no vibrato) quality is called for in many sections, a tone similarly used in the choral music of Arvo Pärt. And then a full-belt vibrato is used to emphasize the drama or period style. In the song ‘Dix River Doxology’ I inserted a re-voiced a cappella version of the familiar hymn ‘Old One Hundred’ or ‘The Doxology’, with re-imagined lyrics. The community suddenly comes to the foreground, and belts out this hymn in an unabashed, shape-note style, then swerves right back into the more traditional sound for the ending with an amen. I love the earthy, visceral quality of people just singing, singing loudly and fervently as if nothing else could possibly matter.

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