"Old music is a major passion of mine. As I mentioned, I play a little old-time fiddle and have always loved old gospel music. The idea of keeping old music alive is very important to me" - Cheyenne Mize
Considering the substance of Mize’s quote, she couldn’t have found a better partner than Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham. When Oldham started his musical career as part of the young “alt-country” scene, he defied the constraints of that movement which was too often defined by either straightforward twang-rock or overly reverential tributes to pre-television country music. In the process, he broke the ground that other similarly restless artists like Wilco were to follow later.
Mize’s recording mission for Among The Gold has allowed Oldham to be directly reverential while remaining true to his creative muse. This collaboration of Louisville musicians (Cheyenne Mize is a member of Arnett Hollow) focuses solely on old time songs - real old time songs - since every song in this collection are parlor songs from 1915 or earlier.
Together, Mize and Oldham have created an unaffectedly beautiful presentation of these aural chestnuts. Mize, who attributes her grandmother for being “responsible for my love of old-time gospel and the Carter family,” directs the proceedings allowing “Bonny” to fill the role of creative support.
Mize describes the beginnings of Among the Gold:
I learned a great deal of old songs when I was in school for music therapy to be used with the geriatric population. Several of them had stuck with me over the years and I am really into the idea of preserving old music. I started recording a few of them on my own, but thought it would be really nice to do them as duets. Bonny had a microphone and an empty room to record in and was interested in the project, so we decided to try a few tunes out and see how it went…. I already had most of them picked out, although Bonny helped me to decide on the last couple. He has an encyclopedia in his head of most things musical and pointed me in the direction of a few resources. In the end I picked all the songs.
“A microphone and an empty room” is really most all that you hear with only a bit of guitar and autoharp to augment the touching duet vocals. By presenting the songs in this manner without a “mannered” approach, the original beauty of these songs can be heard again outside of their usual historic trappings.
At the same time, Mize and Oldham have retained the thread that these songs provide showing how the power of songcraft has changed little over the years. Oldham has already shown this dynamic in his covers of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bob Dylan stripping their songs down and showcasing them within another context.
No longer content to reach back a few decades or so, Mize and Oldham demonstrate the true timelessness of song through centuries past on Among The Gold. One can only hope that there are more recording sessions ahead.
- Jim Markel