Remembrance of Bourbon County / Rope-a-Dope / Ear and Echo Era
by Steven Joerg
It all started with pinball. After writing that line, I flashed back and realized that a number of pretty damn exciting love affairs have started with pinball for me, however short-lived they may have been. This one continues. Yes I love Tara Key: as a friend, as a masterful and singularly sexy guitarist––she surfs fluctuating waves of electricity like no one else, as a deeply potent songwriter and singer, and–though it has been a woefully long time since last we matched–as a pinball sparring partner.
Getting back to this genesis vignette, there we were at 7B, NYC in September '92, flipping and cajoling and holding one ball tight in order to focus on making money shot with the other, all while listening to the jukebox ("can you turn it up just a little bit louder?") which was infinitely more stocked to our tastes back then, the songs synching with our distinct table strategies. This afternoon found us flipping initials onto the backboard and, properly inspired by our mutual success, I proposed to Tara that she record a solo album for Homestead Records. "You've got a lot of really talented friends and so much widely varied magic could be conjured!" A few days later Tara called me at the office to ask if I was serious. "Never more so!"
Bourbon County = a richly detailed and transformative document of / from the East Village of the early 90s – recorded half therein and half within some blue evenings and pitch black sky openings afforded by a rural Vermont studio – that resonates incalculably yes beyond numbers. Songs recorded here in New York that make ceilings disappear; songs recorded in Vermont that can be leaned on in the first light of new dawn after a particularly insightful or devastating bender without ceilings. A very personal history elucidated through the form of a classic rock album. Tara Key is from Antietam. Her spirit is warm and wise and she (+talented friends) will slay the dragon that gnaws at your soul. That short bit was written for the sticker that we stuck on the album cover to prompt sales. It most certainly still holds true.
You could get deep into the East Village of yore ready easily in those days; in some good ways and some bad. Some folks never made it out of that time. Rope-A-Dope is a righteous, wicked, storming, amplifier-bleed, non-stop feast of succor borne of same. If I remember correctly, Antietam had just recently begun their now patented live performance style of song-after-song-with-no-breaks-but-just-another-killer-after-the-next and always at least a few new songs each time out, occasional brief 'thank you' blip in between. Figuring rightly even back in those salad days that no one has time to waste let's get to it goddamn. The album mirrors that approach, and the sequence = the album title, with the rests on the rope allowing way (on both ends of the speaker) for another surge. Jumping high up and stomping beat on return to wooden floor, spilling beers inadvertently due to the sway more so than the stomping I swear. Combine those amp bleeding recorded sounds with stunning cover artwork that continues to vibrate. Tara Key's visual art methods had by then embraced collage of the highest order, and the front and back (and inside) cover artworks of this stone eternal work sprung it in spades. This album would be truly awesome on 12" canvas & vinyl.
There needed to be another TK album to follow these two salvos, and her painting pointed the way. A huge canvas of oils and fibrous collage and hard grasp hand release with deep mark echo. I saw it full-size impact, and long time spiritual traveler Michael Galinsky captured it on camera film so as to be reduced to CD cover size. I don't remember anybody really writing about TK's visual art at the time. Huh, not paying full attention is an exponentially greater problem these days. Further ( ! ) note here then that fourteen of the 78 (full deck!) Tarot cards that Tara would eventually create were reproduced on the artwork for this next album as well. I remember being excited when she told me this, and well founded the excitement was. I also recall shaking hands with Tara at my 30th birthday party that a box set of these three albums, which would include a printing of her full Tarot deck, would be something that we'd do. And when my lotto numbers finally come in, I'll have her hold me to it.
Ear and Echo is the second Tara Key solo recording, this time done with a (one) focused group and one recording locale, the same house/studio located just shy of the Canadian border in northern Vermont that half of Bourbon County was manifest within. The air up there is crisp, clean, rich; the lungs are far happier for it. Natural highs borne of the soil and the air and the pitch-black silent night are the best. Speaking of pitch-black night, it is no less than truth. If you walk far enough up the dirt road from the house where all of Ear and Echo was recorded and mixed, far enough up past a slight bend in the road to escape the low amber glow of the house lights, you literally couldn't see the hand in front of your face on that new moon. Silence too. It was the first time I'd ever heard the sound of my own blood coursing through artery. Eventually returning to the house, the sounds of the session in action were warm embrace. Shortly after returning from hearing the sound of my own blood flow, Tim called me into the control room and said, "I think we could use a harmonica part on the mid-section of this piece right here." It was only then that I realized I'd forgotten my harmonicas in Brooklyn, and that is why there are no mouth harp parts on Ear and Echo. Which is fine, because there are plentiful sacred moments on this album; I appreciated Tim and Tara taking me seriously on my offer to breath harmonically, and at the time I was able to solace myself tastefully due to the fact that Vermont was well ahead of New York City in embrace of the micro-brew revolution. Plentiful thank you to Tara and the Barton Boys. The thing about hearts is that they break and can be healed as readily in the country as in the city or the cosmos, which evermore arrives without fail.
These three albums are among those that call out to be heard again, and again, and then again some more. Because wisdom not shared is wisdom lost. Cheers to those that have already heard them; blessings to the many who haven't yet, that you may. In hopes that all three of these records be reissued in good way!
Tara, Tim & Josh: Thank You. And furthermore, thank you for all the great works that you have each manifest since then: the solid sending radiates goodness.
–Steven Joerg / AUM Fidelity http://www.aumfidelity.com, Brooklyn, April 2009