Living Room Songs — track 11 “Memory Of Your Smile” by Mike Seeger, Dave Grisman, & Maria Muldaur from Hills of Home
I’ve been hesitating somewhat about writing about this track because I have a certain ambivalence about it. One one hand it’s a very good song — very good spirited with lively playing, good singing, and a sense that everyone involved is having fun. On the other hand this is one of the songs that barely made the cut for this compilation, and that fact both makes me more conscious of the ways in which it doesn’t quite fit and is an interesting illustration of the selection that goes into a compilation like this.
A bit of background, the song is originally from the album Third Annual Farewell Reunion in which Mike Seeger works with different musicians on every track. AMG says, of this album, “The diversity at work in this collection is an impressive testament to the depth of America’s folk music, and the cohesive, seamless flow of the sequencing is also a testament to Seeger’s ability to see the full field as an acoustic musician. To his credit, nothing here is treated like a museum piece, and each track is allowed a chance at a living, breathing vitality.” In keeping with that description of the album, I think that one of the important virtues of the performance is how friendly and genuinely collaborative the song is.
The first thing to notice about the track is Maria Muldaur’s vocals, and how much fun she has really digging into a line like, “I wandered from one bar to another . . .” The second thing is the way that she steps back (about 1 minute in) to allow Mike and Dave to play together.
As for why I hesitated to include it, my first reason was that I worried that Muldaur’s singing had too much of a blues feel. I wanted to avoid traditional music which was directly related to the blues because I feel like that’s a style with which most people are already familiar, and I wanted to highlight a specific and different genre of traditional music. I don’t know whether anybody other than me would care about that distinction in regards to this compilation. My other reason for concern was that I didn’t think this track exhibited any unique virtues, it isn’t exceptional in the quality of the recording, the intimacy of the performance, or the imagination of the instrumental improvisation (if you compare this track to the Stacey Phillips/Paul Howard track, for example, the playing isn’t even close to as good). It’s solidly good in all of those areas, but it isn’t exceptional.
Ultimately I included it because I did find that it got stuck in my head after I listened to it, and I wanted to emphasize the catchy side of traditional music.
But it makes me reflect on my specific approach to mix-making, which is to try to make, as best I can, a statement about the styles of music that I’m working with. I do have a bias towards selections which exhibit a specific excellence, and I feel like in some ways that’s limiting and that I would improve as a maker of compilations if I worried less about that. In many ways I find the same dynamic at work writing this blog. It’s easy for me to write about music which I consider to be superb (which is a lot of music), but I’m never quite sure how to write about songs that are just fun, and that I want to share — other than saying just that. So there are a large number of songs that I would like to share, at some point, that I don’t post because I’m trying to find an angle from which I can find unique virtues to highlight.
Incidentally, some of you may recognize that this track is off of the same collection as Sweet Lucy.
As a second incidental note, I have to say that, on this particular track, there is a noticeable loss of sound quality in the conversion to .mp3.