I stand in front of the coffee urn at the shed in the middle of the meadow. A drummer out of New York wanted to play some tracks for us on his iPad. Hangmen, just slacken up your line, quavers the ancient voice of Almeda Riddle. But in addition, a heavy beat and groove has been layered on top of it.
The song is part of a recording project by the name of Tangle Eye. Produced by Steve Reynolds and Scott Billington of Rounder records, the album attempts to resurrect a handful of the songs recorded by folk music historian and archivist Alan Lomax in 1959.
How strange and powerful.
Almeda Riddle of Cleburne County, Arkansas, issues that song as a plaintive plea and as a prayer and a hope. It’s what we all want every day. Just one more day, Lord. Hangman, just loosen up your rope.
But unlike for many of us, for this old woman, in a way that was chillingly beyond perhaps her greatest imagining, her prayer was answered. The woman? Long gone she is. But her being, her self – her voice – the very core of herself, has been resurrected. She pleads to her Maker, and her Maker has answered in turn and has reinstated her in a contemporary dance groove.
Here the day is just warming in the high country outside Rocky Mountain National Park. The morning light has just hit the red rock. A songwriter from Denver, a drummer out of Brooklyn, myself – we all huddle around an iPad on a dawning moment in the 21st century. Hangman, just slacken your line, she pleads again to us.
It’s so clear now. The afterlife?
It’s simply a remix. And the texture? Why, it looks and sounds like us.