Interview and story by Don Wilcock
The Canadian group Sheesham & Lotus & Son – playing at the Old Songs Festival this weekend at the Altamont Fairgrounds – describe themselves as “at once ancient and refreshingly new.” They dress old timey and play fiddle tunes, ragtime, good-time blues and use old time vocal harmony applying “old techniques and new sonic ideas presented to the audience in a bombastic and friendly fashion.”
I can remember as a college student during the ’60s “folk scare” being totally put off by the movement’s reticence to accept fresh ideas for music that at the time was slavishly copying decades-old songs and resisting new technology and even original songs. Dylan’s going electric and San Francisco going psychedelic pushed the academic attitude off the table, and today anything goes. Sheesham & Lotus & Son are a Canadian group that, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, are revising a style of music popular in the ’20s and ’30s that largely has been forgotten with the revisionist popularity of delta blues and modern folk idioms.
As Sheesham Crow explains it, there is no utility in resisting a euphonium or trumpet in an old timey band. “If I walked across the holler, and I happen to bring an accordion, (my friend) wouldn’t say, ‘Wow, I’m playing old time. You can’t play that accordion.’”
“The thing that bugs me is the gentrification of old time music. You can lose some of that crusty, wild energy that comes from the real old time music.”