ALBUMS

LIFE IS A PROBLEM

Valley Farm Songs,
2010

LIFE IS A PROBLEM

Valley Farm Songs, 2010

A CHRISTMAS KIND<br/>
OF TOWN

Yep Roc, 2005

A CHRISTMAS KIND
OF TOWN

Yep Roc, 2005

FLOAT AWAY WITH<BR/>
THE FRIDAY NIGHT<BR/>
GODS

E-Squared/Artemis, <BR/>
2002

FLOAT AWAY WITH
THE FRIDAY NIGHT
GODS

E-Squared/Artemis,
2002

ANGELS OF <br/>
DESTRUCTION

Yep Roc, 2008

ANGELS OF
DESTRUCTION

Yep Roc, 2008

FLOAT AWAY <BR/>
DECONSTRUCTED

Phidelity, 2005

FLOAT AWAY
DECONSTRUCTED

Phidelity, 2005

KIDS IN PHILLY

E-Squared/Artemis,<br/>
2002

KIDS IN PHILLY

E-Squared/Artemis,
2002

IF YOU DIDN'T <br/>
LAUGH... YOU'D CRY

Yep Roc, 2005

IF YOU DIDN'T
LAUGH... YOU'D CRY

Yep Roc, 2005

20,000 STREETS <br/>
UNDER THE SKY

Yep Roc, 2004

20,000 STREETS
UNDER THE SKY

Yep Roc, 2004

LET'S CUT THE CRAP<BR/>
AND HOOK UP LATER<BR/>
ON TONIGHT

Black Dog, 1998 <br/>
(rereleased by Phidelity <br/>
in 2004)

LET'S CUT THE CRAP
AND HOOK UP LATER
ON TONIGHT

Black Dog, 1998
(rereleased by Phidelity
in 2004)

MOUNTAIN MINSTRELSY<BR/>
OF PENSYLVANIA
<BR/>
Valley Farm Songs, <br/>
2014

MOUNTAIN MINSTRELSY
OF PENSYLVANIA


Valley Farm Songs,
2014

EPs/DVDs

CAN'T TAKE IT WITH <BR/>
YOU (EP)

Yep Rock, 2007

CAN'T TAKE IT WITH
YOU (EP)

Yep Rock, 2007

SOONER OR LATER <BR/>
IN SPAIN (DVD)

Phidelity, 2004

SOONER OR LATER
IN SPAIN (DVD)

Phidelity, 2004

COUNTING THE DAYS<BR/>
(EP)

Yep Roc, 2007

COUNTING THE DAYS
(EP)

Yep Roc, 2007

KIDS IN AMSTERDAM:<BR/>
LIVE ON VPRO (EP)

Phidelity, 2004

KIDS IN AMSTERDAM:
LIVE ON VPRO (EP)

Phidelity, 2004

Singles

POINT BREEZE<BR/>

E-Squared/Artemis,<br/>
2000

POINT BREEZE

E-Squared/Artemis,
2000

FLOAT AWAY<br/>

E-Squared/Artemis,<br/>
2002

FLOAT AWAY

E-Squared/Artemis,
2002

FREEDOM PARK<BR/>

Yep Roc, 2004

FREEDOM PARK

Yep Roc, 2004

Marah Presents: MOUNTAIN MINSTRELSY OF PENNSYLVANIA  

Out February 25, 2014 
Rock Band Detours Into A Ghost World Of Long Lost Pennsylvania Folk Songs, Waltzes, Rafting Chants and Mountain Ballads 
Album In Vinyl Format with CD Insert & Download Card 

It all started with an obscure book, Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, published nearly a century ago as a collection of song lyrics gathered in the mountains of Pennsylvania by Henry Shoemaker, a folklorist and "song catcher." It eventually found its way into the hands of David Bielanko and Christine Smith (members of the rock band Marah) shortly after they relocated from Brooklyn to rural central Pennsylvania. Excited by the idea of creating a new and relevant album based upon the lost writings, Bielanko and Smith took liberties in writing new original music, as well as reworking the 100+ year old song lyrics that were often fragmented - and at other times admittedly inaccurate. Finally they put together an analog studio in an old church in Millheim, PA and recruited a band to tackle the recordings, including Gus, an 8-year-old fiddle prodigy. The album Marah Presents Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania is out February 25, 2014. 
It will be released as a vinyl package including a CD insert along with a download card. The physical cd will not be sold separately, but the digital format will be on all retail sites. 
Making of the Album Video 
The record was made on a Studer 8 Track tape machine and mastered directly to a vinyl lathe. "Mountain Minstrelsy is a collection of raw and unprocessed tape recordings (by today's standards) and that was the whole idea. Here we play together and all at once, one mic bleeding into the next right down the line," said Bielanko who feels that the limitations of the old technology line up perfectly with the spirit of folk music. "There's nothing casual when tape is rolling. You're forced to make it happen in that moment. There's a tension and sense of urgency in the room that I have never experienced in the digital world. Beyond that we approached this as if we were making any other rock and roll album." 
To further add to the wild and freewheeling spirit, the church doors were left open during the recording sessions so that curious music fans and neighbors could come and go as they wished. Through those doors also came tuba players, bagpipers, tap dancers, whistlers and barbershop singers. On the song "Ten Cents at the Gate" a hundred folks from the 'one traffic light town' are singing along. 

It was the atmosphere and enormous sense of place of the book that drew them in. Bielanko has often written with that precisely in mind, perhaps most notably on Marah's album Kids In Philly. "We realized it was possible to co-write new songs with the ghosts of Pennsylvania." Although Bielanko and Smith wrote much of the album, it was 8-year-old Gus Tritsch who invented "Harry Bell." 

"He instinctually knew that this song could only work in the old 'major chord/minor theme' tradition," said Bielanko. "Gus seems to know a lot of stuff that takes other people lifetimes to figure out," added Smith. "He stepped up to the microphone with his banjo and simply laid it down in one take." 

"Mostly we are just proud to have played some role in keeping these songs on the planet. It seemed to us that they were in grave danger of vanishing all together, and they are too good for that." 

Minstrel-(. ) (Historical Terms) a medieval wandering musician who performed songs or recited poetry with instrumental accompaniment.

THE STORY OF MOUNTAIN MINSTRELSY by David Bielanko 


Last winter we stumbled upon a book of lost and forgotten song lyrics and song fragments collected many years ago by Henry W. Shoemaker in the hills of Central Pennsylvania. This book "Mountain Minstrelsy" (as sung in the Backwoods Settlements, Hunting Cabins and Lumber Camps in the "Black Forest" of Pennsylvania, 1840 - 1923) felt like it contained a magical "ghost world" of forgotten music and lost souls. 

Christine and I decided to see if it was even possible to create an album from the contents of the book. Nothing studious and accurate, mind you, just an exciting album would attempt to capture the book's tremendous atmosphere and "sense of place". Slowly it became an obsession that required our undivided attention, and we're very glad it did.

Next we put together a band to tackle these recordings, a band that would approach these songs without trepidation, a band that would not feel pressured into being "authentic" or "precious." We needed a band that didn't sound like your average public radio "folk show"...why? 

It is our belief that when dealing with history it's people's natural (and well intended) inclination to strive for a respectful accuracy. More often than not, that "accuracy" comes at the expense of the soul. There is simply a "reverence" involved in the handling of old things. It is also our belief that long before 24 hour Super Wal-mart and endless Dish Network TV packages, folk music filled a very different void in the lives of Pennsylvania's mountain dwellers. Music was THE entertainment, period. Probably something far more akin to a Sunday all ages punk rock show than a modern day "folk" festival populated by throngs of dentists carrying $3,000 banjos. Too many rules. We love drums.

Photo: Bark Peeler's Camp in Black Forest


Coming from an original rock and roll background and years of producing our own rule bending, eclectic recordings, we feel that our folky but ramshackle approach can only make for an exciting record. We wish to breathe life into these songs so that they don't continue to go unheard and sleeping inside a dusty, closed book. With all due respect for the past, we are allowing ourselves every liberty in re-writing, re-imagining and re-interpreting this music for current and future generations to consider and enjoy.

Photo by: Tim Yarrington


We will call upon others when needed, but the following musicians will be our core: 

THE MUSICIANS 

Kai Schafft (Banjo) 

Kai was a no brainer. He knows tons about this old folk stuff, studied it in fact. Kai plays the hell out of banjos and electric guitars in his own band Chicken Tractor Deluxe, and adds a very necessary element of practical wisdom to this project that I often lack...we called him first because we needed him, simple as that. 

Jimmy James Baughman (Giant Stand Up Bass) 

Another member of Chicken Tractor Deluxe, and also the Poe Valley Troubadours, Jimmy plays a giant stand up bass and has an enormous spirit. With his deep roots in the Pennsylvania mountains, he could have very easily been born in 1836, fought at Gettysburg, killed panthers, stood on logs floating down the bold Susquehanna. 

Chris Rattie (Drums, Guitar, Vocal Harmonies) 

Chris (who has toured with Marah) is a fabulous drummer and singer. He's the front man for his band The Rounders and for many years with his brother John Rattie was the core of The Rustlanders. Like me and Christine, he's got more of a rock and roll touring background and just wants to play. 

Gus (Fiddle) 

Finally we auditioned and immediately hired our fiddle player, Gus. He's 8 years old and is simply a walking miracle. I dunno what else to say...he is also now officially "the cute one". Sorry Chris! 

Christine Smith (Estey Pump Organ, Accordion, Piano, Voice, etc.) 

David Bielanko (Guitar, Banjo, Voice, etc.) 

************************************************************** 

Photo by: Tim Yarrington

After many winter months of writing, rehearsing, freezing and planning at Marah HQ, we recently moved all of our recording equipment into a grand old church in a beautiful little Pennsylvania town nearby. Many thanks go out to our great friends Gary Gyekis and Loanne Snavely for generously granting us permission to use their stately building as a recording facility. The music will be captured on a Studer A80 MKI 1" 8 Track Tape Recorder and Neve Kelso "Broadcast" Console.


"Henry W. Shoemaker (1880 - 1958) was a prominent American folklorist, historian, diplomat, writer, publisher and conservationist. Shoemaker's humanistic interests in his creative writing also showed in his campaign to have artists use local folklore as a resource for literature, poetry, art and music. A prolific writer, he produced more than 100 books and pamphlets and hundreds of articles. He published many ethnographic field collections of songs and ballads". (Wikipedia) 

Photo: Henry W. Shoemaker

To this very day, Shoemaker is often accused of fabricating bits, filling in gaps and romanticizing the past. He seems to have had a childlike attraction to the ghosts and witches and Indians of folklore, fantastic tales of time out of mind (to this we say, "wow, us too!") Henry didn't let the truth get in the way of a good story. We're glad that he cared enough to write this shit down, so thanks Hank! Henry W. Shoemaker would have loved our band.




 

In Mountain MInstrelsy by DB 

An Ancient Aphorism - "If we make the songs of a people, it matters not who may make their laws." 

When I was sixteen or seventeen my friends and I used to ride around the hills of Central Pennsylvania in a little copper colored diesel Isuzu. It was my buddy Troy's car and Troy was a real fast driver. Today looking back, it all feels like a blurry dream from some other lifetime, the hairpin turns, the snowflakes dancing in the high beams. A lot of times i'm guessing we barely got away with it. At night we slept in an old cinder block hunting cabin over in Sugar Valley. Outside it would be unimaginably dark. 
The Isuzu came equipped with a chest pounding Pioneer stereo system, so whenever we'd go out driving we'd blast the Rock n Roll. Transfixed in the back seat i would pin my eyes to the hot, orange bars of light that rose and fell on the dashboard perfectly in time to Motorhead or the first Ramones album, Grandpa Jones, Bill Monroe. I've always been hypnotized by the music and it was around this time I started to believe I should maybe start making some music of my own. Aimlessly blasting down the old State Game land roads I remember feeling young and unstoppable. We frequented the cliffs above route 80, old sulphur springs, fire towers. From time to time we'd blast through the little area towns; Rosecrans, Madisonburg, Tylersville, McElhattan, Millheim. But there was nothing there, so we never stopped to get out. 
If you'd have told me back then that one day I'd be making a record in Millheim I'd have simply not believed you. I thought Millheim was a ghost town, a washed up little burg that's time had long since come and gone. 

Several lifetimes later, in my thirties, while living in NYC and making a living touring in my own Rock n Roll band, I started to feel Central Pennsylvania pulling me back. And it was then that band mate Christine Smith and I developed a new habit of jumping on the NYC to PSU Chinatown bus at any chance we could. (We even perfected this little maneuver where at the precise moment on Rt 80 West when the bus was about 200 yards past the exit called Mile Run, we'd rush up to the bus driver and explain that we were about to be sick and needed to get off, fast! The little Asian driver would look at us as if we were asking to be let out on the moon. He was a New Yorker and simply could not fathom a request to be abandoned in a cold wilderness. I'm certain he thought we'd instantly be eaten by bears or deer for all he knew. His eyes would carefully weigh up the options ...funny looking white strangers being eaten by wild deer or the prospect of him having to clean a bus full of puke 45 minutes later when he arrived at the McDonalds on S. Atherton. He'd carefully break to the shoulder at the Jersey Shore, the exit where our prearranged pickup driver would be waiting. We always thanked him, tried to explain that we'd be fine as we vanished into the freezing, black night. I will not lie, the whole thing made us feel pretty clever. Then, watching his red tail lights vanishing westward down the highway a great sense of peace would swoop us up.) So long New York City. 

"GHOST WORLD" 

A long time ago some people found themselves living their lives in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania. They worked hard, fell in love, worried about stuff, got drunk, raised families, prayed, got drunk...they worked in lumber camps, mills, mines, once in a while they made up a song or two. When they died they left little behind, mostly just some gravestones lying out there...forgotten, weathered, gray slabs sleeping beneath dead leaves in the little ancient cemeteries of Brush Valley, Potter County, Tioga, in Lock Haven, Roulette, Rote. Today we blow by 'em in cars, on our way to soccer practice, anti-RAM Center meetings, Walmart, we're on the phone. 
Being a songwriter in the mountains of central Pennsylvania in 1856 was a hard and thankless job. It payed nothing. It came with no benefits and afforded you no fame or recognition. There were no "drive time" radio spins, no ASCAP checks, no drink tickets...and then, to honor your finest compositions even further, some absent minded "song catcher" might just simply forget to attach your name to the damned things...thankless...insulting even. Why? (I was born in the 1970's, so please dont take my word for any of this) but if I had to guess, I'd say because it was too cold out... or maybe 'cause it was too hot, or because there were sleds of logs to be heaved over mountain tops, boulders to be pulled outta mud holes, pigs to butcher, kids sick with prune belly, Indians, Panthers...life was way too tough out here to sit around celebrating a damn fool guitar player, some old broad scratching away on a homemade fiddle...life simply got in the way of such foolishness. 
Lately I've realized that at some point not too long after my own death someone will play one of my songs for the last time too. I can't remember exactly how many albums I've made...7? 8?, 10? It doesn't matter. The second we die our real broadcast begins. Our brand new "ghost world" radio stations will start transmitting our legacy back to the living world for better or worse. The world will continue along in its own direction, racing down the highway away from our fading song... ascending over mountains and sinking into valleys, weaker and weaker...eventually we will be all together gone, static. The channel is changed. How long does that take? Jeeze, not long I'm thinking... Not long when you look at it that way. 
I am disproportionately into music. I admit that now. Music has afforded me travel and freedom and a million priceless memories from the cobble stone streets of Italy to dingy dumpster alleys behind nightclubs in Texas or Toledo. I have always done what I wanted to do surrounded by the people I wanted to do it with.... But music is also a slippery slope, it's what keeps me up nights studying the scratchy old polkas, field recordings and vibraphone jazz. I don't really know what I'm looking for in it? I wish I did, maybe if I did, I could stop...stop sitting up searching with my ears for some old secret combination of chords or some magic turn of phrase, a message from another time that never fully reveals itself. It's a blessing and a curse. 

"DOWN IN THE VALLEY PRAYING" 

The idea to make an album of "Mountain Minstrelsy" songs came to us fully formed in the winter of 2011. We'd been out touring through the fall and returned triumphantly to celebrate the holidays with loved ones before commencing the recording of a new "original" album that January. We were excited about the future but we were stupid to let our hopes get high. We'd been at this a long time and frankly we should have known better...On January 2nd a college girl (we know her as "airbags") slid on an icy State College street and her Jetta smashed into the wheel of our touring van and we were suddenly grounded. In the days to follow we began to hemorrhage money. Then other bad stuff happened: family stuff, fighting, depression, then we ran out of heating oil. At night we sealed ourselves off into a tiny room off of the kitchen and listened shivering to The Mills Brothers vinyl above the din of tiny electric space heater. We felt desperate and stranded, we very much wanted to do good work but we had become stuck and bankrupt and cold. It was terrifying. Tied hands. It was in this state that we imagined a different approach.... 
We would make a new album with our neighbors for a band. We would care nothing for its marketing or accessibility. We would slave to the atmosphere of the place discussed in the old writing, then we'd fill in the gaps as best we could so the music could hold up to our lives here today. We would do it employing old fashioned techniques; analog tape, barbershop vocals, tubas, field recordings, harmony singing, mono mixes, a square dance caller, the wash board....our album would be fiercely out of step with the times, a record that the world wasn't waiting for. It was to be a large commercial disappointment. We thought we might be on to something. With Henry Shoemaker's "Mountain Minstrelsy" book in hand we realized it was possible to co-write some new songs with dead people. We could create an era blurring patch work of re-imagined, re-invented, Yankee mountain music and it might serve to open up some new roads for us going forward...it would come with no expectations, we could side step the self promoting, the bios and media one sheets. It would not be an album that could not be judged on its date of release much less against any of our previous work. It would be our first non-Marah record. It was time to put some distance between ourselves and our own past. Ch ch ch changes. 
For the last bunch of months we've toiled away in the former St. Luke's church house in downtown Millheim (it's now appropriately called St. Luke's Cultural Center.) We made an analog recording studio in there, rehearsed songs, recorded them too. Our goal was to simply make a record loosely based on the old Shoemaker collection that captured the atmosphere and enormous "sense of place" that we collectively felt the book contained. 

Central Pennsylvania has a slow, seductive magic. It's beautiful to be sure, but it also possesses a forbidding ancient aura. So much has happened. The mountains themselves are so old in places that it appears that God has sandblasted them down to soft green humps, as if one day they may be all together gone. In November the ridges are the color of iron rust, and for a few days in mid Spring they are green like a tennis ball. The sunsets can be heartbreakers. I've been to places miles back in the game lands where you suddenly stumble upon a dry stone wall, a rail road tressle, a cabin foundation or the remains of a 200 year old orchard fence, then spinning around to gain perspective, it's only the quiet winter woods you face. It makes you realize how very, very much it has all changed. Who made this? Who lived here? HERE??? 
This morning I'm sitting on a bench having a coffee in downtown Louisville Kentucky. We are playing a show here tonight, but I'm not relaxed...I am panicking about finishing this article in time for its deadline later today. I'm also worried that I wrote it all wrong, said too much, not enough?? Dunno? I could've written a hundred different articles about this subject right now...one about the old songcatcher Col. Henry W Shoemaker, one about his sidekick John C French,  one about the record making process itself, the Church or one about Gus (Gus is the 8 year old fiddle player that was born and raised right here and at times seems to be eerily channeling the old fiddle music that once echoed down the local hollows, who knows? Perhaps he really is?)...... But, I leave it out for now. Come see us play the music at St. Luke's Cultural Center on Halloween Night after Trick or Treating! Bring the younginz! There will be Clem's BBQ and birch beer and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and we'll also be serving Elk Creek's fine Beers and Ales for the 21+ crowd. 

THANKS, 
David Bielanko