ZOE & CLOYD
Despite its distinctive flavor, the appeal of bluegrass music is broad enough to have gained fans literally the world over. Still, direct, personal ties to the music and the communities in which it originated can lend an extra dimension to a performance, and just such a connection underpins the latest single from Organic Records’ Zoe & Cloyd.
With its themes of memory and the losses created by suburbanization and rural dislocation, “Chestnut Mountain” is a moving tale that’s all the more compelling for being based on John Cloyd Miller’s family history—one that not only embodies the lyric’s themes but connects to bluegrass’s earliest days through his grandfather. Jim Shumate was not only the inheritor of the family’s Chestnut Mountain homeplace but also a one-time fiddler for iconic bluegrass artists Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs—in fact, it was he who brought Monroe and Scruggs together in late 1945, paving the way for the explosive musical combination that created bluegrass itself.
“‘Chestnut Mountain’ is a song I wrote about our family homeplace in Wilkes County, NC,” says Miller, who sings lead on the song. “My late grandfather, bluegrass fiddler Jim Shumate, was born there in 1921. There is so much history on that mountain. When I was young, the whole area was relatively remote and undeveloped aside from a few almost impassable roads. Later, a developer came in and tried to get my grandparents to sell their part, but to no avail. To my grandparents, that land was priceless. I’m so thankful that they held out and that my cousins and I have this place to share with the next generation.”
“I remember Grandpa saying he used to hear his Uncle Erbie playing fiddle from across the holler when he was a boy,” he continues. “When I’m up there, I always try to imagine what it was like for him growing up there. I picture the cabin, the farm animals and the garden and I always listen for the sound of the fiddle wafting on the breeze.”
Deeply nostalgic, yet precise in its sentimentality, “Chestnut Mountain” matches the elegant minimalism of its words with a sensitive ebb and flow in the harmonies and instrumental backing from Miller (guitar), Natalya Zoe Weinstein (fiddle, vocals), banjoist Bennett Sullivan and bassist Kevin Kehrberg. With its empathetic solos, delicate touches of dialogue between vocals and instruments, and a finely tuned build-up that culminates in an emotional, alternating repetition of the narrator’s basic wish—“I want to go back in time”—that’s echoed by the rise and fall of unison lines from banjo and fiddle before the final, restrained closing, this is a performance that exemplifies the authenticity that lies at the heart of Zoe & Cloyd’s music.
KEY SELLING POINTS
- Zoe & Cloyd is renowned fiddler and vocalist Natalya Zoe Weinstein and award-winning songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist John Cloyd Miller
- John, a twelfth generation North Carolinian and grandson of pioneering bluegrass fiddler, Jim Shumate, is a 1st place winner of the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest as well as an Artist Fellowship recipient for songwriting from the North Carolina Arts Council