The 78 Project

I trust some of you may have noticed the formal album release this week of The 78 Project, on which I am –in duet with my friend Lisa Hannigan of Ireland— a participant.

Identifying ourselves dryly as “participants,” though, does not exactly describe the whole of our experience, since both Lisa and I felt, rather, that we had been invited into a séance, so mysterious and revelatory was the process.

The premise seemed simple enough at the beginning, and was: Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright would meet me and Lisa –passing through New York City on a collaborative tour— at a friend’s apartment, which was empty and offered up for the morning; they would set up an ancient disc-cutting recording machine in the middle of the floor and, while Lisa and I rehearsed “Red River Valley” (chosen for its sheer beauty and public domain status), they would carefully place a single microphone before us for optimally capturing the one-take-only performance –funneling it into the lacquered grooves of posterity, and us into the vortex of all slipping and whimsical time.

Yes, simple enough. Until it isn’t any longer: for what we heard in playback evidenced not a fleeting moment having just been arrested, but, instead, the present being animated into a past we hadn’t actually known –the future shouting out with sepia tones about a moment we still seemed to occupy.

I know, I know: an enigma wrapped in a riddle is exactly how I felt when my own voice, from minutes before, climbed from the surface of the spinning disc as if it was standing with Jimmie Rodgers upon a dusty rise in 1932, just waiting for a train.

It was wildly emotional, I am telling you, hearing our voices transformed thusly; and what it offered us as singers –what it now offers all of us as listeners— is not about nostalgia, but about immediacy; commitment. Not about hearing faux-antiqued reflections of our features, but about offering ourselves as witnesses to Song’s power and shape-shifting endurance.

I hope you will listen in too, and provide your own witness.

Joe Henry
South Pasadena, CA