Folk music and Taos are well-acquainted two-step partners. The area is familiar with the genre and with upcoming duo Clay Parker and Jodi James.
For the duo’s fourth visit to Taos, Parker and James will be performing Tuesday (Sept. 12), 6:30-9:30 p.m., in Adobe Bar at the Taos Inn, 125 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. They’ve previously performed there, as well as at Taos Mesa Brewing. Parker describes Taos as “one of [his] favorite places in the whole country.”
“We try to make it up there as much as possible; it’s just one of our favorite places to just be,” said James in agreement through 1,000 miles of phone static before a stop on the tour in Lafayette, Louisiana.
On speaker phone, side by side, one chimed in after the other with endearing tones. The two musicians told their story of collaboration.
Approximately 2 1/2 years ago, two familiar Southern songbirds and solo performers from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area communicated and collaborated by email to create traditional whiskey harmonies. James, located in Nashville, Tennessee, and Parker, who lived in Baton Rouge, crafted the self-titled album released in November 2014. When James moved back to Baton Rouge, the two kept writing, touring and performing alongside one another.
“We each contribute equal parts and nitpick about certain things. Down to which conjunction should be used at what point, we work on everything together,” said Parker.
The duo is currently working on releasing a new album by the end of the year or early next year. Parker and James spend time switching between touring and writing, approximately three weeks touring and performing and three weeks writing back in Baton Rouge.
James’ alluring singing style and Parker’s gentle, raspy accompaniment are melodic and twangy. In the style of doing it yourself, without any professional label, Parker and James have released a collection of bluesy Americana tunes, drawing influences from pioneers such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the Carter Family. Chuckling, Parker mentioned more recently drawing inspiration from the Grateful Dead and James responded to his comment with even more laughter. However, both James and Parker concentrate on producing pure traditional folk and roots music with a touch of ballads.
Filled with longing, Louisiana references, moonshine, bourbon and smoky nights, Parker and James incorporate the country blues in much of their lyricism.
“We have that dark edge. It’s not cheerful folk music. It’s hopeful, but we lean towards the dark, gritty side,” said James.
“Gallows Trees” reveals the somber tones while songs such as “Come Back,” “Moonshiner” and “After the Smoke Clears” display the yearning nature of their music. While some of the more sorrowful songs are gorgeously crafted with soft solos and slow plucking, the duo also offers playful pieces. Songs such as “Meditation Blues” and “Showboatin’” are filled with country colloquialism, bouncy strumming and what June Carter would describe as “steady as a train.”
When asked about superstition or ritual in the songwriting process, both James and Parker laughed and admitted there are no unusual strategies. They shared some of their songwriting schemes.
“Clay carries around a bunch of old receipts and pieces of paper in his pockets for months that might have one phrase and eventually he’ll pull them all out of his pocket and we’ll try to make a song out of it,” James said.
“We love ballad form, where you have an A, A, B rhyme and then C, C, D rhyme. Those traditional forms mean a lot to us and we are pretty strict about that side,” said Parker.
As with most forms of roots and folk music, James and Parker contribute to storytelling. “Love and hate, war, violence and suffering – we frame it in our own particular way,” James said. “We leave enough space or history for some of the lyrics where it can be an individual interpretation,” she mentioned as she explained the themes the duo attempts to create.
When asked if any of their songs are based on real people and experiences, the two agreed in unison, “Absolutely, yes.”
“Not in the same time or space of a certain occurrence, it’s one of those things – you are a sum of your own parts. You are inspired by things you didn’t even know you were inspired by. They’ll show in a tune at some point,” said Parker. “When you’re pre-writing, it all comes out and then makes sense later because you realize where it came from,” said James as the two shared the realization.
When asked what Taoseños should expect from their show on Sept. 12, James and Parker remained humble.
“We’re two people and two acoustic guitars – nothing too flashy, just a lot of harmonies. We’re pretty laid back and soft when we perform,” said Parker.
“We don’t have any tricks, we don’t have any loop pedals. It’s a very natural sound. We are really focused on our harmonies, on trying to get that family style sort of laughing cowboy out,” said James.
For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-2233.