Join this coming Friday at the Hi-Dive for this awesome night of music featuring Covenhoven (If you haven't seen these guys you are missing out) with special guests our good friends Glowing House and Sawmill Joe. Check out our Facebook page for the details. A random winner will be chosen on Friday!
Covenhoven was built by his Grandfather. One skinned log atop another. Arcadia in the woods. A cabin where he and they always came together to be alone. The Grandson’s childhood grew from that soil and when he was back in the city he dreamt of those surreal washes of color and scent: those sounds that don’t live in the other places. In real places.
Over the years the family learned that secret places are difficult to share with others. You can’t tell somebody the story by just giving them a map. You see, while Covenhoven is a real place, it’s also not. It’s more than that. It’s thousands of memories and entire childhoods, lives that have passed-on. And now, this place, this thing – because of the Grandson: it’s a symphony of sound. It’s an orchard of stories. And, it sounds like a good novel should read.
You can hear it in “A Love Sincere” when the strings kick up like autumn grass in that old aspen grove. This was something different than the Grandson had done before. Alone, he wrote, played and recorded the entire thing save for the stringy violin and cello, whose parts he wrote instead.
The Grandson is Joel Van Horne and this is his project.
For his siblings, parents and relatives, Covenhoven was always a place they drove four hours up to. But it was just as well a place that the Van Horne's could take back with them, when the summer was over as an emotional souvenir. It was a dreamy respite in the middle of a work day. A subalpine scent in the middle of a traffic jam. A memory of everything quiet and celebrated. And then, as years turned into decades and those logs settled down into their place in the earth of the Medicine Bows, Covenhoven grew into the central legend of their personal, familial history.
For Van Horne, a Colorado native, this storied plot of land was where the best of his childhood took place. And so it wasn’t such a surprise that, when the 33 year old was looking inside for a new project and a fresh lease on his musical life, he stumbled back upon the memory of that time. That place way out there had been something that he had wanted to write about. Up until this age, he just wasn’t ready.
The symphony hadn’t arrived. Not yet.
Van Horne grew-up on the west side of Denver, next to the hogbacks, beneath the sunsets. Every summer his family would go for a couple of glorious weeks, up to the Medicine Bows, up to Covenhoven. Dad played Dylan tunes on his old six-string. Others had their instruments. Music had been painted all over his family. Everybody had been infected. So it was no surprise when the Grandson, Joel, caught the bug. At eleven Van Horne had his first guitar. At fourteen, his first band. Before he could even drive, he was on the road. Playing his rebellious soda pop punk, touring the west coast.
But his goal was to write a symphony. Always, there was going to be an orchestra.
He couldn’t really read music, but he tried out for a jazz program anyway. He auditioned with his guitar. He was accepted. And it wasn’t a surprise or an obstacle, the fact that he was on probation for his first semester. It was going to be a challenge, like he was tangled in the cattails at Covenhoven, waist-high in the Rafting Pond. Trying to get in, trying to get out. 6, 7, 8 hours a day he practiced by himself. Reading. Making runs up and down his fretboard. And he was rewarded. He gigged-out with other students. They even played in Russia, in a hall that Rachmaninoff built. But Van Horne wasn’t content yet. His heart called to an even different style of music. Original music. Sure, paying homage to your past grew him, but he wanted to tell his stories, sing his songs.
Eventually he ended-up in Carbon Choir, a big, full band with a penchant for the mellow, but a drive toward the rock. Like with his adolescent band, you felt this one in a physical place. But still, his emotional center, that inspired pit, needed sunlight. And so he continued looking around until it began to grow and make sense. Within the last couple of years,it came back to him: the symphony. Covenhoven. It was all there, all the sounds and stories, if he could just paint them clearly.
Van Horne would do it all differently. He would go at it alone. No band. No body else. He would write all the parts. All the lyrics. He would record it himself. He would make the calls. He wouldn’t have to worry about finding a part for this instrument, or that player. This was finally the time to write that story, those pictures, about those days.
The symphony of an American upbringing. A Colorado childhood.
It’s a series of vignettes. Revelations. Private memories made public through spacious textures and dynamic composition. Because if there’s something apparent about Van Horne’s sense of song it’s his ability for smart, poignant textures. Organic, as though a naturalist built it altogether. Each one as though they were truly given a space, a place of their own.
Van Horne was his own filter. He would bounce-out songs to go over in his car, sometimes with 40 different takes. He was on his own through it all until he enlisted the help of sound engineer Jamie Mefford to help mix it. Finally he had a second eye on it. The two of them set those sounds onto the page, and the chapters, the movements became concretized. They bound the book.
Van Horne is a songwriter. He knows his way around verses. Covenhoven is not just about streams of banjos and mountains of heavenly percussion. It’s about the things you say when you’re way out there, with others, but by yourself. They are simple, woody meditations on his “Love Sincere”. In “Young at Heart” Van Horne sings, “And I’ve always been an old soul/Empty has always been full/Lost is my own kind of found/And silence my favorite sound”.
If there was an analogy in this for Van Horne, it would have been about the accumulation of skill sets. The sum total of the previous challenges into one more. A tribute to that path, to everything he’s become and more than that: a celebration of a place his grandfather built by himself. It is a tribute. An articulation of reverence. To his family. His siblings. The secret memories that are only theirs.
This is that sound. That place. Covenhoven.
Glowing House is a Denver-based new-folk band comprised of husband-and-wife duo Steve Varney and Jess Parsons and features a rotating cast of Denver's most prominent musicians. Almost two years after their critically acclaimed debut album, The Annual Demise of Every Aspen, Glowing House returns with their sophomore effort Days Run Out. Scheduled for release in June, 2012, Days Run Out reveals a highly evolved and polished sound for Glowing House. The band's musicianship can only be matched by their motivation to have you fall in love with their songs. For more information visit http://glowinghousemusic.com/
Joe “Sawmill Joe” Cheves is the stuff of country-blues legend. When not recording music and playing in dive bars, Cheves works at Olde Tyme Lumber, six miles south of Boulder, where he lost a finger [in May of '12]. Originally from Frederick, Maryland, before moving out to Minnesota to get a job in the iron mines (as mentioned at the beginning of “The Trade”), Sawmill Joe has lived in Colorado for about five years now. With the release of this new album, he may have found a home for good. This debut sounds like a humble beginning for a man with obvious talents.
Sawmill Joe’s story isn’t the only thing that sounds like it came straight out of the Mississippi Delta—the songs on his self-titled album sound like they could have been recorded by Alan Lomax himself. They’re simple, heartfelt, and at times angry or sorrowful. This is the stuff that comes from the roots of the roots; it’s not imitation and it’s not affectation. Vocally, Joe can go from gravelly growl to cracking high-pitch country twang in one song. When most the songs consist of a simple blues guitar line and vocals, the feeling and passion in Joe’s voice comes through clearly, and it’s one of the highlights of the music.
“American Dream” is a love song that takes aim at money and religion, with the chorus, “If love don’t count for somethin’ won’t you please tell me what does?” On a song like “Destitute Blues,” you can easily peg some of Joe’s influences, like Mississippi John Hurt or Blind Lemon Jefferson. But where some artists would go over the top and just record a cover song, Sawmill Joe remains original. Listening to Joe’s songs, it’s hard to believe music like this is still being made in the 21st century. These songs about struggle and love are a soundtrack to one man’s life, but they are relatable and memorable regardless of where you come from.
Not all the songs here are desolate solo efforts. Denver musician Lief Sjostrom brings cello to a few tracks, including the unrequited love song “Be Your Man.” The cello isn’t overpowering, and it adds another dimension to some of the songs that’s refreshing and makes you wonder what kind of power Joe would have with a full band behind him.