By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Playing June Carter Cash in the musical "Ring of Fire" led Chicago actress and musician Cory Goodrich to an interest in the autoharp, an instrument that is at the center of her latest album, "Wildwood Flower."
Goodrich will celebrate the release of the album by performing Aug. 16 at , 3800 N. Clark St. Chicago. Christine Mild also is on the bill.
The show starts at 8 p.m. and there is a $10 cover. Reservations are available by going to www.yelpreservations.com.
I had the chance to talk to Goodrich about the upcoming show.
Q - Great talking to you again. In sitting down to make "Wildwood Flower," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
Last spring, as I was researching the autoharp for our remount of "Ring of Fire" at the Mercury Theatre, I came across an application for the Cohen/Grappel recording endowment, and I applied on a whim, never believing they would chose my project.
I was given a grant to produce a full-length album that featured the autoharp on at least 75 percent of the tracks. My initial idea was to pay tribute to the Carter Family, both the original three, AP, Sara and Maybelle, and the Carter Sisters who followed: Maybelle’s daughters, Anita, Helen and June Carter.
I also wanted to incorporate the autoharp on some of the folk songs I have written.
Sonically, I found that traditional autoharp albums became tiresome to the ear after about six tracks, so I wanted to look for different ways to play the harp and to include it in the tapestry of the music without it necessarily being the featured instrument. We did a lot of alternate tunings and used it as a bass instrument on one track, and we had a very special drone harp built by Pete D’aigle specifically for “Sycamore Tree.”
That harp is ethereal and so unusual and lends an almost mystical quality to the song.
All in all, the album exceeded my expectations for what I jokingly called “the autoharp album no one will hear.” I really feel Malcolm and I made an album that is not only autoharp-centric, but one that tells a story and is really fun to listen to.
Q - Is there a story behind the album's name?
“Wildwood Flower” was Maybelle Carter’s favorite song. As I researched the origin of many of the Carter family songs, I was particularly drawn to this one.
In the Carter version, the lyrics didn’t really make sense. It starts with, “I’ll twine with my mingles and waving black hair,” and I was like…what the heck is a MINGLE?
With a little digging, I found the original Maud Irving poem that the song was based upon and in the poem, the opening line states, “I’ll ‘twine ‘mid the RINGLETS of raven black hair the lilies so pale and the roses so fair...”
The music of these ballads were passed on in an oral tradition. There was no Google to turn to when one forgot a lyric, so consequently, many of the words were misheard or changed to make sense to the one singing.
When I found the entire poem, the narrative changed from a sad girl (the ‘Wildwood Flower’) mourning her abandonment by her lover into a strong-willed woman determined to make her errant man pay for her mistreatment by essentially going out and partying and showing him she couldn’t care less that he left her.
That changed everything for me.
It was an unexpected feminist anthem, not another “he left me I’m going to die” ballad.
The whole arc of the album is really about lost love and how we handle sadness and disappointment of the heart. "Wildwood Flower" is my statement about how we keep carrying on, and smile through the pain until we can smile for real.
Q - Do you see the album as a natural outgrowth of your portrayal of June Carter Cash? What do you like about the autoharp as an instrument? Did you learn how to play the autoharp for the role of June Carter Cash?
Oh, definitely. I never would have even picked up the harp if it hadn’t been for playing June. The autoharp is something many of us encountered in grade school.
It's an easy instrument to strum while singing, without too much thought. But it’s fascinating and frustrating, learning to pick out melodies and arranging something that is more complicated than your basic I, IV and V chord strum.
There is really so much more for me to learn and discover about the instrument, and as I start attending autoharp festivals and meet people who are master players, I realize how much potential there is. I’m looking forward to seeing where I can go with this, musically.
Q - What would you like listeners to get from the album?
When you think “folk songs,” you think of the songs you sang as a child in school. There’s such a deep history in these stories that we don’t think of.
“Shenandoah,” for instance, started as a rowing song for men working on the ships. It told the tale of Chief Shenandoah and the trader who fell in love with the chief’s daughter.
Most of us think that song is just about the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When we approached the tune, Malcolm and I wanted to honor the Native American origins of the story, but incorporate our own vision of technology and modern life overtaking the beauty of the wild America we used to have, so we wrote our own two verses.
It’s a tradition in folk music to grow and adapt to the singer, so we felt that putting our own spin on the song was totally within the character of folk music.
I’d like people to come away with the thought that the autoharp isn’t just for those “old time” songs. That it is a beautiful and neglected instrument of the past that we can totally incorporate in modern music.
And I’d like them to come away with the idea that the music of our past isn’t just “old.” There are stories and feelings and experiences then that we can still relate to today.
Q - Malcolm Ruhl produced "Wildwood Flower," as he did your last album. What do you think he brought to the project?
Malcolm is a consummate musician, and he is so good at getting me to focus on the story at hand. His instrumentation for these tracks is storytelling at its finest.
Anything we chose to add has a purpose and I love that theatrical sense of music that we share. He’s also just a brilliant arranger and understands theory and composition in a way I never will.
I spend my time concerned with the vocals and the story we are telling, and he works on the music and seeing the vision come to life. We work so well together, when we’re not talking. We talk WAY too much in a session.
Q - What other projects are you working on? Do you have any dream projects?
Next up theatrically is The Bardy Bunch at the Mercury Theater I play Carol Brady/Lady MacBeth, which is just a hilarious juxtaposition.
I would love to work on an album of swing jazz next…you know, all that lush music of Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra. The composers and lyricists of that era were brilliant and poetic.
It was truly the golden age of songwriting. I’d love to dig into that a bit.
Vocally, I am just so intrigued by so many different styles of music and I want to be able to explore different sounds and genres. It makes me a bit hard to pin down as an artist, but that’s half the fun and the challenge of it for me.