There’s a Rolling Stone article currently making the rounds about how the music industry only wants upbeat songs right now. It’s such an American notion ― obsession, even ― to wish woe away and put on a happy face, no matter the circumstances. But these are not happy, hopeful times, for most people. They are deeply troubling, if not completely devastating, for so many. And it’s okay to lean into that sorrow and grieve the loss that fills each day. It’s also okay to hold fast to any bits of joy and light that we can find.
With “Deacon Waltz,” off his upcoming Ravine Palace album, fiddler Christian Sedelmyer captures that balance of emotion in musical form, letting his languid and lovely melody do the heavy lifting for us all. The song originally appeared on 10 String Symphony’s 2012 debut album, but Sedelmyer felt it deserved a second, different rendering. He was right.
Here, Sedelmyer and dobro master Jerry Douglas, with whom he regularly plays, take turns teasing out both the heartache and hope with support from Andrew Marlin on mandolin, Eli West on guitar and banjo, and Clint Mullican on double bass. In addition to Ravine Palace, this group of musicians, minus Douglas, gathered together for Marlin’s solo album back in 2018 and again, only recently, for West’s next release. Their comfort with and confidence in each other allows space within this song, and the rest of the album, for the music to work its magic.
“I have always wanted to hear this melody in a full string band context, and I knew Jerry would light it up,” Sedelmyer says. “We slowed it down from the original tempo, and everyone sort of just fell into a trance. My hope for the listener is that they will dream along with us.” Mission accomplished.
The music industry can want what the music industry wants. But, maybe, like Margo Price tweeted in response to the article, “What if everybody just writes whatever the f#@k they want?” She’s right, of course, because, in grief as in music, everyone needs to follow their own muse.