Tom Brosseau’s Dinner-Party Playlist

North Dakota singer-songwriter Tom Brosseau’s latest album, Treasures Untold, features a handful of orginals alongside renditions of classics from the Great American Folksong Book. Here, he takes us deeper into the roots of American music, while spotlighting some more modern interpretations thereof.

“Lately I’ve been listening to the Peter Rowan catalogue, who Sara Watkins recommended to me in the early 2000s. ‘Panama Red’ appeared on both Rowan’s first solo album, Peter Rowan (1978), and before that in 1973 on the New Riders of the Purple Sage album The Adventures of Panama Red. I would say the ‘Panama Red’ here, recorded in 1994 at Telluride, finally found its true pulse. It displays the master musicianship, in both control and tone, of not only Peter Rowan, but also his band of A-list bluegrass players.

“I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine, music historian Lou Curtiss. I phoned Lou about the omitted material from the Carter Family On Border Radio series. If there were any unreleased Carter Family recordings out there I wanted to know about it and Lou would be the person to talk to. Lou proceeded to tell me a story concerning the 16″ transcription discs that eventually became On Border Radio, and how they were discovered in Baja, California, but so often when talking about music with Lou it’s like swinging from one limb to the next in an endless jungle. You go awhile; there doesn’t have to be a real destination. Lou and I derailed from the Carter Family to the Phipps Family, a musical group you might say picked up where the Carter Family left off, in the 1940s. Thanks to Lou, who always gives me such great musical recommendations, I have become a Phipps fan. I hope you will too.

“There’s an album of Harry McClintock entitled Haywire Mac. It’s educational and so much fun to listen to, recorded by Sam Eskin in 1953. It features McClintock’s story-telling, his biographies on songs and people, and of course his singing. (McClintock composed many songs, most notably “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, a staple of the Great American Folk Songbook.) One composition on Haywire that I really love is ‘Sweet Violets.’ It’s an example of what’s known as a mind rhyme. You’ll find a more risqué example of a mind rhyme on this playlist. You’ll know it when you get to it.

“This playlist is comprised of songs that either I stumbled upon or were recommended to me. It’s perfect for a small gathering, like a dinner party. Or take it on a walk with you. It doesn’t matter how you come across music. All that matters is what touches the heart. Enjoy listening.

Photo: Lizzi Brosseau