photo by Nicola Aloisio
Americana Highways brings you this video premiere of Momma Molasses’ song “C-A-R” from her forthcoming album Take Me To The Country, due to be available in June. The album was recorded at Classic Recording in Bristol, VA mixed and mastered by Mike Stephenson. It was produced by James Villone.
Musicians on the album are Cameron Ragsdale on bass; Justin Louthian (Folk Soul Revival) on drums; Rebecca Branson Jones on pedal steel; John Synder (Anthony Wayne Vibe) on lap steel; JP Parsons (Heart’s Gone South) on electric guitar; CJ Hill on fiddle; GW Henderson (Steel City Jug Slammers) on banjo; Alex Weiler on harmony vocals and Cleve Edwards on piano.
We were able to chat with Momma Molasses and ask a few questions. The premiering video is just beneath the interview.
Americana Highways: There’s a lot of subtlety to your sound; elements of vintage country storytelling, appalachian folk and bluegrass. We’d love to hear who your biggest inspirations are.
Momma Molasses: I love old music and was lucky enough to go to Warren Wilson college near Asheville NC and do their old time program. I also grew up with lots of gospel. My uncle plays and sings old country: Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, also Piedmont Blues is really big where I’m from. Artists I love are Patsy Cline, Mother Maybelle, Bobbie Gentry, Elizabeth Cotten, Hazel Dickens, Ernest Tubb, Merle Travis, Michael Hurley, Doc Watson, Hank Williams Sr., Tom T.Hall, and Wanda Jackson.
AH: ‘C-A-R’ has a delicate balance of comedy and tragedy. It sounds like the experiences detailed in this song are some that you, or your family, have lived through. How do you balance such a serious subject with a sound that’s so fun?
MM: I think one of the things country and folk music does is tell traumatic stories super simply that people can emphasize with, and in a way that feels uplifting. I’m inspired by murder ballads and how they are written. This song, believe it or not, follows a similar form to that. For me there’s something transformative about music and its ability to make the hardships in life palpable. Think Jimmie Rodgers “In the Jailhouse Now” or Walking the Floor Over You” by Ernest Tubb.
AH: Tell us more about the song “C-A-R.”
MM: I was inspired to write this song from a combination of musical and personal influences. Musically I took inspiration from Bobbie Gentry’s song “Ode to Billie Joe.” I’ve always been fascinated with that song, and the way it uses a ballad like way of writing to tell a story. In that story things are unresolved, and in C-A-R they are more apparent but the lyrics still play on a similar idea of what I think of as “Southern Silence.” There seems to be a construct in the south and generally in everyday speech where people gloss over bad things that happen. In the case of “Ode to Billie Joe” it was someone’s death, in mine it’s the experience of domestic violence.
I also found the podcast “Cocaine and Rhinestones” which has a great episode about the complexity of how Bobbie wrote that song, and it really resonated with me, and about what I was trying to say, though at the time I was inspired by her writing first because folks who had come to my shows told me I should cover the song because it suited my voice. Also the tag spelled out C-A-R reminds me of Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E, a sort of word play on how parents spell things out in front of their children.
Personally the song touches on my struggle with experiencing domestic violence, and my mother’s advice to me growing up about the importance of remaining physically independent from your husband: even if you get married etc you should always have a way out, e.g. a car in your name. I think one of my momma’s close friends Lou Ann told me about “Poppin’ up the clutch” somewhere between smoking down packs of Winston cigarettes, a thing she knew women would teach each other in private back in the day, to be able to roll start a car without making a sound in the night. I was part raised by my mom’s group of rowdy redneck hippie friends (rippies redneck-hippies) and this song is somewhat a dedication to their experiences. I called many of them “momma,” (Momma Grace, Momma Beth, Momma Mary) think of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood but women who lived through the 60s and 70s in rural North Carolina, claiming their independence in their own doublewides and swaths of 23 acres of land on a dirt road off a dirt road. Also for me, humor has always been the best way to deal with trauma, the sound and the music video for this single strike that contrast between a heavy message relayed with a catchy beat, and almost lighthearted persona. I’m interested artistically with music’s ability to make the horrifying palpable, and even kind of fun.
AH: Bristol VA obviously has a huge place in country music history, what is it like living there as a country musician yourself?
MM: I love Bristol so so much. It’s been a haven for focusing on my own creativity and a space to build community around the Roots of Country and American music. I’ve been lucky enough to land a show where I DJ on Radio Bristol (Folk Yeah! Airs Wednesdays 2-3pm) which broadcasts from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and have been able to learn so much about early recorded music. Also there are lots of venues and breweries opening in the area and the local community really supports musicians! Plus the Bristol Rhythm and Roots festival is such an incredible community supported event that everyone comes together to make happen. I also have gotten to help stage manage for Farm and Funtime which airs on PBS and is a historical radio program that has been revamped by WBCM Radio Bristol and host musicians from all over the country! Also should say right now is our Fund Drive if anyone wants to support the amazing community radio that works tirelessly to educate about the roots of country music go to www.listenradiobristol.org/give
AH: Tell us more about your upcoming album and when we can expect to see it released.
MM: My upcoming album was recorded in Bristol at Classic Recording with some amazing local and regional musicians. It will be out in June and features lots of songs with similar themes from a female perspective about growing up in the south, violence, and travel. Life is hard and music helps.
Watch the video for some real classic small town footage. But tune in for sweet and sassy old-time country music of the highest quality.