The Stubborn Lovers

Song Premiere: The Stubborn Lovers “Jamestown Highway / Get On Board”

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The Stubborn Lovers

Americana Highways brings you this premiere of the Stubborn Lovers’ song “Jamestown Highway/Get On Board,” from their forthcoming LP Come A Reckoning, slated for release on November 18. This was produced by The Stubborn Lovers; mixed by Larry Crane at Jackpot! Recording Studio; and mastered by Garrett Haines at Treelady Studios.

“Jamestown Highway/Get On Board” is the Mandy Allan on vocals, acoustic guitar, and percussion; Jenny Taylor on bass and backing vocals; and Pearl on drums, percussion, and backing vocals.  This is the Stubborn Lovers band.  Additional musicians on this song are Josh Doughty on electric guitar and backing vocals; Andy MacMillan on lead electric guitar; Jeff Porter on pedal steel; Kelli Venaas on backing vocals; and Todd Melton on vocals.  Also appearing are the Get on Board choir: Nicole Campbell, Michael Donhowe, Zia Doughty, Sarah Fitzgerald, Hilary Hanes, Scott Jeffries, Toni Melton, and John Nyen.

The vocal harmonies here are to die for, and the song is superlatively catchy.  Nice build-up and suspense, and an all-important message in the tale that unfolds.  A protest song for right now.   

Many years ago, while we were still married, the ex and I took a road trip out to western New York State, to the city of Jamestown. Jamestown is noted as the erstwhile furniture-making capital of the East, the birthplace of Lucille Ball, and the hometown of ‘80s college-rockers 10,000 Maniacs. Prior to their major-label makeover as anodyne Lilith Fair standard-bearers, the Maniacs were an eclectic folk-rock band who trafficked in off-kilter Americana and lyrics steeped in childhood nostalgia. Their 1985 debut LP, The Wishing Chair, remains one of my favorite records. After Natalie Merchant left the band in the ’90s, original musical architect John Lombardo returned, and a revamped 10KM played an outdoor show in Jamestown one Labor Day weekend. That’s why we went there.

Driving on the highway outside of Jamestown (see what I did there?), I saw a sign for Bemus Point, which I recognized from one of the songs on The Wishing Chair, and took the turnoff. Driving into Bemus Point felt like passing through a time portal into mid-20th-century America—part Norman Rockwell painting, part Father Knows Best. On one side of the road was Chautauqua Lake; the other side was lined with white clapboard cottages with immaculate lawns and well-tended flower beds. Flags flapped in the breeze. A screen door slammed and a bunch of kids in swimsuits ran giggling across the road towards the lakeshore. It was an American idyll.

I’ve retained an intense sense memory of that brief visit, very similar to those I invoked while writing “Porch Light,” a song from our last album inspired by my parents’ hometown in another part of upstate New York. But while “Porch Light” drew on my personal nostalgia for a place I knew and loved deeply, something has always felt off to me about the nostalgia I experienced in Bemus Point. It wasn’t personal—it was part of some collective yearning for an American past that is largely imagined, a Disneyfied pastiche of Main Streets and Sousa marches and black-and-white sitcoms. It’s a nostalgia that is only available to certain Americans, mostly those with white skin and middle- or upper-class backgrounds. I used to find this collective white nostalgia harmless, even charming, mostly because I grew up with a mother who immersed herself in it. I’ve come to realize that it is, in fact, insidious. It does seem harmless in some contexts, but it’s like the pretty petals of a poisonous flower. This longing for some “great” America of the past is what’s been fueling the rise of authoritarianism in our current culture and politics. It supports and perpetuates notions of patriarchy, white supremacy, and “Christian” theocracy. It must be confronted and annihilated.

Can music play a role in that? Call me naïve, but I’m still a firm believer in the idea that a song can change the world. I also still believe that a lot of folks who buy into this nostalgia are misguided rather than evil, mostly because of people I’ve known and loved. Those are the folks this song is aimed at. It’s meant to be positive, hopeful: we’re getting on the road and leaving the old America behind! It’s gonna be great, and you can come with us! There’s a place for everyone! And if you think the dream has passed you by, you’re wrong: you ain’t late, you’re right on time.

Musically, this song was influenced by nothing in particular and everything at once. It’s three chords (literally) and the truth. I wanted it to feel deeply familiar and welcoming. After writing what felt like two-thirds of a song with “Jamestown Highway”, I realized I had a fragment of another song called “Get on Board” that fit with it perfectly in terms of sound, feel, and message, so I just smushed ‘em together. Plus, I’ve always wanted a song with a slash in the title, mostly because Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” was one of my first favorite songs.

Lyrical allusion: while I don’t drop any actual reference to it, I was thinking a lot about Langston Hughes’s poem “Let America Be America Again” as I wrote these lyrics. I do take us down to the Mississippi Delta and Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” in “Jamestown Highway”, and I think the nod to “Amazing Grace” in “Get on Board” is pretty obvious. —  Jenny Taylor

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