Songwriter Jesse James DeConto recorded most of THE HIGHWAY MOVES THE WORLD as January turned to February 2020. He, along with bassist Jonathan DePue, drummer Scott McFarlane and guitarist Garrett Langebartels, had planned to celebrate the finished tracking with a full playthrough of the dozen songs at the intimate North Star Church of the Arts in their home-base of Durham, NC. They scheduled the first single release, “Dream the Sun,” for the same day, the last Friday of March. By the middle of the month, it became clear that the live show for a listening-room audience would not happen.
They released the single anyhow, along with seven more over the next two years. “Dream the Sun” is a paean to the pain of waiting, in honor of Jesse’s sister Katie’s tireless work of arts advocacy and the tattoo on her right shoulder, reminding her that there is a sun – a source of warmth and light — even when all you feel and see is cold and dark: in the early days of a global pandemic, for example. In December, BTR TODAY called it “warm (and) tender … a perfect vibe to end 2020.” AMERICAN SONGWRITER called the track a “radiant … message of hope.”
Almost three years later, the post-pandemic renewal brings a totally new lineup, but, as always, a gang of friends who complete the full band sound, including guitarist, trumpeter, keyboardist Luis Rodriguez and bassist Derek Skeen, both adding background vocals. 2021 and 2022 have seen them performing at festivals from Georgia to Ohio, sharing stages with Liz Cooper, The Bones of JR Jones and The Nude Party.
“Dream the Sun” is the penultimate track, but the posture of possibility permeates the record. It’s 12 songs, each inspired by a complicated human being who happens to be one of Jesse’s closest relations – spouse, kids, parents, siblings, a couple of friends who had the power to deliver great joy and wonder or profound betrayal and disappointment; in other words, these characters can stand in for the people beloved by any one of us. THE HIGHWAY MOVES THE WORLD begins two decades ago in the DeContos’ leaky basement rehearsal space, where Jesse learned The Beatles and started to examine his tribe’s own particular brand of woundedness as the 19-year-old eldest brother of five. “Basement Tapes” is a sparse, melodic remembrance of musical family origins.
The songs travel through forest legends and foreign lands, blackjack games and French bistros, photo albums and feminist awakenings, all serving as the scene-sets and props for human drama of the most genuine kind. By the end of the journey, the listener returns to “Merseybeat,” with its garden parties, echoes of “Eleanor Rigby,” and another Liverpool legend Gerry Marsden showing up in the lyrics with a simple message, “don’t walk alone.” SHINDIG! called it “a long-faded sound from a distant time and place … shimmering as if born anew.”
Clint Roberts’ experiences and influences from growing up in Western N.C. near the Pisgah Forest bleed into every track on his latest EP Holler Choir. “The instruments played are ‘old familiar friends’ to me,” he says. Relying heavily on vocal performance and the use of Appalachian tonalities, it was recorded in Asheville, N.C., and produced by Michael Ashworth of the Grammy-award-winning Steep Canyon Rangers.
The music of Høly River carries the message of humanity’s need for reconnection with the earth. Mystically political and wholeheartedly grassroots this DIY band finds themselves playing on large festival stages as well as backyard fire pits of intentional communities around the world.