Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller played for us in the living room at Deep End Ranch. It was an absolutely stunning house concert for an audience of seventy people, a show that we filmed and will be releasing very soon. After the intermission they came back and said, “We hope you had fun on your break. ...WELL, the fun’s all over! It’s back to work!” Then they lit into Fun’s All Over in their own awesome arrangement of the traditional fiddle tune: Jesse on fiddle, Emily on guitar and both on vocals, delivering some of their virtuoso instrumentation and breathtaking, close vocal harmony.
So, as Jesse and Emily suggested: the fun’s all over and it’s back to work! We hope you’ve had a fun break since we issued Aarun Carter and Jonathan Trawick, Deep End Sessions -- Volume 1, our first CD. (If you haven’t heard that one, you are missing out on a major work). Really the fun is just getting started again as I’d like to introduce you one of the best duos in the new generation American music performers.
JESSE MILNES & EMILY MILLER
Jesse and Emily play country and old-time music, singing close harmony with Jesse’s unique guitar style and a healthy dose of old-time fiddling. Emily was raised playing and singing Louvin Brothers and Stanley Brothers songs with her parents while they traveled the world as journalists. She is now lead singer and twin fiddler in the country band, the Sweetback Sisters. Jesse grew up in the world of West Virginia old-time music. He learned from masters like Melvin Wine and Ernie Carpenter as well as from his father, Gerry Milnes, fiddler, documentarian, folklorist and author of Play of a Fiddle. Jesse toured for many years with the Sweetback Sisters but now primarily plays fiddle for square dancing and tours with Emily as a duo. They have just completed a four week tour in Australia. Jesse and Emily live in Elkins, West Virginia.
I first heard the two of them play at the 8th annual L.A. Old-Time Social in 2013, where they headlined the show. Do you all know about the LA Old-Time Social? Staged at the one of the coolest spots in the city of Angels, the Velaslavasay Panorama, it was a knock-out performance. I knew then that I love me some Jesse and Emily!
What struck me is they are both multi-instrumentalists in the best of the old-time music tradition, each excelling on fiddle and guitar and completely in sync with each other. Emily’s guitar is a driving, rock solid rhythm, and Jesse’s guitar playing is some of the most original, dynamic and blazing finger-picking I’ve heard. Jesse’s fiddle is thoroughly steeped in the West Virginia tradition and bears witness to his many years of “paying close attention and reporting back.”1 Emily’s fiddle, particularly her twin fiddle, shows part of why she has become such a rave in the Sweetback Sisters. Perhaps best of all is their absolute powerhouse lead and harmony vocals shared back and forth, effortlessly alternating roles with each other in a blend of pipes that is as good as any duo working today. I was so impressed that I went to hear them two days later at the Topanga Old-Time Fiddle & Banjo Festival and grabbed a seat on the front row. Those are two shows I’ll never forget and from them, I came away with an important inspiration for the genesis of Deep End Sessions. Jesse and Emily represent some of the best in a new generation of musicians from the Southern Appalachian, Piedmont and Tidewater regions, music I know and grew up listening to in North Carolina. The more I listened and learned about them, the more committed I became to recording them. Although they have played together on several other fine records, there was not a recording featuring just the two of them.
In Emily’s words: “Jesse and I have been making music together for the past 10 years. Over that time, we've done many collaborations with other musicians (touring with the Sweetback Sisters, performing with Jesse's dad and my mom, playing with other musicians around Elkins), but our duet singing and playing has mostly taken shape in our living room. This project is the first recording we have made entirely in this arrangement. It seems appropriate that we recorded it in a living room around just a couple of mics, since that’s pretty close to what we’ve been doing at home these last few years.”
On this recording, Jesse and Emily offer traditional old-time West Virginia fiddle tunes and their unique blend of spine tingling harmonies on ballads that in some cases date back to the Civil War, on soaring vocal arrangements of torch classics by strong women in early country music such as Hazel Dickens and Ola Belle Reed, as well as Jesse and Emily’s own magical compositions in the tradition of western swing and Bob Wills.
So put this album into your player, turn up the volume, move the furniture out of the way and let the dancing begin!