Track-by-Track: Eli Winter

I finished writing this piece a few days ago before news of jaimie branch’s passing broke, and amidst the heartbreak, I keep thinking of her irrepressible, generous spirit. She always showed up. Listening to her irrepressible, searching runs on “Dayenu,” and thinking about where the title comes from (a Passover song) and what the word means – “it would have been enough” – it’s a lot. Eli also sent in some words remembering jaimie, which can be found below. Take care of yourselves out there. –ed

I was lucky to have made music with jaimie branch on this record. I finally got to properly spend time with her last month, as her next fly or die record was being mixed. A couple weeks before, I’d given her a copy of my record at a concert she gave and asked if I could pick her brain next time she was in town. Needless to say, I learned a lot just watching her talk about the mixes and from the time she spent telling me about her work. It clarified a lot of doubts I had, made me feel surer of myself. In my impression, she radiated self-possession, kindness, and openness, balanced with an intolerance for bullshit and an undoubted commitment to the work of making music. She left such a strong impression through this alone. I want to live by her example that much more.

Eli Winter, August 24, 2022

What makes a modern classic? It’s not something that comes with specifics, for me at least, but rather something I know when I see it or hear it. Eli Winter’s debut for Three Lobed wastes no time laying its claim from the quick pace, timeless melodies unraveling like a restless ball of twine on opener “For a Chisos Bluebonnet.” Joined by longtime collaborators like Cameron Knowler on electric guitar, Sam Wagster on pedal steel, and drummer Tyler Damon, Winter harnesses a consuming urgency and pushes it on steel-string melodies right to the horizon line. It’s pure, straight-ahead magic.

Angled guitar explorations veer into jagged crevices on the wobbling towers of “No Fear,” where Ryler Walker joins Winter and Knowlerand lays down some serious lurch. With washes of blurred synths via Jordan Reyes and Damon’s ebullient rhythms, the dark streams combine to build a reverent engine room at the album’s heart. That platform sets up jaimie branch to do what jaimie branch does. On “Dayenu,” she’s incandescent as always, sending flugelhorn missiles to quench the void. For a few minutes, the show is all hers. 

The village on this record is extensive, and how woven into the album threads they are, pushes it into all-time territory. Winter is the conductor, but his music gives others a place to breathe free. Yasmin Williams is instantly recognizable in the teetering flames of “Davening in Threes,” yet her emotive passages become an integral piece of the underlying architecture. Same goes for Knowler, whose collaborations with Winter are fantastic, but here there’s a new determination to deliver the best possible performance for his friend. It’s a beautiful measure of community and camaraderie.  

Clear skies breed the purest intentions in every corner of this record. There’s a wide-eyed, heart-on-sleeve undercurrent that blinds any coming storm. Winter’s always been a guitar savant, but his songwriting matches. The album closes with the largest ensemble piece, “Unbecoming,” and amongst the usual suspects and others such as David Grubbs and Whitney Johnson, Winter brings us home.


Track-By-Track

Since I interviewed Eli last year, it felt a bit soon to get into things again, but I wanted to do something special for this record, so he graciously put together a track-by-track rundown.

For a Chisos Bluebonnet

Already this song has had many lives: I’ve played it in duo with Sam Wagster, in trio with Sam and Tyler Damon, in duo with Cameron Knowler, solo, in the states, Europe… This is a roundabout way of saying this song has let me pinch myself a lot.

Davening in Threes

“Davening” is the English transliteration of the Hebrew for “praying.” I was lucky to play this song in duo with Cameron Knowler on our recent tour of Europe – most notably at a packed house (literally) of mostly senior citizens in Tielt, Belgium, whose tickets helped fund 178 square meters of what we somewhat understood to be a park, but were told over and over again was a “forest.”

No Fear

Here’s a song on which I play a relatively spare part on electric guitar while, in order of appearance, Ryley Walker, Sam Wagster, Cameron Knowler, and Tyler Damon swirl around until Jordan Reyes overpowers them all. My amp was so loud that Sam’s pedal steel shook from the noise, which he mixed as we recorded. Many thanks to Tyler for showing me the incredible John Stevens/Barry Guy/Trevor Watts album No Fear, which gave this song its title.

Brain on Ice

I wrote the skeleton of this song for a class with Augusta Read Thomas as an assignment to write a song with chords I’d never used before. How does that work in an open tuning, you ask? Here’s the answer. 

Dayenu

“Dayenu” translates approximately from Hebrew into “it would have been enough.” Ironic? Maybe. 

Unbecoming

“Unbecoming” in the verbal sense: “becoming against.” Beyond that, I need to let this song speak for itself.


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