“new” Connie Converse EP released of previously unreleased 1950s recordings (listen)
I first heard a Connie Converse song at a holiday house party in 2010. [...] I sought out the host. “Oh,” he said. “That’s Connie Converse. She made these home recordings in the nineteen-fifties, but never found an audience for her music, and one day she drove away and vanished.” The album we were listening to, he said, had just been released on a small Brooklyn label.
[...] In 1954, Converse was ushered by a friend, guitar in tow, to a semi-regular music salon hosted by the animator and audio enthusiast Gene Deitch in Hastings-on-Hudson. Deitch liked to record his guests, but when Converse walked in he thought twice. She seemed standoffish, a bit arrogant, and apparently unconcerned with physical appearances; at a time when women were being culturally prompted toward glamour, Converse wore no makeup, favored long, shapeless dresses, and tied her hair back in a practical bun—“like she had just come in from milking the cows,” according to one attendee. Reluctantly, Converse got out her guitar, Deitch rolled his tape machine, and she proceeded to stun those at the gathering with performances of her songs.
[...] In January, 1961, frustrated by her inability to find an audience for her music**,** Converse left New York. She was nearing middle age, with no significant professional, artistic, or romantic prospects. Her brother and his wife had made a life ensconced in the heady, liberal milieu surrounding the University of Michigan, and Converse chose Ann Arbor as a place to start over. She volunteered as a political activist, worked on a novel, and took a series of ever more demanding academic jobs that took a toll on her physically and mentally, eventually leading to a breakdown. In August, 1974, one week after her fiftieth birthday, she mailed a series of cryptic notes and letters to family and friends that spoke of a need to make a fresh start somewhere else, and quietly drove away. She was never heard from again.
If you're unfamiliar with Connie Converse, the 2016 feature in The New Yorker by Howard Fishman -- who produced a tribute album to Connie and a play about her -- is a great primer. Those are some excerpts above. Similar to "forgotten" folk singers Vashti Bunyan, Sibylle Baier, and Linda Perhacs, Connie's music went largely unheard for decades until gaining a cult fanbase in the internet era, but unlike those late '60s and/or early '70s artists, Connie's music dates all the way back to the mid 1950s. And it still sounds fresh today. A 2017 tribute album to Connie on John Zorn's Tzadik Records features Karen O, Mike Patton, Big Thief, Jeff Tweedy, Sam Amidon, Laurie Anderson, Martha Wainwright, Margaret Glaspy, and more, and other contemporary artists to either sing Connie's praises and/or cover her music include Angel Olsen, Frankie Cosmos, Haley Heynderickx, and Diane Cluck.
Connie's music was given its first wide release with 2009's How Sad, How Lovely (on Squirrel Thing/Captured Tracks), and if you haven't heard that album, it's very worth changing that. It's an essential piece of music history, truly timeless, and even if you didn't know Connie's story, the songs would speak for themselves. They're genuinely gorgeous.
That album has been touted as only "a mere fraction of Connie's recorded repertoire," though it's been her only official release for 11 years... until now. A new EP of Connie's music, Sad Lady, just came out on Friday (6/26). It was recorded circa 1954-1956 and features songs that were "previously broadcast but never released," as well as alternate versions of songs that appeared on How Sad, How Lovely. The EP is dedicated to Gene Deitch (whose connection to Connie is quoted above from that New Yorker feature), who passed away in April at age 95. The Sad Lady EP is yet another must-hear collection of Connie's music, and you can stream it in full below.
All tracks recorded circa 1954-1956.
"Sad Lady" and "Sorrow Is My Name"—both previously broadcast but never released—are joined by Connie's gorgeous (albeit impromptu) arrangement of the traditional ballad "The Ash Grove." The EP closes with two of her doubletracked arrangements ("Down This Road" and "We Lived Alone," both previously released in different form on 2009’s "How Sad, How Lovely") that shed new light on her songcraft and melodic sensibility.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Gene Deitch, whose spirit and boundless enthusiasm had the power to inspire strangers, to change lives, and to help preserve the musical legacy of Connie Converse, along the way.
released June 26, 2020
Music and Lyrics by Elizabeth Eaton Converse
Artwork by Zachary Scheer
Recorded by Connie Converse and Gene Deitch
Mixed and Mastered by David Herman and Dan Dzula on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, at Good Studio, Brooklyn
Produced by Dan Dzula & David Herman