Bill Frisell – electric and acoustic guitars, loops, music boxes
Greg Leisz – steel guitars, mandolin
Jenny Scheinman – violin
Viktor Krauss – bass
Produced by Lee Townsend
Recording and Mixing Engineer: Tucker Martine
Mastering Engineer: Greg Calbi
Recorded at Avast Studio, Seattle (February, ’08) and Sound Emporium, Nashville (May, ’08)
Mixed at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley
Mastered at Sterling Sound, New York City
Production assistance: Adam Blomberg
Assistant engineers: Taylor Pollert, Jesse Nichols and Adam Munoz
Design by Evan Gaffney
Photographs on booklet back, inlay and opposite page by Michael Wilson
All other photographs by Mike Disfarmer
All compositions by Bill Frisell (Friz-Tone Music/BMI) except:
“That’s Alright, Mama” by Arthur Crudup (Unichappell Music Inc./BMI)
“Lovesick Blues” by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills (EMI Mills Music/ASCAP)
“I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” by Hank Williams Sr. (Sony/Acuff Rose Music/BMI)
“Shutter, Dream” by Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz, Jenny Scheinman and Viktor Krauss (Friz-Tone Music/Capsong/Bug Music/Split Window Music/BMI and Taylor Peak Music/ASCAP)
“Arkansas” is based on the song “Arkansas Traveler” by Colonel Sanford C. ‘Sandy’ Faulkner
“Like David Lynch, postjazz guitarist Bill Frisell has a knack for insinuating an odd haze around the most wholesome aspects of Americana. Disfarmer, named after the cranky Arkansas photographer who created gripping images of his neighbors, finds Frisell teamed with steel guitarist Greg Leisz, violinist Jenny Scheinman and bassist Viktor Krauss for a set of 26 evocative miniatures. Each one flits by like a half-remembered dream, yet paradoxically their sum amounts to one of Frisell’s loveliest, most consistently affecting recent creations.” – Steve Smith, Time Out, New York
“The music of omnivorous guitarist Bill Frisell reflects an eclectic range of influences …. On “Disfarmer,” he draws inspiration from the Depression-era portraits of little-known Arkansas photographer Michael Disfarmer. The result is a provocative soundscape that features a mixture of acoustic and electric guitars…. Creatively restless, Frisell is best suited for exploring vast territory and responding with imaginative integrity, which is evidenced on “Disfarmer.” – Dan Ouellette, Billboard
“Exquisite.” – Independent on Sunday
“Frisell’s filmic themes summon up the ghosts of a lost America. The results are gently beautiful.” The Times
“The tunes prove so hauntingly evocative that they conjure the spirits of long-vanished people and places without the need for visual accompaniment.” – Metro
“The hymns and hoedowns of ‘Disfarmer’ are both affectionate and atmospheric.” – Daily Telegraph
“You practically feel the Arkansas soil slipping through your fingers.”- The Sun
NPR.org, July 13, 2009 –
This album is called Disfarmer, and it’s by Bill Frisell. Frisell, you may
know: He’s a guitar tactician with warmth and a composer of unclassifiable songs. As a solo artist, Frisell is known largely for drawing upon the affects of Americana ‹ folk, country and western, what-have-you ‹ in ways you wouldn’t immediately call jazz, but which draw from jazz in a way that implies no better descriptor.
But who, or what for that matter, is Disfarmer?
Mike Disfarmer was born Michael Meyers in 1884, the sixth of seven children in a family of German immigrant farmers in Arkansas. As he grew older, he came to reject both his family and its agrarian lifestyle. (A tornado, he once claimed, uprooted him from his birth parents and blew him into the Meyers household.) So he chose a new surname. Upon learning, somewhat incorrectly, that the German word “meyer” translated to “farmer” in English, he reasoned that he could only be called an anti-farmer, or Disfarmer.
In other words, Disfarmer was something of an eccentric, and a recluse to boot. But he was also an artist: Disfarmer ran a portrait photography studio in rural Heber Springs, Ark. ‹ the only such enterprise for miles around. Thousands of black-and-white images captured his fellow townspeople from the years preceding the Great Depression to the period following WWII. And something about the solemn, stark plainness to his style lent his subjects an unexpected intimacy, ensuring his legacy as one of America’s great outsider artists.
Disfarmer died in 1959, but his photographs were eventually rediscovered, exhibited and anthologized. The candor of those images would be a natural counterpart to the post-Americana music of Bill Frisell ‹ so thought Chuck Helm, Director of the Performing Arts at the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio. Sure enough, when Helm introduced Frisell to Disfarmer’s oeuvre, the guitarist went on to create a touring multimedia work, scoring a slideshow of Disfarmer images.
The recording of that music, on Frisell’s latest album Disfarmer, is what you can hear here in its entirety. It’s filled with the sounds of a 21st-century string band: Greg Leisz’s mandolin and pedal-steel atmospherics, Jenny Scheinman’s sundry fiddle textures, Viktor Krauss’ rich acoustic bass plucking. And then there’s Frisell, the quiet tactician of the electric guitar, who engineers loops and subtle distortions with phrasing you never knew you were expecting.
There are evocative original themes and motifs here, surrounded by backgrounds sounding distant echoes of country, bluegrass and old-time mountain music. There’s also a handful of carefully selected covers, among them Hank Williams’ lament “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)”
and Arthur Crudup’s blues song “That’s Alright, Mama,” a hit rockabilly vehicle for Elvis Presley. It’s a record alternately spare and full, languid and rollicking, pastoral and urbanely produced.
And it’s all in service to the work of the enigmatic Arkansas photographer Mike Disfarmer.
“What was he thinking?” Frisell asks. “What did he see? We’ll never know, but as I write the music, I’d like to imagine it coming from his point of view. The sound of him looking through the lens.”
The Houston Chronicle, August 2, 2009 Sunday
By Andrew Dansby
Like Bill Frisell, I’d not heard of Mike Disfarmer even though I’d seen his work. Disfarmer, who died in 1959, was a weird genius of photography who took haunting, beautiful and mysterious portraits of the folks in his hometown of Heber Springs, Ark. Disfarmer’s photos tipped the paper boat into the water for the always innovative guitarist Frisell, but Disfarmer is more than a soundtrack to a collection of photos. Frisell took a road trip from North Carolina to Arkansas to initiate the project. In both song selection and instrumentation the album reflects that movement. Among the 26 compositions are three interpretations of well-known songs – That’s Alright, Mama, Lovesick Blues and I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You) – that suggest he stopped at some music landmarks along the way.
But the majority of these songs, with titles like Farmer, Little Girl and Little Boy, were inspired by Disfarmer and/or his subjects. Not only is there a continuity in Disfarmer’s work (the crisp black-and-white detail, the stillness of the subjects) but there’s also great range. Similarly Frisell’s pieces flow together despite great variance in their tones. Some, like the opening Disfarmer’s Theme, reflect the stoic darkness portrayed in the photos while others are more colorful. The lightness Jenny Scheinman’s pizzicato violin plucking on Lost, Night are immersed in some more ominous tones produced by Frisell and steel guitarist Greg Leisz. Together, they give the song a gorgeous complexity.
I’m Not a Farmer has a sweeping country feel, tinged with resignation. It’s quickly followed by the intimate, acoustically picked Small Town, a short composition that suggests a yearning to get outside its titular subject.
American roots music is not new terrain for Frisell. He’s also no stranger to making music tied to a visual medium (he’s done recordings to accompany Buster Keaton films). Disfarmer, though, is a particularly beautiful suite of music. Frisell’s pacing is magnificent, and the album sweeps along with purpose like a gorgeous, spacious epic. It is full of sounds that suggest settings and characters, including the mysterious eccentric who inspired the recording.