It seems like the day before yesterday when I was dreaming about being on Mountain Stage. Here I am, twenty five years later, presenting you with some of my favorite memories from the program. In that timespan, my idols have become mentors and close friends. I am forever grateful to Larry Groce and everyone at Mountain Stage. Your program continues to amaze and inspire me. You have helped lift me up to places I was unable to see or reach. Thanks for the fine work over the years and thanks for the cape! Todd Burge (March 2016)
For more than 30 years, Mountain Stage with Larry Groce has been the home of live music on public radio. Produced in West Virginia and distributed by NPR, each two hour episode of Mountain Stage can be heard every week on more than 150 stations across America, and around the world via NPR Music and mountainstage.org
Recorded live on Mountain Stage and used by permission of Mountain Stage, West Virginia Public Broadcasting - Francis Fisher (engineer), Larry Groce/ Andy Ridenour/Adam Harris (producers) Patrick Stevens (additional mixing on “Nuts” and technical assistance)
Mastering: David K. Shipley at Foxwood Mastering – Nashville TN
Photos by: Josh Saul, Amos Perrine, Brian Blauser, Lisa and Todd Burge
LINER NOTES BY LARRY GROCE
I’m a true fan of Todd Burge. In a world of thousands, or probably tens of thousands of singer/songwriters (and believe me, I hear from a lot of them), he continues to distinguish himself. This is all the more impressive because he lives and mostly works out of the spotlight and away from the hotbeds of his peers. Whatever you may say about Parkersburg, WV, you won’t say it’s a lot like Austin or Boston or Asheville or Nashville or Brooklyn or Portland. It’s in the national media black hole of West Virginia, where musical artists usually remain invisible unless they fit into certain “culturally correct” stereotypes: folk, old time Appalachian, bluegrass or country. But that hasn’t stopped or even slowed Todd.
Not that he hasn’t been influenced by some or all of those styles, he surely has been. But instead of comparing him to country folkies, you’d find more similarities looking at the work of John Hartford, Roger Miller, Loudon Wainwright III and maybe even Peter Stampfel, Tom Waits and Randy Newman. I hear flashes in Todd’s work that remind me of all those touchstone songwriters.
He’s the rare artist who continues to grow and progress, even into middle age. Long after the time when many others have started repeating themselves, he makes ever widening artistic leaps of faith. Some of those are on this recording.
Todd’s style might be called eccentric, quirky and/or whimsical. His songs are full of word play, they often have an unusual point of view and can sometimes be a bit surrealistic. But they’re so comfortable to hear that they seem totally normal. I don’t exactly know how he does that, but I will say that this ability is not unknown in West Virginia. Things are often not quite what they seem to be here.
Part of Todd’s appeal is his voice. He’s a very fine singer, even if that may not be the first thing you would say about him when you hear him, because he doesn’t draw attention to it. He has a wide range and can bend notes and make them jump and control his singing in ways that are hard to do. If you don’t believe me, try to sing some of these songs yourself.
For an illustration of the last two paragraphs, take a look at the third verse of “Time to Waste Time” which he performs solo in this collection. Then listen to it.
Forever more’s been ‘round the bend since before the bend was invented
Since Father Time asked his dad for a dime and the keys… to his Buick
Some teen whoopee was in the offing in that big fat back seat
The key to life lies neatly within Father Time’s time in that… back seat
I’m off in my mind, out of my head…off, off
Off in my mind, out of my head
Ready or not ready yet
Time to waiee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-eeeeest
Maybe I should have added ee cummings to that list writers whose works have some similarity to Todd’s.
Todd has been a guest on Mountain Stage at least ten times (our record keeping is not what it could be). I’m really happy that we’ve been presenting him to a wider audience for two and a half decades. His first appearance was in 1991 on a show with Pere Ubu, Lisa Germano and Songs from a Random House. He fit into that interesting mix nicely. He also worked well on our 20th anniversary show in 2003 with Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Tim & Mollie O’Brien, Chris Smither, The Holmes Brothers and Fontella Bass. Originality fits in many contexts.
No one collection of songs, even a big one like this, can give a complete picture of an artist, but this does pretty well. Todd’s own side man, William Matheny, and the Mountain Stage Band, with harmonies from Julie Adams and Ron Sowell, give the songs great support and add interesting colors. But the solo numbers never sound incomplete. Todd usually performs solo on his live dates and knows how to do it.
Todd may never become a star. Fame has many ingredients, some of which are more chance than skill. But better or lesser known, he will remain a talent to seek out. He will continue to delight, surprise and entertain audiences as long as he’s out there, and here’s hoping that even if his name does become a household word, he will never stop emerging.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Distributed by NPR