We’re excited to premiere House & Garden, a stirring collection of originals and covers from sultry-voiced singer-songwriter Nell Robinson and award-winning acoustic guitarist Jim Nunally. In our review, critic Rick Moore writes, “The beauty, sorrow and complexity of life are explored in a simple and straightforward way by two people singing harmony with one guitar, hearkening back to the days when the Carter family first came out of the hills of Virginia.”
“Most of the songs on the album Jim and I wrote together,” Robinson tells American Songwriter. “I love collaboration, and I think we have something really special, a natural muse. In some cases, like in ‘House’ — I wrote a poem one day, and some time later Jim sent me a melody he’d been noodling with. As I listened to the melody I read the poem and they fit — perfectly. So I sang the poem and recorded to Jim’s melody and sent it back to him (we still hadn’t been in the same room to compose!) and he liked it. So we got together and from there refined it and changed the melody a little and built on the lyrics…and we had a song! Same with ‘April Fool’ and ‘The Gardener.’ Other songs, like ‘Pen in Hand’ and ‘I Hear a Southwind’ and ‘Happy to Go’ – Jim started with an idea, a line or more and I took it and ran with it, came back to him with a story developed building on his concept, and then we’d refine it and finish it together.
“For ‘My Soul’ — which was the last minute addition to the album – I took a WWI poem from my Papa Bates — my great-grandfather — a poem he had written after he returned from serving as a chaplain for the YMCA at the front in France, and tried it over a melody Jim had sent me. I moved some phrases around and changed a few here and there but stayed true to Papa Bates’ imagery and soul-searching. I am amazed that after all he saw in war, he came back and wrote such a hopeful and deeply beautiful poem. I feel a common thread with Papa, almost 100 years later.
“The themes in House & Garden of viewing our lives, our souls and hopes and our humanity through our connection with nature and the mystery of growing things come to me through my family, back to Papa, back further than that. My southern kin are gifted story-tellers and I am a good listener, and have never considered myself a good story-teller… you can tell me the same joke 100 times and I’ll laugh just as hard as the first time I heard it, but don’t expect me to be able to repeat it!). But music, songs, poetry and lyrics have helped me discover a way to continue family traditions and timeless stories.”
“I have been, for the past 30 years or more, associated with Bluegrass music,” Nunally adds. “But I initially learned guitar from my father, who was taught by my grandfather. They were from Arkansas. Moved to California during the Dust Bowl years looking for a better life. So my roots in country, folk, delta blues sounds are deep, really deep. My dad, like everyone else, loved Chet Atkins, so I started getting into finger picking and some classical music in order to learn to read music. At the same time, when I was about 15 years old, I started to play bluegrass, and almost right away heard Tony Rice and David Grisman, David whom I now work with, and headed down the road of bluegrass. The songs on House & Garden reflect these roots — and more than half the originals feature finger picking melodies.”
Stream House & Garden in its entirety below. The album hits stores May 28.