FolkWorld #75 07/2021
© Maggie Poulos | Mixtape Media

Across the Western Ocean

There is no Country like Crow Country

The cinematic video for “Crow Country” by singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, road warrior, published author, screenwriter and storyteller, Korby Lenker, has premiered via Holler Country. “Crow Country” is the second single from the singer’s forthcoming eighth studio release, Man in the Maroon, out May 21st via Grind Ethos Records. The video was directed and edited by Cody Duncam, stars Ashley Rickman alongside the singer, and features Grammy winning, Native American vocalist, Bill Miller. The song is Korby’s first foray into songwriting on the clawhammer banjo.

“Every now and then, amongst the noise of viral content and fleeting attention spans, you'll come across something that's been crafted with such intricate beauty it'll stop you in your tracks,” Holler Country raved.

Korby Lenker

»I try to avoid hyperbole, but putting out a record in 2021 is like floating in a one person life raft in the middle of the ocean shouting through fog.«

Man in the Maroon
Artist Audio Korby Lenker "Man in the Maroon", GrindEthos, 2021

Artist Video Korby Lenker

Korby Lenker

“Crow Country” is about a love that perseveres beyond death,” says Korby. “I wrote during the summer of 2019, in the wake of my little sister Kenna's sudden passing. It was totally unexpected and I didn't know what to do with the grief. I felt like I needed to stop everything immediately, so I did. I reached out to a friend and asked if I could come stay with her family on their ranch in Montana. I spent a summer out there, learning how to ride horses and not much else. I stopped answering emails. Was just waiting. Somewhere in there I came across a book called American Places by Pulitzer-prize winning writer Wallace Stegner. One of the essays was called Crow Country. Stegner wrote about the very place I was living. He stayed at my friend Susan's ranch while he wrote it, a few miles away. There in Stillwater County.”

“Stegner's essay began with a quote from a Crow Chief, Arapooish. He was talking to a US official, back in 1830, and described Crow Country as ‘in exactly the right place. Everything good is to be found there. There is no country like Crow Country.’ I remember sitting on a wooden fence reading those words and looking up from the page at the meadow furrowed by the summer breeze and the horses bending their graceful necks into the tall grass and behind them the sharp granite teeth of the mountain and the blue sky above and the sun warm on my face. It's heaven I thought. This place is a heaven on earth and no one knows about it.”

“I went for a walk and this song started coming. A conversation between me and Kenna. It was a waking dream. I got some paper and started writing words down that came to me. Where was she? Where is she now? I don't know. But I felt her presence there in the high mountain meadow, and I thought about what Heaven might be, the place where we all end up together, talking laughing. Being a family.”

The video has been almost two years in the making. Director Cody Duncum: "Back in the summer of 2019 Korby went out to Montana to regroup after suffering a family tragedy. He sent me a rough recording of crow country and very shortly after I was on a plane and heading west...We slept in a yurt and threw every bit of our resources together out there and made this video. The video feels less like a music video and more like a short film/documentary hybrid as we were filming in between a lot of life happening around us. A pandemic later it’s finally being released."

Korby Lenker

In their published premiere, Holler went on to say: "Deeply reflective and unashamedly vulnerable, the new single from Korby Lenker encapsulates a period of grief and self-imposed isolation, following the sudden death of his younger sister and a subsequent hiatus from the music industry. Featuring Native American artist/ Grammy Award-winning singer Bill Miller on vocals and Native American Flute, the track is an unplugged, candid expression of emotional healing. Lenker’s vocals wash over the clawhammer banjo lead, building to a layered sonic expanse, as if echoing the swirling and spiralling of inner thoughts."

In March of 2020, Korby found himself marooned at home in East Nashville after his 150 show a year touring schedule ground to a halt. Man in the Maroon was recorded during the pandemic. Korby recalls: “I remember thinking, 'who knows what's going to happen tomorrow?’ and I wanted to create an album as though it were the last thing I'd ever make. A for-the-joy-of-it project," says the songwriter.

The album kicks off with a “All In My Head,” an electric, indie folk rocker that reflects on depression and was written during Korby’s nightly jogs that coincided with the 8:00 howl – a 2020 East Nashville, pandemic tradition. “Crow Country” was written during a time of grief and self imposed isolation in Montana following the sudden, unexpected passing of his younger sister. Korby unplugged, went on hiatus from the music industry and moved out west for the summer. It features the songwriter on the clawhammer banjo and Native American artist/Grammy Award winning singer, Bill Miller, on vocals and Native American Flute. “It’s about this specific place, Crow Country, but it’s also about a place that maybe exists in your mind, where you can go and visit the people in your life you’ve loved and lost.”

The gentle, “Soft as A Cactus,” is a love song for introverts. “For me, love is a lazy Sunday afternoon bike ride with my girl, to no place in particular.” Immediately following is “Paper Cuts,” a groovy, full band, all-or-nothing break up song featuring Erin Rae on vocals. “What’s Wrong with Us” finds the singer on piano, ruminating on his family of origin and wondering, “what if everyone is doing the best they can?” “Now I Once Thought That I Was Strong” is the songwriter’s country gospel tune, inspired by his grandfather and brother (both preachers) and spotlights the piedmont style of playing guitar made famous by Mississippi John Hurt.

Korby Lenker

“Billie Louise” is a bluegrass tinged instrumental dedicated to the daughter of close friends. Born with medical complications and now thriving, Korby would play this composition for Billie during her stay in the NICU. Distinct influences of Todd Snider can be heard on “Christmas Rain,” Korby’s wry, irreverent take on enduring the holidays after a breakup. “Some folks say, I got a way / of turnin’ pretty diamonds into coal.

Korby Lenker

»I just played my first live show of 2020 at the foot of the Grand Tetons for some new friends and some old friends. We socially distanced. We were respectful to one another. It's hard to explain how good it felt to be playing music again. It made me feel hopeful. I don't think I was the only one.«

“Tri State Lottery,” finds Korby alone at the piano. “This song is about what it means to me to do this for a living, trying over and over again to get it right. To write one good song. I wrote it on piano and got to record it on the old Steinway they used for the Johnny Cash Show back in the seventies. Those low notes sent a shiver through me when I heard the playback. This is a really personal song to me.”

In addition to a fruitful music career, Korby is also an published author of acclaimed fiction. His 2015 collection of short stories Medium Hero received critical praise of such varied sources as Steve Wozniak and Kirkus Reviews. Korby brings his into a knack for writing into a new medium with a live-reading of “Mose and Ella” a new original short story written for Korby’s patreons, but never published. “I put everything into it I felt about the oxymoron of being a creative person decades into it -- how you have to be disciplined but spontaneous, whimsical but serious.”

The album culminates with the singer’s dreamy interpretation of one of his lifelong favorites, “Moon River.” “I like things to be new and old at once. I looked around my studio and found this little toy keyboard,” he says. “There’s no on/off switch, it’s just always on. I don’t know how the batteries aren’t drained. Also it makes this nasally sound, like a honk from an old nose. Truly the sound of plastic. Perfect. I made that the solo instrument of my new track and built an orchestral arrangement around it. I tried to combine the fresh and the familiar, the modern and the classic. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do with my music and writing. It’s all there in Moon River.”

"The record is an extension of my live show," Korby says, "and whenever I play live, my job is to make people forget where they are. I want them to be absolutely present, and I want to give them something that resonates, after the show is over, for as long as possible. It's really hard to get noticed, to draw skittish eyes your way, but once you have them, you should be trying to give people something that merits the attention. I think about that a lot… It's not enough to distract. I want to change the world.”

Korby Lenker has released seven studio albums, toured nationally and internationally up to 200 dates a year, published a 2015 collection of short stories, Medium Hero, created and stars in a developing television series, Morse Code. He has won or been a finalist in several song contests, including Merlefest, New Song Contest, Kerrville, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest and the International Songwriting Competition.

Following the release of Man in the Maroon, Korby will play select dates and return to regular touring as soon as possible. He plans to continue to write new music, new fiction, and film new episodes of Morse Code throughout 2021.

Photo Credits: (1)-(5) Korby Lenker (unknown/website).

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