Pittsburgh-based duo The Early Mays (Ellen Gozion and Emily Pinkerton) have released a newly-composed “old-time” murder ballad with “The Ballad Of Johnny Fall,” the haunting lead single from their forthcoming EP, Prettiest Blue, due out on July 1, 2022. Written and sung by Gozion with Pinkerton on banjo and vocals and Nicole Myers on cello.
“A woman falls deeply in love when she is young, with a man whose eyes are the ‘prettiest blue,’” Gozion. “As the years wear on, he is consumed by alcohol; their love frays under his abuse. She resolves to escape her suffering by shooting her husband. But the very night she sits on the porch with her gun, he does not come home. Fate had intervened. He was taken down by a train as he walked along the railroad tracks,” she added. “You feel the tragedy of abuse, of death, and of a love–once beautiful and bright– that was extinguished by addiction.”
From the old-time music community, The Early Mays have absorbed the culture of deep listening that’s central to playing with sensitivity. “Revivalists like us–who didn’t live and breathe Appalachian music growing up–still learn and create by ear for the most part,” Pinkerton explains. “Being able to carry hours of tunes in my head was life-changing. And there is new meaning to uncover each time you return to a field recording or slowly build a relationship with a mentor.”
That practice of deep listening–and slow, careful craftsmanship–spills over into every Early Mays performance and production as they sculpt their warm, immersive sound. The past ten years have been a steady search for musical and spiritual sustenance: for themselves and for their listeners. “Prettiest Blue is about keeping your eyes trained on something brighter, even in the midst of sadness,” reflects Pinkerton. A decade of friendship is palpable in the co-arranged songs, as well as the dedication to craft and the sustained pursuit of a rich acoustic aesthetic. You may find yourself comfortably swaying in that neo-traditional space–somewhere between old-time and songwriter sensibilities–getting a glimpse of how much these songs have been cared for.
Photo Courtesy: Kristi Jan Hoover