Mississippi Records makes the Indie Folk show sing with an aural assist

click to enlarge Luz Elena Mendoza is featured on the Indie Folk playlist. - CHRISTAL ANGELIQUE PHOTO
Christal Angelique photo
Luz Elena Mendoza is featured on the Indie Folk playlist.

Washington State Univerity's Indie Folk is a unique art exhibition for many reasons, not the least of which is its original soundtrack of nine songs gallery-goers will be able to listen to.

"I'm always looking for novel ways to engage audiences," says Melissa Feldman, Indie Folk's art curator, who previously incorporated a soundtrack for a 2013-17 traveling exhibition called Push Play, featuring "playable" artwork. The idea of music as a way to connect with viewers stuck with her.

For Indie Folk, Feldman approached Mississippi Records founder Eric Isaacson, who has also created soundtracks for exhibits in Japan and an event produced by San Francisco's THE THING Quarterly magazine.

Mississippi Records is an 18-year-old Portland-based record store and label that has released more than 360 small-edition LPs, mostly archival and many with handmade covers, according to Isaacson.

Isaacson remembers Feldman asking him for music "that had one foot in the world of contemporary DIY Northwest culture and one foot in the world of more traditional American folk music."

He immediately thought of Dragging an Ox through Water, aka Portland-based musician Brian Mumford.

Mumford plays songs that are modally similar to old folk songs such as "Man Of Constant Sorrow," Isaacson says via email, yet "innovates by adding electronic textures and very oblique lyrics."

Another of Isaacson's instant picks was Dead Moon, a Portland-based band active from 1987-2006, whose songs have been covered by big names like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

"Most people in the Northwest rock/punk/indie scene have a story about one of the members of [Dead Moon]," says Isaacson, who rates them as the greatest rock band ever.

Isaacson also has high praise for Michael Hurley, whom he calls an American original and whose song "In the Garden" is first up in the nine-song playlist.

"I put this song first because it is a prime example of how a song can sound like it's always been here...like it's ancient... when in fact it is pretty new," says Isaacson, who considers Hurley a folk artist, even though Hurley considers himself as rock, pop and country.

"I classify him in his preferred genres as well as folk, because whether he likes it or not his music sits well next to the Irish music and old-time ballads he grew up with (folk ballads that were passed down from generation to generation orally)," Isaacson says.

Like Hurley, Luz Elena Mendoza's upbringing also influenced her music, Isaacson says. She wrote "Ojos Del Sol" as a pop song, "but it's chord progressions and style reference the ranchera, corrido, bolero and huapango songs she grew up listening to," he explains.

"The performers all reach back to the music of their ancestors and communities," says Isaacson, who also contributed the intro text and short musician bios included in the exhibition.

"I tried to feature musicians in the tracklist who worked along similar lines to the artists featured in the show," Isaacson says, adding "songs rooted in tradition but also with an individualistic and contemporary edge... and all very DIY, Northwest-region specific."

Later in the spring, look for a collaboration between Mississippi Records and WSU to bring several of the playlist's performers to the museum. ♦


Nate Bargatze @ Bing Crosby Theater

Fri., May 20, 7 & 9:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.