Elena Skye and Boo Reiners of the Demolition String Band knock it out of the park with their version of the iconic folk song “Worried Man Blues,” with “Worried Town Blues” added to the title. In the video made at James Mastro’s Hoboken store, Guitar Bar Jr., they modernize the song that previously was recorded by The Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and many others.
The song’s original chorus is “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song.” Skye’s creative twist on it represents the mindset of those of us who fear contracting the coronavirus. In the original song, we learn about a man imprisoned, waking up with “shackles on his feet.” While incarcerated people face disproportionate disaster when the virus strikes our prison system, the infection has been wreaking havoc on us all, forcing us to shelter inside and close businesses, separating us from friends, family and work, and preventing us from congregating to hear music. Accompanied by Reiners’ steady twang, Skye sings in a powerful, beautiful voice: “It takes a worried town to sing a worried song … Be kind to your neighbor but love them from afar/Don’t hug your neighbor ‘cause right now that’d be wrong/If you worry now, you won’t be worried long.”
This talented duo reminds us to wash our hands and do our part. If we plan now, Skye sings, “our whole town will be free.” These wise words echo our valiant health care providers who rang the alarm long before our national government.
“This song kept popping up in my mind because I was so worried, and I knew we were all so worried,” Skye said. “But worry can be a song and a song can be calming, a song can be inspiring. I rewrote the words to fit our ordeal. That’s what folk music is all about.
“We’re being pushed to our limits now as this catastrophe comes down on us, but really, if we keep our eye on the prize, stay calm and right-headed, and work together, we can get through this and come out okay. This is our message of hope.”
Reiners and Skye have been playing together in the Demolition String Band since the 1990s, thrilling audiences and getting them off their feet with banjo, mandolin and guitars. Their elegant harmonies and emotive songs reflect their passion for country, rock ‘n’ roll and bluegrass. Kenny Soule (drums, vocals) and Winston Roye (bass, vocals) join them in the band.
Their exceptional 2016 album I Wait for the Light expresses sounds of hope and humor, and includes the great dance song “Jesus Was a Liberal.” Another song from the album, “I Don’t Know, I Can’t Say,” describes, with brutal honesty, longing for a loved one and the agony of separation. Skye sings of the strength we derive from intimacy in “Sea of Pleasure.” “Red for You” is Skye’s love letter to her partner, describing a relationship where the couple “wipes away each other’s tears.”
In 2018, they released an EP of bluegrass songs, A Taste of Grass.
I want to see this group live and regret that present circumstances prevent me from doing so, but as soon as crowds can gather, you will find me in one of their regular haunts, dancing and swaying to their compelling and emotionally riveting sound. In addition to touring Ireland regularly for about eight years, they play the first Saturday of every month at Skinny Dennis in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Reiners and Skye also play as a duo at Porchlight in Manhattan. They play as an acoustic band at Lucky Dog in Williamsburg one or two Sundays a month.
Reiners and Skye both work at Hoboken’s much appreciated Guitar Bar locations, where the stores’ teachers, in response to coronavirus, are presently offering online lessons using FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. For information, visit guitarbar.com.
“These are crazy, tough times, with many cancelled live shows for us and so many great musicians we know, we have to find a way to keep the music and community alive!” said Skye.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
We encourage artists to email us submissions (newly recorded, if possible) at email@example.com. Please include links to sites such as Patreon and Venmo. Readers can also make suggestions via that email address.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.