Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Jon Ashley
There are many different Mobys. The guy never stays still long enough to be the same musical person for very long and it's built quite the varied catalog of everything under the sun and just as much under the moon. The Moby that he chose to be a month ago in Asheville, North Carolina, where we taped this session at Echo Mountain studio on the very first afternoon of the second annual Moogfest, was a man, or a village, or the soul of a family toiling away in the southern tobacco fields, or digging graves by hand, or making that bag of potatoes and that cabbage last for three days of meals. He took us into the deep well of the not so distant past of American history, of times that were certainly as tough as they've ever been for the most number of people and he did this through spirituals, old and new. He transformed some of his electronica songs into spirituals, though we could and should have always viewed them that way all along. We feel foolish to have not seen them for their greater meaning, for those strong sensations of struggle and for the will to prevail, sooner. "Natural Blues," has always been a soul song, a true spiritual, with a twist. The lyrics alone: "Oh, Lordy,my trouble so hard/Oh, Lordy, my trouble so hard/Don't nobody know my troubles but God/Don't nobody know my troubles but God/Went down the hill/Other day/Soul got happy/And stayed all day," are straight from the guts, direct from the mouth of someone who finds himself fluttering, but still able to appreciate a sunny day for what it's worth. It and some laughter, a good meal and friends can turn the darkest days around. When you hear laughs come from the basement of those full bellies, things are right for the moment. This collection of songs, chosen fairly spontaneously on this early afternoon, featured the massive talents of singer Inyang Bassey and violin player Claudia Chopek, accompanying Moby as the rest of his band was setting up for the performance that night, at the arena four blocks over. There's a cohesiveness to these originals and those of the Ada R. Habershon/A.P. Carter/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Johnny Cash that makes everything sound as if it were born out of the human rights movements of the 1960s, the war protests of the 1970s and much earlier still. They all feel like community songs, pieces of lyric and music that were added to over the decades, malleable and shaped to fit certain feels of pent up love and hate, kicking and screaming. Often, when it's just up to Moby, it's interesting and confusing to know how the man thinks about the wants of the heart and the soul. He's had a tendency to make love sound sterile, with the occasional monotone backing his words, and yet here, it's all in bloom. It's alive and it has multiple pulses. Moby sounds as if he's been to the hallowed crossroads of Robert Johnson and visited the gas station in West Virginia where it was realized that Hank Williams was dead in the back of his Cadillac. He sounds like he's got a dozen fires burning within, smoking him out. He's "seeing the good when it's all going bad" and he's seeing the bad when all the bad has a little good in it.