Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brett Allen
Aldo Leopold, an Iowan and a professor of forestry and ecology at the University of Wisconsin, likely traveled extremely light when he set out over the country to put himself into the American landscapes as naturally as he could. As he sat on the seat in a non-air-conditioned bus, he commented in his 1949 masterpiece "A Sand County Almanac," "The bus ticks off the opulent miles; the passengers talk and talk and talk. About what? About baseball, taxes, sons-in-law, movies, motors, and funerals, but never about the heaving groundswell of Illinois that washes the windows of the speeding bus. To them, Illinois is only the sea on which they sail to ports unknown." In these words, and some more to come, we hear the genesis of what Nashville band O, Don Piano have set out to do and that's to reenact and be that vibrant feeling that washes windows. As admirers of Denton, Texas' Midlake, O, Don Piano have sunk themselves into a feeling of ancient rusticity, of taking oneself out of a present-day, fast food tense and resetting the mind back, back, back to a period of time when the idea of borrowing a cup of sugar was something that might actually happen and need to happen because you and many like you, really did live in the middle of nowhere. You smoked your own meat, cured your own maladies with home remedies, leeches and time and you marveled at the simple beauties of the trees and the countryside before you. O, Don Piano's song "By The Way" is what led us to call them out of the blue for this taping and it's a song that is in possession of both identifiable and obtuse allusions to nature and breath-taking natural settings. It's a song, along with the group's other segues that lend themselves as capable kernels of music, should Leopold ever have had the need or ability to carry with him a soundtrack for his mental collections of visual grandeur. O, Don Piano sings, "Under bloody skies, I've seen darker days/Letters straight by the course my compass made/I washed my face on crystal shores enough to know/And burns the fields and try to sleep beside the glow," and one could imagine that we were in the mind of someone silently commenting on a sky kicking with the raging hue of grapefruit pink and orange and remembering fondly a hooker's bath in a twisting and clear country stream, which snaked through a wooded valley and whose invigoratingly cool water left you with pimply chilled skin for hours. It might also remind you of Leopold's sadness-tinged quest to view the entire country and it's many contours and a scene, also from his chapter on Illinois. "A farmer and his son are out in the yard, pulling a crosscut saw through the innards of an ancient cottonwood. The tree is so large and so old that only a foot of blade is left to pull on. Time was when that tree was a buoy in the prairie sea. George Rogers Clark may have camped under it; buffalo may have nooned in its shade, switching flies. Every spring it roosted fluttering pigeons. It is the best historical library short of the State College, but once a year it sheds cotton on the farmer's window screens." That tree getting its innards sawed through and those screen doors pocked with the annoying cottonwood tree cotton, are subjects that O, Don Piano think of daily.