Tom Richards

Handmade but hard fought: The Music of Handmade Moments

Handmade

The music of Handmade Moments is a dangerous proposition, as they will make you love them, if you’re ready for a relationship or not.

 

 

Love is a disease, the one we all want to catch, and, as far as I can tell, everyone who sees Handmade Moments falls in love with their unpretentiousness and authenticity. They are genuine yet funky as hell, and amazing song crafters and interpreters. They have two albums and dozens of great songs on YouTube, but where you really need to see them and hear them is on a stage somewhere. Big or small it doesn’t matter. You’ve just got to see them. When they take the stage they instantaneously own it and you in the process.

Anna Moss and Joel Ludford hail from small towns in Arkansas. She’s from Berryville, a dot of a town in the northwest corner, and Joel’s from Conway. Conway, in central Arkansas just outside Little Rock, is where they met when Anna moved there to go to college. They actually met at a party at Joel’s band’s practice space. Joel was still in high school (a fact that makes me smile/smirk happy) that first night. Both had heard of each other through mutual friends and almost instantaneously after Joel came through the door with his guitar over his shoulder they began to jam.

“It was pretty cool. Thinking back on it we hit it off really hard musically. She just showed up and we jammed. Then we didn’t talk to each other or hang out for six months or a year.” This is what Joel told me in the tiny green room behind the stage at The Jack London Revue right before their show there on June 6th of this year. We finished talking and Anna went out to order food while Joel wandered. I gathered my stuff and talked to some of the early birds sitting at tables in this beautiful venue in the basement of Rialto, a very bright pool hall and “Betting Lounge” on 4th Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon.

(Joel Ludford and Anna Moss of Handmade Moments)

Solo performers and duets have to constantly be on. There is no one to hide behind. You can’t be that bass player standing flatfooted plucking the back beat: bum, bum, bum. You’ve got to bring it.

Joel has frenetic energy which is constantly on display. His songwriting and lyrics are exceptional, but on stage he brings a few other arrows as well: primarily his humour and spontaneity. Hilarious and seemingly random repartee is in his quiver and constantly ready. Although the guitar is his primary go-to now, he can also don the tuba or play the standup bass and mandolin. And at any time, and I mean any time, he may just lay down a hilarious freestyle rap on any subject that crosses his mind.

Anna plays the alto sax, the bass clarinet, the standup bass, the ukulele and the guitar. One couldn’t be an effective duet without harmony and they’ve got that mastered too. I haven’t even mentioned their beatboxing. I was, however, most mesmerised by Anna’s soulful voice like a wellspring of electricity coming through her energised body. Music is religion to her and you can see and hear the sincerity of her faith in her voice and body. Her body is often selling and telling the story too and her steel blue eyes, when not closed and digging deeper, are opened wide.

After a bit, I headed upstairs to catch some fresh air before the show. I could see Joel wandering ahead of me through the disparate crowd in his flowery tights and a white tank top with his tuba slung over his shoulders tooting away looking not unlike Shaggy of cartoon fame. He headed out the front door and I followed him at a distance as he played and handed out tiny flyers for the show sauntering down 4th then turning the corner and going up Washington Street.

Five Letter Word opened the show for them and got a very good reception, but when Anna joined the band on their second-to-last song it became immediately obvious we were in for something on another plane. With the confidence of Lisa Simpson and the verve of Eartha Kitt, she blew into that alto saxophone with an electricity that lit up the room.

Love is a disease, the one we all want to catch; and, as far as I can tell, everyone who sees Handmade Moments falls in love with their unpretentiousness and authenticity.

Thirty seconds after Handmade Moments hit the stage, it was too late for any of us – we were all smitten. We hung there at our tables and awaited instructions. But Anna and Joel would have none of it, they actually listened to us. They responded to the audience and we saw that this show on this night was our show. If we were going to be in love, we were going to have to be good and giving lovers.

They began with Bésame Mucho and then song after song brought us further in until on the last two songs, covers of James Brown and Michael Jackson, we were all in front of the stage dancing around Joel on tuba who seemed as comfortable and relaxed as Shaggy in a weed-legal state. They brought it and we bought it.

Wait, wait a second, there’s another story, and maybe it is this story that brought their songwriting to this new level.

Two years ago, on May 21st, 2016, they were traveling down Highway 49, about 35 miles outside of Sacramento at the beginning of a tour to promote their new album Eye in the Sky, and also their new band van which featured solar panels and a huge performing platform atop. Everything was right with them at that moment, but across the lanes a couple of aggro drivers fought to come out ahead at the end of a passing lane. Their fenders caught and they crossed the lane into oncoming traffic.

“Everything was going great,” said Anna. “We had just started this tour and the bus was great. It was the middle of the afternoon and we were relaxed.”

After the head-on crash, Joel and their friend Hannah were air-lifted to a hospital. Following their weeklong stints in the ICU, Joel ended up in a wheelchair, and he and Anna spent another month in Nevada City, California, recovering. They spent the time relaxing and writing songs, of course. Two years later, they released their new album Paw Paw Tree on the anniversary of the crash, to turn that date into a positive.

My favorite songs on Paw Paw Tree keep changing, but right now they include: Faked My Own Death, JunkieFighting a Mountain, and the hilarious love song, Where Do You Find the Time? However, the best song on the album is perfectly crafted with amazingly poetical lyrics – This is Your Captain Speaking is a poignant classic that you will not soon forget.

Growing up, Joel listened to the Delta Blues masters including Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and Mississippi John Hurt; while in the upper corner of the state Anna was listening to Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Eartha Kitt. And they both loved Louis Armstrong! Anna has a strong funky sensibility. She really knows how to find soulful songs to cover and so I’ve included their version of Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody.

Right now, Handmade Moments are in the middle of an extensive American tour which will be followed closely by a European tour, so please click on the link to see if they’re going to be anywhere near you. Chances are they will because they tour prolifically.

Love is a disease and it’s where we want to go. You’ve been warned; if you click on any of the above links, you will most likely fall in love in mere moments.

 

Tom Richards

Tom Richards published poetry in the Writers’ Collective Anthology and has twice been Writer in Residence at Mother Foucault’s Books in Portland, Oregon. He was a contributing writer in the Word & Hand 2 book and published and edited The Portland Permanent Press, a monthly comedy and humour magazine with Joe Sacco. He was also the curator and head writer for The Faux Museum in Portland. Richards has written for the Willamette Week and The Oregonian in Portland and had a monthly column in the Paperback Jukebox called Last First Thursday. His first book Thirst for Beginners; Poetry, Prose, and Quizzes will be published by University of Hell Press in 2019. He is the writer and vocalist for Philip K. Moby Dick Clark Five.

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