Chicken on a Raft is the American traditional folk project of two longtime veterans of the Oakland songwriter scene. Thom Moore (one half of Oakland’s renowned Moore Brothers) and Tommy Carns (a solo performer and bassist and dobro player with the Billy Talbot band) met at the original Stork Club, Oakland’s nexus for folk and experimental rock before it was torn down in the late 90s.
Both had always incorporated traditional /a capella/ folk songs in their live sets, whether as a diversion for replacing a broken guitar string or just to break things up a bit. Both were also longtime lovers of harmony singing. After discovering their mutual love for British traditional harmony recordings by the Young Tradition, the Watersons, and Martin Carthy, they began singing together the songs that they both knew by heart. Taking their name from a Cyril Tawney song, Chicken on a Raft had their first performance at an Amoeba Records event in 1999.
After a few shows and an overwhlmingly positive audience repsonse, the duo moved beyond mimicking their British forebears and begun exploring the American folk tradition. Taking cues from the collectors and re-interpreters of folk songs before them, Thom and Tommy began researching sources that varied from Library of Congress archival recordings to Tom’s own mother, a folk performer in her own right. While faithfully sticking to the original melody and lyric of a song, the duo would experiment with harmonic variations. Beyond that, they explored the origins and evolutions of songs, their long and storied histories. In performing One Morning In May, COAR does the Appalachian version of a song that, in New Orleans, became St. James Infirmary.
Chicken on a Raft’s debut album is a collection of these songs, American and British Traditionals, ballads, and a couple of popular tunes that have passed down from generation to generation, each iteration providing it’s own input to the meaning of a lyric and melody. They tell stories of loves lost, political intrigue, and lingering mysteries that are as true and applicable today as when first sung by a long forgotten minstrel. Imparting their unique harmonic vision to these ageless songs, the duo thus carries on the folk tradition.
Perhaps Tom Carns puts it best: “We’re hardly purists, and we are much more performers than the true folk singers who sang about the events and duties of their daily lives. But we’ve made a stripped down record with no gimmicks that sounds the way I wish a lot of folk records sounded.” We at Antenna Farm agree, and invite you to step into the past with an ear to the present, to hear the tales of folks who lived and died before the vernacular of modern pop music existed, but whose stories and melodies are as alive and relevant as anything written in the new millennium.