Aileen & Elkin Thomas by Dave Strumsky
It's one of those days when visibility of the distant mountains gets blurred with the waves of heat rolling through the air, thunderheads gathering like judges, and the cottonwoods whisper like chimes in a slow breeze. In the evening there will be a cooling and birds and other creatures will begin to stir again, but just now there is a quiet stillness in the land, a patience without waiting.
As I walk along an east county creek bed, somewhere in the my mind I am hearing music, a quiet background to what I am feeling, and it's a something by Aileen and Elkin Thomas. Either "Home Again" or "The Journey" -- some strange hybrid of the two songs mixing with metaphor and the musk of the chaparral in a way only my subconscious would understand.
It's curious how the music of these two folks often accompanies me. What sets their songs apart from so many others is a kind of paying attention to the small, quiet things in life -- not the trivia, but the sense of knowing what it is that makes what we're doing on earth worthwhile.
They report back to us who live city lives what living near the earth is all about -- about discovering the faith that sustains and strengthens and makes hard work and even adversity endurable.
I think that's the reason I like "folk" music: it reminds me who my brothers and sisters are in the extended family of our planet.
Aileen and Elkin come from that deep tradition of people making music with our hearts, minds and tapping feet. All too often, though, the sincere desires of those who have fun making music get caught up in the rigmarole of the business of making a living making the music, and these two certainly have cut their teeth in the big-time performance world. Together and singly they have played or sung on albums with the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Waylon Jennings, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and they toured for a season in Leonard Cohen's band.
But there came a time when the two came to a realization and did what few people who have achieved a degree of position and fame have the integrity to do: they turned their backs on the business of performing, embarking on a simpler, rejuvenating journey. The next four and a half years were spent in a labor of love, living aboard and restoring a 1939 41-foot Chris Craft motor yacht.
Then, on a trip to Texas, they found to their surprise that they were both captivated by the land-locked life of the farmer so, after another course-correction, they now live on a 713-acre farm out on the north Texas prairie. Fortunately they didn't stop making music altogether.
All the years of experience show in their performance, with Aileen's pure voice and the various instruments of bass, 6 and 12-string guitars and banjo. When you're sitting at one of their concerts, you feel right at home, like they've invited you specially to be a part of what they're doing. It's unpretentious yet professional and exact.
The music and their harmonies accompany the simple yet strongly felt lyrics, which are mostly Elkin's, like the prairie accompanies the wind, lending perspective and character. But there's more than that, something more that you can take away from one of their concerts and make your own.
You sense in their lyrics and performance the sentiment that Aileen and Elkin have come full circle in a search, and that the answers to so many of life's questions are known somewhere deep inside all of us -- we just need to be reminded of them every once in a while.
Remember how it is when you take a walk, or you're out camping for a few days and your brain finally slows down enough to let you enjoy each, separate, minute? Remember what it's like to feel like smiling for no apparent reason, at no particular person, you're just feeling good and glad? That's how you'll feel during their concert.
You get the feeling that they've discovered the strength of recognizing the basic truths of the universe right there on the farm: birth, growth and death.
It's an extraordinary truth to raise an animal, plant a seed -- or a song -- and watch it grow.