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Katie Hambor
Country Music’s Northern Redemption

Country music has come a long way since its conception. Beginning in
Atlanta, Georgia, the first country music performance was in 1922, and it was then
called “old-time music.” This music was not new then—it had been around for a
while, as folk music, but it was finally becoming music that could be performed for
an audience. (Campbell 51) Although country music began in the southern United
States, its popularity has spread even up to Canada. It caught the ears of the Abrams
family, and now the Abrams Brothers—fourth generation country musicians—have
put their own twist on the original country music, mixing electric guitars with banjos
to create a sound that is unique to themselves, but still has its roots in the legendary
music of the country music forefathers. This can be determined by analyzing the
instruments and techniques used in the Abrams Brothers’ album, Northern
Redemption, and looking at their historical roots through time.

One common theme throughout country music, which continues to this day
and can always be heard within the Abrams Brothers’ songs, is the guitar.
Throughout the album, John, the older brother, plays acoustic, electric, and twelve
string guitar. James is also accompanied by his cousin, Elijah, on the electric and
acoustic bass guitars, and throughout the album there are various other guitarists in

In order to minimize citations, sources for the Abrams Brothers music can be found
at “The Abrams Brothers Videos” and Northern Redemption. The list of instruments
for each song are part of the Northern Redemption album booklet, and additional
research for some specifics were from videos, as well as from seeing them live in the
summer of 2013.
certain songs.
The acoustic guitar was brought to America with the early European
settlers and was mass produced starting in the late 1800s as part of the Industrial
Revolution. Guitars then became popular in stringbands and musicians began
creating their own stylized guitars, which later formed what we now know as
bluegrass. Though the electric guitar became popular in the thirties, it did not
generally become a part of the country music scene. (The Guitar) The bass, played
by Elijah, takes two forms: the acoustic bass and the electric bass. The four-string
acoustic standup bass, also known as a contrabass, has its roots in Western classical
music. It can be played with a bow, which is known as arco, or can be played by
plucking the strings, or pizzicato. Pizzicato is mainly used in country music, though
of course there can be exceptions. Musicians also use the electric bass, similar to the
electric guitar except it has a longer neck and sports four or five strings. (Instruments
in Country Music) Throughout the album Northern Redemption, there are no specific
times in which the bass is prominent; however, the guitar is very prominent and has
a few solos. For example, in Where I’m Bound, the guitar is strummed almost
constantly throughout the song, and then has a solo just before 1:00, following the
fiddle, all of which happens again later in the song. In Nothing At All, the electric
guitar is prominent beginning with the first notes of the song. The electric guitar
interestingly meshes well with the fiddle, as they both have a certain roughness to
their sound. There is also an electric guitar solo at 1:44, directly following the fiddle,
and still accompanied by it.

James Abrams on electric guitar in Leaving Love Behind, Elijah Abrams on
background guitar in Viva La Vida (not studied in this paper), Teddy Kumpel on
electric guitar in While You Sleep, and Eric Schenkman on electric guitar in Nothing At
The next stringed instrument used is the pedal steel guitar, which began in
Hawaii where they stopped fretting guitars with the left hand and instead used an
object—a steel bar—in its place. Through time, the guitar began to be held on the
musician’s lap and eventually on a stand, as well as added amplification once electric
guitars were invented. A pedal was also added to allow the musician to change the
sound of the instrument at anytime. (The Steel Guitar) This instrument has an ability
to play complex riffs and portamenti—the sliding of one note to another, which is
easy to do with the steel bar across the strings—both of which are closely associated
with country music to this day. The pedal steel guitar is played throughout the
Abrams Brothers’ album, beginning with Where I’m Bound’s chorus and as an
accompaniment to the fiddle’s solo. Then in While You Sleep, the first instrument
heard is the pedal steel, which is prominent throughout the song, with its own solo at
1:55. Leaving Love Behind, a slow song, lends itself well to the pedal steel’s
portamento, and the instrument can also be heard throughout.
The mandolin, played by John Abrams, is a popular instrument in country
music. A descendant of the lutes from the Italian Renaissance, the mandolin was
originally an instrument of no great import. When it travelled to the United States,
entire orchestras were created solely of mandolins, which were popular components
of community life in the early twentieth century. The mandolin’s popularity never
ceased, even though its style changed at times. (Instruments in Country Music) The
mandolin is first played in the title song, Northern Redemption, and has a solo at 2:25
following and followed by the fiddle. It sounds almost like a guitar, though its timbre
is a bit more delicate has a higher pitch.
Another guitar-like instrument on the album is the Cuban tres. The tres has
three “courses,” or groups, of strings, with each group usually consisting of two
strings. The use of three courses gave the instrument its name “tres” as this is the
Spanish word for three. Each course is played together as if it were one string, giving
the instrument a two-tone sound. (Tres) The tres is played in While You Sleep to
create a more layered sound to the music, as the musician must play two strings at
Another commonality in country music is the use of the violin—or as it is
more commonly called in country music, the fiddle. Throughout Northern
Redemption, James, the younger brother, plays both violin and five-string violin. The
violin was first brought to America from the British Isles and has always been an
important part of country music. Fiddling existed for almost three centuries before
country music became a popular music genre in America, with its roots in European
traditions of dance music. The addition of the five-string violin adds complexity to
the music, as more notes can be played at one time. One style of fiddling, sliding
between notes—again, portamento—is a distinguishing feature of southern fiddling
that is thought to be derived from African American music, by way of blues.
(Instruments in Country Music) Portamento can be heard frequently in the Abrams
Brothers’ album, as the fiddle is heard in almost every song on this album, with solos
every time. Many times this means that there is a violin solo and then a guitar solo,
or vice versa, one after another. Because the violin is played so frequently, it mixes
with so many different instruments—as previously mentioned, it interestingly meshes
well with the electric guitar in Nothing At All. In Northern Redemption and Where I’m
Bound, the fiddle also mixes with the guitar and banjo all at once throughout the
song. The fiddle also blends with the pedal steel in Where I’m Bound, a mix that has
been a part of country for years.
To continue with the theme of string instruments, another common country
instrument is the banjo. The banjo’s origins can be traced back to Africa, the Middle
East, and the Far East with drum-like instruments with strings that can be bowed or
plucked. What is recognized as a banjo was developed by African slaves and then
brought to North America. During the time of minstrelsy in the early nineteenth
century, white men using black face began using the banjo as well, and by mid-
century the instrument found its way into parlors. (Reese) From there, banjos
became part of jazz bands during the jazz age, and from there country music
absorbed jazz along with pop, blues, and swing (Campbell 51). In Northern
Redemption, the banjo is in four songs, Where I’m Bound, While You Sleep,
Redemption, and Viva La Vida.
When on tour, James Abrams plays the banjo when
the violin is not played. The banjo begins in the title song Northern Redemption by
having its own melody away from the other instruments but still a part of the whole.
As the banjo is practically a stringed drum, it makes sense that while it is in the
background of the music, it plays the beat as a drum would. In Where I’m Bound, the
banjo has the same function, but it seems more prominent—then at 1:05 the banjo
has a bit of a solo for the first time. Although the banjo is not a very prominent
instrument for the most part, its inclusion does still give the feeling of country.

The Banjo on Where I’m Bound and While You Sleep is played by Nick Piccininni.
The Banjo on Northern Redemption and Viva La Vida is played by Brandon Green.
Viva La Vida is not studied in this paper as it is not written by the Abrams Brothers.
Although the piano
didn’t get its start in country music, it has been in
country as an integral part since the beginning. Created in the early eighteenth
century, the piano is a series of keys linked to mallets that hit certain strings when the
musician presses the keys. Now it is more common for electric pianos or synthesizers
to be used for country music than for acoustic pianos to be used. (Instruments in
Country Music)
Several types of electric pianos and synthesizers are used on the album. One is
the Wurlitzer piano,
first manufactured in the fifties, which has a bright and hollow
sound that has been used in country music. Another is the Clavinet,
manufactured in the sixties, with a distinctive bright and staccato sound. The Farfisa
an electric keyboard also made in the sixties, sounds much like an organ with
a lot of vibrato but sometimes with only one set of keys (Campbell 191). The Farfisa
organ can be prominently heard in Planet of Seasons at 3:10 under the vocals. Another
organ-like instrument is the Hammond organ.
Invented in the 1930s, families
purchased Hammond organs when they couldn’t afford its more expensive and non-
electrical cousin, the pipe organ (Campbell 50). This has two rows of keys and the
sounds can change depending on which buttons are pressed above the keys (such as
changing the harmonics or adding percussion). The Hammond organ has a soft solo
Window at 2:30, and continues for the rest of the song under the vocals. The last two

The piano is played by producer Chris Brown throughout the album.
The Wurlitzer piano is played by producer Chris Brown throughout the album.
The Clavinet is played by producer Chris Brown throughout the album.
The Farfisa organ is played by producer Chris Brown throughout the album.
The Hammond organ is played by producer Chris Brown throughout the album.
keyboards used are Casio keyboards and general synthesizers,
which add all of the
keyboard sounds that the other instruments otherwise could not make. The end of
Planet of Seasons is full of various synthesizers, fading in and out, for almost a minute.
This is certainly not a usual country sound, but it fits in well with the rest of the song.
Though it is unclear from the album booklet exactly what types of
is used on the Abrams Brothers’ album, the drums are the most
common form of percussion instrument, though they were not originally a part of
country music. In early country music, musicians found drums to be “too loud” and
“not pure.” However, once rock ’n’ roll rose to popularity in the fifties, the drums
became more popular in country music. By the early sixties, most country bands had
drummers. (Instruments in Country Music) The percussion in the album, as well as
other country music, could include many other instruments, therefore naming each
individually would take too long to do. In country music as a whole, this could
include a washboard, first used by African Americans, played by running a fork or
thimble over the board’s corrugations, or bumps, to create a loud, staccato rhythmic
noise. (Instruments in Country Music) The album’s first and titular song, Northern
Redemption, begins with what sounds like 7 beats on a drum—but is actually John’s
foot stomping on a wooden floor—with another percussion instrument in the
background giving a sort of shuffle sound—actually a broom on a rope rug—before
the guitar, fiddle, and vocals come in (The Abrams Brothers Videos). At other times,
regular drum sets are used; in Window, a cymbal, a snare with brushes, and a bass

The Casio keyboard is played by John Abrams and producer Chris Brown
throughout the album, and synthesizers by Chris Brown.
John Abrams, James Abrams, and Sarah McDermott play percussion and Anton
Fier plays drums.
drum can be clearly heard throughout the song. In Nothing At All, a drum set can
clearly be heard throughout the song as well, with the addition of the tambourine.
Certainly, not all instruments used in Northern Redemption are even associated
with country music. The French horn
—a modification of early hunting horns, but
actually more German than French in origin—is also a part of this album although it
is not usually a part of country music (Lewis). The French horn is included in
Leaving Love Behind, mixing with the synthesizers and the pedal steel, all of which
have a metallic timbre to them. The French horn gives more depth as well, as its
timbre is deep. The horn also has a bit of a solo at 3:30, when it breaks away from
the other instruments and plays its own countermelody.
Another instrument not typically used in country music is the tubular bells,

also known as chimes. The most frequent types of bells to be used in an orchestral
setting, these chromatically-arranged symphonic chimes have become the standard
for orchestras. They used to be a substitute for bells in orchestras, but now their
timbre is appreciated as itself. They were intended to sound as close as possible to
church bells, but this was never accomplished. (Tubular Bells) This instrument is
used in Leaving Love Behind along with the French horn, and may go unnoticed due
to the fact that it is played alongside the pedal steel. It tends to play the same notes as
the pedal steel, but as it cannot slide between notes like the pedal steel, it adds extra
depth to the melody, staying on the notes as the pedal steel leaves.
In country music, the vocal timbre, or tonal quality, naturally changes from
singer to singer. However, there are common qualities that are usually present in all

The French horn is played by James McDonald on Leaving Love Behind.
The tubular bells are played by Lotus Wight on Leaving Love Behind.
country music. Generally, this reflects their southern speaking dialect including a
nasal vocal timbre, with or without vibrato (Early Country Music). There also tends
to be a great amount of heightened speech, or “recitation,” which has less of a rigid
meter than the music that is being played, while still retaining the song’s meter as a
whole (Feld 328). This is also similar to opera’s recitative in which the singer uses
ordinary speech rhythms; however, the country recitation is still a mixture between
the song’s meter and spoken meter. In the Abrams Brothers, both John and James
Abrams sing, though John sometimes has a deeper vocal timbre when in the middle
Because they are brothers, it really is difficult to tell which one is singing and
sometimes the only way to really tell is by watching them—sometimes they may
switch halfway through a song and no one would be able to tell the difference. For
example, in the music video for the title song Northern Redemption, James begins
singing the main vocals, and by the second verse John is singing the main vocals. In
Where I’m Bound, John begins singing first in live videos. On the recording, the
timbre at times is very full and resonant at times, especially at 1:17’s “Dos-i-do” after
the instrumental solo. In Leaving Love Behind, the vocal timbre is particularly
piercingly deep and resonant, frequently when “and” is the first word of a line with a
note lower than the others that follow. Certainly the most chillingly beautiful
resonant vocals, however, are at 2:50 in this song with the lines “against the sky.”
Though the melody is usually in this middle to low range in the album, the
harmonies tend to be in a higher range, yet another range where it is difficult to tell
John and James apart.

Brian Abrams also contributes to While You Sleep with background vocals.
Country musicians also frequently include non-pitched and metrically
irregular bits of speech, which is usually dialogue between the musicians. These
vocalizations are thus “fully spoken” and may include “count-offs,” to tell other
musicians when to begin playing, or introductory phrases to get the audience’s
attention (Feld 328-329). This does not happen in this album, however when
performed live it happens frequently, usually with the use of the word, “Hey!” (The
Abrams Brothers Videos).
Though country music has changed and progressed since the 1920s, its roots
are still present today with recognizable country instruments and features. The
Abrams Brothers have included other instruments—the electric guitar from rock ’n’
roll, the Cuban tres, the classical French horn—to create their own distinctive sound,
a product of four generations of country musicians and the beginning of the twenty-
first century.

Works Cited
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of song." A companion to linguistic anthropology (2004): 328-30.
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