The Chapel Hill, N.C., duo headed into hill country -- hallowed blues ground -- to record the album. (A hastily shot documentary of the process, filmed by Yep Roc founder Tor Hansen, comes with the CD). They traveled to Clarksdale, Miss., to record with former Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus, where a potential wrench in the spokes turned into a lucky break. Jimbo's own studio -- where he'd recorded Elvis Costello's roots record, The Delivery Man, in 2004 -- was out of commission because of serious electrical issues. Rather than turn the girls around and send them home, though, Mathus booked them into Blackwing Studios -- formerly the semi-legendary Money Shot studios, where the alt-blues revival label Fat Possum had first recorded now-iconic lunatics like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and T. Model Ford. There was extra resonance in the move for Swingle. Como had been the home of the rather musically violent blues guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell, whose style, she said, inspired her own punishing, fuzzed-out slide technique.
"It was really important to us to play well while we were in that house," Swingle says in a Yep Roc press release. "Those fellas didn't like to do a bunch of takes, so we wanted to nail it. I'm originally from Mississippi, so I felt reverent about being in the Money Shot. I mean, Mississippi Fred McDowell was from right next door in Como, Miss., and his music is the reason I learned to play slide guitar in the first place."
In an open letter about the album distributed by the label, Swingle wrote: "I had seen a documentary on R.L. and Junior [probably the 2005 DVD You See Me Laughin'] and all those guys that showed some of them playing in that same house, in that same room, so when we walked in I recognized everything. You could almost physically see the vibe in there. We were in awe of our surroundings but yet we didn't want to just play the blues. That's not us. That's not our sound.
"We wanted to capture the atmosphere of the blues and the feeling of the South, Faulkner's South, O'Connor's South, but play with the form and take it somewhere new," she wrote. "Being in that studio, smelling its smells and walking among its ghosts, made the music just come out. It was almost as if it was coming from somewhere else, practically jumping out onto the tape. Three days and three hundred drinks later, we had our album. Blackwing Yalobusha is a testament. It's an offering made at the altar of our heroes, but with the understanding that we will take what they built, tear it all down, and build it again -- harder, stronger and all our own."