In 1896, Edward MacDowell, arguably America's first great composer, and his wife Marian MacDowell, a pianist, bought a farm in Peterborough, N.H., where they spent summers making music in idyllic surroundings. It was there that Edward produced his best work. After falling gravely ill, Edward conveyed to Marian that he wished to give other artists the same creative experience under which he had thrived.
Marian fulfilled that wish by creating The MacDowell Colony, where an estimated 6,000 writers, poets, playwrights, artists and composers have been supported in residence, including the winners of at least 61 Pulitzer Prizes.
That magical setting is where Brattleboro's Sam Moss found much of the inspiration for his eighth solo record, entitled "No Kingdom," which includes eight spare and hypnotic tunes (with some help on upright bass from Wooden Dinosaur's Michael Roberts) that both honor folk tradition and add some modern nuances.
The prodigious 24-year-old composer and stringed instrument player explained how the album came to fruition at the famed art colony.
"When I got to MacDowell I had six or seven new songs written. They all had some music to accompany the lyrics but nothing was fully formed yet. I spent the first week or so playing those songs in as many different ways as I could think of and hollering them at the top of my lungs because I was in a studio in the woods and no one could hear me. My voice got louder while I was there. I don't remember what those songs used to sound like, but they are much different now."
Three of those made the final cut. Then after spending a week getting acquainted with the setting, new songs began to spring from Moss. "The second week I wrote a song every day, which yielded another few songs for the record. The last few weeks were spent revising and recording, which was a process I invested more time in than before. There wasn't really a clear vision for this record, but I wanted to build up the songs a little more and add a variety of textures."
Moss also cited the tremendous support and encouragement he got from the other fellows. "It was a group of about 25 artists, and on most nights someone would share their work. It was one of the best audiences I've ever had. ... The groundwork for the whole album was laid at MacDowell. It would probably be an entirely different thing had I not gone there."
Before heading to New Hampshire, Moss also had the good fortune of being involved with a project through Tomkins Square Records, which has put out a series of compilations featuring some of the world's most creative acoustic guitar players.
"Josh Rosenthal, who runs the label, invited me to contribute a track to the fourth volume a few years ago, which was exciting enough. He then asked me if I wanted to curate the fifth volume totally out of the blue. Apparently he saw that I was friends with a lot of guitarists on Facebook and thought that I might have a good idea of what was going on in the scene. That was easily the best thing that Facebook ever did for me. The fifth volume was critically well received, and I'm proud to have put it together."
Moss is also involved in a variety of musical collaborations that have a completely different vibe from his solo work.
"I still occasionally play fiddle with a Brattleboro based honky-tonk band called The Rear Defrosters, which is always fun. We play a lot of weddings. The Howling Kettles may also reunite for some shows in 2014, even though we are spread out across the states. I've been sitting on a potential solo 7-inch record of gospel tunes that I'd like to put out. I don't have much new original material, but I'll probably end up recording something this winter. I can't seem to stay away from it for too long."
For more information and to order "No Kingdom," visit http://sammoss.bandcamp.com.
Dave Madeloni writes a music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.