“I’ve Always Been a Rambler” is a traditional song about a real jackass—a drinking, gambling, womanizing, only son who lives fast and loose and leaves a trail of trouble behind him. That is, until he finds himself smitten by a wealthy farmer’s “tall and handsome daughter.”
The tune then takes a turn from cautionary tale to sob story as the anti-hero of the song courts the farmer’s daughter, falls in love with her, leaves town to continue his ramblin’ ways, can’t forget her, and eventually gets word that she’s married another, which leads to heartache … and more ramblin’. As the last stanza goes: ”My heart was filled with trouble, while trouble’s on my mind / Going to drink and gamble for the one I left behind.”
The song, which is surprisingly uptempo and toe-tap-inducing, has been around since the 19th century. It’s a prime example of the old saying that if you’re not crying or praying, it’s not bluegrass. For American roots band the Goodbye Girls, the song serves as a template for a cross-genre sound that pulls in elements of bluegrass, old-time, jazz and Swedish folk music.
Comprising Swedish fiddler Lena Jonsson, Allison de Groot on clawhammer banjo, Brittany Karlson on bass and Molly Tuttle on guitar and lead vocals, the Goodbye Girls was formed out of necessity when Jonsson, who was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, was asked to perform an American roots music tour of Sweden with fellow Berklee students. Jonsson enlisted de Groot, who knew Tuttle, who was roommates with Karlson. The band came together easily, and the spark of inspiration was there from the start as the artists met weekly to work up songs for the tour.
“It was a strong connection right off the bat,” says Tuttle. “We didn’t have any songs, but we had a whole tour scheduled. We all searched for songs and we all came up with the arrangement together. That’s how it’s been since the first time we all played together—it’s really collaborative.”
With a name taken from the folk tune “Goodbye Girls, I’m Going to Boston,” the Goodbye Girls all have different musical backgrounds. Tuttle grew up playing bluegrass, de Groot plays mostly old-time music, Jonsson has roots in traditional Swedish music, which has elements similar to American old-time music—including fiddle-driven melodies, but with different musical inflections—and Karlson has a background in jazz. Combined, the artists put a twist on American roots music, with unexpected ornamentation, jazzy improvisations, cross-cultural arrangements and four-part vocals sung in unison.
The women are all ace musicians who bring mastery of their own instruments and styles to the Goodbye Girls. The result is something at-once familiar and fresh—even for a roots music veteran like Tuttle, who is a well-known artist in American roots circles.
“We all come from different areas,” says Tuttle. “We mostly play old-time stuff, but it has a lot of different influences in it. Even though we’re playing old-time songs, you can hear maybe some Swedish influences in Lena’s playing, or a bluegrass style. It’s different from anything else I do.”
Though the band members live in different cities and can’t play together as often as they’d like, it doesn’t take them long to fall back into their upbeat and catchy sound when it’s time for a tour. Tuttle says it’s less about learning complex instrumentation and more about reconnecting with each other musically.
“Once we can play together for a couple of hours, we get the groove back,” she says. “Our songs aren’t heavily arranged. It’s mostly about finding our groove together again.”
The initial Goodbye Girls tour was supposed to be a one-off, but the outfit is still going strong, making numerous trips back to Europe to perform, as well as limited dates in the States. The members make a point of scheduling a handful of Goodbye Girls performances a year—in addition to their other music projects—to keep the band’s momentum and the members’ camaraderie going.
“We’d like to keep trying to push it to a higher level,” says Tuttle. “It’s so much fun to work up new music together, so we’d really like to keep doing that. I think we all want to keep it going and think about making another album in the next couple years.”
The Goodbye Girls will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 25 at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. $10/adv, $12/door. 335-2800.