"Hanging around writers made me feel smart, but hanging around musicians made me feel cool," says Iowa Writers' Workshop professor Chris Offutt, 90MFA, in the introductory essay to Down to the River: Portrtaits of Iowa Musicians. No wonder, then, that he agreed to pen an introduction for this book and CD combo that drips effortless cool from every page and track.
In Down to the River, photographer Sandra Dyas, 91BFA, 95MA, 98MFA, presents some of Iowa's finest singers and songwriters in pictures and in song. The result of Dyas's 20 years spent watching and befriending the musicians and songwriters who've polished Iowa's reputation as a venue for live music, the collection captures them on stage, at home, and on the road.
As a perfect accompaniment to her 60 photographs, some of the musicians she featured agreed to provide songs for the CD's 18 gritty, sweet, and achingly honest tracks.
The blues, rock, folk, and country-tinged music wails about whiskey and shotguns, abandoned families and lost loves, and what Dave Zollo memorably calls "dreams . . . tossed like whiskey 'cross the bar." In perfect counterpoint, the black-and-white photos depict smoky bars, desolate cornfields, solid farmhouses, and steamy summer music festivals. Dyas's portraits show musicians young and old, singly and in pairs and groups, in posed shots and in the wild abandon of a live performance. She puts faces to some of the most stellar names in Iowa's galaxy of well-regarded performers, including Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown, Dave Zollo, Kelly Pardekooper, Dave Moore, and Mike and Amy Finders.
Chris Offutt suggests the best way to approach this slice of Iowa life: "Put on the CD. Turn it up loud. Look at the photographs." It doesn't get much simpler—or better—than that.