A new album, due to be released this week, by a collection of artists with Hoosier and Wabash River roots aims to give listeners a fresh, musical reminder of the famed waterway's beauty, history and emotional connection to Indiana residents.
Meandering for nearly 500 miles from Ohio to Indiana to Illinois, it is the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi.
Likewise, "The Wabash" flows quite freely, featuring 13 acts performing songs inspired by the river. The tracks include a mix of classic and new material, representing a smorgasbord of genres -- folk, rock, country, bluegrass, Americana jazz, blues and barbershop.
"The heart of this project is the many musicians who so generously shared their talents as writers, arrangers and performers to bring new life to the Wabash River through music," said Mary Kramer, one of the producers and executive director of Art Spaces -- Wabash Valley Outdoor Sculpture Collection Inc., the nonprofit organization overseeing the album project. "The songs are personal, celebratory, intriguing. Don Arney, Mark Bennett and Ted Piechocinski (a dream team) produced a collection of music that may even have the river itself humming along."
Fittingly, the disc was produced in Terre Haute, west-central Indiana city that is the hometown of famed 19th-century Tin Pan Alley composer Paul Dresser, whose boyhood memories of the river inspired him to write "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away."
The melodic, sentimental song became a sheet-music million-seller for Dresser. In 1913, the Indiana Legislature made Dresser's masterpiece the official state song.
One century later, arts and civic organizations in Terre Haute and along the Wabash Valley have organized a year-long celebration for 2013, labeled "2013 The Year of the River."
As part of that event, Art Spaces -- Wabash Valley Outdoor Sculpture Collection, Inc. -- a nationally recognized organization committed to placing outdoor sculptures throughout the local community -- has kicked off a fund drive to commemorate Dresser's musical legacy by the placement of a sculpture in Terre Haute's Fairbanks Park, where his childhood home now sits as a museum. Art Spaces plans to have a sculptor selected and conduct a groundbreaking in 2013.
Proceeds from the new album (it sells for $10) will go toward the sculpture's creation.
The roster of performers on "The Wabash" is as unique as the sounds they've created.
Seven artists composed lively, heartfelt songs for the disc, including popular southern Indiana singer and author Tom Roznowski (performing "A Day on the Wabash"); Pulitzer Prize-winning Indiana State University alum David Hanners ("Terre Haute Waltz"); award-winning blues band Dicky James and the Blue Flames ("River Run"); clever and fun rock duo The Crow Cannons ("They Gonna Wash Away"); Nashville, Tenn., singer-songwriter Roxie Randle, a native of Wabash River town, Hutsonville, Ill.("Wabash Bird"); rising contemporary country band Judson Hill ("Life Flows By, In the Wabash"); and eclectic folk-rockers Yearbook Committee ("Drive Me Home").
A handful of early 20th-century Wabash chestnuts -- some long forgotten -- get a fresh reworking by skilled Hoosier performers.
Diamond Hill Station, veteran bluegrassers, deliver a golden rendition of "Wabash Cannonball." A virtuoso pair of Americana jazz musicians, guitarist Brent McPike and U.S. mandolin champion Solly Burton, masterfully revive the 1905 John Daniels tune, "She Was Born in Indiana (Where the Wabash River Flows)."
Classic country band Faron Glenn and the Midwest Playboys update Johnny Cash's 1977 heartbreak tune, "If It Wasn't For the Wabash River." Will Foraker, a Terre Haute native who sings and plays piano internationally, introduces 21st-century listeners to the 1921 Malcolm Scott sing-along, "I'm Gonna Float My Boat Right Back to Terre Haute."
Written in 1897, Dresser's signature song, "On the Banks of the Wabash," gets two vastly contrasting renditions on the album. The young barbershop quartet, Extrachordinary, gives its ruminations of mother, lost love and boyhood days a classic touch.
Then, the state song receives perhaps its most soaring, infectious, ear-catching interpretation ever by former Los Angeles session musician-turned-church worship pastor Justin Hoeppner.
"It was so much fun working with such talented and creative musicians and bands, all originating from the Wabash Valley," said Arney, who engineered and produced the bulk of the recordings from his Quantum Music Productions studio in Vigo County. "Each brought their own unique style to the project, giving the recordings a broad interpretation of old standards and terrific original compositions related to the Wabash River and the towns it flows through. This is a one-of-a-kind tribute to an Indiana and national icon."
Its timing is ideal.
"2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of 'On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away' as the state song," Kramer said. "Many adults from this area remember singing it in school when they were young, not something practiced today. This CD gives new life to the song and reintroduces it to a wide audience."
Listeners will not find the familiar "(Back Home Again in) Indiana" between the versions of "On the Banks of the Wabash" that bookend the album. The producers of "The Wabash" bypassed that song, created in 1917 (11 years after Dresser's death). The writers of "Back Home Again" borrowed heavily from Dresser's "On the Banks," both lyrically and musically, triggering an unsuccessful copyright infringement lawsuit by Dresser's family in the 1940s.
Today, many Hoosiers mistakenly assume "Back Home Again" -- sung every May at the Indianapolis 500 -- is the state song, leaving Dresser's original overshadowed. The new album allows "On the Banks" to shine on its own.
"The Wabash" will be available for purchase at the Miracle on 7th Street celebration in downtown Terre Haute from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7. It also will be available for:
Online purchase (beginning Dec. 20): Through cdbaby.com; inquiries or information through the album's web page, wabashvalleyartspaces.com/thewabash
In-Person purchase (beginning Dec. 7): In Terre Haute at Arts Illiana (23 N. 6th St.), Barnes & Noble at ISU (25 N. 4th St.), Boo's Crossroads Café and Corner Grind (679 Wabash Ave.), The Coffee Grounds (423 Wabash Ave.), Harmonious Hedgehog (1412 E. Davis Dr.), Headstone Friends (1142 Poplar St.).
In-Person purchase (beginning Dec. 14): In Lafayette at Tippecanoe Arts Federation (638 North St.); In Bloomington at Landlocked Music (202 N. Walnut St.), Howard's Bookstore (101 W. Kirkwood St.).