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    In the early days of the recording industry much of what we today call folk, country, and old-time music was called “hillbilly” music. That’s because the hills and hollows of Appalachia were a treasure trove raided by urbanized “song catchers” (academic collectors). Many of them mistakenly thought that all American folk songs and tunes were variants of British Isles imports. They soon learned that Appalachia was far more than music preserved in amber—the region also contained great original composers. And since those days, there have always been a number of women whose stars shined slightly brighter. In the (recorded) beginning there was Sarah (1898-1979) and Maybelle Carter (1909-1978) from Virginia. Slightly later those with recording machines came calling upon Kentuckians Aunt Molly Jackson (1880-1960) and her half sister Sarah Ogan Gunning (1910-1987). Still later we got Loretta Lynn (1932-) from Butcher Hollow, KY, June Carter (1929-2003) from Maces Spring, VA, and Jean Ritchie (1922-) from Viper, KY. So who are the heiresses to the Mountain Crown?

    If you find yourself in a discussion that doesn’t include Jeni Hankins of southwestern Virginia, walk away – it’s not worth your time. Hankins’ approach is often compared to that of Hazel Dickens (1925-2011) and aptly so. Though Hankins has a smoother, less nasal voice than Dickens, it has the same born-in-the-bone twang – the kind you don’t get by dressing up country and scouring songbooks. Hankins also grew up in the same contiguous coal mine region that spawned Dickens, and with the same sensibilities: an appreciation for the grace of ordinary people, mountain gospel music, support for miners’ unions, and a gift for finding beauty where less attuned people fail to see it. Think I’m kidding about that last point? In “Good,” a song co-written with her musical partner Billy Kemp, the duo muse on coal mining, Sears Roebuck, Hardshell Baptists, and banjos. The banjo wins: “And he played us a tune from the old country/and the hills, they rang with our song/God said it was good/and we knew that it was good.” Even more impressive is “McHenry Street, a song inspired when the duo spotted kids making banners from trash can castoffs in Kemp’s native Baltimore.

    Picnic in the Sky is filled with small moments that seem more sublime when stripped of glitter and hype. This time the band is bigger – David Jackson (bass, accordion), Denny Weston, Jr. (percussion), Dillon O’Brian (keyboards, vocals), Dave Way (claps, feet), David Keenan (steel guitar), and Craig Eastman (fiddles, fretwork), an old acquaintance of mine whose work I’ve admired for decades. We get a veritable potpourri: “The Robin & the Banjo,” Jeni’s wedding song reworking of “Froggy Went A-Courtin’;” “The Old Hotel,” an illicit love song; the dust-and-tedium-meets-dreams “The Mill Hurries On;” and gospel refracted through Jane Eyre on “Reckoning Day.” Remember Joe Hill’s “The Preacher and the Slave?” Check out this album’s title track, a gentler shade of caustic with yellow squash and biscuits substituting for Hill’s pie, but the same hard questions about a future “heavenly reward.” Call it “Good.” Call it authentic. Call me anytime Ms. Hankins is singing and Kemp is picking, flailing, and singing by her side.
    — Rob Weir, Sing Out

    Comes in a six panel eco-friendly wallet, designed by Jeni and her father, Greg Hankins, featuring photos of the Big Picnic Band. A large, fold out poster includes all lyrics and credits — plus images of knick-knacks from Jeni's collection.

    Includes unlimited streaming of Picnic in the Sky via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
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    PLUS — PDF version of the packaging and liner notes.
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  • Full Digital Discography

    Get all 16 Jeni Hankins releases available on Bandcamp and save 20%.

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality downloads of Last Time I Changed These Strings, We'll Meet That Day – Single, Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, Pretty Back Then (Movie Mix), Goodnight, Tazewell Beauty Queen (Movie Mix), Homecoming Queen, The Oxygen Girl, Heart of the Mountain, and 8 more. , and , .

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1.
The Robin & the Banjo by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2010 There hung a banjo alone on a wall — hung there for years making no sound at all — ‘til along came a robin in the window to sing. And oh how that banjo did ring. She sang, “I’ve been flying in a nearby wood, where the air is clear and the water is good, the pines so sturdy and their needles so green.” And oh how that banjo did ring. He said, “I travelled with the hobo and rode the steel rails and I joined that hobo on many wild tales. Now that old hobo is naught but a dream.” And oh how that banjo did ring. One day the old house with the banjo fell down, and the robin, she cried when she heard the sound. She sang a tune so sad and true of a hobo and a banjo and the rambles they knew. And in the rubble she heard the strings. And oh how that banjo did ring. She took the strings and the ebony pegs, she took the bridge and the old broken head, all to her nest where together they sing. And oh how that banjo did ring. And oh how that banjo does ring.
2.
Picnic in the Sky by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2013 I pulled up the milkweed, hid ‘neath the willow tree from the church bell and the mystery ‘cause I did not understand Christ Jesus’ victory and how that he loved me – the tears and the tongues, the power in the blood. Frozen dinners were a special treat, listening to radio obituaries, Great grandma hoed the yellow squash. We listened while the women talked and the voice said, “These are the Days of Our Lives.” I wondered did they go to the picnic in the sky, while I braided sister’s hair, watched the biscuits rise. Oh, do this in remembrance of me. The men washed their faces, removing the traces of the local mining industry – years of working underground to get at the low seam, to pick out the old dream of a house and some land, a heavenly reward. The miner now a memory, in the same place as little me, fussing with my dolly and singing the old rugged cross, listening to the women speak of patchwork and recipes – the power in the blood, the power in the blood.
3.
Reckoning Day by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2005, 2013 There are some things ain’t worth rescuing — some ships you watch go down, while you stand there on the shore holding fast to the new love you’ve found. There’ll be a love, catches you unaware. Some angel will come your way, and you’ll take her into your heart, though you know there will be a reckoning day. There are some things ain’t nothing but trouble — some prisons you build yourself brick by brick with your misfortunes, ‘til some angel pulls you from hell. Look out for love, halos and feathers, your wishes, the things that you pray, ‘cause your dreams just might come true, and you know there will be a reckoning day.
4.
The Mystery of You & Me by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2006, 2013 How can we say we’re meant to be and then doubt that we should be in it? How can we say we’ve waited so long and then end it before we begin it? So many nights we’ve lain awake hoping it was only the weather, wondering if our troubled hearts thought we should have known better. If we could find the compass and map to show us the heavenly key, we could unlock the mystery of love – the mystery of you and me . . . the mystery of you and me. How can we wait for a sign to come and then doubt if we even saw it? How can we hold love by the hand and then wonder what we should call it? So many stars have called our names, but how many moons have fooled us? You would have thought the spark we made was fire enough to school us.
5.
Good 04:19
Good by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2013 The miner goes to work in the dark, and the preacher talks in the air. The fiddler bends the air with his bow, while the dancer flies everywhere. Pawpaw dug for coal underground, and Mawmaw tilled the sun. At night she’d do that ole flatfoot to Pawpaw’s banjo song. And he played us a tune from the old country, and the hills, they rang with our song. God said it was good, and we knew that it was good. Mama worked down at Sears Roebuck, and she wore those red high-heeled shoes. At night she’d show us the ole flatfoot after teaching Bible School. Hardshell Baptists, they don’t dance, ‘cause it tempts the devil so. But Mawmaw slides on her light bare feet, sayin’ “Play that ole banjo.”
6.
McHenry Street by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2005, 2013 Down on McHenry Street the sidewalk glitters with broken glass bottles and household litter. Houses are vacant, burned out and shuttered, and weeds grow knee high in the cracks of the gutter. While the sign on the trash can says to believe, and the sign on the fire house seems to agree — Believe in Jesus, Believe in Baltimore, Believe in something you ain’t never seen before. Kids make guns and flags, pickins from scraps of trash, or sit on their front stoops just kicking at the glass. They sail down the alley in a box spring canoe, while grandma in the kitchen prays, “Lord, what we gonna do?” There ain’t no promise it’s gonna get right with a city-watch camera and a flashing blue light, ‘cause down on McHenry Street the sidewalk glitters with broken glass bottles and household litter.
7.
The Days of the Blue Tattoo by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2013 I sit in a house with windows of glass, and wear a lady’s dress. I never speak of my blue tattoo, and no one dares to ask, but whenever I stand at the looking glass, I see your mark on me. I remember my skirt of willow bark, having nothing but grass to eat. I remember the days of the blue tattoo, when you chose to make me your own. I remember the ways of the blue tattoo. One day you sent me back home, sent me back home. I remember how you pitied me, and fed me from your hand. Now I sit at a table of mahogany with my belly full of sand. When the soldiers came to our heathen camp and found my white face there, they gave you a horse in trade for me – your little pioneer.
8.
The Old Hotel by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2005 I’ve got a gun and a fifty dollar bill, and if there’s a way, then I’ll find the will. Think I’ll go down and stay at the old hotel and lay on the bed we knew so well. If I had known your love would land me here, I’d do it again just to feel you so near. Think I’ll go down and stay at the old hotel and stare at the walls we knew so well. Well, you say it ain’t right to lead a double life, but that’s not what you said when you kissed me that night. Think I’ll go down to the place we knew back when and pretend that you’re coming to meet me again. Well, I’m leaving tonight. That don’t make it alright. All the words that you said, they don’t make it alright. I’ve got a gun and a fifty dollar bill, and if there’s a way, then I’ll find the will. If there’s a way, then I’ll find the will.
9.
Are You Meant for Me? by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2007 Are you meant for me? Are we meant to be? Could I begin to trace the answer in your face? Am I in your dreams, among other themes, like the fire and the flood and signs not understood? Am I in your veins? These questions still remain. How deep do we run? Or have we just begun? Am I meant for you? Am I just someone new? Are you only passing through the way that lovers do? Are you meant for me? Are we meant to be? Will you break my heart? Won’t you break my heart? Am I in your veins? These questions still remain. How deep do we run? Or have we just begun? Are you meant for me? Are we meant to be?
10.
The Mill Hurries On by Jeni Hankins © 2012 Oh, the cotton flew around us like an alien snow. Having no way to melt, in our lungs it did go, and there made its home, like an unwelcome guest, ‘til it grew and it grew so we could not take breath. There are trees in the country that give fruit for free – not belonging to you or belonging to me. No free thing can grow in a cotton mill town, so to work we must go, child, let us go down. The machines, they did roar. They made my head ache, but I could not take rest nor make a mistake. For the wages I earned, though meager alone, when put with my family’s, preserved our dear home. Way down in my dreams lived a devil well dressed. He counted his money with his foot on my chest. I knew that my fever told a story well known. I am no longer and the mill hurries on.
11.
Made as New 04:03
Made as New by Jeni Hankins & Billy Kemp © 2013 for Kim Sherman in honor of her grandmother, Dalvie, and in honor of my Mawmaws I will be made as new, I will leave this world I knew, I will go to a far off land to be made new by God's hand. Scales will fall from my eyes, burdens lifted, wrongs made right. No more wandering, no more night, but streets of gold, mansions bright. This house of clay will fall to dust. This earthly shell will turn to rust. Oh, Heaven's mantle waits for us. No more hunger, no more thirst. When you gather round the tomb, weep no more. We will meet soon in a far off land, in the master's room, Washed in the blood, made as new.

about

The sweetest, most down to earth, good people making music just like that. Their roots run deep and sprout the most fragrant flowers.
- Dave Way, Three-Time Grammy-Winning Producer, Mixer, & Engineer

Jeni Hankins makes quilts. She finds the peculiar value in scraps of fabric and combines them into fabulously beautiful pieces of art. But quilt-making is not just an exercise in self expression. Quilts are functional. Quilts make an empty room homey.
A quilt will keep you warm in a world turned cold. They can be thrown over a couch in any room and somehow blend seamlessly with whatever style is there. Making quilts is about having the natural talent to see how all the scattered bits of the world’s pieces fit together and create a whole that is much larger than the sum of its parts.
My old friend Billy Kemp and I are among the many stray pieces of cloth that Jeni Hankins has discovered on her journey through this life. As are my friends Dave Way, Denny Weston, David Jackson, Craig Eastman and great number of other folks, in whom Jeni found a peculiar value that she could see would blend seamlessly into a beautiful patchwork, which only she could create.
Jeni and Billy’s songs are made of sugar and spice, and everything nice; snips and snails and puppy dog tails; cakes and pie and picnics in the sky.
Legendary Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt said, “There are two kinds of music – the blues and Zip A Dee Doo Dah.” There is a third kind, which finds the best of both and turns it into something seamlessly American and wonderful. My girlfriend Ronda Call, a twenty-year music industry A&R veteran, has a name for it. She says “It’s Jeni, honey! Who wouldn’t want to be Jeni?”
Welcome to Jeni & Billy's picnic. Here's a quilt for you. Find a spot on the grass and help yourself to anything you hear on the table. And don't be shy about coming back for seconds.
- Dillon O'Brian, Grammy-Nominated Producer, Songwriter, & Musician

I first saw Jeni and Billy at Beverley Folk Festival in the UK. Their freshness, authenticity and likability struck me hard and I found it difficult to shake the experience. I have followed their career ever since and devoured each album, whilst each time worrying that their genuine, charming sound will be diluted if they ever "hit the big time."
But I guess they have hit the big time, if the "big time" is gaining a devoted following in the States and in the UK, all of whom can't get enough of Hankins' enchanting tales of life on Jewell Ridge. And I am pleased to say that this album, although produced by the Grammy-award-winning Dave Way (who mixed the Spice Girls), has lost none of the hometown charm of the previous discs.
Like their other records, it's organic and raw. Jeni's voice still falters beguilingly and the duo's synergy is still very much audible.
This new disc is a special treat for Jeni & Billy fans but will be a classy introduction for the uninitiated. I'll tell you what I want, what I really really want. To listen to this again and again.
- Hazel Davis, The Guardian, Maverick, Billboard, UK

credits

released May 30, 2014

Jeni Hankins: Vocals & Flatfoot Dance.
Billy Kemp: Vocals, Guitars, Banjo, & Harmonica. Piano on Made as New.
Craig Eastman: Fiddles, Slide Guitar, Lap Steel, & Mandolin. High Third Guitar on The Days of the Blue Tattoo.
David Jackson: Upright Bass, Accordion, Claps, & Feet.
Denny Weston Jr: Drums, Hand Percussion, Shovel, Rake, Claps, Feet, & Baking Pan.
Dillon O’Brian: Piano, Organ, Lead & Harmony Vocal on McHenry Street, & Harmony Vocal on Picnic in the Sky.
Dave Way: Claps & Feet.
David Keenan: National Guitar on The Days of the Blue Tattoo.
Produced by Dave Way and Dillon O’Brian with Jeni & Billy at the Waystation, Los Angeles, CA

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Jeni Hankins London, UK

Jeni Hankins grew up in the coalfields of Appalachian in Southwest Virginia among a family of miners, moonshiners, and journalists. Her writing pulls the grit, gumption, and keen sense of observation out of that heritage like drawing water from her grandmother’s well.

In every song, Jeni’s “true sense of place shines through – old as the hills, but brand new at the same time.”
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