Riddy Arman did write a song about a horse once, a long time ago, but no one has ever heard it and she doubts anyone will. And while there are few mentions of horses on her self-titled debut album, she does imagine herself riding one whenever she sings "Old Maid's Draw," her high-lonesome ode to working as a ranch hand in the steep hills of Montana.
Which is what she does these days, after growing up in rural Ohio and making detours to New York City and New Orleans in her 20s. When not rounding up cattle, she also writes poignant originals like "Spirits, Angels, or Lies," a song about her father's deathbed visitation by the ghost of Johnny Cash.
- Courtesy Riddy Arman
- Riddy Armand opens at the co-headlined show also featuring Lady Lamb and The Ballroom Thieves Friday at Volcanic Theatre Pub.
After her haunting performance of the song for a Western AF session went viral on YouTube, Arman went into the studio to record her album for La Honda Records, took to the road as opening act for label-mate Colter Wall, and is now out on a tour that finds her sharing the stage with Langhorne Slim in March and then in April doing a run of shows with Lady Lamb and the Ballroom Thieves—including one at Volcanic Theatre Pub on Friday.
With her Husky Elsie and her Labrador retriever Strix (named after a genus of owls) listening in the background, Arman spoke to us recently about her search for the obscure country singer Carlene Jones, the comparative virtues of horses versus four-wheelers, and the mystery of crossing over to the other side.
Source Weekly: Over the past year, you've been compared to Glen Campbell, Neko Case, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. Probably other people ,too. Which of those resonates most with you?
Riddy Arman: Oh my, that wigged me out so much. I've seen the review that compared me to Glen Campbell. And I'm not sure what exactly they're referencing about Glen Campbell. Perhaps the lyrics? But I don't really know.
SW: I don't think Glen Campbell wrote many of his own songs. They should have compared you to his songwriter Jimmy Webb.
RA: Oh yeah, sure, I'd take it! Well, you know, Dolly Parton did go through a phase in her early career where she wrote only sad songs. I think on the first album she made for a record label, they were all sad songs she had written. So I guess I related more to that one, because it's the beginning of my music career and they're all sad songs so far. But I really couldn't tell you, because I don't know who I could be compared to. It's hard to see when you're within the comparison.
SW: I wanted to ask about the song "Spirits, Angels, or Lies" and its reference to Johnny Cash. How did that come about?
RA: That song is a true story. My dad was in a hospice-care facility, where he had been in a coma for a couple of weeks. He had just come out of it and my mom was there visiting him, and he very matter-of-factly told my mom that Johnny Cash had visited him in the night. There happened to be freight-train tracks right behind the room he was in — so there was constant train traffic — and he told her that Johnny Cash had stopped the train and wanted him to leave with him. And he told Johnny that he was going to stay.
- Courtesy Lady Lamb
Anyways, my mom kind of brushed it off, because, you know, when people are in their last phases of life, they're not really there. So she just figured it was something he hallucinated or made up; she didn't know. But they did a crossword, she says, and hung out a little longer, and then she put the news on. And one of the news stories was about Johnny Cash's death. He had died that night at 3 or 4 am, right around the time my dad claimed that had happened.
The thing was, my father wasn't a Johnny Cash fan. I'm sure he liked the music and wouldn't have turned it off, but he was more of a folk-rock guy. So it would be different if he was like, "Neil Young came to visit me." We'd be like, "You wish." And it just wigged my mom out. So the words are "Spirits, angels, or lies / We'll never know what someone sees with their own eyes." It's just kind of supposed to be a comforting song about death, because we never really do know what it's like to cross over. And, needless to say, my mom's obsessed with Johnny Cash now.
Riddy Armand, with Lady Lamb and The Ballroom Thieves
Fri., April 22. 7pm
Volcanic Theatre Pub
70 SW Century Dr., Bend