Singer Tim Grimm often has written with a social justice conscience — and with a sincere salute to a common decency that stitches people together like the blocks of grandma’s quilt.
His latest single hauntingly laments the loss of such a conscience, decency and more. And that tune, “Gone,” now has thrust the veteran Columbus area singer-songwriter’s work into the 3,000-member International Folk Alliance’s Song of the Year nominations with the likes of The Indigo Girls and Eliza Gilkyson. It also became the most played song on folk radio in 2020, despite the fact that it wasn’t even released until October.
He has enjoyed the most-played song status in 2013 (“King of the Folksingers”), 2016 (“Woody’s Landlord”) and 2017 (“Gonna Be Great”). The alliance’s awards will be presented virtually Feb. 22.
The self-described hay farmer, 60, recently took a moment to consider the impact and honor of his words and wisdom that he penned in August partly in a late-1800s single-room cabin on his 55-acre Ogilville property. “Gone” will be part of an eight-cut album bearing the song’s title, expected to be released in March.
“Every time something like this happens, I’m truly honored just to be a nominee,” Grimm said. “Music is so subjective. We all have our strong tastes. And sometimes we can’t even exactly define why we like something musically. I’m in good company (with the nominees), so I’m absolutely honored by that.”
Part of the song highlights what Grimm sees as the chilly selfishness of the current social and political climate. Interestingly, he commented on his release minutes before the inauguration of a new presidential administration. Grimm was critical of the previous administration’s stance on topics ranging from immigration and the poor to name-calling and the demonization of people groups.
We sit across the table/I counted off the steps/But the lights have all been broken/We can’t see past ourselves
I’d like to call you brother/But the bridges have all burned/And the things you say without a mask bring darkness to this world
People who knew Grimm years before his music can hardly be surprised by his outspoken ways. The Columbus North High School graduate was, after all, a political science major at Earlham College in Richmond.
“I’ve always thought that almost all the really good songs are about love or politics,” Grimm said.
The current single is part of a trilogy with “Woody’s Landlord” and “Gonna Be Great” that Grimm penned.
Grimm mentioned in online interviews that the song also was inspired by other artists now heartbreakingly gone, including such musical stalwarts as singer John Prine.
He cannot quite place precisely where the current song belongs among his finer work.
“It’s hard for me to categorize,” Grimm said. “But it resonates in this moment — I do know that, just based on feedback. And I think it will resonate later on as we look back on this period of time.”
It also means something special to him that bassist/pianist Connor and banjo player Jackson, his sons, appear on the tune.
Plus, it makes sense that his nomination is for a global honor. General feedback beyond the United States has long been strong for a long while.
Grimm has acknowledged that his profile is substantially larger in the Americana-oriented Europe music scene, where major publications such as The London Daily News have included lengthy interviews with him. Steve Clarke, host of the Canadian show “Acoustic Planet,” has called Grimm “an Indiana treasure.” Real Roots Cafe in The Netherlands has labeled his discs “exquisitely beautiful.”
Two-thirds of his last BMI royalties check was linked to foreign airplay.
“The good thing is that, even during this pandemic, people still are listening to radio,” Grimm said.
But in the midst of such attention, Grimm and wife Jan Lucas Grimm have been as happy playing an intimate 85-seat show in the basement of the local Viewpoint Books as they have in better-known clubs across the globe. Plus, Grimm has spent plenty of time and energy shining the spotlight on other artists via his long-running Americana Music Series.
He believes his chart-topping single was perhaps helped by the fact that it was released just before the presidential election.
“I had hoped I had something (big),” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people send me personal notes after hearing ‘Gone.’ And I think that that touches me more than anything else.”
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Honor: His latest single, "Gone," the most-played folk song of 2020, has been nominated by the International Folk Alliance as Song of the Year.
Three: "Gone is part of a song trilogy, including other Grimm tunes "Woody’s Landlord" and "Gonna Be Great."
Coming album: "Gone," an eight-tune disc set for release in March. "I still honor the traditional notion of al abum," he said, referring to integrated themes.