Nothin' To Offer- Half of this song was written while I was sitting in a tree stand, bowhunting. The rest came to me on my Harley-Davidson during Bike Week in Daytona, Florida, after hanging out in Savannah, Georgia. I had seen this acoustic rock/folk singer play down on River Street there. She played everything from more obscure Zeppelin tunes and Joni Mitchell. She was something else, man. I wasn't the same for years afterward...
Where You Lie- 'On a barroom napkin,started writing my will'...I just like the imagery of that tune. Just a driving little number, probably thinking musically of Marty Stuart or something like that.
I Believe, I Shall Receive- Written one Easter, but can hardly take the credit for it. It sort of woke me out a sleep. One of the few tunes I ever wrote in one sitting. Was always hoping that Del McCoury would cover this tune. That would be the icing on the cake! I credit him for starting my love of bluegrass.
Gettin' Through- Written during one of those times in life where it feels like the wheels are going to come off. Praying and writing out of a hard time. I'm sure many can relate.
Who You Are- Around the time my sister was about to get married,my mom asked me if I could write a song for the occasion. I didn't tell anyone I had it written long before, and I performed this tune for the first time at the reception. I think it went over pretty well. I always looked at it as a little 'family portrait' type tune.
Nailbiter- The song that usually ends all my shows. Love the groove. Love the intensity of the lyrics. 'Got a New Orleans funeral planned, for my former self today, gonna burn myself and rise from the ashes,tip my hat and be on my way.' With help 'by God'. Yeah, works for me.
When I Reach The Ocean- Inspired when I saw the ocean for the first time, which to a lifelong,landlocked guy like myself, was a big deal. It's really taken on a very 'open' meaning, I'm always hoping the listener can find themselves in it somehow. Dan Anderson was the first one to notice that the melody to this sounds like 'waves'. That was exactly by design and when I first realized, hey, this guy really pays attention! And it really shaped how he approaches it in a live setting. On the record here, I play the first part of the acoustic solo, Brent Mason plays the electric. Nothing like swapping guitar lines with one of your musical heroes!
Ribbon 'Round Your Finger- Just a song thinking about friends who get lost along the way of life. Perhaps this a reminder to them that I didn't and have never forgotten what they meant to me. And still do, for that matter.
The Wreck Of Me- Gotta have a song just 'about a girl' sometimes. How they can leave ya, good and bad. I've always loved the bluesy element to this one. And maybe more than any other song I have, its changed the most musically. Songs will naturally grow and change. I adapted it more to playing it with the slide. More to where I can play it solo and have it work. I've always loved hearing bands offer different versions of songs. And I look forward to recording this again on a live album in the near future.
Walk That Mile- A song that kind of walks into the sunset. Very open to the listener's own interpretation.
About The Songs- 'Drifters and Dreamers'
What Ya Doin' In Here, Boy?- Wanted to write something a little light-hearted about someone who keeps messin' it up. Wrong time, wrong place kind of song. Musically, it feels like Doc Watson meets Waylon Jennings. To me anyway. A twisted, fun, country song.
Open Country- The catharsis of riding out into open spaces. And freedom having its own price. I hear the influence of both Tony Rice and Mark Knopfler on this one. Not sure if anyone else will. Thats the beauty of having a broad palate of influences and colors to choose from,I guess. I remember talking to Dan Drilling the engineer after the session of recording that song and him saying I had a lot to be proud of with how it was done. That made my day.
Something As Pretty- Sort of taking a cheap pick up line and taking it somewhere else. Being the loneliest person in the world in a crowded room. That moment of shutting out every crazy thing going on around you, being swept away by that 'one' person in the place. Matt's slightly jazzy upright bass lines and Anderson's piano really add some beautiful accompaniment to this one.
Ballad Of Robert Burns- A true story. He stole $5.81 from a store. Did time on a Georgia chain gang. Escaped.. Went back. Escaped again. I felt he needed to immortalized in song. There was a movie on it made, back in the '30s I believe. I hope to see it someday.
Loser's Lament- Inspired by when I first started listening to Hank Williams. Trying to write the saddest song I could dream up. I love the sad ones. I used to walk into Broadway honky tonks in Nashville just to see who could do the song that would break my heart. Yeah, I know...I have a strange idea of what a good time is.
Fiddler Jones- Inspired by a character in Edgar Lee Master's book, Spoon River Anthology. Brought to my attention back in high school by an English teacher who drew the comparison to the character and myself. It stuck with me for years after. And they thought I wasn't paying attention! Ha! Guess I showed them....
Face In The Gravel- Dedicated to one of my musical heroes, Chris Whitley. I probably attended about 8 or so of his shows back in the day. He left me floored every time. Most of the time, there was hardly anyone else in the place. But he was always gracious with me and took the time to talk with me before or after a show. We'd talk about Howlin' Wolf. The poems of Charles Simic. Before one show, we talked about Townes Van Zandt, and he ended up playing 'Pancho And Lefty'. Which I don't even think was in his normal set. He and his music has meant more to me than I could measure. The influence is just as strong today as it was then. This one is for him.
Shall We Rise- Hmm...somewhat sexual innuendo, lyrically. Jerry Reed used to make things really funky, in kind of a country-boy, mountain-funk kind of way. I still marvel at how he played! I love those rhythms of Jimmy Nolen from James Brown's band, too. And of course, all the Staxx guys. All that adds up to me making music like this I guess. This is a fun one to play live.
My Last Breath- Part wrestle with the Devil...part dealing with people in life who leave you for dead at your most vulnerable. Probably my heaviest lyrics. Love the melody. Played with the slide guitar of course.
Jesus, Walk With Me- Since my first record, it is indeed my 'rule' to have at least one gospel tune per record. Musically inspired by Doc Watson. Lyrically, of course, dedicated to Him.
About The Songs- 'Of The Dust'
Dust Prelude- Just a little lo-fi intro to the album to set the pace, before it goes to a little more hi-fi. This and the last song on the album were recorded on an early 1900's Edison recording machine at Martin Fisher's house in Nashville. I met him at the Uncle Dave Macon Days festival where he was demonstrating this machine. You basically play into a megaphone and a spinning cylinder records it. I was just mesmerized by it! I grab opportunities to do things the 'old way' as long as budget and time permit.
Let The Weeds Grow 'Round My Gravestone- In these times, it was crucial for this song to open up the album. A theme that's always been relevant. Now more than ever. Lyrically inspired by the Gospels and Revelation. No doubt the first time I used a third person narrative for the verses, and switched to a first person narrative for the chorus. Musically, I was thinking Blind Willie Johnson, Son House and probably Chris Whitley. Blind Willie's music is just bone-chilling. This song is a visceral wake up call. And makes no apologies.
Watchin' The Train Roll Slow- For me, this song is like Hank Williams meets Norman Blake. My grandparent's house, which I deeply loved staying at on the weekends as a kid, was right next to a railroad station. And it served as the scene from which to draw and write from. But the song goes quite a bit deeper than that. I love train songs anyway.
Sweet Country Girl- Originally written when I was...21 maybe? I always liked the tune, but it suffered from a few weak lines. So I did a partial overhaul on some of the lyrics. Tried to save it from some of the soft rhyme crap that was doggin' it. Despite it's cliched title, I like where the story went.
Walkin' Through The Park- A blues tune that I had without words, FOREVER. I knew I didn't want to go down the typical,weak story line, blues road again. Great blues songs are so much better than that. Blues used to have poetic element to them in the early days, even in its simplicity. Not just about hotshot playing. Anyway, it was worth the wait for me. Very proud how it turned out.
No Gold Beneath The Blues- Written for a 'Nashville institution', my friend Mandolin Mike who's a busker/street musician. He's always intrigued me. Someone who took the chance to make music their livelihood that way. No financial backing. Just pure faith and the kindness of friends and strangers who really appreciate what he does. Keeping old time music alive on the streets. When Gruhn's Guitars used to be on Broadway in Nashville, I grabbed a guitar off the wall, he grabbed an old mandolin, and we played this song together. I think he dug it. I know I did!
Freedom Hills- Maybe not so intentional in the early stage of writing it, I really hear my Townes Van Zandt influence coming to light on this one. I remember it being 'born' while I was driving the hills of North Freedom, Wisconsin. Which is just a beautiful part of the state. And a story grew from that. Ya gotta love the sadness of those minor keys. I thought this was going to be the hardest song to record. We got done with the first take, and Anderson said 'we ain't changing a thing. We got it.' You never know, I guess.
Blurring Tail Lights- The melody came to me after noodling around on my National guitar when I first got it, working out the new tuning of the instrument for me and using the slide. I just wanted the song to touch anyone who ever felt abandoned. That emptiness and alone-ness one can feel. No matter the situation.
Lone Ride- Starting to close the album on a more peaceful vibe, you might say. Another simple melody that didn't have the right words for a long time. Not too many songs out there name dropping Aaron Copland out there either I reckon...so I thought, why not? I like the imagery to this one. Another ride off in to the sunset. A little salvation in the breeze.
The Ash And Dust Rag- And we end it on a little banjo pickin' number here. I had received this banjo as a very nice gift from an old neighbor friend of mine, who
built it himself. It was quite an honor to receive an instrument, thats for sure. I hope to do more with it in the future.
About The Songs- Blood In The Inkwell
Desperate Kind- This song from the get-go, perfectly describes the mood going into making this record. Meant to pickup where the Of The Dust album left off, it was the feeling of going for broke. Almost a feeling of a last stand. That in between stage of trying to decide to hold on or give up a dream completely. Which seemed very real this time. With the line, "Lost in a city that'll never remember my name....." Time will tell I reckon.
Wayside- Sort of a travelin', on the road, past is never far behind type of song. This is one I've had for a long time. I edited some of the lyrics and tried to strengthen the melody. It was nice to break out the electric guitar for this one. And Randy Kohrs, who played the slide parts, totally let the lyrics dictate what he would play. That's attention to details folks. That's what great producers do. We ended up with kind of Dire Straits meets Jackson Browne with a hint of CCR kind of sound. Some wonderful bass playing by Jay Weaver locking in with Rich Bradford on the drums. Glad to have this tune back in the lineup, and glad I didn't give up on it!
Thompsons and Terraplanes (Poor Johnnie D.) - I read a book on John Dillinger, by Dary Matera, which is an absolute page turner, shortly after getting to see some of the filming of the movie,Public Enemies, when I was still living in Wisconsin. I totally lose myself in the history of the 1930's. So musically you can hear the influence of Son House or Blind Willie Johnson. We also were blessed to have harmonica legend, Buddy Greene grace the track. What an honor! We had a lot of fun tracking this one. Buddy told me he doesn't get to play blues like this very often, and I was more than happy to oblige! Surprisingly, the song didn't take long to write at all.
Dreams Fall Hard- I started writing poetry about 5 years ago, not only as stand alone pieces, but to help my own songwriting, and let the two interact from time to time. And this is the first one on the album that started life as a poem. Initially, I had given the words to a friend to write the melody, but it just got lost in the shuffle. So I wrote the music myself. I don't write many love songs, per se, but I like how the tune drifts through the seasons. I recorded this song live in the studio with my friend and sometimes live sideman, Mike Kaiser, who played the lead parts.
Stuck Outside Barstow- Usually, I like to read poets and authors who I could imagine having a cup of coffee and conversation with. I think Hunter S Thompson may defy that idea a bit, but I really loved the book and movie of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. Can't think of any bluegrass-y songs that are about him out there...and I like to look where no one else might be, I guess. Also, his suicide note influenced some of the words and lines here. Initially, I contacted a well know artist who knew Hunter, to duet with me on this, but the request was ignored. So Randy Kohrs stepped in and of course, knocked it outta the park.
Stonebank Prayer- Another poem turned to song. The outright gospel tune on this album. And another that was recorded live, which to me, adds a certain fragility in feel and mood. And rightfully so. I love being inspired by port towns, boats, just life by waters in general. Ironically soothing when you feel like your 'sinking'. Let the 'Lighthouse find you there'.....
Why Can't I Mean Anything To You?- This song just took off in the studio! The interplay of Randy Kohrs on Dobro and Tim Crouch on the twin fiddles, is so funky and groovy. This perfect combination of country and blues. All topped off by duetting with one of my songwriting heroes, Mr. Jim Lauderdale. Amazingly, Jim was on his way to the throat doctor because of some issues, when he came in and just added the extra magic to this song. And Jim mentioned as he was recording this how good the song was. Which left me in awe and pretty well, speechless. Getting to work with him was a dream come true for me. Huge respect for him.
Never Meant To Run- I heard this story when I was in grade school, and have never been able to track down the orgin of it. So I took some liberties with it. Made it about a Confederate soldier who was wrongfully accused of desertion, in the heat of battle and being overrun. So he's pondering life as he's on the gallows. Mike Sumner of Lauderdale's band came in and added some really nice banjo drive here. And as they say, it ain't bluegrass without banjo. Fun song to play live too.
Glory- Another song I've had for a really long time and wanted to bring back to life. So it got a similar treatment as Wayside with the musical and lyrical editing. More spiritual undertones to the lyrics here. The plea of 'show me all sufferin' ain't for nothin', is still as heavy to me as when I wrote it, though I wasn't thinking of myself at all, when it was written. A dear friend of mine gave me a tremolo pedal which you hear on the intro, and Kohrs yet again, played some beautiful slide with some awesome harmonies.
Summer Serenade- And the third song to come from a poem. I really want people to take away what they will from it. There's lots there to ponder about. I think the poetic influences of some of my favorite writers really converge on this. Frost, Townes, Guy Clark, Chris Whitley, even Raymond Carver. Kohrs said this might be the 'vibey-ist' song I've ever written and said it might be his favorite track on the album. I feel it was a good one to end on.