This song is a response to a story about some self-styled conceptual artists who "punked" a struggling tri-state area band. They got a crowd to pose as fans and fake a stupendous audience reception at one of the band's gigs - then disappear. Make their aspirations come true, then yank it away with a "not really." Guess the perpetrators needed to feel superior.
Let Me Fly
Expansive ballad, channeling the spirit of early 70's James Taylor/Carole King interplay on guitar and keys. The D-28 is used for the main guitar track and the solo. The backing vocals are, again, me x 9.
Crying on the ground is wrong (a little shout out to everybody who remembers Buffalo Springfield).
Walk This Burden Down
This song was written for a close friend going through a bad time. I had been using alternate guitar tunings since the early 70's; in the early 90's my multi-instrumentalist friend Marc Burroughs got me into Pierre Bensusan's music, and I checked out DADGAD.
At first I couldn't seem to do much with it. As a matter of fact, I ended up adapting Pierre's version of the O'Carolan harp tune "Si Bhig Si Mhor" to standard/dropped D, because the DADGAD thing wasn't happening for me. At some point something clicked and a bunch of songs came, including this one. While working on the bridge, I had the Bensusan version of Phil Coulter's "The Town That I Loved So Well" in mind (from the first PB album, Près de Paris). Marc Burroughs is featured on mandolin here, with Janet Curci on vocals.
A guitar driven track with band that surveys the cultural landscape and conspiratorially invites you along for the ride. I used the D-28 for both the left speaker finger-style guitar and the right side track, which is played with a pick. The background vocals are me recorded 9 times.
An aggressive little folk rock number with electric guitar from Dwayne McCobb. Although it's the opening track on Freestyle, it was recorded last. It showed up pretty much all at once and was fun to write. Grab your espresso, it's open mic at the Existential Café.
Just a little tune about my Martin D-28 guitar. It's true, I did find it in the fall of '83 - at Musik Alexander in Mainz, (then West) Germany.
A tune for my friends at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, where I was the "sound man" for a few years. They were good to me. Musically it's inspired by two of my favorite guitarists, Pierre Bensusan and Jim Earp. Guitar instrumental with band instrumentation; the tuning is DADGAD, and the guitar is a Lowden 0-25c.
Waiting for a Train
This track is slow, somnambulistic, atmospheric. It's built around a dream image I couldn't get out of my head. Acoustic guitar, electric slide guitar, piano, organ, weather. Everything is now.
It started with what became the "every empire" chorus. That was around for a while before there was a song to put it in. When the verses showed up, open and less busy, the two parts fit together as a contrast. My songs tend to be chord-heavy - I like a lot of artists who put slick changes in their music. The verse here had enough space for sounds to populate, though I was surprised when it started reminding me of the Vangelis soundtrack to Bladerunner.
Long Ride in the Shadow
Kind of a bluesy groove with lots of guitar - both acoustic and electric. Dwayne McCobb and I traded off on the Strat, but the really smokin' licks are his. Sound effects and atmosphere contribute to a sort of spooky sundown vibe around images from the 23rd Psalm.
Dexter had more or less complete lyrics before there was a tune - not so typical for me. It's a little sketch of a guy who gets in trouble for not going along with all of the approved categories and perceptions, who questions authority but has a true north. (It's not a reference to the TV show Dexter, and was written several years before the advent of the Bay Harbor Butcher.) One thing I remember about this song was that the structure was sponaneously changed during a performance, when I went to a wrong chord that took me to a different part of the song. I liked it and ended up recording it that way.
Friends of Mine
Music seemed to be going through an attack of poser-itus. Corporate takeovers and lip-sync scandals. I read a quote from some guy who said "you can teach anyone to play an instrument, but you can't teach them to look right." I'm pretty sure that's an exact quote. Anyway, around that time this song sort of... happened. Dwayne McCobb plays great guitar here - it's my favorite recording of us playing together. Doug Lawrence wails on Blues Harp.
Mystery of Faith
A moment of breaking free, and into something bigger - wrapped in 4 minutes and 15 seconds of acoustic strum-pop. This song was recorded with the '53 000-18 in open D tuning. It was originally used on the Wisecrackin' cassette, but was then remixed for inclusion on the Forbidden Anthems CD. Anthems is essentially a compilation of the Wisecrackin' and Dance Beyond Nature projects - using all the songs but one from the latter and 7 remixes from the former.
This song developed around a rhythmic right-hand guitar figure, à la Bruce Cockburn. As a matter of fact, the sonic palette here is very akin to his Charity of Night record: acoustic guitar, ambient snare, upright bass. No vibes on this track though. (Damn - that's what I forgot.)
Will You Remember This
A repeating chord/bass-line figure on guitar interlocks with other parts of this track in a sort of hypnotic groove. A feeling that suggests the state of mind experienced by the person in the song. Acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums, organ, call and response vocal. Bells. Written while still living in Germany, on Keith Duncan's Les Paul. Some songs arrive unexpectedly and immediately feel like the beginning of something new. This one did.
This is a simple track - just vocal and acoustic guitar. The title says it all. Standard tuning, finger-picking, howling at the moon.
Forbidden Anthems has a lot of drop-D thrasher tunes, and this is another one. Sometimes I like that 6th string slammin’.
Obsession with winners and the worship of success (suc cess, as Graham Parker once put it) is what’s personified here. I forget what I was reading that connected the image of Kali to might-makes-right ideologies of the recent past, the ‘twisted crosses.’
I didn’t have an informed picture of Kali in the full nuance and variety of Hindu tradition or Indian culture, and was relying on Western impressions (as in the Help! and Temple of Doom movies). It turns out she is much more complicated - identified as a goddess of time, associated with death, but also with liberation and the destruction of evil.
But in any case it wasn’t my intent to put down someone else’s cultural icon. It’s not Kali as reality of time, death, and change I’m attacking, but rather the use of these by some to justify their lust for power.
This is an open-tuning DADGAD song with a groove that feels a bit reggae, though the backing vocals take it towards Brazil. It was written before the turn of the millenium, and recorded shortly thereafter. Maybe I was thinking about the (brilliant) Prefab Sprout tune "Carnival 2000" - though it doesn't sound like it much. The background vocals are Janet Curci, Jim Earp, and I singing on one mic and recorded three times. Jim and Janet exhibited exceptional patience during that session, because (due to lack of planning) I ran out of tracks and had to learn on the fly how to bounce tracks internally on the digital deck I was using - while they waited. I hope they think it was worth it...!
World of Kings
This song ended up sort of Glam/Grunge-Alternative, but it started out more like early R.E.M. It was part of the "Wisecrackin'" cassette project I recorded prior to the "Forbidden Anthems" disc; it has not been previously released on CD. It's about the condition of isolation and loneliness, and the question of whether we like it that way.
Apostles to the Hip
I wrote myself into a corner on this song - those it's directed at either won't get it or won't like it, and nobody else will identify. Way to go on that instant relatability and universality, eh? But some songs just need to be written. The lyrics are not explicit, but to me they ring true and the track feels right. So here it is. The background vocal chorus is comprised of Tom Petersen, Jim Earp, Janet Curci, and myself. Save what you can carry.
Looking at the Morning Star
A contemplative ballad built on a finger-picked guitar figure, piano lines weaving in and out. The song was written for the Dance Beyond Nature project, most of which was incorporated into The Forbidden Anthems. As far as the guitar is concerned, I think I had at the back of my mind songs like "Don't Feel Your Touch" or "Pangs of Love" from Bruce Cockburn's Big Circumstance. The recording has a bit of that mid/late 80's sound. One of the lines from this song - "On the morning star, straight lines describe no curve" - would be expanded on in a later song, "Curved Space."
"The Mountains" was one of the songs that made me think it was time to start recording again. Tim Finn's "Underwater Mountain" was part of the impetus - I got such a strong feeling from it. "Change Town" was already there, and when "Drive" and "Waiting for a Train" showed up, I had a few tunes I thought would go well together on a record. Dwayne McCobb and I had a version of "The Mountains" worked up when we were playing out as a duo. It was written (and performed at the time) on a Martin D-28. But the recording uses the Lowden O-25c for the rhythm parts. Like the Waterboys before me, I borrowed an image from C.S. Lewis - in this case from the last chapter of The Great Divorce.
When Love Turns Back
Here’s a song that pays off, but you have to let it do its thing. Supported by a distant guitar, the verse winds a snaky path toward you-know-not-whither – until it gets there. I'm struck now by the vocal texture Janet Curci and I got on the choruses. And then there is Dwayne McCobb. He absolutely kills on the instrumental break, and then lends touches that lift the track to a new level. Though “Friends of Mine” is my favorite recording of us for back-and-forth interaction, I think this is Dwayne’s most inspired playing on any of my tunes; and the track really seems to jell around it. It was definitely fun to record.
The Tree the World Is Hung Upon
This song is the counterpart to "Wrong," though it was written long before. Dwayne McCobb plays lead on the ending. The rhythm guitar part in the left speaker (Martin D-28) actually has a couple of "overs," i.e., spots where the signal was too hot and distorted the recorder - a big no-no on digital. But I let it squeak by because, as they say, that take had the spook. The right-hand rhythm part is the Lowden.
“Somehow” is a folky tune that ended up with some out of the way chords and a funky bottom end. It was written one morning after a night of disturbing dreams, on a newly acquired ’53 Martin 000-18 (the high E string dropped to D). The ending came about after the tracks were recorded, when I got on a roll with various keyboards and modules. I kept finding sound after sound that seemed to fit – and I pretty much used them all.
"Heart's Desire" goes back a ways. My recordings were starting to sound a little more like records and less like demos. This one went in a jangly power-pop direction, with guitar melodies and a punchy feel. This was also the first time I got Dwayne McCobb to play some lead guitar. He overdubbed his part on the outro, and the song suddenly got a Stones-y slam. I should have mixed him way up.
Change Town is an uptempo/ambient bash-fest about breaking destructive patterns of repetition. It was the first song to be worked on for the Box of Lightning project, written before all of the other songs but one. The Lowden and the Strat handle the guitar work.
Benediction looks back the the loss of a family member, alternating sections of DADGAD fingerstyle guitar with big beat choruses. It closes the Freestyle CD; but because it’s linked to a hidden track, I had to go back to the original mix to make a version for posting. While I was at it, I did a little tidying up - hence the “remaster.”
The Road from Eden
Janet Curci and I had a live arrangement of The Road from Eden, which was a favorite of hers. It was fun re-creating the 80’s pop feel and synth figure with two acoustic guitars.
One notable part of recording "Eden" was Jim Earp’s lead guitar. After overdubbing his melodic Strat solo on the middle 8 (actually 9), we decided the outro needed some too. It was going to be a “play out until fade” type of thing. But his guitar work fit the song so well and added so much to the track that I just couldn’t fade it. Instead, I kept it all and extended the rhythm section and keyboard parts beyond the track’s original end point so that there would be something to fade. I think we got away with it!
Don't Borrow Trouble
Around 1 AM one night I was putting my guitar away when out popped a little syncopated chord-riff. I played it into the computer so I’d remember it; it was the verse of “Don’t Borrow Trouble.” The song ended up with kind of sandwich structure unusual for me - two choruses with a verse in the middle. In writing the lyrics I remembered a pastor who had warned his congregation: “Don’t ask for trials, because you’ll get them.” I’ve since found out you also get them if you don’t ask.
All Heaven Breaks Loose
I find myself in a David-Wilcox-ish mode here. The Freestyle CD came from the period when I was most connected to the San Diego acoustic scene - and there was much admiration for Mr. Wilcox. The song makes a virtue of the insecurity/egomania coin we “artistes” all have in our pockets. As a line from a Stars Wars prequel goes, there’s “always a bigger fish.” Good to remember.
Check out the electric piano sound on this tune, which is really an analog synth. The trombone patch is not bad either, considering its humble origin. The guitar is my D-28.
One Two Three
An angsty twenty-something psycho-pop ditty recorded in the mid-eighties, but which sounds more like the late 70’s post-punk pub-rock records that inspired it. “One Two Three” came about while living in Germany. This recording was made after moving back to SoCal and was included in a cassette release of my first solo music. It features the debut of my then new Fender Stratocaster. We also have rhythm guitar doubling here from a Gibson ES-125 played acoustic - and thanks to Tom Petersen for the use of his P-Bass!
The Way We Love
The idea for this song came from the Max Frisch novel Stiller (I’m Not Stiller), which portrays - among other things - a particular strain of co-dependence. The tune sprang up around a riff, which in turn led to interesting changes. The minor-jazz atmospheric vibe was enhanced by a synth patch that saw a lot of use in my tunes. This is a re-make of the original version, which was part of a cassette release back at the dawn of time. (Harmony vocal by Janet Curci.)
“This Train” is named after the folk song, but based on the story “The Tunnel” by the Swiss writer and dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt. I had probably re-read it around the time I was working out the riff. The descending guitar lines, along with the shaker and Doug Lawrence’s fab harmonica playing, make for a chugging little groove. A small salt shaker had the right sound and feel. This track was a step forward in my production technique; but if I had known then what I know now, I could have made it really grab you by the throat.
The guitar riff has a hurried, anticipate-the-beat feel which fits the noir-ish fugitive scenario . Janet Curci sings harmony, and Scott Parrish plays a cool interlocking bass part. This song was originally recorded for the "Five Smooth Stones" cassette. This newer version uses the Lowden acoustic for the rhythm parts.
Time of the Year
Time of the Year popped up one early December afternoon and got played at a gig that night. Until recently it was my only Christmas song. I’ve always had a soft spot for it. It was recorded for the Throes of Irony project back in the day, and I had plans to re-record it. Actually the performance and arrangement sound good to me, it’s just that I have better equipment and could have made a better sounding record. But those plans have had to change now. Time of the Year references the nativity story, but doesn’t re-tell it; it tries to convey a feeling. I hope it comes across.
"Secret Career 87-93" released 8/1/17.
Videos: Walk This Burden Down, Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long, The Way We Love, On 78 East
Songs: The Way We Love, One Two Three, This Train
Images: to the People/Places Gallery
Lyrics/Credits: Secret Career 87-93
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