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February 2006 Musings:

Closer, at Last

It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since I wrote a Musing – but considering what I’ve packed into the last couple of years it’s not so surprising. The teaching alone has kept me busy – my classes have grown so that I’m now teaching 3 days a week, 7 classes in all. This spring I will celebrate a complete round of the 9 collections that comprise the Music Together repertoire – which means I’ve been teaching a full 3 years. On top of that – and parenting a high school senior through the college application process – I’ve taken on, and finally completed, a huge recording project.

Ever since I began reciting poems during my concerts, folks have been asking me if I had them recorded. And of course I had to say no. In 2001 I put together my Moon of Ripe Berries poetry chapbook, which is now in its second printing – with my younger daughter Maggie doing the assembling and hand-stitching this time. But nothing was represented on my recordings. So in 2004 I decided to remedy that situation. I invited Anand Nayak, guitarist, singer/songwriter, and member of the wonderful eclectic band Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem, to produce the album with me. Together we began what would become a year and a half long project, recording 22 tracks of songs, poems, and instrumentals.

And now it’s finished at last. Closer will be officially released on April 18 on Waterbug Records, but advance copies are available now by phone and website and at concerts. I’ve known Andrew Calhoun, creator and head of Waterbug, for years, and known his music for much longer, and have the utmost respect for him - and for the artists he’s chosen to represent on his artist-cooperative label. So I’m thrilled to be joining their ranks with this recording. Closer consists of 10 songs, 10 poems, and two original banjo tunes. All the poems, the tunes, and most of the songs, are my own compositions. In addition, I’ve recorded a version of Harry Woods’ 1926 song “Red Red Robin,” Patty Griffin’s “Making Pies,” and Cheryl Wheeler’s “His Hometown.”

Here’s a complete track list:

  1. Spring!
  2. Red Red Robin
  3. The Creek
  4. Susquehanna
  5. Making Pies
  6. Precipice
  7. Step Into the Water
  8. Astilbe
  9. Blood Red the Stain
  10. Journey’s End
  11. Someone to Come Home To
  12. Holiday
  13. Gone but not Forgotten
  14. Glance in a Mirror
  15. Where?
  16. Bells of May Street
  17. Shiny White-Toed Hightops
  18. All the Pretty Birds
  19. His Hometown
  20. I Wrest My Joy
  21. Blessed
  22. Hanging Up the Snowshoes

You may notice that both “Step Into the Water” and “Blessed” are re-recordings of older songs. They found their way into this collection in connection with particular poems, and they’ve both received new treatments in line with the arrangements on this particular recording. I’m particularly happy with the new version of Blessed – which you’ll also find on the new Waterbug sampler, Born Into the Whisper. Anand had been coming up with some great ideas for song arrangements. But when he pulled out his resophonic guitar on Blessed I was rather taken aback – until I heard how amazing it sounds on the song. And Keith Murphy (of Nightingale fame, awesome musician) sings harmonies on it.

You’ll hear Anand all over the album, actually, playing all manner of acoustic and electric guitars and basses, mandolin, banjo, harmony vocals, and even shaker on an otherwise a capella track. Keith sings harmony on a number of songs, and plays a lovely piano part on “Someone to Come Home To.” Rani Arbo herself plays fiddle on a few songs, and Scott Kessel, percussionist for daisy mayhem, provides the percussion, including his offbeat (oops, bad term for a drummer’s equipment) Drumship Enterprise and much more. Rose Sinclair, who has recorded with me before on Leaving Fort Knox, plays accordion. Dana Robinson makes an appearance on a couple of songs on guitar and banjo, as does Larry Unger, playing a second banjo part on my two original banjo tunes.

One interesting note: there are actually five people playing banjo on this recording. Can that be right? Let’s see, there’s me, playing most of it, three songs and two tunes worth. Larry plays on the two tunes, Dana on one song, and Anand on another. Nope, that’s just four of us. But for all of you who’ve been asking me for banjo on a recording, there’s banjo all over the place, that’s for sure.

Warmly, Lui