June 2000 Musings:
Leaving Fort Knox!
It seems like every month when I sit down to write my Musings entry, an overwhelming amount of events have transpired during the month. I don't think I could ever complain of boredom! June, in particular, has been a month of things coming to fruition. Some in my personal life, including my oldest daughter's graduation from high school and the building of a dormer addition on the house where I live at the edge of the woods. But I have to ask myself, how interested are my readers in the fact that we now have a flush toilet? It may be a major milestone for this little Pinocchio house, but now that the construction is completed (it did take up a goodly portion of my energy for a time), I can't see it changing our lives dramatically. After all, I can still go out and use the two-holer any time I want to. But now there may be less inspiration to write the banjo tune I've had in mind entitled "Frost on the Seat."
The grand event in the musical realm is the release of Leaving Fort Knox, produced by my music buddy Dana Robinson. Though it's a solo album, with me singing all the songs, and most written by me, it's been a very collaborative project. We began with semi-regular studio sessions in the fall of 1998, laying down basic tracks a few songs at a time. Gradually we brought in other musicians, including Pete Sutherland and Johnny Cunningham on fiddle, Gideon Freudmann on cello, and Rose Sinclair on accordion, among others. (See the recordings section for a full listing of musicians and songs.) And Dana, as you might hope if you've heard us in concert or on the Paired Down recordings, made major contributions to the tracks, singing harmonies and playing guitar, mandolin, and banjo.
It was a fascinating process recording the songs over such a long period of time. What I really loved about it was that the arrangements grew so organically out of the music that Dana and I were playing together both on and off stage. Dana's and my parts, of course, directly reflect that slow-cooking process, and even the ideas for other musicians' parts came about through our repeated playings of the songs.
Overall, Leaving Fort Knox reminds me more of my second album, Baptism of Fire, than anything I've done since. Although it doesn't have the live tracks that Baptism had, many of the songs were recorded in the studio with a live approach. I recorded almost all basic vocal and instrumental tracks together. And often Dana was putting down an accompaniment part at the same time. One of my favorite sessions was with Andrew Kinsey, recording the basic track to Pat Humphries' song "Swimming to the Other Side" with the three of us standing in a close circle with mics reaching in around us. Dana and I added harmony vocals later, but the core of the song was recorded in that trio session. I love the feel that comes with that live approach, and it was perfect for that song. The duo arrangement of "Won't Miss You Darlin'" was recorded the same way. Another similarity with Baptism of Fire is in the simplicity of the arrangements. With wide spaces between sessions, there was plenty of time to clearly envision the essential ingredients for each song.
Peter and Kathy Lehndorff did the graphic design for the CD. The cover concept came from Dana, who on tour in Maine took a roll of photos of Fort Knox, in Bucksport. He finished up the roll in Northampton, Massachusetts at a place fondly known by locals as the "dead mall." At Peter and Kathy's house, with Kathy's innovative collages and other artwork around us for added inspiration, Dana pieced together various photo images. Peter and Kathy then implemented the ideas, using Dana's photos along with others by Susan Wilson and Robert Tobey, and their own creativity, to bring the graphics to their final manifestation.
Why Leaving Fort Knox? The inspiration for the title song—well, at least part of it—came from an old fort situated at a fork in the Penobscot River in Bucksport, Maine. I actually went on a tour of the fort several years ago, and frequently drive by it on Route 1. There's a beautiful bridge that goes over the Penobscot onto Verona Island. My thanks go to Pete Nelson for naming the song so aptly. And no, it's not the one with the gold.