The songs collected under the title “Ballads in Praise of the Muse” are, in general, less “worldly” or more inward-looking than the songs of my first collection, “Romance and Sorrow.”
“My Slumbering Heart” (2000) is an upbeat song with white-hot whistling on the form of the verse, and with intense harmony. It tells the tale of the magic of a woman’s love to transform male lethargy back into power. A simple organic bass and conga powerfully drives the rhythm--thanks to Gabe Lopez!
“I Want the Fire” (1997) has a strong religious allegory pushing through the lyric: “And I feel His Blood living in me.” But the song is full of longing for the fullness of the Fire, the Air, the Water, and the Earth because that fullness is utterly elusive. Melody, Harmony, Balance, Lyricism, and Rhythm, all attempt to compensate for the absence of the fullness of the Fire.
“When We Parted on the Platform” (1994) is the first version of a song that reappears later as “When We Parted at the Depot” (2000) -- proving that I do not make a fetish of my songs! In revising my first song, I hope that I am like the great Bruce Hornsby whose brilliant song “Mandolin Rain” (1987) he completely revised musically and released again with Ricky Skaggs in 2007. “Platform” carries the emotion of longing to intensity not only through the lyric, but also through my harmony and whistle, and through Gabe’s complementary bass and accordion.
“Knowing” is interposed between “When We Parted on the Platform” and “When We Parted at the Depot.” “Knowing” is a song that I originally wrote as a poem in 1990 and decided to see if I could write some music for it, which I did in 1996. Is there a voice, a “beast” within each man, a secret self that only he knows and that he dare not reveal? The lover may know the answer.
“When We Parted at the Depot” (2000) uses MOST (but not all) of the lyrics of “Platform.” The differences are subtle. The stronger differences are in tempo, key, and time-signature. These differences combine to make a completely new and different song! though the lyrics are substantially the same. The listener may favor one over the other. I challenge the listener to decide which song is STRONGER, and why. Tweet me and tell me why!! Actually, I like ‘em both!!
“I Will See You in Jerusalem” (1994) is a song inspired by the stunning beauty of the Holy City of Jerusalem where I once fell in love with a most beautiful woman. I look back upon those days. Inspired by the memory of “a quest for heaven,” the song, sweeps along in melodic three-part harmony, gliding and rising, to the fulfill the quest again in a song.
“Hamlet at the Graveside” (1994) may be my most audacious song. The listener will judge. In Hamlet Shakespeare’s longest play, the Bard does not have the time, the luxury to allow his tragic-hero to dwell upon his sadness, his grief over the loss of his beloved Ophelia. Shakespeare must hurry to the end of his play; it’s “too long” already, and there’s so much more that must be accomplished in the little dramatic time that is left to his hero. So Shakespeare leaves off any moment for Hamlet to tell us of his love for Ophelia who has died while Hamlet was gone from Elsinore. (He was to have been executed in England upon the orders of his arch-enemy, the present king, Claudius who murdered his father, Hamlet the Elder.) So in “Hamlet at the Graveside” I’ve decided to do what Shakespeare set aside: the story of Hamlet’s grief at the loss of his beloved Ophelia. Audacious? Maybe. I hope you’ll like the song!
“Tell Me That You Love Me” (2000) is a song that I wrote for a young lady to sing. It’s a song about a girl in the throes of her first real love and trying to do it right! She’s with her lover, speaking to him, telling him of the lessons taught her by her father when she was young, and by her mother when she was a bit older. She wants so much for this young man to protect her, not abuse her. This is moral passion!
“The Ballad of the Thorn and the Rose” (1996) returns us to Shakespeare and to Dante, classic genius of the Italian Renaissance. I briefly dated a lady named “Thorn” who thought she was really sharp, but I thought she was a softy. Thus this song about Romeo’s Juliet, Hamlet’s Ophelia, and Dante’s Beatrice, all classic heroines who lead their heroes to visions of beauty through their associations with “the Rose.”
“Barbrie Allen” (1990) I wrote in a library. I took a break from my PhD research to study several versions of the traditional ballad, “Barbara Allen.” When I had intuited the song in its many various forms, I closed the books and wrote my own lyrical version of the ballad. Then I went and created my own original music for the new lyrical ballad. My version is so original (with its own copyright) that my lyrics transcend the original storyline, creating a deeper sense of what really happens between the two ill-fated lovers--all the while carried along by the highly original melody that I’ve written. Gabe Lopez carries the song beautifully with harp, fife, and fiddle.
“The Light of God” (2000) takes us back closer to the experience of religion; I’m never far from it! In this song, it is religion experienced through the beauty of a woman, Ahhh!! “The Light of God shines in your eyes,” I sing, as Gabe’s Hammond organ brings us into the chapel of divine love.
“Shangri-La” (1998) is another upbeat song, a pop song about “our Promised Land” where the two lovers can be one: “In a land where the water falls pure and clean.” The beat drives, the lead vocal rises high, and the harmony blends, while Gabe’s Hammond organ rips.
“Souvenirs” is a song that I first wrote in 1971, but revised in 1987, 1995, and again in 2011 for this project, by removing a bridge. Who knows, I might revise it again! It is a gentle, lilting song of loss and longing, of memory that holds on to a golden moment in the past: “her warm voice relaxing me / Like water from a stream.” Melody and Gabe’s piccolo carry this song. But can a song I first wrote in 1971 be worthy of a life this long?
“You Set My Spirit Free” (1994) is the only song on this collection on which I use finger-picking style on the guitar, as opposed to strumming. This song comes as close as a song can come to being a poem, without being a poem. The intense harmony carries the extravagance of the dream. The two lovers are one, only for a moment, then, on a mountain top, he is set free. In our gorgeous English language, “set” can be present tense, or past, or past participle. So the time of the moment is unsure, now? then? when? The cruelty of the muse who inspires the poet to such raptures is part of the theme of the song and of this collection of songs. To be “set free” is both wondrous and painful.
“Solitude” (1975) is a song that reflects on the meaning of attitudes towards life upon love-rejected, within the context of future time, gazing at the past: “This time next year, / If I’m still here, / I’ll touch the flower blooms, / And remember you, / The one I drove away, / On one warm sunny summer day.” The singer knows that his passion will never die; it’s all he has and the light of night; yet it’s the source of his pain. Gabe’s splendid piano accents my harmony beautifully.
“Salty Tears” (1999), believe it or not, is a song that I’d completely forgotten about, and only remembered when I found some old cassette tapes in the process of preparing to make this CD. I decided that the song was good enough to record. What do you think? Was I right? Thematically similar to other songs here, the singer sees the loss of his lover and tries to come to grips with it, but the past and the future are both obstacles, the Scylla and Charybdis of his passionate soul.
“Coda: Throstle’s Reply” (1976/77) I wrote while a student of British Romantic Poetry. All of the great Romantics, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats had a huge influence upon my way of seeing. But it might have been Keats’s stunningly beautiful “Ode to a Nightingale” which caused me to want to whistle with the courtesy of a bird.
I hasten to add that all of the parts here were “sculpted” by the excellent musical ear of my producer, John Deaver. He arranged all the musical parts, including my harmony parts! And he made sure of the precision in all of the musical lines, their timing, their harmony, and their aesthetic quality, communicating closely always with Gabe Lopez and myself, as we three collaborated to put these songs into “Ballads in Praise of the Muse.”