"Every Day for Me Is the 4th of July"
Writing usually follows a good read. I wrote this song in July of 2002 after having the pleasure of reading the biography, John Adams by the eminent American historian, David McCullough. I learned so much, especially about the special relationship between those two giants, Adams and Jefferson, once close friends who collaborated in the writing of our seminal document, "The Declaration of Independence," then enemies of a sort as they were in opposite political parties, fighting bitterly over matters of principle at the beginnings of our great republic, then finally friends again in the twilight of their careers. I cannot doubt that Our Lord's Blessed Hand touched America when Adams and Jefferson both died within a few short hours of each other, Adams at 90 and Jefferson at 83, both so crucial to our founding, both authors (though Jefferson the major author) of "The Declaration," both presidents of our country, and both breathing their last breath on the 50th anniversary of the signing of that august document, on July 4th 1826--I cannot doubt the Touch of Our Lord!
"I'll Be There"
Dennis Prager, whom I sometimes call "my Rabbi," wondered while broadcasting on his radio show after the massacre on September 11, 2001, Where was the Lord? and how did He reach those suffering that day? This song is my humble effort to make a reply; however, it was written in two stages: a period right after the horror, and a period much later. In fact, I had the two verses and the chorus right away, but did not have the bridge until years later. Furthermore, because I did not record the original version, I was compelled to rewrite the music, somehow. So this song is a patchwork over two different periods. I hope that it holds together aesthetically. The listener will judge.
"The Yellow Rose of Texas"
This classic American folk song, a marching song of the Confederacy, has been recorded many times over the years. I borrowed the style of Hoyt Axton to perform it here, but I also do some special Steve the Balladeer arranging, especially my whistle. In preparing to record "Yellow Rose," I did some research to uncover the references. Before the Civil War and in connection with the Texas War of Independence, the song was not about a "soldier" at all, but about a "darky," the Yellow Rose herself being a mulatto. But during the Civil War and especially by the Texans, the song was adapted for the soldiers. The last verse is very somber and was itself added later, or so it seems, since it does not fit thematically--which is why I have changed it from the Major to the Minor key. Here is that part of the story: It is really about the defeats and the failures of the Confederate forces. "Uncle Joe" is Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston who was heavily criticized for Vicksburg and then relieved of command during the Atlanta Campaign. The man who relieved him was Gen. John Bell Hood who himself led his forces into a decisive defeat at the Battle of Tennessee ("He played hell in Tennessee"), and after whom Fort Hood in Texas is named---famous now for the massacre (Nov. 5, 2009) by Army psychiatrist and Muslim jihadist Nidal Hasan. Generals Beauregard and of course Robert E. Lee (who both had some success) are also named; nevertheless, the last verse resonates with a deep sadness.
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
This song, written by Julia Ward Howe in 1861 and first published in 1862, is so well-known that it needs little comment. Another Civil War marching song, this one for the Union, "Battle Hymn" is replete with references that link the meaning of the struggle with the Bible. So many have recorded this wonderful hymn; I hope you will enjoy my rendition.
"No Greater Love: The Fields of Pennsylvania"
Like "I'll Be There," "No Greater Love" is another song that I wrote over two periods of time: the first verse and the chorus came to me immediately in December of 2003; then the song lay dormant. I had no idea what to say next. When I write, I write alone. Sometimes I wish that I had a songwriting partner so that I might sit with someone and together work out "where to go next" when I get stuck. But it worked for the best. I did figure out what I wanted to say. The theme of sacrifice in Pennsylvania was there all along, I just had to rediscover it! Valley Forge, Gettysburg, and Stoney Creek, the crash site of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001; these are all forges of the American Character where We Are Free in large measure because some gave the ultimate sacrifice. May Our Lord rest their souls and grace their families!
"On the Liberty Bell"
I have learned so much from "my Rabbi," Dennis Prager. One wonderful morsel is about our Liberty Bell. On it is written this verse from the book of Leviticus: 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." Via Dennis I have come to see how our Founding Fathers, these Christians! saw themselves as "the new Jews" fleeing the slavery of Europe for the liberty of America! So at the Easter Sunday Mass in April of 2011, there I was meditating on the meaning of Passover and Easter, liberation from slavery, and victory over death. As soon as I came home, I began to write this song. It took a while to get her done, but the meaning of America is already in Moses and in Jesus! By the way, the line, "And every slave shall be our brother," is meant to echo my father's favorite verse (the rarely-sung second verse) of "O Holy Night": "Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother." I miss you so much, dad! I'll see you in heaven!
Speaking of my father, "Danny Boy" was his favorite song. I only wish he could be here to enjoy me sing it.
"Johnny Comes Marching Home"
Both the South and the North sang this song for returning soldiers of the Civil War. So this is my third Civil War song on this CD, but this one I perform with a marked difference from any other version you may have heard. I fingerpick and vary the rhythm between chord changes in unexpected ways, but I do this in order to emphasize the reversal of the mood. Ostensibly a song that welcomes home the warrior with roses and happy shouts, "The old church bell will peal with joy," in my version a darkness, a melancholy sets in as the warrior returns home. It is not Huzzah! or Hurrah! Instead it is "Hurruh, Hurruh" which pulls down, down with each repetition. The lyric says "we'll all feel gay," but the feeling just is not there. Something is missing. Perhaps Johnny has returned home just a shadow of the man he was before the war.
"The Star-Spangled Banner"
Very few people even know that there is more than just the first verse to this wonderful hymn, our National Anthem! I chose the fourth verse to sing with the first because it rounds out the song, finalizes it. Note also that I have shifted the song from its standard time-signature, from ¾ to 4/4. This works with my fingerpicking and gives it the country style that I wanted the song to have, while not moving the anthem from its original passions and mooring.
"Stars and Stripes Forever"
No other instruments here, just my lips and tongue! whistling a very difficult song, the one commonly known as John Philip Sousa's greatest march. Ten years ago, my wife and I were on vacation one 4th of July, and standing on the banister of our hotel, watching fireworks in the distance, I began to whistle "Stars and Stripes Forever," only vaguely aware that others were around who might hear. When I'd finished, they broke into applause. I was really surprised. Hope you'll like it too! May God bless you, and may God Bless Our America!
Steve, the Balladeer