I recorded this version of Peggy ‘O on my iPhone the other night while practicing for a show in July. It was the first time we tried banjo with it…and I quite liked it. Mark Evans on banjo, Luke Stark on bass, and I on guitar and vocals.
I first heard Peggy ‘O on a recording of the Dead from the seventies. It was one of those moments where I was completely captivated by the combined beauty of the melody, the story, and the way the Grateful Dead wove together the piano, bass and guitars. It was the only song I listened to for at least a week.
Here is a youtube video of a Dead version of Peggy ‘O from the seventies. Not as much piano in this version as the one I fell in love with. But still, you get the sense of what a powerful ballad this was. If you don’t get chills at least once during this performance…well…I’ll get off my Head soapbox now.
Late at night, after the session ends at John Stone’s in Ashland, Mustachio and I usually try to sneak in a bit of practice before they throw us out. One night in February I decided to see if there was enough light in the room to record us running through Farewell to Fiunary. We almost had a near disaster when the waitress came over shortly after recording this to pick up a bunch of empty pint glasses that were sitting on a stool. What she didn’t realize was that pint glasses were sandwiching my iPhone, which was carefully balanced on its edge while recording. This could have been a really expensive video. Fortunately, I was able to leap up in time to catch the phone before it plummeted to the floor…and here is the video that was on it.
On Monday, March 7th, I will be playing a fun selection of shanties and sea ballads at Framingham State College from 1:30pm to 2:15pm. I will be joined with George Arata on bouzouki, Luke Stark on bass and Mark Evans on concertina. In fact you can hear Mark in a recording I posted of him awhile back. Also, you can check out a recording below from one of our practices to get a sense of what we’ll be playing on Monday. We’re really looking forward to it.
Every once in a while a song comes along that you just fall in love with. Farewell to Fiunary is one of those songs that I had actually heard a bunch of times, but never took notice of. Then, suddenly, that changed. I don’t know why, but suddenly I was attracted to it.
Fiunary is in Scottland. The little I know about this song is that it was written by Norman MacLeod who lived between 1783 and 1862.
My version here is really just a demo, recorded very late last night. Really, just trying to figure out vocal phrasing as it fits into the guitar. As simple as the song sounds, some of the phrasing can be a bit tricky. And there are moments where my hands want to do something that my voice doesn’t know how to follow. Nonetheless, I find even this rough version to be enjoyable.
Things have been quiet on baconworks for some time. I feel moderately guilty about that. Especially since there has been a lot of good music in the past year.
For example, in April I spent two evenings with my good friends Mustachio and the White Rabbit recording in a chapel at Framingham State College. They were casual evenings that resulted in a set of recordings that I very much enjoy. One track that I was immediately enamored with was the Rabbit’s version of Amazing Grace.
The night this was recorded I came home and played the track for my wife through a set of headphones. She fell asleep listening to it before the track was finished playing. I then took the headphones off her sleeping head, and put them on mine, hit play… was hypnotized by droniness of the concertina, and fell asleep.
The next evening, being inspired by the recording, I sang Amazing Grace to my boys as I was tucking them into bed. They both fell asleep before I was done singing. I can assure you, this never happens and is a small miracle of sorts. Usually I can’t get them to quit the yackin’.
In the morning I was telling my Wife and children that I thought it was funny, not to mention a bit odd, that all four of us fell asleep to Amazing Grace. My animated son quickly replied, ‘Dad, That’s why it’s amazing’.
So, what does it all mean? I have no idea. But sometimes events happen that just mystify you a bit, you’re not sure why and you can’t let them go.
He was right, it is amazing. This popular song was originally published over two hundred thirty years ago and still has the power to move us. Quite amazing.
Baconworks has been kind of a wreck for a few weeks and, consequently, all the music on this site is in a state of disarray (missing). So, going forward, the music you see on baconworks.com will be hosted at soundcloud.com. You can find my music there as well as here. One cool thing about soundcloud is that you can comment on the music within the music, which is a neat way to pinpoint what you like or don’t like.
Soundcloud also makes it easy to share music that you find and like with others, so don’t be afraid to try out this feature!
It will take a bit of time to get everything moved over to soundcloud so please be patient. But, to get things started, I’ve uploaded a recording of Mustachio and I from early summer. We were just finishing up a recording session with our friend, the White Rabbit, and decided to try this song just for fun.
When I first learned this song I was hesitant to play it because I thought the guitar part sounded cheap. I told Mustachio how I felt and he replied, “Don’t worry, I’ll make it sound more expensive”. He was right.
Sometimes music takes a long time to develop. Often, in spite of all our efforts to make something creative happen on demand, it just takes years for ideas unfold. That is very much the case with this song that I refer to as William Hollander.
Somewhere close to five years ago I was playing a seisiún at The Skellig in Waltham where I heard an Irishman named Tony sing a song. An amazing song. For ten minutes he sang for the Skellig patrons, entirely acapella. His voice strained as he reached for notes describing his childhood, his loving parents, becoming bound to a butcher, a merchant sailor, a slave trader, a pirate, a condemned outlaw denouncing piracy and whiskey. It was a sprawling song that wove a tapestry of imagery, some beautiful, some appalling. I was stunned.
I had to have this song. After buying him a pint or two I asked him to repeat the melody for me while I scratched the notes onto the back of a napkin. He kindly agreed to email me the lyrics the following day, which he did.
The moment I picked up a guitar to try the melody I knew what to play. That part unfolded quickly. But the lyrics were another story. Tony’s version had thirteen verses and some renditions have up to nineteen verses. Far too many for me to a) remember and b) be able to retain anyone’s attention. I had learned this lesson from another well known song that I sing called Arthur McBride, which has, depending on how you count them, eight to sixteen verses. That is a long time to keep people interested.
The original song, often called The Flying Cloud, has a mysterious origin. The real Flying Cloud is a famous clipper merchant ship that made a miraculously speedy run in the 1850’s from New York, around the horn and to San Francisco in 81 days and 21 hours. Her speed record stood until 1989. The song, however, speaks of piracy and slave trade, which is not part of the Flying Clouds true history. It is, therefore assumed, that the song grew like any great tale. The story gets bigger and better as time passes, which may account for the vast ground the song tries to cover. So many themes in one song are rarely found in modern music, especially without a repeating chorus.
So, I was faced with a dilemma. How do I distill the song down to capture its essence and do so in a manner where I am capable of selling the performance? For years I have mulled over this question. I have tried dropping verses and rewriting verses but have never really been happy.
The version that I’ve recorded here is my first real demo of it with newly revised lyrics. Like other projects that I’ve posted on baconworks, I expect that this is going to take on a life of its own and that this version will not be the last. And, true to the form of folk music, will continue to evolve.
…I was going to post the above earlier today, but before I got a chance my fellow musical Junkie Luke broke into my office, stole the track and worked his bass magic. Take a listen to how the bass changes to reflect the story of each verse, brilliant.
For the last two months I’ve been musically focused on a project for work. We’ve been working on a MathWorks related spoof of an old Dr. Hook song. It was great fun to work on, had thirty overdubbed tracks of audio and an associated video. Last night I returned from a trip where we had the good fortune to show the video to a couple thousand receptive audience members. It was a lot of fun, but mentally draining. After traveling all day, tired and a bit melancholy that the whole experience was over, I found myself feeling restless. Kids were in bed, wife asleep on the couch, not interested in watching T.V. and not focused or awake enough to read I decided to retreat to the basement and just play some guitar. Just play.
While I was playing I decided to try my hand at another old Dr. Hook song that I have grown to enjoy during the last few weeks. This time there were no new lyrics. No spoof. Just a straight cover. Also, no multitracking. One mic, one track, one take. Just playing.
Most people, these days, will not admit to being big fans of John Denver. I’ll admit it. Always have been. Ever since I was a child and my parents would throw that scratchy vinyl onto our gargantuan record player … you know the kind, where the speakers, turn table and radio dials are all built into a big honkn’ piece of furniture. It was big enough to make a good television stand as well.
John Denver songs remind me of the innocence and beauty of childhood. It reminds me of a peaceful time in life where family is your only focus and you can’t ever imagine that when you grow life will present you with challenges. What is not to like about that?
While many will not freely admit they like John Denver, I have proof that most people actually do. I recorded this impromptu version of Country Roads Saturday evening at a friend’s house along with thirty other friends. We played lots of tunes and sang lots of songs. Irish tunes, sea chanties, classic rock, English ballads, drinking songs, songs about ale, songs about dog fat, songs about war, songs about trombones … but John Denver’s Country Roads is always the song people sing the loudest at parties. Always.
While the recording quality is not great I hear something wonderful in it. I hear friends. I hear family. I hear joy. And it brings me right back to being a child, playing in my living room with my family, my father trying to find the notes on his Goya while the record played. And I can only assume, when I listen to this, that the other players and singers have similar unspoken memories and feelings. The music brings them back, like a country road, to a peaceful and happy place, and in that space and time, it unites us. It completely transcends pop music and becomes folk music, which is really what music was meant to be in the first place.