Tag Archives: song

Amazing Grace

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.

Amazing Grace by baconworks

Pretty Fair Maid on SoundCloud

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.

Here it is – straight from soundcloud – give it a try:
Pretty Fair Maid by baconworks

Farewell Tim

Tim Livernois
Tim Livernois, passed away on Monday. Tim was a member of our musical community, playing fife with the Kentish Guard and Irish flute at our late night sessions. Year after year he and I kicked off the session in the Wayside Inn on Saturday of the Sudbury Muster. He had a casual style of flute playing that I always enjoyed backing.

Tim was also instrumental in bringing color to the muster scene by helping to construct the elaborate Casbah for many years. The Casbah became a well know respite during the evenings festivities and often served as the final destination for many late night wanderers.

A few years ago Tim was diagnosed with Brain Cancer and had a tumor removed. After surgery he had to learn how to function again. He came to the Sudbury Session that year knowing that he couldn’t really play any longer. But he fought his way back and relearned how to play music and, astonishingly, was back in the swing a year later.

Farewell Tim, I’ll miss your color, your playing and your friendship.

Farewell Chantey by baconworks

William Hollander

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.

Also, there are already plans in the works to add Mustchio’s killer bouzouki part, and Beave’s bodhran.
William Hollander by baconworks

Sylvia’s Mother

guitar playing
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.

Thanks to Sylvia’s Mother, I can now move on.
Sylvias Mother by baconworks

Thanksgiving Song

Here is a song we like to sing around the house at Thanksgiving time.

Thanksgiving Day is coming
And Mr. turkey said
how very careful I must be
or I will loose my head.

[chopping off of the head sound]

The pumpkin heard the turkey
I’m frightened to, oh my
With sugar and spice, and everything nice
I’ll be pumpkin pie.


Happy Thanksgiving

Country Roads

Country Road
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.
stero cabinet
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.
Country Roads by baconworks

Wind that Shakes the Barley

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798 the rebels were often known to carry barley oats in their pockets as provisions while on march. Unfortunately, thousands of the dead rebels found their final resting place in mass unmarked graves, which were referred to as croppy holes.

As the seasons passed barley would be found growing above the croppy holes and came to symbolize the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule.

In the nineteenth century the Irish poet, Robert Dwyer Joyce wrote a ballad entitled Wind that Shakes the Barley, which repeatedly references the barley as a young lad has to decide between the love of his lady or the love of his country.

As our last track on the 1999 Amadán album, Sarah Kennedy sang a A cappella version of this haunting song.
Wind That Shakes the Barley by baconworks

Sam’s Gone Away

Strum Stick

A couple of months ago a friend of mine loaned me a strumstick. The strumstick, a three stringed instrument that is a close musical relatives of the Appalachian Dulcimer, was created by Bob McNally. As I was testing out the strumstick one morning at the breakfast table I started singing, to my children’s delight, a simple chantey called Sam’s Gone Away that I had recently learned off a great old album called Colonial and Revolutionary War Sea Songs and Shanties by my friend Cliff Haslam.
Album Cover
I had so much fun beatn’ away at this song on this odd little instrument that I decided to give both the song and the strumstick a go on tape. The first instrument on the recording is actually guitar. The strumstick comes in on the break and hangs around for the rest of the song. Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve recorded vocals and, apparently, I’ve still got some learning to do. But hell, this is all just for fun. So here ya go.

We Are the Mariners – Let the Good Times Ring

Music is many things to many people. For some it is relaxing, others energizing. For some it is therapy and some healing.

I know of one man where music was his lifeline. It was the strand that connected him to the living. Though it may sound like hyperbole, it is not. Music was the needle that wove together a tapestry of friendship and love that buoyed him and actually kept him alive. This man, this Mariner, was diagnosed with ALS and given only a short period to live.
ALS is a horrible disease where if you don’t die quickly, you gradually lose the ability to move. You notice that your arms are shaky when you pour a glass of milk. You get tired walking to the mailbox. Putting on your own cloths becomes difficult . Tasks like brushing your own teeth become impossible. Eventually you find yourself entirely paralyzed, unable to talk and locked inside your own body. The sick irony is that you are entirely aware of your demise. ALS does not affect your brain, it affects your neuromuscular system, leaving you to contemplate all the things you would like to do but can’t.

My friend, Howard, upon being diagnosed with ALS and well aware of his fate, realized he had a decision to make. Before he would lose his ability to take matters in his own hands he had to decide if he wanted to live through the torture. So, one evening, when no one was home, he went out to the barn. Locked all the doors. He got into the car. He put the key into the ignition. He sat there. Thinking. What will I have to live for? How will I find any happiness? How much of a burden will I be to the people I love?

As he sat there contemplating his options his mind wandered back to an old friend. He heard this friend say to him, ‘You have two choices. You can choose to live, or you can choose to die. If I had half your ability and determination, I’d choose to live. This could be the greatest adventure of your life!’ Howard then took the keys and removed them from the ignition. He got out of the car. Unlocked the doors, went back into his home and lived happily ever after.

There were no medical miracles. His body ultimately failed him and he lived entirely paralyzed for years, physically paralyzed that is. But, the part about living happily I believe to be true. He found happiness in his friends. He found happiness in his children, and he found happiness in his music.

Howard was a fifer, a chanteyman and was learning to play the concertina. When he could no longer play the fife, he sang. When he could no longer sing he wrote. He wrote harmony parts for the Ancient Mariner Chanteymen. He wrote songs. He wrote poetry. He wrote a book. He did not write using his hands, they had long since failed him. He wrote by using a computer that read his eye movements, the only muscle control he had.

In doing so, all of us who new him, learned so much about living life with all you’ve got, and making the choice to be happy.

You may ask, ‘what does any of this have to do with Switzerland?’ It has to do with the lessons we learned from Howard, who was, years ago, freed from his shackles. It has to do with how we share those lessons with new Mariners everywhere. It has to do with the music he left for us in hopes that we would always sing it together. When we play and sing, we are sharing our love for music, brotherhood and the celebration of life with all those who care to listen or dare to join us. In Switzerland, they came to listen and that reaffirms, for us, all the lessons we’ve been taught by men like Howard. We all have to make choices. Our choice, as Mariners, is to do our best to celebrate while we can.

Take a listen to the words and music that Howard left for us, recorded back in 2007 in Switzerland.

So before our time is nigh
Teach our children how to sing
So they may raise their glasses high
And let the good times ring
~Dr. Howard Hornstein