DUST. Dust of Eden, dust motes in a movie-projector beam, dust to dust. The word just kept showing up. There's a legend that when Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise some loose grit blew into the outer darkness. If a grain gets in your eye, you’re never the same after.
“Down in the Swamp.” In keelboat days the rivermen gambled and brawled in a section of New Orleans called The Swamp. I’ve moved it from Girod Street to the Vieux Carée but other than that, dead true.
"Lost John." Folk song by who knows. I remember my grandmother singing scraps of it. Like everyone else who's sung this down through the years, I took some liberties.
“Last Things.” A passage.
“Circuit Rider.” Nine of ten perished but still they came, these wilderness nomads. Singing Old World hymns as they rode buffalo traces through the savage beauty of it all. Worlds colliding.
“The Sideshow.” Flannery O’Connor’s freakshow hermaphrodite was where this song started. Then I got to reading about Tom Thumb, which led to P.T. Barnum’s whole Congress of Wonders, and it all came together like this.
"Gold." Was just a melody and a feeling, no words, until one day I started mumbling a favorite poem as a placeholder vocal. The lyric eventually went in its own direction but there's some Frost DNA in there.
“Whiskey RR.” Corned-up old wolverine who can quit any time he wants to.
“GTT.” Gone to Texas. What you painted on the barn, c. 1850, when luck had run out and it was time to leave. Fast.
“Bivouac of the Dead.” Words packed in salt and ice by Theodore O’Hara, 1847.
“Dust.” The old Main Street movie houses have vanished from small-town America. The one I grew up with in Georgetown, Kentucky, was called the Glenn. My grandmother Hazel played piano there in the days of the silents.
It’s a crazy, lonesome way to make an album, but I played just about everything myself. An old dreadnought and a Tele and a Mustang bass plus upright piano, B3 organ, a borrowed mandolin, and some shakers and tambourines.
I had a peculiar sound in mind for the album and hammering away solo was the way to get it. A jackleg woodworker making sounds instead of cradles and coffins. My favorite carpenter, Cash Bundren from As I Lay Dying, was who I kept thinking of. Just a few antique tools and nothing but rough lumber to work with. Yet the adze and the awl and the auger were good iron and if Cash had anything, he had patience: “It’s like some folks has the smooth, pretty boards to build a courthouse with and others don’t have no more than rough lumber fitten to build a chicken coop. But it’s better to build a tight chicken coop than a shoddy courthouse.”
Mostly I worked in the dead of night. That’s when it’s quiet here, in my house and in my head. As quiet as it’s going to get anyway. My studio is porous to cold and sound. Some nights I could see my breath as I waited for the dog down the hill to stop barking. Which he never did. But I grew in time to accept the dog. You can hear him in some of the soft passages. A tonal watermark. Guaranteed handcrafted, organic, local.
I keep a box of brown-edged paper here in my workroom. It’s the hundred-year-old, twine-tied manuscript of a novel that my great-great-grandfather wrote. The Old Woodyard or The Secret of the Stone Vault by William Wallace Porter. He was a stern businessman. Yet there that old box sits as if to say, I was this, too. And I had a story to tell.
This album is my twine-tied manuscript.