Shall Be Released / Notes on BONES

I dreamed my friends staged an intervention. Enough is enough, they said, and then they ripped the song mixes from my hands, put them in an envelope, and wrote FINISHED across the seal.
 
When I woke up, someone had taken wirecutters to my guitar strings.  
 
And so Uncle Bones is with the mastering engineer at last and will soon see the light of day.  Which is good for at least two reasons.  The first is that I can stop working on it.  
 
* * * * *
 
Big thanks here for the playing of Bleu Mortensen and Jeneé Fleenor. The dobro, steel, and fiddle tracks of Uncle Bones aren't just shrewd and beautiful, though that would surely be enough. They also carry the story where the words leave off. How do you know the miller is going to destroy his fairytale? The dobro break. What was Orphie Coulter's eternity after he looked back? The answer is in the fiddle. What outrageous good fortune to have had Jeneé and Bleu be so integral to the making of this album.
 
    * * * * *
 
The PR teaser says, "Eleven tales from the starcrossed town of etc.," and it's true, I did think of these songs as a story-cycle as I worked on them. Even imagined dates--1899 for "Hezekiah," 1959 for "Grits and Redeye Gravy," yesterday for "Pick Up." Doubt it'll make any difference to the listener, and it doesn't need to, but it helped me see where I wanted to go. Songs about a myth-shrouded place dreaming in the shadows of two centuries.

1  Uncle Bones (1888)
2  Take Me Back, Water (1817)
3  Dragon Reel (1940)
4  Every Day I Have the Greens (1936)
5  Carrying Fire (1980)
6  Grits and Redeye Gravy (1959)
7  Hezekiah (1899)
8  Big Bad Love (2003)
9  The Price (1939)
10  Pick Up (Yesterday)
11  Trouble (Today)
 
  * * * * *

"Uncle Bones." Orpheus was the first fiddle player the way I figure it. Our dark mountains are as mythic as Olympus. Caves, haints, curses, granny women. Labyrinths, shades, curses, sibyls. 
 
"Take Me Back, Water." Silkies in Appalachia too. This song came to me from the green water of Lake Herrington when I was looking for the site of Old King's Mill. It's still there, they say. Seventy feet down.
 
"Dragon Reel." "The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass."--Cyril of Jerusalem. "Seek the ancient tones."--Monroe of Jerusalem Ridge
 
"Greens." Had been smoking my brains in old "strang" music when I made this. Charlie Poole, Gid Tanner, and such. Backwoods and buckwild.
 
"Carrying Fire." "When he rode past, I seen he was carrying fire in a horn the way people used to do, and I could see the horn from the light inside of it--about the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was going on ahead and he was fixing to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold. And I knew that whenever I got there, he'd be there. And then I woke up."--Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
 
"Grits and Redeye Gravy." From seed to harvest, the time is short. Carpe gritsem. Fried in dobro grease.
 
"Hezekiah." Tale as old as the Babylonian Talmud. Walker Town was the original name for Hazard. 40-rod: shine so strong it'll knock you that far.
 
"Big Bad Love." The wah guitar is actually Bleu on pedal steel. One of three co-writes with old friend Tom Thurman. The only instrument Tom plays is the movie camera, but he gives very precise musical instructions. Things like "This should be 59% Tony Joe White, 39% John Prine, and 2% Hunter Thompson."
 
"The Price." Lost-love letter to New Orleans. If those old stones could talk, they wouldn't.
 
"Pick Up." "Can you hear me now?"
 
"Trouble." The last track is straight from the local newspaper. 
 
My favorite column has always been the "Police Blotter," that terse record of the last 24 hours of 911 calls. It's the temperature of the town and it has a style all its own. Place names are part of the 911 protocol and the mayhem erupts in such peaceful-sounding places: Shaker Heights. Patrician Place. The staccato delivery is another charm. "Caller's grandchild running wild." "Decapitated goat on Carpenters Creek." "Complainant's cousin just keyed car." "Caller from Iraq. Wife won't answer phone." "Irate male at Southern States has dumped baloney jar." 
 
I'm not making this stuff up. Some parents really did sell their child in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It's comical at a distance maybe, but the blotter mostly registers genuine meanness and misery. It's the rawest, truest part of the paper, even sadder than the bankruptcies and divorces. Most of the woe is beyond the power of any policeman or ambulance driver to address. Is the caller who reports a mother who won't take her meds or a daughter who's a cutter really seeking the law? 
 
It's usually one of four things: drink, drugs, animals, or family. Most particularly tequila, meth, pit bulls, and grandchildren. If you're into the zombie thing, you don't have to rent a movie around here. Just watch the crank vans unload into Kroger on Sunday. Spoon-deep temples, meth lice, open sores, melted teeth. And a pandemic of the common cold apparently. The Sudafed just flies off the shelf.
 
Once upon a time when curses descended and there was despair in the land, people consulted the oracle. Now it's 911. 911-Delphi.
 
The song was eight verses and five minutes long when it was born, a mighty big baby. Now it gets in and out in 2:23 with two blues-chant verses and a cheerful cabaret chorus. I wanted that chorus because what do you do when you're all cried out and you probably shouldn't laugh? You laugh. People can fill in the rest of the trouble on their own. 
 
"This is my town na-na-na-na-nah." Part of the video for that MontgomeryGentry hit was shot right here in Danville and this does feel like a Mayberry kind of place on certain golden afternoons. But it's also that police blotter.
 
Jeneé pulled a gypsy fiddle out of her magic bag for this one.

                                           * * * * *
 
As I was saying, the first reason is that I can stop working on it. The second is that I can start working on the next one.
 

1 comment

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