July 2019 Newsletter
Monday, June 24, 2019
DOWN BY THE RIVER
For Paul Simon, the Mississippi delta shone like a national guitar. Johnny Cash drawled that the tears he cried for that woman were gonna flood one. Joni Mitchell wished she had one she could skate away on. Rivers hold multitudes and embody opposing ideals. They are at once the closest visible thing we have to perpetual motion, yet constrained within their floodplain. Humans are captivated by water, but I would argue that rivers hold a special sway over our artistic sensibilities.
I too have fallen under the spell of rivers. My first river was the Ipswich, which flowed through my suburban Boston hometown. As a budding biologist, I used to sweep the reeds and rushes with an aquatic net to catch macroinvertebrates, examining them under a microscope and drawing detailed pen and ink illustrations. When I went off to college, it was near the banks of the mighty Androscoggin, in the former mill town of Lewiston, Maine. I later moved to the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, which is centered around the Connecticut. First, the roads followed the rivers, and then the towns sprang up alongside. It is no surprise that, at least in New England, there always seems to be a river nearby from which to draw inspiration.
Rivers have populated my songs from almost the very beginning. My first “real” song was called “River Road,” and was the centerpiece of my debut album. “Take My Ashes To The River,” “Call You Home,” “Bend In The River”—my first four records all featured songs about rivers, and they have figured prominently in the lyrics of each subsequent release. You'll find a river song featured prominently on my next release as well...written from a river's point of view.
I identify deeply with the river’s central dichotomy, to be both tied to one place and also in constant motion, passing through. Itinerant and settled, that feels a lot like my life, and the tug of war between the two is where a lot of my songs are born. I know that if I could I would choose to stay in one place, like those naturalists who know the rhythms and denizens of a small plot of land better than anyone else, a pilgrim at Tinker Creek. But there's something about a song that need to be shared, that needs to be sung for others by the person who wrote it.
So I get in the minivan, and I try to find the others. I mark the distance from home by crossing the Hudson or Susquehanna, and I time the hours remaining in the journey when I pass over them again going in the other direction. Each time I cross one, I imagine the rivers inside my veins sing a little bit as well. And I almost believe that if I can listen closely enough, I might feel another song coming on.
INDEPENDENT MUSIC AWARDS: "By Degrees" won Best Social Action Song at the Independent Music Awards in NYC last month! I'm grateful for the recognition, and was honored to perform the song during the awards ceremony. I stood on the same stage almost seven months earlier and sang it with Rosanne Cash. Since that time, there's no real clear accounting on exactly how many people have died from gun violence. Estimating from 2017 rates (the most recent year of data), 21,000 Americans would have died, and over 150 mass shootings occurred in those seven months. A song winning an award doesn't solve anything, but it is clear that we still need to shine a light on this epidemic and raise awareness so we don't get used to living like this.
THE HITTER: Have you checked out my new song "The Hitter" yet? It's the perfect summer soundtrack, if your summer mood is "chill and contemplative, with a dash of pedal steel." You can find the song digitally everywhere you get your music online, though the only place I really benefit is when you purchase a download of the song from my website. Also, if you're not one of the nearly 12,000 people who've seen the extremely cute video yet, you should get on board.
MP3 of the MONTH: In keeping with this month's theme, the July track is a solo, acoustic version of the very first river song I wrote, "River Road." I still like this one, but it has always seemed too long to me and I have yet to figure out a way to make it shorter. So if you have six minutes to spare in the month of July, you can download it at my Bandcamp page.
There are no shows of my own this month. Because I'm gone for a good chunk of the summer, I decided that it would be best if I laid low in between runs playing guitar in Josh Ritter's band. This way my family gets to see me, and vice versa. I'll be back at my own stuff in September.
Head over to Josh Ritter's website to see where you can catch him (and me, standing to his right) this summer. I'll be on all the band shows in July and August.
ON THE HORIZON:
9/10-14 - Americanafest, Nashville TN
9/24 - Rehmsworld Concert Series, Loomis NE
9/25 - The Lark, Hastings NE