I finished writing the new album tonight, which will in all likelihood be called “The Ghost of John Henry.”
If you are not familiar with the legend of John Henry, it goes like this, more or less:
In the 1870s, as technology was rapidly advancing and railroads were linking the United States in a way that had never been possible before, railroad tycoons began experimenting with steam-powered drills that could chisel into the rock of mountains supposedly faster than the “hammer-men” who had been doing this back-breaking and deadly work for years. John Henry was the most powerful of these hammer-men, and when a steam-drill showed up at his work site — just one of a number of new technologies that threatened to make the men on the line obsolete — John Henry challenged the drill operators to a race. When the day came, John Henry took a hammer in each hand, and attacked the rock like no one never had before. The steam-drill threatened to make better time, but it broke down, plagued by mechanical problems, and John Henry emerged from the tunnel, victorious. Then he laid his hammer down, collapsed on the track, and died.
Possibly not the most obvious choice for a concept album, but I will re-post what I wrote a few weeks ago, when I first shared a couple of demos of the new material here on the blog: “The Ballad of John Henry is a folk staple, done by everybody from Woody Guthrie to Pete Seeger to Johnny Cash to elementary school choirs throughout the South (this is where I first heard it — in third grade), and I think maybe because of that omnipresence the essence of the story has sort of lost its meaning to a lot of people. It’s an amazing story of loss, professional frustration, heroism, and man’s place in an increasingly technology-centric world, which I think all speaks to us today.“
We will go into the studio in a few weeks and begin work. Look for the album in early 2012. And please, feel free to check out the tracks below and spread the word if you like the direction we’re taking this thing.