A Burning Ember to a Grove of Trees

A Burning Ember to a Grove of Trees CoverHere we are, less than ten months after releasing our album Dust Among the Stars, with a surprise EP. It combines new recordings and previously released singles in one collection, most of which share a message of (cautious) optimism despite our current social calamities, and it was important to me to get this out before the 2016 Presidential election. These are our most political songs, and I’m sure I’ve never written an “important” song, but these are probably as close as I’ve gotten.

The EP kicks off with a brand-new song “In the End,” which was written in response to the constant howl of this election season, and recorded the first week of October. So that was, like, last week. It was the unexpected chance to jump in the studio and record this song that made the EP possible.

I’m basically a folk singer, and I felt like I had to get something out there about all this noise. Because the thing is, the votes are going to get counted and one of the candidates is going to go away, but we’re still going to be stuck with each other, and I think people have lost sight of that. I’m not a political party kind of guy, I care about human beings. I care about empathy and I’m terrified at how easy it is to lose that for other folks. You know, Woody Guthrie wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitars, but Pete Seeger wrote “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” on his banjo. I think that second one is the sentiment I was going for the most.

To go along with the track, I also made an immersive, 360-degree music video shot inside the studio, showing four of me performing all of the instruments. This’ll probably hurt your head:

Lyrically, “In the End” focuses on all of us bearing some responsibility for how we treat each other, and the fact that when people are hurting, we have to turn *to* one other, not turn *on* one another. That sentiment ties the track to two previously-released songs on the EP that come from the same emotional place – “Just to Win the Fight” and “A Mile of Ground.” Both of those were released in slightly different forms in 2012 and remastered for this EP. They focus on the human aspect of struggle and conflict, and the human cost.

Two cover versions of folk standards “Goodnight Irene” and “House of the Rising Sun” round out the EP. Our take on Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” is being released for the first time, and was recorded during the Dust Among the Stars sessions.

The title of the EP, which has more words in it than the release has songs, is a metaphor for fear, which we could all do with a little less of, and is adapted from a line in “Just to Win the Fight.”

Trumptation Blues

“South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” – James L. Petigru, former South Carolina Attorney General, 1860

As the 2016 presidential campaigns got going and professional loudmouth Donald Trump achieved “frontrunner status” among the field of GOP candidates, I had visions of the “anyone but Romney” jockeying that went down in 2012 quickly unseating Trump from the top of the field.

Oh, would that I’d been right.  Donald Trump has won the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries walking away, after suggesting all Mexicans are rapists, Muslims should be shot with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood, and that the pope doesn’t know shit about being a Christian.

I thought at first that, well, this is what the GOP gets. They’ve spent the last eight years preying on fear, passing racist voter ID laws and stooping to the lowest possible rhetorical level to make Obama seem like an America-hating villain, all while making it easier for rich, white men to take everything of value this country has to offer.  Trump is the Frankenstein’s monster the GOP created by convincing gullible Americans that the black guy running the country was every kind of evil there was, and we needed the exact opposite sitting in the Oval Office starting in January of 2017.

But then I realized, it’s a two-headed monster the GOP created, and the Bernie Sanders candidacy is the other head. I like Bernie the independent senator. He was one of the first five people I ever followed on Twitter. I don’t know if he would make a great president, but he represents, essentially, all of the things that the GOP accused Obama of being (except, of course, a Kenyan). Where they accused Obama of being an un-Christian socialist, Bernie really is one. And an unapologetic one. The comparisons go beyond that, but the point is that the hard right has built a bunker behind the anti-Obama, and the hard left has built one behind the ultra-Obama.

Look, all I know is that Trump’s ascendancy doesn’t say bad things about Donald Trump. He’s a cartoon. But it says terrible things about Americans. That almost 35% of South Carolinians think this dickhead represents what America needs is a slap in the face to every single person who has ever taken even the smallest action in favor of living up to the promise of America as set forth in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

I get it. We’ve done a bad job from the start at living that truth. But we’ve made progress. And Donald Trump represents regression away from that ideal in every possible sense.

On election night in 2012, by an accident of the calendar, I was playing a solo set in Hollywood. I’ve never shared this video before, but on that night I closed my set with “This Land is Your Land.” Incidentally, Woody Guthrie hated Donald Trump’s father. I’ll leave that here…

Election Night Sounds Like America

On Election Night, I was asked to go sing some songs down at the M Bar in Hollywood. For some reason, as the day got closer, I started thinking I wanted to play a lot of cover songs. I don’t usually. But as I rehearsed, I kept coming back to the idea that there probably weren’t going to be very many people there, since most of America would be home watching election returns, so why not try new things?

On Tuesday night, then, I played at least a half dozen songs that I’ve never done outside of my living room before. There were Tom Waits songs, Johnny Cash songs, a Glenn Danzing song, one by Dax Riggs (those two were my retro-Halloween mini-set), a Lead Belly song (who no one in the audience had heard of), and a couple more. The expectedly small crowd and I had fun, I think.

Lying in bed that night, after finding out that Barack Obama would remain president, I wondered why I’d played the songs I had. I love election nights, have since I was a kid, and I realized that without meaning to, I’d picked out a set of songs that all reminded me of America. I played songs by legends and by relative unknowns (including me), old songs and new from songwriters of many faiths and no faith, across several different genres. And without meaning to, I think I had subconsciously tried to share the musical tapestry that I see in my mind when I think of American music. It was an interesting night, and interesting insight.

Incidentally, there was only one song I could close with. So I did…