Tracklist - click title to listen:
1. I Liked You Better
2. Fall on my Knees
3. Well Groomed Man
4. No Condition
5. November, Metamora
6. Jimmy Carter
7. Phone Call from Glenn
8. Buttonhole Rose
9. Rag Doll
10. Rock that Cradle, Joe
11. Banks of the Tennessee
Notes on the album and the songs:
I started the songwriter's journey in 1992 with a self-released, live to two-track cassette called Suitcase. For Basically Sane I decided to return to this troubadour recipe.
I've done a lot of playing in bands and working in studios, but most of the time when I perform my own songs, it's just me and the guitar. I've gotten a pretty good reputation for keeping things interesting, but even so it can be a real test of both the performer and the listener when a whole record is one voice and one instrument. With a stubborn belief in the power of the format, I scooped up my best songs, some gear and a couple of special guitars and went to work.
Here's what I got.
"I Liked You Better" is a telling of the human joke that it is more fun to love a lovable loser than to be one; set to a Cajun two-step for dancing.
"Fall on my Knees" is a beloved North Carolina old-time banjo tune presented as if it came from a singer-songwriter a few decades and highway miles down the road. This traditional lyric tastes like whiskey from the bottle, a sharp-tongued blend of vulnerability and hardness.
"Well Groomed Man" started with an observation of the distinctive bed-head hairstyle of the American male in the late 20th century. It grew into a snake oil sales pitch where the tonic being sold resembles a slap in the face with a sole of a very old shoe.
I wrote and recorded "No Condition" many years ago for a full-band album called Floating World. It's here as a sort of senior chaperone to the other songs. At the time I wrote it I was around a few folks in recovery programs, and I also knew something about unsuccessful therapeutic relationships (at least enough to set to a midtempo roots rock beat for a few minutes.)
My family roots are in Mississippi and Indiana. "November, Metamora" is about the Indiana side, particularly my great grandfather who lived to 100 years on chewing tobacco, bacon, oatmeal, and Reds games on the radio. Metamora was once a little farm and canal town (now it's a destination for a charming day-trip) in the chunky, rolling landscape of southeastern Indiana. This song is an attempt to bottle up a particular cast of late autumn twilight in a flask, and then to drink it down slowly in a rocking chair.
"Jimmy Carter in Central Park" is the short one, and is probably not based on a true story.
"Phone Call from Glenn" is an homage to the all-night telephone salons that the famed pianist Glenn Gould was known to inflict upon his closest friends. In Gouldian fashion the narrative is more net than thread, and crosses the paths of J.S. Bach, Columbia Records, the idea of North, and a tricked-out Steinway known as CD 318. The final cadence gives the album its name.
In the days when people wrote letters on paper, and kept photographs in the drawers of old cherry wood desks, they may or may not have known that eventually someone else would be going through all that stuff and making up stories about what happened to them. "Buttonhole Rose" respectfully suggests that they did know.
More than almost anything, I admire the elegance, durability, and resilience of a simple design. "Rag Doll" is two little verses over a Maybelle Carter groove.
"Rock that Cradle, Joe" is my attempt to fingerpick the sound of a four-piece Southern old-time string band.
The gospel closer of this set is "Banks of the Tennessee." My 56 year old guitar popped this one out about a week after it came to live with me. I think it was trying to tell me something.
A thought on songwriting:
"I try to build songs for myself where the jokes won't completely wear out on me, or the novel parts don't eventually become too boring. The songs that have moved me to want to do this have had that quality. You can sing them over and over again and the funny parts stay funny and the sad parts stay sad. They keep rewarding you as you move through life with them."
- quote from Steve Wildsmithï¿½s story on the Basically Sane release in The Daily Times (21 January 2010, Maryville, TN)