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Tim Sparks


One String Leads to Another

One String Leads to Another
Released: 1999

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Plucked string music is a thread that runs through much history and geography, one I've followed for many years. Thus the title, One String Leads to Another, a phrase I borrowed from John Renbourn. My previous recordings for Acoustic Music have featured adaptations of Tchaikovsky and Bartok, Balkan folk music, and original music blending middle-eastern, jazz, celtic, and latin sounds. Now I find myself getting back to my North Carolina roots.
    This collection of songs has a decidedly more country and blues flavor. However, since many of these songs were written down in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, you'll hear a little of that country as well.

L'etoile de Mer: The Star Fish, a song started in 1987 and finished 10 years later was inspired by travels in the countryside around Quiberon, on the coast of Brittany. My wife and I spent some lovely days there, meandering about the old Celtic stones in Carnac. I came home from the market one day to find the ocean had receded, exposing a long, rocky outcropping of stone. At the far reach of this peninsula, I made out the figure of my spouse, grinning from ear to ear like some kind of tide pool goddess. Her domain was an enchanting world of anemones and star fish, and so the title.

One String Leads to Another: A couple of years ago, I was performing at the Open Strings Festival in Osnabruck, Germany. Having some time to kill, I wandered into a workshop given by John Renbourn. He was speaking about Davey Graham's travels in Morocco, where he came across a tuning used on an exotic, North African string instrument. To quote John, "Davey tried to adapt this to his guitar. Well, one string leads to another and before you know it, he's come up with DADGAD guitar tuning."
    Like many songs, this started out as one thing and wound up as something completely different. First it was a waltz, but I stumbled on a lick one day and kept fiddling with it, until the whole piece was reinvented. Now it's in 4/4 and is a vehicle for a bunch of twangy riffs mimicking a dobro.

Waltz with a Mermaid: I had in mind an ancestor who got in hot water with King George the second. He had to leave England in a hurry, and sailed to Virginia, where he went to church with George Washington. Later on, his progeny moved to the Carolinas. I was going for Celtic nostalgia, a kind of redneck Barry Lyndon that no doubt exists only in my imagination.

Cornbread and Baklava: Like music, food is an art form whereby competing cultures may eventually resolve their inherent tensions. Where I grew up, the one thing everybody could agree on was barbecue, cornbread, and collard greens. The theme of this composition is based on a descending line I heard Doc Watson play once upon a time. It's wedded to a middle-eastern dance rhythm of 3+2+2/8. Maybe this is what the blues would taste like if you could eat them in 7/8. Enjoy.

Le Soledad: Deep in southern Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, there live dozens of indigenous tribal groups. Their patron saint is the mysterious La Soledad. I intended this to be an evocation of her ultra-baroque sanctuary in Oaxaca city but it came out sounding more like the ocean. I later learned that once a year the natives of Puerto Escondido take La Soledad out to sea in an entourage of fishing boats, which makes sense of this song.

Mr. Marques: I call this a "country cumbia" because it mixes country blues flourishes with a popular Mexican dance rhythm. It's dedicated to an Indian, Mr. Marques we called him. He was a real character and would sing to us in the beautiful Zapotec dialect.

Eu So Quero Em Xodo: Roughly translated this means "I'm looking for a sweetheart." It was written by an icon of Brazilian music, Anastacia Dominguinhos. This duet features a solo by Dean Magraw, one of my favorite guitarists. [Free transcription]

Elegy for Max: I went home to North Carolina a few years ago when my father was dying. The night he passed away, there was a freak ice storm, knocking out power in half the state. To my amazement, the undertaker made it through the ice and snow, (southerners are notoriously bad drivers in even the slightest wintry conditions). In the early hours, my brother and I helped wheel him out to the hearse. The trees were all sagging and bowed under the ice, and in the cold night air the whole world seemed to mourn.

Trap Hill Breakdown: Trap Hill is a famous stretch of road up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It looks like you are heading downhill, but if you put your car in neutral it will begin to roll backwards, seemingly uphill. I have a lot of relatives in that vicinity and this was conceived as a family history in musical form, kind of like a ride down the mountain with a bootlegger.

Pata Negra: I was in Lisbon a few years ago visiting Eddy Goltz, a great jazz guitarist and bon vivant. Eddy introduced me to a lot of Fado and a kind of Portuguese prosciutto called Pata Negra. There's a beautiful Portuguese restaurant in Amsterdam by the same name. This song is a riff on the styles from Northeastern Brazil; Biao, Forro and so forth, with a lot of harmonnic inspiration from LA guitarist Jamie Findlay.

The Amsterdam Cakewalk: I was traveling with Dean Magraw to Germany for a tour and we landed in Amsterdam. In our haste to make the train, we grabbed half a dozen "Spice Cakes" for breakfast. Later, we realized that in the patois of the Netherlands, spice cake means space cake.
    At the train station, I heard exotic Turkish music coming from a boom box at a kiosk when I was buying a newspaper, (and some Jagermeister). Later, I stumbled over a hippie kid pounding out the blues. Somehow, it got all mixed up in my head and I'm still trying to figure this song out.

A Lucky Hand: This song is a nod to two wonderful Italian guitarists, Franco Morone and Peppino D'Agostino, who both taught me a lot. It began as a memory of the two of them rhapsodizing about the nuances of a bowl of pasta. The song, as all Italian conversations, is quite animated. I could subtitle this, "Em Boca E Lupo" an Italian phrase that translates as "you're in the mouth of the wolf" which means "good luck." You'll need it to play this song, it's a handful.

Special thanks to Peter Finger, whose patience has no end, and to Peter's lovely wife Odile, who sustained our spirits during the recording sessions with gourmet cooking and a collection of magical distillations from her village in France.


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