One String Leads
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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