- BIG LIZA JANE/FROSTY NOON
Big Liza Jane was one of the first tunes I learned on the banjo. It was on Kicking Mule Records' "Southern Clawhammer Banjo" played by Susan Cahill. The album fascinated me, and I literally wore out the cassette. I wrote "Frosty Noon" one snowy January day in Taos in 1995. I was attempting to write a tune that was similar to "Frosty Morning". I play these tunes in a style I learned from Martin Simpson called "guitar frailing". It is exactly analogous to banjo frailing. Roger Landes joins me on bouzouki for what we called our "we-don't-need-no-stinking-banjos" set.
- BRIGHT SUNNY SOUTH
This song was famously recorded by Dock Boggs, one of my all-time favorite musicians. I have loved it for many years. I play Chipper Thompson's Farland banjo (circa 1900) and my Gibson L-1 (1913) parlour guitar, a gift from Chipper. I play this round-hole, arch-top guitar throughout the album.
- WILL YOU GO TO FLANDERS?
I can't remember the name of the singer-guitarist I learned this from, but he was fantastic and I believe he was a Brit. It was on an unlabeled cassette that Chipper Thompson gave me. I love these Napoleonic war songs, and this one is delicious in its sarcasm. Connie Dover adds lovely harmony over my DGDGAD guitar and Mark Dudrow's 'cello.
- DEVIL IN THE STRAW STACK
I learned this North Carolina tune from Doug Goodhart, whose smoldering fiddle graces the track. Doug and I started playing together in 2005, and have done so regularly ever since. I enjoy playing the banjo part on guitar a la Martin Simpson.
- I HATE THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM
This song was written by Sara Ogan Gunning. Gunning was a union woman from east Kentucky whose husband and child were lost to Capitalist coal-mining. Between the verses I quote the tune to "Dark as a Dungeon" by Merle Travis. Ed Caner plays a perfect fiddle on this in B-flat!
- BULLY FOR ALL/ST. PATRICK'S DAY
I learned these tunes from the playing of the great Minstrel banjo player Joe Ayers. I've run into the second one a lot at Irish sessions, but I've never heard anyone else play the first. I changed them to the same key, and I play them in G-major tuning.
- DAYS OF '49
I learned this song as a kid and I don't remember the source. No doubt it was from one of those "revivalists". The guitar is in DADGAD and I play the "old-time" pardessus on the track.
- BROWNIE'S LAMENT
My father's uncle, Ralph Otis Brown, died in the 1990's. He was quite a character, and I always loved "Uncle Ralph". His friends all called him "Brownie". He was something of a beatnik, writing poetry, hanging out in black bars, carrying a gun and a knife. He had a catch phrase: "well, that's the road of life... but you know!" This song is loosely based on an evening I spent sitting on a bar stool next to him in the Saints and Sinners Lounge in Battle Creek, Michigan. The tuning is CGCGCD, and my sister, Katari Brown sings harmony. The Rev. Dr. Chipper Thompson contributes the "sacred steel".
- WHEN HUMANS WALKED THE EARTH
In 1998, when Chipper Thompson and I were recording Am I Born to Die?, we would often spend the drive home from Howlin' Dog Studios in Alamosa talking about nerdy things like the name of our next album. This was a title I contributed to that list, and we would periodically say to each other: "we need to write that song!" In 2000, Chipper's lovely wife, Lanford Monroe, passed away suddenly. The song came to me in response to that event. I added the traditional tune, "Billy in the Low Land" for Lanford. Ben Wright and Peter Halter do a wonderful job of backing this track.
- THE CUCKOO
This is a war-horse of a song that's been done by just about every great banjo player you can name. I think I heard it first by Hobart Smith or Clarence Ashley, but I used every verse I could think of. Gari Hegedus and Tobias Roberson were in New Mexico for a gig and I took them into the studio. The oud and banjo seemed to really like each other, and the dumbek agreed. We did this very quickly. It was Tobias' idea to introduce the polyrhythms at the end. I play a minstrel banjo by Brooks Masten, an absolute genius.
- DOBRUDJA DANETZ
Stanley Greenthal introduced this tune to us. Stanley is an amazing musician, scholar and all- around great guy who should have a lot more recognition. The tune is from Bulgaria, near the Black Sea, and Doug Goodhart and I do an "appalachified" version of it.
- LORD FRANKLIN
I first heard this song done by the great John Renbourn, and I've been in love with it ever since. It was originally published as a broadside shortly after Franklin's disappearance. Randal Bays gave me luscious multi-track fiddles, and Connie Dover crafted beautiful line-by-line harmony. The guitar is DADGAD.
- OMIE WISE
I learned this from the playing of Roscoe Holcomb. I played Chipper Thompson's Farland banjo tuned to eCgad.
- ROCKY ROAD TO DUBLIN/TRALLEE GAOL/DUNMORE LASSES
The first is a slip-jig with words that you usually hear sung, but which is an awesome tune. The second I first learned from Ken Perlman, but later heard others play, and the third is a one of those reels that's beautiful when played slow, which was famously done by the Bothy Band. Mark Dudrow and I have been playing this set for years, and I think it shows in our performance.
- ODE TO MARTIN LUTHER KING
Uncle Ralph Otis "Brownie" Brown wrote this poem, and I grew up hearing him recite it in his gravelly Tennessee drawl. In spite of his cultural racism, he was deeply inspired by the life and death of Martin Luther King, and I believe he was moved to write this poem after the shooting of King's mother, Alberta, in 1974. After Brownie's death, I reworked his words slightly and made this melody. The guitar is tuned DGDGAD and is capoed at the 6th fret.
This beautiful tune was composed by Roger Landes, who joins on bouzouki. Mark Dudrow is on 'cello, and I play pardessus viol and guitar tuned to DGDGAD. Roger gave this tune to Lisa Wright as a Christmas present. Andy Salamone, who mastered the album, deserves special mention for bringing all the disparate tracks on this one together.