This record was made in the winter of 2013-14, in a studio that also houses a drummer (Robin Anders) and his dog, Shadow. The studio is full of drums and other rhythm instruments, including a big gong that sits just inside the front door. If the door is fully opened, the door handle (a lever) will hit the gong in its dead center. Boooommmmmmm. Shadow has learned to open this door by pushing on the lever, so sometimes he makes a grand entrance. Most of the time, though, Shadow is content to lie on his bed (near the gong) and listen to the music.
There are several songs on this record about animals. Some of the animals are real (I’ve known them) and some are imaginary. Some of the animal songs are really about people.
Five of the songs were inspired by the adventures of a friend, Nancy Scheibe, who travelled down the Mississippi River with a series of companions (all women), meeting other women along the way, at gatherings at which the participants were invited to tell stories about their lives. The intent was to honor the experience and learning of women, especially older women, who may not have had the opportunity to be heard in this way before. Nancy has written several books about this project and is now writing a one-woman theater piece that she plans to take to a number of the communities along the Mississippi where these gatherings were held. “Riversong,” “A Woman Made of Mud,” “Bottle Full of Wind,” “Downriver,” and “Grandmother” were all inspired by Nancy’s work, and are offerings, so to speak, from me to her.
“House Dog” was written twenty-five years ago about Slidre, a retired sled dog, my wife Laura’s dog, who became my dog, too, when Laura and I got married. Slidre never knew he was famous, but he was.
In 1986, Slidre traveled with Will Steger and Paul Schurke (and other humans) to the North Pole. At the time, this was a big deal. Actually, it’s still a big deal. Will got Slidre on Ellesmere Island, while traveling with Bob Mantell, who later joined Will and Paul (and Ann Bancroft, and others) on the North Pole trip. After leaving Ellesmere Island (and heading west) Will and Bob built a raft, similar to the one Huck Finn and Jim used on the Mississippi (according to Mark Twain) to descend the Yukon River. By this time, the boys had acquired four dogs, including Slidre. The dogs were quartered on the deck of the raft, below the floor of a cabin (a rectangular hut) that Bob and Will used for shelter. Sometimes the deck was awash, and the dog “houses” were flooded. Slidre was never happy about being wet after that trip.
Slidre had a congenital predisposition to blindness, and by age six he was totally blind. By this time, Will was preparing for another arctic expedition, and Laura was working at Will’s homestead near Ely, MN, cooking. She adopted Slidre, and he lived with us for the next eight years.
“Little Bird” was written (recently) for my daughter, Zane. So was “All the Little Frogs” (when Zane was much younger). “Audition” was written a couple of years ago, not long after my father died, and was inspired by my father, Oscar (of course) and also a charismatic choir director, adept at working with “pick-up” choirs – singers of varying ability and experience who may never have sung together before.
“Everyday Girl” was written for Sue Duffy and Linda Ganister, longtime friends of mine who were formally married last fall, after having been married, unofficially, for decades. Irene Hartfield and I sang it for Sue and Linda at their wedding, which was perhaps the the most spontaneously joyful wedding I’ve ever attended.
“Long Road” is for travelers everywhere but was inspired by a variety of homeless travelers in Santa Barbara, California.
“The Dog and the Fish” was written on a hot, breezy day on the campus of Oklahoma University in Norman, OK. It was hot in the sun, but the wind was still blowing, as it often does in that part of the country.
The words “raw honey” are intended to describe the unadorned (and I hope sweet and fluid) quality of this recording.
None of these songs is finished, inasmuch as I sing them differently every time I perform. I welcome your feedback and suggestions.
[album notes written in 2014]