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Bright Rails Shine

Thanks for stopping by. In the wake of last week’s awful attack on the US Capitol, I just wanted to share the lyrics for an uplifting song that’ll be on the next album. To me, “Bright Rails Shine” is a sort of hymn to the promise of America. I hope we may find healing and move toward a more unified, ethical, and welcoming society. Stay safe, wear a mask, and spread love.

Bright Rails Shine
Bright rails shine through the Carolina lowlands
through the South Dakota badlands / past the Gulf of Mexico

Bright rails shine through the Mississippi cotton
glistening and forgotten / old ribbons fiery and aglow

Bright rails shine / trodden tracks to Chicago
Waxahatchie and Colorado / on the Zephyr to the bay

Bright rails shine through the cities alabaster
and the country even faster / orange blossom fruited plains

*Oh I’ve known the power and her lonesome whistle’s glory
our story yet to unfold
delicate flower bending and broken and bowed
in need of tending, in need of sunlight
water from a cool mountain stream
of a new American dream

Bright rails shine past Evansville and Cairo
the Allegheny and Ohio / curved and winding serpentine

Bright rails shine by Louisiana Bayous
on the passes & the cut-throughs / burnin wood and turpentine

Bright rails shine by the mounds of the first nations
winding round the reservations / the price of freedom in our gaze

Bright rails shine on the Cannonballs and the Katy
feathers beads and furs and ladies / from Cherokee to Santa Fe

*Oh I’ve known the power and her lonesome whistle’s glory
our story yet to unfold
delicate flower bending and broken and bowed
in need of tending, in need of sunlight
water from a cool mountain stream
of a new American dream

Bright rails shine with the wet dew of favor
on the sweat of the men who did labor
white and black and Chinese laid bright rails shine

Bright rails shine from the Sawtooth to the Smokies
in the memories of the Okies / all along the dust bowl trail

Bright rails shine from Alpine to El Paso
where a cowboy throws a lasso / desert winds howl and wail

Bright rails shine oh how I long to love you
may your sweet song rise above you / like a peaceful blanket laid

Bright rails shine on your hope and your promise
may your goodness be upon us / until the end of days

*Oh I’ve known the power and her lonesome whistle’s glory
our story yet to unfold
delicate flower bending and broken and bowed
in need of tending, in need of sunlight
water from a cool mountain stream
of a new American dream

“Low Flyin’ Planes” Video

Klein’s gentle strum and clean, melodic vocals bring to mind classic folk singer-songwriters like Townes Van Zandt. Stuart Cole’s subtle upright bass adds texture and depth, while the violin by Parisa Sarfehjoo transports the listener away, just as the camera rises and pans over the wide-open landscape… Excellent stuff.” – Andrew Frolish, Americana UK

Thanks to my good friends for their work on this piece: musical partner Bronson Tew (producer/engineer) for bringing the songs of Low Flyin’ Planes to life, filmmaker Jeff Shipman, and of course musicians Stuart Cole and Parisa Sarfehjoo for their beautiful playing.

About the “Low Flyin’ Planes” video:

The video for “Low Flyin’ Planes” was shot by my good friend Jeff Shipman. Jeff documented the making of the album, and we returned to the studio about six months later to shoot additional drone footage of Water Valley, Mississippi, home to Dial Back Sound studio, and to film in the Delta. On a memorable, whirlwind day trip, we drove through the seductive flat farmfields of the Delta and visited some key spots, including Dockery farms in Ruleville and the nearby crossroads, one of the potential sites of the mythological sale to the devil of Robert Johnson’s soul. We also got some striking aerial shots of the land and the Sunflower River.

In essence, the artful video documents the genesis of a song— opening at the crossroads, a highly symbolic place signifying a longing, a place where bluesmen were said to have gone in search of something supernatural. So the search begins at the crossroads, and the video then shows the creation of the piece in recorded form, and finally, returns the viewer to one of the most elemental sources of all things, water. Charting the Sunflower River from above, the viewer travels along the source of the Delta’s lifeblood, its rivers, used to farm the fertile lands and its gumbo mud to which African Americans were either brought as slaves or to which they flocked in hopes of achieving greater autonomy and economic uplift.

Farewell, John Davy

In death, John Davy, to me, seems larger than life. He built his cottage on the edge of a craggy peninsula in the Western Highlands of Scotland in a remote community called Scoraig. Way north, off the grid, at the end of the land. The closest road was nearly a five mile walk away. He built dikes out of stone hewn from the shores of Little Loche Broom. Electricity came from a windmill. Water from a well. There, he and his wife Deborah raised a family and Exmoor ponies. John loved music. He wrote about it eloquently on his blog, Flyin’ Shoes, on which he kindly published thoughtful, poetic, reviews of my last three albums. He hosted house concerts for touring musicians. You got there by boat or he picked you up on the main road by tractor and drove you to his homestead. It’s the kind of place a songwriter and explorer wants to get to. You want to be there, to feel it, to try to know it from even a brief visit. You want to blend its mystique with the passing reality of a moment on its land and in its homes. A new picture to carry with you and perhaps long for.

Sadly, I haven’t yet traveled to Scoraig, and I missed out on the opportunity to see this mysterious and inspiring man in the flesh. John passed away earlier this year. And though we never met, we had a connection. And though we never spoke, we spoke to one another.

It’s hard to say to whom my music matters. Beyond a few close friends who are familiar with my work, show great interest, and find it to be inspired, I don’t know if others are affected by it and welcome my songs into their experience of life in this world. As an independent artist, I release my albums, available to all, and do some questionable version of self-management. But to John Davy, my music mattered, and it’s for the likes of him that my music is made.

I was struck by how affecting and deeply felt his loss was to me. He offered me gratifying validation- the wondrous feeling of knowing what it’s like for someone to care and value your work. I’ve certainly been on the other side of the picture, as a music fan, but rarely has such appreciation been expressed to me as a songwriter.

He showed me that my songs and recordings can move people in transformative ways and possess a real, raw power. In a sense, he revealed to me myself, confirming a possibility in my music I had quietly considered yet not actualized as a sustainable living.

It’s a most affirming and empowering thing to know that this hearty man who carved out for himself a hardscrabble life in a far-off wilderness where the rocky land meets the cold sea invited my songs into his life and was touched.

So to John Davy, I’m grateful. I had not fully realized the import of his appreciation of my music until learning of his passing. My thoughts are with his family and community as our communion in song on this earthly plane is cut off.

I do wish I had finished my next album and sent him the songs before he passed. I wish I had gone to Scoraig. I’ve come to believe that if someone cares for your work so much, you need to get there. That’s all. And I didn’t get there, and I didn’t meet him. To have met him would have been a great joy in my life.

I resolve to get there someday, to visit, to see Deborah, to be in the wild Highlands where this man experienced my music, and to give thanks.

His was a poetic life to me. A life of an artisan, fashioning rock, alive every day to create, nurture, and take in the goodness of the earth and its bounty.

To him, I lift a glass across the world with awe and wonder.

Godspeed, John Davy.

Jolly Coppers

randynewman

Recently I got a vinyl copy of Randy Newman’s Little Criminals. Played it and loved it. But one song in particular, “Jolly Coppers on Parade”, stopped me in my tracks. I must have played it ten times in a row. And then again the next day. I think it’s a perfect song- beautiful, tasteful instrumentation, lyrically impressionistic and paints a picture of a scene with little added commentary or narration. Not to mention it resonates strongly and stands in contrast to today’s current climate of cases of police brutality, overreach, veiled racism and fear, and machismo on the part of many. The lyrics are pure as a childlike dream. But one may choose to infuse it with irony and an undercurrent of protest as a piece of subversion. Randy Newman’s a genius songwriter and phenomenal musician. And with such a singular, effortless voice. It occurred to me- a music fan and songwriter who pays attention to music, new and old- that this perfect song has been out and about in the world for nearly 40 years (released in 1977) and I had no clue. It does seem a little bit criminal if we have not heard this great record. It’s a gem- how did we (I?) miss it? But that’s the power of a song and music- almost forty years after its release I was introduced to and moved by it, and it added a layer of beauty to the world in my eyes. That’s a profound thing. If my music can be heard by listeners now and for years to come, and if they can gain something by it- a feeling, inspiration, enjoyment, if they may be somehow touched by it- then that’s all I can ask of my work. Hope you’ll dig in to my growing catalogue (I have four more albums of written material I’ll be trying to record and release in the coming few years) and find something you like, something meaningful. But for now, take in the understated majesty of “Jolly Coppers on Parade”. Here’s the album version on YouTube plus an insightful interview here with Newman about his process and writing from 1989.

“Jolly Coppers on Parade”
They’re comin’ down the street
They’re comin’ right down the middle
Look how they keep the beat
Why they’re as blue as the ocean
How the sun shines down
How their feet hardly touch the ground
Jolly Coppers On Parade

Here come the black-and-whites
Here come the motorcycles
Listen to those engines roar
Now they’re doin’ tricks for the children
Oh, they look so nice
Looks like angels have come down from Paradise
Jolly Coppers On Parade

Oh, mama
That’s the life for me
When I’m grown
That’s what I’m want to be

They’re comin’ down the street
They’re comin’ right down the middle
Look how they keep the beat
Why they’re as blue as the ocean
Oh, it’s all so nice
Looks like angels have come down from Paradise
Jolly Coppers On Parade

Pocahontas County & the Bullfrog

Well, we’re having a fabulous night in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Took a beautiful drive from Durham, NC, up into Virginia, and over to West Virginia today. Stunning land and ride. Excited to drive past Rocky Mount, VA, home of the Great Moonshine Conspiracy trial of 1935 documented in Matt Bondurant’s book The Wettest Country in the World, which I read and enjoyed not too long ago. Enjoyed playing to a crowd of new friends at The Schoolhouse. Played a few of my West Virginia-inspired songs solo which stem from my previous visits here, then we did a pseudo-unplugged band set. Didn’t amp the guitar and no vocal mic, but it worked out nicely.

This is a lovely place- great people doing excellent work in the region. Got gifted fresh, homemade goat cheese and a loaf of bread to take with us on the road. Sold some new CDs and I’m glad these songs will be wafting through the Monongahela air. We’re staying at my friend Emily’s (and Lynnmarie, who’s away now) place directly next door to the Pearl S. Buck birthplace and homestead. This is magical stuff. Listened to some records, saw a sky full of clear stars, heard about Emily’s war bride grandmother, and we’re listening now to tonight’s show which Pozz videotaped. Tomorrow’s a 6+ hour drive over to Easton, Maryland. Playing in what looks to be an excellent room, Stoltz Listening Room at Avalon Theater. Heard there’s a nice scene of listeners in Easton. Hope to meet and play for them tomorrow.

Last night was a slow Wednesday night in Durham, but some friends came out and we got to catch up a bit and listen to the wonderful and sometimes raunchy songs of Bullfrog Willard McGhee. This guy’s incredible. Great stories of the blues players of today and the past. Bullfrog knows where everyone is buried. Here’s some white man blues that are too real- intricate piedmont blues picking, gruff voice, authentic in form and delivery. Close your eyes and Bullfrog could be a blind ole picker from a long time back.

Yesterday was the start of the tour, and it felt great to get the group of guys together to head out on our weeklong music adventure. First time I’ve brought a band out of the southeast, and I’m psyched to bring these songs and arrangements to everyone. We think this should be heard. Come see us sometime. We’re only two shows in, feeling good and pretty tight. It’s a thrill to be
out here, playing and touring. Booked a Daytrotter session, so we’ll be making our way up to Rock Island, IL, and Chicago on a long weekend July 18-20. Hopeful we can do some more runs in the coming months, too. Any touring acts looking for an opener.. get in touch and let’s make a plan with The Wild Fires.

Off to sleep for some sleep and vocal rest. Be back next time..
-adam