● Abraham Jam: New Album Ready For Mixdown ● Lyrics and Chords ● Beginning Brief Hiatus ●
Abraham Jam: New Album Ready For Mixdown
May was a busy month for my Abraham Jam brothers and I. We spent a week with students at Bardnardsville Elementary School in North Carolina, singing and writing songs together as “Artists in Residence”. We were joined by some very special friends and fellow musicians who, like us, use music in their home country of Guatemala to engage and inspire youth.
Following our school sessions, Abraham Jam hit the stage several times at the LEAF Festival (along with students from our writing workshops), braving the rain to help fill the Appalachian Mountains with our harmonies. Billy’s beautiful advice to the many young performers who nervously joined us on stage for the first time in their lives : “It’s not about the words you say, it’s not about the notes you play. . . it’s about the love in your heart that you give away.”
From the music, mirth and mud of LEAF, we made our way over to Hallow Reed Studios where David, Billy and I spent five days putting the finishing touches on our studio album, now in the mixing phase! We’ve boiled up a blend of original, traditional and cover songs that will be sure to please ~ seasoned with sounds and spices from around the world. Numerous guest musicians took their turns at stirring the musical pot this month: Nicky Sanders (STEEP CANYON RANGERS) joined us on a few tunes with his fiddle, Zack Page (JAZZ VILLE BAND) added upright bass, the legendary Ömer Faruk Tekbilek offered up a stunning performance on his Turkish ney, and our brother Chris Rosser (FREE PLANET RADIO) tickled the ivories, the dotar and our funny-bones during sessions in his studio, which has become our second home.
An album launch has been scheduled for July 27th, 2019 in Asheville, North Carolina. Details of the release (including the album’s name, track listing, song samples and other surprises) will be coming soon!
Lyrics and Chords
Over the years , I have consistently received letters from friends, supporters and school teachers requesting sheet music, (or at the very least, chord progressions) for my songs. Since I can only “play by ear” and do not read or write music, I am unable to offer up my tunes with all those lovely lines and dots that more formally trained musicians can decode, decipher and decrypt. At various times I have asked others to transcribe a few of my “signature songs” using software designed for such a task, but that is a time consuming effort I have not been able to oversee very efficiently.
With each new generation of music lovers I meet, I have seen an increase in the pleas for charts. More and more young folks are telling me how they have taken up the guitar, piano or ukulele and want to know what chords I play on certain songs. Ironically, my folkie little tunes are usually rooted in only three or four simple chords! The Youtube tutorials I stared offering a few years ago (“In The Nook”) have been few and far between ~ again, time consuming to produce for a fellow like me who is so busy these days with family responsibilities and household tasks.
So! Look up top to the Header Titles on this website and you will now see a section labelled “Lyrics and Chords”. Click that link and you’ll see every song I have ever written (including new ones that are popping out weekly and older ones I haven’t even recorded yet!) all convienientely alphabetized by title. Day by day, drip by drip I will be uploading PDF files with all the lyrics for each song, presented with the basic chord changes written above the words at the appropriate spots.
Uploading almost 200 songs with chord progressions will take me a fair amount of time too, but far less time than having each song fully notated. . .I hope!
At present there are no actual PDFs available for download. I thought it might be fun to gage which songs people are most interested in learning. So, as I prepare and proof-read my PDFs, I’ll ask you: What songs on the list do some of you want to strum along with or learn? Post your requests in the comment section below and I will start uploading accordingly!
Beginning Brief Hiatus
Not too long ago I had the wonderful opportunity of attending an event presented by singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant. Her music and activism have inspired me since my teen years and it was delightful to be in the audience of a Q&R session with her. Another treasured inspiration to me, Pete Seeger, had just passed away at age 94 and I was deeply impacted by his death. Knowing that Ms. Merchant and Pete travelled in similar circles and lived in close proximity to each other, I simply had to ask her for her favourite “Pete Story”. . . sort of “double up” on what I could learn from her and Pete at the same time. (Yes, I would be the kid who would get one wish from a genie and use it to ask for more wishes!)
Testimony to Natalie’s humility, she seemed much more excited to talk about Pete than herself and delightfully reminisced about her first accidental meeting with the legendary folk singer on a train platform in up-state New York. A young artist at the time, she asked him for advice and ‘ol Pete shared the following wisdom: “Stay rooted to a community someplace. Travel, but stay rooted.”
For almost thirty years I have been tossed around, singing songs when invited, with no rhyme or reason to my travel itineraries. Boston one day, LA the next. A weekend hop to London from Canada for a one off-concert of 30 minutes. . . a 43 hour round-trip journey to Moscow to sing just two songs at a conference. . . A weekend in Beirut then back to Toronto by way of Berlin. . . Seeing new places in the world is exciting and meeting new audiences is always an honour, but travel ~ in and of itself ~ can age a fellow before his time. It takes it’s toll on one’s health, spirit, responsibilities to family and connections to a local community. Once, I selfishly lamented my love/hate relationship with being a roving minstrel in a song entitled “Hold The Stage”:
“Hold the stage. Hold on strong.
Living a dream, waiting to wake.
How much to give? How much to take?
Shake my cage. The bars of song.
Someplace between Eden and Fire,
the scale tips higher and higher.
Hold the stage.“
It is hard to believe that it took sixteen years of travel fatigue to pull that song out of me. It’s even harder to believe that I have pushed on travelling another eighteen years since then, averaging about 75 shows each year!
Once in a while, I believe it does a person good to step back temporarily from what they are doing, to get a better view of where they are in life: re-evaluate, reassess and maybe even re-direct their path if need be. Now is such a season for me. With growing daughters and an aging father ~ travel gets harder and harder with each trip I take.
Late last autumn I made the decision to embark upon a bit of a hiatus from accepting new solo bookings for a while. It’s taken a good six months for me to fulfill previously made commitments, but now, at long last my calendar is pretty much clear from touring and performing ~ with the exception of occasional events with my Abraham Jam bandmates.
Already the rest from pressures surrounding touring and performing have helped me feel physically and emotionally stronger, less anxious, more focussed and creatively refreshed. In recent weeks, as performances have wrapped up, I have also been inspired to reawakening recording projects that had been shelved for years, open file folders full of song scraps that have been accumulating for over a decade and catch up on personal letters that have been piling up for far too long!
Writing, singing and sharing songs with others will always be a part of me. Make no mistake, this “Hiatus” is no “Retirement”. A person like me who sings as he breathes, will sing until he runs out of breath! But for this next little while, I look forward to taking some time “off the road” simply to catch my breath . . . maybe even catch a good nap and a few new songs as I’m plugging away at household chores.
Between Abraham Jam shows you’ll find me here for the next little while ~ uploading new posts, articles, songs and stories. I’ll be working in my studio, puttering in my workshop, trying to root a little more deeply within my local community and, as always. . . trying to better the world one song at a time.