Sunday, March 15, 2009

Eleanor Roosevelt, "Water Bread & Beer" roughs

Bob Seger, of all people, said it best (in "Against the Wind"): "Deadlines and commitments; what to leave in, what to leave out."

For twenty years, I have been making music with the same set of people. Through many changes, there have been two constants - we tend to move around as individuals, and we are prolific. And, of course, we have grown up and aged, accumulating all sorts of adult commitments.

All of this has made it difficult to finish things. Being prolific, we start more things than we can possibly finish; and being dispersed geographically (the current coordinates are St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles), we are seldom all at the same place at the same time, so we have to be crafty to get anything done.

The same guys now form the core of two projects: Eleanor Roosevelt (a folk rock band) and Three Fried Men, which records settings of poetry as part of the larger Poetry Scores collective. The people are the same, and Eleanor Roosevelt also sets poems to music, but the difference is Three Fried Men's contributions go toward a larger project, a poetry score (a long poem set to music, as a complete album) that also includes the work of other artists.

Poetry Scores is a Missouri non-profit corporation with a board of directors that manages annual deadlines, which means Three Fried Men is induced every year to manage its other personal commitments to make a musical deadline.

Eleanor Roosevelt has lacked that spur, though we still have managed to release two records over the last few years, Crumbling in the Rain and Walker With His Head Down, both recorded in the early 1990s; and for more than ten years we have been accumulating songs toward a "new" record, Water Bread & Beer.

On Friday night, Matt Fuller and I sat down in his sister's toy-strewn living room in Hollywood and listened to rough mixes of all of the songs we could collect that we have earmarked for Water Bread & Beer. There were twenty songs, which now seems like too many for one release (mind you, our first recording, in 1989 under the band name Enormous Richard, was a thirty-song cassette).

So we narrowed it down to fifteen (a magic number for us) and put them in a provisional order. Here it is, with mp3s of rough mixes and some notes.

Free mp3s

1. "Watch a cloud"

2. "Children's rain song"

3. "Wheelchair"

4. "Me as a horse"

15. "Dry Bones"

All songs by Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij & John Minkoff, with some lyrics adapted from other sources (see below).

Eleanor Roosevelt is: Matt Fuller (drums, guitars, banjo, vocals), Chris King (vocals, guitar), Lij (banjo, guitars, harmonica, drums, lobster pot percussion, vocals), Dave Melson (bass), John Minkoff (guitars). With: Adam Long (cello), Geoffrey Seitz (fiddle), Heidi Dean (vocals), Jacob Lawson (violins), Nate Shaw (drums) and Joe Esser (bass).

Recorded and rough-mixed by Lij, here and there all over the country (that's another story!).

Notes on lyrics
1. "Watch a cloud"

This is a description of what I saw in the clouds one day while lying flat on my back in a farm in Bald Knob, Kentucky.

2. "Children's rain song"

From a Moroccan Jewish children's song to summon rain.

3. "Wheelchair"

I made this one up.

4. "Me as a horse"

From Amos Tutuola's pioneeing Nigerian novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which Bowie and Eno also used as an album title.

5. "Pepper soup & local honey"

This is something of a recipe, based on advice given to Lij and me by the late Liberian raconteur and wise man Nymah Kumah.

6. "Tortilla"

I heard the chorus of this song sung in Spanish and then translated at a trade union meeting in St. Louis.

7. "Strangers & dangers"

I made this one up.

8. "Death & taverns"
From Gabriel Garcia Lorca's poem "Malaguena".

9. "Seeds & shit"

I made this one up. It's a disguised story about settling down in the big city with a woman.

10. "Girl from Central Maine"

I made this one up. Sad but true.

11. "Head rolling down a hill"

Mostly me, though the bridge - "we have time to bounce across yards of mud of days of rain" - is lifted from one of my favorite novels, The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ghanaian writer A.K. Armah.

12. "Nothing feels better than doing wrong"

Mostly me, though based on a South African text.

13. "Pair of skunks"

I made this one up about a beautiful girl at a diner in New Jersey who served us on the road trip where much of this record was first germinated.

14. "James Brown Boulevard"

I made this one up. True story. I was living at the time in Augusta, Georgia, JB's hometown. There really is a scary street with this name there.

15. "Dry Bones"

Traditional, learned from Bascom Lamar Lunsford's version and recorded in a small A-frame cabin on his land along South Turkey Creek in Leicester, North Carolina.

But that gets into where this was all recorded (and how), which is another story. Knowing wordy me, I'll be back to tell it and to elaborate on all of these lyrical sources.


Image of brewer and baker from the City of Aberdeen (Scotland) site. I have Matt's drawings of the water, bread and beer that inspired the name of the album back home in St. Louis; I'm still in L.A.


Shelly said...

Chris, Thanks for sharing your music. I love Folk music and thoroughly enjoyed listening to your new releases.

See you soon


Mike Steinberg said...

Holy Ka-Loady! I'm 19 again and the Venice Cafe has just opened! Thanks Chris - I love it. So glad you cats are puttin it back together.

Confluence City said...

Your enthusiasm is valued! And, I hope, valid.