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No Worries Now...
liner notes
by Joel Mabus

[back to the No Worries Now album page]

[notes from tray card]

1. Am I Right (3:37)
2. Come Along Again (3:09)
3. Two Cents Plain (3:25)
4. Alligator Ate Her Poodle (2:39)
5. Little Mister Diddy (2:59)
6. You Voted Red (2:00)
7. Poison In The Glass (4:58)
8. Halfway Home (4:12)
9. Charlie Birger (8:09)
10. The Lost Shall Be Redeemed (2:52)
11. Give It Up (3:44)
12. Shine (4:05)
13. How Can I Keep From Singing
[the old hymn re-imagined] (3:06)
14. Extra Poison
[bonus track] (4:13)

Joel Mabus: vocals, acoustic guitar & mandolin
Frank Youngman: acoustic bass

All lyrics & music written by Joel Mabus
except the melodies for #4 & #13 which are from the public domain,
adapted and arranged by Joel Mabus.

Recorded, mixed & mastered by John Stites at Arcadia Recording
Produced by Joel Mabus for Fossil Records
All songs published by Fingerboard Music, BMI

(p) © 2009 Joel Mabus, Fossil Records # 2009

Fossil Records
PO Box 306
Portage, MI 49081
www.joelmabus.com  

 

[notes from booklet]  

Relax, you’ve got no worries now…

Inexorable war, global market crashes, stunning bankruptcies, ecological disasters, bitterly contested elections and ruthless piracies (both on the high seas and in the boardroom) were the backdrop as I wrote and recorded these songs over the past year and a half.

So what else is new? Once again the world has proved itself to be a fickle and dangerous place. A handful of songs, however sanguine, aren’t going to undo the troubles.  But songs are all I have to offer.  My best hope is that you might find some refuge here from the storm – maybe a few smiles and nods too.  Should you choose to delve, the notes inside this booklet provide some details about these songs and how they got that way.

Thanks are in order.  My gratitude to Frank Youngman for applying his upright bass skills and overall fine musicianship to this project.  It was great to have my old friend on the job again – Frank played bass on my very first album back in 1977.  And I can’t thank John Stites enough for his diligence and attention to detail in the recording of this disc. For all of John’s cool studio equipment, it’s his ears and what’s between them that makes the difference.

But for patience and support, my wife Jan gets the prize. How many times has she suffered the hundred minuscule variations on one budding tune as I tinker on my guitar, or put up with the countless hours squirreled away in my man-cave as I type, hum, strum, and type some more?  Must be love.

In this age of shuffle-play and random access, the record album – a parcel of songs all lined up in a particular order – has been deemed hopelessly old-fashioned.  Today music is temporal and disposable – mere files to be copied and cached in any number of possible pods and musets.  This brave new world is all rip & burn, load & delete.  Me?  I’m more of a “vessel of sacred fire” kind of guy.  So thanks to you for taking a chance on this album, my twentieth.  Let me know if you like it.  

Where to? what next?  Well, I surely don’t know, but as long as my breath holds out I will keep singing.  

Joel Mabus, 2009

 

1 Am I Right (3:37) is a jump tune that asks the old wise-guy question, “Am I right or am I right?”  That choice of no choice has always struck me as another of those Zen “one hand clapping” riddles.  Or I could be wrong.

2 Come Along Again (3:09) began as a ditty made up while driving the length of Pennsylvania in mid-March.  It wasn’t yet spring, but you could see it from there.  What intrigued me was not so much the turning of the seasons, but the hopeful anticipation of the next season’s turn.  It’s the thing around the corner that keeps us going, I think.  

3 Two Cents Plain (3:25) is a term from the last Great Depression.  In a soda shop or tavern, the cheapest drink you could buy was unflavored soda water.  It went for two cents, and the name for the beverage became “a two cents plain.”  I stumbled upon this factoid while writing a little ragtime guitar piece, and I thought it would make a dandy title.  Well, the title led to lyrics, and the instrumental became a song.

4 Alligator Ate Her Poodle (2:39) started out as just a silly sentence jotted on a page.  Eventually it blossomed into light verse about the beautiful State of Florida – or rather her invaders.  Light verse is terribly out of fashion / It’s all so horribly Ogden Nashion

5 Little Mister Diddy (2:59) could be dedicated to any number of fishy politicians.  I have one particular glad-hander in mind, but the choices are endless.  You pick.

6 You Voted Red (2:00) was written during the fatiguing 2008 political campaigns.  Applying the current gang colors of our 2-party system, mine is a typically blue home in a generally red town.  But my county leans blue in the red region of a frequently blue state.  Color us mauve.  The mismatch of this song is not my relationship, if you must know.  I invent most of my characters, especially the ones named “I.”

7 Poison In The Glass (4:58) began as just that image.  Pregnant with possibility, it led me first to consider Socrates – and then other high-and-mighties who are remembered as much for their fates as their feats.  For more, see the bonus track.

8 Halfway Home (4:12) is a remembrance of things past.  The hometown of my childhood isn’t there anymore.  Oh, it’s still on the map.  The Mississippi River still churns nearby, the summers are still hot and muggy, and Main Street is still called Main Street .  But it’s no longer the place I know so well.  That place is indelible – the smallest whiff from a skillet can conjure my mother’s kitchen like Brigadoon.  

9 Charlie Birger (8:09)  was a colorful small-town crime boss – a back-water Al Capone cum Robin Hood.  In the 1920’s Birger headed a gang of machine-gun toting bootleggers in southern Illinois , a.k.a. “Little Egypt.”  After 80 years it is hard to tease out fact from legend in a bigger-than-life character like Charlie Birger, but I’ve tried.   On trial for murder, Charlie cracked, “I’ve killed some men, but never a good one.”  He did, in fact, oust the KKK from his home turf in what amounted to gang warfare.  Birger held court at his notorious speakeasy & barbeque joint – The Shady Rest – out on Route 13, but kept his own home clean of vice.  Charlie raised two little daughters behind white picket fences in the town of Harrisburg , where he was regarded as a friend to the poor.  Still it was said that Birger had cold eyes, and if insulted would sooner kill a man than punch him in the nose.  As flamboyant as he was enigmatic, Charlie fancied a resemblance to cowboy idol Tom Mix, and often dressed the part.  To this day it is unclear whether a young Birger really charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, as he boasted, or was just a common horse-soldier out West.  Most people didn’t know he was born in Russia (or Lithuania ?) or that he was Jewish – until he summoned a rabbi to pray with him on the gallows.  Charlie’s American dream was bigger than most, and I think his story deserves to be remembered.

10 The Lost Shall Be Redeemed (2:52) is a solo guitar piece I wrote for this spot on the album.  Among my first influences were the old American hymns we sang in church when I was a child, so you might hear echoes of the bygone hymnal here.  I actually wrote some verses to better shape the melody, but left them unsung. I wanted this to be an instrumental, and it remains just that.

11 Give It Up  (3:44) started as an instrumental, too.  The tune suggested the refrain, the refrain delivered the idea, and the idea found the rest of the words – including “goodbye” in nine languages.  Ralph Waldo Emerson sticks his head in the door on the last verse.  The refrain also provides the title for this album, if you haven’t noticed.

12 Shine (4:05) is another song of advice.  The old gospel parable I learned as a child bade me not to hide my candle under a bushel.  Shade-tree mechanics taught me that everything starts with a spark.

13 How Can I Keep From Singing (3:06) is indeed the old hymn re-imagined.  By most accounts, the original words & music were written in 1860 by Robert Wadsworth Lowry.  Literature professor, Baptist minister and renowned hymnist, Lowry wrote three very devotional stanzas that have been amended and largely humanized over the years.  Thanks to Pete Seeger, that great Johnny Appleseed of folk music, the version most performed today is the one he taught the world some 50 years ago.  Pete had learned the song from his friend Doris Plenn who got it from her grandmother.  All mentions of Christ were gone from the hymn by the time Seeger recorded it, and Lowry’s halcyon closing verse was replaced with a defiant one written by Plenn herself in the 1950’s  (“When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death knells ringing…”).  In early 2003, on the eve of   America ’s headlong invasion of Iraq , I was asked to compose a verse for peace to temporarily replace the “tyrants tremble” stanza – for fear of seeming to sing blessing over the coming war.  The occasion was the first annual Midwinter Singing Festival in East Lansing , Michigan . (What I wrote back then is the third verse you have here now; it has been sung every year since to open that festival.)  In 2008, I decided to go for a complete re-write – keeping the song’s one-line refrain, but replacing all the rest.  Why?  I love the song, but Lowry’s lyrics seem fusty to the modern ear – archaic rhymes such as liveth & giveth stumble off the tongue.  Plus, the old hymn’s cardinal points don’t quite jibe with my compass.  Ultimately, I needed a fresh look at the twin metaphors of song & singing, if only to clarify my own views of Spiritus Mundi.  So, risking the charge of hubris, I grasped the nettle and hove to.  While I was at it, I changed the time signature and reharmonized the melody.  So like grandpa’s old ax after three new handles and two new blades, it is the old hymn yet, and yet not.  

14 Extra Poison (4:13) is your bonus track, dear listener.  In writing “Poison In The Glass” (track 7) I exhumed several historical characters who had met dastardly ends.  After editing, the song emerged something like a play, with prologue, epilogue & Greek chorus bracketing three acts of impending demise – three seemed the right number.  But what to do with all my leftover sketches, fully formed verses in my songwriter’s trunk?  I decided to install them in this annex – a little guest house of a song.  If you are bit iffy on your history, I suggest you start your search engines for the lives and deaths of Jesse James, Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean-Paul Marat.  You’ve probably already heard about that business with Judas Iscariot – it’s been in all the papers.

 

There you have them: my fancies and my good-nights most recently contrived for my own amusement and hopefully yours, too.  To read the lyrics, visit my website – JOELMABUS.COM – or if you wish, send me a self addressed stamped envelope for a paper & ink version.  

 

©2009 Joel Mabus -- all rights reserved