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Retold
liner notes
by Joel Mabus

[back to the Retold album page]

[notes from tray card]

Redux, renew, re-visit, re-do. Twelve vintage songs from the pen of Joel Mabus, freshly recorded. Each has grown up a bit since the first time around, and each merits a re-telling.

1. Swing That Thing 3:40
2. Naked Truth 4:39
3. Hopelessly Midwestern 7:52
4. Holding to the Land 3:56
5. Five Kinds of Snow 3:10
6. What 'My Doin' Wrong 2:31
7. Duct Tape Blues 10:54
8. The Preacher & The Flood 4:50
9. Guadalupe 2:51
10. Touch A Name on the Wall 4:23
11. Sea of Dreams 2:19
12. Lucky, Lucky You 3:14

Total time 53:49

All songs were written by Joel Mabus, BMI Joel Mabus - vocals and guitar
Recorded, mixed and mastered by John Stites of Arcadia Recording
Produced by Joel Mabus
for Fossil Records
PO Box 306 Portage, MI 49081
www.joelmabus.com

© (P) 2008 Joel Mabus
all rights reserved
FOSSIL 1808

 

[notes from inside booklet]  

It is a cliché, but a truth nonetheless, that a songwriter’s works are his children. Every song is conceived in great hope and nurtured with tender care.  While it is hard for a parent to play favorites, I reluctantly admit that some songs just do better than others.  Since first delivery, these particular twelve pieces and I have matured together. It would be ludicrous to claim these are my “greatest hits,” and somewhat artful to call this a “best of” collection. This album does offer a sampler of my earlier songs, and some audience favorites are included, I suppose. But my main criteria in choosing these 12 works was that I am still fond of these “kids” after all this time, and I think I am better at reading their personalities now.  They deserved another round in the studio with the old man.

 

After a decade of recording for other Indy labels, I decided to grasp the nettle and become my own boss and benefactor. And so I established Fossil Records in 1987.  This session, recorded in October, 2007, represents something of an anniversary. All of the songs on this CD were written & initially recorded in Fossil’s first decade – 1987 to 1997. Several of these songs were debuted in a concert in January 1988 that was recorded and released on vinyl as The Naked Truth later that same year.  With this new disc I have made the first studio versions of those songs of ‘88.  The other songs here are from other early Fossils – all originally cut in the studio within a few months of creation.  But each has been a frequent visitor to my concerts over the years, and with every retelling each song has seen some changes in either form or attitude. I’ve made a few melodic adjustments here and there, and have made more than a few tweaks to the lyrics.  And so they are here for you all in one place – freshly Retold.

  ----

 “The Naked Truth” is my telling of the old Roman myth (nudus veritas) of two rival goddesses, Truth and Falsehood, and how they got that way. This became the title cut of my 1988 live concert album. That live record was essentially my entire first set of a concert I gave one winter’s night, all brand-new songs sprung on a hometown crowd. The naked truth indeed.

 “Swing That Thing” was a song I sang in the second set of that concert – a very fresh song at the time which I had only lightly memorized. The lyrics were written on the back of an envelope. Unfortunately, I lost the envelope and soon forgot the song.  When, a few years later, we were looking for “bonus cuts” for the CD version of The Naked Truth album, we found this song on a tape of that long-forgotten second set. So it made it to the CD, and I re-learned it from my former self, transcribing it to a new piece of paper, one line at a time.

 “Hopelessly Midwestern” is a song that has morphed over the years.  Those who know this song from my 1990 Firelake CD – or have heard someone’s cover version – will notice that quite a few words have changed.  I have “zippered” in various lines over the years, and have taken to telling audiences the true story of my California encounter as I vamp. I actually got the idea for this song while onstage at a festival in Owen Sound , Ontario , singing impromptu backup as one of Christine Lavin’s “Sensitive New Age Guys.”  I suddenly saw the power of a recurring single-line refrain.

 “Holding to the Land” and “Five Kinds of Snow” were both part of 1994’s Promised Land CD, a collection I think of as a songwriter’s look at America .  I am the product of hard-working tenant farmers from Southern Illinois .  Some in the family went to the coal mines, some went to the meat-packing houses, some flirted with showbiz, and a few held to the land – buying the farm outright. “Holding to the Land” was written for them, and all the other family farmers I have known.  “Five Kinds of Snow” was written during a Michigan blizzard, while I was doing a load at a laundromat, wondering if I would ever make it home again.

 “What ‘My Doin’ Wrong” is a tip of the hat to the music of Fats Waller, and the portrait of an old-school ladies’ man who hasn’t a clue about his postmodern companion. I‘ve found the steady beat of a Travis-style thumb-picked guitar suggests a nice mirror to Waller’s stride piano. This song first showed up in 1997 on Rhyme Schemes – a collection of my more dry-humored songs and spoken words.

 “Duct Tape Blues” was another cut from the live show in ’88.  This one has dogged and haunted me for twenty years. I got tired of it after a while, then re-worked it several times. Various stage raps were inserted into it with rants going in several directions. I sent it on vacation for a while.  I resurrected it in 2000 for an mp3-only version, and had a post 9/11 verse for a while.  What you have now is an incarnation that survives the road trips of a million miles, and a thousand badly-lit folk shows.  Yes, I have a right to sing the blues.

 I can’t take credit for the underlying story that is “The Preacher and the Flood.”  I don’t remember the first time I heard the old joke, but it was long before I wrote the tale into a song in 1992 as part of my Short Stories CD.  I always heard it as a yarn about an “old religious fella down south” but I promoted him to a preacher – and made him rhyme.  I will also take responsibility for inventing the homily that rings the bell at the end of the story – “the Lord helps them that help one another.”

 I am one of the few songwriters to return from a gig at the Kerrville Folk Festival moved to write a lyric-free instrumental.  The Texas festival is a Mecca for serious songwriters who can fuss and fidget all night long to find that one perfect word while crafting a song by the light of Promethean campfire. But my particular idyll was inspired by a view from the crowded backseat of a sweltering minivan ferrying me from the San Antonio airport to the festival. As we drove uncomfortably through a town named “Comfort,” I saw two boys beating the heat in the middle of the Guadalupe River , sitting on a big flat rock, their pant legs rolled up, cooling their feet in the languid waters. That tableau possessed me as I wrote “Guadalupe” for my 1996 guitar instrumental album of Americana , Western Passage.

 It took several difficult months to write “Touch a Name on the Wall.”  I struggled to find a way to express my unsettled feelings about Vietnam and other wars, searching for appropriate metaphors, images and dramaturgy – the stuff of songwriting. I finally found my central image in the Vietnam War Memorial designed by Maya Lin – actually an outstretched hand touching a name carved into the “Wall”. That single tactile image became my title and refrain, and the song grew around it.  This song has traveled far and wide since I first sang it on stage in ‘88.  It has been taken up and sung by both war protesters and proud veterans alike, and I am glad for that. One vet took a tape of this song with him to Vietnam and offered it to be played on the loudspeakers of the Reunification Train that runs between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City .  The locals liked the song so much that he left the tape with the conductor.

 To answer an oft-asked question and address a common misconception:  I am not myself a veteran of that war, and while I had family and friends who served in Vietnam , I am sincerely thankful that my own best friend’s name is not carved in that cold stone. I am only a songwriter who saw a story that needed telling. In recent years I have been singing “The Wall” more often again, and with a certain chagrin deliver the line: “God give us the strength to stand up and tell them – never again!”

 These days I seldom sing “The Wall” without following it with “ Sea of Dreams ” as I do here.  This was offered as a peaceful lullaby on the Promised Land album. But just as we can sometimes imagine new constellations in the old stars themselves, this small song continues to unfold for me.

 To end up, I offer the song that kicked off my first “fossil record” back in ’87: “Lucky, Lucky You” from the Fortunes album.  There is many a spiritual lesson to be told from the most mundane things. The phrase, “you may already be a winner” was one that split open my head one day and this song spilled out.  Lucky, lucky me.

 

Joel Mabus 2007