George Mann: Songs for Jules and Bruce (June 2010)

George Mann: Songs for Jules and Bruce (June 2010)
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Some Thoughts on “Songs for Jules and Bruce”

By George Mann, June 2010

The process of making any CD is always a disorganized jumble for me until the very end, when all of a sudden, over the course of a few recording and mixing sessions, things seem to almost magically fall into place.  And it is in that final rush, that burst of energy to complete the CD— or more accurately, to walk away from the project, since you could always do more if you had more money, talent, time, etc.— that I have the most fun.

My latest solo CD, “Songs for Jules and Bruce,” is no exception. I started recording songs for it in the fall of 2008, after “Farewell to the Thief” and my CD “Into the Fire” had been completed, and continued working on it while producing the “Until You Come Home” veterans CD compilation and helping Julius Margolin, my longtime singing partner, during his last illness in the summer of 2009. There was a lot of stress and strong emotions running around during that time, and the recording process was a kind of refuge from it all. But I think the overall sadness and quiet of those times is reflected in many of these new songs.

Both Julius and Bruce “Utah” Phillips were important mentors and elders to me. They had such solid awareness of right and wrong, their role in fighting the evils of society, and the history of struggle. It came through in their actions and their songs and stories. This CD is largely dedicated to them and the kindness and love they have shown to me and the working class.

I do most of my recording these days at Will Russell’s Electric Wilburland in Newfield, NY (http://www.wilburland.com). This old church has been turned into a beautiful space for working on music—recording, mixing, and writing. Will has made me feel very comfortable during the past couple of years, and a number of the songs on the new CD were written in that old church! But I also find that being at Wilburland helps me relax when recording or working with the other artists who are on the CD. And for that I am very grateful to Will and Wilburland.

Below you will find some short notes and info on each song. But before that I want to extend my thanks to all the wonderful musicians who have brought their talents into the studio for these songs. I feel so lucky to be able to work with people who can understand my work and make it sound so much fuller by playing and singing on it.

For the One Big Union,
George Mann

1.  Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt (3:20): The last song I wrote for this CD and one I still don’t feel “close” to yet. But I like the groove and I think it sets a good mood for the album. Any time the corporate bosses act, someone is gonna get hurt! Djembe, bass and shaker by Dana Billings, everything else by me.

2.  Streams of Gold (3:33): One of the songs that came out of the “Until You Come Home” veterans CD, this was inspired by a poem in the book “Voices of Vets” and the work of so many Vietnam-era veterans to help their younger comrades deal with the aftermath of being in war and combat. Marty Confurius on bass and Scott Supeck on drums pull it all together.

3.  Old Buddy Goodnight (2:54): One of Utah Phillips’ great early songs and one I did not hear until after Utah had died. I fell instantly in love with it and am glad Julius and my great rabble-rousing friend Anne Feeney added harmonies to this song.

4.  Long Gone (3:50): A song that Utah’s son Duncan had written and given to Utah a few years before his death. I am honored that Duncan asked me to help with music, and Mark Ross and I had fun recording this. Curious fact: the “percussion” sound is my right heel banging on the floor of the studio, with a microphone nearby.

5.  Utah Sounds Fine (4:23): I think this song is one of the strongest on the album. A waltzing, sad, slow march through the life of someone down on their luck—inspired by, but not about, Utah Phillips. This song is about someone so beaten down that he thinks going to Utah to start over sounds fine. Mark Ross adds sweet mandolin and harmonica, and Marty on bass and Scott on drums did a great job of capturing the mood of the song.

6.  The Soup Song (3:08): Julius and Utah both loved this old classic, and I’ll never forget the first time I sang it for Julius— his high-pitched cackle of a laugh at every verse! Julius and Anne Feeney added harmonies.

7.  I Wish That I Could Stop Your Tears from Falling (2:41): Many people I know, including myself, have lost loved ones in recent years. I wrote this for friends who are still grieving, with the hope that they will laugh again someday. I think it’s working… Judy Hyman of The Horseflies came in and played some beautiful fiddle. And Myriam Valle and Jen Middaugh filled out the vocals nicely!

8.  I Still Want to Be Your Friend (3:04): A personal song and a very folky one. I am no longer friends with the person I wrote this for, but I still think it’s a fine song, and one of my more truthful!

9.  You’ll Know Me by the White Stone (2:36): The rocker! I cannot fit my songs into any single style… this one came out a few years ago and I consider it my homage to The Band! But at the core, it’s another song about death and sadness. David Easton rocks the grand piano and organ, Scott and Marty bring in the bottom end, and Myriam belts out the harmonies.

10. From Dust We Come to Dust We Go, Baby (2:47): This is the last song that Julius wrote and recorded. We added additional harmonies and guitar solos and I was able to play this song for Julius just as he was entering the hospital in June 2009. I am glad we were able to finish and play it for him. It swings and has all the characteristics of Julius’s wonderful personality in it!

11. Welcome Home (3:16): I wrote this song with Julius and Utah, as well as the many older veterans out there, in mind. It’s not an easy song to sing live, or explain, so I’ll just say that I’m glad I was able to write it. Myriam Valle and Jen Middaugh’s harmonies, combined with the sparse and haunting instrumentation, have brought tears to more eyes than just mine.

12. That Old Truck in the Woods (3:47): An older song that Judy Hyman added fiddle to, and Myriam Valle’s strong vocals help carry. My old truck really did sink into the sand in the woods near Jeff’s garage… and this song came out of it.

Bonus Tracks:

13. The Unemployed Folksinger’s Blues (3:46): A good joke that is now dated, but ironically, the DJs have been playing it. My last comment on Bush and Cheney, I swear. Say what you want, but they were good business for us folksingers!

14. I Don’t Want to Be A Soldier (3:45): Back in 2003 I told Julius that his songs were too repetitive and similar sounding and challenged him to write something that strayed from his standard swing beat and chord progressions. He came back to me a few weeks later with this gem. We recorded it for the second “Hail to the Thief!” CD in 2004 but it never made any other CD. So I think it’s a great final salute to Julius.