Review of Singing for the Landlord
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome additon to American folk
Reviewed for Amazon in the United States on June 21, 2003
Wth this album, Greg Greenway shows himself extraordinarily flexible. His version of American Folk encompasses the difficult issues of Ireland and South Africa as well as those of the States. The combination of Greenway’s clear melodic vocals and the smooth harmonies of his back-up singers gives listeners a layered experience of the music--and the issues that underpin it. Just as you can’t leave a Greg Greenway concert thinking nothing of the way you vote, so his album encourages self-reflection: not just the emotional kind that most song-writers encourage, but intellectual as well. In these days of sound-bytes and micro-ideas, this is a really good thing.
Artist’s Notes: The CD
For the artist making a recording, it becomes so much more than just songs on a disc. It becomes the entire society of the people making it, amidst all of the forces around them. Imagine a melting pot of young musicians, careers on the verge, in the hyper competitive setting of the Boston music scene, a brand new record label, and new management (new to managing). Mix all of that together with inexperience and a serious deadline, and aspirin can’t be far away.
My first CD, A Road Worth Walking Down, was like a family affair. Dave Dickerson did a phenomenal job of piecing together previous recordings and when the time came, finding amazing people to perform on it. It seemed that at every point where something could have gone well or not, it went well, better than well. I always have mused that my father, who had recently passed away, was pulling strings somewhere, helping me through.
Singing for the Landlord was my first CD on Eastern Front Records. Jerry Potts, the head of the company, could not have been a better human being. I love that guy to this day. He was incredibly supportive and committed to letting the artist determine what went on the recording. From that standpoint, this was a dream. But everything that went right for A Road
Worth Walking Down, went wrong for Singing for the Landlord.
Here’s just a short recap. A week before recording started, my percussionist for the previous few years, left town without telling me. One of my primary backup singers had surgery and had to leave half way through. We discovered later that the automation on our central mixing board had glitches that showed up in the mixes. With our drop dead date approaching, Dave Dickerson, who was the heart of the recording process, couldn’t make the session where we finalized the mixes on the aforementioned board, nor could he make the mastering session. Just in writing this, I can feel, even now, the pressures that kept me up at night. It was a miracle that we made this CD.
When you are responsible for something, from the very beginning idea to the very last note, the end result, for you, contains all of the things that did not happen. It takes time to let all of that go and just hear what is there. I have to thank some very loyal friends who kept telling me that they thought that this was my best CD. Through the passing of decades, I’ve finally been able to hear the music that did happen - and love it. So many great things happened on this CD. Moments in the studio that I remember like yesterday: hearing Jonatha Brooke’s incredible mind (and voice) at work on harmonies on She’s Just Gone and Singing for the Landlord; Dave Dickerson walking over to me, telling me that he had gotten through to Ibrahima, the master Senegalese percussionist, who finally agreed to play on the CD as long as no one, but Dave, spoke to him; sitting down at Q Division Studio with Jerry Potts during the basic tracks session, telling him that having just returned from Ireland, I’d almost completely written a new song that I wanted to record, and, oh by the way, probably name the CD after - he looked at me as if I were sane and said, let’s hear it; hearing Dave mix the vocals to Ghost Dance for the first time (the hair stood up on the back of my neck); hearing Duncan Watt’s piano part for Ghost Dance; hearing the groove for Don’t You Go all together for the first time.
All of these elements are resident in the notes you hear, the words I sing. If you bought it at a show and I signed it, then I handed you a large chunk of my life, my loves, and maybe even my future. But, the making of it, I can assure you, was resplendent with the joy of doing, no matter how many aspirin it took.
artist's notes: The Songs
G tuning (DGDGBD), Capo on 2, in the key of E
By the time the book, Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, appeared in an article in the Boston Globe, I had been studying, for over a decade, the dreadful history of the treatment of native peoples in the United States. The book is a collection of photographs from 1890, staged and taken by exploitive photographers weeks after the Wounded Knee Massacre, to sell to the sensationalist newspapers back east. People in the East would pay to “see” photos of the last “wild Indians.” After the blizard that ensued, photographers flocked to South Dakota, turned the frozen bodies over in the snow and put weapons by them to make them look fierce in death. The photograph that had drawn my attention in the Globe was of a mounted soldier in a field of snow littered with ragged blankets. Only when you look closely do you see that the blankets were covering the bodies of the frozen Lakota.
The newspaper article came while I was still in my last day job, as a graphic artist, designing CDs. Somewhere around the time of the book, two Latino young men came in with a Rap project. The photo for the cover was of the two of them standing in front of a graffitied building. In the corner of the picture was, in spray paint, a tombstone for a young man who had died at 19. TV news clips flashed in my mind of murdered young men being gurnied away, faces covered by blankets.
The song conflates these two powerful stories as we live in a world where the deaths of marginalized people are somehow acceptable. We are left in “a world that needs more blankets, and doesn’t need its sons.”
Lay Down This Weight
G/C tuning (CGDGBD), Capo on 4, in the key of B
Just another up tempo happy song about two people breaking up. The up tempo comes in the decision to let go, not an easy one to make, but ultimately freeing. The rhythm was inspired by Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill on a day when I had decided to try dropping my bass string to a C from G tuning. I found chords and suprise colorations all over the neck of my guitar... it was hypnotic. I was lost in discovering and played the pieces incessantly until they came together.
I have to thank the lovely singer/songwriter, Anne Hills, who was at the same B&B on Martha’s Vineyard, in an adjacent room. I had no idea how much was bleeding through the walls until years later when she told me. I have to also thank Christine Lavin for inviting me to the Martha’s Vineyard Songwriters Retreat in the first place. It was such an inspiring time. As I’ll talk about later, I discovered C9 tuning sitting on the sea wall down the street from Brady’s NE/SW B&B in Oak Bluffs. So many of the songs for this CD had their inception there.
100 Years of Solitude
Gm/C tuning (CGDGBflatD), Capo on 4, in the key of Em
The most elaborate dressing up of cold feet you’ll ever hear. Taking it’s title from the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, this is an expression of my fear of making a committment I might not be able to keep. It would be so much simpler to attach to some greater cause, were there one to be found, and escape the turbulent emotions of human life. “If I could find a god up in the sky.”
I had gone one step further in my tunings, departing from C9 by taking my second string down to a Bflat. This brought me to G minor over C tuning. I learned that I needed to calm down as a player, to trade energy and force for nuance. I’m still on that lesson, when energy is the one constant I get when performing for people. This approach, of a greater segregation of my bass strings from the other parts. brought me to songs like In the Name of Love, rouble, and Runaway Train, combinations of nuance and explosion. It pretty much started with 100 Years of Solitude.
Singing for the Landlord
G/C tuning (CGDGBD), Capo on 2, in the key of A
I went to visit a friend in Ireland in April of 1995, a month or so after British soldiers had been withdrawn from the checkpoints going into Northern Ireland. We drove, from Dublin, across that unforgettably green country, through flocks of sheep (as the cliché predicts), past mile after mile of low rock walls, on roads that had us constantly looking at the map and asking, “is this a road?” In Dublin, I had visited the Post Office famously occupied by Irish nationalists, brought into my consciousness by the W. B. Yeats poem, “Easter 1916.” I had heard the history of the potato famine from the mouth of a Trinity College grad student who told us that there had been food on the docks of Ireland, and the poor were allowed to starve. This is what happens when a folksinger goes on vacation, especially one who believes that Bloody Sunday is U2’s defining song, especially one who grew up in a place with a dark unwritten history.
But this was a time of great optimism as Ireland had become the Celtic Tiger. Changes in its tax laws began to attract investment into the country, everywhere in the skyline of Dublin were cranes building the edifaces of the new ecomomy. Much to the Irish’s delight, British workers were even coming into Ireland to look for jobs. It was a time of great energy.
As we got closer to Easter, we reached the far point of our plans, meeting people in the northern county of Donegal. On the actual holiday, we were invited to a party at the very well appointed vacation home of wealthy English protestants. It was obviously a very inside affair, a traditional holiday for a group of people who had known each other for years. Invited into someone’s home, in a foreign country, in a culture I’d only experienced for a week, I decided that this was a time to watch and learn. But, in Ireland, if someone knows that you play music, you’re going to sing.
Someone had driven back to where we were staying and produced my guitar. I experienced that moment that every performer has when put on the spot in a setting antithetical to all of their sensibilities. At the end of a beautiful, yet heartbreaking, week in a land where the history seeped out of every green blade of grass, I was to sing for the landlords of Ireland.
In that intense instant of decision, mind racing, thinking about hospitality, humanity, and the knowledge of how dangerously close I could be to ignorance of these welcoming, well intended people, I had one clear thought. If they want to hear me, they’re going to know where I come from. I put my guitar into D tuning and began to strum the intro to Free at Last. I mentioned seeing Nelson Mandella in Boston, and immediately a fairly drunk man shouted, “Nelson Mandela,” and then made the internationally understood gesture of pointing his finger, gagging the back of his tongue. I ignored him as I felt a ripple of embarrassment in the room, then I sang it with all of my heart.
I don’t think they expected what came out of me, but I felt that beyond their code of politeness, their sense of hospitality, they heard me- and kept asking for more. I sang for almost an hour before it was time to eat. I was almost shaking inside.
My conversations after the meal included the man who denegrated Mandela. He came up and apologized, saything that he was from South Africa and that he was just being outrageous. I took it at face value, thanked him, and moved on. I’m always aware of just how contrary to a party atmosphere a serious Folk singer can be. It was their party. But, it’s very difficult to sit comfortably in the lap of a luxury built on the suffering of others. It’s a story all too familiar, and I was feeling that I was at it roots.
So when my Aer Lingus flight landed at Logan International in Boston, I disembarked in a sea of Irish faces. When they saw that everyone cleaning, serving food, or guarding the airport were people of color, I imagined that it was easy for them to see who the “Irish” were in America.
I Have Been Betrayed
G tuning (DGDGBD), no Capo, in the key of G
I have a supremely talented friend who, like so many, was diagnosed with ADD when his child was diagnosed. We were on a long drive and he told me the very sad story of how it had destroyed his marriage. The “bitter twist” of the story is that he was immensely helped with drug therapy. His new vision was just in time to clearly see the irrepairable wake his former self had left. Almost Shakespearean.
Under The Night Forever Falling
C9 tuning, Capo on 2, in the key of D
This is a line from Dylan Thomas that when first read, lifted out of the context of the poem and resonated with something I saw in myself. It falls under the category of what you are handed by life and what you do with it. My Depression era mother had the internalized second class citizenship of those who grow up in deprivation. Disappointment, an every day reality in her early life, scarred and inhabited her as a young woman. It left the reflex of “less than.” She couldn’t help but pass on, on some level, that success and happiness was for other people.
I consciously left so much behind when I left Richmond to create my own life in Boston. It took me years to recognize what had unconsciously tagged along, tangled up in all of the drive and desire to become something more. As one of my major musical inspirations, Peter Gabriel, wrote in Red Rain, “it’s so hard to lay down in all of this,” especially when you realize that part of what you leave behind is yourself.
Fortunately, I have found the courage to go towards what scares me, to face my fear. I have built my life around those who sustain me until I can convice my harshest critic - myself.
She’s Just Gone
G tuning, Capo on 4, in the key of F#
Any personal sense of security by the people of Boston was shattered with one shot in August of 1988. A bullet put in the air found its way to an 11 year old girl named Tiffany Moore. On a crowded street in the Roxbury section of Boston, she was sitting on a mailbox. She was visiting from South Carolina, where her mother had sent her to live because of the street crime in the neighborhood. The senselessness, the randomness, instantly became everyone’s reality. One minute she was a happy young girl, the next she was a tragedy.
The song couldn’t know what would happen in the wake of the murder. The huge public outcry put tremendous pressure on the Boston Police and an innocent man was arrested and convicted. Shawn Drumgold spent 15 years of his life sentence in prison. His conviction was vacated when someone else confessed to the murder.
One Man, One Woman, One Vote
D tuning (DADF#AD), Capo on 3, in the key of F
The first democratic election was held in South Africa on the 27th of April, 1994. I heard moving personal accounts of what it meant to vote for the first time, for people who never believed that they would see this in their lifetime. In juxtaposition with the shamefully low percentage of U.S. citizens who vote, these stories percollated in my head on my flight to Washington, D.C. I was going to play a concert for a friend, Rick Allen, who picked me up at the airport. On the drive back from the airport, we started talking about the election. He told me that he had been co-author and co-editor of a book of Robert F. Kennedy’s speaches, and that perhaps his most powerful speech was at the University of Cape Town in 1966. RFK was promptly banned by the S.A. government, which mean that he couldn’t be in a room with more than one other person at a time. So the rest of the tour to meet with the names that would soon be know around the world, was completed by Robert’s wife, Ethel. My friend matter of factly inserted into our conversation that Ethel would be coming to the concert tonight.
I took that as a challenge. With the generously gifted book in my hand, I went up to my room. t was one of those moments where you have to sieze the day. With a generously gifted copy of the book, I went to my room and started writing. As Old Lodgeskins said in Little Big Man, “sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.” This time it did. The stories were so compelling and the guitar part came almost instantly. For some reason, I knew it was in D tuning, the same tuning as Free at Last, and I found a new line that ran through familiar places on the neck. The whole song felt familiar as I was writing it, the question became was if I was going to be able to remember it that night in the midst of all of the emotions.
As it turned out, I did remember it. I dedicated it to Ethel Kennedy who was as gracious and unassuming as I could have ever imagined. What a remarkable day in my life.
The line that sticks in my heart after writing it: “to forgive the unforgettable sins of the past.”
Angles of the Sun
Gm/C tuning (CGDGBflatD), Capo on 3, in the key of B flat
Somewhere between the sea wall in Oak Bluffs and Crow’s Pond on Cape Cod, the image of the sun reflecting off of the trillions of arising and disappearing facets of the ocean reminded me of the trillions of acts of love that makes human life possible. There is nothing like a September sunset on the ocean. On one final boat ride in that last warm month, we seemed to be following the sun as it moved across the sky, casting a wake of fiery gold on the dark water, then disappearing in the western horizon. The bow of the boat was aimed perfectly at it as we worked our back from the ocean, huddled in our sweaters, into the bay, and finally onto the black pond. When the engine cut, we silently glided into the dock just as the fire of the sun disappeared behind the trees on the surrounding hills. It was a once in a lifetime occurrance.
The movie, The Power of One, left etched into my mind, a scene where a boy figured out how to get rival tribes of Africa to sing together by weaving their traditional songs together. In that moment, singing their own songs, the generational adversaries suddenly heard themselves as part of one song, a hugely powerful song. What a remarkable metaphor for the unification of the people of South Africa.
This is precisely what I tried to do in the archtypical parts of my song. It contains the amazing ever-changing beauty of a September sunset on the ocean, the transience of life, the dynamic forces of land, sea, and sky, of have and have not.
Crack in the Wall
a cappella, in the key of B flat
Reggie Harris told me about a song he was writing on domestic violence. He liked my choruses and wondered if I might want to co-write this song with him. I told him how terrible I am at co-writing. It’s so much an internalized process for me that bouncing off of someone else’s thinking has never worked. But, I told him that I’d try. Fast forward a couple of years and as I was driving west on a southern highway, the chorus came to me. It was a long drive, so I kept writing. I finished the whole song and then called Reggie. He’d finished his song as well. So now there are two Cracks in the Wall. Because I was driving, mine was a cappella.
But Reggie had painted such a great picture, all I had to do was look around.
Don’t You Go So Far From Me
Double Drop D tuning (DADGBD), Capo on 3, in the key of F
A friend asked me to help him move his furniture from the house of his divorce. I had witnessed their courtship, been a friend of their early marriage, and suffered along with its dissolution. That was one sad day. The title of the song was never said, but it didn’t have to be.
Drop D tuning, Capo on 2, in the key of E, now played in C9, Capo on 4
From a myth, to a painting, to a poem, to a song, the truth of the human experience has been passed down from culture to culture through time. I joined the conversation on an extremely hot and humid day in my unairconditioned dorm room in Williamsburg, VA. It was my sophomore year and I was taking my first upper level English class. I had been assigned a poem by the English poet, W.H. Auden, entitled Musée des Beaux Arts. I read the first portion until I arrived at “In Breughel’s Icarus.” (Landscape with the Fall of Icarus) The unknown allusions had been stacking up and, in these pre-personal computer days, I really wasn’t in the mood to go to the library. It was so hot and humid. I decided to go to the only place that I knew was air conditioned - the movie theatre. I didn’t care what the movie was- it was going to be cool and they had great popcorn. I walked unseeing under the marquis bearing the title, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” When David Bowie (portraying the alien) paged through a book and put his finger on Breughel’s Icarus, I knew that the universe had decreed that I needed to pay attention. And so I did.
In the painting, the world of Brughel’s time was at work plowing a field, casting a net, sailing a ship. Everyone was absorbed in their task, missing the import of “Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky.” So when I made my Icarus flight out of Virginia, I was well aware that I was on my own. But, walking past a man living on a park bench, his face bright red from the sun and the alcohol, the myth, the painting, and the poem emerged from the abstract.
Musicians, credits, & Thanks
Greg Greenway: acoustic guitars, keyboards
Doug Wray: bass
John Sands: drums
Duncan Watt: Piano, Hammond B3, synths. vocals
Ibrahima Camaro: sabar talking drum
julie Woods: vocals, cosmic conjuring
Patrica Barkas; vocals
Jonatha Brooke: vocals on Singing for the Landlord and She’s Just Gone
Produced by Greg Greenway & Dave Dickerson
Recorded & mixed by Dave Dickerson
Vocal arrangements by:
Greg Greenway 8. Duncan Watt
Q Division, Boston, MA
Wellspring Sound, Concord, MA
Metropolis, Middleton, MA
Metropolis, Middleton, MA
Mastered by Henk Kooistra, at 9 West
Special thanks to; Jerry Potts & Rob Swalley at Eastern Front Records. Anne Saunders & Howard Randall, The Donlins for the years they gave, Robert Haigh, Karen D’Arcy, Roger, Nancy, Sarah, Burke, Lisa, Marshall, Lara, lent, Cicely, Moe & Bona, The Tape Complex, Jean Greenway, Chuck Collins (so few 8 balls, so many pockets), Henry Purtill [keep practicing, little guy), Don laFrance, Robert Richardson, Tony, Danielle, all ol the players who gave beyond the call, Jonatha Brooke, Saint David Dickerson (&. Jo, who gave him up for 6 weeks), and, Audrey, who is in these lines as much as the sun or the sea.