SingOut! Magazine CD Pick of the Week
Review by Ron Olesko
April 27, 2008
Greg Greenway‘s new CD “Standing on the Side of Love” shows the artist continuing to mature with the confidence to explore new sounds. This superb recording from Greg offers a powerful collection of songs, all of which were written by Greg with the exception of a song called “Sick and Tired” that was co-written with Kate Campbell. There is a infectious gospel feel to this recording, with a touch of funk wrapped around Greg’s stunning vocal talents as well as his skills on guitar and piano.
The title cut deals with crossing bridges of race, religion and culture. The community spirit in the anthem-like song offers much needed reminders in these days when the news reports on backward recession in progress of social change.
There are some stunning personal songs on this CD including “I Carry Your Heart With Me” – a song created for a wedding and based on ee cummings poem “#90”. Another standout is “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down,” an inspirational piece about an elder woman named Penny Duffy. Penny fell from a ladder , smashing her knees and writst and it was feared that Penny would not walk again. This past Christmas, Greg and Penny danced together.
The previously mentioned collaborative effort with Kate Campbell, “Sick and Tired” was born from the famous quote from Fannie Lou Hamer. Both Kate and Greg have Southern roots, and their take on race relations is well complimented by a percussive backing and vocals from guests Reggie Harris and Sarah Burrill.
The community spirit of the songs is matched by the contributions from the folk community in the recording session. Pat Wictor’s slide steel guitar work is featured on several cuts and Gina Forsyth adds some lovely violin accompaniment. Vocal contributions from David Roth, Eric Schwartz, Tom Tracy and Barbara Kessler are also well received in this recording that was produced by Neale Eckstein.
This CD is a community of ideas and people: a community of marvelous musicians helped me bring these ideas into the world. Their musical wisdom was transforming. It was the most fun I’ve ever had recording - even in the grim final hours of deadline. When you respect and believe in everyone, it becomes a very natural process. I gave virtually no instruction to Jagoda, and he took things to a place that was fabulous. I’ve never had the producer experience of just pushing away from the console and listening: Jagoda gave that gift. I’d never had slide steel guitar on one of my CDs, but hearing Jerry Douglas with Alison Krauss inspired me. When fate, in the guise of Sonny Ochs, brought Pat Wictor to Phil Ochs Song Nights, I knew it had to happen. Pat is relentlessly wonderful on this recording. He connected me to the blues beneath everything. It’s like hearing my own songs for the first time. Reggie Harris is beyond words. He is my brother, confidant, possessor of a voice I wish I had half of.
When, in the middle of a session, he says, “Give me a track,” I give Reggie a track. I gave Reggie tracks. And who knew that he and Tom Tracy (he of the beautiful tenor) would bond in 30 seconds (see “Good Woman”). Sarah Burrill, whose CD I produced a couple of years ago, is the voice you hear in “Highway 4am.” She was absolutely indispensible. She also allowed me to use the same licks on “Lately” that I’d thought up on her CD. She has achieved full family status. Duncan Watt has for years been brilliant on my behalf. Jeff St. Pierre plays bass with such effortless genius that it’s like sitting beside the Dalai Lama on a city bus and talking about the Red Sox. What a great neighborhood when David Roth can stop in and add a part. What a great world when Eric Schwartz (the inimitable) can sing into a laptop and email us a part. What a treat to have old friend and beautiful singer, Barbara Kessler stop in - I knew her when. What great fortune to be able to snag Gina Forsyth, Ritt Henn, and Karen Michelle Bergmann at Folk Alliance in Memphis and have them play beautifully. What a joy to the soul to have Tim Stanton, who always makes me smile, play pedal steel in my old home town.
What a blessed life when the entire collection is put into the capable hands of someone who has only your best wishes at heart, who will go to the turf with you and for you. That would be Neale Eckstein. Without him, none of this would have happened at all - or as well.
My career would not exist without the fabulous Sonny Ochs; three generations of support from the ineffable Hoits; and long time friend, part time Face Productions person and music lover, Karen D’Arcy. I would not exist without my mom, Jeanie Beanie. That existence would be meaningless without my partner in life, Audrey, of the “longest road.”
Thanks to: Radio Bob McWilliams: Rich Warren; Brian Quinn, Dick Pleasants and the great folks of WUMBBoston; Jake Jacobson; Gary Kavanagh; Ginger Long, Page Potter, Paul & Laura Nufire, the Carolina peeps; Liz Carlisle; Peter & Nancy Clark; Ralph Keith; Laurie Laba (home invasion enabler); Steve & Sherry Panzer (Go Giants); Karl Sharicz & his wife, Carol; Emily McWilliams; Max Bloomquist, Annalise Clark of ACM PhotoArt, Paul LaFrance (who is living proof...); Chexx, we miss you: Kim Harris; John Flynn; TPR - still the best; Pat Humphries and Sandy O., the sisters I never had, I’ve missed you this year.
Highway 4am (Driving)
C9 tuning, Capo on 4, in the key of E
At 74 mph, the stripes on I-495 in Massachusetts make this groove. It’s about why I do this perpetual flight of imagination, and it was a love poem to my then wife who is so rooted in the real. That summer we went on a whale watch with several Irish children all around five years old. I saw this little girl take one look at this little boy and instantly want to take care of him. It was magical. There are so many creative forces that make the whole thing work.
I had recently met Pat Wictor and loved his slide playing (why wouldn't you), and I had just heard Jerry Douglas with Alison Krauss do James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind." The slide in that setting was so beautiful, taking a cue from James' fabulous guitar part, moving across the transitions in a way that captured the fluidity that makes that song so special. So I drove to Pat's apartment in Brooklyn with my gear and we recorded a whole bunch of tracks in a very short period of time right in his living room. We were under a huge time crunch and I had to drive out of Brooklyn before everyone else was going to. What a fabulous surprise when I finally had time to go through everything and construct what is now on the CD. It's such a beautiful part. Pat is a fabulous musician and I learned that more and more from eight years together in Brother Sun.
I owe some deference to Jackson Browne's first album (incorrectly called Saturate Before Using) for the feel of "Highway 4am." It was something that I absorbed a long time ago.
Standing on the Side of Love
on piano, in the key of G
My whole life I’ve been presented with bridges. Every time I’ve crossed them, I’ve been rewarded ten thousand fold. Race, religion, nationality, culture, gay, straight, red, purple, green; we’re all in it together, and no one gets out alive. The seed was planted after playing in a rally to defeat Virginia's proposed "Family Protection Act." It was at the University of Virginia where NAACP Chairman and UVA history professor, Julian Bond, was the keynote speaker. He addressed the efforts to ban same sex marriage by what he called “Cafeteria Christians” - the ones that shop in the Bible for particular phrases to twist for their own purposes, ignoring the overall message of love and tollerance.
In that same set of concerts, I was introduced by my friend Martha Shore at a concert in Norfolk, VA . When she said, "when it all comes down, I want to be standing on the side of love." I asked her about that phrase after the concert and she neglected to tell me that she'd taken it from an existing song by that title. So, I wrote my take on it - fortunately for me, titles can't be copyrighted.
As a young teen, I read a paperback version of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man and on the inside of the cover was a quote from him saying something like, what happens when a space ship lands and an intelligent spider walks out. That's when we'll realized how alike we all are here on earth. I couldn't resist putting it in the song. It was a Randy Newman kind of moment - a little bit jarring, but oh so true.
The Color Yellow
C9 tuning, Capo on 7, in the key of Dm, now played on piano, in E flat minor
In reading a beautiful Norwegian novel called Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, one passage painted a brilliant picture in my mind. The young protagonist, trying to understand the forces moving powerfully around him, is out on a rowboat in the middle of a lake as the sun is setting on the water. It was so beautiful a moment that he resolved to hold that joy in his heart no matter what happened. I had a tremendous resonance with that metaphor and remembered it on a November day when the sun was setting through the trees on Cape Cod.
The result was "The Color Yellow," sister song to "The Weight of Feathers" which follows it on the CD. Both were triggered by seeing my mother becoming frail with age. I set the emotions in an abstract about our archtypical defensive instincts - fleeing and hiding. It is essentially about finding benevolence amid chaos and holding it inside. There are those who do--and those who instead have a dark hole at their center, a hole that they spend the greater part of their lives trying to fill. The production is a tribute to Peter Gabriel’s (the world’s greatest folkie) “Mercy Street.”
The Weight of Feathers
on piano, in the key of A
From the title of a short story by the fabulous Irish poet and writer, Geraldine Mills. I had the privilege to interview this award winning writer and discovered that she too had been touched by the myth of Icarus. In her story, Dedalus crashes into a woman's garden and as she nurses him back to health, they engage in parallel discussions of father and son, daughter and mother relationships.
I emailed Geraldine Mills and asked for her permission to use her title, altering the metaphor to describe my own life. Generously, she agreed as long as I'd send her the song. I couldn't be more proud of a song, more confident of sending my writing to such a distinguished poet. In fact, the words began as a poem that I call "Show Business."
The unanswerable pokes holes in our constructed reality.
However much gold and martyrdom we pour in,
a hole is still a hole.
Still, the curtain goes up each morning.
My 89 year old mother, whose generation was seldom allowed the luxury of the theoretical or the ideal, had been upset with a discussion we'd had on the existence of God. I wanted to make peace with her as I saw the things that held her here begin to fray. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated the gift of freedom to pursue my artistic dreams, a freedom she never had, but worked her entire life to provide. She always put us first. I wrote the first two verses for me, and the Iast for her. The weight of feathers - thank you Geraldine for such a brilliant metaphor.
I think of it as almost a Harry Chapin song.
Sick and Tired
C9 tuning, no Capo, in the key of Gm
My first successful face to face co-write. Kate Campbell and I wrote it at Summer Acoustic Music Week for Boston’s WUMB. We had decided a couple of years earlier that our common Southern roots might lead us to a song about race. We worked over time on a really complicated idea, but Kate just walked up and suggested we scrap it in favor of Fannie Lou Hamer’s famous phrase. It happened over a couple of days. We played it for Dick Pleasants on his live show that weekend at SAMW. When I was concerned that the lyrics didn’t really develop as mine typically do (see turgid), Reggie asked what can you say after you’ve said “I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Point taken. Once again, Pat Wictor just kills the slide part and Duncan Watt does the same on piano.
I Carry Your Heart With Me
C9 tuning, capo on 7, in the key of D
Constructed for a wedding from e.e.cummings’ “#90” from 95 Poems. The couple met at one of my concerts and fell in love going to later ones. Through the transitive property of Folk Music, I had to sing at their wedding. The poem was read at my own Wedding, so the thought kept niggling me to turn it into a song. A little voice in the back of my head said to make it sound like an upside down version of the Beatles' “Blackbird.” In a phone conversation on the Wednesday before the Saturday wedding I told the groom that it was just an idea, but I was certain that I could have it for Saturday. Amazingly enough, he said, "OK, I trust you." Never have I been so glad to have an inspiration come to fruition so quickly. The first time I publicly played the song was at that wedding. To my mind if he is that trusting and willing to go with the flow, they're still happily married.
You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down
on piano, in the key of G
This song was written for Penny Duffy. I sang it to Penny Duffy on her one or two or three decades after fiftieth birthday at the Friday night fish fry at the Eastham VFW hall. She had fallen from a ladder the year before and had smashed her knees and wrist. There were those who believed that Penny Duffy might not walk again. But, I had seen Penny Duffy and her sister tap dance at her one or two or three decades after fiftieth minus one birthday. Anyone who had seen that would believe that Penny Duffy would not only walk, but would dance again. Christmas, one year later, we danced together. After the dance, she winked at me.
In recording it, I put this song's harmony parts into the more than able hands of Reggie Harris. I introduced him to Tom Tracy, a Cape Cod artist with a beautiful tenor voice. He and Reg bonded like superglue, in about thirty seconds. It sounded fabulous the moment they started singing together. I was so very grateful for their talents, and I remember Reggie calling me back from the highway to tell me that there was one more riff necessary to complete the arrangement. He'd been listening in his head and something had bothered him. We finished it with Tom and I doing the missing part. But that tells you about why I love that guy.
Lately (The Church of What Is)
C9 tuning, Capo on 3, in the key of B flat
I wanted to write a song about that instant at the beginning of a concert, the energy I get from performing, and how it expands out into the big picture. Years ago, at my last day job, two guys put a business check on a counter that was entitled “The Church of What Is.” They tried to tell me that they’d gotten non-profit status as a church. I just loved it, they'd actually stolen the name of my theoretical church.
One would think that a crafty singer named Greenway might capitalize on a such a freakish consequence and write about climate change and the environment. This song gets as close as I ever do with "leave the stars on when you go."
C9 tuning, Capo on 4, in the key of E
My mother’s favorite song. (See “The Weight of Feathers”). This was the second song written in my incarnation as a Boston songwriter. The true story has often told in concert because it is one of the great stories of my life. It involves my own flight, W.H. Auden’s “Musee De Beaux Arts,” the movie, “The Man Who Fell To Earth” (where David Bowie played an alien--and I always say something like, “as well he should,” or “it was a big stretch for Dave”), and Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” Each of them fell into my life in the space of a day and like great works of Art, they became a layer of who I am. It first showed up on my “Singing for the Landlord” CD, but I wanted to reprise it because it belongs with it’s sequel, “The Weight of Feathers.”
A Little Patch of Sky
a cappella, in the key of Em
This last song on this CD is an interactive instructional exercise, the next step in my career-long efforts to improve audience performance... and the singers on this recording needed work as well. You can use the current singers as guides to the root, minor third, and fifth of the E minor chord. There’s an occasional seventh for the truly adventurous. The one nine chord originally included caused emotional distress in our test group and was subsequently eliminated. The open groove at the end is intended for your own use. We suggest beginning in the privacy of your car and working up. This track comes with a six month exemption from partner and spousal unit commentary. Certificates will be available at www.greggreenway.com.
Words & Music by: Greg Greenway ©Sheen of Heat Music,
except Sick and Tired, by Kate Campbell, Great River Music, BMI,
and Greg Greenway, Sheen of Heat Music , BMI, copyright 2008.
Produced by: Greg Greenway and Neale Eckstein
Engineered by: Greg Greenway and Neale Eckstein at:
Face Productionos World Headquarters, Harwich, MA; Blind Dog Studios,
Chapel Hill, NC, The Elvis Suite, Memphis, TN; Fox Run Studios, Sudbury, MA;
The Steel Mill, Chester, VA;, Risky Recordings, Brooklyn, NY; Fastest Man in the World Studios, Exeter, NH; Liberty Street Studios, Plymouth, MA.
Mixed by: Neale Eckstein and Greg Greenway at Fox Run Studio
Mastered by Jay Frigoletto at Mastersuite, Brookline, NH
Graphic Design: Greg Greenway
Photography: Neale Eckstein
Executive Producers: Karen D’Arcy, Nancy & Roger Hoit, Morgan & Jackson Hoit, and Tim Stanton
Greg Greenway: guitar, piano
Pat Wictor: slide guitar
Jagoda: drums, percussion
Duncan Watt: piano
Tim Stanton: pedal steel
Jeff St. Pierre: electric bass
Ritt Henn: upright bass
Gina Forsyth: violin