Big Road is a tune by Tommy Johnson who also did “Canned Heat” I recorded it solo on a CD called “Try Me One More Time”, but I think it’s really powerful with the whole band. Larry Campbell wrote the horn arrangement. Bob Stewart plays the tuba on it, and I really love what it feels like to play and sing with the horns section with the tuba.
Lovin’ of the Game is by Pat and Victoria Garvey who were on the coffee house circuit a bit before I was. It makes a point that’s hard to argue. Larry’s pedal steel really makes the track cook.
I learned Mary Jane when I went to Columbia University on New York City in the early 60s. The lyrics are about pot, although they’re coded, as they had to be at that time. The guitar part is a neat arrangement with independent bass and treble in a style that was popular in N.Y. at the time. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten who wrote it or who I learned it from. I added a couple of licks here and there, but the guitar part shows that the author was a student of Reverend Gary Davis by one simple lick towards the top of the tune. If you know who wrote it, please let me know.
Standing in the Need of Prayer is an old church tune. It was Mark Cosgrove’s idea to do it. I arranged it for the five of us to sing, and these days we seldom do a concert without it. People seem to love it as much as we do.
The Hills of Isle Au Haut was written by Gordon Bok. I used to hear him sing it at folk festivals decades ago, and never forgot him or the song. There’s a site on the internet where he says that the places named are in Europe, and Isle Au Haut is fictional. It isn’t.
Maiden’s Prayer, Blackberry Blossom, Katy Hill: Maiden’s Prayer is a country instrumental we’ve all known forever. I think it’s gorgeous. I play the first chorus, and then the last one because I like to blue it up. Blackberry Blossom is not the tune commonly known by that title. Both Nate and I first heard it by Bruce Molsky, who is, to me, a very important fiddler. I think Nate plays the hell out of it. The earliest version that we’re aware of was by Ed Haley. Katy Hill is an old fiddle tune that I’ve always enjoyed playing. We haven’t recorded any triple mandolin tunes in a while.
George, Merle & Conway is a song I wrote at the Egg in Albany after Mark Cosgrove and I were discussing how affecting the songs of the three singers are. Some people think country songs like the ones George, Merle & Conway wrote and sang, are over the top. Some of them are, but really, life itself is often over the top, and why write about something mundane?
Diamond Lil is another of my tunes. I recorded it years ago, but this quintet puts its own stamp on it. I like the way we do it these days and thought we should record it. The instrumental parts are all improvised, and some of us worried that we wouldn’t do those parts as well when we recorded as when we play live. I think we solved that by recording it on film at the same time as we recorded the audio. It was a performance, and we’re all happy with it. I’m fiercely proud of the ensemble improvisation. I think it’s a bit of something not often seen that we love doing.
Who Will the Next Fool Be? is a song by the great Charlie Rich. He had a hit on it, but not as big a hit as it should have been. Bobby Blue Bland had the biggest hit with it, and it affected me, so I had to sing it. This is the Big Band with the horn section we love to play with. Birch Johnson, our trombone player, wrote the horn arrangements. I love doing this tune.
Just Because You Didn’t Answer is by another of my favorite song writers. I knew him as Thom Bishop in Chicago, but he now goes by (the new name). He was teaching creative writing at the Naropa Institute in Boulder. One of the reasons I love this song is that I’ve never heard another song that says what this one does.
Take this Hammer is a tune Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) used to sing. It’s a prison song, but we do it bluegrass style. Larry plays a great mandolin solo on it, and Mark Cosgrove tears it up on guitar. Nate does Nate on it, and we all always take note of what he plays.
I learned Roll On John from the singing of John Herald. I can’t help but think of him we play it. I miss him, as do all who knew him. We like to do this as an encore in front of the mikes so that there’s nothing in between us and the listeners.
– David Bromberg