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Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Two Roads, Two Crows; Songs About The Midway

July’s monthly mix hits on a trio of themes, finding dark subject matter even in the colorful world of the carnival. As with all Monthly Mixes, make good use of the “read more” button after the introductory essay. Be sure to check out the lyrics while you’re watching or listening to the songs—at its heart, Mitch’s monthly mix is about fantastic songwriting.

We make every attempt to find a video or streaming link for all the songs in the Monthly Mix, but for those we cannot find, Amazon links are provided. Thanks for playing along!

Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Two Roads, Two Crows; Songs About The Midway
Blendt by Mitch Ritter
Lay-Low Studios, Or-Wa

The problem with trying to decide which pugnacious angels to wrestle with and then prioritizing which moral quandaries to take on next when all matches are rigged not by pre-determined scripts, but invariably thrown by some piece of vital information manipulatively withheld, is that there is no grading on a curve. Try as we might to build a just society (and some try harder than others), we’re thwarted by the life/death, zero-sum, winner-take-all rising tsunami that sinks most boats within the nature we find ourselves organically grown into.

While there may seem to be some echoes of themes that surfaced in last month’s mix May Days Fade, especially the hidden track of Seattle’s King of Mongrel Folk Mark Graham’s “Workin’ On The Food Chain,” recall also J.J. Cale’s existential “Unemployment” and “Living Here Too” when addressing Midway Fair’s more recently released “Two Crows.” It’s the Baltimore indie trio’s nitty gritty update on the old Scottish “Twa Corbies,” or, for those fortunate enough to have something approaching gainful employment, you may wish to remix a new sequence out of last month’s mix of Cindy Lee Berryhill’s “Forty Cent Raise,” “Algerian Amazigh bard Yelas’ “Tafsuth Imazighen/Berber Spring”, Phil Ochs’s “Hazard, Kentucky” and “Heather Eatman’s “Midnight Shift” before settling into the dog days of summer and Jill Sobule’s rocking collaboration with John Doe on “Under the Bridge” and “Shaky Hands,” the aging job-seeking waitress who’s not drinking or tweaking, yet spilling drinks all over town. Followed by Blame Sally’s “Throw Me A Bone” and the Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle Band’s Canadian zoned out hunt for a re-entry point or reset button in their ecstatic cover of Edmonton Mike McDonald’s (Jr. Gone Wild) “Downtime.”

If you do break through the iced-over surface to anything sustainable, think long and hard before throwing anybody behind you a line. Here’s fifteen tracks tossed out to those adrift with us, plus a metaphysical mystery track, clocking in at 79:29 less Carolyn Mark’s low-carb deconstruction of moth, flame, and the process that is “Destination: You.”

1. “Two Roads” Butch Hancock & Marce Lacouture, Yella Rose (Rainlight Studios, 1985 Austin, TX)

Here’s sometime Lubbock cum Terlingua Flatlander Butch Hancock on a mid-1980s west Texas walkabout from a record listed as collaboration with Cajun folklorist Marce Lacouture, who nonetheless sings on only the title track. That wobbly wind you hear is Spyder Johnson’s unrestrained saw, an acoustic version of cinema’s better known if more reductive Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Hancock’s own & own Rainlight Studios Austin crew benefit greatly from Booka Michael’s spinning congas and timbales, Fred Krc’s drums, Ponty Bone’s spiraling fiddle (invoking Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s lonesome dust devil prairie hog whine), and Lloyd Maines’s pedal steel weaving between David Halley’s electrical lead.

I give my heart for your attention
but I give my soul… to the Lord above
and I got thoughts…I just can’t mention
but if you listen close you’re gonna hear enough

this old world spins…like a minor miracle
the sun and moon go round just for you
but deep inside there’s a finer circle
and my friend that’s the wheel that must run true

you can drive all day and never leave Texas
you can drive all night and never leave home
everything’s real…but not everything mixes
there are some things even love leaves alone

there’s a fork in the road where I seek my fortune
one road to life…one road to ruin
I flipped my coin…and I started marchin’
high on a mountain between the roads
a storm was brewin’

right beside the road sat an old gray Indian
her twin sister sittin’ on the other side
I asked ‘em both for their opinion
which road was the road which led to life?

one tells the truth…one always lies
one sounds like an angel…one sounds like a witch
but when they spoke…they spoke together
til this poor boy couldn’t tell which witch was which

well I got my soul set on a firm foundation
but I could barely tell…tell the right from left
now what’s gonna be my true destination
a life of charity…or a life of theft?
this old world spins…like a minor miracle
the sun and moon go round just for you
but deep inside there’s a finer circle
and my friend that’s the wheel that must run true

I give one woman the shoes my feet were fillin’
I give the other money from my gunny sack
I gave one road my belt and my sombrero
I gave the other road the shirt right off my back

I ran through the briars and I ran through the brambles
neither time nor pain was I countin’
up rocky ridges…through rubble I rambled
forsakin’ TWO ROADS to climb one mountain

at the top of the world…the sky was clearin’
you could see forever…far and wide
I saw TWO ROADS that split apart behind me
but man they came together again on the other side

you can drive all day and never leave Texas
you can drive all night and never leave home
everything’s real…but not everything mixes
there are some things even love leaves alone
there are some things even love leaves alone
there are some things even love leaves alone

2. “Under the Bridge” (J. Sobule-Robin Eaton) Jill Sobule & John Doe, A Day At The Pass (Pinko Records, 2011)
3. “Shaky Hands” (Jill Sobule) Jill Sobule & John Doe, A Day At The Pass (Pinko Records, 2011)

Jill Sobule with her Nashville songwriting and production partner Robin Eaton and her Angeleno barroom string slingin’ harmonizer John Doe wandered into The Pass on a day good for recording in 2010, and a year later, with the help of their fans, put out that day’s sessions on a disc that also features Don Was, Dave Way, Victor Indrizzo, and Doug Pettibone. Rock-n-roll’s potential to redeem seems to come from washing the harshest realities down with a bouncy beat and purifying swing. These two tracks fall somewhere between terrifying and airborne.

“Under the Bridge”

You got the message
Yeah you’re closin’ shop
And in two weeks you’ll be out of a job
So take the pencils and the paper clips
‘Cause that will be your only parting gifts

Singin’ under the bridge
You’ll find us waiting
Under the bridge
We’ll sing this song
Under the bridge
We’ll light the fire
Under the bridge
Come on, come on

Then you got the notice
You gotta leave your home
Down by the highway
At least you’re not alone
No one will buy the record
No one will buy this song
But you could join the chorus
And we’ll all sing along

Sing it, under the bridge
We’re all together
Under the bridge
We’ll understand
Under the bridge
Let’s pool our money
Under the bridge
Come on, oh yeah

Gather round the barrel
We’ll drink the freshest wine
You might think your story’s bad
But let me tell you mine

Under the bridge, we’ll all be waiting
Under the bridge, let’s start a band
Under the bridge, we’ll light the fire
Under the bridge, come on
Under the bridge, we’re all together
Under the bridge, we understand
Under the bridge, let’s pool our money
Under the bridge, come on sing it

Happy days are here again
The sky is bright & clear again
Let’s sing a song of cheer again
Under the bridge (X3)

“Shaky Hands”

You ask me if I’m nervous
I’ve just got shaky hands
You don’t intimidate me at all
I’ve just got shaky hands

I’ve had them since I was 20
It just gets worse with age
Shaky Hands was a terrible waitress
Spilling drinks all over town

Shaky, shaky, shaky…I’ve got shaky hands
No I’ve not been drinking
I’ve just got shaky hands

My penmanship is troubling
The mascara once the enemy
When my fingers tremble
As they hit the metal strings
From my hard vibrato ring

Shaky hands, shaky hands
Shaky hands, shaky hands
Shaky hands in the morning
Shaky hands when I don’t eat
If you need to thread a needle
Well you better not ask me

Shaky, shaky, shaky
I’ve just got shaky hands
No I’ve not been tweaking
I just have shaky hands

Shaky, shaky, shaky
I’ve just got shaky hands
Shaky, shaky, shaky
Now do that thing…

4. “Girl On A Road” Ferron, BoulderThe Bitch Sessions (Short Story Records, 2008)

Blessings be upon artfully askew string slingstress and producer Bitch along with collaborators Samantha (Be Good Tanya) Parton, Ani DiFranco, and spectral minimalist pianist Geo Wyeth. Ferron’s well-trod road was ripe for re-envisioning, and there is plenty of hard-won experiential vision guiding this ship to safer harbor.

My momma was a waitress, my daddy a truck driver
The thing that kept their power from them
Slowed me down awhile
I remember the morning
That was the closing of my youth
When I said goodbye to no one
And in that way faced my truth
And a walk along the river
And the rain a’coming down
And a girl on a road

There’s a rhythm to a highway
To match the rhythm of your fears
My shopping bag possessions scattered
With my splattered tears
A string of nights in truck stops
In darkness and in lies
And a man they called Tigerboy
He just had to show me why
He just had to give me something I’d forever understand
As a girl on a road

Rain upon the water makes footprints sunk in sand
Anger upon angry hurt, take me by the hand
Take me by the heartstrings and pull me deep inside
Say I’m one with your forgiveness
And separate from my pride

I don’t know what it’s like for you
But here’s what it’s like for me
I wanted to turn beautiful and serve Eternity
And never follow money or love with greasy hands
Or move the earth and waters just to make it fit my plans
My eyes would be the harbor, my words the perfect place
For a girl on a road

I met you in the Summer I left you in the Fall
In between we did some living I like to think that’s all
Now I see words can be like weapons
No matter that they’re small
I used three tiny words on you
Then beat it down the hall
Does this road go on forever?
Does this terror know no end?
For a girl on a road

You cannot measure what it takes to mend a withered heart
They’ll tell you at the onset everybody does their part
I did my best to follow the calling of my soul
But it’s like that first guitar I played—at the center is a hole
At the center is a longing that I cannot understand
As a girl on the road

If music be a b o u l d e r, let me carry it a long while
Let it turn into a feather, let it brush against my smile
Let the life be somewhat settled
With the life that song has made
Let there be nothing I am longing for
In some plan I may have made
In some story quickly written during a long forgotten time
As a girl on a road

5. “Two Crows” Midway Fair, The Distance of the Moon At Daybreak (self-released, 2011)

Baltimore’s Midway Fair follows the ghoulish Scottish “Twa Corbies” of Celtic lore to a harder rocking perch of the New World’s mercantile foundation upon the Atlantic Seaboard. I’d be wary of the olive branch twigs protruding from these two crows’ beaks. Jon Patton uncorks what sounds like a modal electric guitar lead redolent of The Fugs over drummer Timothy Taormino’s squall-cymbals-squall and Jennifer Parde’s contrasting observational keyboard tone that builds a sturdy bridge for staking out Patton’s creepy yet street-smart ornithological conspiracy theory. Hint: There ain’t no grassy knoll…

Two crows sat beneath a crown of olive trees. One said to the other, “You know this hunger’s a disease. Easier to eat the wind than to try and find a wage. It rattles my bones and blows right through my cage.”

Shadows are marching black across the leaves. One said, “Go west,” but the other said, “It lies east.”

“All right,” the second said. “Maybe we’ll just take the one you like least. I swear sometimes you can be so goddamn hard to please.”

One said to the other, “I think I saw him fall into the chase. Happens all the time these days, it don’t seem so out of place.”

The second said, “This bird might be worth two in the hand, but the one I left behind is worth more than I can stand.”

The first said, “I can’t be the only one who’s never killed a man. I swear there was a dog with him, but it must have up and ran.” The first said, “I bet his wife will wonder where he’s at.”

The second said, “I bet she’s the one who stole his hat. That dog must have gotten back to his house by now. I can tell you right now this is more time than I’ll allow. You take his eyes. I’ll take the part that’s in between … There’s a phone across the road if you find this so obscene.”

“I thought we swore to each other we wouldn’t do this anymore?”

The second said, “I bet he was another child of a whore. You’re gonna wait here all night if you’re waiting for absolution to arrive. You can’t send me to hell just for trying to survive. Can’t send me to hell just for trying to survive.”

6. “Throw Me A Bone” (Renée Harcourt) Blame Sally, Speeding Ticket & A Valentine (Ninth Street Opus Music, 2011)

Careful what we ask for… This Renée Harcourt-penned tour-de-force of the new album by the Bay Area’s Blame Sally wasn’t meant to follow Poe’s Raven as genetically modified by Randy Newman, so let’s leave the choral metaphor’s mystery be. However, if we chose wisely at Butch Hancock’s fork-in-the-road where we were having a spot of trouble telling just which witch was which, there’d be some very pricey schooling that Ferron provides us on hard knocks scholarship. It helps us process along in ballad time with her “Girl on the Road.”

The uncompromising gaze in Harcourt’s narrator could be a short-cut to self-discovery, or game over. No B.S. soft-shoe here, Blame Sally’s wondrous vocal blend keeps us on the road to discovery, even if Jeri Jones’s multi-tracked guitar wizardry insists we listen ever more closely for oracular touchstones around every melodic corner.

I don’t want to compromise, I want to look into your eyes
I don’t want to be in my head, let’s make love in the bed
I don’t want to cause you pain, speak your truth and let it rain
Let it rain, let it rain…
I try, but I can’t get the wings to fly
I learn, but I can’t get the wheels to turn
So, I go it alone where nothing is known
Throw me a bone, throw me a bone
I don’t want to work all day, I need a lot more time to play
I don’t want to see the shrink at three, maybe there’s nothing wrong with me
Wrong with me, wrong with me…
I try, but I can’t get the wings to fly
I learn, but I can’t get the wheels to turn
So, I go it alone where nothing is known
Throw me a bone, throw me a bone
Floating out to sea, engine dead, no sail to set, a broken wing and a prayer
Hands tied behind my back, watch the train run off the track,
Do you want your money back, do you want
I don’t want to waste your time, I just want to blow your mind
I don’t want to lose more sleep, I just want to feel you deep
Feel you deep, feel you deep
I try, but I can’t get the wings to fly
I learn, but I can’t get the wheels to turn
So, I go it alone where nothing is known
Throw me a bone, throw me a bone

7. “Diré Dawa” Minyeshu, Diré Dawa (Me & My Other Records, 2008)

A poetic, if unattributed introductory liner note from this trippy bouncy balance between rural east African Amharic tradition and world beat open-eyed singer-songwriter poetic transmutation reads:

A train line winds from Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. On this track lies Diré Dawa, a city raised on both spirit and turmoil planted on a track that heads on to a higher plateau.

I don’t know where Minyeshu’s been since releasing this strong album of witness three years ago. We should welcome Minyeshu back with more berberḗ-flavored hemispheric counterpoint to Joni Mitchell’s Saskatchewan time travel on the similarly spatially dislocated “Paprika Plains.”

How you looked at me
during a ceremony
How gracious you were
in completing the rituals
I am just a girl
yet, I am in love
I search for you, but alas
I cannot find you
I have only the memories
of your beautiful glance

8. “Paprika Plains” Joni Mitchell, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (Songs of a Prairie Girl, 2004 remix Asylum/Reprise/Rhino 12/77)

As Minyeshu’s composition merges her personal sojourn’s sense datum of sensuality derived from the Red Sea via sun-scorched desert rail travel to the inner landlocked bell of the Horn of Africa’s geographical cultural specificity, Joni Mitchell on this sprawling sixteen minute and eighteen second aural mural conjures her way to concordance between her muskeg-sunken roots among the “sky-oriented people\geared to changing weather” and the (balletic electric bass of Jaco Pastorius bumps the reverie back to here and now) bandleader as

The band plugs in again
You see that mirrored ball begin
to sputter lights
And spin
Dizzy on the dancers
Geared to changing rhythms
No matter what you do
I’m floating back
I’m floating back to you

Wayne Shorter’s funky spiraling soprano saxophone line completes the dissolve from sepia grainy orchestral swell. It’s a synesthesiastic representational technique using cultural curiosity to map a connective circuit bridging separate realities.

Back in my hometown
They would have cleared the floor
Just to watch the rain come down!
They’re such sky-oriented people…
Geared to changing weather
I’m floating off in time
I’m floating off
I’m floating off in time…

When I was three feet tall
And wide eyed open to it all
With their tasseled teams they came
To McGee’s General Store
All in their beaded leathers
I would tie on colored feathers
And I’d beat the drum like war
I would beat the drum like war
I’d beat the drum
I’d beat the drum like war

But when the church got through
They traded their beads for bottles
Smashed—on Railway Avenue
And they cut off their braids
And lost some link with nature
I’m floating into dreams
I’m floating off
I’m floating into my dreams

I dream paprika plains
Vast and bleak and God forsaken
Paprika plains
And a turquoise river snaking
Where crows gaze vigilant on wires
Where cattle graze the grasses
Far from the digits of business hours
The moon clock wanes and waxes
But here all time is stripped away
Nowhere on these plains…

9. “Lost In The Midway” Jimmie Spheeris, The Dragon is Dancing (Epic\Sony Legacy, 1975, 1998

Seems a natural segue to the son of traveling carny operators, Jimmie Spheeris, whose signature song before he was cut down at age 34 in a motorcycle wreck coded more autobiographical veracity than the poetic metaphor would otherwise suggest. Check out Wikipedia for even more wheels within wheels and levels upon levels of Muses and Fates.

I’m lost in the midway, drunk in a dream
stumbling backwards, forever it seems
over my shoulder, one eye’s fixed cold
the other is wandering, ahead on the road
and each path is winding, with you in between
you just sit there laughing
I’m lost in the sideshows, blind in the gleam
this old house of mirrors, leads nowhere it seems
how the lights dazzled, as the ferris wheel rolled
I came for a free ride—it cost me my soul
the past and the future and you in between
you just sit there laughing
all over the midway, when the bright lights go out
I hear the clowns crying—tears for the drought
so dark and so dusty, the midway is blue
winding forever—I can’t find my way through
I’m lost in the midway, drunk in a dream
stumbling backwards, forever it seems

10. “That Song About the Midway” (Roberta Joan Anderson aka Joni Mitchell), Annie & The Hedonists, Moonglow On The Midway (Windy Acres, Schenectady, NY 2005)

Before she took the name Joni Mitchell, Royal Canadian Air Force brat Roberta Joan Anderson, who was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, wrote this song in 1966. The song captured the wanderlust zeitgeist of its times and elliptically scoped out the worm in the apple of the Aquarian Age in its candid if wistful illustrations of newfound freedoms sans responsibilities. It only works if the singer can convey the authentic sense of youthful seduction before time and distance adjust the focus. Many musicians on the bar, café, church cellar and student union circuit have included “That Song About the Midway” in their repertoire. Schenectady, NY’s Annie & The Hedonists featuring two mother-daughter tandems within the floating band find its essence bringing it to blossom.

I met you on a midway at the fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man’s ear
You were playing on the horses, you were playing on the guitar strings
You were playing like a devil wearing wings, wearing wings
Do you tape them to your shoulders just to sing?
Can you fly? I heard you can
Can you fly?
Like an eagle doin’ your huntin’ from the sky

I followed with the sideshows to another town
And I found you in a trailer on the camping grounds
You were betting on some lover, you were shaking up the dice
And I thought I saw you cheating once or twice, once or twice

I heard your bid once or twice
Were you wondering was the gamble worth the price?
Pack it in
I heard you did! Pack it in
Was it hard to fold a hand you knew could win?

So lately you’ve been hiding – it was somewhere in the news
And I’m still at these races with my ticket stubs and my blues
And a voice calls out the numbers, and it sometimes mentions mine
And I feel like I’ve been working overtime, overtime

I’ve lost my fire over time
Always playin’ one more hand for one more dime
Slowin’ down, I’m gettin’ tired!
Slowin’ down…
And I envy you the valley that you’ve found
‘Cause I’m midway down the midway
Slowin’ down, down, down, down

11. “You Can Move Back Here” (Willy Vlautin) Richmond Fontaine, We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River (El Cortez Records, Portland, OR 2010)

Not just the quintessential Portland, OR song for a scruffy soggy town full of folks drawn to the creative world’s exiles seeking refuge from ambition, but novelist and short story writer and Richmond Fontaine bandleader Willy Vlautin’s under three minute masterpiece works its way into a listener’s system raising bio-emo immunity levels as it goes. This song if properly administered will help prevent the loss of self-esteem, the appearance of under-achievement and imminent psychological collapse while it fades the ring around your bathtub and dish powder streaks in your tumblers. Paul Brainard’s pedal steel, producer J.D. Foster’s 12-string, and Richmond Fontaine’s band blend prove medicinal not to mention fast-acting.

There’s so many people there. You quit calling
home. Now your voice is shaky and weird.

You can move back here. We all miss you. Please
you don’t have to be anything here. At least you’ll
have the Western sky and me on your side.

Cities and subways that run all night. Everything
costs too much. Alone with neighbors on every side.

You can move back here. We all miss you. Please
you don’t have to be anything here. We all need
you. Please you can move back here. At least you’ll
have the Western sky…the Western sky.

12. “Polaris” (Chuck Westmoreland of The Kingdom) Blue Cranes, Lift Music! Flown Music! (bluecranesmusic.com 2007)

Once upon a not-too-distant time there was a wily visionary from way upstate New York who came to Portland, OR to establish The Kingdom. Chuck Westmoreland and The Kingdom made two or three albums that so baffled the indie rock scene, yet so delighted local outside jazz aesthete Reed Wallsmith, with its arc of literary imagination tethered to tight melody, that even as Wallsmith labored with his band the Blue Cranes to create some new musical hybrid, the search for Westmoreland and traces to The Kingdom commenced. The search continues as this ice-cutter from The Blue Cranes debut album of 2007 attests each time it turns heads in rock clubs and jazz lofts.

13. “Isis” (B. Dylan-Jacques Levy) Bob Dylan, Rolling Thunder Revue Live ’75 (Columbia/Legacy Bootleg Series 2002)

The Rolling Thunder Revue version on Biograph is from the Montreal Forum show where Dylan can be heard introducing this rolling piano piece co-scripted with off-Broadway playwright Jacques Levy as “a song about marriage. This is for Leonard, if he’s still here.” A telling, if rare doff of Dylan’s cap to L. Cohen. When Columbia got around to releasing the “Bootleg Series” Rolling Thunder Revue, Live ’75, a smaller venue New England show’s version of “Isis” was substituted. Dylan and troupe started the bus tour playing unannounced at assisted living care facilities and high school auditoriums, leafleting and leaving fliers locally on the day of the show. Dylan, harmonica in hand, minstrel whiteface framed by Joan Baez, black-caped Gypsy fiddler Scarlet Rivera, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Roger McGuinn with a cramped Rolling Thunder Revue as they tore through this New West epic. (Sam Shepard was on board the busses to keep his sketchy Rolling Thunder Log Book.) A tune that loses something when removed from Dylan’s hypnotic saloon piano roll as the arrangement on the studio album Desire reveals. What it gains though, is momentum. Here’s one more meshugennah megillah on marriage from the New West’s mythmakers…

I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
I came to a high place of darkness and light
The dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went in to a laundry to wash my clothes down
A man in the corner approached me for a match
I knew right away he was not ordinary
He said, “Are you lookin’ for somethin’ easy to catch?”
I said, “I got no money.” He said, “That t’ain’t necessary”
We set out that night for the cold in the North
I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word
I said, “Where are we goin’?” He said we’d be back by the fourth
I said, “That’s the best news that I’ve ever heard”
I was thinkin’ about turquoise, I was thinkin’ about gold
I was thinkin’ about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold
I was thinkin’ about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless
How she told me that one day we would meet up again
And things would be different the next time we wed
If I only could hang on and just be her friend
I still can’t remember all the best things she said
We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice
He said, “There’s a body I’m tryin’ to find
If I carry it out it’ll bring a good price” ’Twas then that I knew what he had on his mind
The wind it was howlin’ and the snow was outrageous
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn
When he died I was hopin’ that it wasn’t contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to go on
I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty
There was no jewels, no nothin’, I felt I’d been had
When I saw that my partner was just bein’ friendly
When I took up his offer I must-a been mad
I picked up his body and I dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer and I felt satisfied
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her
She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes
I cursed her one time then I rode on ahead
She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, not quite”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That’s only natural”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I jes might”
Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain

[Copyright © 1975 by Ram’s Horn Music; renewed 2003 by Ram’s Horn Music]

14. “Horse Doctor, Come Quick” Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans, Losin’ Lately Gambler (New West Records 2009)

Well ahead of The Book of Mormon’s Broadway musical smash success, western Canada’s own Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans helped diversify perceptions of the pioneering faith-based frontier community. Son of a rural veterinarian father and enterprising rodeo circuit creative mother, Corb Lund’s songs range far and wide into territories Mormon missionaries might prefer not to tread, but today’s new in-crowd, the Mormon artist with a sense of humor about himself turns into material that helps make life’s starker and rougher aspect’s palatable and damn well western swingable! While Corb Lund shows a nuanced hand in his songwriting, he and his band reflect that nuance with instrumental delicacy. Peppery picked mandolin faces down slashing lap steel and slide guitars reminiscent of Rusty Young’s wilder Hendrix-esque moments with early Poco, while swinging stand-up bass shuffles and swings alongside a drummer who seems to have copped his dynamics from Dino Danelli. Nothing pre-destined here, Corb Lund & The Hurtin’ Albertans are all about free-will and life’s tougher choices as this opener off Losin’ Lately Gambler illustrates.

Veterinary surgeon, horse doctor come quick
Cuz the old bitch whelped and the puppies took sick
Bring your little black bag with the medicines in
Bring the tranq and the crank and the penicilli-sin
Well I know you been busy pullin’ all them calves
But you got somethin’ that the other vets don’t have

Veterinary surgeon, horse doctor come quick
Whatever you got, it’s really doin’ the trick
Bring your little black bag with the medicines in
Bring the tranq and the crank and the penicilli-sin
Bring some for my sow, bring some for my ewe
For my jill, for my cow and bring some for me too

Veterinary surgeon, horse doctor come quick
A dip and a drench, a mineral lick
Bring your little black bag with the medicines in
Bring the juice and the ‘bute and the buprenorphine
Of any other cure I like your remedy most
And what you keep in your mind when you measure the dose

Well, I’m just a layman, I’m not like you
I ain’t never been taught, I ain’t never been schooled
I never spent five long years down east
Learnin’ everything about the bird and the beast
I’m just a layman, I’m not like you
I can’t diagnose nothin’, ain’t got no clue

I’m just a layman, I’m not like you
But whatever she got, I got the same thing too
Yeah, whatever she caught, I caught the same thing too

Veterinary surgeon, horse doctor come quick
Draw the syringe and give it a flick
Bring your little black bag with the medicines in
Bring the tranq and the crank and the penicilli-sin
I’m just a layman, I’m not like you
But I can read on the bottle, I can read on the tube
“For human use this has not been approved…”

15. “Downtime” (Edmonton Mike McDonald) Carolyn Mark & NQ Arbuckle Band, Let’s Just Stay Here (Mint Record, Vancouver, BC Canada 2009)

Another undersung light of the Canadian Wild West is Carolyn Mark, who has continued to ripen her songwriting and performing craft in the seven or so years since working the Northwest circuit as one half of the Corn Sisters. While you’ve been living in a less well-attuned cave than Osama and Ayman if you’ve never heard of the other Corn Sister, namely Neko Case, you could be forgiven for blinking absently at the Vancouver, BC Mint Records discography of Carolyn Mark. In addition to writing and self-publishing (at a copy center) a combination cookbook and etiquette guide for the auto, van, or Greyhound touring musician, Mark has made her mark writing and recording songs and albums that have earned their own place among the pantheon of New West jesters and mythmakers. On stage in whatever band she is a part of or fronting her own one-woman three-ring circus, Carolyn Mark is enough of a trailblazer to be most welcome when touring through Portland. She and NQ Arbuckle’s raucous band fully inhabit Edmonton Mike McDonald’s “Downtime” pulled from his spunky cow-punk band Jr. Gone Wild’s debut album before McDonald and mates pre-aughts decision to Pull The Goalie.

Lettin’ off steam as only I can
Ever since that sleepin’ dog got up and ran
Ever since the hearth went cold
Ever since the story got so old
Cut off with a crucifix…well maybe I’ll pray
That I’ll be alright if I don’t see her for a couple of days

Mother don’t you worry
I should be fine
I think I just need a little down time

News reporter on the corner
But there was no blood
There wasn’t much of anything
After the flood

Is there a witness anywhere?
Well is it worth it just to care?
Asleep at the wheel while grinding gears
But I’ll be alright if I don’t hear about it for a couple of years

Mother don’t you worry
I should be fine
I think I just need a little down time

To an empty wallet with an I.D. Card
I was shufflin’ around like I was in some prison yard
Now there’s a lot I heard about
News is all along the paper route
Pack me up a lunch I may be long
But I’ll be alright if I don’t have to hear
Any of those songs
Mother don’t you worry
I should be fine
I think I just need a little down time
The winds and the Furies
That happen all the time
I think I just need a little down time
It’s all just a matter of
Where you draw the line
I think I might just need a little
Down time, yeah

Metaphysical track [Not hidden, it’s off the grid]:
“Destination: YOU” Carolyn Mark, Nothing Is Free (Mint Records, Vancouver, BC 2007)

This taste of Carolyn Mark’s own perspective comes from her 2007 song cycle Nothing Is Free recorded on Salt Spring Island off the coast of Vancouver, BC. The whole well-conceived album would’ve fit the theme of this month’s mix and also features memorable turns from Corb Lund as well as past and present members of Po’ Girl who’ve since gone east to follow their bliss.

How do you get where you’re going
If you don’t know where you’re going?
What did a flame ever do for a moth?
Save provide a destination
Costs more to get there than what you’ll
Be paid
But it’s there in the cost where all choices are
What did a moth ever do for a flame?
Only everything

O, I know I know how it seems
When you’re living beyond your means
Need is the lie that Want tells to itself
When the life’s not as good as the dream

And I know you must love yourself
Before you can help someone else
And I do, O, I do and urge you to

—Mitch Ritter
A Lay Low Studios, Or-Wa blend especially for Driftwood Magazine

One comment on “Mitch’s Monthly Mix: Two Roads, Two Crows; Songs About The Midway

  1. Didn’t think it was possible, but these Mixes keep getting better: deeper, richer, and more thematically resonant. Thanks for the lyrics and the intros to underappreciated artists.

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