I have been interested in reviewing the music that I grew up with in Detroit. All the great Motown acts, like Martha and the Vandellas, Miracles, Temptations. Aretha is from Detroit. There were also a number of amazing blues artists who came to Detroit from the south, most notably John Lee Hooker. And the rock scene exploded with great acts like the Bob Seeger System, MC5, Amboy Dukes. I got to see all these artists perform while I was still in high school, and their performances were extremely powerful and helped me to broaden my musical interests and style. While in New York some years later, I was immensely influenced by the whole Village scene. They all played the Gaslightwhere I worked as a dishwasher and performed. The gift to be able to meet and “study” with some of the great American blues artists - Brownie McGhee, Rev. Gary Davis, Booker White – will always be part of my life as a musician and a key influence to my music and style. I listened to other songwriters and other folk musicians, continued to play the guitar and to perform, and began writing songs. It gave me a foundation that I still rely on today.
This song brings together lyrics from a number of related songs. I have been listening to American folk songs from the early part of the 20th Century, where quite a few are closer to hymns and spirituals. This Old World comes from this effort of connecting my own songwriting, style and sensibility to a musical past that I never tire of as a source of inspiration. There are parts of other folk lyrics that seep into my own songs, words that also can be found in renditions of Oh Mary Don’t You Weep, Gospel Plow, and One Good Thing My Mother Done. There are variations and versions of these songs that have been recorded by numerous other artists. Even Dylan performed Gospel Plow on his debut album. And if you listen to the line “One of these mornings about 12 o’clock, this old world is gonna reel and rock” its from an old folkfield recording used as a sample in the intro of One of Us by Joan Osborne.
I am always looking for the “poetry” in song lyrics. Most times reading song lyrics by themselves is pretty underwhelming to me. So when I come across a beautiful line it gets really exciting. In This Old World there are lyrics that give me that same thrilling feeling, like “step in doctor put your grip aside there’s no soul not afraid to die” or “ bought my ticket at the gates of hell”. Just really nice.
The production and recording of these San Franscisco based sessions are created in a fairly straight forward manner. Collaborations in different forms drive me creatively and on this song, as with many others, I have worked with the drummer and producer Erik Nielsen. Together we come up with the structure of the song. Intro, verses and choruses. We then record with an acoustic guitar and a snare drum, in one single uninterrupted live take. This process, to me, has always been the most creative. The live take as a sketch. From there I add other guitars, bass and organ. And when we get the chance we tap into our extended list of prominent and wonderful musician friends to come in and help out on a song. For this recording, Lisa Chu, a San Francisco Bay Area violinist layered some beautiful parts to the recording.
I am interested in timelesss music. Not nostalgia but a sound that defines a certain period. Music that is hard to pin down when it was first recorded. When a sound, a song structure, a melody feels both of the past and present.
And when they can melt into one another, it can be forever.
I think This Old World might be one.