1. Rise and Shine
I wrote Rise and Shine in one sitting. It describes the human complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the lyrics fluctuate between Biblical and contemporary images. The chorus is meant to be a sing-along anthem for the innocent families caught in the crossfire of war.
2. Fireman Snowman
I used to live in a maritime neighborhood tucked beside the Baltimore harbor called Fells Point. I would often hear the sound of fire engines as I went to sleep and thought about the rather dark irony of a buildings catching on fire a few feet away from the ocean. Similarly, Fireman Snowman is about a father who has been either hot or cold in his relationship with his family.
3. North Dakota Oil
In 2006, the state of North Dakota had an oil boom that led to the creation of thousands of jobs and a mass migration west. But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses for the state as they are learning how to manage a large influx of population and commerce. I thought the story was worthy of a good folk song.
4. The Fisherman
The Fisherman was the most painstaking song to write on this record. I had to shut off my conscious mind and let the color dark blue take over my thoughts. I remember revising lines while lying on the floor, doing the dishes, taking a shower- anything to keep myself from overthinking it. The lyrics finally came into focus and it was the first song that I recorded.
5. Piccadilly Circus
When my wife and I were in London on vacation, we went out to eat with some friends and rode back on the top level of a double decker bus. There were a bunch of drunk 20-somethings making a real ruckus in the back and it was one of those moments when I was amused and annoyed at the same time. I also remember riding the Tube throughout the week and hearing the conductor say, “Next stop, Piccadilly Circus!” The two experiences collided and I wrote Piccadilly Circus.
Detroit’s financial crisis led to the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in July of 2013. It’s a hard-edged town with thousands of stories of moral decay and systemic despair. This song is meant to be a kind of prayer, a cry for help for a city on its knees.
7. Home Movie
The first song I wrote for this album, Home Movie, narrates a broken man in his old age watching film reels of his childhood vacations and his wedding day. It describes the movie like a script, as it’s actually seen- the camera’s being passed around, it gets dropped, then freezes, etc. I set the lyrics to old silent filmmusic and recorded it on a $75 upright piano.
8. Wild Blue Garden
Wild Blue Garden was born out of a conversation with a close friend. He was talking about some difficulties he was having with his girlfriend but he came to the conclusion that if he broke it off, he would have just been looking for her very attributes in someone else. That’s what convinced him that he loved her. He also said that some people grow best in manicured gardens and others in wild gardens. He grew best in a wild garden. Wise man.
Ultrasound is dedicated to my beautiful daughter Genevieve Elizabeth. Born on May 14, 2013. The rapid fingerpicking in this song represents her quick heartbeat in the womb. This is the only song that I wrote while it was raining.
10. Welfare Street
Welfare Street describes some of the scenarios associated with the welfare state- rural poverty, disabled workers, dishonest politicians, the inner city, etc. It’s been said that you can’t really understand a person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I can’t pretend that I understand either but my very grappling with the issue led me to write this seven-verse poem (later set to music). It took me a long time to capture this song in the studio and just when I was about to give up, it arrived in a complete take at 11:30 p.m. on the final day of recording.
11. Kabuki Theatre
Kabuki Theatre is a phrase with a double meaning. On one hand, it’s a brand of Japanese dance drama where the performers wear stylized make-up and on the other, it’s a term used to call out political posturing. This song begins with a couple of “good old boy” characters chatting about their frat days before one of them began a power hungry career in politics. There’s a lot of chaos under the surface and you can’t figure out what’s up and what’s down but you know that things are spinning out of control.
12. Fragile Glory
Fragile Glory is the only song on the record that I wrote early in the morning. I disciplined myself to write every other night from 9:30 – 1 a.m. but I found myself becoming exhausted from the intensity of the schedule. There was one time when I decided to wake up early rather than stay up late and I wrote this song. “We are human hallelujahs orchestrating what we can’t control.”